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Simon Napier-Bell
(1939 - living) U. K.

Simon Napier-Bell

Writer, journalist, and pop group manager


Simon (website at http://www.simonnapierbell.com) took an A level in music and played the trumpet at school but was turned down by the Royal College of Music. In 1956 at the age of 17 he got a job as a roadie with the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra. He intended to eventually earn his living as a jazz musician.

In 1957 he travelled to Canada with the ambition of becoming a jazz trumpeter. When he arrived he discovered that the American Federation of Musicians required him to be a resident for a year before he could join the union. He got a job in a dockside pub in Montreal where he played pop songs. He left Canada and hitch-hiked across the USA. He then spent some time in Spain.

Simon returned to London in 1959, and realised that he was gay, although he would continue to have sex with women occasionally. He joined his father's film business and worked as an assistant film editor. He met, Billy, a young man his own age, and they moved in together.

He got to know the important gay people in the music industry including Larry Parnes, Lionel Bart, and Joe Lockwood. He went to the gay clubs around London, including the "Calabash" in Fulham run by the photographer Leon Maybank, the "Festival Club" off St Martin's Lane, the "Rockingham Club", and the A&B in Soho.

In the early 1960s he had his own film company called "Nomis" (Simon spelled backwards), hiring out film editing equipment and producing television commercials and documentaries. He was the assistant editor for the film The Caretaker (1964). He took the job of editing and synchronising Burt Bacharach's music for the film What's New Pussycat? (1965), directed by Clive Donner.

Around 1965 he got into the music business as a manager. His first venture was with three actors who were in the musical Flower Drum Song. They got together to form the group "Room Ten" but he soon dropped them when he realised that they would not be successful. Vicki Wickham then told him that some lyrics were needed for an Italian song that Dusty Springfield had found at the San Remo Music Festival. They devised the title You don't have to say you love me. Dusty Springfield had a great success with the song in the 1960s, and when Elvis Presley also performed the song in the 1970s a good income for the songwriters was secured.

"The Yardbirds" contacted him and asked him to manage them and he produced the groups last major hit Over Under Sideways Down (1966). He also got them a role in Michelangelo Antonioni's film, Blow Up (1966).

In 1967 he was on holiday in St Tropez when the two English musicians, John Hewlett and Chris Townson, asked him to bail them out of prison there. (They had been arrested for vagrancy). The two musicians persuaded Simon that they were part of a pop group who were destined for great success. He signed them up, but when he saw their group, "The Silence", back in Britain he thought that they were the worst group he had seen. He renamed them "John's Children" after the bass player. They were put on tour with "The Who". Marc Bolan asked Simon to manage him and he was persuaded to be the lead singer of "John's Children".

Simon Napier-Bell was the musical director for the film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968).

He joined up with the songwriter Ray Singer in founding a production company called "Rocking Horse" and they touted schemes around gullible record producers to persuade them to give advances for records from groups they claimed to manage but which often did not yet exist. Holding talent contests to create groups they produced records at minimum cost so that they could keep the remainder of the advances.

In 1970 Simon Napier-Bell retired from the British music business to travel around the world. However he continued to have some connections with pop music and after six years he plunged back into the business.

In 1972 he decided that with so many British people going to Spain for their holidays it was time to launch a Spanish singer. He went to Madrid and auditioned Julio Iglesias but judged that his style of singing would not be popular. He took on a singer called Junior from the 1960s group "Los Brincos". He had a number 1 hit in Spain and South America but did not make it in Britain.

He and Jazz Summers teamed and founded "Nomis Management". Simon then saw "Wham!", which consisted of George Michael and Andrew Ridgely, performing Young Guns (Go For It) (1982), on the BBC show Top of the Pops. After many months of pursuit he signed them up. "Wham!" also had the hit singles Wham! Rap (1983), and Bad Boys (1983), and he took charge as "Club Tropicana", was coming out. Their album Fantastic went straight to # 1 in 1983.

Simon fulfilled a promise that he had made when signing up "Wham!" and organised a stadium concert in China. It took place on 1985 at the Worker's Stadium in Beijing and was financed using a #1 million advance from CBS. At the end of 1985 "Wham!" ended its relationship with Simon and Jazz Summers somewhat acrimoniously, and George Michael then left "Wham!" for his solo career.

The Daily Mail printed excerpts of Albert Goldman's book on John Lennon and mentioned that Brian Epstein was gay. They also printed a photograph of Simon Napier-Bell with a caption saying that he was not a homosexual. He consulted a lawyer about suing for libel but they decided not to pursue the case because it would be possible to show that he had had sex with girls.

He managed the duo "Blue Mercedes" which had one straight man and one gay man. The duo formed in London in 1984 with singer David Titlow and keyboard player Duncan Millar. They had one worldwide hit I Want To Be Your Property (1987), as it went straight to # 1 in the US dance charts and stayed there for 14 weeks.

Simon took on the management of "Asia", a progressive rock band from the 1970s. He appeared as himself in the film The Brian Epstein Story (1998). He became the manager of the most famous pop star in Russia, "Alsou".

His book You Don't Have To Say You Love Me (1983) caused a stir even though he had taken the advice of his publisher and left out a chapter on sex. The 1998 edition re-instated this chapter.

His book Black Vinyl White Powder (2001), is ostensibly about the importance of drugs to the music industry in Britain but in the forward he says

"... as I proceeded with the book, I began to see that of almost equal importance was the influence of gay culture".

He proceeds to describe the influence of gay figures such as the pop and rock managers Larry Parnes (Tommy Steele, Billy Fury and many others), Brian Epstein (Beatles), Kit Lambert (The Who), Tony Stratton-Smith (The Nice), Ken Pitt (Crispian St Peters), Robert Stigwood (Cream), Vic Billings (Dusty Springfield), Ken Howard and Allan Blaikely (Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch), Andrew Oldham (Rolling Stones), and Tom Watkins (Bros, Pet Shop Boys, East 17).

Also featured are the songwriter Lionel Bart, the EMI chair Joseph Lockwood, the producers Norman Newell and Joe Meek, the marketing manager and BPI chair Maurice Oberstein, and the performers Marc Almond, Andie Bell, Freddie Mercury, George Michael, Elton John, Tom Robinson, Boy George, Holly Johnson, and Paul Rutherford.

"It was fascinating, from the sixties onwards, to see how often gays and their lifestyle had cropped up in the history of British music business. The number of gay people in major record companies has been negligible. Even the number of gay artists has been very small. Yet their importance seems to outweigh their numbers. In one form or another, the influence of gays on the British industry has been on a par with the influence of blacks and black music on the American industry."

His current boyfriend of 11 years is a Thai man, 30 years younger than Simon.


Source: The Knitting Circle, UK - http://www.sbu.ac.uk/stafflag/people.html - et alii

Quote from: Black Vinyl White Powder, page 344.

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