I was a bold and rebellious child, a real head-banger. I was always getting in trouble, raging against the machine. I’ve always been an independent thinker. In school, I was really good at history, art and English, all my favourite subjects, although I hated school and authority.
For some reason, as an artist I’ve always been more successful abroad than at home.
Maybe it’s because I railed against things, the songs I sang were not safe — they were about drug addiction and child abuse. Whatever the reason, I particularly enjoyed selling out the Opera House in Sydney — at a time when I couldn’t even get a gig in Dublin.
There can be something very intimidating before a gig somewhere like Ronnie Scott’s, when you look up at the pictures on the wall of all the performers who have gone before you. I can still get nervous before a show but I try to get into the zone. Putting on makeup and having dinner seem to help.
I was 29 when I sang in public for the first time. I had three kids by the age of 24. The worst job I ever had was cleaning windows for a contractor to make a crust when they were very small.
I’ve been sober, and trying not to feel guilty about the past, for 19 years. It can be done. I thought it couldn’t and my family thought it couldn’t. But it can.
In two and a half years I was admitted to hospital for alcohol poisoning 32 times. Once I got out I’d try to go back to being a fighter and a survivor — then I’d drink again and sink even lower than before and have to try to climb even higher next time.
I equated the music business with my problem and while I was in the Rutland Centre I decided to give up going on stage — although they tell you not to make any major decisions for two years.
But when I got out, I got a request to do the Woman’s Heart gig and although I was terrified, I did it.
After that, I decided to be in control of my career — no manager or agents, I did it all myself and started travelling in a much smaller group. It had been 14 before the Rutland, then it was me plus three and that’s the way it has remained.
I’ve just recorded an album that is a completely new departure for me. I’d written some lyrics before, but this was the first time I sat down and wrote an album — or rather, co-wrote one. Erik and myself threw ourselves into it. I always carry back rugs from trips to places like Morocoo and we soundproofed the house with them and literally locked ourselves in the from December 16 until the end of February. After my daughter Aoife heard it she said we should call it Alchemist’s Gold — from Karl Jung. Its a metaphor for taking all of the shit in your life and make something beautiful from it.
I’m fat as a fool at the moment but I am health conscious as I have a touch of high blood pressure. It can be hard to eat well when you’re touring, travel days are appalling. I’m about to start a new fitness regime, training twice a week with a trainer called Damian Hall.
If I could change one thing about Ireland, it would be the moaning. We revel in it. My partner John is from New Zealand and we spent last March there. Although the place was flattened by an earthquake and some people are still living in makeshift homes waiting for the builder, they don’t complain all the time.
I’m passionate about certain things, like when I see injustice. When I am informed and feel qualified to speak about a subject, I do so. I’m told I was trending at number two on Twitter recently!
I believe we are all just energy — some like to call it God or spirit. I also believe this is it for us, here on this planet.
* Mary Coughlan plays the Station House Theatre on Thursday, Sept 19, as part of Clifton Arts Week.