Recently I organised an amazing project to bring 6 perfect strangers together from all over the UK to Bernie Torme’s Studio in the garden of England, with the sole ambition of honouring my friend Bill Nelson, leader of English pop art groups Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. Bill has given us over 40 years of pleasure through his continuous creativity. United only by a shared purpose and passion for Bill’s music we set about recording three songs by Bill’s first group Be-Bop Deluxe, ending up in recording four in just under 6 hours. The background story as to how we managed to achieve so much from a cold start is worth exploring. In just 22 hours, the band formed, stormed, normed, performed and reformed from perfect strangers to permanent flames.
This experience teaches us important transferable lessons about how to develop a high performance team in record time from an extremely unpromising start point.
Get Great Raw Materials
The “Lazing Apostles” (a spoof on one of Bill’s songs entitled Blazing Apostles) were selected using the internet after I placed an online “advert” for band members on Facebook. There were no auditions, interviews or psychometric tests. Nobody knew each other before we met with the exception of the drummer, who I worked with during my time at The Wellcome Foundation. It seemed that everyone intuitively understood the “job spec” and the level of capabilities required. All I did prior to meeting face to face was to arrange a brief meeting on Skype for an initial social chat.
The band we ended up with were a motley crew:
- Tim Hands – Lead Vocals – Acoustic Guitar – Tim works on film productions for Handsome Sound Ltd – Lives in Market Harborough
- Neil Turnbull – Drums and Percussion – Neil is a worldwide pharmaceutical troubleshooter for Pfizer – also a drummer with heavy metal band Sacrilege. A resident of Whitstable in Kent
- Robert Craven – Electric rhythm guitar – Robert is an author of 10 books on marketing and small business leadership. MD at The Directors’ Centre – Based in Bristol
- Bryn Bardsley – Bass supremo – Bryn is a professional musician having worked in corporate life for many years – Lives in the frozen north and works as an odd job man
- Graham Burgess – Keyboards – Graham performs in a number of Progressive Rock bands – I know little else about him – From Hastings – is a senior member of the local council
- Moi – Lead guitar and backing vocals – enough said – A man of Kent
Two management consultants, a film producer, an odd job man, a council officer, a druggist – not quite the usual rock’n’roll credentials!!
Bill Nelson with one of his early heroes, Duane Eddy. Check Bill’s latest work out at Bill Nelson.com
Combine Passion with Purpose
We had agreed to attempt three songs on the day, possibly two if things went less well. I converged our song choices to three using a Delphi type process using a secret ballot on a list of songs chosen by the group. This meant there was a razor sharp focus to deliver these songs on the day and no divergence to try other songs. This is essential under limited time conditions. We also agreed the structures of each song through e-mails and sharing definitive template versions of the songs from Youtube. Each member then set about learning their parts individually – there were no joint practices and fairly little discussion prior to meeting in person.
Getting the Chemistry right
Given our complete lack of playing together, we sensibly agreed to meet at Bernie’s studio the night before, with the ambition of running through the songs once or twice and having a few beers to develop the essential “psychological contract”. We needed just over an hour of physical practice before we retired to the pub to let our work incubate over night …
Chemistry matters – gelling diverse talents and drinking chemicals (beer)
Rules of engagement
Without the use of a flip chart or holding hands in a circle, everyone in the band got the rules of engagement. In hindsight, I think they were:
- Take no prisoners – We delegated authority over musical direction to Bernie Torme who simply told us when we had done enough etc.
- No pussyfooting – at various times we needed to substitute someone in the band to play a part. For example I simply wasn’t “feeling the love” when playing acoustic guitar on Crying To The Sky. Unlike some bands, this was done without fuss or damaging egos.
- Playfulness – although we were under some time pressure, it was a true joy to play with the other band members and we all enjoyed various mistakes we made, supporting each other etc.
The real boss – Bernie Torme – click the image to check his tour dates out
Start with the end in mind
Given the huge geographical separation of the band members (I estimate we travelled some 1500 miles between us to attend the recording session), the most important thing we did was to lock in the recording date at the beginning. Creativity and genius counts for nothing if you are not all in the same room at the same time!
“80 percent of success is showing up”
Here are the four songs we produced on the day, plus the ‘re-enactment’ of the cover of “Sunburst Finish” shown above, sans nudity and perspex cage, otherwise completely accurate in all respects! 🙂 We are planning a return project at some point.
“Sign your name with a star”
Bill Nelson at the awards ceremony for his “Wakefield Star” award
Read more about Bill Nelson in the book “The Music of Business“