From Soft Machine to Nigel Kennedy – An interview with John Etheridge

John Etheridge with Stefane Grapelli

John Etheridge with Stefane Grappelli

I met the great John Etheridge recently, a virtuoso guitarist whose career includes performances with Stephane Grappelli, psychedelic rockers Soft Machine, Nigel Kennedy, John Williams, Hawkwind, Andy Summers and many more. Firstly a sample of his work with Stephane Grappelli and then what I learned from him:

On variation and originality

John pointed out that a great deal of the original playing styles that have emerged from the greats emanated from people who were not trained. In other words, the idiosyncrasies that made them great were due to not being taught to play properly in the first place!! Many young musicians have access to tremendous resources today, but it tends to turn out “template players”. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the aural equivalent of “painting by numbers” may not turn out people like Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. For me there is a massive parallel in the world of business where standardisation of work practices reduces the possibility of creativity and innovation.

On improvisation and innovation

Contrary to popular belief, John Etheridge comes from the school of thinking that says that improvisation and innovation come from immersion in practice, or what is sometimes called the 10 000 hours effect. My original background was in Scientific Research and Development where we understood the importance of laying down significant hours of experimentation (practice) in order to gain new insights and be the best in our field. It is a habit that seems to be in decline in all but the very best companies. Here’s out interview with joined made in conjunction with ME1 TV:

On naivety versus training

Naivety and training are not opposites for Etheridge. Whilst he is a master of music, he allows time and space to behave as if he has never played an instrument before. Playfulness, both the mental and practical variety are extremely important for creativity and innovation in business. In John’s case, as well as playing his virtuoso jazz in his own performance, he joined Space Rockers Hawkwind for their show on the same night, saying that he just loves the raw energy and chaos of their music. Hardly a challenge for him musically, but giving him space to experiment within the confines of raw musical structures.

Al Fresco Jazz - on the pavement at Chalk Farm - how lucky are the residents - Black and White Photography by Christina Jansen Photography

Al Fresco Jazz – on the pavement at Chalk Farm – how lucky are the residents – Black and White Photography by Christina Jansen Photography

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes and longer masterclasses that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

General Election – Vote P-Funk

I hear there’s an election coming up and I understand that many people don’t know how or whether to vote. It seems that the issues of trust and authenticity sit beneath this dilemma for many people.

If I had free will, I would vote for a different kind of Parliament, with George Clinton as the leader! :-) George has just finished his tour of the UK and heads back to the states with Parliament / Funkadelic shortly. I took the BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston to meet “President Clinton” the other week, having spotted his interest in George’s piece on the BBC Today programme on Twitter and having also conducted an interview with the Godfather of P-Funk.

I first spotted Robert's interest in P-Funk on Twitter

I first spotted Robert’s interest in P-Funk on Twitter

It was great to meet Robert with my friend Dr Andrew Sentance – as well as being a superb business, economics expect and journalist, Robert’s insights and interest in music made for an unforgettable evening which mashed funk, psychedelia, rap, rock and hip hop into a seamless whole. We spent several pleasant hours talking about David Bowie, Bill Nelson, Prince, Punk Rock and a host of other topics, washed down with a minor injection of business, economics and beer. I was bemused as Robert had to leave the concert momentarily to report on the General Election for the BBC 10 o’clock News, whilst standing outside the “New Houses of Parliament” at Koko’s in Camden! That’s devotion for you.

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The CEO (Chief Economics Officer) meets the CFO (Chief Funk Officer) – with The BBC’s Robert Peston and George Clinton backstage at Koko’s in Camden – Big thanks to Lois Acton and Suki for their help

George has just released a boxed set of albums called “Chocolate City”, recorded live at Metropolis Studios in London. The original album title refers to the black domination of the inner city populations in the US in contrast to what was termed “white flight”, the large scale migrations of white populations to more racially homogeneous suburban or rural locations. Music puts topics like this on the political agenda much more potently than a pile of “white papers” in the Houses of Parliament.

The Chocolate City Box Set

The Chocolate City Box Set

Here’s the ME1 TV interview with George and a link to our full article with Dr Funkenstein.

So, if you feel you can no longer trust our career politicians, my suggestion for the election is to vote for a new kind of Parliament where soul, humility and authenticity inform our decisions about world problems !! :-)  Unfortunately Mr Clinton is not standing for the P-Funk Party.

George Clinton returns to UK in the summer where he performs at Glastonbury amongst other dates. Check George’s new book “Brothas Be, Yo Like George – Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” out on Amazon.

First you gotta shake the gates ... of Parliament - George Clinton presents his P-Funk Manifesto at Westminster photo by Kofi Allen

First you gotta shake the gates … of Parliament – George Clinton presents his P-Funk Manifesto at Westminster photo by Kofi Allen

Venus in Furs meets a Symbol

Ain’t no party like a P-Funk Party – Venus in Furs meets a Symbol …

GC

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Author of 9 and 3/4 books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music. Come on down to our special event with the Godfather of Punk, Mr Richard Strange on June 9th – tickets selling fast via Punk Rock HR.

