Showbusiness impresario central to UK success of Dubliners

 

PHIL SOLOMON:THE SHOWBUSINESS impresario Phil Solomon, who has died aged 86, was a publicist for Ruby Murray, the first artist from Northern Ireland to top the British hit parade, and he later steered the Bachelors and the Dubliners to UK chart success.

Born in Belfast in 1924, he came from a family who ran a record distribution and sales company. Solomon worked as a salesman and depot manager before switching to concert promotion.

Moving to London he and his wife Dorothy represented a number of artists, including Kenneth McKellar, Louis Armstrong and Cliff Richard.

On tour with Nina and Frederick, they spotted the Harmonichords, a Dublin harmonica group, signed them and changed their name to the Bachelors. Guided by the Solomons, they specialised in close harmony versions of established favourites such as Charmaine, Diane,and I Believe.Notwithstandingthe beat boom of the 1960s, the group had 18 British Top 40 hits between 1963 and 1967.

They outsold The Beatles in 1964 and appeared in Royal Variety Shows in 1966 and 1968.

Next he signed Belfast rhythm-and-blues group Them. Their breakthrough single, Baby Please Don’t Go,reached the top 10 in 1964.

Phil Coulter, who worked for Solomon as an accompanist and arranger, featured on the Top 10 hit Terry, a song about the death of a biker recorded by 15-year-old Twinkle. Its chances of making No 1 were scuppered by a BBC ban because of the morbid subject matter.

In 1966 Solomon founded the Major Minor label which quickly established a presence in the charts.

The label’s hits included Mony Mony by Tommy James and the Shondells, a British No 1 in 1968, and Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s breathy ballad Je t’aime . . . moi non plus.

The Dubliners’ hit Seven Drunken Nights led to several appearances on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops.

RTÉ, however, famously banned the record.

In 1966 Solomon acquired a 20 per cent interest in Ronan O’Rahilly’s Radio Caroline and effectively took control of the pirate station.

He ensured that the station’s playlist was rigidly adhered to and introduced a scheme whereby record companies were invited to pay £100 a week to have new releases aired. If they failed to enter the Top 50 after two weeks they were dropped from the playlist.

Once they entered the charts all plays were then free.

It was a common practice among the pirates, though few admitted to it. The station ceased broadcasting in 1968. Solomon was later involved with Dublin’s Sunshine Radio.

In addition to promoting Gene Pitney’s UK tours and launching Lena Zavaroni’s career, he also managed comedian Frank Carson and popular poet Pam Ayres.

Solomon retired to Bournemouth. Associated with art galleries in Dublin and London, he maintained his interest in horse racing and breeding.

He is survived by his wife.


Philip Raymond (Phil) Solomon: born April 27th, 1924; died April 11th, 2011