Cathal Coughlan – Bush Hall (7 November 2006)

The Bush Hall is tatty victorian music hall in an area of London that I’m sure I’ve only heard of because of Terry Wogan constantly rabbiting on about it in my youth. Oh, I’ve been out there before, but in the cold light of day I don’t recognise a single thing. In fact, I find myself feeling quite unnerved, which is odd considering the areas of this city I’ll happily stagger through in all states and at any time of night. But, there’s something fitting about the fade pleasure palace in a ripped up locale as the setting for Cathal Coughlan‘s bittersweet tales of the detrius of our surreal society.

As we arrive at the venue, he’s partially through a solo set accompanying himself on the piano. His voice is in fine form, veering from shouting down the gates of hell to that near cracked vulnerability that he can make sound almost the same thing. It’s intensely beautiful, with White’s Academy making a particular kind of sense it never did in it’s recorded form.

(After the fact, I find out what songs we didn’t catch and suspect that I may have missed what would’ve been the gig of my life.)

After too much of some bloke with a guitar (I can’t be bothered looking up who he was), his-self returns with the all new patented (probably) expand-o-band. We get a fine selection of tracks, including the best version of the stripped down The Loyaliser (a song I always insisted was what Rage Against The Machine were trying to do throughout their career but never quite hitting). But, something has dropped. It’s either the support defusing the atmosphere, or something just not quite gelling for this line-up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s marvelous but not quite transcendent – and that’s the least we’ve come to expect. The atmosphere has just changed. I begin to notice just how chin-stroking the crowd are. There’s tutting when someone heckles. Show us your demons he shouts. Alright, then replies the man. But, the audience don’t seem quite so easy going with it. WTF?

Then the band has grown to the full sextet (as featured on recent album Foburg) and something clicks into place. Glorious though the album is, the songs aren’t that much better/different than the other stuff. Is it the inclusion of joanna player extrordinaire Steve Beresford? Strangely, yes. As freeing him up from piano duties means that Coughlan is on his feet. Where he belongs. It’s a presence not to be ignored and how he should be.

It’s beautiful stuff. Reaching into you and playing with your innards. The way music should be. And, with every moment you pity everyone that not there.

The audience look disapprovingly upon my attempt at a singalong (ok, the wine and the jazzy time signature through me). But, fuck ’em. Even they can piss on an experience like this.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

10 November 2006 at 9:55 pm

Posted in Gigs

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