Axe Victims

Recently I organised an amazing project to bring 6 perfect strangers together from all over the UK to Bernie Torme’s Studio in the garden of England, with the sole ambition of honouring my friend Bill Nelson, leader of English pop art groups Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. Bill has given us over 40 years of pleasure through his continuous creativity. United only by a shared purpose and passion for Bill’s music we set about recording three songs by Bill’s first group Be-Bop Deluxe, ending up in recording four in just under 6 hours. The background story as to how we managed to achieve so much from a cold start is worth exploring. In just 22 hours, the band formed, stormed, normed, performed and reformed from perfect strangers to permanent flames.

The Lazing Apostles L-R: Robert Craven, Tim Hands, Neil Turnbull (seated), Graham Burgess (seated), Bernie Torme, moi et Bryn Bardsley

This experience teaches us important transferable lessons about how to develop a high performance team in record time from an extremely unpromising start point.

Get Great Raw Materials

The “Lazing Apostles” (a spoof on one of Bill’s songs entitled Blazing Apostles) were selected using the internet after I placed an online “advert” for band members on Facebook. There were no auditions, interviews or psychometric tests. Nobody knew each other before we met with the exception of the drummer, who I worked with during my time at The Wellcome Foundation. It seemed that everyone intuitively understood the “job spec” and the level of capabilities required. All I did prior to meeting face to face was to arrange a brief meeting on Skype for an initial social chat.

The facebook advert and job spec

The band we ended up with were a motley crew:

  1. Tim Hands – Lead Vocals – Acoustic Guitar – Tim works on film productions for Handsome Sound Ltd – Lives in Market Harborough
  2. Neil Turnbull – Drums and Percussion – Neil is a worldwide pharmaceutical troubleshooter for Pfizer – also a drummer with heavy metal band Sacrilege. A resident of Whitstable in Kent
  3. Robert Craven – Electric rhythm guitar – Robert is an author of 10 books on marketing and small business leadership. MD at The Directors’ Centre – Based in Bristol
  4. Bryn Bardsley – Bass supremo – Bryn is a professional musician having worked in corporate life for many years – Lives in the frozen north and works as an odd job man
  5. Graham Burgess – Keyboards – Graham performs in a number of Progressive Rock bands – I know little else about him – From Hastings – is a senior member of the local council
  6. Moi – Lead guitar and backing vocals – enough said – A man of Kent

Two management consultants, a film producer, an odd job man, a council officer, a druggist – not quite the usual rock’n’roll credentials!!

Bill Nelson with one of his early heroes, Duane Eddy. Check Bill’s latest work out at Bill Nelson.com

Combine Passion with Purpose

We had agreed to attempt three songs on the day, possibly two if things went less well. I converged our song choices to three using a Delphi type process using a secret ballot on a list of songs chosen by the group. This meant there was a razor sharp focus to deliver these songs on the day and no divergence to try other songs. This is essential under limited time conditions. We also agreed the structures of each song through e-mails and sharing definitive template versions of the songs from Youtube. Each member then set about learning their parts individually – there were no joint practices and fairly little discussion prior to meeting in person.

Getting the Chemistry right

Given our complete lack of playing together, we sensibly agreed to meet at Bernie’s studio the night before, with the ambition of running through the songs once or twice and having a few beers to develop the essential “psychological contract”. We needed just over an hour of physical practice before we retired to the pub to let our work incubate over night …

Chemistry matters – gelling diverse talents and drinking chemicals (beer)

Rules of engagement

Without the use of a flip chart or holding hands in a circle, everyone in the band got the rules of engagement.  In hindsight, I think they were:

  1. Take no prisoners – We delegated authority over musical direction to Bernie Torme who simply told us when we had done enough etc.
  2. No pussyfooting – at various times we needed to substitute someone in the band to play a part. For example I simply wasn’t “feeling the love” when playing acoustic guitar on Crying To The Sky. Unlike some bands, this was done without fuss or damaging egos.
  3. Playfulness – although we were under some time pressure, it was a true joy to play with the other band members and we all enjoyed various mistakes we made, supporting each other etc.

