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

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Hollywood comes to … Wakefield

With the great Bill Nelson - continuously creative for more that 45 years

With the great Bill Nelson – continuously creative for more than 45 years

It was a rare privilege and a great pleasure to make a 12 hour round trip to Wakefield on Monday, to witness the artist, musician and friend Mr Bill Nelson receive a lifetime achievement award for his work in a ceremony that lasted less than 10 minutes.  The Wakefield Stars Scheme aims to acknowledge lifetime achievements of local people and the ambition is to pave the area all the way from the Bull Ring to The Hepworth Gallery with these Hollywood styled pavement plaques. Bill will be sitting amongst such stunning company as Henry Moore, the composer Noel Gay, John Godber the playwright, Barbara Hepworth, Sir Martin Frobisher, conservationist Charles Waterton and many others who made Wakefield’s mark on the world.

Bill has defied convention, setting his own path in a music world dominated by people who prefer to follow the latest fashion. Perhaps one of the first to start his own independent label Cocteau Records, Bill has always been at least two steps ahead of the world.  Admired by Sir Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Brian May and many other greats.  An influence on people such as Prince, Big Country, Dave Grohl etc. and copied by post-modern acts such as My Chemical Romance and The Darkness.  You can read more on this aspect at Bill Nelson – integrity and creativity in a bottle.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the ceremony was when Bill recalled that he had stood at the foot of the stage at around the age of four years old as his father Walter played the saxophone at a wedding. Bill had been given a toy saxophone to play along with his father! He has had some sadness in his life of late, as he is suffering from hearing loss. It was this news that compelled me to make the journey for what was less than an hour at the event, having connected deeply with Bill’s sense of frustration at the thought that he may not be able to make or hear music in quite the same way ever again. I also know that Bill will rise again as there are some wonderful things that can be done in this age to mitigate the symptoms that he is experiencing. It was also lovely to see Bill’s Mum who always looks fantastic, alongside Bill’s wife Emiko and the Nelson family – a proud moment for them.

I was reminded of scenes from “Dads Army” with the Town Clerk, as the Director of Culture and the Arts attempted to read his speech without any real knowledge of Bill’s work and his impact across the world! 🙂 Still, it was rather charming for all that and he made a really good effort despite his lack of knowledge of Wakefield’s finest. A little less time spent in strategic planning committees and more on the street is recommended 🙂 Bill pointed out that the last prize he won was a bar of chocolate for striking the triangle once in a performance when he was a boy! He has been hitting all the right notes ever since despite no formal musical education. Like myself, Bill claims he cannot read music, playing by ear and using intuition to guide him into new sonic territories. It’s a refreshing change to the ‘painting by numbers’ approach that turns out identikit musicians these days.

From Hollywood to Holyground ...

From Hollywood to Holyground …

In case you are unfamiliar with Bill’s work, here’s a sample of the huge diversity of his music. Check his website out at Bill Nelson and catch up with his output. This truly was an adventure in a Yorkshire landscape which was made in heaven … Sign your name with a star …

Here's hoping the Wakefield's Starman will rise again - Thank you for 40 years of continuous joy

Here’s hoping that Wakefield’s Starman will rise again – Thank you for 40 years of continuous joy. Stay Young

What kind of fool am I ?

On April 1st 1994, I started Human Dynamics, which eventually spawned The Academy of Rock a few years later, so today marks 20 years in business.  It’s quite rare to reach this length of time with many companies going out of business in the 1st 200 days, let alone 20 years.  It’s also been a bumpy ride through the recession and I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone that has supported me and my colleagues in all kinds of ways.

Twin Peaks - 20 years in business

Twin Peaks – 20 years in business

As it is April Fool’s day I thought I’d have a little fun with you.  There are five April Fool’s untruths amongst these 20 factoids about my business and personal life.  I will award a copy of my book “The Music of Business” to the 1st person that spots all five of the April Fool’s untruths:

  1. My mum claimed that I was a Virgin birth as my Dad was 67 and she 45 when I was born
  2. I once presented a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” to Prince
  3. My first piece of work in the business was a strategic review for Amnesty International
  4. Professor Charles Handy sent me a postcard to congratulate me on my first book
  5. I brought the world’s first AIDS therapy to market by scaling the product up in record time
  6. I lost a small fortune sponsoring a round the world Rock’n’Roll Tour in 2006
  7. I was a member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) Council Board
  8. Professor John Kotter said he was too busy playing golf to read “The Music of Business”
  9. I nearly died when I was 25 whilst working in India through taking an aspirin
  10. I nearly collaborated on a book with Jim Collins
  11. I escorted Wilko Johnson through French Customs dressed as a nurse
  12. Mark E Smith of The Fall performed alongside me a gig at Kent University in 1978
  13. Richard Branson took a copy of one of my books from an inaugural Virgin flight
  14. Bob Geldof said I was f…cking mad when I met him at a CIPD conference
  15. I’ve been asked to do a PhD at Imperial College London
  16. George Clinton, The Godfather of Funk, bought me a kebab after a Prince concert
  17. I went to the same school as Sir David Frost
  18. We performed at Brands Hatch for the CIPD with John Otway
  19. The Rt Hon Peter Jay once offered me tea and a conversation at his private club in London
  20. I gave Evan Davis of Dragon’s Den a lift to an event he was speaking at
The prize

