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60s London
Discos
Dusty
Xmastree
Kit
Eppy
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Sulphate
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Cabin Boy
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Wham!
The Legacy
Immigration
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Billy Preston
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Kit

Kit Lambert called me up and said, 'You're always buying me dinner. It's time I bought you one.' Four hours later, at the Mayfair Hotel, we were still lingering over our brandy when the bill arrived. Kit didn't even look at it. 'Blank cheque, please.'

The waiter shook his head. 'I'm sorry, sir, we don't take cheques so we don't have any blank ones.' .

Kit got pompous. 'Don't be so foolish, of course you do.’

A broad-shouldered man in a dinner jacket appeared next to us, pulled up a chair and sat down. He had the manner of a sergeant-major. 'Now then, what's all this about not having enough to pay for your dinner? I'm the manager.’

I offered to pay but Kit interrupted me. 'How dare you say I don't have enough money. Who are you anyway? You're not the manager, you haven't got enough manners.’

The big man sat tight and scowled heavily but Kit wasn't intimidated. He calmly leant back in his chair, lit up a cigarette and exploded into a tirade of abusive contempt - a magnificent display of sheer upper-class authority.

He blamed the man and his social class for everything that was wrong with England, with Europe and with the world. For bad service, lost test matches, late trains, dirty streets, high prices and poor quality. For not coming to fix his plumbing, for losing two shirts at the laundry and for cancelling the 8.45 from Victoria last time Kit went to visit his mother.

By the time he'd finished the band had stopped playing, people had stopped eating, and the man in the dinner jacket had stood up and backed off three paces. He told Kit, 'Just write us a cheque and leave.'

But it wasn't enough for Kit. He wanted to trample all over them.

'Blank cheque, please.'

It was too much for the heavy in the dinner jacket. He picked Kit up from his chair, and with a firm hand round the back of his neck marched him to the exit and pushed him out of the door. Kit was thrown into the street and I had to follow.

(from ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

Eppy

Robert Stigwood phoned me one Sunday afternoon and said he'd seen a Greek god. 'Straight out of Homer or Virgil, a blond Adonis. Come over for tea and you can have a look on the way. He's mending the road on the corner of Curzon Street. He's the one with the pneumatic drill.'

It didn't sound the right occupation for deity but I agreed to make a detour if Robert got out the cream cakes.

At the corner of Curzon Street there was a hole in the road and two Irish navvies were drinking tea. One of them was fat and bald, the other was leaning on a pneumatic drill. He had red hair and 'I luv Edith' tattooed across his chest.

When Robert answered the door I told him, 'You had too much to drink at lunch-time. Your Greek god was just an Irish navvy.'

He looked vague. 'Oh yes. I'd forgotten about that, but it wasn't really my choice anyway, it was Brian's. But come on in, we're watching the schoolboy athletics on the telly.'

In the sitting-room there was some I recognised staring attentively at the TV. It was Brian Epstein.

Robert asked, 'Do you two know each other?’

I said, 'Sort of, but we've never met.'

Brian stood up and shook hands with me. 'I wonder why that is?' he asked.

I shrugged. 'Managers do parallel jobs. There's no reason for them to meet.'

Brian raised his eyebrows and smiled at me quizzically. 'With you, I can think of at least one very nice reason.'

(from ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

Swinging London

London didn't start swinging immediately it hit the sixties. In fact London didn't even know it was swinging till some overseas journalists turned up around the middle of the decade and told us what was going on.

Swinging sounded like a fun thing to be doing so we all started to have a go at it; it didn't seem too hard. You just found out where the swinging was meant to be taking place (you could read that in Time magazine or Der Spiegel), and you headed off down there. Then settled in a corner of the Ad Lib club or The Scotch of St James you drank until you were blind drunk or, if it still wasn't three o'clock in the morning, you could try pouring in even more.

Doing this night after night, you naturally tended to commit a variety of indiscretions, and the more adventurous of these were termed 'swinging'. The combined total of everyone's indiscretions was known as 'Swinging London'.

(from ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

 

A song for Dusty

Vicki Wickham said I ought to get into the music-business. I agreed, but what did I have to do? She said probably not much. A few days later she phoned and said, 'Here's your chance. Dusty Springfield wants some lyrics. She’s picked up an Italian song at the San Remo Music Festival and wants to record it in English.’

