A Bowie Tribute

Very short notice for this Bowie Tribute on Monday 29 May … here’s the press release for the event

Brexit Oddity

Painting by Jane Raggett

Ground Control to Theresa May, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong?

David Bowie may have sung ‘Rebel Rebel’, but he could not have possibly have foreseen the impact that his music made on generations young and old. On Monday 29 May 6.00 pm – 8.30 pm, The No 10 Vigil, visit the Thin White Duke’s mural in Brixton for a tribute to The Man who Sold the World and a protest about The Woman who is Selling England by the Pound. Diane Datson, leader of the No 10 Vigil said:

“David Bowie came from my home town of Bromley. He was a great humanist and an earthling. The No 10 Vigil stands for a return of humanity to planet earth and a rejection of the self-harming strategy of Theresa May. Simply stated, we are here to Break Brexit Before Brexit Breaks Britain. In Bowie’s own words, we believe that Brexit is the work of ‘All the Madmen’ and we stand to educate people about Brexit Mayhem”.

The Bowie tribute is the brainchild of Peter Cook, leader of The Academy of Rock, an author, business speaker and musician who was crushed by the loss of Bowie, Prince and George Michael in 2016 amongst too many others.  He appeared on CNN the day that Bowie died, discussing the work of this great innovator and chameleon in music:

“David Bowie stood alongside Prince and George Michael as a great communicator and gamechanger, reaching people’s heads, hearts and souls. It was an impossible task to showcase Bowie’s huge canon of work across nearly 50 years. I was haunted by the last track on Bowie’s last album ‘I can’t give everything away’. Whilst the lyric seems to reflect on his passing, I cannot help but draw a comparison with everything we are about to throw away if we vote for hardcore Brexit on June 8th. In the words of Joni Mitchell You don’t know what you got till it’s gone”

Click to view CNN interview

Peter has performed with cult punk rocker John Otway, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist Bernie Tormé Meatloaf’s singing partner Patti Russo and had a rock band with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member at the Bank of England. He leads the musical direction of the No 10 Downing Street Vigil, which highlights concerns over Brexit at any cost to Leavers and Remoaners alike. Our work is featured on BBC Sunday Politics, The One Show, Breitbart, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, Independent and The Guardian.

Smeared by Breitbart … The No 10 Vigil

Zane, Zane, Zane – Ouvrez Le Chein

It is one year since David Bowie left planet earth and it is indeed blue in the cold of January.  Here are some links that mark Bowie’s extraordinary life:

My Eulogy to Bowie

The BBC documentary – The Last Five Years

Rolling Stone’s obituary

Blackstar

The London Boys by my friends Raf and O

CNN interview

Tony Visconti talks about the making of Heroes

 

bowie

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 1/2 books on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity. Read more about David Bowie on Amazon.

TMOB NEW EDITION COVER

Click on the picture to check the book out

New Year’s Reflections – Princes, Princesses and Starmen

Part I – 2016 Reflections

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

Ida

Prince with Ida Nielsen – Musical Genius x 2

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

Prince on improvisation

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

Battersea Arts Centre - Orpheus

Battersea Arts Centre – Orpheus

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

Paper Cinema's Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

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

Part II – Towards 2017

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

“Break Brexit Before Brexit Breaks Britain”

In business terms, my plans for 2017 include:

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

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

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 1/2 books on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity. Find his current books on Amazon which include cameo articles and insights from Prince and other music giants.

books-x-4

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.

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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.

Glam it up – 3 Business Lessons from Glam Rock

I was kindly invited to go and see a double bill of Glam Rock recently by a client who was grateful for my work – Oddly enough I’d never seen The Sweet and Slade ever before (OK, I know the purists will say that the bands now have a different line up, but it would be difficult to reform The Sweet as 50% have left this mortal coil! )

Sweet FA

But, as always, the real question for me is, are there any business lessons from Glam Rock?  Of course there are:

Branding Lessons from Glam Rock

Style overwhelms substance – Dave Hill of Slade may well not have gotten a job playing guitar in Yes or Be-Bop Deluxe, but undoubtedly Slade win hands down in the ‘branding / image / memory department’, for good or bad.  Unfortunately this lesson does NOT transfer well from the music world to the world of business, where many things are based on ‘needs’ not ‘wants’.  Covering substance up with style does not lead to sustainable competitive advantage in many areas of business unless the ‘substance’ is in fact the ‘style’, such as hairdressing or fashion.

