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

New Year’s Reflections – Princes, Princesses and Starmen

Part I – 2016 Reflections

I hate the passage of time, as I believe that every moment should count, but I’m willing to make an exception in the case of 2016, which took so many beautiful and creative talents from us. As if it could not get any worse, we lost George Michael on Christmas day (My wife and I were reflecting that I gave my son George Michael as middle names today). This followed the tragic losses of Prince, Bowie, Carrie Fisher and so many more people during the year. 2016 has been such a crap year in so many ways. I recorded my thoughts about 2016 overall in an Advent Blog for Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, so there is no need to repeat them here. Suffice to say, I have been blessed to interview Prince family members such as Ida Nielsen, Marcus Anderson, Sheila E and George Clinton in 2016 and before. In 2017 I am planning a Worldwide Prince Photographic Exhibition with Maverick Productions, currently touring The Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism” as another tribute to the genius of Prince.

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Prince with Ida Nielsen – Musical Genius x 2

But all things must pass and I’m marking the end of 2016 by giving a LIVE performance of Purple Rain at Battersea Arts Centre from 12 midnight – 2 am, after a two hour Vinyl Prince DJ set – the story of how this came about is a great example of the power of networking. I met DJ Nick, driving a van on a busy street in the City of London. Nick called out to me from then van, recognising my Prince Symbol T-Shirt. After a brief exchange, I left a card and ran, since I was in danger of being run over by angry drivers as I stood in the middle of the road!! To my surprise, Nick e-mailed me to explain his evening job as a DJ and now we are collaborating on this venture. I’m hopeful it may lead to other things in my day job at The Academy of Rock delivering events around the world.

Prince on improvisation

Our Tribute Song 4 Prince may be found at http://www.academy-of-rock.bandcamp.com/

Battersea Arts Centre - Orpheus

Battersea Arts Centre – Orpheus

Battersea Arts Centre is also a fascinating venue. Partly destroyed by fire in 2015, the centre showcases some of the most amazing creative talents. It’s very much in the mould of my work on improvisation, by operating a “scratch” methodology as part of its “ladder of development” for new work. Performances are shown at various stages of development to an outside audience, whose input and criticism guides the further evolution of the work. Scratch has been adopted as far afield as Sydney and New York and Battersea Arts Centre has successfully sparked new approaches to creativity across the globe.

Paper Cinema's Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

What then does 2017 hold in store for us? I’m going to leave that part of this blog until Part II. For now, here’s the end piece of a performance I did in Italy to honour Prince, at an impromptu aftershow for 300 people after a keynote on improvisation in business. Admittedly, nothing compares with the real thing but I did my best …

Part II – Towards 2017

I have two global hopes for 2017 – Firstly, that our obsession with war will diminish. Aleppo stands as yet another monument to humanity’s inhumanity. Secondly that we will turn back from “mob rule” as characterised by the election of Donald Trump and our own Government’s Brexit. A sub-goal for me in terms of contribution to society is the SIX B’s :

“Break Brexit Before Brexit Breaks Britain”

In business terms, my plans for 2017 include:

  1. A new book for Routledge, focusing on how we will respond to a society where intelligence are the main ingredients of personal and business success.  Read more about it at Brain Based Enterprises.
  2. I’m hoping to deliver consultancy assignments in Greece, Italy, the USA and make a return to Mauritius.
  3. And the Prince Photography Exhibition will be a major legacy project, to honour his memory. One of the images from the current Exhibitionism project is shown below:
Get off of my cloud - not a reference to computing storage ...

Get off of my cloud – not a reference to computing storage …

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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. Find his current books on Amazon which include cameo articles and insights from Prince and other music giants.

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Do they know it’s Brexit?

11-brexitreactionsAllegedly it’s Christmas and I nearly died laughing at a list of “Brexit Christmas songs” from an un-named source.  He did it as a bit of a joke but got so much grief from some Brexiteers with no sense of humour, so I will not name him here.  I have developed his list into a top 30 all-time Brexit songs. Find my more serious reflections on 2016 and Brexit at “Hatful of Hollow” … anyway, let the chart roll …

