Mary Coughlan @ The Gov, Adelaide 12/4/2023
Mary Coughlan is a legendary Irish jazz, folk and blues singer. As such, this evening’s gig was almost a dinner show at The Gov with tables spread throughout the venue and everyone seated. Mary has lived through childhood trauma, alcoholism and drug addiction to come out the other side as a musical force. She doesn’t hide from these facts, telling us stories, often humorous about her life, in music and words. On Mary’s last couple of trips to Adelaide she played Womad and The Fringe.
With a “How ya all doing?”, Mary Coughlan joined the two-piece band of pianist Matt McMahon and upright bassist Brett Hirst on a darkly lit Gov Stage and commenced the show with the light jazzy feel of Damn Your Eyes. The next song Double Cross was written by her first ex husband and she hadn’t sung it live for years “because he gets paid for it every time I do”.
With stories about her life, baring all, and her angelic voice, Mary soon had the audience in the palm of her hand. Stories of “Acting the maggot” according to her father, got her sent to a lunatic asylum at a young age, “but it didn’t work. I am still here” she laughed. This is Not a Song told the tale of this event, and next up The Beach, a song about a girl swimming with “no nickers on and the priest watching”.
When she started Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, people were looking with quizzed faces. You could see the “I know this song but what is it” looks. Mary was standing on a dark stage singing the song, which had no semblance to the original and yet sounded every bit as beautiful and perhaps even darker than Joy Division’s.
A first for The Gov, Mary asked for the air conditioning to be turned off as “it’s killing my voice” before going into Whiskey Didn’t Kill the Pain. A song about ex husband number two, Two Breaking into One “but he still doesn’t know it’s about him yet”, closed set one. “Go have a drink or two, we’ll be having tea” she told us before exiting the stage.
Set two commenced with a song about a menage a trios, “written by two men, one of whom has died since. He died of exhaustion”. Even a song about High Heel Boots from her new album Life Stories, had a story intro. If Mary’s voice ever gave out, she could become a comedian, still working the world stages. In fact, she toured Ireland doing the Vagina Monologues a few years back “and the priest in one town shut the show down”. Her life seems to be about having run ins with priests.
After the Blue Nile cover, Family Life, where she sounded like Marianne Faithfull, Mary asked the audience if they had any requests. After a couple “we don’t know how to play that one”, they settled on Ancient Rain, which turned out to be highlight of the evening. The two-piece band blending beautifully with Mary’s voice.
A Whiter Shade of Pale bought about the story of having to sing it on radio one day and having a CRAFT moment, “couldn’t remember a fkn thing”, but no issues this evening. With only a piano and bass, the song was a reworking of the original, and again it worked seamlessly.
After Bad, the Kirsty MacColl song, Mary told everyone “This is where I pretend to walk off” and the crowd cheered and called “more more”, as a crowd would when looking for an encore. Smiling Mary told us the final song, Etta James, I’d Rather Go Blind, was “for Christine McVie, of Fleetwood Mac, but she recorded this with Chicken Shack, a far better band than Fleetwood Mac” Mary Coughlan’s version was emotional and beautiful and with some lines from You Send Me and Send in the Clowns closing out the song, it was a fine farewell to The Gov.
However, before leaving the stage and looking out at the sparse crowd she told us, “I am back in Australia next year but not sure if I will be here in Adelaide. If I am you had all better bring your fkn friends”. I sure will be.
This is one show where you have to see the performer live to fully appreciate her. Mary’s albums are great but the live performance is even greater.
Live Review By Geoff Jenke