Guitar Ecstasy

The enigma formerly known as Bill Nelson. Photograph by Martin Bostock

I attended the concert of legendary musician and artist Bill Nelson just recently, at 70 years old.  What can I say?  Well very little needs to be said. It was sheer perfection and I’m in the privileged position to be able to invite you to attend the concert yourselves ….

For just one month you have a unique opportunity to view the concert online via Plectronica.  Bill was accompanied by enigmatic ambient artist Harold Budd, who worked with Brian Eno amongst many others.

Check Bill’s music out at Bill Nelson.

Click the picture to access the live video stream

I also wrote about Bill’s approach to music and life in the books The Music of Business and Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.  Contact me directly if you would like to get hold of copies of the books.

Some of my Bill Nelson collection

 

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

****************

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

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.

Lazing Apostles

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 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 Duane Eddy

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.

Bill and Peter

“Sign your name with a star”

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

***************************************

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

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

The Cure – Making Creative Duos work

I attended the launch of a new album from Reeves Gabrels, guitar player to David Bowie / The Cure, and my friend Bill Nelson, Leader of 70’s pop art groups Be-Bop Deluxe / Red Noise.  Both of these people are continuously creative musicians. But what brings two “similars” together?  Both are virtuoso guitarists and this is not always a recipe for a successful union.  I asked them to explain.

Giants of the Perpetual Wurlitzer - Bill Nelson and Reeves Gabrels

Giants of the Perpetual Wurlitzer – Bill Nelson and Reeves Gabrels

It’s a love thing

Reeves explained that he first encountered Bill Nelson’s work when he bought a copy of Be-Bop Deluxe’s “Sunburst Finish” album and a Led Zeppelin one at the same time in 1976.  He never opened the Led Zeppelin one for weeks and was captivated by Bill Nelson’s musicality and playing from the moment he heard the album.  Much later on, Bill came to hear Reeves work and also thought it went to places and depths that other artists did not go.  If this were the end of the story, there would be no album.

Serendipity and planned luck

Some years later, Reeves was visiting his guitar tech Stuart Monks to get some repairs made and it came up in conversation that he also looked after Bill Nelson’s guitars.  Reeves plucked up courage and cheekily asked if he could have Bill’s number.  He then invited Bill to come along to see him perform with David Bowie’s Tin Machine in Bradford. After the show, the two met, whereupon Bill was heard to say “You are quite the hooligan”. From that moment, the two corresponded by mail for a number of years and talked about collaboration although geography prevented this as Reeves lived in the US at this time. When Reeves joined The Cure, the idea became possible, some 20 years after it had been first discussed.

Fantastic Guitars played by Fantasic Artists

Fantastic Guitars played by Fantasic Artists

Shared values

Both Bill and Reeves share a love for doing something different with the guitar.  Yet, therein lies a challenge.  How do you make an album that transcends the trading of ‘guitar licks’?  They were both quite clear that this was something to avoid and Bill said that they spent a great deal of time talking about the approach and rather less time actually recording the tracks.  A relevant parallel here is that purposeful action often occurs when there is congruence in the vision for a project.  A more direct way of saying the same thing is the old military adage:

Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Transferable Lessons

  • To make a creative dyad work effectively, it’s crucially important for each member of the dyad to understand how they can contribute in a different but complementary way. Dyads are also the basic unit of creativity and innovation in companies.  Many of the principles of successful collaboration in creative dyads at work are those that Bill and Reeves discuss.
  • Preparation is an essential part of success.  In Bill and Reeves case, this took over 20 years of gentle incubation plus extensive dialogue. Most businesses don’t have such a luxury, so they must find ways to achieve the same endpoint with less incubation.
  • Having a shared goal and knowing what you don’t want from a partnership are essential prerequisites for success.

Check out Fantastic Guitars over at the website.

******************************************

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.

Let there be drums – An interview with Chris Slade

Slade Alive - Chris and Peter just before Thunder struck

Slade Alive – Chris and Peter just before Thunder struck

I interviewed Chris Slade recently, drummer for AC / DC, Tom Jones, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Asia, Paul Rodgers, Gary Numan and many more.  Here’s what Craig Sclare, a fellow drummer and management consultant, had to say about Chris:

Chris is a solid drummer, I love his style, his power and drive.  His ability to ‘feel’ when the right time is to increase/decrease the energy is brilliant (great leaders in any field just know how to do this) – Craig Sclare – Management Consultant

Here’s some of what he Chris had to me:

Chris started playing drums on one biscuit tin with knives in Pontypridd – they were not rich enough to have more than one biscuit tin!  His first break in the music business came when he played for Tom Jones.  Although he lived near Jones, he did not know him.  One day whilst working in a shoe shop in Pontypridd, Tom’s guitar player came in.  Knowing that Jones had just lost a drummer, Chris begged the guitarist for him to let him play.  At that time Chris was a teenager and the guitarist in his twenties.  This was a huge gap, nonetheless, the guitarist agreed to introduce Chris.  He puts this down to luck, yet this kind of thing does not occur by staying in your bedroom as a musician.