Performance Lessons from Glam Rock

So, where did Glam Rock acts place their emphasis?  In the performance of course.  Slade come on stage as if it’s already over and move on from that point.  Is business a performance?  Well, to some extent it is.  The academic Henry Mintzberg drew parallels between business, theatre and performance and clearly it’s important to make an impact, especially in today’s crowded market.

Slayed

Slayed

HR Lessons from Glam Rock

Glam Rock above all else developed the idea of having separate personalities within the band, to relate to the different fans (customer) needs.  In Slade, Noddy appealed to the guys, Dave Hill the girls and so on.  The Spice Girls took this to the ultimate end point by naming the members to suggest the market segment they were to appeal to – Posh Spice, Sporty Spice etc. Finally, we must go to the main Glam attractions for some soul food:

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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

Orchestrating Creativity and Innovation

I’m presently involved in a project to deliver an innovation summit event for a major company in New York to come up with some big scale ideas to take the business forward.  Obviously I am unable to discuss the company specific details of this, but it is useful to reflect on the design process that will effectively ‘orchestrate’ creativity and innovation across 48 hours.  At the same time, I have been a long term admirer of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies”, recently featured on BBC Radio 4, as they align very much with the suite of creativity strategies and methodologies that I have employed with companies such as Pfizer, Unilever, BT, Electronic Arts, The United Nations et al over 18 years.  Oblique Strategies started life as a series of cards, providing a series of ‘diversions’ to linear thinking, much in the same way that Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking operates.  They are in effect ‘structures for cognitive escapology’ or a set of recipes to help you throw away the ‘recipes’.  Contrary to popular thinking on the topic, creativity and discipline are bedfellows, if you want your ideas to reach the market as innovations.

oblique-strategies-iphone

Oblique Strategies – a set of recipes to help you throw away the ‘recipes’

We won the bid against stiff competition from the brand leader in this field, mainly due to a difference in approach that may be summed up as “best fit” versus “best practice”.  The competition has a superb toolkit of techniques which is superbly branded.  In comparison, our approach is somewhat more eclectic, picking the “best fit” approach from a pandora’s box of approaches, gained through studying and teaching at MBA level for 18 years plus 18 years in the pharma industry formulating life saving drugs, which involves navigating difficult physical chemistry constraints.  In essence, creativity has been part of my DNA since I first decided I wanted to be a scientist at around the age of 9.   The ‘burden’ of this experience is that I’m all too aware that formulaic approaches to creativity rarely work.  As a consequence, our approach to the topic is a harder purchase as it does not promise the allure of  “instant solutions”.  Instead it considers the needs of the topic under scrutiny and the people attending before leaping to the approach to be adopted.  Anyway, enough self-preening!  I’m delighted to have won this bid, which will bring together members of our network from Yorkshire, Canada and my associate corporate artist, who will capture insights live at the summit, using cartoons and rich pictures.

Oblique Strategies are effectively a way of ‘orchestrating creativity and innovation’, by systematically diverging and converging a problem.  Eno used the Oblique Strategy cards extensively with David Bowie in his trilogy of experimental albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger.  In a similar way I tend to design creativity and innovation sessions to systematically move the client through the different phases required to formulate an idea, develop it, challenge it with real life constraints and devise a robust execution plan.  This is quite different than turning up with a flip chart, the ‘rules’ for brainstorming and a bucket full of hope – one of the fatally flawed beliefs of the ‘let it all hang out’ creativity pundits imho.

So, what have oblique strategies got to do with corporate creativity?  Here’s some of the statements from the Oblique Strategy cards with parallel lessons for creativity and innovation facilitators:

1. State the problem in words as clearly as possible

The key move when facilitating a summit of this nature is to get a clear definition of the topic under investigation.  Contrary to what most people think, unfocused brainstorming produces unfocused ideas, most of which are unlikely to convert to innovations.  That said, a suitable problem must have sufficient ‘space’ within it to allow for divergent thinking.  It’s what I call ‘specifically vague’.  For more on this check out Human Dynamics and ‘wicked problems’.  Time spent defining and redefining the problem is time well spent and can on occasions lead to answers.  You will also enjoy the post on The Centre for Management Creativity re complexity and creativity.

