John Peel – 75 years of innovation

John Peel's record collection - Click on the picture to find out more

John Peel’s record collection – Click on the picture to find out more

John Peel would have been 75 years old this year. I was reflecting on his impact on me both musically and on my approach to life and here are five things about Mr Peel that stand out for me – what are yours? Write me a letter or make a comment here, or even send me a piece of new music to listen to ….

1. Stay Young and Keep in Touch – So many people only like music at a certain time of their lives – the 60’s, 70’s, 90’s etc. and they are prone to saying things like “All music is rubbish now” when they should simply say “I only listened to music between the ages of 14 and 23 and I’m a creature of habit so I’m on repeat from now on”. One of John’s teachers said of him:

“It’s possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays…”

2. Refuse to be ruled by metrics – Peel refused to be influenced by ratings or playlists. Instead it was the “John Peel brand” that made the ratings. You never knew what you might hear on one of John’s shows and that in itself produced the listeners which he needed to satisfy BBC bosses.

3. Support innovators – John would break new acts that would otherwise not receive radio play. Amongst these he was responsible for bringing my friend Bill Nelson and Be-Bop Deluxe to the attention of music lovers. Some years later, Bill captured Peel’s Liverpudian tones in the introduction to his “Modern Music Suite” . Listen to the full piece, which features John Peel and Tony Hancock in the opening section of the suite:

Amongst a long list of artists and bands that owe their success wholly or in part to John Peel are: Pulp, The White Stripes, Mike Oldfield, Nirvana, The Strokes, Bauhaus, The Doctors of Madness, P.J. Harvey, The Smiths, Bernie Tormé, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Cocteau Twins, Bill Nelson, Marc Bolan and T.REX, The Slits, The Cure, The Undertones and Billy Bragg.

The manner of John getting to know Bragg was rather unconventional. Bragg heard John say he was hungry on air and rushed in with a Mushroom Biryani and a copy of “Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy”. Peel went on to play a track from the album but at the wrong speed (Bragg’s albums were recorded loud and short to play at 45 RPM).

Mushroom Biryani - The Choice of Influencers

Mushroom Biryani – The influencing choice of champions

4. An anti-establishment member of the establishment – John Peel’s biography states that Peel was anti-establishment because he knew how the establishment worked – he’d been part of it and he didn’t like it. He attended public school in Shropshire, but was shy and quiet and he was frequently bullied for not fitting in. Instead of playing rugby, John rebelled with a choice selection of rare vinyl. It’s a feeling that resonates at my core. I went to a grammar school, hated rugby and suffered a degree of bullying for not fitting in, preferring to listen to music and obsessing about science – something of a geek by today’s standards :-) A great life lesson for innovators is to know the system you are trying to influence. John Peel knew what he had to do to keep the BBC just on the right side.

5. A Witty Life Long Learner

Towards the end of his life Peel had embraced hip hop, drum and bass and a number of other musical genres, never getting stuck in a musical paradigm. Eventually the BBC succumbed to ratings and Radio 1 decided to cut an hour of his show in favour of a Drum and Bass programme. Peel responded with his usual wit – read the full letter here and his parting shot to Matthew Bannister:

“Think of my programmes as your research department. Noisy, smelly but occasionally coming up with the formulae which you can subsequently market”

Peel’s attitude to most things was filled with a totally original wry sense of humour and irony – none more than with his views on his eventual death:

“I’ve always imagined I’d die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette, and people would say, ‘he would have wanted to go that way.’ Well, I want them to know that I wouldn’t”

Finally, an acrostic poem written in 2004 by my friend Dave Brooks and some video content of a few of the artists that John Peel broke including archive footage from Sir Richard Branson discussing John’s contribution to Virgin.

