Phil Solomon: Pop impresario who handled Them and the Bachelors and rescued Radio Caroline
Tuesday 21 June 2011
Whenever British pop managers are discussed by ordinary mortals, Phil Solomon's name is less likely to trip off the tongue than those of, say, Brian Epstein or Andrew Loog Oldham. Yet he was among the more powerful and far-sighted wheeler-dealers in the 1960s, guiding the fortunes not only of contenders like the Bachelors, Them, the Dubliners and Twinkle, but those of backroom talents such as Phil Coulter, writer of Eurovision Song Contest entries for Sandie Shaw and Cliff Richard. On his books, too, were the comedian Freddy "Parrot Face" Davies and the poet Pam Ayres. Solomon was also involved directly in Radio Caroline, the offshore pirate station – and in 1966 he established the Major Minor independent record company. Among other lucrative pursuits were horse racing and breeding, and galleries in Dublin and London.
His instinct for sound if adventurous dealings owed much to being steeped in showbusiness during an upbringing as the youngest child of a wealthy Belfast Jewish family. His brother Mervyn founded the Emerald label, while his father Maurice was a shareholder in Decca. Though Solomon had wanted to train as a vet, his career left the runway in the 1950s as a publicist for Ruby Murray, the first Northern Irish entertainer to top the UK hit parade. With his wife Dorothy he also promoted tours for Jimmy Shand, Jim Reeves, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber and most popular British big bands and concert orchestras.
As the decade turned, the Solomons moved to London, handling such disparate performers as Kenneth McKellar, Louis Armstrong and Mantovani. They struck gold with the Bachelors, a trio from Dublin who specialised in sentimental evergreens like "I Believe", "Charmaine" and "In The Chapel In The Moonlight". Emerging as one of Ireland's most famous pop exports of the 1960s, they weathered the beat boom, scoring 17 UK Top 40 entries between 1963 and 1967 and appearing on two Royal Variety shows.
In common with most Solomon clients, the Bachelors were contracted to Decca, and his success with them prompted the firm to sign Them, a Belfast rhythm 'n' blues unit recommended by Mervyn Solomon to his sibling as maybe a Rolling Stones to the Bachelors' Beatles. A maiden single missed, and, during their first major London booking, chief show-off Van Morrison was unshowy to the point of inertia until Solomon's exasperated off-stage directive to move himself.
Matters mended after Solomon ensured that a second release, "Baby Please Don't Go", was heard for several weeks over the opening credits to Ready Steady Go. After this reached the Top Ten, he headhunted Bert Berns, a New York songwriter who in the wake of the British Invasion had crossed the Atlantic to stake claims in the musical diggings. While Berns provisioned Them with a second and final hit, "Here Comes The Night", he advised not bothering with Tom Jones.
It was Bachelor Dec Clusky's enthusiasm for a song by Twinkle that led Solomon to groom the 15-year-old for stardom. Her "Terry" – which came within an ace of No 1 in 1965 – was taped with accompanists that included the arranger and pianist Phil Coulter, a former Queen's University student discovered by Solomon. The session was overseen by Tommy Scott, a Glaswegian with whom Solomon had formed a production company. At Solomon's insistence, he was to earn composing royalties for tracks recorded by a resentful Twinkle, singular among female singers then for writing her own songs. However, she, like the Bachelors, remained friends.
The same was true of the Ballymena singing songwriter David McWilliams, despite a media campaign that amounted to overkill for his "Days Of Pearly Spencer". This was a "turntable hit" on Radio Caroline – for which Solomon had organised a rescue package when its debts became overwhelming, and he was appointed executive director. He benefited from Caroline airtime after launching Major Minor, where flops were mitigated by hits for the Dubliners, whose "Seven Drunken Nights" ended the reign of "Puppet On A String" at the top of the Irish charts, as well as the million-selling "Mony Mony" by Tommy James and the Shondells, and "Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus" the 1969 single by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin so controversial that it had been deleted by the company which had first issued it.
Though Major Minor was no more by the mid-1970s, the Solomons thrived through Dorothy's management of Lena Zavaroni. Yet it was the cumulative prosperity of earlier enterprises – and a commendable concern about their charges' welfare after the hits had petered out – that allowed Phil Solomon a dotage rich in spiritual and material comforts during a long semi-retirement in Bournemouth.
Philip Raymond Solomon, pop manager: born Belfast 27 April 1924; married Dorothy; died Bournemouth 10 April 2011.
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