Sunday Times Culture Magazine – 5th February
When Danny Coghlan was a boy, he loved Adam and the Ants so much, he wrote into Jim’ll Fix It asking if he might be able to play the drums with the band. Sadly, he never even received a reply. That Christmas, Coughlan found a copy of the new Ants annual under the tree, but when he turned the book over and saw the boy who actually did get on hte show posing for a photo with the whole band, he was devastated.
“I actually cried for a week,” he nods, pulling at a pint in a Soho bar.
Happily, time has a way of righting many wrongs, and now Coughlan, as Crybaby, is about to release a truly wonderful album of his own songs. It’s co-produced by Chris Hughes, who in a former life was known as Merrick. As any Ant Person will tell you, Merrick was one of Adam’s two drummers. Life is a long game indeed.
Crybaby’s startling music taps the same shimmering, low light blues you can hear in Scoot Walker, in Elvis and Morrissey, in Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley, but there’s also the volcanic emotion of Phil Spector or the Jesus and Mary Chain. In the first track, I Cherish The Heartbreak More Than The Love That I Lost (“it’s a love song to heartache”), there are echoes of pre-Beatles artists such as Joe Meek and Adam Faith. The video was filmed in the long, deserted corridors of the Bristol Royal Infirmary: has someone died or has someone been born? As a statement of intent for the whole album, it would be hard to beat. “I grew up on old records,” Coughlan says, “songs that had insights into love and life. So this is my tribute, my love letter to those album.”
As such, Crybaby (the name is a tribute to Garnet Mimms’s 1963 soul hit, John Water’s film and that peculiarly lachrymose train of early-1960s R&B) makes a very grown-up kind of music. The songs celebrate those moments when everything seems to have gone about as wrong as it possibly could, which can sometimes be the bit just before things sort themselves out again. “With chemistry and cigarettes,” Coughlan sings on We’re Supposed To Be In Love, “I sought to be soothe the dusty regrets…” Crybaby is romantic, but not in a chocolate-box way, and feels connected to a time when popular music was another wing of show business, when rock’s grim navel-gazing was some way in the future.
“That’s precisely it,” Coghlan says. “Show business ignores its own problems and looks outward, while rock music only wants to look inward. I can’t stand that self-indulgence, the way rock’s desire for intellectualism has made us all a but pussy. Half the guys I work with on a building site do more drugs on a school night that Kurt Cobain ever did, and they still turn up first think in the morning and use power tools. Rock-star whinging is ridiculous, isn’t it?”
Coughlan was born in Croydon, but grew up in Bridgwater, Somerset (“Horrible”), part of a close-knit London-Irish family where everybody was playing or listening to something. His grandmother would pick out Bye, Bye Blackbird on the piano, while his Aunt was an end of the pier Wurlitzer player who worked from Blackpool to Brighton and beyond. When he was nine Coughlan and his sister sang There’s A Whole In My Bucket in the talent show at a windswept holiday camp in Devon. They won, and duly appeared in the local paper.
Later, he would travel with his folk-loving father to Irish social clubs and listen to the songs and storytelling. Coughlan Sr was also in a harmony quartet that rehearsed in the family home. Coughlan would like upstairs on his bed, listening to their voices carry up the central heating pipes, the music and warmth and togetherness mixed up into one. As with all families, some rituals are sacrosanct, and for the Cougfhlans, one that was always enfoced was listening to that 1970’s Radio 1 mainstay Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club during Sunday lunch. Hence Elvis and Roy Orbison, Joe Meek and Phil Spector. Aged 11, Coughlan formed a metal band called Soup. whose one gig was cancelled when their smoke bombs went off before the curtains had opened.
When he left home, he drifted all over the country, sleeping on floors in various towns and cities for years until he ended up in Bristol, where he and his wife now live. During his travels, the Stone Roses and acid house both made huge impressions – as did the comedown friendly sounds of John Martyn and Nick Drake.
More recently, his previous band, a Pentangle-inspired folk group called Babel, played the Green Man Festival. Yet through-out it all, there was the ever present emotional pull of those songs from his childhood, the songs that never left him. One night while staying with his sister after a Babel gig in Manchester, he dug out a pile of his old records and CD’s. Listening to them again, he experienced “a rush of adrenaline”, he says. “The songs all dealt with these eternal themes – attraction, heartbreak, sorrow. They were so powerful, whereas what you hear on Radio 1 [now] every day sounds horrible and lyrically puerile. These records all come from a time when life was less forgiving. Getting your heart broken was part of life -nobody wanted to watch you cry about it.”
In November 2010, Coghlan bought a four track tape machine on eBay and began to demo a mass of new songs, all of which drew on those records he loved. Crybaby’s debut album was made in fits and starts from last March, whenever Coughlan could get studio time between his day jobs. What emerged from the sessions was songs full of a pared-down fragility, with his voice pushed up close to the ear, while the guitar, bass and drums are gently wound back. “My family is a bit sentimental,” he says, “a bit soppy. So the songs I write are escapist. But I think love and pain represent the whole landscape of creativity – and that, ultimately, is the attraction of every beautiful, sad record ever made.”
Now he has formed a new band so he can get out and play these great songs live. “But this isn’t a careerist assault on popular culture,” he laughs. “Not slogans on shirts time. Crybaby is about those little moments of ecstasy you feel, or the lows, both equally valid. Ultimately, I’m trying to get across a truth in the time I’ve got – and I don’t want to outstay my welcome.” – <Rob Fitzpatrick
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