*********************************************

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Hollywood comes to … Wakefield

With the great Bill Nelson - continuously creative for more that 45 years

With the great Bill Nelson – continuously creative for more than 45 years

It was a rare privilege and a great pleasure to make a 12 hour round trip to Wakefield on Monday, to witness the artist, musician and friend Mr Bill Nelson receive a lifetime achievement award for his work in a ceremony that lasted less than 10 minutes.  The Wakefield Stars Scheme aims to acknowledge lifetime achievements of local people and the ambition is to pave the area all the way from the Bull Ring to The Hepworth Gallery with these Hollywood styled pavement plaques. Bill will be sitting amongst such stunning company as Henry Moore, the composer Noel Gay, John Godber the playwright, Barbara Hepworth, Sir Martin Frobisher, conservationist Charles Waterton and many others who made Wakefield’s mark on the world.

Bill has defied convention, setting his own path in a music world dominated by people who prefer to follow the latest fashion. Perhaps one of the first to start his own independent label Cocteau Records, Bill has always been at least two steps ahead of the world.  Admired by Sir Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Brian May and many other greats.  An influence on people such as Prince, Big Country, Dave Grohl etc. and copied by post-modern acts such as My Chemical Romance and The Darkness.  You can read more on this aspect at Bill Nelson – integrity and creativity in a bottle.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the ceremony was when Bill recalled that he had stood at the foot of the stage at around the age of four years old as his father Walter played the saxophone at a wedding. Bill had been given a toy saxophone to play along with his father! He has had some sadness in his life of late, as he is suffering from hearing loss. It was this news that compelled me to make the journey for what was less than an hour at the event, having connected deeply with Bill’s sense of frustration at the thought that he may not be able to make or hear music in quite the same way ever again. I also know that Bill will rise again as there are some wonderful things that can be done in this age to mitigate the symptoms that he is experiencing. It was also lovely to see Bill’s Mum who always looks fantastic, alongside Bill’s wife Emiko and the Nelson family – a proud moment for them.

I was reminded of scenes from “Dads Army” with the Town Clerk, as the Director of Culture and the Arts attempted to read his speech without any real knowledge of Bill’s work and his impact across the world! :-) Still, it was rather charming for all that and he made a really good effort despite his lack of knowledge of Wakefield’s finest. A little less time spent in strategic planning committees and more on the street is recommended :-) Bill pointed out that the last prize he won was a bar of chocolate for striking the triangle once in a performance when he was a boy! He has been hitting all the right notes ever since despite no formal musical education. Like myself, Bill claims he cannot read music, playing by ear and using intuition to guide him into new sonic territories. It’s a refreshing change to the ‘painting by numbers’ approach that turns out identikit musicians these days.

From Hollywood to Holyground ...

From Hollywood to Holyground …

In case you are unfamiliar with Bill’s work, here’s a sample of the huge diversity of his music. Check his website out at Bill Nelson and catch up with his output. This truly was an adventure in a Yorkshire landscape which was made in heaven … Sign your name with a star …

Here's hoping the Wakefield's Starman will rise again - Thank you for 40 years of continuous joy

Here’s hoping that Wakefield’s Starman will rise again – Thank you for 40 years of continuous joy. Stay Young

Flowers and Dirt

Flowers and Dirt - Click to buy the CD or download now

Flowers and Dirt – Click to buy the CD or download now

Today marks the release of Bernie Tormé’s awesome new double album “Flowers and Dirt” and I’m delighted to been able to help in a small way on the road to Bernie’s renaissance that led to this development. Bernie’s example teaches us valuable lessons about business, marketing and engagement. Firstly, let’s hear the man himself explaining the project:

You may have heard the phrase “If you want something done properly, do it yourself” It is incorrect in many circumstances, since a committed expert will always do a better job than a lazy novice. But in the case of my friend Bernie the cliché is absolutely true … The music industry has lots of people with good intentions but poor timing and competence when it comes to the murky world of marketing and promotion. So Bernie decided to adopt a DIY approach to support his new album release and tour. He crowdfunded the project via Pledge Music to engage people and was funded to 418% of his target.

Bernie’s tour takes off on October 15 and the double album “Flowers and Dirt” is available today on Bandcamp and all the usual platforms. If, like me, you want the money to end up with the artist rather than a bunch of middle men, buy it on Bandcamp.