Drum Lesson 1:  Ask and you may receive

Drum Lesson 2:  Make a bit of luck happen

Watch the whole interview from the lovely people at ME1 TV here:

Chris’ early drumming experience was playing jazz.  Without this experience, it is unlikely that he would have been able to replace Carl Palmer in Asia.  His life has included playing with solid rock bands such as AC / DC and with Progressive Rock bands such as Manfred Mann’s Earthband and Asia.

Drum Lesson 3:  To be successful, work from a wide palette of styles

The drummer is pretty much the most important member of the band.  You can get away with a bad lead guitarist but if your drummer is rubbish, you are in big trouble as everything else revolves around that. Asked about AC / DC Chris had this to say:

Drum Lesson 4:  AC / DC’s success is all down to having the best rhythm section in the world – Malcolm Young and the drum and bass combination

Drum Lesson 5: To improve your sense of time and timing in business, don’t hire a management consultant, hire a drummer!

Read the article on AC / DC and high performance in "The Music of Business"

Read the article on AC / DC and high performance in “The Music of Business”

Drum Lesson 6:  AC / DC’s success is all down to extensive preparation – there are no unplanned events in an AC / DC concert.  It’s the “Seven P’s” : Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Drum Lesson 7:  Excellence comes out of “Planned Spontaneity”.  Do the work if you want to profit from accidents

Heres a slice of Chris playing with AC / DC at Donnington:

I asked Chris about his time with Gary Numan – I’m aware from my friendship with Bill Nelson that Gary Numan was something of a perfectionist and that he has a ‘digital heart’.  That made him a difficult man to work with for Bill Nelson and I was curious about what seemed an odd combination for a rock drummer.  Not at all Chris replied.  Chris worked with Numan and Pino Palladino, the virtuoso bass player that is most famous for playing on Paul Young’s rendition of “Wherever I Lay My Hat”.  Chris said that the combination of Paladino and himself humanised Gary Numan’s sound.  That said, he found it initially hard to work with click tracks on Numan’s insistence.  This sounds a little familiar with Bill Nelson’s experience although this ended somewhat less profitably!  Here’s Numan with Slade and Palladino performing “Music For Chameleons”, later popularised as a symbol of 80’s music by Alan Partridge:

Drum Lesson 8:  Experiment with styles to get better.  Be an eclectic learner and don’t let notions of what is acceptable put boundaries around your work

Chris Slade’s music can be found at Chris Slade.  Here’s some of Chris’ Lessons for Life summarised:

Be nice to drummers - they might just save your life

Be nice to drummers – they might just save your life

Finally, here’s Chris’ tour schedule for 2014 and a bit of hard rock featuring one of my favourite drummers, Vicky Nolan, erstwhile drummer for my fictional Spinal Tapesque Rock group “Genital Sparrow”, who performed at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) many years ago, long before the institute banned enjoyment as part of the diet for HR professionals:

He's a live wire - Chris Slade on tour

He’s a live wire – Chris Slade on tour

******************************************

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.

More on AC / DC and business in "Sex, Leadership and Rock'n'Roll" and "The Music of Business"

More on AC / DC and business in “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business”

Creativity and Logo Visual Thinking – An audience with John Varney at The Centre For Management Creativity

Logo Visual Thinking in action - in corporate seminar rooms, in gardens, in teams

Logo Visual Thinking in action – in corporate seminar rooms, in gardens, in teams, in your company

I spent a very pleasant afternoon interviewing John Varney, Director of The Centre For Management Creativity in North Yorkshire, on creativity, business, visual thinking and how the built environment is a major influence on the health and productivity in organisations.

John is the inventor of Logo Visual Thinking, which helps organisations, teams and individuals envision new ideas, create shared futures and solve complex problems or opportunities.  I must declare an interest here, as I have used John’s LVT hexagons to help companies do Scenario Planning and Creative Thinking over many years with dramatic effects.  I will let John take up the story via the Google hangout that we organised:

Here’s three ‘takeaway points’ I took from our dialogue.  There are many more in the youtube film.  Perhaps the first time that C.P Snow has been mentioned on a Google hangout!

