Phil Coulter ‘will cherish’ Freedom of Derry accolade
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Acclaimed singer, songwriter and record producer Phil Coulter described being conferred with the Freedom of the City and District as ‘something very special from my own people from my own place’ adding ‘deep in my heart I will cherish this’.
Born in Derry in 1942, the songwriter is viewed as one of the most eclectic composers to come from the island of Ireland and he is no stranger to success with five Ivor Novello awards, 23 platinum, 39 gold and 52 silver discs to his credit.
Many see Phil Coulter’s ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ – which he composed 50 years ago next year, as Derry’s unofficial anthem and Mayor, councillor Sandra Duffy quoted a line, ‘For deep inside was a burning pride of the town I loved so well’, saying: “It is a song that resonates with us all just as powerfully now as when you first shared it with the world and that line is a sentiment is very much reciprocated by this city and its citizens.”
Having been conferred the Freedom of the City and District, Mr Coulter addresses the hybrid chamber which included friends, family, his children and wife Geraldine.
Paying tribute to his nearest and dearest he said: “Any career in the music business is a series of highs and lows and these are the people who kept me up during the dark days and kept me grounded and for that I’m very grateful and delighted they are here to share this.”
He continued: “Whatever else I am, an Irishman, a Northerner, an Ulsterman, I am primarily a Derry man. It has always been to the forefront of my thinking. I owe a great debt to Derry and I have often said my first smart move was being born in Derry.
“Derry has made me what I am as a person, as a man and as a musician. To have the benefit of growing up in this city has meant a lot to me and I’ve kept close ties with the city and I always look forward to coming back.”
Mr Coulter recalled his first civic recognition in the city back in 1967.
“Having won the Eurovision song contest with Puppet On A String I got word I was to have a civic reception. I thought, wow this is fantastic!
“I was seriously impressed but not half as impressed as my mother because my fondest recollection of all of that Eurovision period was not Sandi Shaw, was not winning Eurovision or coming number one in the charts, it was when the Mayor’s car, a beat up Austin Princess, pulled up in Abercorn Terrace to collect the family.
“Of course all the neighbours were looking out through the lace curtains to see the Mayor’s car and the look on my mother’s face was for me what really summed up the whole thing. It finally dawned on her that maybe this song writing thing would be a worthwhile thing after all.
“The civic reception consisted of 20 minutes in the Mayor’s parlour, a glass of dry sherry and a picture for the Derry Journal but it was special and for me and my family it was a great recognition and a great underlining of the connection between Derry and myself.
“I’ve always savoured the fact that the Derry people have a respect for me and what I have achieved and how I have tried to represent the city.”
The singer-songwriter went on to recall being invited personally by President Bill Clinton to sing The Town I Loved So Well during his first visit to Derry before thanking the council chamber for the honour, saying: “This is something I will treasure. This is special from my own people, from my own place and deep in my heart I will cherish this.”
Councillors took it in turns to pay tribute to Phil with Aontú councillor Emmet Doyle, who proposed the conferment, saying: “Your name is synonymous with the cultural and social fabric of our city.
“It’s fitting that today you will join the roll of Freemen which includes names that go back decades and some centuries.”
Mayor, councillor Sandra Duffy added: “I am aware of the difficult times that punctuated your life and the grief you have borne. We hear it in your work as you delved into your creativity to explore and salve your pain and we witnessed how you turned grief into positive action.
“For all of your success internationally you always found time to give to those closer to home remaining very active in social and civic life here in the North West, so you may have gone far but you have never left us.”
Councillors from all parties paid tribute to Mr Coulter with many describing it as ‘an immensely proud moment for the people of the city and district’.
SDLP councillor Brian Tierney concluded: “I’m sure this award means so much to Phil and his family as he joins the list of our finest sons and daughters including his late friend John Hume.
“No matter where he travelled and no matter what celebrities he was working with, Phil Coulter remained a Derry man to his core.”
Phil Coulter will be joined by choirs and local people today for a public rendition of The Town I Loved So Well at Ebrington Square at 2pm. All welcome.