Mary Coughlan, Billie Holiday and the Frazer Theatre

Mary Coughlan.
Mary Coughlan.

TRUE music royalty arrives in Knaresborough shortly and she’s promising an intimate set to suit the surroundings, writes Graham Chalmers.

Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser Series from her home in Ireland, Mary Coughlan, who plays Frazer Theatre on Saturday, October 29, said she would be taking requests from the audience - within reason.

The flame-haired, blunt-speaking mother of five may no longer be the booze-soaked hellraiser of legend but she’s scarcely a wilting wallflower.

“I’m only bringing my piano player and I will be playing 32 songs covering most of my albums with stories about where they came from. Which songs, exactly, is up to the crowd, though. It’s going to be very informal, which I love.”

The Knaresborough show is part of this wonderful vocalist’s first major UK tour in ten years with 16 dates in total.

It follows a fantastic critical response to her most recent album, The House of Ill Repute.

The County Galway-born Coughlan’s fame was first secured with her emotional blending of folk, blues, jazz and rock influences back in the time she was signed to major labels such as Warner Bros and East West Records.

“I only sing songs that really appeal to me. If I love the lyrics, it doesn’t matter what style the song is. It means that I can play folk festivals or blues or jazz ones and audiences enjoy me just the same.

“I think my last album is the best thing I’ve ever done but people don’t seem to buy albums these days, it’s all downloads - except at gigs.”

After initial fame, Coughlan’s personal life descended into the sort of minor hell mirroring the story of one of her biggest influences.

“I first heard Billie Holiday’s voice when I was 17 and saw The Lady Sings The Blues film at the pictures in Shepherd’s Bush in London. For a girl who’d led a sort of sheltered life in Ireland, musically at least, it had a huge impact on me.

“The very next Saturday I went along Portobello Road and bought the record on vinyl. I’ve still got it all these years later.

“I always try to slip a Billie Holiday song onto every album.”

l Tickets costing £18 are available online at or in person at Pear Records on the High Street, Knaresborough or Rock Steady Music shop in Harrogate.