Phil Coulter — in his own words

Phil Coulter — in his own words

O'Connor, Phil Coulter, Brian Kennedy in 2003 (picture

Phil Coulter, now aged 81, is about to embark on a major Ireland tour, entitled Four Score and Then.

Coulter has achieved world-wide recognition as a songwriter, notching up chart entries with a diverse list of artists from Elvis Presley to Cilla Black and from Waylon Jennings to Bobby Vinton. His production credits include Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Lisa Stansfield, Marianne Faithful and Richard Harris while in Ireland his successes have featured The Dubliners, Planxty, Paddy Reilly and the Furey Brothers.

He is particularly notable for his Eurovision successes, winning with Puppet On A String for Sandie Shaw and coming second with Congratulations for Cliff Richards — both of which he co-wrote with Scotsman Bill Martin. As it happens, Sandie Shaw was never keen on the song, believing that it damaged her credibility. Nevertheless it went on to sell more than 4million copies.

In 1995, the Irish Rugby Football Union commissioned Coulter to write a politically neutral anthem for Ireland’s national rugby union teams, drawn form across the island.

The result was Ireland's Call, which is played alongside, and in some cases instead of, Amhrán na bhFiann depending on whether it’s a home or an away match. As well as being used by the Ireland national rugby union teams (men and women) and the junior national teams, Ireland's Call has since also been adopted by the Ireland's national hockey, cricket and rugby league teams.

Here Phil gives us a few of thoughts on life, music and his career,

Te Deum by Antoine Charpentier — in other words the theme music from the Eurovision Song Contest, but composed in the late 1600s — never fails to give me a tingle down my spine. But I consider Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony the world’s greatest work of art.

When I’m at an international game in Lansdowne Road and hear the whole crowd singing Ireland’s Call, it’s a very special thrill. I almost feel like shouting “I wrote that!" Funnily enough though, we’re a soccer sort of a family. One of my sons Ryan, is a goalkeeping coach with Cincinnati FC — They’ve just won the League in the Major League Soccer in the USA

As a music student at Queens University in Belfast back in the 1960s, studying Bach, Brahms and Beethoven, I was equally enthralled by the music of Buddy Holly. And composer Seán Ó Riada inspired me with what he was doing with Irish music. But the people who would be in my ideal band today would be Michael Keeney (keys), van Gilliland (guitars), Nicky Scott (bass), Liam Bradley (drums)….Oops, the ARE my band!

I went to Queen’s in Belfast to study music — and French — and I enjoyed my time there. Then for a number of yearsI was a visiting Professor in Boston College in the Music/Irish Studies department. I really did enjoy that but it was not a full time commitment, so I never felt locked in.

My first taste of success in the music business was in 1964, when I had my first hit in the Irish charts. The song was Foolin Time, recorded by Butch Moore and the Capitol Showband. I’d written the song as a rag-week fundraiser while at Queen’s.

As a musical form I’d probably take vaudeville over opera although I do love Italian opera. But vaudeville has produced some of the greatest stars the USA has ever seen, like Al Jolson and my all time hero Jimmy Durante. It also produced the likes of Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Buster Keaton.

Though I’m a proud Derry man, I have a particular soft spot for Donegal, particularly Inishowen and Lough Swilly. But I grew up in Derry — and the song says it all; even after all these years it really is The Town I Love So Well. But these days I live in Co. Wicklow. It’s very beautiful and living beside the sea is something I never take for granted. A walk on the sea front is the perfect start to the day. Mind you, it does rain an awful lot.

DERRY MAN AND DUBLINER Phil Coulter with John Sheahan in 2016 (picture by Sam Boal/

I’ve written songs across many genres — Congratulations for Cliff Richards, Puppet on a String for Sandie Shaw, and hits for numerous bands: Bay City Rollers, Joe Dolan, and I’ve written one for Elvis Presley, My Boy. The thing is, your songs are like your children — some of them don’t live up to your expectations, others surpass them but, at the end of the day, you love them all. I consider myself blessed that some of my songs have entered into the public domain, and are like part of the fixtures and fittings. But if I had to name just one, the song I’d like to be remembered for it would be The Town I Loved So Well. And if there’s one line in that song which makes me sit back and go, yeah, that’s good, it’s: “For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken.” I like that line so much I used it as the title to my memoir.

The best of my songs I’ve written by myself, though I’ve had a few stellar collaborators: Billy Connolly, Albert Hammond, Ralph McTell. I still prefer flying solo.

Having said that my phone calls with Billy Connolly give me the best laughs — even to this day.

One of the people I most admire is Clint Eastwood, who is pushing 90 and still productive. When asked recently how does he manage that, his reply is classic: ”I don’t let the old man in." The worst piece of advice I’ve been given lately is: “Retire.” I guess my piano is my most valuable possession. I simply couldn’t live without it.

I’m not devoutly religious — in terms of attending Mass every Sunday — but I most definitely believe in God and in the hereafter.

Phil Coulter embarks on his Four Score And Then 23-date nationwide tour in November, and iincludes Saturday, November 25 UCH Limerick and Friday, December 1 at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin

All tour dates on