Any day in Swinging London was based around dinner; this would start around nine and run on till midnight. Then it was on to the Ad Lib, The Scotch of St James or The Cromwellian and some heavy drinking.

The evening Vicki phoned me there wasn't time to work on the lyrics before dinner, but if we rushed the brandy and got to the Ad Lib half an hour later than usual, we might just fit in some work between the two. So after we'd finished our crepes Suzettes, we drove back to Vicki's flat, and sat listening to a scratchy acetate singing at us in Italian.

I said, 'It's from Italy. The words should be romantic. It ought to start off "I love you".'

Vicki shuddered at the thought. 'How about, "I don't love you"?' she suggested.

I thought that was a bit extreme. 'No, it's going too far the other way. Why not "You don't love me"?'

That was more dramatic, more Italian, but a bit accusatory. So we softened it a little: 'You don't have to love me'.

But that didn't quite fit the melody, so we added two more words: 'You don't HAVE to SAY you love me'.

Great. That was it. We could do the rest in the taxi.

When we got to the Ad Lib club the song was all but finished, yet we only arrived ten minutes later than usual. Even so, I remember telling Vicki, 'I don't like this lyric-writing business; it messes up the evening.’

(from ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

Discos

The epicentre of the swinging that summer was a disco called The Scotch of St James. It was best to get there round midnight. The club was situated, at the end of a cobbled yard just a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace. You knocked and someone auditioned you through a peep-hole.

If you were one of the chosen few, you'd be quickly let inside to play your part in the cast of gossip-column fantasy-land. The lights were dark, the atmosphere glossy, the music was Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were invariably in a corner with a selection of skinny blonde girls, who all looked alike. Lennon and McCartney were permanent fixtures, and so too was Andrew Loog Oldham, The Stones' manager.

One night another manager, Robert Stigwood, arrived having had a horrible experience in an Italian restaurant to which he'd taken a young man. They'd had a bottle of wine with the starters and another with the main course and the boy was knocking it back like mad. As a result, the conversation was easy and they were enjoying themselves. However, just as the dessert trolley was being wheeled across to them, the boy said, 'Oh God, I feel sick’. And before Robert could direct him to the loo the boy had stood up and thrown up. All over the dessert trolley.

Stiggy leapt to his feet but it was too late. In a desperate bid for fresh air the boy had pushed aside the table and set off for the front of the restaurant, staggering from left to right and vomiting in all directions. Robert rushed frantically along behind him, shouting desperate apologies to the other customers and throwing ten pound notes on all the ruined tables.

(from ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

 

A royal premier

Having edited the music score for What’s New Pussycat, I was expected to attend its royal premiere. I was told to attend in a dinner jacket with a female companion. The only girl I knew who might come was Eleanour, who drove a 1925 Austin 7 and smoked a pipe of dried herbs and grasses. I told her if she wanted to go to the premiere she’d have to wear an evening dress.

When I picked her up she'd done her hair and put on a thin smear of lipstick but her dress was out of a museum.

‘It’s my grandmother’s,' she explained. 'She had it made for an "end of the war" ball in 1918.'

It was remarkable. It fell from just below her chin to just below her ankles and was covered by 'tickets' of green fabric that hung like leaves on a bush.

When we arrived at the theatre I rushed us to our seats as quickly as possible. But the lights stayed up. The royal visitor was late so for fifteen minutes the star-studded audience was kept waiting. In those days smoking was allowed so Eleanour delved under her dreadful dress to produce her pipe. And as the stench of burning bracken spread, rich and famous eyes turned on us from all sides.

I cringed in my seat but from ten rows behind a booming voice found me. ‘Excuse me, mate. Your Christmas tree’s on fire.’

It was Bernard Cribbins, the comedian, and having got everyone laughing he compounded the joke by sending an usherette across with a fire extinguisher. After that, I figured, if I’m going to get laughed at because of whom I’m out with, I might as well stick to boys.

(from ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

 

Cabin Boy

This is how Britain got started in the record business. John Kennedy was a young adventurer from New Zealand. Larry Parnes was the owner of a women's clothing shop in Essex. Lionel Bart wrote comedy songs for a Sunday lunchtime radio show. They were in their mid-twenties and all of them fancied the same type of good-looking young guy.

