One of the saddest musical losses of 2022 was the death of former Microdisney and Fatima Mansions frontman, Cathal Coughlan on 18th May. He enjoyed a prolific late period with 2021’s solo album, ‘Song of Co-Aklan’, and two full-length collaborations with producer Jacknife Lee under the guise of Telefis, ‘a hAon’ and the posthumously released ‘a Do’, being some of his finest work. Having used conventional indie rock accompaniment for most of his career, Lee’s creative electronic approach gives Coughlan’s lyrical tales fresh impetus. His voice, always a rich Irish brogue, benefits from some inventive use of manipulation and auto-tune. 

Telefis is the Gaelic word for television and the album recounts many aspects of Irish media history from the sampling of Irish president Eamon DeValera’s wary opening night introduction concerned about retaining the nation’s distinctive characteristics as the Republic’s first station, RTE, was launched in 1961 (‘The Casiotone Angelus’) through to the agonies of the photo model who tries to sell cloud storage for 2023 (‘Stock Photo Guy’). Amongst a stellar cast of musical guests, A Certain Ratio add squelchy bass and muted trumpet to give ‘Stock Photo Guy’ a sinister mood, Will Sergeant provides ‘The Age of Cling’ with a touch of psychedelic guitar, while his old Microdisney bandmate, Sean O’Hagan shows he has not lost his touch for a lush pop tune on ‘Space is Us’ and Jah Wobble makes ‘Circling Over Shannon’ into a dub feast. The whole package is expertly mastered by Anthony Chapman of Collapsed Lung.

The album gallops through Irish history during Coughlan’s lifetime. He has long had a gift for arresting phrases and songtitles, together with lyrics that have the quality of short stories or prose poems. This descriptive detail is instantly in evidence on the anthemic pulsing electro pop of ‘Swinging at the Hypnodrome’ (“The grey-haired throng they sing along”). ‘We See Showbands’ is a spoken-word piece of musical history, to electronic backing, in which Coughlan recounts how showbands were the dominant form in pre-punk Ireland with little sign of the genres and scenes that were developing in Britain at the time (“we do not see the existentialists… the garage psychedelicists… the blues rockers”).

A clip of dogs barking and army band music precedes ‘Circling Over Shannon’ which recounts Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s 1994 visit to Ireland during which he was ‘indisposed’ and unable to land, leaving Irish leader Albert Reynolds waiting on the tarmac. Reynolds was known as the ‘country and western Taoiseach’ having made his fortune running dancehalls. The song captures the absurdity of the age.

To the accompaniment of the album’s heaviest dancebeat, on ‘Strawboy Supernova’ Coughlan presents images of Irish tradition together with the modern Celtic tiger reputation of Ireland becoming a bastion of the low-tax economy (“come into Vegas on their tractors imported from Cork”).

Elsewhere, Coughlan turns his gaze to the wider world’s ailment of extreme greed. ‘Space is Us’ has Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in its sights referencing trillionaires, tax and flooding (“in space we trust/our dominion/ our centillions/ Headless horsemen of the galaxy are we”). The morals and behaviour of the hyper-rich come under the spotlight on the pithily titled ‘Hare Coursing in Mayfair’ (“We’re going on safari around Grosvenor Square/ it’s thrilling and hilarious unless you’re a hare”).

Coming on like a Marxist Kraftwerk, the exceptional dance-pop of ‘Airstrip’ describes a “new kind of fiefdom the kind that can’t be deposed/jail for the judges… Arriving on Runway 2 the Enoch Powell fantasy cruise.” ‘The Cartheginians’ is an infectious funk work-out with playful lyrics. (“In Philadephia we met with old Sun Ra/ A franchise deal – tadaa, Irish Arkestra!”)

Musically, ‘Feed The Light’ is the gentlest track, a ballad with childhood reminiscences of choppers and light entertainment but with a dark hinterland (“has the terror branch followed me home?”) In a similar vein, closing track, ‘On a Country Road’ sounds wistful and nostalgic but the references to checkpoints, “red torch swaying” and masks, and “asphalt and four wheels in flames” show an undiminished wrong-footing tendency. It makes a fitting ending to an outstanding album that is lyrically and musically satisfying.

Telefis: A Do – Out 7th October 2022 (Dimple Discs)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.