|Phil Coulter performing his show The Songs I Loved So Well at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York.
Based on the performance I caught, it’s easy to see why. The man is a master showman with a body of work that has changed the face of Irish culture.
His “Tranquility” series of albums throughout the 1980s took traditional Irish melodies and stretched them on a yoga mat, producing groundbreaking arrangements that ushered in the New Age movement of those times.
As a nod to that period, Coulter opened with a subdued “Danny Boy” instrumental; your pulse would slow with each tinkling of the keys as the holiday shopping madness whirred along the street a few feet away. Simply put, it was a performance that was good for the soul.
This wasn’t a concert to catch a few winks! Coulter would hang off the side of the piano bench during his one man show and explain the origins of classic songs like “Scorn Not His Simplicity,” “The Old Man,” (still a tear-jerker even if your father isn’t deceased yet), and “My Boy.” He still can scarcely believe that Elvis Presley covered that track; it was one of the many stories he shared from a career that spans almost five decades.
Despite the accolades, Coulter isn’t above poking fun at his legendary status. He told a funny story about walking into pubs and hotels in Ireland and being followed by songs from his “Tranquility” collection everywhere he went.
“There’s that ‘Coultergeist’ again,” groaned one of his bandmates. He wrote a spooky instrumental of the same name, a devilish grin escaping his lips as he played.
“There is no light show, no dancing girls, it’s just me,” he told me during a chat prior to the show.
“If I lay an egg, it’s all on me. But I think that’s great because it gives you your edge -- you can’t go on autopilot or let an orchestra carry the water for you, and you have to be up for the challenge.”
Coulter got the crowd on it’s feet with “Ireland,” a spirited sports song that made its way to the Celtic Thunder show when he was musical director.
After a short break Coulter brought his wife Geraldine Branagan for a stirring read through “The Water Is Wide.” She produced the goosebumps during “Oiche Chiun,” the Gaelic “Silent Night.”
Coulter finished the show with a trio of songs from his idol, Jimmy Durante, before sending the crowd into the cold night air with the warmth of “The Town I Loved So Well” and “Steal Away.” It was that melody I hummed all the way to the train station en route back to Jersey! You would be wise to “steal away” to this show before it takes a bow on December 30. For tickets and showtimes, visit www.irishrep.org.