Phil Coulter will tonight perform at the Millennium Forum in his first public concert in the city for several years.
And despite being one the city’s most famous sons and a world-renowned top class musician and songwriter, he admits he still gets nervous performing before his home crowd.
“It’s always great to get home,” he says. “It’s always a bit nervy. For me, there will be a lot of ghosts coming out of the woodwork in any venue in Derry. I spent a lot of years on those stages, at places like the Rialto, the Forum, and there are a lot of people from those days no longer with us.”
This year sees Phil celebrating 52 years of music and he said he is looking forward to showcasing some of it when he gathers with his home crowd tonight at the Millennium Forum.
And if there is one song that is guaranteed to raise the hair on the back of the necks of the audience at tonight’s gig, it is the city’s unofficial anthem, ‘The Town I Loved So Well’.
“I sing ‘The Town I Love So Well’ in every city in the world and sometimes I choke up in Derry,” he said.
“ Creggan, The Moor and The Bog - in other places, in Moscow, in New York, they realise it’s about this place, but the people in Derry know exactly where these places are. It has a real resonance here.”
But Phil said the song has also touched a nerve with artists and audiences in countries right across the world.
“These are very specific places, place names, streets, but even something as specific as that song has been recorded in 20 something different languages, so it doesn’t always just reflect our story. It can be translated into different cultures.”
During tonight’s gig, Phil said he plans, for the first time at a public concert, to perform the recently composed ‘Lament for Ryan McBride’, dedicated to the late Derry City FC captain following his sudden death back in March.
The song was previously showcased at the launch of the Ryan McBride Foundation earlier this year. Phil recalls: “We did a black tie event in the Everglades. I composed the Lament and Frank Gallagher and myself played it for the first time. I presented his Dad Lexie with the original transcript.
“This will be the first time it is performed at a public performance and Frank Gallagher will be there.”
Phil said he knew from his own son, who had played in a match against Ryan McBride, what a powerful player and he was.
He said he had no doubt Ryan’s memory and legacy would forever be entwined with the story of Derry City Football Club.
Phil Coulter also paid tribute to Ryan’s teammates for finding a way to carry on and perform on the pitch over the past season.
During tonight’s gig, Phil Coulter also plans to pay tribute to the selfless men and women of the Lough Swilly RNLI crews, who will join him on stage during a rendition of ‘Home From the Sea’.
“They deserve a bit of the limelight, the credit and applause,” he says.
Phil Coulter’s place among the great songwriters of the modern age was cemented in history the day Elvis Presley recorded his song, “My Boy”, a Top-20 hit in the US and across the world.
The Derry man has since gone on to achieve worldwide recognition as a hit songwriter, notching up chart entries with a diverse list of other artists including Luke Kelly, Cliff Richard, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Vinton, The Bay City Rollers, and not forgetting the Irish Rugby anthem ‘Ireland’s Call’.
His production credits include Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Elvis Costello and Richard Harris, while in Ireland his successes have ranged from the Dubliners to Planxty, and from Paddy Reilly to the Furey Brothers.
He is also a Eurovision Song Contest winner with the catchy ‘Puppet On a String’.
And while his talent has carried him across the globe and have catapulted him up there with the stars, Phil has never forgotten his roots.
“In the bottom of my heart and soul Derry will always be home.,” he said, adding: “The thing about Derry people is they carry their hearts around the world.
“You meet Derry people all over the place.
“Thirty years ago doing the first tour in America you might be in Nebraska and you meet ladies who married American service personnel during the War and they would turn up at the gigs still with their Derry accent.”
And while Phil may have been based in Wicklow for the past 20-odd years, he remains a very familiar sight along the streets in and around Derry, as one of the three local heroes recently honoured by having their image included on the Foyle Legends Ulsterbus.
Phil was in Derry earlier this year for the lap of honour on the big red bus and said he was delighted to have been selected.
“When I was in Derry there was always that expression used, ‘a face like the back end of a bus’. I never thought I’d see the day when my face was on the bus!” he laughs.
“It’s a nice idea and very flattering. You also have Roma Downey and the great James McClean.”
Phil Coulter’s homecoming gig at the Millennium Forum in Derry tonight commences his annual 27-date festive tour.
For tickets and further information about Phil’s gig tonight telephone the Millennium Forum Box Office on 028 7126 4455 or check out www.millenniumforum.co.uk/shows/phil-coulter/
And Phil will be returning to the north-west as part of the tour on Thursday, December 21 to perform at An Grianan in Letterkenny.