The prize

To finish, the Beatles also have a view on April fools:

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About the Author:  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.

Basic instinct – Intuition in music and business

It’s one thing to be one step ahead.  Quite another to be 30 years ahead.  Bill Nelson has continuously innovated in music, sometimes so far ahead of the wave that he has only been noticed through those who have been influenced by him such as The Kaiser Chiefs, Ambulance Ltd, The Darkness, Foo Fighters et al.

This boxed set “Trial By Intimacy – The Book Splendours” preceded ambient electronica by a a good decade and has just been re-released, having been out of print for many years on Bill’s DIY Cocteau Records label.  The box comprises recordings made by Nelson at his “Echo Observatory” home studio. Comprising some eighty pieces of music, the set is a fine example of Bill Nelson’s grasp of ambient music.

Check out this interview with the gorgeous Mariella Frostrup, which shows Bill Nelson composing material in this genre / period long before anyone owned an i Mac !

“Trial By Intimacy” contains four albums of mostly short ambient pieces of music that will provoke, inspire, question, comfort and challenge your views of what one man with a tape recorder can do in a day.  Part of the charm of this material is that it was composed on primitive equipment in Nelson’s studio above the kitchen in his house.  The instruments Nelson chooses vary from state of the art electronica available at the time to children’s Casio keyboards, plastic woodwind instruments, Marimbas and archive radio extracts.  The contrasts and contradictions between futurama and distant memories, between grown up electronica and childhood musical toys provide the listener with a naïve charm and a connection into the inner soul of the artist.  Many of the pieces were laid down in a native state, without over production and ‘polishing the grooves’ so hard that the artist is drowned in the process.  Bill Nelson is a Yorkshireman – to misquote the bread advert, “Trial By Intimacy” is an album “with nowt taken out”.

Four albums of material that was 20 years ahead of Leftfield, Underworld, Lemon Jelly, Moby et al you get a timepiece of the age via Nelson’s arcane photographs and written words.  So what are the transferable lessons for the business world here?

  • Sometimes your first idea is the best one – on occasion it’s best to go with your basic instinct.
  • Don’t be afraid of childlike approaches to creativity and innovation.  If it feels good, try it.
  • Spot what’s obvious and dare to be different.

We’ll be doing some live improvisation with electronica on Tuesday 13 November at the University of Bedfordshire in our business event for the Chartered Management Institute of The Open University – Riffs and Myths of Leadership – some spaces available for booking now.

Click on the link to book

We will be talking about the event on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on Monday 22 October at 7.20 pm.  Listen again via The BBC.

Sue Marchant discusses Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll – Monday 22 October 7.20 pm – click on the picture to listen again for a limited period – BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

p.s.  It seems that Lady Gaga‘s World Tour support act Lady Starlight has been using Bill’s music as part of her performance art act.  I’m on the case to get Bill connected.  Watch this space.  Sometimes strange and wonderful things can happen once I get started on a mission …  Be careful, I’m an axe victim …

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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

Flaming Desire – Unleashing the power of social marketing

I was asked recently by BBC Radio 4 about how I use social media to achieve real results, bearing in mind that this artform also doubles as a ‘favourite waste of time’ for some people.  I was drawn towards two examples, one hugely successful, the other a comedy of errors which ended in glorious failure.  The comparison provides real contrast.  To read more about the Monty Pythonesque failure, go to The real SPINAL TAP tour – a story of a failed rock world tour which I sponsored to the tune of £40 000, to my wife’s great disappointment 😦  My story today concerns something much more positive for the enigmatic but reclusive rock star Bill Nelson.  To read up on some background check Bill Nelson out by clicking on the picture:

Bill had been persuaded to perform at a special series of concerts for the “ITV Legends” series.  Bill is not a great fan of music business contracts 😦  This meant that he stood to lose a considerable sum of money if the concert did not sell out it’s 125 tickets at £175 each.  His fanbase had drawn a deep breath at the ticket price and 4 weeks out from the date, Bill told me that ticket sales were very poor indeed.

