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Black Vinyl White Powder [Paperback]

Simon Napier-Bell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Amazon Review

The lowly third position of musical pursuits in the familiar cry of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" suggests what Simon Napier-Bell's book Black Vinyl White Powder makes all too clear: from it's mid-1950s beginnings: pop music has always been intrinsically linked not only with sex, but with all manner of illegal substances. Indeed, it is an often-repeated fact that success in the music business will frequently be accompanied by more than mere musical activity. "Drugs are sometimes as important as talent," explains Napier-Bell in this entertaining and often compelling read, and it is from this angle that he presents his gripping 50-year history of pop.

The author's previous memoir, the often-hilarious You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, detailed his career in the pop industry from his esteemed position as joint-roller for the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra to his later role as manager of huge acts such as Japan and Wham! With such a career behind him, his range of contacts and experiences result in an often breathtaking sprint through the history of pop, incorporating major icons such as Elvis and the Beatles to leading figures from numerous late 90s dance movements. In Black Vinyl he diligently notes the particular pharmaceuticals used in order to satisfy the creative and, more often, hedonistic needs of the artists in question. Fascinating anecdotes abound, from the amusing, (such as the report of keyboard player Graham Bond's frequently heard airport custom's cry, "If you want the drugs I've got them up my arse"), to the tragic, (as figures from Syd Barrett to Kurt Cobain fall by the wayside, their drug habits supported, if not actively encouraged by an industry where such behaviour is the norm).

If a fault can be aimed at this mostly enjoyable read, it is that Napier-Bell's insistence on maintaining the link between drug-taking and the music it frequently accompanies often results in a sensationalist tabloid feel which steers him away from the more revealing anecdotal style that proved so enjoyable in his earlier book. However, his droll approach is always entertaining and Black Vinyl White Powder is recommended to anyone interested in an industry where, according to one interviewee, half of those involved are left with "scrambled eggs for brains". --Steve Price --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"'Breathtakingly brilliant' - Julie Burchill"

"'The definitive history of British pop" (Observer Music Monthly)

""one of the most fascinating, revealing and enjoyable journeys through 50 years of the UK record business"" (Music Week)

"`Here you get a great autobiography of a very experienced man (he famously managed Wham!), who describes in great detail the advent of the pop industry and, of course, all the pitfalls that have become associated with it." (Mousse T, singer Sunday Times)

Book Description

A lifetime's work and the best piece of music writing this year. The real inside story of the British music industry

From the Author

BLACK VINYL WHITE POWDER is a history of the British music business. I didn’t set out to write anything as grandiose as that, I simply went to see my literary agent to discuss writing a novel. He said it would he a good idea for me first to write a substantial book on my experiences in the music business, something more serious than my previous, rather flippant book, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. He suggested a history of the British music industry.

To me that sounded like an impossible task, something a journalist or social historian should
undertake. So instead, I said I would write an insider’s look at the business over the last forty years, for the truth is, my fascination with the music business has always been for the trivia, the gossip, the outrage and the surface gloss - the actual music has just been a backdrop, however diverting.

I decided the best way to tackle the book was to make writing it as much fun as possible. I would
spend three months having dinner with fifty or sixty old friends -~ managers, pop stars, record company execs, etc I started with Harold Pendleton, the creator of the Reading Festival and the owner of the Marquee club. The result was a four-hour lunch during which we consumed five bottles of the best wine known to man. The next day I was unable to remember anything from our conversation that would contribute to a serious history of the music business (or even a flippant one), except perhaps the story of how Harold, having announced Dizzy Gillespie to 3,000 expectant jazz fans at the Royal Festival Hall, decided the best way back to his seat in the stalls was to jump over the orchestra pit in which he landed arse upwards to tumultuous applause.

For a while, I continued to enjoy myself eating lunch with old friends every day, but I soon came to
realise that by using this less-than-scientific method of research the book could take five years to write
and cost upwards of £100,000 on food and fine wine. So I stayed at home for a month and settled down
to write a first chapter basing it on the subject of drugs, which seemed to me an integral part of the
music industry. But as I proceeded with the book, I also began to see that of almost equal importance was the influence of gay culture. In fact, in the British music business gay culture seemed to have played the same creative role as black culture had in the American music business. Examples of this were to be found everywhere - in the fifties with Larry Parnes’ stable of homo-erotic rock’n’roll stars, in the sixties with Mick Jagger’s androgynous stage projection and the extraordinary prevalence of gay managers, in the seventies with Glam Rock and David Bowie’s proud flaunting of his bisexuality, in the eighties with Boy George and the New Romantics, and in the nineties with Elton John and George Michael receiving very different rewards for having made one of the world’s best-selling charity records together - for Elton, a knighthood - for George, arrest by the Los Angeles police.

The only way to pack everything in was to focus on the most visible trends in each decade. Nowhere
would I linger on people who’d made it big in the previous decade unless they were still hitting the
headlines in the next one. Nevertheless, it was still a daunting prospect. On several occasions I thought about quitting. To keep myself going I thought back to a slim Penguin paperback I once picked up at an airport - A History of the World by HG. Wells. If Wells had squeezed 5,000 years into 200 pages surely I could do the same with a mere forty years of pop music. In doing so,1 tried hard to put aside the usual cliched perceptions of the industry and come up with something fresh. But the more I wrote, the more it became clear that the popular view of the music industry is the right one, especially in relation to drugs.