Tommy Hicks was a cabin-boy on the ocean liner Mauritania. In September 1956 he took two weeks off from work to visit his sick mum in London. One evening - cocky, blond and just 19 - he was playing guitar in a Soho coffee-bar when Lionel Bart walked in. Lionel fell for him, head over heals, and persuaded John Kennedy and Larry Parnes to manage him and change his second name to Steele.

 They recorded one of Lionel's songs "Rock With The Cavemen" and Kennedy pulled a stunt, booking Tommy at a debutantes' ball and persuading the girls to scream. The next day Tommy hit the tabloids - 'Deb's delight' - 'Posh girls scream for cockney Tom.'

 British teenagers had a preference for American music but they wanted someone of their own age and nationality to sing it. In no time at all, Tommy's was Britain’s biggest star. To the press, Parnes and Kennedy boasted 'Tommy Steele is a better performer than Elvis.' But the kids weren't fooled. They knew Tommy was no match for Presley - his sex-appeal was nothing more than a sweet dumb grin. But they didn't care.

Because Tommy had managed to do something never before done before in the British music business.  

Be young!

(from ‘Black Vinyl White Powder’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones were the first 'rock' band. The Beatles never got beyond pop. They listened politely to their manager and copied his nice middle-class manners. The Rolling Stones were different. They removed themselves from normal society and lived in their own elitist bubble.

Andrew Oldham became their manager aged only 19. He'd been to public school, then worked as a window-dresser for Mary Quant and as a publicist for Brian Epstein. He was thin and pale and often wore make-up.

The Stones' music was the hypnotic beat of rhythm & blues, but that was just the musical part of it. Brian Jones, the Stones' guitarist, had started to degenerate into a hopeless junkie wreck. His drug-dealer told people about it. 'He'd wake up in the morning, take leapers, cocaine, some morphine, a few tabs of acid and maybe some mandrax. Then he'd try to get dressed and end up with, like, a lizard skin boot on one foot and a pink shoe on the other.' Somehow, even in that state Jones always made it onto the stage, and the show went on, hitting the headlines night after night. Like in Warsaw when Keith Richards screamed at children of the communist elite sitting in front of the stage, 'You fuckin' lot get out...' Then waited while they moved sheepishly away.

 This sort of thing started out as image-building, but it ended up setting the direction for all rock bands of the future - non-stop sex and drugs, and no respect for petty people. To turn rock music into a true art-form, Andrew Oldham decreed that it should also be anti-establishment, nihilistic, self-aggrandising, debauched and decadent.

 He sent the Stones sliding rampantly down that path.

 (from ‘Black Vinyl White Powder’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

Sign here, kid

David Batt cruised down Wigmore Street with an ultra-cool saunter. He had a torn shirt, tight threadbare jeans, orange-blond hair down to his waist and an accoustic guitar slung casually over his back, the neck knocking gently across the curve of his buttocks.

He was sixties Jagger crossed with teenage Bardot; young Elvis with adolescent Fonda; instantly provocative, pouting and sultry. He wasn't camp, nor even slightly effeminate, he was a self-creation, an obviously unique species created from months of hard work in front of a bedroom mirror.

In the audition room he sat down and played his guitar without wasting time on tuning (being cool was more important). And although he sang with apparent indifference to my reaction, I knew I was under scrutiny, as if it were me being auditioned not him. Anxious to pass I listened carefully.

His voice was as much self-created as his look - Bowie out of Bolan, a flirtation with Jagger and sometimes a rasping Rod Stewart. The songs weren't constructed with the crisp technique of a pop craftsman, they rambled, but each one had a haunting quality, with lyrics of startling imagery. There was a fondness for good-sounding words regardless of meaning or narrative, and here and there a truly odd phrase leapt out and grabbed my attention, 'She keeps her love in a carrier bag.' He sang the words arrogantly, with a defiantly cold stare into my inquisitive eyes.

For anyone with a feeling for chic or style or star quality, for anyone in the music business, for anyone who reacted to provocation, sexuality, good-looking boys or good-looking girls, he was a natural - irresistibly stamped with instant success.

In true music-business style, I grabbed him greedily. 'Sign here, kid. I'll make you a star!'

(from ‘Black Vinyl White Powder’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

 

Coke

Little Richard was one of the first rock 'n' roll stars to get a bad cocaine habit. 'Every time I blew my nose there was flesh and blood on my handkerchief where it had eaten out my membranes.'

