Sinead O'Connor's New Managers Have No Plans to Silence the Singer

Nicole Nodland
Sinead O'Connor photographed by Nicole Nodland on July 17, 2014 at Brunswick Studios in London. 

After an affair with her last manager, new rep Simon Napier-Bell assures, "I'm rather old & gay; she's on safe ground."

No one uses her blog as a substitute for placing classified ads quite like Sinead O’Connor. Three years ago, she famously blogged in search of a boyfriend, getting quite quotably specific and explicit about her preferences. That call never did transpire in a long-lasting mate, but the singer seems to have fared better with her latest online quest, featured in a Nov. 11 blog post titled “Urgently Seeking New Management.”

This particular help-wanted post grabbed the attention of a five-decade veteran of the business, Simon Napier-Bell, whose career dates back to producing and managing The Yardbirds and who counted Wham! among his most high-profile clients. He and his partner in the company Snap-B Music, Dutch manager Bjorn de Water, flew to Dublin to meet with O’Connor almost immediately upon seeing the “ad.” Says Napier-Bell, “We saw that piece which Sinead put on her website, and I said that’s really just the right person for us. The whole thing took four days. Everybody clicked and is very happy about it.”

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O’Connor’s blog made international news last month, not because it’s unusual for a performer to go so public with a need for professional supervision -- although it is -- but because of her frankness in revealing the exact reasons why she separated from her previous manager. “We got on too well,” she wrote. “Had a month-long affair, but he has a girlfriend, so naturally I gotta vanish… Another manager bites the dust. So now I need to find a new manager and I haven’t a f---ing clue where to start. Shoulda f---ing thought about that before I got involved with someone else’s fella.”

No danger of history immediately repeating itself, Napier-Bell assures Billboard. “She’s on safe ground,” he laughs. “I’m rather old and gay, so I don’t foresee anything particularly wrong in that direction. And Bjorn is rather young and extremely happily married. I think I don’t really have to worry about that in either of our cases.”

O’Connor received some of the best reviews of her post-‘90s career for her most recent album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, released by Nettwerk in August. In a three-and-a-half star rave, USA Today wrote, “Sinead O'Connor remains the genuine article: an artist whose passion and candor have never been in question, even when her better judgment has.” Notices like these inevitably allude to the singer’s off-record controversies, sometimes sounding surprised to be reminded of her on-the-record brilliance after media focus on tangents like her “feud” with Miley Cyrus. Some may well wonder: Might her artistic rep benefit from new management reigning in her extracurricular tangents?

“I don’t do muzzling,” Napier-Bell says with a chuckle. “Muzzling’s the death of an artist, for Christ’s sake. What other artist was ever muzzled and ever produced anything any good? If you went back to the ‘60s and read everything that was said about John Lennon from the end of The Beatles days to when he died, you’d read every single same thing… She’s a mature mother of four children. She herself has worked constantly on making herself a more controlled and disciplined artist… You help the artists direct the best of their creativity in the most commercial areas. And you don’t get shocked when they do something that wasn’t what you expected. You look for the benefits and try to overcome any opposites. She absolutely must not change her involvement with social objectives and politics, and her songs should always reflect that -- otherwise you don’t have Sinead O’Connor.”

The partners at Snap-B do want O’Connor to be a little quieter in 2015 -- not for the sake of avoiding controversy, but to focus on writing, and in multiple media. “Our first objective is to prune as much as possible from her touring and make sure the book gets written,” says Napier-Bell, referring to a memoir he says O’Connor got a big advance for from Penguin in the U.S. Though she’ll be fulfilling international obligations on the books and adding some American festival dates.

“Other than writing the book, she wants to write songs, and not just for herself; for other people too. One area she mentioned is that she’s now interested in writing songs that are a little bit less personal perhaps and more available for other singers to put their own identity into, seeing a song as an infrastructure through which somebody else can come and give their vocal expression.”

As for her own future recordings, Napier-Bell does hope “to help her move musically into current music forms, so that while she keeps the same lyric content to her songs, they can cross over into anywhere -- EDM or dance or anything else. She doesn’t have to change what she writes or creates, just to broaden the scope in which her music is released.”

Asked if O’Connor reminds him of any previous clients, he says, “I suppose with George Michael, people will talk about his self-destructive streak. He doesn’t pioneer social causes so much as Sinead, although his own life has turned him to pioneering freedom for gays to some degree. But he is talked about as ‘Wonderful music, but slightly loony with driving cars’ and that sort of thing. And if I were still managing him, I wouldn’t try to control that. I would try to make everything he is into oneness, even though the side that isn’t musical seems to be socially inept or confusing. I so much like the idea of someone being a whole. That’s why it’s so exciting to move on and do it with Sinead.”