Iconic Coulter remembers the Galwayman who gave him a chance

Phil Coulter is currently in the studio mixing the strings on his latest album, Return To Tranquillity, and putting the final touches on his new tour of 40 gigs that stars in the Lough Rea Hotel and Spa next Saturday evening. Starring his tour in Galway is a poignant reminder for the musical legend of how he stared in business.

“When I think of Galway, I think of one man, I think of Des Kelly,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for Des Kelly, I would probably be teaching music in St Columb’s College in Derry.” Des was the leader of the Capital Showband and Des, a very proud Galway man, sadly passed away last year.

For many years he presented on Galway Bay FM. He led the Capital Showband which was one of the top bands in the country along with the Miami and the Royal and they would have ruled the airwaves for many years.

“Des Kelly gave me my first shot,” Phil said. “He recorded a that I wrote while I was studying music in university in 1964. As a Rag Week stunt at Queens in Belfast, we had made a student record as a fundraiser called “Foolin’ Time” and while I was working on my summer holidays in Bundoran it happened that the Capitol Showband were doing a gig in the town.

“After their gig, I got the word that they were in the Allingham Arms, so I made my way there and when Eamon Monaghan left the piano to go to the bar, I saw this as my gap in the hedge. I went to Des Kelly and said “would you mind if I sat in at the piano?” He said “Can you play?” And I said “I just had a gig up in the Great Southern.” So that was the start, that was when I first met the Capital. The following morning, they were up playing golf in the Great Southern and we met for coffee.

“I lost no time at all with pressing a copy of my record into Des Kelly’s palm and that was the start of the process. If Des Kelly had been a lesser man, he could’ve thrown it in the bin! But he took it home, he listened to it and paid attention to it. He was taking a gamble on this song written by an unknown student from Derry and in those days it was unusual to record an original song as most were doing established covers like ‘Come Down the Mountain Katie Daly’ or Joe Dolan was doing ‘House with the Whitewashed Gable’ so the Capital took the chance and recorded a brand new song with a brand new songwriter and that was the start of it.”

Phil draws a very clear line between Galway and his success as a musician and the place has very fond memories for him. “My kids are all over the world now. I’ve got six kids, only one of them at home. One of them is a sea captain in New Zealand and he was home over summer for a friend’s wedding and when they chatted about the trip he said “Dad I’d love to just have a couple of days, Mum and you and myself, just chilling out for a few days away from home just kind of recapturing a bit of quality time together.

“So, the place we chose to go was Galway. We had a wonderful little break over in Galway. We stayed overlooking Salthill, had a couple of great meals, a couple of great sessions in some of the pubs and he went back to New Zealand invigorated, re-inspired and got his bit of Galway, his dose of Ireland, his dose of Irish music, Irish hospitality, Irish drink and Irish food. It was the perfect location.”

At 77, Phil has no intention of slowing down. As well as putting the finishing touches on the album and the 40-date tour, he is also finishing his memoir called Bruised Never Broken. Another Galway connection comes in the form of a documentary he is doing with David Power of Power Pictures which will be hitting the airwaves on Christmas Day.

It’s a very busy time for the man from Derry but he still finds time to listen to other musicians. “I’d have firm favourites and they haven’t really varied that much to be honest. I still listen to guys of quality and substance, the likes of Paul Simon or James Taylor or Mark Knopfler or Bruce Springsteen and those of a younger I that can write good songs – like Hozier or Ed Sheeran.

For Phil Coulter it’s about the songs. Always has and always will be. And it all started with a man from Galway who took a chance on a young student from Derry.

Phil Coulter will begin his tour in the Lough Rea Hotel and Spa on Saturday, October 12 from 7:30pm. Tickets are available at the hotel by calling 091 880088

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