Listen Without Prejudice – George Michael R.I.P.

I confess I had eschewed white soul music in the early 1980’s, due to being young and too focused on guitars and experimental synthesiser music. I therefore missed the arrival of Wham on the music scene. Sure, I was aware of their music, but carelessly dismissed it as bubblegum pop. Even their studio engineer Chris Porter initially saw Wham as just a teen band. It took a six-week business trip to Jakarta in 1983 and a long weekend in Bali to begin to understand the genius of George Michael. Sitting in a bar in Kuta drinking Emu lager and listening to “Wham Rap”, “Ray of Sunshine” and “Club Tropicana” on almost continual repeat in the bars was enough to hook me. Enough has already been written in the British Tabloid press about the sensational aspects of George Michael’s life and, to be frank, none of it interests me. The real point of an artist’s life is their artistry and it is to this that I am turning in this article.

My first surprise was George Michael’s personal transformation from disco diva to a world acclaimed soul and ballad singer, something which I should have spotted through my close encounter with Wham in Bali but which I somehow missed when his voice was bubble-wrapped in plastic pop music. I first paid attention to Michael’s voice when he produced “A Different Corner”, the beginning of a shift that would take several years to ferment and which was finally consolidated in 1990 when he released “Listen Without Prejudice”, an album whose title seemed for me to cut the ties with pure pop music and which elevated him to an international superstar. Michael refused to have his picture on the album in a principled decision to present the music and not the man.

What is also quite surprising about George Michael is just how his career was built on relatively few music releases.  After the fast and furious output of Wham, Michael only released 5 studio albums in 30 years, even less than that of the perfectionist Kate Bush. This is in contrast with David Bowie, with 27 albums over an extended period and in extreme contrast with Prince, with 39 studio albums and, reputedly with a vault of unreleased material that could last a generation. Notwithstanding court battles with record companies, it seems that George Michael would spend years working on an album until he was satisfied with it.

George Michael offered us object lessons in authenticity and ethics in his work to help educate the world about HIV / AIDS and his humanitarian work in general. A hallmark of great leaders is their ability to retain a sense of who they are by “touching the ground” from time to time. George Michael did this many times, through his private philanthropy, much of which remained a secret until his passing. I was passionately interested in HIV / AIDS through my work as a pharmaceutical scientist in bringing the first treatment to market in record time. Had we known more about this terrible condition earlier, we might still have had Freddie Mercury here today. Aside from his humanitarian work, George Michael was one of the few singers able to step into Mercury’s shoes vocally and in terms of his performance at Freddie’s tribute concert, as is evident in this performance:

The wider music world also recognised Michael’s vocal talents, having performed with Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Ray Charles, Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston and many more. Frank Sinatra even wrote him a letter advising him not to waste his talent.

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At a personal level, the Wham T-Shirt “Choose Life” made as big an impact upon me as any MBA course and eventually informed my decision to leave a very well-paid job and start my own business some 23 years ago. For that phrase alone, I shall be eternally grateful to George Michael.

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At a global level 2016 unleashed so many disruptive forces in the world and George’s words express my hopes for 2017 better than anyone else:

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate

Hanging on to hope

When there is no hope to speak of

And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late

Well maybe we should all be praying for time

George Michael 1963-2016 – You have been loved

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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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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

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SAS Band UK Tour with Patti Russo and a cast of stars

I had the great pleasure of seeing Patti Russo in Tunbridge Wells and then again in Guildford, as part of her UK Tour, with The SAS Band. SAS (Spike’s All Stars) is the brainchild of Spike Edney, who plays keyboards and is Musical Director for Queen. On Sunday’s bill are Graham Gouldman (10CC), who wrote a string of hits including “Bus Stop” for The Hollies, Mel C of the Spice Girls, Cheryl Baker (Bucks Fizz) and Madeline Bell (Blue Mink). Last night in Guildford we were blessed with Kiki Dee, Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Queen’s Roger Taylor. With a band of professionals to die for, The SAS Band must be seen on tour this week in the UK. They rarely play public gigs so check the dates below and don’t miss out.