2. Try faking it!  

Many good creativity strategies have as their subtext the use of fantasy and projection as their modus operandi, for example Superheroes, Synectics, Dialectical approaches.

3. Honour thy error as a hidden intention

Some creativity methodologies have as their subtext, the introduction of random ‘errors’ as a means of distorting frames of thinking.  For example, a range of approaches based on force fitting unrelated stimuli into the problem operate on this basis.  As well as deliberate errors introduced by such approaches, it is important to celebrate accidental errors as new ways of finding an answer to a complex problem.

4. Work at a different speed

Eno’s curious advice has some rigour in terms of the background thinking behind it.  When we change speed, we think differently.  Sometimes slow reflection is more productive than quickfire creativity and pace is one of my key  principles when designing creativity and innovation events.

Oblique Strategies

For me, Eno’s principles have direct analogues in the professional problem solver’s toolkit.  Let’s finish by hearing a couple of the products of the Oblique Strategies toolkit:

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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

Waiting for the great leap forwards

Art, Empire and Industry - Rowena Sian Morgan on the photoshoot for the cover of The Music of Business

Art, Empire and Industry – Rowena Sian Morgan of BASCA on the photoshoot for the cover of The Music of Business – just before we were asked to leave the scene by security guards …

We stand just 72 hours away from the launch of my new book “The Music of Business”. The book is available to buy at AMAZON. Signed copies directly from the book WEBPAGE. On 31 1 13, the book will be on special offer for the day.

To preview the book, this week I’m taking a break from my regular blogging content. Instead I’ve just selected some cool videos from some of the artists who feature in the book.  Normal service will be resumed soon and I will stop being over excited! 🙂

Gaga controls the music business and is Queen of Social Media marketing.

I grew up on the Beatles, having blown my ear drums out screaming to Twist and Shout when I was 5 years old with an orange plastic Beatles guitar.  This was the beginning of my 1st love and perhaps was the 1st inspiration for the book, swiftly followed by Jimi Hendrix.

AC / DC are a miracle in making a ‘formula’ work over nearly 40 years.  Most of us have to flex and bend in order to stay alive.

Madonna is a reinvention guru.  What made her that way?  Read all about it in The Music of Business.

The best day of 2012 was the moment when I performed on stage with Bernie Tormé.  Can business be this fun?  Yes it can!  We offer 24 hour strategy retreats that synthesise business excellence with the power of music.

 

Scott McGill – a virtuoso jazz fusion musician and teacher gives valuable lessons in ‘musical escapology’ with important parallels for business creativity.

Richard Strange – Quoted as “The Godfather of Punk” by Johnny Rotten explores the dark side of creativity and innovation.  If you are in London and wish to meet up, I often attend Richard’s alternative mixed media event Cabaret Futura.

Bill Nelson offers us lessons in principled leadership and reinvention in The Music of Business.  Check this music master’s work out at Bill Nelson.

Ch, ch, ch, changes from the Thin White Duke, who has shape shifted many times over 40 years, keeping his audience.  His latest work sees him turn full circle back to a reflective style that won him fans 40 years ago, but with a post-modern edge to it.

And of course, the title of this blog from the Bard of Barking – what a great wordsmith:

Hoping your week rocks!  Please spread the word about the book launch on 31 1 13 on social media, e-mail, carrier pigeon and any other mode of communication.  Thank you for all your encouragement and supports, which have been pivotal in completing this project.

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:

Metal Guru – Marc Bolan

You won’t fool the Children of the Revolution …

I’m meeting up with Lesley Ann-Jones soon, Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan’s biographer.  This caused me to write some personal reflections on Marc Bolan, who influenced my life and music hugely.