I decided that it might be possible to use our social media and traditional media skills to see if we could improve things.  Nelson has a loyal but small fanbase, so I wrote them an open invitation entitled “Let’s make this a sellout for Bill”.  The initial reaction was fairly risk averse.  If  I could typify the reactions, they would include:

“I don’t know anything about marketing and frankly I think it is the pursuit of the devil”

“I would like to help but don’t know how to”

“I don’t have much spare time”

“Isn’t it too late now?”

… and so on

To address the concerns over capability and time, I adopted the following strategy:

  • I provided the group with a set of sample letters that they could use or adapt
  • We established a series of ‘media targets’ e.g. national media, related fanbases and so on
  • I provided market intelligence on some of the people we were to attempt to involve and their personal connections with Bill Nelson
  • Crucially, as time was short, we agreed to operate on a ‘seek forgiveness, not permission’ principle.  Just do it and then tell others what you had done – a kind of ‘constructive chaos’

At first, very little happened, but then we had a breakthough.  I had done some homework on the veteran BBC Radio 2 deejay Johnnie Walker and managed to get him to give the concert a mention.   Here’s the radio piece which I turned into a youtube video the same day to multiply the effect of the radio exposure with over 6000 viewings:

Shortly after that, another admirer managed to get a slot on BBC Radio 2’s Radcliffe and Maconie show.  Again, we quickly used this to multiply awareness and reach parts of Bill Nelson’s fanbase that had lost touch with his work:

Once the fanbase saw that their actions could have an impact, we gained momentum and morale.  The concert  went on to break through the break-even point for Bill, bringing new and old fans of his work back to the fold.  Bill himself said:  “Just to say thanks again for your kind and generous efforts to publicise the ‘Legends’ TV show amongst fans and the media. Ticket sales, as of this evening, are now 108 out of a possible 125 sales. Thanks once again, Peter”

What then are the transferable lessons from this project?

  • This project could only be achieved with a small army of committed people.  I managed to secure their initial commitment to run a few ‘experiments’.
  • Without an early success via the Radio exposure, it is my feeling that the group may have never gone on to multiply its efforts.
  • The principle of ‘just do it’ and encouraging a sense of urgency were essential in getting people to move beyond ‘watching things happen’ to pro-actively ‘making things happen’.
  • To make social media work for you, it takes BOTH numbers AND quality of the message / content.  Through a participative strategy without too much central control, we achieved both of these objectives, which fed through to ticket sales and mass media attention, which have since had other benefits on BBC 6 music and in other places.

Let’s take a look at one of the concert pieces – A masterpiece from Bill’s first Be-Bop Deluxe album entitled “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape”:

You can find out more about Bill Nelson at his website Dreamsville, which includes all his current music releases, Joy Through Amplification and many more:

Flaming Desire – some of Bill Nelson’s albums – recent and ancient – with my Bill Nelson Campbell American Transitone – http://www.campbellamerican.com and my beloved battered and flamed Fender Strat

If you want to get more out of social and traditional media for your business, please get  in touch via Human Dynamics Social.  For extraordinary keynotes on how to use traditional marketing, social media and PR to stand out from the crowd, book us via The Academy of Rock.

Bill Nelson: Integrity and Creativity in a bottle

The genius that is Bill Nelson – Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Bill Nelson performs a special one off concert and art exhibition at the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds on October 1st.  This provides me with the perfect excuse to rave on about this man’s genius in terms of the sorts of capabilities that great business gurus such as Peter Senge, Tom Peters and Seth Godin write about.  Before we begin, let’s see the master at work, performing a song he wrote for Stuart Adamson of Big Country and the Skids as a tribute at his funeral – “For Stuart (Triumph and Lament)”.  Bill Nelson produced some of Stuart’s work and Adamson was a great admirer of Bill’s musicianship, which Bill incorporated as a series of ‘musical ornaments’ within this piece.

In case you are wondering just who Bill Nelson is, he led 70’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise.  In spite of his huge success, Nelson left considerable wealth and fame to pursue his own artistic and musical direction.   However, like so many great influencers his footprint on modern music is immense and pervasive.  Nelson is admired by a catalogue of rock’s monarchy, including Mc Cartney, Brian May, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Prince, The Foo Fighters, The Darkness, My Chemical Romance and so on.  If any of you saw MCR at the Reading Festival, you will have heard the opening lines from Bill Nelson’s song ‘Maid In Heaven’ towards the end of MCR’s emo anthem ‘Dead’:

Turning to the transferable lessons for people in business, Bill Nelson articulated his principles for personal reinvention in his online diary.  Although they are artistically expressed, they are directly transferable.  Bill kindly allowed me to do some ‘translation’ in my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’.   We explored a couple of his reinvention principles in a previous blog.  Here’s some more:

Reinvention Principle No. 1 – Trust the muse – she knows best

In the context of business reinvention, ‘trusting the muse’ means that we should trust intuition rather than relying on research as a means of doing new things.  We live in a world that is drowning in data.  As a result we downplay intuition.  New stuff does not always come out of a detailed analysis of old stuff!

