Photographing Princes

I met Nicole Nodland recently in the Virgin Lounge to discuss her part in the Worldwide Prince Photography Exhibition I am co-ordinating. Our close encounter provided an opportunity to discuss the art of a master photographer. Nicole has photographed a veritable treasure trove of artists including Pussy Riot, Mark Ronson, George Clinton, Anna Friel, Downton Abbey, Ed Sheeran etc. etc.

Nicole captured the heart and soul of Prince - click to view her galleries of music artist photographs

Nicole captured the heart and soul of Prince – click to view her galleries of music artist photographs

The manner of her meeting Prince was a great story of serendipity and a degree of drive on her part … Nicole had travelled to Europe and returned to LA to very little.  She moved back to Minneapolis with her mum for a bit.  Having done some photography for Warner Bros, someone suggested she get in touch with Prince.  Was this feasible?  Anyway, she did.  Some time later, one evening at 11 pm the phone rang and she was asked to go to Paisley Park.  What day? she thought.  The answer came “tonight”.  So she got ready and went.  Finding Prince in the complex was a problem but eventually a purple voice asked “Do you have polaroid?”  This was the start of her photography work with Prince lasting several years.

Do take a look at Nicole’s portfolio which spans video as well as still photography.  Here’s a few teaser pictures from her website.  Click the pictures to view the real thing. We are planning an event to cover Nicole’s work across the full range of her portfolio at Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money Lounge in due course – watch this space.

La Roux, Mark Ronson and Sinead O'Connor

La Roux, Mark Ronson and Sinead O’Connor

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 1/2 books on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity. Read more on Amazon.

Beauty and the Bass

Ida Nielsen spent 5 years as the bass anchor for Prince. She is now stepping out in her own right as a singer – songwriter, following Prince’s tragic and premature death. In our exclusive interview and subsequent private conversations with Ida I discussed a number of topics with parallel lessons for anyone seeking to make their mark with their personal passion. Film production by Rory Gill roryjrgill@hotmail.co.uk:

Balancing discipline and freedom

Ida is a perfect example of a professional musician who combines discipline with freedom in her musical life. She took up music at the age of 16, having learned to play piano and bass mostly by ear. She then attended the Royal Danish Academy of Music to hone her natural born musical skills. When amateur musicians tell me that improvisation is all about creativity and freedom and nothing to do with discipline, I believe they have missed the point about the importance of structure / discipline / order. I’ve observed on many occasions musicians who have oodles of disciplined musical training, but who are unable to improvise and sometimes vice versa. Ida is a living example of someone who combines both sets of skills. Prince puts it simply:

“Too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay”

In the business world this is what Tom Peters refers to as “simultaneous tight and loose properties”. I’ve just been discussing direct parallels from music for people interested in bringing more creativity and innovation to their enterprise at Innovation Mauritius

Beauty and the Bass - Interviewing Ida Nielsen in Camden, London

Beauty and the Bass – Interviewing Ida Nielsen in Camden, London

Deliberate practice

Ida is also testimony to the concept of “deliberate practice” proposed by K. Anders Ericsson. This requires the systematic desire to extend one’s repertoire beyond one’s comfort zone. In my experience, some musicians reach a plateau of competence, due to rerehearsing that which they already know. To master an instrument requires practice outside of the known regions of your competence. I know from my own experience that I had to switch from playing rock music to gypsy jazz in order to move my playing skill up a level through seeing and hearing things anew. This concept applies in many fields of human endeavour. Ida has respected great innovators in her field and built upon their innovations, for example Larry Graham, who is credited with the invention of “slap bass playing”, in his case due to not having a drummer in his band so he had to develop a more rhythmic way of playing the instrument. 

Here’s a section of Mr Graham with Sly and The Family Stone and a bass solo from my good friend Mr Paul Moss at a corporate aftershow event we did at Henley Business School from 2 minutes 08 onwards:

Get into the Groove – Working with Flow 

Mastery, unconscious competence, effortless genius, being “in your element” …  These are all ways to describe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the state of ‘flow’.  Prince’s sax player Marcus Anderson offers some practical insights into the state of flow:

“Although I can read music and therefore understand the “mathematics” of jazz, the real skill of improvisation comes from using your ear / intuition, paying attention to the other band members, feeding off them and finding a flow that moves the group performance up to the max.”

Marcus Anderson, interview taken from “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“, Bloomsbury

Ida is clearly in the state of effortless mastery or flow with this performance, recorded at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London at an aftershow at 3 am in the morning:

We spoke outside of the main interview about Ida’s 5 years spent working with Prince and she had these things to say about what she gained from working alongside a master of innovation in music:

Serendipity :

Ida explained how she got to play bass with Prince: 

“I simply got a call on my cell phone. The person said they were Prince’s manager and they wanted me to go to Minneapolis and jam with Prince and the band. They said they would call me back – they did not and I began to think it was a hoax, but eventually they called back and I went to Paisley Park to play with them for three days”. 

I completely got the mixed emotions of Ida’s story, having once had an e-mail from Sir Richard Branson telling me I had won a prize, then nothing for two weeks – a social media “expert” mailed me to say it was bound to be a hoax, completely bursting my bubble!  It turned out it was not a hoax mail and I ended up writing and delivering events for the Virgin group.

richard-branson-invite-linkedin

Mastery : When performing with Prince, Ida had to learn more than 300 songs in order to have the flexibility to vary a given performance, sometimes on the fly. This is quite different than performing with most professional musicians, who prefer to hone a set and perform this as a set piece on all dates of a tour. This level of agility gave Prince and 3rd Eye Girl the ability to personalise their music to a given audience. To do this requires mastery at the individual and team level, with everyone paying close attention to each other’s performances.

