Phil Coulter to preserve the liberty of the city he loved so much

When friends ask Phil Coulter why it took so long to be awarded the Freedom of Derry, the songwriter – who turned 80 last February – replies with a wry grin: “Maybe they’ve decided to recognize me now before I fall off the pole.”

After a life as an internationally renowned composer and performer, the man who wrote The city I loved so much is to be handed the freedom of that city at a special ceremony at the Guildhall in Derry next Friday.

“I understand why John Hume and Bishop Edward Daly were honored, but I never thought about it,” he says. “I’m Irish, Northern Irish, Ulster – but what’s so special about Derry is that it never leaves you. For that reason, it is certainly something special to be recognized in my hometown.

“It was definitely the most challenging song I’ve ever written,” he says The city I loved so muchwhich he composed 50 years ago next year.

“Those were quite dark and bleak times and it had to be judged very carefully. One wrong word could have turned it into a rebel song, and I didn’t want that. I’ve thought about it more than any other song I’ve written.”

Family members and friends will be present at Friday’s ceremony in the city council chambers.

“Among them will be Hugh McDaid, a guy I sat next to at school. He’s known as ‘Badger’ and he owns a great pub in Derry so we’ll end up there eventually.”

The composer will be joined by choirs of up to 2,000 singers attending the 10th City of Derry International Choir Festival the following day in E Brington Square for a special performance The city I loved so much – representing both Derry’s troubled past and hopeful future.

Coulter has had consecutive hits since his breakthrough as a songwriter.

“How many octogenarians have a hit record in every decade since the 1960s?” he asks.

his song my boy was recorded by Elvis Presley, with whom Luke Kelly immortalized his work Don’t despise its simplicitywith which Sandy Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest Marionette on a string and Cliff Richards came second with his song Congratulationswhile Ireland’s reputation is now a standard for the Ireland national rugby and hockey teams, both men’s and women’s.

While writing and performing with the likes of Nanci Griffith, Quincy Jones and Elmer Bernstein, he has produced music for Van Morrison, Sinéad O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull and Richard Harris, among others. Next month he will embark on a 28 day tour that will take him to every corner of Ireland in November and December.

“I want to stay busy. It keeps me from feeling old,” he says.

He is accompanied on the tour by his wife, the singer Geraldine Branagan, the young Derry tenor George Hutton and various musicians. The tour is called Phil Coulter at 80: A Lifetime of Songs, Stories, Memories and Melodies and kicks off at the Theater Royal, Waterford on 4th November. There are video facilities there, showing archive footage with friends like Billy Connolly, Van Morrison and Luke Kelly.

“We’ve been parked for a long time, so it’s going to be great to get back on the road,” says the indomitable Coulter.

All tour details and dates are available at Phil Coulter to preserve the liberty of the city he loved so much

Fry Electronics Team

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