Napier Bell’s Music Memories | Performing Arts Memoirs

In these reissues of his memoirs (reviewed in the April 2023 issue of LJ), record producer Simon Napier-Bell, known for his work with Wham! and the Yardbirds, gives readers a racy but shrewd glimpse of the British music scene. 

In these reissues of his memoirs, record producer Simon Napier-Bell gives readers a racy but shrewd glimpse of the British music scene.

orange starred review symbolNapier-Bell, Simon. Black Vinyl White Powder: The Real Story of the British Music Industry. Unbound. Apr. 2023. 576p. ISBN 9781800181656. pap. $18.95. MUSIC

Record producer Napier-Bell (The Business: A History of Popular Music from Sheet Music to Streaming) has been associated with the English popular music scene since 1956. He’s managed rock stars from The Yardbirds through Wham! He spent 14 months successfully negotiating to get Wham! into China for the country’s first mega-group concert, which is detailed in his book I’m Coming To Take You to Lunch. Arguably, no one understands the UK pop music scene better than Napier-Bell; he’s long been a player, and he’s an exceptionally keen observer. This interesting, ofttimes scabrous account of the evolution of British rock/dance music was originally published in the UK in 2001 and is making its U.S. debut with this paperback edition. The pages are rife with accounts of bad guy rock stars acting out, but the book is much more about what drove the industry than its stars’ antics. The book indicates that different drugs fueled different music: LSD, slow and laid back; ecstasy, pulsing but unaggressive; amphetamines, perfect for punk and shock rock with total aggression. VERDICT Napier-Bell’s racy but shrewd look at the British music scene will fly off library shelves.—David Keymer

Napier-Bell, Simon. I’m Coming To Take You to Lunch: A Fantastic Tale of Boys, Booze and How Wham! Were Sold to China. Unbound. Apr. 2023. 408p. ISBN 9781800181670. pap. $18.95. MUSIC

To read Napier-Bell’s words, Wham!’s concert in China in the early 1980s was the result of two key desires on his part: to spend as much time in Asia as possible and to eat as many good lunches as he could. Both certainly figure in this memoir. It highlights the sheer unbelievability of that decade through his increasingly improbable adventures as Wham!’s manager. Napier-Bell’s desire to generate worldwide buzz by booking a live appearance behind the Great Wall made sense in the pre-internet era, reliant as it was on mainstream press, nascent cable news, and old-fashioned social networks made up of phone calls and, yes, lunches. The book’s emotional core revolves around two relationships: one with obsessive perfectionist George Michael, already planning to go solo before Wham! even peaked, and the other with the enigmatic Rolf Neuber, who keeps turning up to help Napier-Bell for reasons of his own. What emerges is a surprisingly personal memoir that lightly fuses political shenanigans, artistic temperaments, sitcom timing, questionable documentation, and coincidental repasts. VERDICT A breezy but insightful snapshot of an era implausible even to those who lived it. For fans of Wham! and pop culture aficionados.—Genevieve Williams

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