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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


If you - and I imagine this group is still in single figures - have been assiduously following my blog, when you get to hear this "Should've Been" you will realise it's the sort of record that is a melange of so many musical ingredients, I have liked and championed previously (click through if you want to catch up).

Exhibit B - Kirsty MacColl

Exhibit C - Prefab Sprout

It has ingredients from all of the above - musical accompaniment provided by Mark Nevin, production helmed by Pete Glenister and drums courtesy of Neil Conti. It also manages to sound like the kind of song that could have happily appeared on k.d. Lang's "Ingenue" (my love for which album you can remind yourself of here).

Except for the fact that it preceded that album by two years, coming out in the heady summer of 1990.

So, here's "Man Of The World" by Mary Coughlan - a wonderful slice of jazzy, gipsy flavoured swing that proved to be loved by absolutely nobody else I knew. In truth, there is some cause for thinking of Mary as something of an Irish version of Kirsty MacColl - she was intelligent, characterful, vocally powerful, loved by critics and had an extremely chequered career with record labels that meant she never really achieved the recognition she probably deserved.

I distinctly remember the one and only time I heard this on the radio and it was during DLT's 'Snooker On The Radio' show on a Sunday morning. I remember this because I always loved the John Peel story of all the Radio 1 DJs being asked round to the hairy cornflake's house for a party and realising he had no music in the house at all - no records or CDs. Anathema, one would imagine to Mr Peel.

Hence, his show (as several weekend shows were) was reflective of the producers often picking up a few oddities from the playlist to differentiate their shows from their more frenetic chart bound weekday contemporaries. I don't know if DLT liked it or not - he probably didn't care if the above assertion is true - but I did and I tracked down a copy in a Croydon record shop I would visit on my way back from visiting a client - a good meeting meant I treated myself to a new record.

A bad meeting meant I bought two...

Of course, this really was never going to be a hit. Fairground Attraction had been a delightful but very short-lived anomaly. The others all had their supporters but not in outrageous numbers and in a summer of Madchester, Raves and the back end of Stock Aitken and Waterman's heyday, this kind of sophisticated sound was going to need a champion for it to break through.

I don't know if the Europeans took to it because its influence is there in artists like Vaya Con Dios from Belgium and Caro Emerald from Holland - for both of whom I have a soft spot. The single was remixed to be speeded up slightly and that makes it an even more spirited record with lively guitar licks and fiddle accompaniment acting as counterpoint to her laid-back world-weary vocal.

Like The Bluebells "Young At Heart" and of course "Perfect", right place right time right support and it could have been massive, I suppose. But even back then, it never felt on the cards and I loved it all the more for that.

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