A new book from a dirty old town

DIY

I’m delighted to have been asked to host the book launch event of “Do It Yourself – A History of Music in Medway” by Stephe Morris next Thursday April 23rd at The Barge in Gillingham, a well known music venue in the area.

Medway, Mersey and Mississippi share a river and mud but perhaps that’s where the comparisons must end, although the river Medway did produce Chicory Tip, Billy Childish, Judge Dread, Wreckless Eric, Tracy Emin, Zandra Rhodes, Charles Dickens and Kelly Brook. It also produced David Frost, who attended the same school as I did but who escaped the towns as quickly as possible to the more cultured Cambridge.

gq awards inside arrivals 090909

They could not get Kelly Brook to host the launch so they got me instead – sincere apologies

Romanticism? Perhaps. Yet, as one reviewer points out there are little record shops in Texas that have a Medway section, and big ones in Hollywood that have one too, yet none have sections from the “twin rock towns” of Little Milton (Oxon), Milton Keynes and Horsted Keynes.

On the evening we’ll be receiving several readings from Stephe, I will be explaining how I replaced one of our drummers with a spin drier and there will be performances from several of the acts that feature in the book, including the great Nick Hughes, who fronted punk band Gash and who I performed with in glam pop art combo Cenét Rox. I will be performing a post punk sonic performance painting called “Beyond These Towns The Sweetest Dreams” in support of the book launch and selling copies of Punk Rock People Management and the new edition of The Music of Business if it is available. Robert Peston, the BBC’s Economics Editor is the latest person to receive a copy of Punk Rock HR last night when we took him to see The Godfather of Funk, Mr George Clinton.

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From Spin Driers, to The Cowpokers, Music and Business – with Nick Hughes

So, come on down to The Barge, Layfield Street, Gillingham ME7 2QY next Thursday 23rd April at 8 pm for a cabaret of spoken word, music and mayhem. Bring your spin drier. We finish with some post punk prattling from the Pogues:

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Our new book on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity is scheduled for 2016 release.

In the meantime, do order your copy of the NEW edition of “The Music of Business” – Parallel lessons on Business from Music.

Come to our next showcase event June 9th with The Godfather of Punk, Mr Richard Strange.

A Love Bizarre – Interviewing Sheila E

Sheila E

A Love Bizarre – Some days at work just don’t get any better

Can the end of a week in business get any better than this?  We just interviewed Sheila E. Sheila Escovedo is a world-class drummer and percussionist whose credits read like chapters in a music history book: Ringo Starr. Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan and George Duke.

It was quite clear to me that rhythm is genetically imprinted into Sheila’s DNA and her family who performed with Carlos Santana amongst others. It was a pure delight to talk with Sheila. Amongst the many things we discussed were:

  • The central part that the musicians at the back of the stage play in making sure the music reaches everyone and the people at the front of the stage look even better.
  • The role of a musical director in bringing balance to a musical ensemble. Sheila acted as Musical Director for Prince – that’s no mean feat!
  • How creativity works in music and how to get better at what you do through embracing the rich diversity of your chosen artform.
  • Sheila’s collaborations with her father, George Duke and many others.
  • Sheila’s book The Beat of my own Drum, her recent album Icon and her new club, The E Spot
  • Sheila’s work in schools, bringing the joy of music to underprivileged children and her community project Elevate Oakland.
  • The importance of incubation for creativity, sometimes over long timescales.

Take a look at the full report and the exclusive film interview over at our Linkedin Page.

Who said girls can't play the drums?

Who said girls can’t play the drums? Click on the picture for the book

The concert at The Brooklyn Bowl was superb and it was a great pleasure to get past the ‘facebook pages’ and actually meet the organiser of the Purple Army group Pippa Roberts and the woman that has given them so much assistance Debbie Poli.

Some of Sheila' supporters from The Purple Army

Some of Sheila’s supporters from The Purple Army – photo credit Marcus Docherty

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Sheila E and Eddie M burning down the house – Photo Credit Leena Khanna

Sex Cymbal - at the Brooklyn Bowl

Sex Cymbal – at the Brooklyn Bowl

For now, just take a look at some of Sheila’s video output:

And for some more on the importance of rhythm in music, business and life, see our interview with Chris Slade of AC DC.  I was delighted to present Sheila with a copy of my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”, even more delighted when she said she had seen and heard of it before!  Next week, I’m taking the BBC’s Robert Peston for a meeting with Mr George Clinton, so I’m expecting another masterclass in creativity from the Godfather of Funk.

The Leader of the Band - It was pure pleasure and a private joy to talk with Ms Escovedo

The Leader of the Band – It was pure pleasure and a private joy to talk with Ms Escovedo

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Our new book on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity is scheduled for 2016 release.

In the meantime, do order your copy of the NEW edition of “The Music of Business” – Parallel lessons on Business from Music.

Come to our showcase event June 9th, featuring The Godfather of Punk, Richard Strange.

The School of Hard Rocks

There have been many high points in 2014.  In business terms, the partnership with Nadine Hack’s Global Network is a major landmark in our development as a global consultancy business.  I won a prize for my work from Sir Richard Branson and we’ve enjoyed consultancy projects in Estonia, Ireland, Romania and Germany in 2014.