As if to confirm this, last year, with the book finished and me back in business as a manager, I found myself sitting with a group of record company executives. They were discussing the promotion of dance
music in South East Asia and they pointed out that the strongest sales were coming from the countries
that had the highest incidence of ecstasy usage - Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. One of
the executives explained, Because ecstasy is a designer drug it’s mostly used by the middle-classes, so it tends to be the Chinese kids who introduce it into each territory. Consequently they turn out to be our target audience for dance music. To some people it might seem shocking that a group of serious middle-aged company executives should casually discuss the potential for record sales in terms of tie popularity of an illegal drug. But if you look back at the history of the music industry you’ll see that’s how it’s always been - especially in Britain.

So here it is money, sex and drugs. What more could you ask for,
except perhaps a little music?

From the Back Cover

BLACK VINYL WHITE POWDER charts the amazing fifty year history of the British music business in unparalleled scale and detail.

As a key player across the decades, Simon Napier-Bell - who discovered Marc Bolan and managed amongst others the Yardbirds and Wham! - uses his wealth of contacts and extraordinary personal experience to tell the story of an industry that has become like no other.

Where bad behaviour is not only tolerated but encouraged, where drugs are as important as talent, where artists are pushed to their physical limit in the name of profit and ego.

Filled with the voices of hundreds of artists, managers, record company execs and producers, BLACK VINYL WHITE POWDER is the most exciting and revealing history of English pop ever written.

About the Author

Simon Napier-Bell was manager of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan, Japan and Wham! to name but a few. He still manages today.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

ALL THE WRONG PARTIES By the beginning of 1966 I was managing the Yardbirds.

Although after my first meeting with Paul Samwell-Smith I’d felt the opportunity to manage them had passed me by, he had brought the others to meet me and they’d decided I was the right person.

Their biggest hit was ‘For Your Love’, a great pop song, but really The Yardbirds had never been pop. They’d started out playing blues.

Georgio Gomelski, who ran the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, had planned to sign the Rolling Stones for management but at the last minute they were snatched from his grasp by Andrew Oldham. The Yardbirds were the next group to play at the club and Georgio signed them straight away. He did well for them. Under his guidance they had a hit with ‘For Your Love’, and a second one with ‘Heart Full Of Soul’. After that he suggested they mix Gregorian chant with blues and they had a third hit with ‘Evil Hearted You’. Then they made a live album with American blues singer Sonny Boy Williamson. But from all this success the group had hardly earned anything.

Georgio was extravagant in everything he did. He poured money into recording and promotion, and when the group went on tour he went with them, egging them on to eat at expensive restaurants when they would rather have had hamburgers. All this expenditure came out of their income. One time in New York, Georgio needed some cash to take someone to dinner. He went to United Artists and offered them the publishing on the next Yardbirds single for the cost of the meal - $60.

Initially the Yardbirds had included Eric Clapton on guitar, but he was a gloomy, troubled person who told people he expected to die before he was thirty. He was far too dedicated to pure blues to follow the Yardbirds into pop, so he left to form Cream and the Yardbirds replaced him with Jeff Beck. Then they decided to change their management and chose me. At the time, the Yardbirds probably knew more about the music business than I did, but I grabbed the opportunity. I also treated it with respect - this wasn’t like messing around with Diane & Nicky. The Yardbirds were one of the five most important rock groups in the world - the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals and The Who. To start with I looked at what the managers of the other top rock acts were doing for their acts.

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp had found The Who playing in a pub on a stage made of beer crates. The singer had crossed teeth. Kit and Chris offered the group twenty pounds a week, then, in the ensuing struggle to pay their wages, they sold both furniture and clothes. Eventually, to pay for the singer’s teeth to be fixed, Kit pawned some cufflinks given to him by his father, the celebrated classical composer Constant Lambert.

Initially The Who’s image was all pop - music, art and fashion. Their managers told them to watch mods in the audience as they danced then recreate their steps on-stage so the next audience would think the band had originated them. Pete Townshend insisted. ‘The mod image was forced on us. It was dishonest.’ Nevertheless, mods seemed to hang on his every word. When ‘I Can’t Explain’ was released, they mobbed him, saying, ‘You’ve managed to say something in the song that we’ve never managed to say for ourselves.’ ‘But I only said “I can’t explain”,’ Pete responded. ‘That’s just it,’ they told him. ‘That’s what we find so difficult to tell people … We can’t explain!’

The truth was, the only real connection between The Who and mod culture was the group’s excessive use of amphetamine. Nevertheless, when Roger Daltrey sang ‘My Generation’ with the stutter of a pill freak, it made The Who the figureheads of the Mod movement. The Yardbirds were complaining of having nowhere to live. The best thing I could do for them was to get them a lump sum of money - say, £5,000 each. The only way to get that was from the record company. Their recording contract was with Georgio Gomelski, who leased their records to EMI. I decided that if the agreement for their management could be broken, so could their agreement for their recording. So I went to Len Wood, the general manager at EMI and told him the group would want £25,000 to sign a new recording contract, and that EMI could have first option, but not for long.

From EMI, I went to Jack Baverstock at Philips who offered me £10,000, the most they’d ever paid for any artist. I called EMI and said Philips had offered the full £25,000 that we needed and within an hour EMI agreed to pay the same amount. They then had to negotiate with me over the royalties about which I was now becoming something of an expert. In the end, the Yardbirds got more than the Beatles were getting.

Since each of the Yardbirds’ hits to date had been distinctly different from the other, I thought their new single should contain elements of all of them. Moody, monk-like chanting, exhilarating lead guitar, bluesy riffs. But having once persuaded them of that, I was in the group’s hands rather than they in mine. I’d never made a record with a rock group before and was surprised at their technique of first devising a backing track, then a song. Moreover, coming from a jazz background in which lush harmonic structures were everything, it seemed strange to have Paul continually telling the others to simplify the harmonies. In the end the entire first verse was played over one single chord. But this was rock music, and I was learning. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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