Phil Coulter

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Phil Coulter
Birth namePhilip Coulter
Born (1942-02-19) 19 February 1942 (age 82)
OriginDerry, Northern Ireland
GenresFolk, pop, traditional Irish
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, record producer
Instrument(s)Vocals, piano
Years active1967–present

Philip Coulter (born 19 February 1942)[1] is an Irish musician, songwriter and record producer from Derry, Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Gold Badge from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors in October 2009.[2][3]

Coulter has amassed 23 platinum discs, 39 gold discs, 52 silver discs, two Grand Prix Eurovision awards; five Ivor Novello Awards, which includes Songwriter of the Year; three American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards; a Grammy Nomination; a Meteor Award, a National Entertainment Award and a Rose d'or d'Antibes.[2] He is one of the biggest record sellers in the island of Ireland.[4]

His well known songs include "The Town I Loved So Well", "Puppet on a String" and "Congratulations".

Early years[edit]

Coulter was born in Derry, Northern Ireland[5] where his father (from Strangford, County Down) was one of a minority of Catholic policemen in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. His mother was from Belfast.[6] 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 a two-up two-down terraced house.[7]

Coulter's father, also called Phil, encouraged music in the house. He played the fiddle whilst 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".[7]

One of Coulter's most popular songs, "The Town I Loved So Well",[4] deals with the embattled city of his youth, filled with "that damned barbed wire" during the Troubles.[8]


Coulter spent his secondary school years at St. Columb's College. He later studied music and French at Queen's University Belfast (QUB).[5]

Beginnings of a career in music[edit]

He started his first band at Queen's University, playing early rock and roll music despite studying classical music. Coulter was also founder of the Glee Club, which staged music events for the university. By 1964, his final year at university, Coulter had already written a couple of hit songs in Ireland and he moved to London, where his first job was as an arranger/songwriter with a music publisher in Denmark Street. From here he was hired to work with acts including Billy Connolly,[1] Van Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Tom Jones.

He wrote "Foolin' Time" (1963), a hit for the Capitol Showband. Other songs he contributed to around that time included his arrangement of "Terry" (1964),[1] a UK No. 4 hit for Twinkle,[9] plus co-writing "I Can Only Give You Everything" with Tommy Scott, which was originally recorded by Them.[5][10]

Songwriting partnership with Bill Martin[edit]

In 1965, he met Bill Martin and the two became established as a successful songwriting team that lasted more than ten years (Martin for the lyrics, Coulter for the melody).[11] They wrote Sandie Shaw's 1967 Eurovision-winning entry, "Puppet on a String", which became an international hit which was covered more than a hundred times.[citation needed] The following year their song "Congratulations", sung by Cliff Richard, came second in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2008 a Spanish documentary alleged that Cliff Richard had been robbed of victory after General Francisco Franco fixed the vote.[12] The person who made the claim in the documentary, José María Íñigo, said later that his words had been taken out of context.[13]

Seven years after "Congratulations", another Coulter song, "Toi", co-written with Pierre Cour, was performed in Stockholm as the Luxembourg entry by Coulter's future wife Geraldine. Coulter conducted the orchestra for the song, which came fifth. Coulter and Martin also wrote "Shine It On", which finished third in the 1978 heat of A Song for Europe, performed by the Glaswegian performer Christian.[citation needed]

Between 1967 and 1976, Coulter and Martin had four No. 1 hits in the UK: "Puppet on a String", "Congratulations", "Back Home" and "Forever and Ever".[14] There were also numerous Top 10 hits including the Bay City Rollers' "Shang-a-Lang",[15] "Fancy Pants" by the glam rock band Kenny,[16] "Requiem" by the Scottish pop group Slik,[17] and "Surround Yourself with Sorrow" by Cilla Black.[18] In 1975, Martin and Coulter were joint recipients of an Ivor Novello Award for 'Songwriter of the Year'.[11]

The Bay City Rollers had a No. 1 hit in 1976 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart with the Coulter-Martin song "Saturday Night", a song that was not released as a single in the UK.[11] There were three No. 1 hits in the US for the songwriters, the other two (which were chart-toppers on the Billboard Hot Country Songs and the Adult Contemporary listings respectively) being "Thanks", performed by Bill Anderson and "My Boy", the Coulter-Martin translation of a French song sung by Elvis Presley.[19][20]

