Listen Without Prejudice – George Michael R.I.P.

I confess I had eschewed white soul music in the early 1980’s, due to being young and too focused on guitars and experimental synthesiser music. I therefore missed the arrival of Wham on the music scene. Sure, I was aware of their music, but carelessly dismissed it as bubblegum pop. Even their studio engineer Chris Porter initially saw Wham as just a teen band. It took a six-week business trip to Jakarta in 1983 and a long weekend in Bali to begin to understand the genius of George Michael. Sitting in a bar in Kuta drinking Emu lager and listening to “Wham Rap”, “Ray of Sunshine” and “Club Tropicana” on almost continual repeat in the bars was enough to hook me. Enough has already been written in the British Tabloid press about the sensational aspects of George Michael’s life and, to be frank, none of it interests me. The real point of an artist’s life is their artistry and it is to this that I am turning in this article.

My first surprise was George Michael’s personal transformation from disco diva to a world acclaimed soul and ballad singer, something which I should have spotted through my close encounter with Wham in Bali but which I somehow missed when his voice was bubble-wrapped in plastic pop music. I first paid attention to Michael’s voice when he produced “A Different Corner”, the beginning of a shift that would take several years to ferment and which was finally consolidated in 1990 when he released “Listen Without Prejudice”, an album whose title seemed for me to cut the ties with pure pop music and which elevated him to an international superstar. Michael refused to have his picture on the album in a principled decision to present the music and not the man.

What is also quite surprising about George Michael is just how his career was built on relatively few music releases.  After the fast and furious output of Wham, Michael only released 5 studio albums in 30 years, even less than that of the perfectionist Kate Bush. This is in contrast with David Bowie, with 27 albums over an extended period and in extreme contrast with Prince, with 39 studio albums and, reputedly with a vault of unreleased material that could last a generation. Notwithstanding court battles with record companies, it seems that George Michael would spend years working on an album until he was satisfied with it.

George Michael offered us object lessons in authenticity and ethics in his work to help educate the world about HIV / AIDS and his humanitarian work in general. A hallmark of great leaders is their ability to retain a sense of who they are by “touching the ground” from time to time. George Michael did this many times, through his private philanthropy, much of which remained a secret until his passing. I was passionately interested in HIV / AIDS through my work as a pharmaceutical scientist in bringing the first treatment to market in record time. Had we known more about this terrible condition earlier, we might still have had Freddie Mercury here today. Aside from his humanitarian work, George Michael was one of the few singers able to step into Mercury’s shoes vocally and in terms of his performance at Freddie’s tribute concert, as is evident in this performance:

The wider music world also recognised Michael’s vocal talents, having performed with Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Ray Charles, Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston and many more. Frank Sinatra even wrote him a letter advising him not to waste his talent.

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At a personal level, the Wham T-Shirt “Choose Life” made as big an impact upon me as any MBA course and eventually informed my decision to leave a very well-paid job and start my own business some 23 years ago. For that phrase alone, I shall be eternally grateful to George Michael.

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At a global level 2016 unleashed so many disruptive forces in the world and George’s words express my hopes for 2017 better than anyone else:

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate

Hanging on to hope

When there is no hope to speak of

And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late

Well maybe we should all be praying for time

George Michael 1963-2016 – You have been loved

On the One, Bass Ida

We’re very lucky to be interviewing Ida Nielsen, aka Bassida at Camden’s Underworld on Wednesday September 07, organised by Nigel Hart of Nitro Management. Ida has a new album out called Turn It Up.  For the last 5 years was the anchor in Prince’s New Power Generation and 3rd Eye Girl until his sad passing at just 57 years of age.

Ida

Bass in ur face – Ida Nielsen and Prince

Ida Nielsen hails from Denmark. She started playing bass at age 16, studying music at The Royal Danish Academy of Music. Ida is a multi-instrumentalist and in 2010 received an out of the blue invite to play with Prince which she assumed was a joke! She is something of a bass tech expert and an advocate of TC Electronics equipment, which a number of my friends also use in their rigs.

TC

Beauty and the Bass – Ida’s style combines resonance in the low register with superb slap bass for punch and sparkle in the high end

There will be a full report on my film interview with film maker Rory Gill and the concert after Ida’s performance. Her music is cool and funky. Ida’s bass playing combines beautiful low registers to reach your soul and a healthy dose of popping to excite your synapses. For now, read this interview about this all round musicologist at Bassida. Here’s two extracts from that piece on what she learned from working with Prince:

“I learned to play tight. He was so tight about making space in the music. There’s always a lot going on in my music, and I’m trying to clean it up because I know that’s what he would do. Not that I wasn’t playing tight before, but he taught me to not play all the notes in between that we bass players normally do. It’s a little bit like a drummer who is always rolling on the snare instead of keeping a tight, simple beat. Prince taught me to keep it simple. With my own stuff, I make everyone else play simple so I get all the space! 🙂

The first time I was in the studio recording with him, I was in shock because I found out he doesn’t use a click track. I was like…what? When you hear every record it sounds like there is a click because it’s so tight. It’s all about locking within the band and getting it that tight and I feel like that’s what it’s all about. I love the whole idea of, “we don’t actually need a click. It doesn’t matter if the tempo goes a little up or down as long as the energy and the life is there.”

