Solomon, Philip Raymond ('Phil') (1924–2011), music promoter and businessman, was born on 27 April 1924 in Ashley Gardens, Lansdowne Road, Belfast, the younger son of Maurice Solomon (born in Belfast to Russian-Jewish parents) and his wife Evelyn (née Peres), a native of Leeds. In the early 1920s, Maurice Solomon and his brother-in-law Harold Peres (Evelyn's brother and husband of Maurice's sister Milly) opened a wireless shop in Winetavern Street, Belfast, and in 1930 founded Solomon and Peres, a music retailer, distributor and production firm; their Gramophone Shop in Donegall Square was one of Belfast's leading record retailers. They became friendly with Edward Lewis (1900–80), the British businessman who founded Decca Records in 1929 and made it one of the world's largest music recording companies. Solomon and Peres took an agency with Decca and became substantial shareholders.
Philip was educated in Belfast, and both he and his elder brother, Mervyn (1920–2008), entered the family business. Mervyn had spent some time in New York and became a well-known jazz enthusiast in Belfast. He was quiet and modest, unlike his louder and more assertive brother. After working as a salesman and depot manager, Philip moved into concert promotion in the early 1950s, handling local publicity for tours by leading artists such as Jim Reeves, Acker Bilk and Chris Barber. He also began promoting the singer Ruby Murray (qv) with great success: she reached the top of the UK chart with 'Softly, softly' in 1955. Philip was assisted in his promotional work by his wife Dorothy, whom he married in Dublin on 15 November 1955. She was the daughter of George Connell, a Belfast boxing promoter and show-business impresario, and became one of the most respected agents in the music industry in her own right. A major breakthrough for the couple was the promotion of Mario Lanza's concerts in Ireland in 1958.
That year the Solomons moved to London, and through Dorothy Solomon Associated Artistes promoted leading performers such as the Danish singing duo Nina and Frederik, Gene Pitney, Louis Armstrong and Cliff Richard. Always on the lookout for new talent, Philip began to manage a trio from Dublin named The Harmonichords, whose close-harmony singing had broad commercial appeal. Renamed The Bachelors, they went on to have seventeen top ten hits in Britain (1963–7) with songs such as 'Charmaine', 'Diane' and 'I believe'. To Solomon's delight, they even outsold The Beatles in Britain in 1964. Like his other acts, they were contracted to Decca, where Solomon had a close working relationship with Dick Rowe, the company's influential A&R (artists and repertoire) manager. In 1966 Solomon founded his own record label, Major Minor Records. He favoured engaging acts on short, simple contracts, usually drawn up without lawyers or accountants, which later led some to complain that he had taken advantage of their unworldliness and inexperience.
Solomon managed several other Irish artists, such as Bridie Gallagher (qv), The Capitol Showband and The Dubliners. He signed The Dubliners to Major Minor and his assiduous promotion of the group did much to make them an international success. In 1964 he was introduced to the Belfast band Them by his brother Mervyn. Philip was unimpressed by their scruffy look and poor presentation, but could see that their soulful young singer Van Morrison had talent and agreed to manage them. The band had a top ten single hit in 1964 with 'Baby, please don't go', greatly helped by Solomon's efforts to ensure it was played for eight weeks over the opening credits of the ITV music show 'Ready steady go!'. He recruited the services of Phil Coulter as a songwriter and arranger, and hired the renowned New York songwriter Bert Berns to produce Morrison's 'Brown eyed girl', which became a UK top ten hit in June 1967. Berns also wrote Them's major break-through hit, 'Here comes the night', which reached no. 2 in the UK charts in March 1965. Solomon saw music primarily as a business and took a dim view of Morrison's artistic idiosyncrasies, such as either ignoring or confronting the audience, and saying as little as possible during media interviews. He tried to take advantage of Morrison's gruffness by marketing the band as 'The Angry Young Them', but they chafed under his strict management and relations deteriorated. After a fractious USA tour in 1966, Them disbanded, and Morrison and Solomon ended up in the courts. Afterwards, Dorothy insisted 'no more groups' (Rogan, 157). This, though, did not prevent Solomon from releasing the 'The story of Them, parts 1 & 2' on Major Minor in September 1967.
Solomon regarded the Belfast-born singer, songwriter and guitarist David McWilliams (1945–2002) as a superior talent to Morrison and spoke of him as 'the new Bob Dylan'. He signed him to Major Minor in 1966, spent £20,000 on a massive publicity campaign, and convinced his friend Dominic Behan (qv) to act as McWilliams's mentor. In 1968 McWilliams released his best-known song, 'Days of Pearly Spencer', but, despite relentless promotion on Radio Caroline, it failed to make an impression in the UK charts (the BBC largely ignored it owing to Solomon's pirate radio links). The song, though, was a hit on the Continent, where sales more than recouped Solomon's investment. However, McWilliams never achieved comparable popularity in Britain or Ireland, possibly because of his aversion to performing live.
