This much I know: Phil Coulter

The world is full of talented losers. Talent in itself entitles you to bugger all. Don’t congratulate yourself. It is a gift from God. Congratulate yourself when you do something with it.

I have the Northern work ethic. I think it’s that Ulster Scots thing, I’m not sure, but whatever it is, I have inherited it.

I was kind of a shy child. I had two brothers and two sisters. My eldest brother Joe was a brain box and already a final year head prefect when I started in St Columb’s College in Derry, my middle brother Brian was a bit of a tearaway. The first thing they asked me was ‘are you like Brian or Joe?’ So there was always a goal.

St Columb’s was the only Catholic school in Derry and produced so many achievers. Heaney, Friel, Hume – all with very different talents and abilities and desires, but the one thing we all had in common was the work ethic. It was instilled into us in school. There was a tacit acceptance that Catholics were second class citizens and didn’t get jobs and houses and so on. But things were changing. And there was also the hard-edged reality that the Labour government of the late 1940s had opened up third-level education to scholarship. Without that I’d never have got to Queens University. My dad was a cop on the beat, more like a community cop.

I firmly believe that just when you think you have all your ducks in row, fate has a habit of pulling the carpet from under you.

The constant pursuit of happiness is pointless as it does not exist as an ongoing state. Searching for contentment in one’s personal life and fulfillment in one’s professional life is enough.

As a country I wish we could get back to being the people we were before we became infected by greed. We are not by nature an affluent race. What motivated a lot of people during The Celtic Tiger was the inability to know how much is enough.

I was sent to piano lessons when I was six. I hated doing scales, hated my piano teacher, dreaded going because he would sit beside me and clatter me with a ruler when I made a mistake. Then I started listening to pop music on the radio and realised that I could replicate the tunes. That was it. I wanted to find out everything about music. Thats when I learnt that the best motivation for doing anything is wanting to do it.

My first boss Phil Solomon gave me some great advice. He said ‘you are obviously a talented boy and I like your work ethic, and that combination of talent and hard work will lead to success, but never be motivated by money.’

I am a believer. I am spiritual without being a daily mass goer.

I will have been 50 years in the music business next year. I’ve been a producer, a performer, a writer....and the biggest challenge in my professional life has been having to adapt. Don’t fall in love with yourself - you’ve got to be able to change. It’s all part of survival. Nobody looks back and says I made all the right moves. We all draw a veil over our failures and disappointments.

If I thought winning the Eurovision with songs like ‘Puppet on a String’ meant I was solely a Eurovision song writer, I would have been in trouble. Or equally, when I was writing for Bay City Rollers, if I said I only write pop songs, I would have been in dire straits.

When I’m creating a new piece, sometime it starts with the title, sometimes with a musical phrase, sometimes with the lyrics.

My idea of hell would be commuting in the car in traffic for one and a half hours a day to get to a desk job where, if I played my cards right, I might be promoted in ten or 15 years to assistant, in another ten years to manager.

I am good at compartmentalising my life.

So far, life has taught me to be thankful. I have nine kids from two marriages. I make a living from whatever talent I have been given. I was at a rugby match recently when they sang ‘Ireland’s Call’ and it felt good to know the song will live on after me.

Phil Coulter is on a Nationwide Tour throughout Ireland right up to December 18. He will be joined by Special Guests tenor Paul Byrom and Geraldine Branagan. For venues see: www.philcoulter.com 


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