On a cold Sunday afternoon in November 1975, over 10,000 people poured into the RDS show jumping arena to see The Stylistics perform at what was Ireland’s biggest ever pop concert.
Brought to Dublin by Phaedra Productions Ltd (a consortium of anonymous Dublin businessmen), this was quite a coup. The Stylistics were one of the biggest pop groups in the world and this Dublin gig was the only European date on their world tour. It was also a gamble, with many questioning the wisdom of staging a big outdoor gig in November. But the phenomenal popularity of The Stylistics suggested this was a safe bet. Almost every home in Ireland had a copy of The Best of The Stylistics, their number one album which stayed in the Irish charts for years. With fellow chart topper Van McCoy also on the bill, the confident promoters advertised the event as ‘The Concert of a Lifetime’.
Come the day of the gig and the rain stayed away, but so too did Van McCoy. Another unnamed ensemble took the place of him and his orchestra. The Stylistics arrived in a horse-drawn carriage and, when they stepped off it, they found themselves mobbed by hundreds of excited fans. Photographer Eric Lurke, working then for The Irish Press, caught the hysteria on camera. “The fans surrounded the group as they headed to the exposed stage that looked like a park bandstand. There was no security, just a handful of Gardaí.” When the shindig settled, The Stylistics dusted down their wine-coloured dinner jackets and sang their hits in a set which lasted less than an hour.
The show got decent reviews, but newspapers complained that the sound wasn’t loud enough. One paper claimed the promoters made a killing, but another said that with less than half of the 20,000 tickets sold, they lost a fortune and ended up selling tickets at a reduced price.
The most interesting review came in a letter in The Evening Herald from a disgruntled Dublin teenager. This was his first ever gig and he and his girlfriend had saved for weeks to buy their tickets. He wrote that The Stylistics only played for 55 minutes instead of the advertised two hours, and there was no explanation given for the non-appearance of Van McCoy! The letter concluded, “The facts are that Phaedra Productions advertised certain attractions for certain lengths of time and these were not complied with. Crowd control, too, was badly handled, and fan hysteria was obviously not anticipated. Should Phaedra Productions stage another event one hopes that they will not mislead the public again and that they comply wholly with their advertisements.”
So, forty-four years later, where are they now? The Stylistics (albeit with different members) are still gigging; their show at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre last November was a sell-out. There’s no trace of Phaedra Productions (I don’t think they ever promoted again). Eric Luke retired from the Irish Times in 2016 and is now pursuing other projects, including restoring old negatives from his personal archive (see his photo above!). As for the young letter writer who took the promoters to task? Well, Betcha By Golly Wow! Guess what? He still lives and works in Dublin, still with his girlfriend and still a Stylistics fan! In fact, he often plays them on his Lyric FM breakfast show. Marty Whelan, teenage public watchdog, take a bow.
Words: Brian McMahon
Photo Credits: Copyright Eric Luke