Check Ida’s new album Turn It Up on iTunes.

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics – offering long term development programmes on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity and shorter masterclasses and keynotes via The Academy of Rock, which uniquely fuses Business School insights with parallel lessons from the field of music. Author of 7 books on creativity and business – check them out at Amazon:

Click to view books on Amazon

Click to view books on Amazon

Prince R.I.P. – Sometimes it Snows in April

That is all I can find to say … 

I wish u heaven xx

Prince Koko's

A few tributes have come in from musical friends:

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 00.44.34

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 00.44.12

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 00.40.51Prince posts:

The Prince of Innovation

3rd Eye Girl

My Tribute to Prince

George Clinton and Prince

Innovation Excellence – NYC

A post from South East Asia

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Spirits come and spirits go
Some stick around for the after show
Don’t have to say I miss you
(Don’t have to say I miss you)
‘Cause I think you already know

If you ever lose someone
Dear to you
Never say the words, they’re gone

They’ll come back, yeah
They’ll come back, yeah yeah
They’ll come back

Tears go here

PrinceI

Illustration by Martin Homent

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Sheila E – Musical Director, Sex Cymbal

 

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

I interviewed Sheila E just recently on her world tour. Sheila Escovedo is a world-class drummer, percussionist whose credits read like chapters in a music history book: Pete Escovedo, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Ringo Star, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan and George Duke.

Having been Prince’s musical director, I was interested in Sheila’s ability to lead teams of musical giants amongst the many things we talked about. Have a look at the interview below. Although we had been given a total of 10 minutes to set up and conduct the interview, Sheila was extremely generous with her time given her schedule giving us a full half hour of her time – something she really did not have to do, given her schedule. I am so grateful to her for taking time out to give us insights into her work as a leader among giants. An even greater private joy was when I discovered that Sheila recognised my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll“. I gave a copy to Prince in 2007.

A Love Bizarre – Our film interview with Sheila E from ME1TV

Leadership lessons from Sheila Escovedo

Time and Timing : The musicians at the back of the stage are vital to the success of the musicians at the front of the stage. A great rhythm section makes the difference to peak performance. Time and Timing are essential and this is as true in business and life as it is in music.

Fans and Followers : The importance of playing to the people at the back of the hall as well as those at the front. This point is directly transferable to all walks of life in terms of reaching the customers who are fans and those who are maybe less fanatical.

True professionalism : True professionals in music are great at what they do, but they are also punctual and organised. Sheila learned this point from her father Pete. You may be the greatest technician in the world as a business leader, but if you are late for a meeting, your technical skills count for nothing. If one person is 10 minutes late at a meeting with six others present, a whole hour has been wasted.

As a Musical Director, Sheila emphasises the importance of treating everyone in the band with respect if you are to get the best out of the whole team. This of course includes the support team in a musical performance. I watched in awe as Sheila patiently put the band through it’s paces, talking to sound engineers to make sure the whole team were involved in the success of the enterprise. This rare glimpse into the secret life of a leader was a true masterclass on meticulous preparation in itself.

Down in the hood – with some of Sheila’s admirers at The Brooklyn Bowl – picture credit Marcus Docherty  – Click on the picture to go to Sheila E’s website

Creativity and incubation : Sheila talked of the value of incubation in turning embryonic ideas into polished jewels. It’s a principle identified by Wallas in 1926, which I’m currently writing about in my Bloomsbury book, but forgotten by all but true creativity professionals.

Learning from family members : Sheila pointed out how she had learned intuitively from her father, just by listening intently and then mirroring the patterns, he played without ever having a formal music lesson. It’s a point I resonated strongly with and here’s the post on what I learned from my father : Dear Dad.

Song for my father – Sheila performing with Pete Escovedo and my old Dad as a young man around 1920 – click on the bicycle to read the article on my father 

Learning from giants : Paraphrasing Sheila when she was talking about learning from musical innovator and mentor George Duke:

“We just closed our eyes and listened – we didn’t even know where the ‘one’ was”

Sheila E’s new book is called The Beat of my own Drum. Check out 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.

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

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

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 …

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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 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.