Among the other acts Solomon managed was Twinkle (Lynn Annette Ripley (1948–2015)), who, with Phil Coulter as pianist and arranger, had a major hit in 1964 with the song 'Terry', in which a young girl laments her boyfriend's death in a motorcycle accident. (The BBC regarded the song as in bad taste and refused to play it, but it was aired incessantly on Radio Caroline.) The Dubliners' earthy 'Seven drunken nights' was also banned by the BBC and RTÉ in 1967, but Solomon's astute promotion made it a no. 1 hit in Ireland and no. 7 in the UK. Major Minor's biggest hits were 'Mony Mony' by Tommy James and the Shondells, which reached no. 1 in the UK in 1968, and the racy 'Je t'aime … moi non plus' by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, which reached no. 1 in the UK and no. 2 in Ireland in 1969. The latter record had originally been released on the Fontana label but was dropped after being widely banned. Solomon adeptly exploited the controversy to propel it to no. 1 in several European countries on its second release. Other notable acts recorded on Major Minor included Taste (the band fronted by Rory Gallagher (qv)), Peter Sarstedt, Dizzy Gillespie and The Isley Brothers.
During these years Solomon became a powerful figure in the music business in both Britain and Ireland, gaining a reputation as a relentless and ruthless promoter. Even in an industry not known for the highest standards of probity, his opportunism and unscrupulousness stood out. His abrasive style sharply divided opinion: some (notably Dick Rowe) admired his determination and shrewd appreciation of what was likely to sell, while others thought him pushy and boorish. Many of his acts, including the self-confident Phil Coulter and the intractable Van Morrison, admitted to being intimidated by him.
When in February 1966 the pirate station Radio Caroline (founded by the Irish businessman Ronan O'Rahilly in 1964) faced bankruptcy, Philip and Mervyn Solomon invested £20,000 in return for a 20 per cent shareholding and a place on the board of directors. Caroline's disc jockeys were then obliged to play quotas of Major Minor and Emerald Music records (the latter a label specialising in Irish and Scottish music, founded in 1964 by Mervyn). This led to sharp protests by some Caroline disc jockeys about the repetitive and unsuitable playlist. When accusations were made in the press that pirate stations demanded payment for playing records, Solomon readily admitted that Caroline charged 'a broadcasting fee' for records not in the top 50. In August 1967 the Marine Offences Act tried to curtail the pirates' activities but, as an Irish citizen, Solomon circumvented its provisions and ran the station from Major Minor's offices in London. In an attempt to make it profitable, he cut staff and salaries, but the station's debts were too heavy and its ships were seized by creditors in March 1968, forcing it off air.
After the death of Harold Peres in 1967, Philip and Mervyn took over Solomon and Peres (eventually sold to Decca in 1981). In 1969 and 1970 Major Minor's record sales declined, and the company was sold to EMI in September 1970. The Solomons reduced their involvement in music, but from 1973 managed the young Scottish singer Lena Zavaroni (1963–99), one of the most successful young artists of the mid 1970s. They also managed the singing duo Foster and Allen, and several non-musical acts such as the comedians Frank Carson (qv) and Brendan Grace, and the poet Pam Ayres.
From 1965, the Solomons, already very wealthy, owned a string of racehorses, which ran in Dorothy's colours. Philip was among the highest bidders at bloodstock auctions in Britain and Ireland: in June 1970 he and two friends offered a reputed £1 million for the celebrated Nijinsky, the first horse in thirty-five years to win the triple crown of 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger. From the mid 1970s, the Solomons scaled back their involvement, but kept a few horses running.
In the early 1980s, Philip and Dorothy lived in Anglesea Road, Dublin, and provided some of the initial backing for the local pirate station, Sunshine Radio. This well-financed venture, which operated from the Sands Hotel in Portmarnock from September 1980, included several former Radio Caroline staff and proved very popular with Irish listeners. Philip also bought the rights to promote the musical 'Hair' in Dublin, Cork and Belfast in spring 1982. He had been a private art collector for many years, and in November 1981 opened the Solomon Gallery in the Powerscourt townhouse with an exhibition of the work of Serge Mendjisky. In October 1983 he sold the gallery to Suzanne McDougald, and in May 1985 opened another in Bruton Place, off Berkeley Square, London, with the works of four Irish artists: Tim Goulding, Maurice Henderson, Pauline Bewick and Markey Robinson (qv).
In their latter years the Solomons settled in Bournemouth, where they lived quietly. Philip Solomon died there of a heart attack on 11 April 2011, survived by Dorothy (they had no children). His remains were cremated at Bournemouth crematorium. Mervyn Solomon died on 5 March 2008 from injuries sustained in a car accident.