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Monday, August 25, 2014

An evening in the pub with Simon Napier-Bell

Simon Napier-Bell is uniquely qualified to write about the history of the music business because he's one of the few authors who's also read a record contract. As the manager of the Yardbirds in the sixties, Japan in the seventies and Wham! in the eighties he's seen what has changed about the music business and what hasn't. A lot of this wisdom is gathered in his new book Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, which is sub-titled "the dodgy business of popular music". It's the kind of tour d'horizon that needed writing, spanning events from the establishment of copyright in the days of powdered wigs to The X-Factor where the audience pick up the bill for payola. It's full of words to the wise. I was particularly struck by his point that since nine out of ten acts signed by record companies don't make it then a record contract is as good as a guarantee of failure.

Mark Ellen and I talked to him in a special Word Podcast Live at The Islington last week. We covered everything from the early stars of music hall through the era of the show tunes and the early days of rock and roll to the present day. A recording is available for free as a Word Podcast. You can subscribe or listen here. And here's the same thing on YouTube.
 If you're looking for further talkie entertainment, I'll be appearing with Mark Ellen at the Soho Literary Festival on September 24th (tickets here and at the Henley Festival on October 1st (details). Come along, why don't you?


  1. Listening to the podcast now. Is it possible to put the pictures up somewhere?

  2. A thoroughly enjoyable romp through the backstreets of 60's & 70's pop n rock, from a man who obviously doesn't give a toss who he offends. Marvelous stuff. Up there with Nick Lowe's Keef anecdotes. 5 Stars.

  3. Good chat. Get him back.

    A long time ago - early 80s - I rented a flat in St Margaret's from Simon's dad, a noted documentary film maker. The flat downstairs had been Simon's for a while (and the bass player from Japan's too, shortly before I got there). Every room had two phones - an incoming and outgoing line. Business never took a break, even in the bath.

    When I left that flat in 84, Napier-Bell pere spent some time trying to sell me Simon's flat in East Sheen. He was trading up, but I couldn't afford what he was leaving behind...

  4. Surely lots of leg room for a Part 2 as he obviously enjoyed it as much as we all did.

  5. ...and a part3, part 4 etc... I suspect you two (Mark and)Dave) will never run out of questions and Simon will never run out of anecdotes. can we have more please?

  6. This was an absolute delight.

  7. Just finished the book - great. Ok, there is not a lot about music, but so much about the music industry. And having heard the podcast it was all in his voice. Thanks