They also contributed incidental music to the 1967 Spider-Man television series, and Coulter also wrote the score to the 1978 film version of The Water Babies.[citation needed]

Sideman and producer[edit]

As well as writing hit singles, Coulter produced three albums with Planxty.[1] Christy Moore wrote:

"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.[21]

Coulter produced The Dubliners 1973 album, Plain and Simple.[22] He wrote or co-wrote many of the tracks.[22]

Coulter produced, arranged and wrote most of Joe Dolan's 1983 album, Here and Now. The album featured several hit singles, including the Irish Top Ten hit "Deeper and Deeper". The album was released in South Africa as Yours Faithfully where it reached number one.[citation needed]

In 2007, Coulter joined with Sharon Browne, one of the originators of the successful Celtic Woman production, to collaborate on formation of a male version of that production called Celtic Thunder. A stage production at The Helix in Dublin was released on DVD as Celtic Thunder: The Show. Many of the tracks in the show, such as "That's a Woman" and "Heartbreaker", were written by Coulter.[citation needed] Coulter resigned from his position in 2011.

Solo albums[edit]

In 1984, Coulter launched himself as an artist in his own right and began by releasing a solo instrumental album called Classic Tranquility.[5] His follow-up, Sea of Tranquility, peaked at No. 46 in the UK Albums Chart, and remained in the chart for fourteen weeks.[23] The follow-up album, Phil Coulter's Ireland reached No. 86 in the UK.[23]

He moved from London back to Ireland,[when?] where he established his music publishing company on the grounds of his house in Bray, south of Dublin. Coulter's official website notes that he has some 23 platinum 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."[2]

In the 1990s, Coulter's produced work for both Sinéad O'Connor and Boyzone.[1]

In 2001, he was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "New Age" category for his album Highland Cathedral (2000).[24]

On 28 October 2009, Coulter was presented with a BASCA Gold Badge Award in recognition of his unique contribution to music.[2][3]

Personal life[edit]

Coulter's first marriage was to Angela Coulter; their second child was born with Down's Syndrome and died aged four.[25] With the encouragement of Luke Kelly, he wrote the song "Scorn Not His Simplicity" to help him get through the difficult time.[26][27] Kelly recorded the song and it appeared on The Dubliners' 1970 LP Revolution, becoming the definitive version, later being recorded by several artists.[28]

In 1974, Coulter was approached by Luxembourg to write a song for the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, following his success with "Puppet on a String", which won for the UK in 1967, and his "Congratulations" (recorded by Cliff Richard), which nearly won in 1968.[29][30] Whilst looking for a singer he saw Geraldine Brannigan in a Guinness TV advert in Dublin and felt that he had to meet her. She went on to represent Luxembourg and came in fifth place.[29] He later said in an interview on Miriam Meets... on RTÉ Radio 1 that it was love at first sight.[31]

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.[32] Coulter and his wife live in Bray, County Wicklow.[6]


Disregarding the broad international campaign against the Apartheid regime and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, Coulter performed in an undemocratic South Africa in May 1983 and his name was included in the register of entertainers who travelled to that country by the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, which was published in 1986.[33]

In 2002, Coulter was encouraged by the Save the Swilly organisation to run for the Dáil to protect Lough Swilly from aquacultural destruction.[34] 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 the music industry for some time.[1]


Coulter is a former president of Derry City Football Club.[citation needed]

His son Ryan plays in goal for Forward Madison FC.[35]

In 1995, the Irish Rugby Football Union commissioned Coulter to write a politically neutral anthem for the Ireland 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". "Ireland's Call" has since also been adopted by the Ireland's national hockey, cricket and rugby league teams and by the singing group Celtic Thunder.[citation needed]


Coulter has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster (1988),[36] Dublin Institute of Technology (2006),[37] and The Open University (2018).[38] He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Derry on 5 April 2022.[39]



