Phil Coulter

Phil Coulter (born 19 February 1942) is a Northern Irish songwriter, pianist and music producer, arranger, and director. With his writing partner Bill Martin he penned numerous hit songs for a variety of popular singers in the 1960s and 1970s, and in the 1980s scored major successes performing his own material. He continues to be a popular performer in his native country and around the world.

Early years

Coulter is from Derry in Northern Ireland where his father was a policeman.

One of Coulter's most popular songs, "The Town I Loved So Well", deals with the embattled city of his youth, filled with "that damned barbed wire" during The Troubles. Another of his compositions, "Scorn Not His Simplicity", pleads for tolerance and understanding of his son, who was born with Down's syndrome.

Coulter's father, also called Phil, encouraged music in the house. He played the fiddle whilst his wife played the upright piano — a Challen piano, which the son recalls was "the most important piece of furniture in the house".


Coulter spent his secondary school years at St. Columb's College, whose other past pupils include playwright Brian Friel, Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, writer and literature professor Seamus Deane, author and military historian Richard Doherty, and Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume.

Beginnings of a career in music

He later studied music at the Queen's University of Belfast (QUB), but did not complete his degree. He started his first band there, playing early rock and roll music and recording two songs for a 'Rag Day' release. Coulter and a group of friends also started a Glee Club, and Coulter was playing the piano for eight hundred students on one memorable evening when The Beatles were performing in a nearby Belfast cinema, the Ritz. Two students were sent to talk to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to invite them to join the Glee Club. In the end they sent the headline performer on the tour, Helen Shapiro, one of whose songs was No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart at that time.

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, London's 'Tin Pan Alley'. This lasted a few years.

Songwriting partnership with Bill Martin

In the late 1960s, he formed a writing partnership with Bill Martin and from this union several memorable songs would emerge. They wrote Sandie Shaw's Eurovision Song Contest winning entry, "Puppet on a String" (1967), which went on to become an international hit with more than 100 cover versions. They had another hit in 1968 with a song for Cliff Richard called "Congratulations", which finished 2nd at Eurovision. They had a further attempt at the contest in 1975, when together with Pierre Cour they wrote Toi for Luxembourg, which placed 5th in Stockholm when performed by Coulter's future wife Geraldine. They also finished 3rd in the 1978 UK heat A Song for Europe with their entry Shine It On performed by Glaswegian Christian. The Coulter-Martin partnership lasted more than fifteen years. During this time the team wrote for Dana, Richard Harris, Elvis Presley ("My Boy"), and the Bay City Rollers, for whom the team wrote nearly all of the band's hits. Coulter and Martin were also among several British musicians who contributed incidental music to the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon, the others including Syd Dale, Johnny Pearson and Johnny Hawksworth.

Sideman and producer

Coulter also moonlighted as a piano player and worked with such artists as Van Morrison (who gave him the 'Cool Filter' nickname), Tom Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Rolling Stones. He became friends with Billy Connolly, and in the 1970s became deeply interested in Irish music, the music of his youth.

He produced three ground-breaking albums with Planxty, which had a seminal influence on modern Irish music, though the albums were not a commercial success. Christy Moore wrote: "He gave us a shite contract and we signed everything away. All that said, thirty years on, this album sounds good. He produced it well and ... he did have the foresight and wherewithal to record the band at a time when no one else was listening".

He also wrote most of the big hits for not only the Bay City Rollers, but Kenny and Slik among others during the teenybop boom of the 1970s and even appeared as a production credit on "Automatic Lover" by Dee D. Jackson.

Coulter also produced, arranged and wrote most of the "Here and Now" album for the late Joe Dolan in 1983. The album featured several hit singles, not least the Top Ten smash "Deeper and Deeper" which remained a staple in Joe's live sets and was also one of the last songs he performed before he took ill on stage during what turned out to be his last ever show in Abbeyleix. The album was released in South Africa as "Yours Faitfully" where it went to number one within one week of release.

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 in DVD format as "Celtic Thunder: The Show" and soared to the top of the Billboard Top World Albums chart in 2008.

Going solo

In 1984 he released a solo instrumental album called Classic Tranquility that featured Irish tunes. His follow-up, Sea of Tranquility, did even better, becoming the second-best selling album of all time in Ireland. He moved from London back to Ireland, where he set up a music room and office in his house in Bray, south of Dublin. He continued to record and perform around the world, notably at the White House on Saint Patrick's Day.

In 1995 the Irish Rugby Football Union asked 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". At matches played in the Republic, both "Amhrán na bhFiann" (as the anthem of the host nation) and "Ireland's Call" (as the anthem of the home team) are sung. Elsewhere, "Ireland's Call" is the only anthem used.

Coulter's official website notes that he has some 23 platinum records, thirty-nine gold and fifty-two 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."


Coulter is a former president of Derry City F.C. and 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.

External links


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