The Tour Dates - Go to http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/shows.html for ticket links

The Tour Dates – Go to http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/shows.html for ticket links

Business and Music Lessons

  1. Whilst conventional wisdom suggests that leadership and management is all about delegation, in the music industry, there is an argument for a DIY approach if you cannot get hold of great people to manage your enterprise.
  2. The DIY approach cuts out all the thieving by major platforms such as Amazon and iTunes, though a plethora of middle men, and connects the artist to their fans direct. It’s what consultants call “disintermediation” but what I call common sense.
  3. Look in other places to find other people who are committed to help you. In Bernie’s case, he harnessed the power of the crowd and a little help from his friends.
  4. Seek advice from experts, but consider your own circumstances too and decide to do what’s right for you. A best-fit approach is always better than “template” business advice.

Bernie was extremely kind in giving me some credit for helping to kick start his thinking re marketing and I ended up with a credit for this “accidental coaching”, alongside Arthur Brown, the man behind the 1960’s hit phenomenon “Fire”. We’ll be performing “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix when I join Bernie on stage at London’s Borderline on October 29th. Be sure to book your place at the gig of the year and relight your own fire …

Credited alongside the awesomely Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Thank you Bernie

Credited alongside the awesomely Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Thank you Bernie!!

Flowers and Dirt - literally - Click to buy the CD or download now

Flowers and Dirt – Click to buy the CD or download now

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He also offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Contact Peter to transform your enterprise.

Search for a Star

Blondie

Call me to join the band 07725 927585

Today we have an update on the development of “Rock In The City” – a rock band I formed with Dr Andrew Sentence, former Monetary Policy Committee Member at The Bank of England and now Senior Economic Adviser for PwC. Here’s some clips of the band taken from our first performance at a garden party in summer:

Now we have got the basics right, our next goal is to develop the musical dynamics and performance capabilities of the band.  We are therefore looking for a female or male singer with gusto to add sparkle and glow to our performance. We are planning a number of corporate performances in the City of London and these will attract press attention. Is it you we’re looking for?

Give me a call and I’ll fill you in with the details.

In search of a Prince or Princess

In search of a Prince or Princess?

Rock in the City - Logo design by Simon Heath @SimonHeath1

Rock in the City – Logo design by Simon Heath @SimonHeath1

******************************************

About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via 07725 927585

Business Lessons from Music

Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops

I’m off to give a conference in Estonia today where I’ll be giving a run down of 10 top tips about business from the parallel universe of music.  To mark the occasion, here’s the first in a series of posts containing bite size tips about business from music.  I’ve reframed the song titles in a creative way, sometimes outrageously so, to suggest some enduring business tips taken from the world of music rather than the longer winded approach of the business school.  Take a look:

This is part of a book I’m releasing soon.  Drop me a line at peter@humdyn.co.uk for details.

TOTP

TOTP

******************************************

About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Seven Deadly Event Management Sins

I spend a lot of my time delivering conference keynotes and events. In a couple of weeks I’m off to Estonia to speak at a conference and later in the month speaking on innovation at Pfizer. This gives me a unique perspective on event design and management from the front of the stage rather than the back. I must say that I’m impressed with the meticulous detail that many event companies use to deliver exceptional events. However, I thought it might be instructive (and fun) to pick out some “deadly sins” from my 20 years of doing this kind of thing as a kind of “reverse set of instructions” on what not to do to get the best from your speakers and presenters.

Don’t Tax your Speakers – I was astonished to get a call from HM Revenue and Customs a while back, asking me to speak on “Punk Rock and Disruptive Innovation”.  All was well until I enquired:

“What are the commercial terms?” 

The event sponsor said:

“I’m not sure what you mean”

I replied:

“How much are you paying me?”

He explained:

“Ah well, our Finance Director has said that it is not our policy to pay external people for events”

I pondered momentarily but then felt compelled to reply:

“Ah, well it’s not my policy to attend then”

Money goes in but none comes out ...