  1. Do they know it’s Brexit? – Boris Johnson and the Bandwagon
  2. With or without EU – EU2
  3. Like a prayer (Brexit Means Brexit) – Madonna feat. Mother Theresa (May)
  4. I believe in a thing called Gove – The Darkness feat. Ian Duncan Smith
  5. Road to nowhere – The Talking Heads (Davis, Fox, Johnson, Farage)
  6. Get over it (Brexit mix) – The Eagles
  7. A hard rain’s gonna fall – Bryan Ferry
  8. The immigrant song (we must control our borders) – Led Zeppelin
  9. Freedom (of movement) – Wham!
  10. Poker Face (Brexit Negotiation Dancefloor Remix) – Lady Gaga feat. Mrs Mayhem
  11. Stand and deliver (your passport or your life) – Adam and The Ants
  12. What a waste – Ian Duncan Smith
  13. Last Christmas (you can afford) – Wham!
  14. Would I lie to you? Well, YES, repeatedly – Nigel Farage and The EUrhythmics
  15. (Stuck) In a big country – Nicola Sturgeon
  16. I fought the law and the law won – The Clash feat. Theresa May
  17. Boris the (back) slider – The Who
  18. Nothing compares 2 EU – Sinead O’Connor
  19. Heaven knows I’m miserable now – The Smiths
  20. Highway to Brexit Hell – AC / DC
  21. Mary’s Boy Child (is being deported) – Boney M
  22. You say Brexit, I say Bankrupt, let’s call the whole thing off – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
  23. Maggie Mayhem – Rod Stewart
  24. I kissed a European and I liked it – Katy Perry
  25. Keep on Running, Keep on hiding (the truth) – The David Davis Group
  26. I started something I couldn’t finish – The (Ian Duncan) Smiths
  27. The (27) winners take it all – Abba
  28. Anarchy in the EU K – The Sex Pistols
  29. There is power in a (European) Union – Billy Bragg
  30. All by myself – Eric Carmen

And one more bonus track bubbling under by The Beach Buoys

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Get the whole album for just €7.99 or £27 276.77 due to currency exchange rate movements …

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… and finally … since Theresa May claimed recently that she was being “instructed by God to implement Brexit” I wrote a prayer for Brexit …

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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. Find his current books on Amazon

Brain Drain ?? Call for case studies for a new book

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I am looking for companies that wish to be featured in my eighth book for Routledge, which deals with the issue of what I call the “Brain Based Economy”, where ideas, intelligence and insight are the currencies of sustainable advantage. You and your company will find this of use if you:

  • Lead an enterprise that trades in the fields of knowledge sharing, creativity, intelligent design etc.
  • Are interested in finding better ways for “humanity” to interact with “machinery” i.e. computers, robotics, machines
  • Are interested in disruptive business strategy and change management

Your company gains from the publicity involved with being associated with the book and it’s global reach and also from the process of data collection itself.  We are already talking with global consultancy Arthur D. Little, Q-Bot – an innovative robotics company in London, Fujitsu and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development about the consequences for humanity in a world where man, woman and machine have converged.

The book can perhaps be summarised by a paragraph from the beginning which describes the “Brain Based Enterprise” concept. I was recently asked what was the most significant innovation in the last twenty years in an interview. Apart from the fact that the question is almost impossible to answer I was drawn to mention The Human Genome project and Wikipedia. What characterises both of these innovations is that neither are physical products such as the steam engine. Instead they are based on information in an economy where intelligence, ideas and innovation are the currencies of progress in what I call The Brain Based Economy. We have always used our brains to solve problems but we have also thoughtlessly plundered the world’s natural resources in doing so. We’ll have to think much more cleverly and systemically to address some of the problems we have created as a result of this.

Please get in touch if you are interested to find out more.

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Brains – the currency of sustainable advantage

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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. Find his current books on Amazon.

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The times, they are a changing

I was completely blown away by the Bob Dylan painting and sculpture exhibition at The Halcyon Gallery which continues until December 11.  Blown away, because (a) I’m not a great Bob Dylan fan and (b) I had no idea that he was also a talented arc welder !!

The Beaten Path

The Beaten Path : Endless Highway 3, 2015–2016. Acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 320 cm. Signed

“The Beaten Path” is an absolutely amazing collection and insight into the workings of Bob Dylan’s mind.  Sketches taken from his down time whilst gigging made into full size paintings reveal a United States of America that time has forgotten – the feel of the pieces very much reminded me of my good friend Bill Nelson who shares a love of outlandish American automobiles and the culture of the 1950’s – probably emanating from Jack Kerouac and The Beat Generation. It occurred to me that Dylan’s nostalgic paintings of a world of “Happy Days” cafes, suspension bridges, hot dog stands, art deco motels and a thriving industrial landscape perhaps explains the Trump triumph.  A pity Dylan did not run for President – he has better catchphrases than our Donald , if a little longer …

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose” – Bob Dylan

Make America Great Again” – Donald Trump

I’m not really a big Dylan fan but started to take a much greater interest in his work when he started making Radio programmes. He has a deep ironic wit not seen since the time of John Peel. I was blown away by the socio-economic observations that Dylan makes in his painting, fuelled by his wit and a degree of irony. None more so in this painting of the Paradise Motel where Dylan wryly observes “Vacancy Sorry” in an early version of “Trip Advisor”:

Bob Dylan invented Trip Advisor !!