The real boss - Bernie Torme - click to find his tour dates and studio

The real boss – Bernie Torme – click the image to check his tour dates out

Start with the end in mind

Given the huge geographical separation of the band members (I estimate we travelled some 1500 miles between us to attend the recording session), the most important thing we did was to lock in the recording date at the beginning. Creativity and genius counts for nothing if you are not all in the same room at the same time!

80 percent of success is showing up”

Woody Allen

Here are the four songs we produced on the day, plus the ‘re-enactment’ of the cover of “Sunburst Finish” shown above, sans nudity and perspex cage, otherwise completely accurate in all respects! 🙂 We are planning a return project at some point.

 

“Sign your name with a star”

Bill Nelson at the awards ceremony for his “Wakefield Star” award

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Peter Cook offers keynotes that blend World Class Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock and better Business and Organisation Development via Human Dynamics.

Read more about Bill Nelson in the book “The Music of Business

Business Leadership Rocks Warsaw

I was delighted to travel to Warsaw to deliver a Leadership Programme in partnership with The Pure Sky Club, Bentley, Lafarge, Businessman Today, Legimi, AntyRadio and Quadrilion Art Gallery. Our agenda was:

The Music of Business – exploring parallel lessons between music and business.

Far from the madding crowd

Far from the madding crowd – with Paul Cowen, Agnieszka Kupczynski, Filip Sobiecki and Brian McBride

Personal Transformation – delivered by Federico Tonetti, Director General, Lafarge. Lafarge is well known as a manufacturer of cement products but even its business model has been rocked to the foundations by disruptive forces. Federico presented a compelling vision of transformation and explained how it could be translated into a corporate context.

In my Madonna hed gear - at the Pure Sky Club - photos by Piotr Myzskowski

In my Madonna head gear – at the Pure Sky Club – photos by Piotr Myzskowski

The Mathematics of Trust – delivered by Sebastian Kotow, Quadrilion Art Gallery. Sebastian is a business psychologist with specific interests in management decision making and bias.

Punk Rock People Management – a look at the strategic and practical management of people through the medium of punk rock – shorter, simpler and more authentic business and HR.

The madding crowd at the aftershow at Pure Sky Club

The madding crowd at the aftershow at Pure Sky Club

The Virgin Way – a look at the Culture and Leadership practices of the Virgin group, informed by the work I’ve done for Virgin in the last year or so.

Plus an exclusive gala dinner at The Pure Sky Club hosted by Paul Cowen, a panel session hosted by Brian Allan and an after party featuring the best Polish rock bands in the capital.

Here’s one of the slide decks from the event and a video from the warm up event at Quadrilion:

I’m most grateful to Brian Allan, Malgorzata Krukowska, Filp Sobieki, Sebastian Kotow and Paul Cowen for arranging everything.

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of eight books on leadership and creativity as it applies to business. His latest offerings “Punk Rock People Management” – 2nd Edition and a NEW edition of “The Music of Business” may be ordered now.

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.

Hospice appeal 2014

Today marks the release of my tribute to Prince for Demelza House Hospice.  Please download the track from Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon etc. Set in a Funk groove “What U C Is What U Get” tells a fictional story of a strange relationship between Prince and someone from another galaxy … Warning – the song contains an explicit lyric – I have produced a ‘bleeped’ version for more sensitive ears!  It has been well received by the Prince fanbase with a full feature in The bizzniz. I’m pretty sure some will love it and others will hate it due to the various nods and winks towards the master himself. We shall see.

.. it's all right, it's for a worthy cause ...

.. it’s all right, it’s for a worthy cause … Click to donate

 

Below are the various links to purchase. The Bandcamp option is especially interesting, as it includes our exclusive “BUY IT DEARER” option – No Amazon or iTunes fees and we’re donating a full £2.49 per copy to the Hospice, so if you are feeling generous, click on the picture to buy now.

