Punk Rock Brexit – Mixing Pop and Politics

“Mixing Pop and Politics, You ask me what the use is

I answer with embarrassment and my usual excuse”

Billy Bragg

Quite simply music reaches people much better than a spreadsheet and I’ll be performing some songs of Rebellion opposite Downing Street tonight Friday 10 March, with the Richmond Terrace Group. The group protest against Theresa May’s “deal or no deal Kamikaze Brexit” every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 pm till 9 pm.

For the occasion, we have re-written Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, OMD’s Enola Gay, Bruno Mars Uptown Funk and The Wild Rover by The Dubliners.  The Wild Rover needed few modifications to turn the story into one I’ve heard many times of late – the tale of a Brexiter who has realised they were ‘played’ by the tabloid press and now wish we could escape Theresa May’s appropriation of “the will of the people” for her own personal gain and a place as The Iron Lady II, when comparisons are at best restricted to fashion and hair styling.

The refrain “Rise up your kilt” may be added to recognise the way that Nicola Sturgeon has consistently supported the EU and for the Irish Prime Minister’s support last night in Brussels

Theresa May’s behaviour does not fit any rational mould and I can only assume her childhood was deprived of love and affection due to privilege ….

Come down and singalong with the “Remoaners” !!  6 pm start and Boris is making an appearance …

It is rumoured that Theresa May will invoke Article 50 on Tuesday once she has savaged her elder and wiser colleagues in The House of Lords once again, in fear of a revolt from her own party and a surprise formation of a credible opposition to an unelected dictatorship.

Join the Facebook group

Find The Richmond Group on Twitter – Use hashtag #No10Vigil

Finally, one of my favourite protest songs from the great Billy Bragg.

What a pity he is not the leader of the opposition – we would not have this mess.

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, delivering exceptional business and organisation development without sex, politics or rock’n’roll. He is also CEO of The Academy of Rock, offering keynotes that blend MBA themes with parallel insights from music, reaching your head, heart and soul. Author of 7 1/2 books on leadership, innovation and creativity. Check them out on Amazon.

 

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An audience with Marc Almond

It was an immense pleasure to attend an audience with Marc Almond hosted by Richard Strange, The Godfather of Punk, in the great company of Rowena Sian Morgan, Musical Geisha and cover girl from The Music of Business.  Marc Almond has been referred to as The Judy Garland of the Garbage Heap, The Acid House Aznavour and Marc Bolan and Juliette Greco’s love child.  Richard Strange helped launch Marc Almond’s career with Soft Cell, featuring him and his work at the wonderfully decadent Cabaret Futura in the 1980’s.  Since then Almond’s career has gone from Electro Pop through French Chansons to Russian Romantic Gypsy ballads and beyond …

Marc Almond with Richard Strange at the original Cabaret Futura

Marc Almond with Richard Strange at the original Cabaret Futura

Here’s some of the highlights of the evening with some transferable lessons for all:

Almond On Critics

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported on one of Soft Cell’s early pieces “This is one of the most nihilistic, depressing pieces I have ever heard”  Whereas most artists would have been destroyed by such feedback, Marc Almond was delighted.  It does not always pay to listen to critics … 

Almond On Developing a Unique Offering

At some point in the early development of Soft Cell, Marc decided that they wanted to be as outrageous as possible.  “This included smearing my naked body with cat food on stage” he said. Soft Cell’s songs were also unusual.  Almond mused

“Dave Ball mainly wrote about household products and the boredom of daily life”

Soft Cell’s name hinted at the core of their identity – both a bitter and sweet quality to the songs.  Soap powder crises and sofa dramas are unlikely topics to get record companies excited.  As a result, their first single “Mutant Moments” was financed by Dave Ball’s mum!   The lesson here is dare to be different!

Marc with Andy Warhol - the embodiment of 'different'

Marc with Andy Warhol – the embodiment of ‘different’

Here’s Almond singing “Tainted Love” to a video of some disk drives playing the piece electronically.  Marc spotted the video a while back and agreed to add a vocal line to the piece.  Quite different:

Almond On Diversity

Marc has continued to pursue an eclectic collection of influences, starting with “Torment and Torreros”, which brought in influences from South America, Turkey, through Jaques Brel to his infatuation with Russian Gypsy ballads:

“They like Russian songs in Russia, they just don’t want Russians singing them!”

Marc’s Russian obsession developed after The British Council adopted him to do a tour of Russia, Siberia and The Baltics.  It sounds such a strange idea that The British Council would do this and it gave me great hope for our “men in grey suits” that they would sponsor such a mission.  Indeed it’s entirely possible that Marc’s appearance in Siberia did more to reform the communist system than Ronnie Reagan and Margaret Thatcher combined!  Value requisite diversity.

The Stars We Are - Marc and Richard Strange at the House of St Barnabas

The Stars We Are – Marc and Richard Strange at the House of St Barnabas

Almond On The Soul Inside

Almond has always sought to get inside the heart of the singer when presenting other people’s material, such as his work with Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Gene Pitney et al. Dig deep to find your soul.

I asked Marc whether his beautiful singing voice had received any training at all and he said that the major contributions to his vocal development were stopping chainsmoking and spending six weeks in Canterbury getting off ‘prescription drugs’.  He did also take some lessons in breathing and projection from two voice coaches later on, but without looking after the basics, this would have been fruitless.