  1. Logo Visual Thinking enables people to explore different ideas in a less confrontational way than traditional brainstorming approaches.  As a ‘nominal’ approach, LVT advantages introverts who sometimes get squashed in conventional creative thinking sessions.  It also allows people to find connections between the complex and seemingly unconnected ideas, which is often where fortunes are made.
  2. Alongside that, The Centre For Management Creativity provides a unique environment in which people can co-create and is an example to organisations around the world of how to create a physical and psychological environment where creativity and innovation are ‘business as usual’.  Not only does it have all the modern corporate comforts in terms of technology and so on if these are required.  It offers a certain stillness within the ability to have reflective adventures in a  yorkshire landscape.
  3. Creativity also needs to be nurtured and this requires skilled facilitation if data is to turn into information, knowledge and wisdom.   This is much easier to write than do, having experienced both ends of the spectrum in my long career of working with groups and organisations.  CMC have a wealth of knowledge, skill and experience in this area.

Contact John Varney at The Centre For Management Creativity or at Logo Visual Thinking, for tools for practical dreamers.  A visit to High Trenhouse on Malham Moor is highly recommended.  Even Harry Potter has been there …

A Kind of Magic on Malham Tarn

And finally, since I mentioned “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape”, this I feel gives me the perfect excuse to play the song of the same name by my friend Bill Nelson, who I went to see at the Clothworkwers Hall in Leeds University School of Music just recently.  Bill Nelson is a man whose authenticity shines like a beacon, and who I know often draws inspiration from the area around Malham Tarn.

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 …

******************************************

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.

From Cages to Playgrounds – Scott McGill on excellence in music and life

I was privileged to interview Scott Mc Gill, a progressive rock and jazz fusion guitarist recently.  Scott has played with Percy Jones of Brand X and worked with Michael Manring, a well-respected fretless bass player.  He divides his time between teaching, composing, performing and researching music, which would be something of an idyllic lifestyle for me.  Before we get started, let’s see the man in action:

Tell me about your influences in terms of innovative music and improvisation?

I spent 10 years working with Dennis Sandole who was John Coltrane’s teacher.   It does not get much better than that.  I’ve played with some of the best people on the planet in Casinos on the East Coast and Broadway etc.  I also find that one of the best ways to extend yourself is to teach and research music.  For example, I was interested in your explorations of the concept of flow in your writing.  I’ve spent 20 years teaching, writing, playing freelance and improvising.  That amounts to more than 10 000 hours of immersion in music.

So you are the ultimate adaptive musician?  Front of stage, in the studio, teaching others?  I meet people who are good at one of these but rarely all three.  I’d guess that this requires some loss of ego and the ability to focus intensely on what you are doing at any one time?

Yes. It’s enthusiasm and focus really. I like learning and engaging deeply in many areas of music enables me to learn a great deal. The discipline of progressing in all of these areas is something I am interested in as it makes me feel as though I am working towards something meaningful. I also find that progression in one area usually facilitates progression in the others.

Take me back to the beginning to help me look for clues as to how you learned to improvise.  How did you begin?

I started learning both reading and playing music.  They were always married.  I did not start out as many people do, by either learning formally and then starting to improvise 7 years later or vice versa.  I began by picking up a few chords but very soon after took lessons from someone who did both reading and improvising.  The ear is the instrument.  Even if you are reading, you should always be able to hear it and vice versa.   I learned music in a combined way from its inception.

Is this like starting out speaking two languages?  If you start that way, it is much easier than learning them separately and sequentially?

I guess it could be.

Does formal learning have to drive out the possibility of improvising?

Not at all for me.  The more I learn about theory, the better I get at improvising.  I don’t partition it.  For me, rules are a release and not a barrier.  That said, for some musicians, it is apparent that learning musical theory does hinder them from improvising and vice versa.  I guess it’s a question of mindset and it also depends on the training.  Some of the best improvisers were formally trained, e.g. John Coltrane and Liszt.

Does that relate to the idea of mastery – once you reach a certain level, the technique vs. attitude debate does not matter and you transcend that?

Fundamentally yes.

Improvising a dialogue with Scott McGill

When you are in the moment of creativity, what happens?

I find that I lose all sense of time (not timing! :-).  I recall a very special moment working with some friends.  We played for 90 minutes but it seemed like minutes.  It was fantastic.  I felt a real sense of euphoria.  When I am creating I also become hyperfocused, like you can hear everything that is coming next and you have the ability to successfully predict what the other people in the band are about to do.  I think that my senses are very acute in those moments.

Can you teach people that?

Not really.  It has to be learned.