“Doing a residency in any particular city requires a large repertoire to ensure repeat business”.

Prince

Teaching as the best way to learn : Ida mused that she had been lucky to have the greatest guitar teacher on the planet in Prince. Moreover, rather than the usual situation in terms of paying your teacher for lessons, Prince had actually paid her !! The greatest gift of innovation is to transfer your skills to others to improve your game.

Check out Ida Nielsen’s music at her website for more insights into the skills of a master craftswoman.

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics. Check book “The Music of Business” out, which has a chapter on Prince and 3rd Eye Girl.

Charlie Mingus AOR

A tribute to Prince

Friday and Saturday 24/25 June mark a major event in memory of Prince in London and in support of Autism Rocks. Here, Marcus Anderson, Prince’s Saxophone Player talks about the event:

Here’s some of the songs and personalities you might be hearing from and meeting at this once in a lifetime event to mark the passing of a legend:

I hope to see some of you there on the Saturday gig. We are hoping to catch some interviews with the performers along the way. Here are some of the tributes left for him at Camden recently:

Prince Memorial

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business Development around Strategy, Innovation, Creativity and Change.

Check Peter’s new book out on innovation and creativity with Bloomsbury. Check out our full development programme for sustainable and profitable innovations.

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 09.58.09

Just Like A Woman

I’m proud to know Jordan Gray, who performed on BBC’s “The Voice” last night.  Jordan is a massive talent both in terms of her songwriting, musicality and performance.  I was privileged and humbled to share a stage with Jordan at Aaron Stone’s “Spontaneous Combustion” last year.

Here is her performance of “Just Like A Woman” on the show:

But Jordan’s superb showcase for The Voice missed out on her huge songwriting and musical talents. Just check this amazing piece “Corridors” out under her name “Tall Dark Friend“. This was one of the songs she performed at Spon Com and it blew me away even more live than the video can convey:

In case you are wondering who the singer is in the above video, Jordan made a principled decision to change gender a couple of years back. I have some understanding of the courage required to take such a decision through my good friend Hilary who also did this some years back. Hilary and I wrote a song together called “No Dick’s as Hard as my Life”, to reflect some of the abuse she took during the change. I also took a beating from some young solders in 1983, whilst walking along the high street with my best friend from school Dennis Pearce. Dennis was a flamboyantly dressed homosexual at a time when pink trousers were not considered an acceptable form of attire by some . I took the beating instead of Dennis because I had not learned to run as fast as he had … I spent several hours in hospital as a result ! 🙂 oh well … soldiers will be soldiers but it’s a pity they have to take their work home …

Coming back to the music, comparisons are invidious, but I would rank Jordan Gray alongside talents such as Prince, Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith and Sia. Her performance on The Voice was great but you cannot imagine the incredible combination of piano playing, singing, rapping, voice manipulation and performance skills that Jordan possesses just from her 3 minute showcase.

A Tall Dark Friend - click to connect with Jordan Gray

A Tall Dark Friend – click to connect with Jordan Gray

Jordan

Fade to Gray …

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Book him for your next interactive motivational keynote or longer masterclass on subjects such as Leadership, Creativity, Innovation and Change. His new book Leading Innovation and Enterprise is released on February 25th.  Order it now on Amazon.

 

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.

Never Mind The Credit Card

Virgin Money

In a classic piece of disruptive innovation in branding, Virgin Money just introduced a credit card based on the iconic logos of the Sex Pistols’ designs for “Anarchy in the UK” and “Never Mind the Boll….cks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”. Virgin Money’s CEO and Marketing Director were talking with me about the card and you can read all about Virgin’s latest move at Never Mind The Bankers.

“We want to get rid of the bollocks in banking and to be simple, open, transparent and fair”

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Virgin Money’s CEO

As is Sir Richard Branson’s way, Virgin challenges norms, having disrupted British Airway’s cosy relationship with the British Government in the 1980’s when they launched Virgin Atlantic. I’ve been chatting about the credit card concept to people from several walks of life to find out how they see the strategy. It becomes clear that Virgin have succeeded in polarising views from different segments of society:

Some of my “arty” friends are “appalled at the theft of punk’s pure clothes for the purposes of banking”. I guess this is the punk rock version of “Angry of Camden”:

Some of my banking friends are “outraged at the use of street culture to demean the upper class world of banking”. I guess this will soon appear in a letter to the Financial Times from a man or a woman in a bowler hat living in Surbiton:

 

The point of the matter is that Sir Richard Branson has succeeded on every level, gaining publicity through disruptive thinking.

I answer my arty friends thus:

“All good disruption eventually becomes part of the mainstream. Check out the punk fashion in Claire’s Accessories if you don’t believe me”

I answer my banking friends thus:

“It’s about time banking woke up to customers, mainly in terms of substance e.g. convenience, simplicity, but a bit of style would also do no harm”

So, I think this is an incredibly shrewd and clever move on the part of Virgin to cast a shadow on the battleship grey industry that is banking. It’s a marvellous piece of market segmentation that gains publicity and viral value through controversy. Let’s see the masters of controversy in action:

The Virgin Battleship Building – Not Grey

Come to our next masterclass event in Warsaw on 23/24 June, where we’ll be discussing Punk Rock, Disruptive Innovation and The Virgin Way amongst many other things in a day of inspired intelligence and fun. Grab your ticket here.

Peter Cook is author of “The Music of Business” and “Punk Rock People Management” which simplify business leadership, creativity and innovation, strategic thinking and people management for busy people.

Check out the books at Cultured Llama.

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