Bolan arrived on the music scene for me at the impressionable age of 14.  In the midst of Slade, Bowie, Mud, Gary Glitter, Alice Cooper et al, he stood out as being a very gentle soul, although legend has it that he was a very determined character, having once knocked on the door of Simon Napier-Bell and said he was going to be a big star, which got him started on the road to his first big hit:

For someone with a big ego, Bolan was generous of spirit, collaborating with David Bowie, Jeff Lynne, Elton John and many others.  He also had an obsessive, relentless streak in him yet everybody he dealt with loved him.  He even turned his back on the mighty John Peel, who felt that Bolan had sold out when he went electric in order to win fame.  This is single-mindedness indeed, but Bolan was very progressive about his music, wanting to move on from the hippy sound that Tyrannosaurus Rex represented.  An object lesson in reinvention.  Sometimes you leave people behind when you change what you do.

In psychometric type terms, Marc Bolan is thought to share my own Myers Briggs type of ENTP.  Might that explain why I was so drawn to him?  Reckoned to be about 2.5% of the population (a rare breed as there are 16 types which would make the average around 6%), ENTP’s are described as clever, usually verbally as well as cerebrally quick, with a love of argument. They tend have a perverse sense of humour and tend towards innovative approaches.  ENTPs do not suffer fools gladly.  In general, however, they are genial, even charming, when not being harassed by life.  This seems to describe Bolan to a tee.  Sometime who was not trapped by the past although there are echoes of his heroes:  Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry in his music.

Bolan’s lyrics were always playful and a great source of fascination for me. Witness these taken from “Ballrooms of Mars” from the T.REX “Slider” album:

“You dance With your lizard leather boots on
And pull the strings That change the faces of men
You diamond browed hag You’re a gutter-gaunt gangster
John Lennon knows your name And I’ve seen his”

At one level of abstraction completely meaningless, yet along with the song, they establish a poetic connection with the listener.

What can we take away from Marc Bolan’s example?

  • Be focused, but gracious to those around you at the same time
  • If you want to innovate in a discipline, respect the past but do not become trapped by it
  • Play is essential if you are to be creative
  • If you change what you do, be prepared to lose some of your followers

And what would you add?  Post your thoughts on the blog.

Let’s finish with one of Marc’s great songs, Hot Love, which we gave a Country and Western makeover to last Saturday night:

Hot Glove – T.REX gets the Country and Western treatment

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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

The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange – PART TWO

Richard Strange gets ready to execute Kevin Costner

What’s the link between Harry Potter, Jarvis Cocker, Twiggy and Robin Hood?  Richard Strange of course!  Quoted by Johnny Rotten on the BBC’s ‘Punk Olympia’ as the man who invented punk, author, academic, Robin Hood’s executioner and the man who ate Harry Potter…  This is part two of the interview with Richard on creativity and innovation parallels from art, empire and industry. Read part one at Strangeways here we come.

The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange

PC : I read a review of the album ‘The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange’ and it said it was the greatest concept album ever made.  How did the concept for the album come about?

RS : When the Doctors finished in 1978 I’d already started to have the idea for the album.  The Phenomenal Rise describes a figure who wanted to play the system just because he could, not because he wanted to achieve power.  A cerebral pursuit.  He was someone who had learned the tricks of Rock’n’Roll, self-promotion and advertising.  Quite cynically, but also because it was a game, he wanted to see just how far he could take it.  Because he did not want the material trappings of power, he knew he could give everything away, all the stuff that people would obviously want from it.  He had just started to put his strategies into place when the system turned against him.

The character in the album was a glamorous figure, a little bit like a rock’n’roll Ronald Reagan, way before Tony Blair.  This idea of using techniques from show business but applying them to the acquisition of political power, in the same way that the Nazis did, held a great appeal to me at the time.  Perhaps it was influenced by some films I watched at the time by Francesco Rosi, the Italian director of films like The Mattei Affair and Illustrious Corpses.  These films concerned corruption, power, the way that the system is bent and skewed and so on.

The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange starts with kidnappings, bombs, terrorism, civil unrest and so on – a great backdrop! By appealing to the Hearts and Minds, He gets power (Magic Man).   Like all futurologists I got that bit wrong – I thought that technology would give us more time.  The reverse of this is of course true! 🙂  The press turns against him as he starts to dismantle the system that put him in power (Gutterpress).  His wife kills herself (International Language).  He sees his death coming (Premonition).  We think he has been kidnapped although it might all be an elaborate hoax to stage his own demise (The road to the room).  Finally, there is a kind of ‘My Way’ – a classic torch song at the end (I won’t run away), although I wanted to end it with a question mark.  The whole album has a cinematic feel, which sets it apart from most rock albums.

