Photo Coverage: Celtic Thunder's Phil Coulter Celebrates New Album
Renaissance man Phil Coulter has managed to write, produce or record chart-topping songs in every decade since the 1960s. Such iconic artists as Elvis Presley, Van Morrison and The Bay City Rollers have sung Coulter's impressive songbook. In addition, his atmospheric instrumental CDs, which Enya credits as an inspiration for her own best-sellers, have found the pianist a regular home on the charts. The consummate songsmith's most recent triumph has been his role as music director and composer for the hugely successful Celtic Thunder, which has enjoyed great success on PBS, enjoying severAl Gold selling albums and sold-out tours across the country and even an appearance at the White House. Celtic Thunder's devoted following range from teenyboppers to grandparents alike. Their current CD Heritage has surpassed Coulter's expectations. "I was thrilled to see Heritage climb to number 11 in the Billboard Hot 200......up there with Pink and Lady Gaga!"
On September 27, 2011 Shanachie Entertainment will release Heartland, Phil Coulter's latest masterpiece. Featuring songs Coulter wrote for Celtic Thunder, Heartland is an epic musical journey that travels through scores of lush orchestrations, romantic sweeping melodies, riveting show-stopping numbers and emotionally charged ballads. Heartland's many spell-binding moments reveal why Phil Coulter's artistry has been able to stand the test of time.
"For an old dog like me to be so excited about this project is really something special," explains Coulter. "Heartland is my first release in nearly four years and it's an opportunity to showcase the music that I put together for a show that has surpassed my wildest expectations and given me huge satisfaction. Celtic Thunder has consumed all my creative energies for the past four years and its phenomenal success has been rewarding on so many levels. Now, to be able to revisit some of their most popular songs with a full concert orchestra is really the icing on the cake. I loved every minute."
Heartland opens with the awe-inspiring title track and orchestral masterpiece, which will be familiar to Celtic Thunder fans. In the show, it introduces the five main characters and sets the scene for what is to come. Every element of the song draws the listener in, from the Irish pipes heard over the drone of the chanting monks, to the lyrics in the verses, about surviving the storm, to the anthemic melody of the chorus sung in Gaelic over a pulsating drum track. Coulter's opening track promises a fascinating journey and he delivers. Showing his depth as a composer, Coulter also offers such beautiful impressionistic pieces like "A Bird Without Wings," the moving "Kindred Spirits," the tender "Buachaill Ón Eirne, (Come By the Hills) and the pensive and breathtakingly gorgeous "Noreen."
Coulter's penchant for dramatic flare is illustrated through his implementation of dramatic melodies, surprising harmonies, shifting chord progressions and mounting dynamics that are heard on numbers like "Midnight Well" and "That's A Woman."
"Part of my job as the songwriter for Celtic Thunder was to come up with songs which would help define each of the characters," shares Phil. "Paul, for example, was the clean-cut good guy. Ryan, on the other hand, was the ‘Dark Destroyer.'"
"In its original form for the stage, "That's A Woman" features the two characters fighting over a woman," explains Coulter. "Paul has a lovely romantic melody extolling the beauty and delicacy of a woman while Ryan has a very staccato delivery, basically saying 'you gotta treat 'em rough!' The fun part for me was getting the two melodies to fit together. Not easy!" Another highlight is the song "Take Me Home" which Coulter wrote in 1984 for a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia. "He worked in the oil fields," Coulter recalls. "He was permanently homesick and would immerse himself in Irish music to ease the pain. Although I wrote the song for him, there are few Irish people who haven't suffered those awful pangs of separation from the people and places we love." Heartland also showcases the regal, gallant and crowd rousing number "Celtic Thunder March" and "Remember Me (Recuerdame)," which Coulter first composed as an orchestral piece and recorded on an album with the great flutist James Galway. "I always loved playing the melody and thought it had a very European feel to it," shares Phil. "I finally got round to writing a lyric with a little bit of Spanish in it - 'Remember Me... Recourdame.' In the show it was a perfect showcase for Paul Byrom, our tenor."
Close to five years ago, Phil Coulter was sought out by producer Sharon Browne to create Celtic Thunder. The duo set out to find five singers with distinctive voices, looks and personalities through open auditions in Ireland and Scotland. Coulter recalls, "Trust me, that is the hard way because you attract the Good, the Bad and the Ugly !!" Lucky for us Browne and Coulter found their five leading men (Damian McGinty, Paul Byrom, Ryan Kelly, George Donaldson and Keith Harkin) and the rest is history. Coulter recalls a special moment after Celtic Thunder's first TV special. "There is a shot of the five lads at the end of the very first TV special when they are reacting to a standing ovation. They are looking at each other in disbelief. There was naturalness and an honesty to that which was obviously not 'showbiz '. They were like five kids who had just been given the keys of the toy shop. Folks responded to that. The fact that initially the age group of Celtic Thunder ran from fourteen to forty translated into an across the board appeal. For fans it was like having an 'a la carte 'menu!"
Phil Coulter's Heartland is a heartfelt offering from one of the most brilliant compositional minds of our time. It marks a welcome return to traditional values in the music industry - great melodies, lush orchestrations and stylish, no-holds-barred production. This is a treat not only for Celtic Thunder fans but also for all lovers of good music. Phil Coulter states, "On a personal level, I have nine kids. They certainly keep me focused. From a professional point of view, in the music business you are only as good as your last song or production and while it's nice to have a good track record I would not be very happy living on past glories. It's taken me more than forty years to arrive at my process of composing. I'm afraid that if I tried to explain or analyze it the whole thing might start to fall apart! No two songs are the same. No two singers are the same and no two productions are the same. Thank the Good Lord!!"
Photo Credit: Genevieve Rafter Keddy