Mary Coughlan’s one hour set in the Fortuna Speigeltent on Sunday night was a transportive affair taking us deep into the soul of this wonderful Irish singer.

Whilst her performance was sublime, the one hour time-slot did not really allow her the time to cover enough of her back catalogue in order to fully satisfy long term fans – a fact the artist herself bemoaned to fans after the gig.

The good news though, is that she is considering a return to town sometime in the future, perhaps at the Cabaret Festival next year where she can provide us with a full concert repertoire.

Coughlan’s Fringe show began with her accompanists – pianist, Matt McMahon, & double bassist, Brett Hirst – striking up a delicious jazzy blues slow burn to accompany the singer onto the stage where she began with Meet Me Where They Play The Blues, one of a brace of songs she included from her very first album, released way back in 1987.

It was clearly evident, from the very first note she sang, that her voice has lost none of its emotion or clarity over the journey of time, despite the ravages of her well documented struggles with addiction and personal loss. Almost every song in the set, however, did detail some account of her personal disappointments in love, or flagged some reference to the self-destructive lifestyle she has now thankfully put well behind her.

Telling us, with a begrudging acceptance, that her ‘second ex-husband’ would be getting royalties for another of her early songs, she introduced a wonderfully wry version of Double Cross, and, throughout the evening, she continued to provide some entertaining contextual tales that helped place her songs clearly within her rich life story.

Her dry, self-deprecatory sense of humour charmed her audience and her willingness to allow her musicians space to shine during songs was also an endearing characteristic of her performance.

The short set was full of vocal highpoints. Two Billie Holiday numbers paid homage to her main inspiration and these were delivered with restrained power and an obviously unfettered admiration for her muse, whilst a heartbreakingly poignant version of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart had everyone in the tent engaged and enthralled in her delivery.

Her account of the tragic death of fellow Irish singer-songwriter, the much-missed Kirsty MacColl, at the hands of a drunken speedboat driver, led into a terrific version of MacColl’s Bad, a song which, whilst filled with MacColl’s unique wit and humour, also dovetailed beautifully into the litany of poor relationship choices that the songs in the rest of the set recounted so deliberately and frequently.

The set ended with one of the best versions of the Etta James’ classic, I’d Rather Go Blind, that anyone could ever wish to hear.

What a privilege it was to be in the audience and to be able to listen to this performance.

Let’s hope that Mary does come back for next year’s Cabaret Festival – she is a truly affecting performer, and getting to hear her sing live in Adelaide, at last, will undoubtedly prove to be an experience that will live long in the memories of those who attended.

Rating: 5 stars


Mary Coughlan played at the Fortuna Spiegeltent in The Garden Of Unearthly Delights, on Sunday 24 February, 2019.