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Friday 20 April 2018

Philip Solomon

An impresario whose Bachelors outsold The Beatles in 1964, writes Kieran Fagan

WHEN music impresario Philip Solomon, who died last month of cardiac arrest, turned up at the Midem Music Festival in Cannes some years ago with his wife Dorothy, the hotel receptionist greeted him frostily with one word -- "cancelled". Their reservation had been cancelled and the hotel was very busy.

"Next please," she said.

Solomon tried to reason with her. He had booked in good time, paid a substantial deposit.

"Next please."

He took off his jacket and tie and laid them on the floor in front of the check-in desk. "You, too, Dorothy, strip!"

"I was down to my bra and pants and the people waiting to check in behind us were clapping and singing a striptease song, and a manager appeared. Suddenly we not only had a room, we had a suite," Dorothy recalls, "and such a good laugh."

She met her husband-to-be in White's milk bar in Belfast. In the Fifties that was the cool place, just around the corner from his father's big record store, Solomon and Peres, another cool place to hang out. He looked at her and said: "You've got a run in your nylons. Put on a new pair and I'll take you out to dinner."

She fumed for a bit, but dinner was dinner.

And soon Philip, the younger son of Maurice Solomon, a major shareholder in the Decca record company, and Dorothy, daughter of George Connell, boxing promoter and show-business impresario, were married.

Acerbic art critic Brian Sewell disliked him on first sight. "I never met anyone quite so pushy..." Yet Sewell discharged himself from hospital last month against doctor's advice to travel hundreds of miles to the funeral of his "decent, kind and most generous friend".

Sewell, like many others, discovered the real Philip Solomon over lunch. The table was where he did business and made friends. It was said of him that he was very Jewish, but not at all religious.

Solomon was the quiet man of the popular entertainment scene. His approach was eclectic, acting as booking agent for some acts, staging events for others. An early success was his work as publicist for Ruby Murray, Belfast's breakthrough singing star of the Fifties. He enjoyed promoting Mario Lanza's concerts in Ireland, liking the rumbustious tenor though others found him difficult, and accompanying him to Hamburg where Lanza wanted to hire him as his manager.

In 1961, Philip and Dorothy moved to London where the couple operated in tandem -- managing artists, promoting events, mixing and matching. Kenneth McKellar, Louis Armstrong, Cliff Richard and Gene Pitney, were among the acts appearing in events they promoted.

In 1962, for the Danish singing couple Nina and Frederik's Irish and UK dates, Philip and Dorothy took on The Bachelors, Ireland's first boy band, as a supporting act. Under Dorothy Solomon's management they had a huge worldwide hit with a close-harmony version of Charmaine in 1963, and went on to outsell The Beatles in 1964. Two of The Bachelors, Con and Dec Cluskey, from Inchicore, Dublin, are soon to release their 76th album, Swinging Bachelors celebrating 50 years in show business.

Philip's brother Mervyn had founded the Emerald label, home to many Irish showbands. When Ronan O'Rahilly's Radio Caroline, a pirate station beaming pop music from a ship outside UK waters, needed refinancing, Solomon became the major shareholder with The Bachelors' financial help. By 1966 he had his own record label, Major Minor, which had hit records such as Seven Drunken Nights for The Dubliners and the Days of Pearly Spencer for Ballymena's talented singer-songwriter David McWilliams, though relentless over-promotion of McWilliams on Caroline probably did him no favours.

Mervyn had also spotted a promising Belfast rhythm-and-blues act called Them in Belfast, but lead singer Ivan Morrison proved hard work when it came to relating to audiences, or even acknowledging their presence.

The Solomons' dream of having The Bachelors rival The Beatles alongside Them challenging the Rolling Stones, with McWilliams as the new Bob Dylan, fell by the wayside. Major Minor snapped up Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg's 1969 sexually torrid hit Je T'Aime, after the issuing label dropped it in mid-hit. As an impresario Philip Solomon promoted comedy artists such as Frank Carson and the popular poet Pam Ayres. Dorothy managed a young Scottish singer called Lena Zavaroni, among others.

But there were wider interests, including a Solomon gallery in Dover Street and Bruton Mews, London, together with a gallery in Dublin. In 1981, horse racing was another passion but latterly he was more interested in the breeding side, of which he had an encyclopaedic knowledge.

Philip Solomon's final years were spent in Bournemouth, with his wife Dorothy. Many professional relationships had turned into personal friendships and continued into retirement and until his death last month.

Sunday Independent

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