Phil Coulter: An Irish Legend (2023)

Phil Coulter: An Irish Legend (1)By Paddy McCarthy

I just did the most fascinating interview with one of the greatest musicians. He is a living Irish Legend and is none other than Phil Coulter. Here is a man that could sit back and enjoy life and just let the world go by, as he has done everything that has to be done as a musician. But no, that is not Phil Coulter. He still loves what he does. He gives advice and guidance and is still performing and just as popular as ever in the music world.

Before I get into the history of Phil, I remember when he performed in such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York. He packed many a place and I was fortunate to be there for some of them. Let me tell yea, it was only magic when he performed.

He did mention one other particular venue in New York that he performed in and that was The Irish Repertory Theatre. Phil said he had the warmest memories of this. The venue was so unique in size and was beautiful to perform in. His wife Geraldine Brannigan also performed there. And guess what? I was there too.

He made one very nice comment regarding Ciaran O’Reilly, Producing Director of the Irish Rep. He said he had come not come across a more genuine man. I can tell you that he could not say enough about Ciaran, about his professionalism and how he made it so easy to perform, and comfortable for them; now wasn’t that nice.

Getting back to my questions to Phil I asked how hard was it for him to get into the social media space and to reach his fans during the ongoing pandemic? Here is what he said: “When Covid hit, the music business fell off the edge of a cliff. Gigs were cancelled, tours were pulled, recording sessions were abandoned. When the stark reality hit home, I figured I had two options. Either to sit in a corner feeling sorry for myself, complaining about the lockdown and blaming everybody from the government to the Chinese…or I could get creative and reinvent myself!”

I then asked whether he’d found that social media enhances the chemistry between you and your fans? He again said that “for the past few months I have seized the social media bull by the horns. In order to keep a profile with my followers I have embraced the technology, live streaming on my Facebook page every Saturday from my ‘Lockdown Lounge’ that was the room in his house and posting a couple of new tracks every week. The response has been a revelation.”

I asked him how hard is it to get that “rush” when performing without a crowd in front of you? He spoke again like a true professional and said “I am looking into the camera just as if I am looking in the camara when I am doing a television show.”

“We have had over one million reactions. For example, when I posted a short ‘Town I Loved So Well’ tribute to my friend John Hume It notched up 150,000 views.”

(Video) Phil Coulter, legendary Irish composer, about his hits (Austrian TV, 1974)

Now where would yea get it? Only from a true Legend Phil Coulter. I talked about a few things that I knew he could answer without a blink.

How has the process of collaborative song-writing changed in this era of lockdowns? How’s the planning going for the live events in October? Tell us more about Ryan Hennessy and Jimmy Rainsford. I was not hurrying him only I did not want to miss a question as I am still flabbergasted talking to him.

This was his reply: “To take all this to the next level we have planned three shows, on October 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Venue Theatre, Ratoath, Co. Meath. The shows, called “Up Close and Personal” will be in front of a restricted socially distant audience, ten tables of four.

“On the third night we are live streaming the concert across the globe.

“In an attempt to re-imagine our live performances this old dog has had to learn a few new tricks! In the same spirit I have been active on the songwriting front, writing with two of the hottest young talents around, Ryan Hennessy and Jimmy Rainsford from Picture This. It’s never too late for a fresh challenge!”

Now what more could I ask for as he was so pleasant to me and we also a had a few laughs about the old days in New York that I am not going to tell you about; it was all good fun with friends of both Phil and myself that are now gone, RIP.

The two lads that Phil was talking about from Picture This originate fromAthy, County Kildare, Ireland. The band consists of many people including Ryan Hennessy (vocals), Jimmy Rainsford (drums),well you can read about them in the Music page.

Now for a history on Philip Coulteris an Irish musician, songwriter and record producer fromDerry,Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Gold Badge from theBritish Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authorsin October 2009. He has amassed 23 platinum discs, 39 gold discs, 52 silver discs, two Grand Prix Eurovision awards; fiveIvor Novello Awards, which includes Songwriter of the Year; threeAmerican Society of Composers, Authors and Publishersawards; aGrammyNomination; aMeteor Award, a National Entertainment Award and a Rose d’or d’Antibes. He is one of the biggest record sellers in his native land.

Phil was born inDerry,Northern Irelandduring the height of theSecond World War, where his father (fromStrangford,County Down) was one of a minority of Catholic policemen in theRoyal Ulster Constabulary. His mother was fromBelfast. He was the fourth child with two older brothers and a sister and one younger sister, each born with a year’s difference between them, in atwo-up two-downterraced house.