Cocaine hydrochloride is an odourless white crystalline powder with a bitter numbing taste. It's derived from the leaf of the coca plant. The leaf itself, gently sucked between gum and cheek, nourishes the South American Indians who grow it and provides them with all the daily vitamins they need plus a little physical stimulation.

Glam was the first musical style to flow directly from the use of cocaine. Pop publicist Tony Brainsby summed it up: 'Coke was the 'fuck-you' drug. You didn't give a damn what other people thought. You could see that cocaine arrogance in all of them – Bowie, Bolan, Elton, even Slade.'

To take it, cocaine is chopped finely with a razor-blade and drawn into lines on a flat surface. It's then sniffed up one nostril through a rolled-up bank-note, the plastic casing of a ball-point pen, or something more elegant in gold or silver. The result is a powerful short-lasting stimulus to the central nervous system.

'Straight up your nose and into your brain' is how Marc Bolan once described it to me. 'A sexual, mental, physical blast-off.'

And that's what happened to his music.

(from ‘Black Vinyl White Powder’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

 

Sulphate

Amphetamine sulphate came as pinkish-white crystals that had to be chopped fine enough not to scrape the nose when they were sniffed through the plastic casing of a ballpoint pen. It was a drug of pure aggression, the high came quickly and made you want to charge like a bull, but it was also disgusting, even the people who used it said so.

To complement its foulness, sulphate users needed to find a new type of music as rough-edged and disgusting as the drug itself. What they came up with was punk rock – simple, fast and angry. Leftover acid-heads were still telling us to love the world. Newly amphetamised punks demanded that we trash it. The names of the new groups seemed endless - the Stinky Toys, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Slits, the Vibrators, The Damned, The Clash, the Buzzcocks - all driven by buckets full of foul speed sniffed through unpleasant little tubes. The best known, of course, were the Sex Pistols.

Their singer was Johnny Rotten. The NME described him as, 'Spikey, dyed red hair, death-white visage, meta lobes, skinny leg strides. He looks like an amphetamine corpse from a Sunday gutter-press wet dream.'

After the group got into a fight during a gig at the Nashville and beat up a member of the audience, Johhny Rotten told a reporter, ‘Actually, we're not into music. We're into chaos.' The truth was even simpler. They were into amphetamine sulphate, like everyone else.

(from ‘Black Vinyl White Powder’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

Busted

The following rock stars have something in common - Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Rod Stewart, Eiton John, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Gary Glitter, Johnny Rotten, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, George Michael. They have all been arrested by the police.

Among the elite of one single profession, frequency of arrest on this scale is unheard of, except for unlicensed street-traders, bur- glars, drug smugglers and prostitutes. Why?

Rock keeps a tough timetable. A group recording all night in LA might keep themselves awake with speed. At 10am they get on a plane for New York, whacked out but still buzzing from drugs. To get to sleep they take valium and quick glasses of liquor. The time difference is against them - after just two hours' sleep they wake up in New York to find it's 6pm so they ditch their hangovers with coke as they rush by limousine to a stadium in Connecticut.

At 10pm they get onstage in front of a crowd of 100,000. They play for ninety minutes and come off-stage surging with adrenalin. They're whisked out of the stadium, back to New York and into a hotel round midnight, exhausted but still high from the gig. They order room service with wine, and take more drugs. But at 6am they'll be leaving for Rio to headline that evening in a rock festival.

In the cosseted environment of a supergroup's touring party, group members’ behaviour, however bad it is, will be tolerated - a gang-bang with a less than willing groupie, a wrecked hotel room, someone so zonked they piss in their seat on the plane. But when superstars cross the line into the world outside they have to watch out – a step too far and they can find themselves under arrest.

(from ‘Black Vinyl White Powder’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

Eartha Kitt

From the front door to the armchair in the sitting-room, Eartha Kit walked as if she was making an entrance onstage. People often referred to her as catlike and you could see what they meant; she walked like a perfectly groomed panther.

'Eartha,' I asked, ‘I once heard you say - when you first became a star and heard people call “Eartha Kitt”, a great artist, you couldn't recognise that person as you .'

