January of this year you'd have been forgiven for thinking that Microdisney
were about to take over the world. Critical acclaim from all quarters
saw the group appearing in everything from Jackie Pop Special to the Independent.
Guitarist Sean O'Hagan was hailed a musician of merit; singer, lyricist
and crazed frontman Cathal Coughlan was declared a man of insight, anger
As their live appearances garnered rave reviews for their energy and sheer
enjoyment factor, the LP 'The Crooked Mile' won universal praise. Cathal
wore a nice yellow pully and crooned to an audience of Blackpool Land
Ladies on 'The Tom O'Connor Roadshow'. Hell- the video of their single
'Town To Town', a bouncy little number about nuclear destruction, even
won the 'Saturday Superstore' pop panel. It proceeded to climb gradually
to just outside the fun 40. Success was assured.
Only, of course, it wasn't. Disagreements with their record company, Virgin,
over a follow-up to capitalize on 'Town To Town's' encouraging showing
resulted in Microdisney virtually disappearing from the wild and wacky
world of pop. All the headway they'd made in the months after Christmas
had been virtually wasted. And now, 10 months Later, they're having to
Yet in a business where people are quick to apportion blame for their
failures to anyone but themselves, Sean and Cathal, the Micros' songwriting
partnership, know exactly what went wrong. It was their fault.
They came to believe that the same 'The Crooked Mile' LP that had earned
them such praise, just wasn't good enough. In the middle of a busy lunchtime
in a pub in Hampstead, North London, Cathal Coughlan leans back in his
chair and admits: 'It pulled its punches.'
'A year later, it sounds like it was recorded in 1973- and that's bad,'
agrees Sean. 'You certainly learn from your mistakes. Especially when
your mistakes are as major as ours were. We didn't have the right song
to follow 'Town To Town' in the end. We thought we did but we didn't.
The frustrating thing was that we could see what was happening, but the
only thing you can do in that situation is get another album written and
Cathal: 'I think what it all goes back to is that 1986 was a pretty lazy
year for us. We thought we could get away with a lot of things. It's now
abundantly obvious that we couldn't. This year's been pretty much one
of unmitigated slog and disappointment.'
Perhaps one of Microdisney's biggest problems was in living up to the
rivers of purple prose written in praise of them at the beginning of the
year. A wodge of press cuttings the size of a small encyclopaedia was
duly accumulated, most of which concentrated on the seemingly perplexing
nature of Microdisney. People found it strange that a band whose music
was so joyful, unnervingly easy to listen to and uplifting should be set
against lyrics dealing with the more distasteful things in life- a manifesto
of anger set to a happy beat.
Among the many targets for his barbed wit and lashing tongue, Cathal has
been known to be particularly vitriolic about the common or garden yuppie.
Yet some people have pointed out that 'The Crooked Mile' could have sat
easily among the Sade, Paul Simon and Kate Bush LPs in the record collections
of just that most reviled section of 'prosperous' Eighties society.
Cathal: 'It could do but there's one major requirement for appealing to
yuppies and that's that you've been successful for about 15 years already.
Yuppies are old people, basically. But yeah, it did grate constantly having
this dichotomy pointed out of words versus music. Where, as far as we're
concerned, it didn't really exist. It's something we've tried to bridge
since. The lyrics on the new album are far from being more relaxed than
on the last one. There are bits that are going to annoy people!'
(With a warm chuckle.) 'There's one song in particular where I advocate
'No, not total- just certain parts of the population. Young would-be-rich
cops and people in suits. It's just an infantile way of expressing something
fairly complicated. I think it's the best way to do it. I think the only
way to make records is as if each one is going to be your last.
'The basic motivation for me writing lyrics is 'What do I hate most today?
and just take it from there, really.'
So it's a way of getting rid of frustrations?
'They still remain, but for me, it certainly feels a lot better if you've
done something in some small way about it rather than just letting it
accumulate and get worse.'
What do the rest of the band make of all this?
Sean: I do understand most of what's going on even though I admit it takes
a while sometimes. I think the incongruity of some of the words always
pulls through and that's what I like about them.
Yet this incongruity had led to some of the most pretentious features
in the history of popular music journalism being flung Microdisney's way.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that both Sean and Cathal were morose,
humourless people walking around with a copy of Nietszche tucked into
their duffel coat pocket. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cathal: 'The whole reason for us doing what we do is because it's pop
music- we don't see it as marginal or inaccessible. I've been shouting
this at the top of my lungs for as long as I can remember and it still
doesn't penetrate some thick sculls.'