THIS Tuesday 8th December – Portsmouth Guildhall

Saturday 12th December – Pavillion Hall, Buxton – Patti Russo solo

Patti Rocks

Patti Rocks – Photography Albert van de Werfhorst

Jamie Moses

With Jamie Moses at the after party at Guildford’s G Live – a smashing venue where you can actually see a band perform for a change

I first met Spike perhaps 10 years ago at the ancient village of Chiddingfold in Surrey, after my sister Sheila invited me to the gig. It turned out that Sheila’s sister in law used to do Spike’s book-keeping and I went along not really knowing this. I remember meeting him afterwards backstage and having no idea who he was! 🙂 oops ! Spike organises a complex and extremely professional show, having brought together a great list of talents over the years from Cozy Powell, Brian May, Leona Lewis, Jeff Beck, Toyah Wilcox, Fish, Annie Lennox – the list goes on and on. Perhaps this is not that surprising as he is Queen’s Musical Director and his skill at bringing explosive talents together is unrivalled. A rare skill.

Mel C - smashed it

Mel C – smashed it with One Vision  – Photograph Nicole Falter

Everyone is on top form. Madeline Bell was simply fabulous at 73 years young, doing a sublime version of “I heard it on the Grapevine” alongside other classics. We met at both aftershows and I must say what a great bundle of joy she is. The surprise of the night at Tunbridge Wells was Cheryl Baker who performed a superb version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. Graham Gouldman of 10CC delivered with ease some of the many hits he wrote “For Your Love”, “Dreadlock Holiday”, “Rubber Bullets” etc. Mel C surprised with a great version of “One Vision” alongside the Spice Girls classic “Too Much” – it’s rare to write a Christmas hit that is not cheesy and this is one of the few. Spike led one of their legendary mashups of 29 classic riffs, beautifully arranged into one seamless whole with guitar supremo Jamie Moses and the band.

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The best dressing room in the world – with Kiki Dee, Patti Russo, Susie Webb, Zoe Nicholas and Madeline Bell – photo by Susie Webb

At Guildford, Kiki Dee does a superb duet on “Don’t go breaking my heart” and “I got the music in me” and a new Queen song, showing artists half her age how it’s done. I was smitten the first time I heard “Amoureuse” as a pale youth of 15 years old and still have the records to this day. Queen’s Roger Taylor smashed it with “Radio Gaga” and a brilliant “Voodoo Chile” amongst other pieces.

A soul legend - Madeline Bell - more than ever we need a great big melting pot now

A soul legend – Madeline Bell – more than ever we need a great big melting pot now and I’m voting Madeline for Queen

Of course I particularly enjoyed Patti Russo’s performances, having had the honour of working with Patti a couple of times myself. She performed her new release “When it Comes to Love” amongst many other favourites and a jaw dropping version of “Uptown Funk”, which puts Mark Ronson in the shade. Last night’s show finished with a superb version of “Imagine” – a song with a timeless message for our age.

Contact us at The Academy of Rock to discuss corporate events with Patti, from New York to London to Milan and anywhere besides.

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Load up, load up with Rubber Bullets – with Graham Gouldman, Mick Wilson and Jamie Moses – photo by Nicole Falter

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Riffology – Frankenstein Lives – with Spike Edney and Jamie Moses – Photography Albert van de Werfhorst

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics. Check our books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”, “Punk Rock HR” and The Music of Business” out on Amazon. Great Christmas gifts!! His new book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” is available to order at Bloomsbury.

Books x 4

Sheila E – Musical Director, Sex Cymbal

 

The Leader of the Band - It was pure pleasure and a private joy to talk with Ms Escovedo

The Leader of the Band – It was pure pleasure and a private joy to talk with Ms Escovedo

I interviewed Sheila E just recently on her world tour. Sheila Escovedo is a world-class drummer, percussionist whose credits read like chapters in a music history book: Pete Escovedo, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Ringo Star, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan and George Duke.

Having been Prince’s musical director, I was interested in Sheila’s ability to lead teams of musical giants amongst the many things we talked about. Have a look at the interview below. Although we had been given a total of 10 minutes to set up and conduct the interview, Sheila was extremely generous with her time given her schedule giving us a full half hour of her time – something she really did not have to do, given her schedule. I am so grateful to her for taking time out to give us insights into her work as a leader among giants. An even greater private joy was when I discovered that Sheila recognised my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll“. I gave a copy to Prince in 2007.

A Love Bizarre – Our film interview with Sheila E from ME1TV

Leadership lessons from Sheila Escovedo

Time and Timing : The musicians at the back of the stage are vital to the success of the musicians at the front of the stage. A great rhythm section makes the difference to peak performance. Time and Timing are essential and this is as true in business and life as it is in music.