Money goes in but none comes out …

It’s not the real thing – Many years ago I was approached at short notice by an event manager who had to fill a slot at a conference for a well-known caffeine based carbonated soft drink company’s conference, was taking place in five days. She called and said “We want Rock’n’Roll Management next Tuesday between 11.30 and 12.30.  We’ve got a budget of xx thousand pounds. Can you do that?” I asked her to give me some basic details as to what the conference was for, how they would judge my input a success and what was expected as an outcome, but no answers came, apart from a more stern repeat of the request. I politely declined after trying to ask to speak to the sponsor, but she said he was too busy. Whilst it would have been lovely to present to a large group of people from the said company, without a solid brief, it would be bad work for all concerned, however attractive the fee. Of course I understand urgency but it still was important to find out the need rather than just filling the time slot.

Smoke on the Water – One of the strangest events I spoke at was in Sweden. I was asked to speak on parallel lessons between business leadership and music and, on this occasion, the event organiser had decided it might be fun to take the ‘rock’ part of my presentation to its ultimate end point. Just as I was to start the session and completely unannounced (in order to surprise me), they had arranged for a smoke machine to pump out tons of fog into the hotel venue whilst the Deep Purple classic “Smoke on the Water” was played at full volume over the PA system. The ‘fogging people’ took their job very seriously and, for the next 10 minutes the 150 executives were invisible, as their heads bobbed around in a sea of smoke. Needless to say I had to shoulder the blame for this as it would be a natural assumption that I had requested the pyrotechnics as part of my contract. Internally, I was not amused. Nor were they. The best I could do at the time was to point out that leadership was all about handling ambiguity and the unknown and that this was sometimes like wading through fog …

My view of the audience ...

My view of the audience …

Avoid Premature Evaluation – We all love voting technology and apps at conferences, but I’ve spotted a worrying trend amongst busy people. They tend to vote on sessions almost as soon as they have started. This is what HR professionals and sex therapists call “Premature Evaluation”. The impact of some speakers / events cannot be assessed until long after people have had time to reflect and apply the lessons. The use of technology tends to reduce evaluation to fairly trivial “Like / Dislike” choices. Event people would do well to study the work of Kirkpatrick in this area to design meaningful evaluation strategies.

Write to me with your top three to make the Full Seven Deadly Sins of Event Management and I will publish them in an update.

**********************************************************

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

The “F” Word – Leadership Lessons from Failure

This Saturday September 06 I am presenting at The Institute for Contemporary Music Performance on the subject of failure. It’s a word that managers fear, yet any successful leader or entrepreneur will usually have failed a few times if they are talking honestly about success. The lecture offers practical lessons about entrepreneurship, strategy, creativity, project planning, team leadership and execution of your strategy for people trying to do new things, via the medium of a case study. Before you ask, NOOO, it’s not your usual dull business case study!!  Read on and check out the full conference at ICMP

Failure and Success - The truth

Failure and Success – The truth

Some years ago, I sponsored an audacious plan to circumnavigate the world on a rock’n’roll tour, performing at the greatest venues on the planet and taking your audience with you. I invested nearly £50 000 of my life savings in order to help my friend John Otway to advance the enterprise forward. Alas, my involvement came too late and despite achieving a temporary turnaround in fortunes, it was not enough to recover the situation and I most the money and about 6 months effort in an attempt to help John realise his dream. I dubbed the project, “The Real Spinal Tap Tour”.  Take a look at the promo video for the tour to get a flavour of the ambition:

Like most business enterprises, the John Otway World Tour was a GREAT idea, poorly EXECUTED.  It is never enough to have a great idea in business. Meticulous execution skills are needed to bring the idea into existence and I will explore the successes, near misses and downright catastrophes that led to the eventual meltdown of the project.  To whet your appetite, here are a few stunning facts about the tour:

A comedy of errors...

A comedy of errors…

Our presentation is available in your company with parallel lessons for businesses. We are also available to help you avoid similar flights of fancy or to turn difficult corners in your own projects. For the moment, here is the magical moment that started John Otway’s career, when he fell off an amplifier on The Old Grey Whistle Test, injuring vital parts. This is a stunt which Otway has developed in his career ever since, including our performance at Pfizer:

***********************************************************

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.