Eartha's speaking voice was even sexier than her singing voice – like puring – she really was the cat they said she was. ‘You see, Simon, I used to be Eartha May. That person onstage – Eartha Kitt – was just a role I was playing. But people thought it was the real me, so bit by bit I had to take my stage character, mix it together with the real me and make a new person. It took me many years to do it but eventually I managed to combine the two different personalities into one. Other people have gone mad trying to do it.'

Later, when she'd gone, I found myself thinking about George and his insistence that he wanted to finish Wham!. Was he having the same problem Eartha had described? Was he finding it too difficult to blend his stage persona with his real self? Was that why he was talking about going solo? And would going solo really help? After all, he would then be George Michael, which was still a fake character, still not the real Geroge Panayotiou.

(from 'I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch' by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

George & Andrew

On Top Of The Pops, George and Andrew had come across as lookalikes - two fun-loving teenagers - a matching pair. In person, they seemed complete opposites.

Andrew chose the longest settee in my sitting-room and draped himself along it lengthways. “Nice pad,” he said, throwing his eyes around the room. “Great for pulling. eorge chose an armchair and sat on the edge of it, eager to get down to business. “Who’ve you managed before?” he asked brusquely.

Andrew remained stretched out. From the coffee-table he picked up a book - something I’d written about the music business in the sixties - and started browsing through it.

George remained suspicious. “We won’t want you looking after our money,” he said. “We’ll be appointing accountants.”

“Fantastic, man,” Andrew commented a couple of times from his reclined position, then turned to George, “Seems like Simon spent most of the sixties either drunk or having sex. He sounds just the right person for us.”

George ignored him. “What guarantees can you give us? We won’t want to give you a contract unless we have guarantees.”

Their different personalities complimented each other well; more important, though, was the quality of the three records they’d released – ‘Wham Rap’, ‘Young Guns’ and ‘Bad Boys’ – all with extraordinary vitality and super-sharp lyrics. If I was going to go back to managing a pop group, at least these two guys were talented and well-spoken. And they had a wonderful image - pure Hollywood - ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ – two regular guys, closer than lovers.

(from ‘I’m Coming To Take You To Lunch’ by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

 

Immigration

At Los Angeles airport the immigration officer carefully studied the 'me' standing in front of him (a sun-tanned pop manager, freshly arrived from triumphant somersaulting on the beaches of Thailand) and compared it with the 'me' in my passport (bad-tempered and unshaven, photographed in a photo-booth at Victoria station in a rush to get to the passport office before it closed).

"You don't look like your picture," he complained, and wasted time looking from the photo to me and back again. "It looks like a diffferent person."

I was impatient. I wanted to see the opening gig of Wham!'s first tour of America and it was due to start one hour from now at the LA Palladium.

"What d'you do?" he asked.

"I manage popstars. In fact, the group I manage is number one in the States at this very moment - Wham!, with a song called Careless Whisper. I'm trying to get to the opening night of their tour."

"It isn't a very good picture," the immigration man said, staring at my passport photo with obvious disapproval.

This guy was getting just too annoying. "It was taken in a hurry," I snapped.

I looked at my watch and sighed loudly. It annoyed him and he glared at me suspiciously. "I'd have thought a manager of popstars would have made sure his passport had a really good shot."

"For God's sake," I grumbled. "It's a travel document not a bloody record sleeve."

A silly remark. With Wham!'s show due to start in sixty minutes, I'd just earned myself a body search.

(from 'I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch' by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

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Somersaults

For a tubby forty-five year old I was getting surprisingly good at somersaults. I'd learnt them at Jomtien beach on the Gulf of Thailand where my coach was Ade, a young man with a tendency to high-pitched squeals when things got exciting.

The trick was to run fast down the beach towards an incoming wave and throw yourself forward and round in a loop as you reached it, landing flat on your back in the shallow surf as it rolled out again. I had a few false starts including one time when I misjudged the wave's movements and landed bang on the top of my head on dry sand amid shrieks of laughter from my chaperones. But I soon got the knack of it; then became rather good.

Ade persuaded me to push the boundaries of human endeavour even further. We tried a twin somersault, running at the water hand in hand and spinning into the air at precisely the same moment, landing on our backs in the surf still holding hands. This raised so much applause from people on the beach that we set about training others, then started experimenting with a line of three.

Soon, under a clear blue sky, on the golden sands of Jomtien bay, we were doing line somersaults - nine at a time - one plump Englishman flanked on each side by four slender Thais, running, hands clasped, to the water's edge risking communal hara-kiri if a wave were to recede at the wrong moment, but to tumultuous applause from our audience on the beach if we succeeded.