Wouldn't it be best to forget pushing any 'messages' in the music and
sell - or be sold - purely on the sound?
Cathal: 'That's what we always think we're doing!'
The present for Microdisney looks distinctly more rosy than the immediate
past. Their first single in 10 months is a classically sweeping epic ballad
entitled 'Singer's Hampstead Home'. A more beautifully crafted tune you'll
not hear all year and it's tailor made for the radio- though who knows
if the daytime schedules will find room for it. Early signals are not
good. It is, however, Microdisney's most commercial recording to date.
As usual there's more to this rich pop song than meets the eye. The vaguely
threatening hillbillies surrounding Microdisney in the video for 'Singer's
Hampstead Home' let you know - if you didn't already - that all is not
as bright and happy as it sounds. And doesn't an infamous media personality/singer
who's rarely been out of the news in recent months, live in Hampstead?
Are Microdisney singing about their label mate Boy George?
Cathal: 'It's not really about him. It's just about how lame pop stars
have come to be, as a rule. People who make it big in the entertainment
business have never exactly been notorious for their integrity or their
intelligence. There are a few careerists who'll do anything for publicity-
they don't give a shit what kind of record they make as long as it sells.
'The actual phrase 'Singer's Hampstead Home', OK, was taken from an unending
series of articles about one particular individual, because it seemed
to typify that situation so much because you have to have a home in Hampstead
even though everyone can bloody find you there. It's so crass, so stupid
and so completely unnecessary it appalls me.
'And I hate the comeback idea as well. That they can appear on 'The Rock
Gospel Show' in five years time wearing some ankle length nylon coat and
singing thinly veiled songs about Jesus. The gospel road to comeback is
always lying in wait.'
So can the band Tom O'Connor named his 'tip for the top' back in February,
break out from their position of cult-group-with-a-devoted-following to
major league status? Their recent successful support at U2's Birmingham
NEC concert would indicate the signs were good.
Cathal: 'It was full of normal people who you would meet shopping in Asda
at the weekend. And, when U2 came on the whole place went crazy.'
Yet is there room in the charts for a band who peddle melody and passion
among all the polished, manufactured white boy funk that people seem willing
to mistake for 'soul' at the moment? Sean and Cathal don't have the answer
to that any more than anyone else, but share a dislike of this type of
sound emanating, particularly, from north of the border.
Sean: 'Hue & Cry are the worst. One of them - Mr. Hue or Mr. Cry,
I don't know which one - was on television and he was saying there's a
great scene in Glasgow again. Aye, it's great- all the bands are pals:
Love & Money, Hipsway...'
Cathal (shaking his head in disbelief): 'there are so many poncey bastards
in Scotland at the moment!
'I'd like to string up Martin Fry more than any other person I can think
of. It was him, and the three other wankers he was with, who made it acceptable
to be a cabaret star and still be 'subversive'; to go into the Soho Brasserie
in your Jean Paul Gaultier suit and think that, somehow, that would be
subversive because, basically, you knew you were taking the piss.'
Sean: 'Imagine in 1981 when they were all around- Haircut 100 and ABC.
Who else? OK Jive... I remember thinking 'what a load of crap'. And to
think that six years later there'd be another bunch of arseholes quite
happily doing the same thing.'
Cathal: 'But doing it even worse.'
Microdisney have been known to 'take the piss' once or twice themselves.
Anyone who saw their deadpan performance on 'The Tom O'Connor Roadshow'
would never again live under the misconception that Microdisney are po-faced
bastards who wouldn't know a good time if it came up and tickled their
goolies. A few more appearances like that...
Cathal: Oh yeah, we were great mates with Tom... Spent all of two minutes
in his company then he proceeded to introduce us as his new friends. I
was there in my yellow cardigan, tapping my foot, sitting on a stool like
'And any opportunity to see Blackpool in the off season has to be welcomed.
It's such a bizarre place. Britain has very little surrealism generally-
there aren't many places that you can say are completely off-the-wall
but Blackpool is one of them. The place we were in is called the Sandcastle
Centre and it's this huge concrete pavilion on the sea front and in the
summer they flood the place so you can swim and boat. Apparently, if the
temperature inside gets lower than the temperature of the sea outside
lapping against the wall, clouds will form at the top and rain will fall.'
They do say every cloud has a silver lining, and though Microdisney may
have travelled through the odd gale of misfortune, on current forecasts
they've more than weathered the storm.
Throw your preconceptions to the wind, take a stroll to the left field
of mainstream pop to let their musical charms rain over you. After all,
the 'Saturday Superstore' pop panel can't be wrong, can it?