PC : How did the music industry respond to this?

RS : The Doctors of Madness finished on a real low point.  We self-imploded, blown away by the punk rock that we had helped bring into existence.  The Sex Pistols supported us.  The Damned supported us and so on.  I spent a couple of years writing the Phenomenal Rise and noticed there has been a shift in what people were saying about the Doctors of Madness.  Then I went off to the US and Canada touring the Phenomenal Rise with just a Revox Tape Recorder and a guitar and realized I never wanted to play a rock club again. It was liberating.

Like a virgin – Intuition + experience

The experience of touring without a rock band is how I came up with the idea of Cabaret Futura, a mixed media club with performance artists, poetry, short films and so on. I opened in December 1980 in Soho. The very first thing that happened to you as you entered the club was different as you were greeted by a large python, which was the pet snake of the receptionist.  Cabaret Futura became a big hit, ahead of time from the new romantic clubs of the 80’s like The Blitz and after punk had more or less extinguished itself.  We started to have bands coming through that were a little more art school.  The negativity and destructiveness of punk rock had given way to a slightly softer more creative feel.  We’d get people like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, The Human League, Echo and the Bunnymen, Spandau Ballet, Richard Jobson and so on.  Richard Branson became very interested in signing me to Virgin.  We arrived on Richard’s boat in Little Venice with a copy of the album on cassette. He loved the first track and made me an initial offer of £54 000 for the album.  I declined.  He loved track 2 and came back with £58 000.  Track three did not go down so well – £42 000, but I thought he would like the final track and the offer back to £54 000 – I thought I’d better accept at this point!  They were also signing bands like Simple Minds, The Human League, Japan, Culture Club, Heaven 17 – bands that were much easier to market with good haircuts.  The Phenomenal Rise referenced Edith Piaf, Bertolt Brecht, Jacques Brel, electric disco and so on – much more difficult to market.

Overall, I’d say that record companies did not, and do not, offer much help to artists who wanted to break away from accepted music paradigms.  Added to that I was always able to assist in my own inimitable way! 🙂  For example, I opened the Manchester Virgin Megastore launch event on my back in a comatose position and ended up in a worse state.  Record companies don’t always understand such things! 🙂

No Limits – Stone Age Innovation

Innovation is just banging two existing rocks together and seeing what spark is produced.

PC : What should the record industry do now?  Is it the engine room of its own innovation or destruction?

RS : The idea of the pop star as we understood it, like the Stones, David Bowie and Madonna is over.  Rock music is now just a series of reprised poses and posturing. It is impossible to hold a guitar without referencing Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend or Keith Richard. It really has ALL BEEN DONE.  And that’s tragic for our kids.  What chance do they have except as purveyors of pastiche?

Music has become more disparate.  Malcolm McLaren said “We live in a pick and mix culture, where everyone wants a bit of this and a bit of that.”  Malcolm got a lot of things wrong, but I think he got this one right.  It was much easier to target stuff.  Now, there is just so much stuff and it is all much more bespoke.  The democratisation of music has made it possible for everyone to put make their own music and sell it, but the chances of anyone finding it on their own without a distribution or advertising machine is limited.  For example, I’ve got a 19 year old student with a lovely voice who sings cover versions – she has had 500 000 hits on youtube by using search engines and so on.  If that had happened in the world before social media she would have had a number one hit for many weeks in the UK, but she is still nowhere in terms of profile.

It would be clinically insane to predict where social media will be in five years time.  Everyone assumes it will get bigger and bigger but who knows. No one saw it coming ten years ago., so who can say where it’s going?

Mark Zuckerberg has said that the writing of computer code should be compulsory at school.  Spoken language has been round for hundreds of years. Computer language for maybe 50 years.   The horse and cart has been around for longer than the motor car, but who would say that the horse and cart is the future?  None of us know – all we can do is extrapolate from a few signifiers.  But in all probability computing is an important development.