Here’s some pieces that give witness to Almond’s ability to reach inside the artists heart and transmit that to his audiences.  Firstly a piece from his album “Jacques”, dedicated to Jacques Brel, then the Charles Aznavour number “Yesterday When I Was Young”, one of his Russian ballads from “Heart On Snow”, a new piece of electronica entitled “Worship Me Now”, featuring a low budget video inspired by David Bowie and finally a tribute to Don Black via the theme from Thunderball:

Huge thanks to Richard Strange for putting together such an amazing evening and to Rowena for her kindness and good company as always.  Catch us at Cabaret Futura soon.

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Mad about the girl – Rowena Sian Morgan – Music Networking Host extraordinaire and my co-conspirator for the evening – she helped Marc prepare to receive his Ivor Novello Award

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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.

Our bookshelf - On Amazon and available direct from the author by clicking on the picture

Our bookshelf – On Amazon and available direct from the author by clicking on the picture

Something in the air – Holistic Innovation and Creativity

Derek Cheshire and I share something rather special.  We have both tutored for the flagship MBA Creativity, Innovation and Change programme from the Open University Business School, which occupies a space on the shelves of many of the top universities in the world.  Like myself Derek is a specialist creativity and innovation facilitator and consultant.  This puts him in front of senior people from many different cultures and climates and therefore gives him an immensely wide palette of experience and skills to work from in helping companies and organisations to innovate.  Derek kindly agreed to do an exclusive interview.

Tell me about what you do.  

I promote ‘holistic innovation’ i.e. I do not believe that innovation is a methodology or a process. It is a set of attitudes and behaviours that pervades an entire organisation but which has objectives such as capturing, storing and replaying knowledge as well as generating ideas and building upon them.  Ultimately it is about making money (or else we would simply be playing) and ensuring that the organisation is greater than the sum of the parts.

What ‘business innovation demons’ do you want to purge?

The demon that I would like to purge is the idea of the innovation department.  The more entrenched it becomes, the more difficult it seems to be to promote innovative behaviour throughout the rest of the organisation.  If I had enough explosives I would also ban trainers who claim to be able to inject creativity into an organisation by virtue of a simple workshop. Also on my hit list are brainstorming and crowdsourcing as buzz words.

Buzzwords are dangerous because they lull people into a false sense of security. People talk about brainstorming or crowdsourcing without experiencing them or understanding how they can use them. They then make sweeping statements like ‘brainstorming does not work’ when they dismiss creative techniques or more dangerously they hear/read success stories about a particular tool and then enrol their staff on courses. Afterwards they wonder why their new initiatives are not working. When buzzword usage becomes common, staff often convince themselves (or at least managers do) that they are actually doing what they are talking about.

Editor’s note:  At last a consultant with decent ethics.  A rare breed!

What can managers do that is genuinely innovative?

Unless something really extraordinary comes along then innovation is probably only relative. What is every day for Google would be rocket science for the UK Revenue and Customs agency.  Editors note: Strongly agree – see OK Computer.  What managers should do is watch and listen.  Just as an innovative organisation is chameleon like, so they must adapt too.  The list is huge but promoting innovative behaviour in others, ensuring that the workplace permits creative behaviour and banning any structures/meetings/reports which are just there for the benefit of those that cannot tolerate ambiguity.

What do you consider to be the future in creative thinking?  

There are two answers to this 1) what I would like to see 2) what will actually happen.  I would like to see more importance attached to intuition (simply decisions based on knowledge that is not tacit) and also the importance of serendipity.  I have a natural aversion to planning everything to the nth degree, just get stuck in and learn from your mistakes.  What I fear will happen is that the ‘creative movement’ will at last register with the business community in a big way and they will take creativity on board but only in a structured way.  People will be sent on brainstorming or facilitation workshops and creativity will be treated like a repeatable process with little thought to the environment or how to deal with ambiguity etc.

I see that is already happening and confess that on occasion I have signed up to the idea of having ‘rules for creativity’ if that is the only way it can be made to work in a particular setting.  Is structure totally the enemy of creativity for you?

I believe that rigid structure is the enemy of creativity and imposing such structure is often an attempt by those who cannot live with ambiguity to rationalise things and ‘manage’ it in the same way as they might manage more tangible aspects of their organisation. We do however require some guidelines for setting up an appropriate environment, setting objectives and managing expectations, giving staff the right creative tools for the job. Most importantly whatever system we create must permit learning in an organic fashion. What we cannot have is a scenario where people have to put in change requests to change their creative processes.

What part do techniques for creativity and innovation play in your repertoire?  What else matters to generate an innovative enterprise?

Creativity and innovation are tightly linked. I have my own model, the ‘Innovation Equation’ that links such factors as need, desire, resistance, creativity (coming up with ideas) and know how (the stuff we already know).

I = α F (C, K)n

It simply states that Innovation is a function of Creativity and Know-how which is multiplied by a constant alpha and raised to a power n where:

  • Creativity is simply the methods and frameworks that we use to create new ideas and knowledge.
  • Know-how is the things that we already know e.g. company history, libraries, employees skills.
  • Alpha is composed of two components, a desire or need to innovate and resistance. This can make the results negative!
  • The power n is a representation of the maturity level of the frameworks that have been put in place to exploit innovation. This includes culture, leadership & management behaviours. The more we practice, the higher this value can be and hence the more effective our innovation programmes.

Adopting this pseudo equation/model has far reaching consequences, it allows us to home in on the individual components of Innovation and measure them, telling you where money and resources are best targeted for maximum impact.

Innovation output depends heavily on these things. Without creativity and creative techniques we will simply rehash old ideas and without know how we have no context and are replicating a play group rather than a business enterprise.  An appropriate mix is good.

Derek Cheshire may be contacted via his website  Creative4business

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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