BUY IT DEARER ON BANDCAMP and give more to the Hospice - no Amazon or iTunes fees

CLICK logo to BUY IT DEARER on BANDCAMP and give more to the Hospice – no Amazon or iTunes fees !!

Click to buy on Amazon

Click logo to buy on Amazon

Click icon to buy on Google Play Music

Click icon to buy on Google Play Music

Click on the icon to buy on iTunes

As I mentioned, I also produced a ‘bleeped version’ of the song for those who prefer not to hear the expletive in the chorus!!  So, you can BUY IT CLEAN OR DIRTY ! 🙂  Can I count on your support?  Please share this blog and the links to the various places to buy.  It’s for a very good cause and we may just have a hit on our hands.  Do something remarkable for a great cause which gets no support from Government.

Censored version - Click to buy

Censored version – Click logo to buy bleeped version on Bandcamp

Artwork by Simon Heath - Twitter @SimonHeath1

Artwork by Simon Heath – Twitter @SimonHeath1

To help you decide which versions to buy, here’s the lyrics from the song and an audio sample of the track from our first Radio play on the the Thirst 4 Funk show:

And a radio interview with Salford City Radio:

UPDATE – One person donated £25 to the Hospice via the Bandcamp option – thank you so much.  As I write this update, the song has hit #3000 on Amazon – will it reach #1?  Yes, with your help via purchases, shares, reviews and so on.  Everything helps!!

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 00.39.36

Amazon chart score – Buy it now

Jamming in New York City

Here’s a link to a Radio interview we did with Dr Jackie Modeste and Dr Wesley J Watkins on Trading Fours on the theme of improvisation and innovation.  Just click the picture to listen in.

Click to listen to the radio show

Click to listen to the radio show

Here’s what Dr Modeste had to say about the interview highlights via Twitter:

  • Musicians understand the value of continuous practice to master their art.  In business we are often satisfied with one day’s CPD (Continuous Professional Development) per year.
  • Disruptive innovation can come from the marketplace in a wired world, with customers setting challenges for businesses that get stuck in a rut.
  • Failure to spot disruptive innovation can be life limiting for businesses.  Witness the examples of Sony and Kodak in the interview.
  • Musicians are often great storytellers.  In business we need to get better at getting everyone to put themselves into the company’s story, rather than trying to impose our own fairy tale on staff.

Thanks to Jackie and Wes for an engaging dialogue, which was unplanned and therefore more surprising and enjoyable for that.

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

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Sweet Talkin’ Guy – Doug Morris, CEO Sony Music on Leadership

I was privileged to meet Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music the other week at The University of Oxford Said Business School, thanks to Steve Mostyn who contributed the Led Zeppelin case study to the book “The Music of Business“.  Doug Morris is widely regarded as the most influential music executive in the industry. Throughout his career, he has worked in many different capacities with some of the most popular and influential artists of the past four decades, including The Rolling Stones, Phil Collins, Pete Townsend, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Nicks, Bette Midler, Tori Amos, INXS, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and U2, among many others.  Morris wrote “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” for The Chiffons, produced “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” for Brownsville Station and was behind “You Sexy Thing” for Hot Chocolate.  He became President of Atlantic Records in 1980, working alongside Ahmet Ertegun.  Later on, he renamed MCA records as Universal Music, to erase the well-known view of MCA as Music Cemetry of America.  He gave a superb talk and I was delighted when Doug accepted copies of “The Music of Business” and “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll“.

Doug Morris

He’s a Sweet Talkin’ Guy – Meeting Doug Morris at Oxford University Said Business School

Here’s Oxford University’s own report on the evening – Oxford University.  From my own point of view, here are some parallel lessons about music and business:

Doug Morris on Personal Development

Focus – Morris started life with an economics degree and started life as a songwriter after a brief spell in the army.  Although its clear from the opening song in this blog that Morris has a fine ear for writing hit songs, he realised that he was better at sales than writing songs and changed direction.  Perhaps that’s the first important parallel, finding what you are really good at.

