'He protected me from the minute we met'
Phil Coulter and his wife, Geraldine Branagan: working together in a new show. photograph: DAVE SLEATOR
In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is one of Ireland’s most successful musicians. His songs – which include ‘Ireland’s Call’ and ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ – have been recorded by artists from Cliff Richard and the Bay City Rollers to The Dubliners and the Furey Brothers; his ‘Tranquility’ records have sold in the millions. He and his wife, Geraldine Branagan, have six children
It was through Eurovision that we met, so it’s a recurring anniversary. In 1974 I was approached by Luxembourg to write their song for Eurovision 1975 – this was after my Puppet on a String had won for the UK in 1967, and Congratulations nearly won in 1968. We started looking for a singer in the UK; then I was in Dublin, watching a Guinness ad on TV that Geraldine featured in. I thought: that’s who I’m looking for.
The following morning, I arrived at her door. What attracted me then was that she was drop-dead gorgeous. A spark ignited, but it took quite some time to become a flame. I’d been previously married; it took time to navigate those stormy waters.
Geraldine and I are working together in my new show, The Songs I Love So Well. It ran first from late November to late December, in the Irish Repertory Theatre off Broadway. It was a new adventure . . . The fact that we’re married made the experience all the more pleasurable. The theatre organised us a nice apartment four blocks away so we could walk to work.
It’s only at this stage of my career I can do a show like Songs: I have 45 years of songs, records, the stories behind them; it’s me talking about and singing them, with archive footage.
Hand on heart, I couldn’t tell you how many songs I’ve written. Certainly hundreds. In the show there’s all the obvious ones, like The Town I Loved So Well, Scorn Not His Simplicity, Ireland’s Call and Steal Away, which was written for Geraldine.
Yet the best thing I ever did was bring children into the world . . . As a songwriter you’re fortunate if you can leave some songs behind, but that doesn’t even begin to compare with having children. The best thing about Geraldine is that she’s been able to put up with me all these years . . . It’s much, much easier to be married to somebody who’s in the business. She understands what the demands are, the unsocial hours, the absences.
That’s why now that Gerry tours with me, it’s more relaxed, because we don’t have that to deal with. But apart from the physical absences, she understands that if I have a project I’m working on, and my mind is elsewhere, I’m not being moody.
The great thing about Geraldine being away from this for so long is that she’s really savouring it – it’s never a chore.
She loves the whole razzle dazzle – she’s revelling in it. And a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled.
originally from Clontarf, toured Ireland and Europe as a singer with The Branagans, a band she and her brothers formed in the 1970s. After 16 years, she gave up her career to have children and has gone back on tour recently with her husband, Phil Coulter. They live in Bray, Co Wicklow
This guy arrived at my front door in Castleknock one morning: I was a bit intimidated. He was wearing one of those Davy Crockett hats, holding the two bottles of milk the milkman had just delivered. I knew Phil Coulter’s name, knew he was a songwriter and record producer. My brothers were telling me, ‘Oh my God, he’s produced this and this. I was 22, playing in pubs and nightclubs in Dublin in the band called the Branagans I was in with my brothers, Donal and Declan.
There was a huge spark there. I agreed to sing Phil’s song Toi for Luxembourg in Eurovision – and it launched my career. We were together after that but not living together. He protected me from the minute he met me; there was just something there from the start – it was meant to be.
I was terrified going into Eurovision. I didn’t speak French and had to learn the song phonetically: I came fifth, which was quite creditable. It was a wonderful experience: after that I was working with my brothers for a good few years, touring all around Ireland, getting lots of TV work in Europe, the Middle East. I worked for 16 years – then, in 1980, I pulled the plug on singing, moved to London to be with Phil and had my first child.
I was blessed: in the six to eight years I lived in London, I had six children, in rapid succession. From 10 years of age I’d wanted a big family, always admired my mum’s sister who had seven children. I loved every minute of it, was fully hands on; when Phil had success with Tranquility, he was on the road for years and years. It was emotionally difficult, because I missed the man I loved, but you had to keep going.
Eventually we moved to Bray, and Phil found he could come back and work in Ireland. We got married 14 years ago, after we’d had the children. Phil and I have come full circle: we work together professionally, are both on the same page. We travel from A to B to a gig, get out of the car, go straight to the stage, do a sound check, then we’re on in a couple of hours. That’s showbiz: you don’t get tired of it . . . and I had years of a rest. Phil doesn’t get tired either: he has me to keep him going. Putting on the show in New York before Christmas was a new stage in our lives. The critics were unbelievable. We won them over, got standing ovations every night. We’re selling our house in Bray – will probably move to a smaller house. One of the children, Dominique, is getting married this year. So we have to allow for grandchildren.
The Songs I Love So Well Irish tour begins February 23rd in Galway. For details see philcoulter.comunder “in the flesh”