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The Velvet Mafia: The Gay Men Who Ran the Swinging Sixties

Serious research peppered with saucy anecdotes and tragic tales.

This is a fascinating record of a little researched area: the LGBTI contribution to popular culture, specifically the contribution of five entrepreneurs to the development of popular music in the UK during the 1960s and 1970s. It focuses primarily on British musicians but some like the Beatles, the Who, the Bee Gees etc gained international fame.

Despite the title, this is not a superficial or frivolous look at the music industry but a detailed and systematic study of the topic. Conversely, it is not a dry academic work. It sketches the bios of the movers and shakers in the nascent British pop industry. Some of these are well known such as Brian Epstein and Robert Stigwood while others less so.

It charts these individual lives in terms of their business and personal struggles. Often their lives overlap mainly as a result of their respective music business deals.

Because the author covers five separate entrepreneurs with their respective clients, lovers, rivals and obsessions, there is a cast of thousands in terms of performers and managers but also lawyers, criminals, socialites, politicians and others who got their 15 minutes of fame through scandals involving illicit drugs and other criminal activities.

Given this large cast of characters, it can, at times, be a bit of an ordeal keeping track of all the individuals and interconnections among them.

Much of the period it covers relates to the era when male homosexual acts were illegal and gay men and women had to lead very circumspect lives. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of the subjects had issues with alcohol abuse, drug dependency and mental health issues, some of which led to suicide.

Full of interesting anecdotes about the famous and infamous, documented scandals and gossip. Despite this, it is not a sensationalist piece but more a historical and biographical study of a specific period. It details how and why popular music evolved during the late 1950s & early 1960s to cater for the newly emerging teenage market and the role radio and television played. It contains an index and list of documented quotes which enhance its research value. I am not aware of any recent publications that have examined this topic from the perspective of the relevant gay men of the period.

An interesting blend of pop music trivia and biographical research.

Recommended for those interested in LGBTI issues and the history of popular music.