Bob Dylan invented Trip Advisor !! Florida Country, 2015–2016. Acrylic on canvas, 81.3 x 121.9 cm. Signed

I did not know that Dylan has an arc welding kit in his backyard (as of course we all do!! :-).  It turns out that he has an extremely rare and creative talent for fusing everyday tools into beautiful sculptures.  Dylan is seen working away at one of his pieces below:

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Bob Dylan in the studio

The exhibition has something for everyone, from a glorious table top book of the artworks at £55 through to a flight case containing the same with individually produced “stickers” of the various places that Dylan stayed as a timepiece and other artefacts from the “Route 66” era.

The Boxed Set - a very special edition

The Boxed Set – Limited edition book comprising a unique limited edition graphic of Endless Highway, signed by Bob Dylan and a bespoke hand-finished flight case

Check out the exhibition which runs until December 11 at The Halcyon Gallery.

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 books on business leadership, creativity and innovation acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. His latest book can be found at Bloomsbury.com

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Dublin Cowboy

Following the success of his two recent crowd-funded albums, 2014’s Flowers & Dirt and 2015’s Blackheart, former Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Bernie Tormé has announced plans for a new album. ‘Dublin Cowboy’ will be a triple album comprising a studio CD, an acoustic CD and a live CD. The album is scheduled for release in March 2017 and, again, fans are being asked to support the production and release of the album via a crowdfunding appeal.

“I’m so psyched to be doing my third crowd-funded album on Pledgemusic, and in celebration of number three it’s also a triple album. Triple offender! Titled ‘Dublin Cowboy’ – because that’s what I am, its going to be a studio album, acoustic album, and a live album altogether in a dinky little slip-box. It’s a totally new experience for me, and that’s the best thing about it! It’ll be released in March 2017, and we’ll be rocking it live throughout the UK in April 2017.”

Jamming with da man - at the Hilton Hotel

Jamming with ‘da man – at the Hilton Hotel – To be sure, to be sure

The success of his two recent solo albums heralded the start of a real career renaissance for Bernie Tormé. He even claimed that I was part of it when all I did was buy the beer!! Seriously I’m also seriously geeked to have played a small part in Bernie’s renaissance alongside Arthur Brown, Ginger Wildheart et al. I’ve also performed on stage twice with Bernie and the band at London’s Borderline which is a kind of baptism by fire …

Bernie Torme Quote

Both albums were assisted by highly successful crowdfunding campaigns that helped reconnect Bernie with long-standing fans as well as bringing new ones. ‘Dublin Cowboy’ continues that renaissance.

Full details of Bernie’s Pledgemusic appeal can be found at Dublin Cowboy. Here’s some highlights:

  • £25 buys you a copy of the ‘Dublin Cowboy’ triple CD (and the first 100 physical CD orders will also get a free Bernie Tormé ‘Stratocaster Gypsy’ DVD
  • £36 buys you a signed copy of ‘Dublin Cowboy’ (together with a free DVD for the first 100 physical CD orders)
  • £200 buys you a Guitar Masterclass with Bernie
  • £350 buys you a day’s recording at Barnroom Studios in Kent with Bernie producing
  • £500 buys you Bernie’s vintage pirate coat, as worn on stage by Bernie during the Gillan era
"Pirates of Temple Bar" - Bernie's "piratic coat of many colours" - SOLD

“Pirates of Temple Bar” – Bernie’s “piratic coat of many colours” – SOLD

To tie in with the release of the album a new 2017 UK Tour has also been announced:

1st April SOUTH SHIELDS The Unionist Club

2nd April GLASGOW Nice n Sleazy

3rd April EDINBURGH Bannermans

4th April GRIMSBY Yardbirds

5th April MANCHESTER FAC25

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6th April WOLVERHAMPTON The Robin

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7th April LONDON The Borderline

8th April BRIGHTON The Prince Albert

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock, blending business with music. Read his book “The Music of Business” which includes an interview with Bernie Tormé.

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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.

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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