The Fatima Mansions

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
Only Losers Take The BusKitchenware SKX 043
The Day I Lost EverythingAgainst Nature
Blues For Ceausescu Kitchenware SK 45
Look What I Stole For Us, DarlingViva Dead Ponies
A Pack Of LiesViva Dead Ponies
Behind The MoonBertie’s Brochures
HiveHive EP
North Atlantic WindValhalla Avenue
Go Home Bible MikeValhalla Avenue
Nite FlightsLost In The Former West

The Fatima Mansions photo 1

l-r Hugh Bunker, Cathal Coughlan, Andrías Ó Grúama
Radioactive Records 1994 press photo by Andy Earl



Fatima Mansions playlist


Contributor: Steve Parker

First up, a bit of a confession. I never really got into Microdisney, the previous band of Mansions main man Cathal Coughlan, at the time. I(t) was an age where the main way of hearing things was via the radio, and – based on not much more than Town To Town – I’d dismissed them as pleasant enough but a bit lightweight. Completely missing the subversive undercurrent beneath the saccharine surface, and not taking the hint that was right there when they titled an album We Hate You South African Bastards!.

I’ve since corrected that misconception but the point is that I came in fresh when confronted with the staccato alt.pop of Only Losers Take The Bus one night in 1990 on the late lamented Snub TV; a rich source of inspiration for those of us who stumbled across the show.

The Fatima Mansions VHS

From the opening lyric (I’m born again in hail and flame) this was a bold and exhilarating move away from the polished sophisti-pop of Microdisney, into an irresistibly breakneck-paced rail against the possibly-apocryphal Thatcher quote how anyone using a bus after their mid-twenties was “a failure at life”. Presumably the kind of character stalking the run-down Dublin housing estate that inspired their name; a grim counterpoint to the shiny optimism of Microdisney.

This video of Only Losers Take The Bus was shot by Snub TV as the band were without a record deal at the time and were temporarily billed as Cathal Coughlan and The Fatima Mansions:


An official release of the single was followed by the Against Nature mini-album that showcases the multiple sides of the band’s identity at this point. The full throttle menace of OLTTB opens the album and contrasts with the more understated and reflective sound – retaining some traits from Microdisney – which I think work particularly well on the melancholic The Day I Lost Everything, merging those with keyboards and surreal lyrics (Jimmy Tarbuck warning that “Anybody who blasphemes against Santa, shall die”).

Both strands would get more extreme and refined as the band firmed up their identity, but the template was there from the start.

If Against Nature was the statement of intent, then Blues For Ceausescu is where everything came to visceral life. As the core line-up coalesced for the sessions that would lead to the debut album, with bassist Hugh Bunker joining Nick Allum (drums) & Andrías Ó Grúama (guitars) alongside Coughlan himself, the standalone release of this swaggering cyber-industrial juggernaut of a single was the first release from a combination of talents. It’s a massive abrasive angle-grinder of a track, six minutes plus of bile and venom, appalled and angered at how you can no longer depend on the land in which you were born, or any land in which you choose to place yourself.

At times it does veer close to going over the top (on the wrong day, that wigged out guitar near the end can grate) but it’s one that consistently pops up in any of those “Name Your Top Ten All Time Songs” discussions that us music nerds are prone to spending way too much time on, and deserves a place both there and in this list. It also marks the final break from Microdisney with Coughlan describing it as “a truly non-crafted song” purpose designed to stop people “thinking of me as the guy who nearly co-wrote a hit in 1987”.

If there was a slight disappointment that the first full length album, Viva Dead Ponies, didn’t feature what probably ought to have been its centerpiece, there were other equally aggressive and in-your-face songs such as Look What I Stole For Us, Darling (one of those intriguingly irresistible trademark titles that demand investigation, Popemobile To Paraguay or Gary Numan’s Porsche anyone?) which also makes my list here. Pummelling drums, Coughlan’s desperate vocal howl and widescreen keyboard flourishes make for a thuggishly confrontational highlight. Given those spritely keyboard stabs and the near-jaunty vocals, it’s possible to daydream of a parallel world out there with a sitcom with a name, theme music and concept taken from this tune.

My other choice from the album – A Pack Of Lies – is a curious departure, almost a medieval folk song in structure with a first half that’s just Coughlan’s voice and what sounds like an electric piano, but could easily be a lute or lyre in the hands of a wandering minstrel. It’s a deceptively dark tale of an abused and exploited woman who we meet on her deathbed, only for her to finish up ascending into heaven with contentment on her face, where Holy God is there to greet and batter her into her place.


After the cohesive assembly of disparate aspects on the albums to date, the Bertie’s Brochures mini is somewhat of a pick and mix of ill-matched leftovers and afterthoughts (three of the eight tracks are covers). But it is notable for the doomed romanticism of Behind The Moon, one of the band’s tender and gentlest moments, a structurally simple song concealing the melancholic story of life lost In the dead zone, in the darkness, where lovers all are blind to alcohol abuse. Coughlan’s emotive crooning does make a particularly complementary companion to the Scott Walker cover (Long About Now) that it sits alongside.


The title track of the Hive EP that closed off a productive 1991 is a different animal entirely, one with bits of red meat in its teeth as it takes the template from Blues For Ceausescu and pares it down to less than half the length, but with the same amount of industrial ferocity and relentless drumming from Nick Allum packed in. Not to everyone’s tastes admittedly as I discovered when DJ-ing in the mid-nineties and making the ‘challenging’ choice of following a crowd-pleasing Nirvana unit-shifter with it, and clearing a bemused dancefloor as a result. Having already done this once that night (the transition from Sabotage into Consolidated’s Guerillas In The Mist having also been viewed A Bit Much by the crowd) this prompted a tap on the shoulder from the venue manager and a strong suggestion to stop mucking about. Ah well.