Pop will eat itself? – Will music be it’s own enema?

PC : Music now can be considered to be the mixing of genres.  In some cases what emerges is sublime.  In other cases, something else comes out.  How do you see the thin slicing of genres, which is probably a marketing invention.

RS : I think musical genres are a total marketing invention.  All music is mongrel.  The Beatles rehashed a bit of Country and Western, a bit of old Rock’n’Roll and a bit of Tamla Motown and came up with Merseybeat.  The Stones did the blues – Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry.  What were Oasis except the Sex Beatles? – a bit of attitude from here, a bit of melody etc.  What was Paul Weller ever apart from an accretion of influences?  David Bowie was Lou Reed, Scott Walker, Anthony Newley, Iggy Pop, Jacques Brel and Lindsay Kemp. But the SUM of those parts, those existing elements, was something we would call “original”.

There is no innovation in music, it’s all recombinant DNA.  It is just banging two existing rocks together and seeing what spark is produced.

In the afterglow – Strange views on the future

PC : What are you doing currently to pull art, empire and industry by the nose?

RS : I’ve always liked mixing up genres as a means of developing new stuff.  I host a monthly live chat show in Soho, called “A Mighty Big If”, with guests from the worlds of music, theatre, literature, comedy, art and film to come for an informal chat and to answer questions from members of the audience, plus some live performance.

I’ve been approached by Don Boyd, a film producer who did the Derek Jarman and Sex Pistols movies and so on.   After being on the receiving end of some shabby behavior by some TV commissioning editors a few years ago, he decided to set up an online arts streaming channel, HiBROW TV.  What he got crucially and uniquely right was to have practicing artists commission the actual work to be shown.  So, he has a number of curators, not broadcasters, not suits upstairs, not counting budgets etc. deciding what to commission.  There’s Gary Kemp, myself, Gavin Turk, Sir Richard Eyre, Mike Figgis, ARTISTS who decide what is worth commissioning – We then get a film crew and go and film it.  Because we don’t have to put it through committees etc. and leave it too late, it remains fresh and innovative, before all the life has been drained out of it.  If you can get a camera into the rehearsal room in the second week of rehearsal, that’s where all the creative stuff is done.   I know this, having been in a lot of plays.  By the 2nd night of performance, the play is dead.  You’ve done all the interesting work in the rehearsal room….and all you are doing in the theatre is rehashing it again and again and again.

I’ve also worked with Marianne Faithful on the Tom Waits / William Burroughs / Robert Wilson collaboration The Black Rider, performing in theatres in London, San Francisco, Sydney and Los Angeles.  It’s a Faustian story with Tom Waits writing the music, William Burroughs wrote the book and Marianne Faithful playing the devil.  Absolute precision was required down to the last detail.  I came out of that experience to work with Harmony Korine on a film called Mr Lonely.  Harmony’s way of working is to use improvisation.  We were cast as impersonators living in a retirement home for impersonators up in the highlands.  I was Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplain, Three Stooges, James Dean and so on.  He says, “This scene is where Michael Jackson brings Marilyn Monroe back for the first time.  I want you all to be discussing a barbecue / picnic”.  So, we work out this scene.  Just before we start shooting, Harmony comes up to me, whispers in my ear and says “I don’t want you to do any of that.  I want you to talk about taking acid in Vietnam”. Then he shouts, “action!” and waits for the fun to start!  So creativity is often what happens off the stage.

PC : An implication for businesses interested in innovation is to find out what is ‘off stage’ and nurture it without trying to mainline it?

RS :  Yep. See what is happening on the street, in the clubs, listen to what is getting people excited.  Be prepared to ditch your preconceptions about “The Next Big Thing”.  You will nearly always get it wrong.

Kiss Hello Tomorrow – Strange but wise advice for innovators

Richard concluded by reminding us 3 pieces of advice to the aspiring artist trying to carve out an innovative niche for themselves.

1. Always carry a notebook

2. Be prepared to kill your babies

3. Never underestimate the power of charm

More at Richard Strange’s website  Check him out in person by attending Cabaret Futura or a Mighty Big If in London.  All details on the website.

The Great Strange