'It was either sit in the corner and sing the blues and blame everybody, or you get your finger out and say, this is the new reality'
Phil Coulter embraces a new way of performing
AS a songwriter, Phil Coulter has done it all - topped the British charts, won the Eurovision Song Contest and even experienced the thrill of seeing 'The King' Elvis Presley record his song, My Boy.
Coulter has penned hits for a broad spectrum of artists and groups ranging from boyband sensations the Bay City Rollers to Cliff Richard, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black and Irish folk sensations The Dubliners.
At the age of 78, the Derry-born hit-maker could be entitled today to chill out at his home in Bray, Co Wicklow while reliving the glorious memories of a life well lived.
However, Coulter is still fired up with the enthusiasm of a newcomer and is battling back after Covid-19 led to the cancellation of his live tours and annual cruise.
Next month, Phil, whose songs include The Town I Loved So Well and Scorn Not His Simplicity, will play three live shows at Venue Theatre, Ratoath, Co Meath, with a limited audience - one of which will be streamed as a pay-per-view global live stream.
His Saturday afternoon Lockdown Lounge weekly shows on his Facebook page clocked up ONE MILLION views over two months.
Phil tells the Sunday World: "I was confronted with a clear option, either sit in the corner and sing the blues and blame everybody and say the Government should be doing more, or you get your finger out and say, this is the new reality, how can I keep afloat, how can I keep a presence with my fans and let them see that I haven't fallen off the perch and I'm still active? The only way to do that is online through social media."
"I will be live streaming my concert globally on Saturday, October 3. What amazes me when I'm doing my chats in The Lockdown Lounge is that I'm getting a response from Namibia, Hungary and all kinds of places. You forget it's no longer the boundaries of Ireland or the UK.
"The upside of this, if there is an upside, is that it gives you the opportunity to reach out to those people. The trick then is to stimulate them and motivate them to actually come on board for the live stream concert where they pay an entrance fee and get the code to watch it. That is the new reality, and I've had to learn it very, very fast."
However, dapper Coulter admits he found it difficult to cope with the initial lockdown. "Cocooning for the first couple of months was the hardest part for me," he admits. "That was when one Groundhog Day merged into the next Groundhog Day. That was the period where of a morning I was very thankful for my pill box to tell me what day of the week it was. I wrote a little song about it called, I Thank The Good Lord For My Pill Box.
"That's why I'm so grateful I'm directing my energy into this online thing. It gives me a structure in the week where I can be planning that and planning the repertoire, so I can still convince myself that I'm in the music business."
Legendary Phil, whose adult children have all flown the nest, was in lockdown with his wife, the singer Geraldine Brannigan.
Was he easy to live with at the start of the lockdown? "I would think not," he laughs. "I think it's the longest period in my adult life that I was ever in one place without moving. With the cocooning thing, strictly speaking you could only potter about the garden, you couldn't go to the shops or anything.
"That was the real test of any relationship I'll tell ya. If you got through that then you're on solid ground I reckon."
What were your moods like? "Veering from boredom to despair and then to euphoria when I found something to do," he admits.
"You just have to adapt. There is no point sitting in a corner sucking your thumb and cursing the world. The fundamental is this, there is no such thing as being entitled. No matter what level you're at in my game, you're not entitled to anything. You are only entitled to the effort you put into it.
"And the problem with a lot of aspiring writers, creators, performers is the sense that because they're talented that they're entitled. Oh no! You didn't get the memo boss, that's not the way it works. The talent only buys you into the game. It's all the hard work, it's all the application, it's using your head and some street smarts that keep you in the game. If you haven't got those, the talent is pretty worthless."
He's never been afraid to take on new challenges. "I think you have to be flexible, you have to be game and you have to take chances and jump in the deep end," he explains.
"You may end up falling on your arse, but unless you try it you're not going to go anywhere."
Phil shudders when the word, retirement, is mentioned. "Perish the thought, that's a bad word," he says. "As Willie Nelson said, 'I sing songs and I play golf, which of the two do you want me to give up?' So far it's something that hasn't raised its head at all because I'm fortunate that my health is still good."
- Phil Coulter plays Venue Theatre, Ratoath, Co Meath, from Oct 1-3. Check out his Facebook page for more info.