Phil Coulter

Music Producer and Entertainer.

Regarded as a doyen of the music industry, Phil Coulter has not only weathered just about every change in the business, he has been one of the few songwriters who actually shaped pop history by dictating musical taste and fashions.
His ’Puppet On A String’ is one of the most enduring songs of the sixties. He is partly responsible for unleashing the boyband phenomenon, churning out hit after hit for the Bay City Rollers in the early seventies. In the eighties his gentle instrumental albums Classic Tranquility and Sea of Tranquility became numbers one and two all time Irish Bestsellers. That his work has been recorded from everyone from Boyzone to Elvis Presley represents perhaps, the breadth of his appeal.

Coulter was born on February 19 1942 in wartime Derry. His was a musical household - his mother played piano and his father played the fiddle, so a love of music was instilled in the young Coulter from the onset. He attended St Columb’s were he excelled musically. He describes his feelings upon winning a ’State Exhibition’:

'There were a couple of us from St. Columbs who got State Exhibitions. I think they were awarded to maybe the top twenty places in the North of Ireland in final exams and as you might imagine they were hotly contested. It was a particular point of pride for St. Columb’s, a Catholic college full of working class kids on scholarships, that they could compete with the best of the ’posh’ more privileged establishments. So there was a kind of a tradition, that if you won a State Exhibition, you came and asked for a free day for the rest of the school. The word had percolated through,it seemed that every single pupil had gathered outside the front door. And I went up and asked the Head for the free day. And although there was this long established tradition, he kind of hummed and hawed about it, and said "Well I don’t know," then "Okay, okay Coulter......... I suppose you’d better let them know!"

So I came out to the top of the stairs, with all the school assembled below, and I just went "YES!" And to this day, I can remember all the eyes looking up and the faces. And there was that feeling of being the local hero, it was such an intoxicating feeling. It has never left me.'

Within weeks of beginning his first term studying music at Queens University, Belfast, Coulter had started his own band. By his final year he had already written a couple of hits in Ireland. Coulter moved to London in the mid sixties where he began working as an arranger/songwriter in Tin Pan Alley. To supplement his cashflow the young musician also moonlighted as a piano player and worked in studio with everyone from Van Morrison and Tom Jones to Jerry Lee Lewis and The Rolling Stones.

Coulter’s first major hit Puppet On A String won the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK in 1967. The next year the up and coming songwriter came within one point of pulling off a double with Congratulations sung by Cliff Richard. These two hits sold over ten million records. In 1970 Coulter continued his Eurovision lucky streak with All Kinds of Everything sung by fellow Derry performer Dana.

Then came Coulter’s collaboration with The Bay City Rollers in the seventies. He describes the emergence of the teenybopper phenomenon:

'… record companies woke up to the fact that the kids who were buying singles were ten years younger than they used to be! We set about getting our piece of the action, looking round for a band that would be a good vehicle for our songs. Out of the blue we got a call from Dick Leahy who was running Bell Records. He had a band he believed in but badly needed songs and production. The band was The Bay City Rollers and a minor industry was born. As writers and producers we sold millions of records with Remember, Shang a Lang, Summer Love Sensation, All of me Loves all of You, we had number one records in the U.S. with the single Saturday Night and the album Rollin' and we watched in awe as Roller Mania became a worldwide craze, carried on a wave of tartan from South America to the Far East. Happy days!'

However, it is with folk music that Coulter has come to be associated working with such greats as Liam O’Flynn, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and The Dubliners. It was whilst producing The Dubliners that he wrote Scorn Not His Simplicity and The Town I Loved So Well, both introduced to the world by the unique voice of Luke Kelly.

In 1984 Coulter split from his partner of many years, Bill Martin. Coulter went on to have his first hit album as a performer with Classic Tranquility swiftly followed by Sea of Tranquility. The next of Coulter’s production projects was an album of Van Morrison’s songs performed by a mixed bunch of performers, amongst them Liam Neeson, Elvis Costello, Lisa Stansfield, Marrianne Fathful and Sinead O’Connor. As a result Coulter was invited to produce Sinead O’Connor’s album Universal Mother.

In 1999 Coulter released Highland Cathedral, his first solo album after a gap of four years. Derry’s accomplished percussion outfit, Different Drums of Ireland, provide rhythm on the album. The title track of the album has become very popular since it was featured in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Coulter’s popularity shows little sign of waning. In a rich and varied career he cites the highlights so far:

-Coast to coast tours of U.S. Four sellout visits to Carnegie Hall.
-Royal command performances from Japan to Finland.
-Three personal invitations from the President of the U.S. to perform at The White House.
-Playing live to 600,000 outdoors on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C, with the National Symphony Orchestra.
-Marching at the head of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York with Mayor Giuliani.
-Recording and touring with James Galway.
-Sharing the bill with Gregory Peck at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
-Receiving Doctorates by two of the Universities in Ireland.
-Invited in 1997 to become a visiting Professor at Boston College, working with the Irish Studies Programme in their Music Faculty.

 

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