I’ve had equivalent joy in my musical life at The Academy of Rock – interviews with George Clinton, Roberta Flack, Hawkwind, John Mayall and, recently, performances with Meatloaf’s female singing partner Patti Russo and Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan at London’s prestigious Borderline venue.  It is to this experience that I turn in this blog to reflect on lessons from “The School of Hard Rocks”.  Here’s a video of our performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” to start us off:

There was no time to rehearse for this performance, save for a three minute soundcheck a few hours before we hit the stage. For me this mirrors the situation that many managers face when having to deliver a presentation or performance. What then can we learn from this in terms of transferable lessons from the Borderline to the boardroom?

Learning from The School of Hard Rocks

Over-prepare to be flexible – In my case there was no rehearsal and only about five minutes to find out how the band works as a team before the soundcheck – how it sends signals to each other, who is responsible for shortening / lengthening the song, how leadership passes from one member to another and how we end together etc. I had assumed this might be the case so I took the trouble to attend one of Bernie’s other gigs on the tour to study the musical performance. I’d also used Bernie at one of our corporate team building events so I had some idea of how he “passes the baton” from person to person during a jam, although he is not as demonstrative as Ritchie Blackmore or Prince, so careful attention is needed.

Learn to read others – Once on stage, I could not hear myself as Bernie has an old school approach to making sure “everything is up to 11″. A lot of the necessary adjustment has to be done through using your eyes and not your ears in such circumstances. The musical people amongst you will notice there are a couple of moments in the middle of “Fire” when I had misunderstood how many bars we would do in “E” and in “D”. Towards the end, politeness meant that Bernie and myself were unclear on who would take the lead and you can see some “guesswork” going on between me, Bernie and the band. Ah well, not so bad after the three minute soundcheck I guess! :-)

Be nimble, be quick – Bernie only did one number as a soundcheck – it was pretty much the same when I performed at Brands Hatch with “Punk Idol” John Otway a few years’ back and Patti Russo the other week at Henley Business School. In comparison, I recently stood in for an amateur band at a corporate event and they used 30 minutes to run through numbers – this is not what a soundcheck is for – the clue is in the title.

Expect the unexpected – The one thing I failed to prepare for was the need to climb on stage. All seemed well at the soundcheck, but once the venue filled, I was unable to get to the side of the stage where the stairs were. Once I was called to the stage, I proceeded to climb what seemed like a mountain without success, eventually needing to be hauled up by the band in a scene that looked like something from “Spinal Tap”. Ah well it caused some amusement!

BT Peter Borderline

A proud moment – Mr Tormé and me at The Borderline after I clambered to the stage in a shambolic Spinal Tapesque manner!!

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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.

Bob Marley

I had the rare pleasure of interviewing Aston “Family Man” Barrett, legendary bass player with Bob Marley and The Wailers just recently. Aston was pretty chilled out when we met at The Brooklyn Bowl – a superb venue in London which models the original venue in the USA. Perhaps his relaxed state is not so surprising. I learned after our interview that Aston has 52 children!! As well as that he also found some time to be the “heartbeat” of The Wailers since 1969, with his distinctive melodic bass playing style. For a reminder of his work with Bob Marley, check out “One Love” here:

We spoke of a wide variety of things connected with Bob Marley, Reggae music and so on. Here are some of the backstage highlights from our meeting:

Inspirations

The music of Bob Marley and The Wailers was inspired by a deep connection with God via the Rastafarian faith. This connection occurs frequently in the lyrics to his songs. It also came through loud and clear in the interview with Aston who credits The Lord God as his main influence in his life as a musician.

“Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side, not the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white”

Chilled - with Aston "Family Man" Barrett

Chilled – with Aston “Family Man” Barrett

Politics

Bob Marley’s creative contribution was the notion that rebellion could be combined with dancing rather than street protest. Marley was not that concerned with politics per se, more the politics of love and salvation rather than the normal bi-polar debating style of traditional politics. It’s a position that we need more and more in a divided world.

“Me only have one ambition, y’know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen. I like to see mankind live together – black, white, Chinese, everyone – that’s all”

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”

Family Guy

Family Guy

Music

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”

Reggae came from a synthesis of Ska and Rocksteady – I talked about synthesis recently in my interview with The CFO (Chief Funk Officer) George Clinton. Reggae relies crucially on the rhythm section – drums and bass especially. Aston’s key contribution was to play melodic lines on the bass. This was pivotal to The Wailers’ unique sound. You just have to listen to “Wait in Vain” to hear this quality.

And finally here’s the interview we recorded just as The Wailers were warming up to play:

With thanks to Kirsty Pearce-Perkins for her help in arranging things at The Brooklyn Bowl and Lee Phillips and Lena Andrews of ME1 TV for everything else. I’m feeling pretty chilled after meeting the Family Guy! 52 children is mind boggling – Aston is 68 years old and my dad was 67 when I was born, but, as far as I know, he only managed two children!

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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, Professor Charles Handy 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