(Video) Phil Coulter - Legends (1997)

Coulter’s father, also called Phil, encouraged music in the house. He played thefiddlewhilst his wife played the upright piano. The younger Coulter recalls this piano, made by Challen, as “the most important piece of furniture in the house

“I always stayed away from the fiddle, having inflicted enough pain on my family with the piano,” he laughed. Coulter confesses that he came close to abandoning the piano at an early age.

“The truth is I hated the piano at first. I’d love to say I was a natural but I wasn’t. I hated playing it and I hated my music teacher. My father, who was a canny man, told me, ‘We have to scrimp and save to pay for these lessons, you might as well give them up. It wasn’t long before I gravitated back to the piano, trying to play the songs that I was listening to on the radio. I always wondered what my left hand was supposed to be doing though. But after two or three years at St. Columb’s College I began thinking of the piano as an extension of myself.”

Phil Coulter: An Irish Legend (2)One of Coulter’s most popular songs, ‘The Town I Loved So Well’, deals with the embattled city of hisyouth, filled with “that damned barbed wire” duringthe Troubles.

He started his first band at Queen’s University, playing earlyrock and rollmusic despite studying classical music. He was also founder of the Glee Club, which staged music events for the university. By 1964, his final year at university, he’d already written a couple of hit songs in Ireland and moved to London, where his first job was as an arranger/songwriter with a music publisher inDenmark Street.

From here he was hired to work with acts includingBilly Connolly,Van Morrison,Jerry Lee LewisandTom Jones. He wrote ‘Foolin’ Time’ (1963), a hit for the Capitol Showband. Other songs he contributed to around that time included hisarrangementof ‘Terry’ (1964), a UK No. 4 hit forTwinkle, plus co-writing ‘I Can Only Give You Everything’, which was originally recorded byThem.

In 1965, he metBill Martinand the two became established as a successful songwriting team that lasted more than ten years (Martin for thelyrics, Coulter for themelody).They wroteSandie Shaw’s 1967Eurovision-winning entry, ‘Puppet on a String’, which became an international hit which was covered more than a 100 times.

The following year their song ‘Congratulations’, sung byCliff Richard, came second in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2008 a Spanish documentary alleged that Cliff Richard had been robbed of victory after GeneralFrancisco Francofixed the vote. The person who made the claim in the documentary,José María Íñigo, said later that his words had been taken out of context.

Seven years after ‘Congratulations’, another Coulter song, ‘Toi’, co-written withPierre Cour, was performed as theLuxembourgentry by Coulter’s future wife Geraldine inStockholm. Coulter conducted the orchestra for the song, which came fifth.

(Video) Phil Coulter - Classic Tranquility (1983)

Coulter and Martin also wrote ‘Shine It On’, which finished third in the 1978 heat ofA Song for Europe, performed by the Glaswegian performer Christian.

Between 1967 and 1976, they had fourNo. 1hitsin the UK: ‘Puppet on a String’, ‘Congratulations’, ‘Back Home’ and ‘Forever and Ever’. There were also numerousTop 10hits including theBay City Rollers’ ‘Shang-A-Lang’,‘Fancy Pants’ by theglam rockbandKenny, ‘Requiem’ by theScottishpop groupSlik, and ‘Surround Yourself with Sorrow’ byCilla Black.

In 1975, Martin and Coulter were joint recipients of anIvor Novello Awardfor ‘Songwriter of the Year’.
The Bay City Rollers had a No. 1 hit in 1976 in the USBillboardHot 100chartwith ‘Saturday Night’, a song that was not released as a single in the UK. There were three No. 1 hits in the US for the songwriters, the other two (which were chart-toppers on theBillboardHot Country Songs and theAdult Contemporarylistings respectively) being ‘Thanks’, performed byBill Andersonand ‘My Boy’, sung byElvis Presley. They also contributed incidental music to the 1967Spider-Mantelevision series, and Coulter also wrote the score to the 1978 film version ofThe Water Babies.

As well as writing hit singles, Coulter produced three albums withPlanxty. Christy Moorewrote: “With no competition he gave us a shite contract and we signed everything away. All that said, 30 years on this album sounds good. He produced it well and … (he had) the foresight and wherewithal to record the band at a time when no one else was listening.”

Coulter produced, arranged and wrote most ofJoe Dolan’s 1983 album,‘Here and Now’. The album featured several hit singles, including the Irish Top Ten hit ‘Deeper and Deeper’ which remained a staple in Dolan’s live sets, and was also one of the last songs Dolan performed before he became ill on stage, during what turned out to be his last ever show inAbbeyleix. The album was released in South Africa as‘Yours Faithfully’where it went to number one within one week of release.