The Valhalla Avenue album from 1992 is probably my marginal favourite (not that everyone agrees, it didn’t even get a release in America!) and so could’ve easily provided more than two tracks for this list, but I’ve settled on two that function as a decent sample of its sound. North Atlantic Wind is probably the most personal selection on the list, as I’ve rarely seen it mentioned in discussions of their work, but it’s a lovely baroque showcase for Coughlan’s rich sonorous baritone, as he laments a thwarted life of quiet desperation: North Atlantic wind will cut through bone and brain, be glad that you can still feel pain / Because naked you’ll die, under the black sky, lost and alone. The first minute or so is nothing more than Coughlan’s vocals and some monolithic percussion, building into a dramatic squall of barely restrained chaos – notably adding a rare female co-vocal from Ann Rodgers of The Crowd Scene – including what sounds like a burst of keyboard extrapolated from Entry Of The Gladiators for that demented circus-in-hell feel.

As ever there’s a contrasting option within a couple of tracks, here in the shape of the thudding squealing assault of Go Home Bible Mike, inspired by some graffiti (credited to “anon wall-inscriber, Tufnell Park, mid-1980s”) which is also noteworthy for containing the scathing put-down: You don’t make me laugh, you don’t make me horny, so what the hell are we doing here?.


It’s a consistent theme that the band were fond of a cover version, but looking at their discography as a whole it’s striking just how many they ended up releasing. Most were quite respectful (Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Scott Walker as mentioned earlier and, urm, Ministry) but their takes on Shiny Happy People (Coughlan: “Don’t get me wrong, I like REM, but sometimes I just fancy a spot of gratuitous obscenity …”) and the godawful Everything I Do (I Do It For You) deconstructed into an unsettling-but-inessential collage of beats, porn samples and squeaky toy noises for the NME Ruby Trax compilation, are more ‘experimental’ in nature.

Anyway, given all that, it seemed right to include a cover and my favourite is the fairly straight reading of the title track from the final Walker Brothers album, Nite Flights, that was also the second single from Lost In The Former West (1994) and their final proper release overall. It’s yearning (be my love, we will be gods) vocal croon over a similar-but-more-muscular take on the original, is a bit of a contrast to much of what was in large parts – for them anyway, so it’s all relative – a more conventional rock out of an album. It’s a decent enough record with plenty of swagger and fury, but maybe my choice of a cover version to represent the album, and the fact that there was some belated recognition for a couple of the stronger cuts from Valhalla Avenue as they were drafted in to beef up things up when it was released in the USA, says something.


So there we are, a – hopefully – representative sampler of the wildly inventive and fiercely intelligent work of the Fatima Mansions, rather than necessarily a Best Of. There were plenty of personal favourites that didn’t make the cut in the name of variety and spreading the recognition across the full spread of releases, but that does mean there are plenty more belters out there to discover if you’re inspired to investigate further, into their back catalogue or Coughlan’s post-Mansions work. He carried on to produce some stunning solo albums – despite legal restrictions lingering from the demise of the band – and most recently two inventive albums (self-described as “theocratic electropop from the Irish diaspora”) with Jacknife Lee under the Telefis banner, until the tragic news in 2022 that a lifetime of Keeping Music Evil (as the iconic trademark t-shirt slogan had it) had come to a premature end following a long illness.

As Jacknife Lee said at the time, “Cathal was a giant, he was a great writer, his perspective was really unique”.




The Fatima Mansions photo 2

Cathal Coughlan (1960–2022)

photo by Richard Bellia from the ‘Viva Dead Ponies’ LP


Fatima Mansions discography

The Cathal Coughlan interview – Malcolm Wyatt (2021)

Cathal Coughlan solo discography

The Story Of Microdisney: The Clock Comes Down The Stairs – BBC TV Documentary (2024)

Iron Fist In Velvet Glove: The Story Of Microdisney – An oral history by Paul McDermott (2017)

Microdisney discography

Fatima Mansions biography (AllMusic)

Steve is originally from Leicester and early visits to the Princess Charlotte in the mid-Eighties were a major influence. His musical sweetspot probably involves jangly and/or angular indie guitar music (with the various projects of Kristin Hersh being particular favourites), but he’s equally likely to be found listening to hip-hop, techno, Motown/Stax or whatever you’d describe These New Puritans as. He now lives in Scotland with his wife (Janet) and neurotic dog (Finn), enjoying living on the scenic Fife coast while still having easy access to the many venues of Edinburgh. He can also be found posting irregular but impassioned musical recommendations as therebelliousjukebox808 on Instagram..

TopperPost #1,114


  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 27, 2024

    Thanks for this excellent piece Steve. Cathal was such a great songwriter and such a huge loss. Might have to have ‘Viva Dead Ponies’ (the song) in my Top 10 though – especially for the classic ‘brillo pads’ line.

    • Steve Parker
      Apr 28, 2024

      Hi Andrew, thanks for that, really pleased that you enjoyed it. So many great songs (and funny/subversive/intelligent lines!) that I had to leave out I agree. But that just shows how much good stuff is out there for people to discover if they’ve had their appetite whetted by this piece (and the positive feedback that it’s got).

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