Fans and Followers : The importance of playing to the people at the back of the hall as well as those at the front. This point is directly transferable to all walks of life in terms of reaching the customers who are fans and those who are maybe less fanatical.

True professionalism : True professionals in music are great at what they do, but they are also punctual and organised. Sheila learned this point from her father Pete. You may be the greatest technician in the world as a business leader, but if you are late for a meeting, your technical skills count for nothing. If one person is 10 minutes late at a meeting with six others present, a whole hour has been wasted.

As a Musical Director, Sheila emphasises the importance of treating everyone in the band with respect if you are to get the best out of the whole team. This of course includes the support team in a musical performance. I watched in awe as Sheila patiently put the band through it’s paces, talking to sound engineers to make sure the whole team were involved in the success of the enterprise. This rare glimpse into the secret life of a leader was a true masterclass on meticulous preparation in itself.

Down in the hood – with some of Sheila’s admirers at The Brooklyn Bowl – picture credit Marcus Docherty  – Click on the picture to go to Sheila E’s website

Creativity and incubation : Sheila talked of the value of incubation in turning embryonic ideas into polished jewels. It’s a principle identified by Wallas in 1926, which I’m currently writing about in my Bloomsbury book, but forgotten by all but true creativity professionals.

Learning from family members : Sheila pointed out how she had learned intuitively from her father, just by listening intently and then mirroring the patterns, he played without ever having a formal music lesson. It’s a point I resonated strongly with and here’s the post on what I learned from my father : Dear Dad.

Song for my father – Sheila performing with Pete Escovedo and my old Dad as a young man around 1920 – click on the bicycle to read the article on my father 

Learning from giants : Paraphrasing Sheila when she was talking about learning from musical innovator and mentor George Duke:

“We just closed our eyes and listened – we didn’t even know where the ‘one’ was”

Sheila E’s new book is called The Beat of my own Drum. Check out her recent album Icon and her new club, The E Spot.

Sheila’s work in schools, bringing the joy of music to underprivileged children and her community project Elevate Oakland.

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Our new book on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity is scheduled for 2016 release with Bloomsbury.

In the meantime, do order your copy of the NEW edition of “The Music of Business” – Parallel lessons on Business and Music.

Death Cheaters – Wilko Johnson

Here’s the interview we did for ME1 TV with the legend that is Wilko Johnson. Pure delight:

Underwater, Underground, Underrated

John Peter Wilkinson was born on Canvey Island in 1947, more or less opposite me, separated by the river Thames. Canvey Island is below sea level, a fact which Wilko discovered in 1953 when the island flooded. Wilko was just 6 years old when Canvey was “twinned” with Muddy Waters and likes to think that it informed his life as a submariner subsequently.

A life on the ocean wave - The Canvey Island flood of 1953

A life on the ocean wave – The Canvey Island flood of 1953

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As the crow flies, Canvey Island is 10 miles from my home in Kent

Hippies, Teachers and Pirates 

Wilko’s early days were spent travelling in Goa, Afghanistan and Nepal on the late 1960’s / early 1970’s hippy trail. On his return his mum got him a job as an English teacher at a local school, a job which lasted a year before his interests took him elsewhere. He had bought a Fender Telecaster guitar for £90 in 1965 having been hugely influenced by the simultaneous rhythm and lead guitar style of Mick Green from Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, which he claims is at the root of his own unique style or “USP” as we say in business.

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Sprung into action

Wilko still uses his trademark Vox red curly guitar leads which propel him back and forth across the stage like some kind of whirling dervish on a spring. Just take a look at this great film with Roger Daltrey to see Mr Johnson spring loaded and dangerous.

Death Eaters

Wilko has carved out something of a niche for himself, in common with my friend Richard Strange. In Wilko’s case, he found his centre as a mute executioner in Game of Thrones. Richard’s niche seems to involve anything where he wears a hood, having been Kevin Costner’s executioner and ‘ate’ Harry Potter as a death eater!  Wilko comments on his acting career from Oil City Confidential to Ser Ilyn Payne:

“They wanted somebody really sinister who went around looking daggers at people before killing them. That made it easy. Looking daggers at people is what I do all the time, it’s like second nature to me”

Death Eaters - Wilko Johnson in Game of Thrones and Richard Strange in Harry Potter

Death Eaters – Wilko Johnson in Game of Thrones and Richard Strange in Harry Potter

Death Cheaters – Down to the Doctors

In 2013, Wilko was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given just 9 months to live. He refused to take any treatment for his condition and embarked on a final tour. About a year later one of his fans who was also a cancer specialist heard a radio interview and thought that Wilko should indeed have been dead by this time. He got in touch with Wilko, suggesting that he may have a more treatable form of the cancer. Wilko agreed to undergo an operation with an uncertain outcome to remove the tumour which by then weighed 3 kilos and declared himself cancer free in October 2014. As a result Wilko is somewhat shell shocked by the news that he is not about to die and having to reconsider what he now does next. I recall a similar situation with a school friend who has also cheated death. One thing is sure – Wilko will be making some more music and hopefully putting in some appearances at The Railway Hotel in Southend where he is immortalised on the sign.