In 2007, Phil joined with Sharon Browne, one of the originators of the successfulCeltic Womanproduction, to collaborate on formation of a male version of that production calledCeltic Thunder. A stage production atThe Helixin Dublin was released on DVD as‘Celtic Thunder: The Show’, and it went to the top of theAmazonandBillboardWorld Top Albums chart in 2008.

In 1984 Coulter launched himself as an artist in his own right and began by releasing a solo instrumental album called‘Classic Tranquility’. His follow-up,‘Sea of Tranquility’, became the second-best selling album of all time in Ireland. It peaked at No. 46 in theUK Albums Chart, and remained in the chart for fourteen weeks.The follow-up album,‘Phil Coulter’s Ireland’reached No. 86 in the UK.

He moved from London back to Ireland, where he established his music publishing company on the grounds of his house inBray, south of Dublin. Coulter’s official website notes that he has some 23platinum records, 39 gold and 52 silver albums. He also keeps one of the walls of his office blank, “to remind me that there’s still room for a lot more.”

In the 1990s, he produced work for bothSinéad O’ConnorandBoyzone. In 2001 he was nominated for aGrammy Awardin the “New Age” category for his album‘Highland Cathedral’. He continues to be a popular performer in his native country and around the world in places such asThe White HouseandCarnegie Hall. On October 28, 2009, he was presented with aBASCAGold Badge Award in recognition of his unique contribution to music.

(Video) Phil Coulter - Scottish Tranquility (1992)

Coulter’s first marriage was to Angela Coulter; their second child was born withDown’s Syndromeand died aged four. With the encouragement ofLuke Kelly, he wrote the song ‘Scorn Not His Simplicity’ to help him get through the difficult time. Kelly recorded the song and it appeared onThe Dubliners’ 1970 LP‘Revolution’, becoming the definitive version, later being recorded by several artists.

Phil Coulter: An Irish Legend (3)
In 1974, Coulter was approached byLuxembourgto write a song for the1975 Eurovision Song Contest, following his success with ‘Puppet on a String’, which won for the UK in 1967, and his ‘Congratulations’ (recorded byCliff Richard), which nearly won in 1968. Whilst looking for a singer he sawGeraldine Branniganin aGuinnessTV advert in Dublin and felt that he had to meet her. She went on to represent Luxembourg and came in fifth place. He later said in an interview onMiriam Meets…onRTÉ Radio 1it was love at first sight.

In November 1998, Coulter married Brannigan in a low-key ceremony at Wicklow registry office, witnessed by their six children, Danielle, Dominique, Alexandra, Daragh, Ryan and Georgina, and 16 guests. Coulter and his wife live inBray, County Wicklow.

Disregarding the broad international campaign against theApartheidregime and the imprisonment ofNelson Mandela, Coulter performed in an undemocratic South Africa in May 1983 and his name was included in the register of entertainers who traveled to that country by the United Nations Center Against Apartheid, which was published in 1986.

In 2002, Coulter was encouraged by theSave the Swillyorganisation to run for theDáilto protectLough Swillyfrom aquacultural destruction. After some deliberation, he concluded that work and family commitments would not allow him the time necessary to fill the political position.

Around that time, Coulter’s brother died in a drowning incident in Ireland, which also caused Phil to retreat from themusic industryfor some time.

He is a former president ofDerry City Football Cluband is known to be a supporter of the club, having attempted to help the club with its financial problems in the early 2000s. He has also helped Derry City’s local rivals,Finn Harps, in their time of need. His son Ryan plays in goal forForward Madison FC.

In 1995, theIrish Rugby Football Unioncommissioned Coulter to write a politically neutral anthem for theIreland national rugby union team, which represents both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The result was ‘Ireland’s Call’, which is played alongside, and in some cases instead of, ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’. As well as being used by both the Ireland national rugby union team and the junior national teams, ‘Ireland’s Call’ has since also been adopted by Ireland’s nationalhockey,cricketandrugby leagueteams and by the world-renowned singing groupThunder Coulter has received honorary doctorates from theUniversity of Ulster(1988),Dublin Institute of Technology(2006),andThe Open University(2018).

Now you have an idea what this man has accomplished in his life time and let tell not finished yet.

(Video) Phil Coulter's Irish Water song


1. Phil Coulter - Dreaming In The Dawn (2000)
(M&R for you)
2. The Town I loved so Well with lyrics
(Rebel Lyrics)
3. James Galway & Phil Coulter - Mna na h-Eireann (Women Of Ireland)
4. Phil Coulter - Celtic Horizons (1996)
(M&R for you)
5. James Galway & Phil Coulter - Appalachian Round up
6. Phil Coulter - Serenity (1990)
(M&R for you)
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