All this, of course, was an integral part of getting Wham! into China.

"You know," Ade told me. "You are half naughty school boy, half big man.

(from 'I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch' by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

 

 

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The Legacy

John Maclaren had an idea for a docudrama - a real-life soap opera showing the day-to-day life of a 79 year old Duchess as she tottered around London in the eighties living on her past. It came up when he was telling me how he'd bumped into the Duchess of Argyle at a party. "So grand, so bitchy, so broke."

We called in some experts. Film director Brian Forbes came to Bryanston Square and gave us a splendid afternoon of anecdotes, mostly bitchy, concerning his time as a young solider in the war, as a struggling actor afterwards and of Richard Attenborough's determined efforts to get himself a knighthood. But he couldn't see a clear direction of where the series should go.

Graham Chapman thought we should make it fiction but use celebrities to play themselves - popstars, actors, politicians and sportsmen. We would film it impromptu in the trendiest places in town and he would make up the scripts on the spot. It sounded hilarious but too improvised to be a reliable twice-weekly programme.

Then Lynda La Plante came round. At that time Lynda hadn't yet written her first novel but she was the hottest TV playwright in town.

"We'll get John Gielgud as the Duke of Argyle, Margaret's divorced husband."

"How can you do that? Surely it has to be all fact or all fiction."

"Half and half - I'll write characters and blend them with real life London society - half scripted, half real-life spontaneity."

It sounded marvellous, though I didn't understand quite how it would work.

"Give me three weeks," Lynda said. "And you'll see. I'll bring you something to look at. We'll call it The Legacy."

(from 'I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch' by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

 

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Billy Preston

In May 1985, George Michael was invited to sing at the Harlem Apollo. The theatre was having a grand re-opening after being renovated. Motown Records were turning the event into a mammoth TV show at which every living "great" of black music would perform. And with their eye on the biggest possible worlwide audience they were including a few white performers too, among them George.

They were surprisingly generous in their hospitality. Although they only wanted George on the show, they'd invited Andrew as a guest, plus Jazz and me and publisher Dick Leahy. And they flew everyone by Concorde.

Rehearsals for the Motown show started a 9a.m. George was near the beginning of the show so we went there early, which turned out to be the best thing we could have done. What was so special about the rehearsals was the intimate chatter and bitchery that went on between the artists, an A-Z of American black music.

Among them was a smattering of white faces, including Boy George, who refused to say hello to George Michael but hopped around the famous black faces, not at all shy to introduce himself. Boy George had the advantage that his face (or at least the make-up on top of it) was well-known to them, while in America at that time George was known only by his songs.

The morning rehearsals produced an extraordinary duet between Joe Cocker and Patti LaBelle. Joe, tense and jerky, interjected odd staccato phrases into Patti's swooping gospel lines like nut chips in smooth ice-ceam. Their disparate voices and odd body movements rose to a musical orgasm that left them both visibly shocked by its intensity. It had the stars who were watching applauding furiously.

Later there was something even better. With most artists finished with their rehearsals and gone back to their hotels, Billy Preston sat down at the piano to sing "Try A Little Tenderness," a tribute to Otis Redding.

It started out quietly with the band playing in the classic style of great soul recordings, tight and understated. But as the song progressed from verse to chorus and back to verse again, a ripple of tension could be sensed from the watching technicians in the almost empty theatre and the band began to play even tighter.

As he hit the second chorus, Billy's voice snapped into another tier of emotion and a shiver could be felt from everyone listening. When Billy flowed into the last middle eight, the usually blase technicians were turned to stone - he wasn't just singing a song, he was pouring out his life - and when the drums doubled into a tattoo of eights going into the last chorus there were tears running down Billy's face. Yet when it finished there was no cheering, just silence. Most of the artists had already left and the technicians were far too embarassed to show they'd been moved. It was the odd cold silence of a rehearsal in an empty theatre. The production manager's voice came through the PA.

"OK Billy, you're cleared, that'll be fine. See you back here at 9.15."

I went back to the hotel. If in forty years I'd never heard anything that good before I was unlikely to hear something else that could match it that afternoon.

(from 'I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch' by Simon Napier-Bell, published by Ebury Press, London)

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