What then is teachable?

The vernacular – the notes, the chords.  How sounds relate to one another.  How things sound against one another.  There’s a lot of syntax and the ability to hear something new.  My teaching is individualised and improvised and a lot rests on the student – which makes teaching music one of the hardest things to industrialise.

What about when people get stuck in improvisation?  Are there things you do to help unblock them?

Listening to the same thing with fresh ears is one approach.  Getting them to listen to new things another.  Sometimes changing the instrument or even the approach to the instrument is effective.  For example by looking at the guitar up and down the neck instead of along the neck may make someone approach the instrument more like a piano or saxophone.

Talking to Bernie Torme and Bill Nelson, I’ve been told that switching instruments is a great idea for creativity e.g. in Bernie’s case to the Sitar.  Bill Nelson says that different instruments force a different attitude from the player.  Do you subscribe to these views?

Absolutely.  The nuances of an instrument matter a great deal.  I’d add the ideas of learning about concepts and then trying that out on an instrument.  So theory for me is a practical tool.

What about the idea that the untrained ear is everything with respect to musical creativity?

An intuitive approach does not exclude formalism and I’ve known and worked with great players in both categories.   The argument “don’t read music or your creativity will be shut off” does not stand up to scrutiny.  I can give you examples on each side of that argument in every case.  I always wanted to read music so that I could grab some sheet music and use the notes in a different way.  It was all about grabbing licks for me.

So, you see a music score as a playground rather than a cage?

Precisely.  I listen to a score and think ‘What could I do with that?”  For example, I’m doing a couple of pieces that have borrowed ideas from Ravel at the moment.

Editor’s note:  For me this is the ‘curiosity’ principle of creative people – see the diagram below.  It also illustrates the skill of what Tom Peters called ‘Creative Swiping’.

Scott Mc Gill with his fretless Vigier guitar

I often discuss the parallel that great musicians and great leaders are what the text books say are emotionally intelligent.  i.e.  That they are masters of their own competence whilst they pay attention to what is going on outside them?

I would tend to agree and that’s why I spend a lot of time getting musicians to listen.   It’s especially important to be able to hear ahead of time what you are doing in an anticipatory way if you are going to master improvisation.

In business, we’d call that a complex adaptive system where there is a great deal of variation going on in an interactive way

It’s exactly the same thing on the bandstand.  I feel you can learn a lot about complexity and improvisation in other fields from music.

What about ‘rules for improvisation’?  I made a programme for The BBC’s In Business series with a comedy improvisation expert who suggested that he uses 3 simple rules for improvisation in comedy.  Do you rely on shared codes when working with others?

Really good improvisation sounds like it isn’t.   It’s a lot like writing where you are developing a character, but you are doing it on the fly, in real time.  I don’t tend to use signals although there are a few of them such as banging your head to signal the need for the band to come back to the motif and using fingers to signal key changes and so on.

You have talked a lot about anticipatory skills and that relates to the idea of leaning into the future in business.  Can you say more on this?

I’m reading a lot about anticipation at the moment – especially the work of K. Anders Erickson.  Erickson discusses how the fastest and most accurate typists are the ones who can quickly anticipate the next move.  His theory of Deliberate Practice has influenced me greatly and I have been lucky enough to have corresponded with him recently.  He’s very brilliant and what he says about focused deliberate practice appeals to me.

Where does innovation come from in music, given that we’re all working with the same 12 intervals? – maybe more in your case as I know you specialize in playing fretless guitars?

I don’t know really. From what I know there are many millions of combinations of the twelve pitches not to mention the inclusion of rhythm, form, timbre, tempo/time, etc. There are always microtones for those who want a different sound other than the twelve standard pitches as well. I do play a Vigier fretless guitar and enjoy it thoroughly. I like the different vibrato and glissando possibilities and the fact that you can shape a note a bit more after striking it that you can with a fretted guitar. It is difficult to play in tune though.

Where can people find out more about you and get hold of your music?

Find me at MYSPACE and Soundcloud for audio examples of my work with my bands Jones McGill DeCarlo and Freakzoid.   For more biographical information go to FLAVOURS ME and Scott McGill. I am reachable on Facebook, Twitter, and have a blog as well.  Here’s another piece:

As the Editor, for me the transferable lessons about excellence are:

  • Use structures AND creativity to achieve mastery in any field.
  • Use anticipatory approaches to stay ahead.  This may involve deep listening to your own performance and that of those around you, whether we are talking about music, business or other fields of endeavour.
  • Adopt an emotionally intelligent approach to working with others, sensing and responding to minimal signals to help change course along the way.