Nancy Wilson died last night at her home in California aged 81 multiple sources in the US report. A star in the 1960s with 8 albums that made it to the higher reaches of the Billboard charts, her hit with the Jimmy Williams/Larry Harrison song ‘(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am’ won her a Grammy in 1965 for best R&B performance. Later she would win jazz Grammys and a National Endowment for the Arts jazz masters fellowship for lifetime achievement.
More: New York Times report.
Sometimes it is good to step back and retreat into song. While resolutely easy listening and by that I certainly mean an evening which involves a singalong and a clapalong which this appearance at the theatre by the river Erne on a rainy evening certainly did, Phil Coulter is a bona fide legend of Irish popular music. His songs invade him, he is their vessel, and did us and have done whether we like it or not in Ireland, unless you have been living under a stone, for decades. His songs are as public as can be, for instance sports fans sing his composition ‘Ireland’s Call’ alongside ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ as an anthem before Ireland’s rugby games. His greatest song of all ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ kept almost to the end was and remains the most moving song ever to be inspired by the Troubles and stands the test of time.
Sat at a white piano the evening began with a solo unsung version of ‘Danny Boy’ how appropriate for a proud son of that most musical city Derry and this was for the large part a solo show. However later in the second half Phil’s wife former Eurovision singer Geraldine Brannigan came out to join him on a stirring version of ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ and given it is near Christmas ‘Silent Night’ with lyrics both in English and Irish. At the end on the delightful Coulter song ‘Steal Away’ Coulter provided backing vocals to his wife as we in the audience all sang along.
Along the way there were plenty of stories. Some of his older songs do not much appeal to me I must confess and ‘Puppet on a String’ and ‘Congratulations’ were never my cup of tea but I was certainly in the minority of the audience as the latter certainly got gig goers spontaneously clapping along. It is undeniable however how recognisable and familiar they are.
Coulter’s most unexpected hit he told us was his novelty parody song ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E’ made famous by Billy Connolly and the words from his rendition still make me laugh the morning after: “Both my wife and my wee scabby dog/Will soon be hauled away/That’s why I spell out all of these words/So as my dog can’t hear.”
So plenty of laughs, Coulter also relayed several funny stories about Ronnie Drew and his time with the Dubliners and serious, personal, songs too: Coulter’s song ‘Scorn Not His Simplicity’ drawing on the experience of his Down’s syndrome son was hard not to shed a tear to. A master of song, nothing more nothing less, a privilege to be there to witness his skill and continuing journey into the heart of song.