Peter Sibley is quite the adventurer, having met, partied and even worked with some of the biggest stars of the 20th century. After suffering a stroke in 2015 he now lives at the Schwulenberatung Berlin’s Pflege-WG, a care unit for gay men. His room is decorated in the way you’d expect from someone who was used to having glamour for breakfast. Sitting down with him on the balcony, he kindly allows me to light up before we start chatting.

T: Alright, are you ready to talk to Boner readers?

PS: I can’t quite remember how I got involved. I mean my friends they thought it was a joke and I was doing an interview with Boner. It was a good joke, I have to add!

T: No it’s not so much of a joke really, we love the work Schwulenberatung Berlin does. It’s totally relevant to talk about these things even in Boner magazine.

PS: I know it’s strange how reluctant people are to talk about any of it, I don’t know why. 

T: Do you find it easy to get a long with guys here?

PS: In the WG? Forget it. It’s a big mistake. The idea of the WG is based around, well it’s fine for students. You come together because you’re all students together or something or maybe people who are working together, that’s different as well. But at our age we’re only together because we’re thrown together. 

T: I was told that you have a bit of a wild history as a music manager for some rather well known people.

PS: Well as a child, I always wanted to go into the theatre. I trained as a linguist. I did languages at school and then at Oxford University as well. But I always knew I wanted to go into the theatre, however, as you probably know Oxford and Cambridge Universities are two of the greatest stepping stones for going into the theatre anyway. When I was at Oxford, an ex-student called Richard Burton did a production at the playhouse and Elizabeth Taylor appeared as a walk-on.

T: But somehow you got into the music industry then?

PS: I used to live in a flat with a gay designer who had already moved to Hamburg because he had an affair with someone from Deutsche Grammophon. And he kept on saying to me “you must come over for a holiday.” Anyway I prepared to go on holiday with him because I was traveling with a friend. He kept on saying to me on the telephone – we were coming on the boat, Hook Van Holland and then the train – and he kept on saying to me “of course you’ll be coming as a woman, won’t you.“ 

All the people in the theatre heard this, every morning there was an article on my desk. A pair of stockings or a woman handbag. And indeed we got onto the train, we spent the night on the boat. I knew I had to get to Osnabrück which would be the last customs control to get through. I went to the loo, shaved, did the make up and I came out as a woman. When I came out, he could hardly believe it and he’d drunk all his duty free whisky. This went down very well at Deutsche Grammophone, because of course they’re all fucking Schwuchteln there anyway. They then offered me a job and that’s how I got my first job in the music business.

T: And you stayed there for how long? 

PS: I stayed there several years. Almost by coincidence it was the time The Who did their rock-opera Tommy. The first performance in Germany of it was in the Hamburg opera house and it was during that time that I got on very well with Pete Townsend. The manager of The Who was a famous faggot anyway. And also a drug addict. And The Who contract was coming up to be resigned so they sent me out as the company gay to sort that. We were on the Reeperbahn and they said “they sent you out as the faggot to look after the faggots, didn‘t they”, and I said “I suppose they did” and … >  (continues p. 41) … > I  made a mistake: Keith Moon – the famous drummer who died was known as being an absolute lunatic – I made the mistake of being alone in the lift at the Interconti in Hamburg with him when he jumped up and grabbed the chandelier and he rocked and rocked it until it came off. And they all said to me “how stupid could you be to get into a lift with Keith Moon?!” … ->         

Peter Sibley with James Brown, Frankfurt Airport, 1972.

-> and I responded “well it’s quite difficult to avoid sometimes when you do this job”, but  that went down quite well because several years later, I did my own production of Tommy in the Queens Theatre in London. I had the poster, I bought all those things in the cellar. One of the other people I didn’t get on politically well at the beginning, was James Brown, whose contract had to be renewed – one of my earliest memories. I’d never been to Spain because in those days we boycotted Spain because of Franco but I had to go to Spain: They had censorship on all of the song texts and believe I had to go to Spain to explain the lyrics of Sex Machine to the state censor. 

T: How did the censor take it?

PS: Well, at least they had a sense of humour. But later than that again because of the concert, James Brown was appearing in Holland so I was sent this time to the Rotterdam Hilton to try and be nice to him so that he would sign the contract. Polydor New York only had one big black artist and of course you couldn’t be much bigger than James Brown so they had to keep him. Anyway we were there, I was in the room next to him in the Hilton – he refused to speak to me or come to the press conference. Nothing. He just had bodyguards outside his room, in the corridor. Eventually I rang New York and said “listen somebody better bring him in the room next door, and say `if you don’t want to make it even more difficult in Holland at least he better speak to the journalists after the concert.‘ So we went to the concert, me and the managing director of the concert company and he did at least meet us after. And then the next day we had to fly from Amsterdam to Frankfurt to do a concert in one of the American bases. And in those days you could just basically walk onto the plane without a boarding card and I was with my assistant Silke and I said to her “listen look, they’re getting on the wrong plane – we can’t just let them get on the wrong fucking plane” and so I said to James Brown “listen Mr. Brown, I’m afraid this plane isn’t going to Frankfurt it’s going somewhere else.” When we got to Frankfurt, I rang a friend who’s still a photographer, Gesine, and I said ”Gesine, get a plane to Frankfurt and go to a flower shop, buy all the red roses they have and when we arrive just throw them at us.“ She did and then of course he was fine. As we got into the car he said to me “you may call me James” – and that was when she took that photograph which is just in the corridor.

T: So this is how you got him to stay at the record company. What did you do next?

PS: Well after I while I left, and went over to England and worked at the London office of Polydor records. And while I was there, they turned down the infamous drag queen Amanda Lear, who became famous in Germany. Several nights, her manager would come to my office and I would go out and get in the back seat of this Rolls Royce and Amanda Lee would be lying in there in the backseat and it would just be us two. And my boyfriend here, he was such a big fan of Amanda Lee – he couldn’t believe that I would actually sit in the back of the Rolls Royce with her! Sometimes people make big mistakes. 

T: Thank you Peter.

PS: OK, Thank you.

Peter Sibley at Schwulenberatung Berlin‘s 35th Birthday, Schwuz, 2016. Photo: Reinder Wijnveld

Interview: Torsten Schwick

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