Year Album Peak positions


1983 Classic Tranquility
1984 Sea of Tranquility 46
1985 Phil Coulter's Christmas
1985 Phil Coulter's Ireland 86
1994 American Tranquility
1997 Legends (with James Galway)
1998 Winter's Crossing (with James Galway)
1999 Healing Angel
2000 Highland Cathedral
2000 The Songs I Love So Well
2000 Lake of Shadows 13
2003 Coulter & Company 13
2006 Timeless Tranquility 45
2011 Reflections 36
2019 Return to Tranquility 93

Entries in the Eurovision Song Contest[edit]

Coulter co-wrote three Eurovision Song Contest entries:


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Phil Coulter". 19 February 1942. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Welcome to Phil Coulter Online". Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Gold Badge Awards 2009". Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Irish Repertory Theatre – The Songs I Love So Well". Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Ankeny, Jason. "Phil Coulter – Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  6. ^ a b O'Neill, Leona (20 July 2019). "Phil Coulter: I'm known as a proud Derry man but my mother came from the Markets area of Belfast and it's where I found my career as a musician". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  7. ^ a b Coulter, Phil. "A Beginning". Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Phil Coulter – Cordula's Web". Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 570. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  10. ^ Unterberger, Richie (19 June 2001). "I Can Only Give You Everything – Them, Van Morrison : Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  11. ^ a b c "Bill Martin – Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  12. ^ The Irish Times, "Spanish documentary offers Cliff and Coulter congratulations – 40 years on", 6 May 2008. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Massiel e Iñigo acusan a La Sexta de 'urdir todo para favorecer a Chikilicuatre'" (in Spanish). Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Artist: Bill Martin". Second Hand Songs. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  15. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Shang-A-Lang – Bay City Rollers : Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  16. ^ Thompson, Dave (26 September 2000). "The Singles Collection Plus – Kenny: Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  17. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Slik – Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  18. ^ "Surround Yourself with Sorrow – Cilla Black : Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  19. ^ "Bill Martin – Songwriter Celebrity Speaker Music Publisher Producer". 7 February 2011. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
  20. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard book of number one adult contemporary hits (First ed.). Billboard Books. p. 200. ISBN 0823076938.
  21. ^ [1] Archived 17 July 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ a b "Vinyl Album: The Dubliners - Plain & Simple (1973)". Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  23. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 123. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  24. ^ Phil Coulter. "Phil Coulter – Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  25. ^ "PHIL COULTER AND MUCH MORE IN... -". Wexford People. Wexford. 21 September 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  26. ^ Black, Rebecca (2 October 2015). "Phil Coulter reveals his anguish at son's Down's syndrome". Belfast Telegraph. Belfast. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  27. ^ Bray, Allison (30 August 2013). "With Luke Kelly badgering me, I had to write grown-up songs -". Irish Independent. Dublin. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  28. ^ "The Dubliners - Revolution". Discogs. October 1970. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  29. ^ a b O'Rourke, Frances (16 February 2013). "He protected me from the minute we met". The Irish Times. Dublin. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  30. ^ "Phil Coulter to sell the house he loved so well for over €1.2m". Derry Journal. Derry. 31 July 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  31. ^ "Miriam Meets..... Phil Coulter and Geraldine Brannigan". Sunday with Miriam - RTÉ Radio 1. Dublin. 24 February 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  32. ^ Anderson, Nicola (19 November 1998). "Performance of a lifetime for Phil and his Geraldine -". Irish Independent. Dublin. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  33. ^ The Irish Times, 30 December 2016
  34. ^ "Phil Coulter makes plea for Donegal Lough". June 2004. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  35. ^ "Forward Madison FC Signs Goalkeeper Ryan Coulter". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  36. ^ "Honorary graduates conferred since 1985". Ulster University. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  37. ^ "Phil Coulter, distinguished composer, performer and music ambassador receives Honorary Doctorate". Dublin Institute of Technology. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  38. ^ Doyle, Simon (20 April 2018). "The Open University honours Phil Coulter". The Irish News. Irish News.
  39. ^ "Phil Coulter 'delighted' by Freedom of Derry honour". Daily Derry. 5 April 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  40. ^ a b "Phil Coulter – Music Charts". Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  41. ^ "IRMA – Irish Charts". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 21 December 2019.

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