“Act when there are no alternatives to stasis” Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Reinvention Principle No. 2 – Act only when there are no alternatives to stasis

‘Acting only when there are no alternatives to stasis’ reminds us to examine all alternatives before making a decision on critical issues.  This is not a recipe for not making decisions!  Examining alternatives requires us to synthesise options, to bring alternatives together that will produce better options rather than compromises.  It requires the use of analogue (and/also) thinking rather than digital (on/off) thinking.  The pressure of business life often forces us into action rather than reflection / synthesis, with the result that we get sub-optimal decisions and / or performance.  I’ve written more on this subject in previous posts on creativity.

Check out Bill’s extensive catalogue of music at SOUND ON SOUND.  To study Bill’s 12 principles for personal and corporate reinvention in more detail, read Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll. If you fancy seeing Mr Magnetism Himself check out the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds.  I am proud to know Bill Nelson, who has integrity and creativity written into his DNA, even at the expense of fame and fortune.  Integrity is easy when it does not mean you have to make tough choices, but most people fall by the wayside when the going gets tough.

Bill Nelson has a wonderful skill of making classy pop music, a skill which he has largely left on the shelf due to his desire to pursue his own artistic vision.  Lest we forget what a great talent he has for producing catchy pop hits, I’ll leave you with a film of Be-Bop Deluxe performing one of these 2.5 minute wonders on the Old Grey Whistle Test – “Maid in Heaven”, the song whose opening guitar lines are quoted by My Chemical Romance.  To see more of Bill’s work in this area get yourself a copy of his ITV Legends Concert, which includes “For Stuart” and an entire catalogue of Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise and Bill’s solo material:

p.s.  For a series of 2.5 minute lessons on business and Human Relations check out my new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ – available FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.

ITV Legends Concert DVD – AMAZON

‘Revolt into Style’ – The new book cover

Maid in Heaven – Bill Nelson releases ITV Legend’s Concert DVD

Click on the guitar for the ITV Legends DVD

On March 26th 2011 ITV filmed a special concert in London, featuring guitar legend Bill Nelson, leader of pop art bands Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. Bill Nelson left high profile music some years back, due to his dislike of the music industry / media circus. However, his influence on modern music is immense. Admired by Paul McCartney, Big Country, Brian May, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Eno, Prince, The Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance et al. I’m delighted to announce that the video of this unique evening at ITV Legends is now available on to buy on AMAZON. In case you are still wondering who Bill Nelson is, here’s some background.

Bill Nelson’s career started with 1970’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe, where he had considerable success with classic albums like Futurama, Sunburst Finish and Drastic Plastic. By the mid 70’s Be-Bop Deluxe were conquering America but Bill was disaffected by the celebrity lifestyle and its requirements of him. He disbanded Be-Bop Deluxe and formed Red Noise, a synth / new age band way ahead of its time, paving the way for 80’s acts like Gary Numan, A Flock of Seagulls and many others. Red Noise’s music was jagged and edgy, although it has undoubtedly stood the test of time, influencing artists such as Razorlight and The Kaiser Chiefs.

EMI dropped Nelson at this point since he refused to perform ‘more of the same’. Shortly after Bill pioneered Indie music, releasing albums made in his own studio on his own ‘Cocteau’ record label. Many of these home-made creations were of superior quality to what others have since recorded in the most professional of recording studios.

Bill Nelson’s heart is firmly fixed within the inventor’s domain, with a more or less continuous stream of musical creativity. Much of Bill’s work can be accessed through his website ‘Dreamsville’.

Nelson’s latest works are mostly lush ambient soundscapes, not typical of his recent ITV release, which is a must-have release for Be-Bop Deluxe / Red Noise / music lovers. Almost literally ‘maid in heaven’.  Here’s an example of Bill Nelson’s less commercial work, called Imperial Parade, taken from his recent performance at the Sheffield ‘Sensoria’ Arts Festival – music which owes no regard to an X-Factor culture.

I wrote a personal cameo about Bill Nelson, who I am proud to know, in the book Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll, as he is a master of continuous creativity and reinvention. A copy of the cameo can be found at the Academy of Rock. A video comparing the reinvention qualities of Bill Nelson and Prince Rogers Nelson can be seen below: