Cindy Reich Interviews Phil on eve of Celtic Thunder gig… Phil Coulter will be joining the wildly successful show, Celtic Thunder, when it arrives in Denver on December 12th at the Wells Fargo Theater. His accomplishments in the music world over the last 40 years are legend. Phil took time out of rehearsing at his home in Ireland to talk with Cindy Reich and the Celtic Connection about giving back, Celtic Thunder and his upcoming visit to Denver. CR: Phil, how in the heck are you? PC: Never better. For an aging rocker, I think I”m hanging together not so bad! CR: Tell me about Africa”what were you doing there? PC: Well, my wife and I discovered this country; it”s the smallest country in Africa, called the Gambia. It”s coastal. It”s sandwiched between northern and southern Senegal right on the Atlantic with huge Atlantic breakers and lovely beaches. It”s just beginning to establish itself as a destination. It”s not by any means sophisticated, it”s not by any means commercialized and it wouldn”t be everybody”s cup of tea. Apart from the attractions of the sun and the beaches, the people are so gentle, gracious and welcoming. There is another side that is about half an hour from the coastal side and the beaches and the resorts. There are no more than about 20 hotels in the whole country and that would include one star ramshackle places. But within a half hour of the coastal area, you are into third world Africa. It”s a real wake-up call when you see it firsthand. We went down with our kids”we have six kids, as you know, and it was a great lesson for them in the sort of stuff they take for granted. For example, the volume of waste in our household and most households in the Western world”what we squander. These people have so little. We have adopted a little kindergarten and there are 200 kids crammed into two little rooms separated by rush matting. They have one pencil for every ten students and each student has to take their turn with the pencil. They write on little scraps of paper that are torn out of copybooks. So we”ve set up a few little charitable things down there, including the school. The boy who became our guide over the years we”ve been going down there”we shipped down a big Land Rover jeep we had in Spain. We shipped it to Africa and set him up in business as a sort of a bush taxi and tour guide operator. It”s a very small operation, Cindy. I mean I”m not Bob Geldorf or Bono and God knows I have no desire to be, either, but it makes me feel good to be able to something like that. CR: Have your kids taken the message home? Now that they”re back home, are they more aware of how they use things? I”d love to say categorically, yes. But they need to be reinforced. We”re taking them all down to the Gambia for Christmas and our Christmas morning is going to be to pile into the Jeep and drive down to the compound of our guide and his extended family out in the bush. The kids are putting all of the money they would have been spending on themselves and their friends into a pool and we”ll buy bags of rice and bags of onions and a few drums of cooking oil. We”ll deliver that on Christmas morning along with a few bags of sweets and candies for the kids. It”s absolutely true what they say that there”s a real pleasure in giving rather than receiving. CR: What a nice way to give back. To those who are given much, there is a responsibility to give back and you are teaching your kids a valuable lesson as well as showing the people in Gambia that the rest of the world has an interest in them. PC: That makes a big difference. For people from abroad to take an interest in them. They think we are all millionaires and by their standards, we probably are. The average weekly wage there would be about five dollars. By their standards we are all rich. But you treat them with respect. It”s not just the money. You take the time to listen to their stories and show concern. Treat them with dignity. The Gambian people are very gracious and very warm. It is called the “Smiling Coast” and the people do smile a lot! We”re a small operation. We”re not building hospitals, but we”re affecting lives and we”re making people feel better about themselves. CR: Well, it”s a great thing to do, and maybe people will hear about this, both in Ireland, but also in a wider circle. PC: Strangely enough, Cindy, I”ve had a lot of response from the Celtic Thunder website. We each have our own forums on there. I log on to keep people up to date and when I told people about our African adventures it had precisely the effect you are talking about. A lot of people were e-mailing back to ask what they could do to help. You don”t need to gather hundreds of thousands of dollars, but every little bit helps. There are more good people out there than bad people, Cindy. CR: All it takes is one person to drop a stone into the water and let the ripples fan out. PC: Precisely. CR: Well, lets talk about Celtic Thunder, as a perfect segue. Last time we spoke, the tour was far in the distance. The show had just run in Dublin. Paul Byrom did a lovely interview with us, but it has been nearly a year since we had that conversation. I”ve seen the show on PBS since we”ve spoken” PC: A lot!! (Laughing) CR: Exactly. But the show has been huge with great reviews and of course it is coming to Denver in a few weeks. Has it met your expectations? Exceeded your expectations? Now that the tour has been on the road for a while in the U.S., what is your feeling, as composer and music director about the show? PC: A combination of feelings, with relief being one of the primary ones! (Laughing) Because it did represent a big investment of time, creativity, love, attention and patience. Not to mention a lot of dollars! There are no certainties in this game as you know better than most, so musically, you pull all of the strands together and you choose your five guys from a multitude of people in open auditions”and open auditions, as I”ve said before, is a tough way to find your talent, because you get the good, the bad and the ugly. But I think having persevered through all of that and finding our five guys”each with a very strong and distinctive personality and a very distinctive voice, then I team them up with songs. What my job is then, is alchemy. I”ve got to put the guys together with the songs and the songs together with the orchestrations and then pick the musicians. It is drawing on reserves of being 40 years in the game. It”s drawing on my reserves as a songwriter, doing orchestration, as a performer and record producer. Having performed in practically every state in the Union, I certainly know how to connect with those people and that”s what its all about. Connecting. It is not just good enough to have great music, great singers and a great orchestra if you don”t connect. It”s a mistake a lot of acts make”they fail to connect across the footlights. That”s the difference between being a performer and being an entertainer. In choosing the songs, and the batting order, and instrumentation”that”s drawing on 40 years of experience and you hope your instincts are correct. You can”t guarantee success, but what I can guarantee is “Shame on me if I sign off on a project like this and it would be shabby. Shame on me if I would sign off on a project like this if it would be nickel and dimed and cutting corners, Shame on me if I didn”t pay attention to detail. Having done all that, what are my expectations? My expectations are hopefully that I got it right and I think the gratification is that it seems like we did. I still have the sound of the standing ovations at the Radio City Music Hall in New York ringing in my ears. I love to read from a New York journalist who said, “This show has got the potential to make the same cultural impact as Riverdance if it stays on this trajectory”. That”s the kind of thing I like to hear. CR: Well, there is certainly no shame on you. There is no one of any age that wouldn”t enjoy this show and wouldn”t get a huge amount of entertainment from it. PC: That was the challenge, with five guys ranging in age from 15 to 40, to have as wide an a la carte menu as possible. One of the many treats I”ve gotten from this, is on the second night in Radio City Music Hall, who was sitting in the audience but Jimmy Webb. Jimmy Webb has been one of my heroes as a songwriter”"Mac Arthur Park”, “By the Time I Get To Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”"so many hits. He came to the party after the show, and I spent about 15 minutes with him, just entranced by the conversation. We have a little bit of shared history, Jimmy and I–after “Mac Arthur Park” and the “A Tramp Shining” album he made with Richard Harris, they had a fight and Harris didn”t record for a year or so and I picked up Harris and produced his next album and out of that came the “My Boy” song, which was recorded by Elvis Presley. Jimmy was echoing what you were saying. He said, “I put it on one night (the DVD) when my wife was out and found myself being sucked into it with those five guys and each of them having different songs and a different personality. I was curious as to how you were going to treat it and it was lovely to see the respect the whole concept had for the songs.” And I think that”s the secret. The choosing of the songs was the critical part of the whole package for me. I picked songs that transcended the charts. I picked iconic songs. Songs that for many people were the soundtracks to their lives. They have that kind of resonance with people. CR: Phil, you are joining the show here in Denver while they are on tour here in America. You”ve really come to love Colorado, haven”t you? PC: It”s not by accident that I”m rejoining to take up the baton for the last lap, and where am I rejoining? Denver. Denver has been good to me for a long time. I remember the first time I played in Denver in the Paramont Theater and there was just warmth that came off the audience. You remember those sorts of things. My concerts are a two-way flow. I get lifted and inspired by the audience. I”ve always had great nights in Denver. I”ve made a lot of friends in Denver as well, and Pat McCullough is an absolute hero. A great man, a great friend and a great promoter of all things quality in the Celtic world. He is the kind of promoter that a guy like me dreams of. A guy who leaves no stone unturned and who will pull out a phone book and call up any name that sounded vaguely Irish and tell them that Phil Coulter”s coming to town! (Laughing) That”s what makes things happen. People ask me why I”ve been so successful over the last 40 years and I say that it”s because I show up to work every morning. If I”d waited for things to drop into my lap, I”d probably be teaching piano to ten year olds in my hometown. Stuff doesn”t happen–you make things happen. CR: What do you think has been the main key to the success of this production? PC: What has made this the success it has, thank God, become, is that the five guys were complete unknowns. Paul Byrom was the one guy that had professional experience. The other guys were complete unknowns, complete amateurs. So they were bringing to this a whole endearing innocence. They”re like five guys who have had their noses pressed against the window of the toy shop for years and then suddenly someone has opened the door to the toy shop and let them in. And they are having the time of their lives. There”s no cynicism, no weariness”just bring it on! They can”t wait for the next audience; they can”t wait for the next state. They”ve never been to Colorado”bring it on! They are really in a very privileged position. When we played Radio City, and we were onstage for the technical rehearsal, I got them on stage and made everyone get quiet. I said to the five guys and to the band, I said, “Just be quiet. Sit here and drink deep. I want you to sense this. I want you to smell it. I want you to see it. I want you to taste it. I want you to slow it down and lock it into your brain. Because this is very special and it is a great privilege to be on this stage in Radio City Music Hall. And you know what? It”s taken me 40 years to get here.” Celtic Thunder will be playing the Wells Fargo Theater on December 12th. www.celticthunder.ie For tickets and tour listing go to www.aeglive.com

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