Passion – He came from a family of lawyers and doctors and his parents were horrified when he said he wanted to be a songwriter.  Turned out that he was right to take this career direction, pursuing his passion.

Sony

Oxford University Said Business School – The Premier location for Business Excellence

Doug Morris on Business

Simplicity – Doug pointed out that some of the most successful records on the planet came out of the first, fourth and fifth chord progression.  It’s the sequence that “La Bamba”, “Twist and Shout” and many many more songs are based on for the non-musicians.  Businesses and musicians forget this point when they invent complex things which nobody ‘gets’.

Love – Morris described his relationship with Ahmet Ertegun as one of a great friendship, recalling that they would listen to what each other was playing in their adjoining offices.  “If I heard something I loved, I would bang on the wall and if Ahmet heard a sound that grabbed him he would do the same”.  At the end of each day there would always be laughter and hugs.  Doug applied the lessons of “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” to his dealings with artists he wanted to sign, often telling the musician’s wives or girlfriends how good their partners were, and then sit back and watch the artists decide to sign with Atlantic Records.  Testimony for Morris’ power of attraction comes from people like Jay-Z who has mentioned him in several of his songs.  I must say that I found Doug magnetic, warm, focused and charming.  I would also hazard a guess that he does not suffer fools gladly.  All qualities of great leaders.

Talent management – Morris was asked “what makes a successful record” and he pointed out that there’s no answer.  However he went on to say that he has always relied on people who could ‘see round corners’.  The quality of foresight is just as relevant to leaders in business as it is in the music business and I would say from Doug’s answer that this is still largely an intuitive rather than an analytical process.  Doug told a wonderful story of how he missed the chance to sign Bob Seger because Ahmet Ertegun passed up on it, rather than going with his own judgement.  He reflected “If you believe in something, don’t pass on it”.  We discussed how intuition is undervalued in business in the post ‘Basic Instinct‘.

The Future – For the first time in over a decade, profits in the music business have begun to grow.  Morris believes that this is the beginning of a turnaround for the music industry as it is pulled up by approaches to monetisation by related industries.

The title of Doug Morris’ talk was The A – Z of Music – From Adele to Zeppelin – let’s finish with examples from both artists:

To get your copy of The Music of Business and / or Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll, get in touch direct by e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk and I will deliver at at an author discount.  Here’s an updated preview of the new book:

Postscript:  Here is the lecture in it’s entirety:

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

A Night at the Opera

I spent a night at the opera recently, when we went to see Rusalka, by Dvorak.  In brief Rusalka develops the fairy story of a mermaid, who longs to leave her underwater kingdom.  She falls in love with a handsome prince but must pay the price of losing her voice.  Of course the opera ends in tragedy.   Sounds innocent enough?  Well, Daily Telegraph readers were outraged due to the modern adaptation, which recasts the mermaid as a hooker and the wicked witch as a brothel madam – pretty much Sex, Opera and Rock’n’Roll!  Telegraph readers wrote in to complain of “girls running around in their scanties”.

Sex, Opera and Rock’n’Roll

Sex, Opera and Rock’n’Roll aside, I was fascinated to watch the workings of the orchestra during the three hour performance.  There’s no room for free improvisation in such a setting, with up to 40 people performing together, alongside a similar number of people on stage.   The role of the orchestra conductor is pivotal as the main communication medium between stage and orchestra pit.  It’s an idea I have drawn parallels about in the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and am developing with “The Music of Business”.  Quite by chance, I ended up having a conversation with Andy Wooler, an orchestral brass player, big band jazz fiend, conductor, music fanatic and Academy Technology Manager at Hitachi Data Systems.

What parallel lessons can businesses learn from this?

Size matters – It may be easy to jam in a small group where the task is simple.  Once group size gets beyond a certain number and the task becomes complex, co-ordination of tasks is required if the music is to come out to the same quality standard on a consistent basis.  In an orchestra this is accomplished by the use of sheet music and a conductor.  In business, this may be achieved through procedures, standards and / or supervision and guidance.

