The man behind the tunes you’ve loved so well

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Murray Leith and Jo Laing

LEGENDARY musician and songwriter Phil Coulter is celebrating 55 years in the music industry this year, so Glasgow Irish Bands and Gigs caught up with him to find out what his proudest moments are, and what the future holds in our changing times.

Most Irish music tells a story, with Phil’s that’s certainly the case.

55 years in the music industry, what an amazing accomplishment. How did it all start for you?
I had my first hit in Ireland, Foolin’ Time by the Capitol Showband in 1964, when I was still a student at University. That got me an introduction to their London agent and my first job, as a musical office boy. I progressed from there to a songwriting contract with one of the big publishers in Denmark Street, London’s Tin Pan Alley. That’s where I learned my trade.

Looking back over the years what have been your greatest personal achievements?
My greatest personal achievement is to have brought nine children into the world!

My proudest professional one is being the only non American songwriter to have written a hit single for Elvis Presley, My Boy.

Writing, recording, performing and producing, over the years you’ve played a major part In the worlds music, if you could turn back time, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I lived in LA for a while in the mid 1970s when I was scoring a major movie, The Water Babies. It was a great learning curve and allowed me to learn from giants like Elmer Bernstein. I couldn’t see myself staying and living there so I came back to Ireland.

I’ve often wondered what fate would have had in store if I’d stayed in Hollywood!

You famously refused an OBE, is that a decision you have ever had regrets over?
The reasons for my refusal are as valid to me now as they were then. Maggie Thatcher was the Prime Minister at the time and, for me, accepting the award would have been seen as my being a supporter of hers, which I most definitely was not. Her treatment of the miners during their industrial action and of the hunger strikers to me was beyond heartless and callous.

What was the best advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to a musician starting out in their career?
Your talent by itself does not entitle you to anything! Talent only gets you into the game. It’s the hard work, determination and energy that keeps you there and allows you to progress.

You have collaborated and worked with some of the world’s greatest artists, is there anyone you wish you had taken the opportunity to work with but missed out?
My musical heroes are the talents that have endured and who are still cutting it… Paul Simon, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Mark Knopfler. If the opportunity ever arose to work with any one of them I’d be on the next plane!

You have written and performed many songs that have become household favourites. What is your favourite to perform?
If I had to choose just one song from all my catalogue, to choose the one song I’d want to be remembered for, it would have to be The Town I Loved So Well. I never tire of performing it.

Covid-19 has altered the world as we know it. Your ‘live shows from the Lockdown Lounge’ with great guests such as Roy Buckley, George Hutton and Geraldine Branagan, (Phil’s wife) have been great for moral, how has lockdown affected you?
When our industry fell off a cliff and the reality dawned that we would not be performing until next Spring at the earliest, I figured that I had two choices. I could either sit in the corner feeling sorry for myself, cursing my luck and blaming everybody from the government to the Chinese… or I could accept the new reality and adjust. This old dog had to learn some new tricks! I was grateful that the Lockdown Lounge gave me the opportunity to have a presence and a profile on my Facebook page and enabled me to stay in touch with my fans and followers.

Your up and coming livestream is on sale currently ‘Up Close And Personal With Phil Coulter’ what can we expect from that show?
This is the next step from the Lockdown Lounge. When organising a live stream concert I didn’t want to do it through a phone from my home! I determined that if we were going to step up we’d do it properly. One of my favourite small theatres is The Venue in Ratoath and that is our location. The good folks there have reconfigured the seating to make it intimate, nightclub style, with just ten tables of four, to meet the Covid restrictions. We’ll have the full theatrical set up, stage, set, lighting, multi camera etc. We’re doing three shows, with Special Guests George Hutton and Geraldine Branagan, and on the third night, October 3 we’re live streaming to the world! You’ll see all the Phil Coulter favourites, Ireland’s Call, The Old Man, Scorn Not His Simplicity, Steal Away and so on, plus a few new tricks. This is a first for me, quite historic and I can’t wait to get on the stage again!

Streaming tickets for Phil’s Up Close and Personal gig on October 3 are available via: https://thevenueratoath.ticketsolve.com/shows/873621360?fbclid=IwAR2k-pZx7pQLejwKIOA12eHZ6jkRLnItaToGzxoqiyN6k9gvRFXnPaNMDlk

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