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Sign O’ The Times – The Sign of The Railway Hotel in Southend where Wilko occasionally performs.

Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey's recent album - click to view on Amazon

Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey’s recent album – click to buy on Amazon

I had the great privilege of performing with Wilko Johnson and Norman Watt Roy down in Kent some years ago. Also the more dubious honour of escorting him through French customs with John Otway, dressed as a nurse! My copy of “Stupidity” plays on the turntable as I write this. Long live Wilko Johnson!

He does it right - Wilko shares his secrets on my battered and slightly out of tune Hofner Futurama - my first guitar - £10 from the insurance man

He does it right – Wilko shares his secrets on my battered and slightly out of tune Hofner Futurama – my first guitar – £10 from the insurance man

“You take John Otway though customs and I’ll handle Wilko – after all I’m a nurse”

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Peter Cook offers keynotes and longer masterclasses that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock  Come along to our next showcase event with Harry Potter’s “Death Eater”, Mr Richard Strange on Tuesday June 9th in Kent – Tickets are selling fast at Punk Rock Biz so pick yours up now

A Love Bizarre – Interviewing Sheila E

Sheila E

A Love Bizarre – Some days at work just don’t get any better

Can the end of a week in business get any better than this?  We just interviewed Sheila E. Sheila Escovedo is a world-class drummer and percussionist whose credits read like chapters in a music history book: Ringo Starr. Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan and George Duke.

It was quite clear to me that rhythm is genetically imprinted into Sheila’s DNA and her family who performed with Carlos Santana amongst others. It was a pure delight to talk with Sheila. Amongst the many things we discussed were:

  • The central part that the musicians at the back of the stage play in making sure the music reaches everyone and the people at the front of the stage look even better.
  • The role of a musical director in bringing balance to a musical ensemble. Sheila acted as Musical Director for Prince – that’s no mean feat!
  • How creativity works in music and how to get better at what you do through embracing the rich diversity of your chosen artform.
  • Sheila’s collaborations with her father, George Duke and many others.
  • Sheila’s book The Beat of my own Drum, her recent album Icon and her new club, The E Spot
  • Sheila’s work in schools, bringing the joy of music to underprivileged children and her community project Elevate Oakland.
  • The importance of incubation for creativity, sometimes over long timescales.

Take a look at the full report and the exclusive film interview over at our Linkedin Page.

Who said girls can't play the drums?

Who said girls can’t play the drums? Click on the picture for the book

The concert at The Brooklyn Bowl was superb and it was a great pleasure to get past the ‘facebook pages’ and actually meet the organiser of the Purple Army group Pippa Roberts and the woman that has given them so much assistance Debbie Poli.

Some of Sheila' supporters from The Purple Army

Some of Sheila’s supporters from The Purple Army – photo credit Marcus Docherty

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Sheila E and Eddie M burning down the house – Photo Credit Leena Khanna

Sex Cymbal - at the Brooklyn Bowl

Sex Cymbal – at the Brooklyn Bowl

For now, just take a look at some of Sheila’s video output:

And for some more on the importance of rhythm in music, business and life, see our interview with Chris Slade of AC DC.  I was delighted to present Sheila with a copy of my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”, even more delighted when she said she had seen and heard of it before!  Next week, I’m taking the BBC’s Robert Peston for a meeting with Mr George Clinton, so I’m expecting another masterclass in creativity from the Godfather of Funk.

The Leader of the Band - It was pure pleasure and a private joy to talk with Ms Escovedo

The Leader of the Band – It was pure pleasure and a private joy to talk with Ms Escovedo

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Our new book on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity is scheduled for 2016 release.

In the meantime, do order your copy of the NEW edition of “The Music of Business” – Parallel lessons on Business from Music.

Come to our showcase event June 9th, featuring The Godfather of Punk, Richard Strange.