Beauty and the Beast – What is often heard in an opera are the highlights / melodies.  Yet, these rest on what my PhD music teacher friend calls the ‘boring bits’.  Without a number of pieces of substructure music does not always have grace and beauty.  In the pop music world, take a listen to some of the hidden arrangements in The Beatles work circa Sargent Pepper or Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen to hear what I mean.

Innovation and the Opera – Andy points out that, despite what conventional wisdom might suggest, there is room for innovation in the opera.   Specifically, innovation manifests itself in two ways:

  • The choice of conductor – For example, Leonard Bernstein transformed the music of many works such as Romeo and Juliet, where he changed the story and added music.  Bernstein was regarded as an eclectic composer, fusing jazz, Jewish music, and the work of other classical composers, such as Stravinsky.  A kind of Jimi Hendrix of the classics
  • The storyline / staging – The other area where innovation occurs in opera is in the storyline.  Andy recalls seeing “The Last Supper’ at Glyndbourne, where Judas was included in the guest list at a Last Supper reunion.  Another example is the recasting of “The Marriage of Figaro” in the 1960’s.  The transformation of Rusalka towards a more modern interpretation is just such an example of changing the setting to engage a new audience, even if Daily Telegraph readers were not amused!

In conclusion, superb performance often rests on a number of invisible substructures.  Structure is not the enemy of creativity.   Graceful performance in any field is often the product of a great deal of structure, some of which is non-obvious.  More on this in the forthcoming book “The Music of Business“.   Andy Wooler may be contacted at http://www.andywooler.info/wordpress or at Twitter @awooler

To finish, let’s hear the finale from Rusalka:

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Fame

I had the privilege of attending Richard Strange‘s “Mighty Big If” the other week at The Chapel of St Barnabas in Soho, where he interviewed and performed with Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet:

The mighty Richard Strange performing with Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp first came to prominence in the early 80’s with his hugely successful band Spandau Ballet. One of the most striking things that Dr Strange asked Gary in terms of personal growth was about his relationship between the 3F’s:  Fame, Fortune and Family.

One of the best stories that Richard extracted from Gary was how he mixed up fame and fortune after the meteoric rise of Spandau Ballet to worldwide fame, including his pivotal role in Live Aid.  He eloquently describes the moment and bought his working class mum and dad designer everything without realising that things like a “Cartier toilet roll holder” and a “Gucci tin opener” did not somehow sit well in an outdoor toilet and the cutlery draw of a council house kitchen in Islington.! 🙂  It was a great moment of self deprecating humour and enlightened authenticity from a great man.

Spandau Ballet were also different in so far as they rejected sex and drugs and rock’n’roll when fame and fortune struck.  They would never drink before a performance etc. preferring to perfect their performances, appearance and haircuts.  Check the quiffs out in this piece of new romantic history:

So fame and fortune need not lead to a failure to preserve the things that matter to you as a person.  An important lesson for all who seek to improve themselves.   Let’s remind ourselves of David Bowie‘s wise words on the topic of fame:

We were also treated to joint performances by Richard Strange and Gary Kemp and a stunning acoustic performance of “True”, plus a duet with Tim Arnold, aka The Soho Hobo.   The evening was filmed by online arts channel HiBrow TV for streaming some time in the future.

Strange encounters in the house of correction ..

Gary Kemp’s book “I knew this much – From Soho to Spandau” is available on Amazon.  “A Mighty Big If” reconvenes on Tuesday 27th November at The Chapel of St Barnabas in Soho.  Featuring award winning actor and director Peter Capaldi, star of The Thick Of It, In The Loop, Local Hero, The Lady Killers and countless other Theatre, TV and film hits.  If you are up for a walk on the wild side, try Richard Strange’s legendary mixed media evening “Cabaret Futura” in London.

We leave with the piece that is perhaps Spandau Ballet’s signature: