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

Engineering Bohemian Rhapsody

Here is our 1:1 interview with Barry Ainsworth, the man who engineered Bohemian Rhapsody as well as records for people as diverse as Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, The Kinks, Rush, Deep Purple, Toyah, Yes, Jack Bruce, Hawkwind, Sooty !! and a very long list of music acts from the 1960’s and 70’s. Filmed and produced by Rory Gill, freelance film maker. Barry and I are available to give talks on aspects of working with precocious talents and extracting their genius with transferrable lessons for businesses who are interested in innovation and creativity.

Some of the artists Barry has produced

Just some of the artists Barry has produced … from Otis Redding “Dock of the Bay” to Deep Purple, Nancy Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Petula Clark etc.

To whet your appetite, in this film you will learn about:

  • Working in Liverpool’s Cavern – birthplace of The Beatles
  • Working with Frank and Nancy Sinatra
  • Dealing with Monsters of Rock – Deep Purple, Cream
  • Working with incendiary people – Lemmy, Punk Rock
  • Innovation in music recording and production
  • Working with Queen and dealing with perfectionists

So, please view the film, comment and share it widely.

Barry Ainsworth and Rory Gill at The Virgin Lounge

Barry Ainsworth and Rory Gill at The Virgin Money Lounge in London

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics. Check his books out on Amazon:

Click to view books on Amazon

Click to view books on Amazon

If you enjoyed this article, try some of our other work:

On Creativity and Playfulness

Prince and Innovation

Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise

Hendrix and Clapton compared – Innovation style

Bohemian Rhapsody – The Making of a Classic

Here is the interview we recorded with Barry Ainsworth, the man who engineered Bohemian Rhapsody and many many more classic records. Enjoy!!

This week, we are conducting interviews with Jordan Gray, Marcus Anderson (Prince’s sax player) and possibly CeeLo Green. Here’s part 2 of the interview with Barry – The Q&A:

To book Barry for an exclusive masterclass on dealing with creative and highly talented people, get in touch. If you know of any artists that would like an interview in our growing collection of interviews with music giants please get in touch with Rory Gill the film maker or myself:

BH

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock, fusing business with parallel ideas from music and Human Dynamics, offering business and organisation development. Check his latest work “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” for Bloomsbury.

Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?

A few months back, I casually went to a networking event, got talking to a chap who said that they worked in the music business as a recording engineer.  We chatted on for a while, eventually I asked:

“Oh, have you worked on any records that I’d know of?”

Well, the last record I worked on is a bit old now – 40 years in fact” he replied

“What was that then?” I enquired

Bohemian Rhapsody” he casually replied

I pinched myself and asked “Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?”

Turns out that this guy also produced or engineered records for The Kinks, Rush, Deep Purple, Toyah, Yes, Jack Bruce, Hawkwind, Sooty and a very long list of great acts from the 1960’s and 70’s. We got talking about the gentle art of working with people, some of whom have very fixed ideas about how they wanted things done and who sometimes had less than ideal personalities or, at least, egos that were too big for the room. We shared a connection in terms of my friend Bill Nelson, who also worked with Roy Thomas Baker, Queen’s producer. The conversation flowed on and on …

I’ll be talking with Barry Ainsworth at the Virgin Money Lounge in London on FRIDAY February 26th from 3 – 4.30 pm. Book your place NOW via 0207 439 8802. Beyond that, book us for an in company masterclass.

Whether it's a night at the Opera or "we're going down the pub" we can offer you an unforgettable experience

Whether it’s a night at the Opera or “we’re going down the pub” we can offer you an unforgettable experience

Of course these skills are entirely transferrable to the world of “Brain Based Enterprises”, where intellect must be cultivated, facilitated, directed but not squashed. As a result of this, we’re now able to offer a joint masterclass where you will learn from a master of getting things done with volatile and sometimes precocious talents. Should you really wish to make the event unforgettable, we can combine this with a performance of Queen’s material with Patti Russo, long term singing partner of Meatloaf and songstress with Queen and Cher

What’s it like working with Mercurial people? Find out by booking us for a masterclass

The Show Must Go On - with Patti Russo

The Show Must Go On – with Patti Russo

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Book him for your next interactive motivational keynote or longer masterclass on subjects such as Leadership, Creativity, Innovation and Change.

Books x 4

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

A Night at the Opera

I spent a night at the opera recently, when we went to see Rusalka, by Dvorak.  In brief Rusalka develops the fairy story of a mermaid, who longs to leave her underwater kingdom.  She falls in love with a handsome prince but must pay the price of losing her voice.  Of course the opera ends in tragedy.   Sounds innocent enough?  Well, Daily Telegraph readers were outraged due to the modern adaptation, which recasts the mermaid as a hooker and the wicked witch as a brothel madam – pretty much Sex, Opera and Rock’n’Roll!  Telegraph readers wrote in to complain of “girls running around in their scanties”.

Sex, Opera and Rock’n’Roll

Sex, Opera and Rock’n’Roll aside, I was fascinated to watch the workings of the orchestra during the three hour performance.  There’s no room for free improvisation in such a setting, with up to 40 people performing together, alongside a similar number of people on stage.   The role of the orchestra conductor is pivotal as the main communication medium between stage and orchestra pit.  It’s an idea I have drawn parallels about in the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and am developing with “The Music of Business”.  Quite by chance, I ended up having a conversation with Andy Wooler, an orchestral brass player, big band jazz fiend, conductor, music fanatic and Academy Technology Manager at Hitachi Data Systems.

What parallel lessons can businesses learn from this?

Size matters – It may be easy to jam in a small group where the task is simple.  Once group size gets beyond a certain number and the task becomes complex, co-ordination of tasks is required if the music is to come out to the same quality standard on a consistent basis.  In an orchestra this is accomplished by the use of sheet music and a conductor.  In business, this may be achieved through procedures, standards and / or supervision and guidance.

Beauty and the Beast – What is often heard in an opera are the highlights / melodies.  Yet, these rest on what my PhD music teacher friend calls the ‘boring bits’.  Without a number of pieces of substructure music does not always have grace and beauty.  In the pop music world, take a listen to some of the hidden arrangements in The Beatles work circa Sargent Pepper or Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen to hear what I mean.

Innovation and the Opera – Andy points out that, despite what conventional wisdom might suggest, there is room for innovation in the opera.   Specifically, innovation manifests itself in two ways:

  • The choice of conductor – For example, Leonard Bernstein transformed the music of many works such as Romeo and Juliet, where he changed the story and added music.  Bernstein was regarded as an eclectic composer, fusing jazz, Jewish music, and the work of other classical composers, such as Stravinsky.  A kind of Jimi Hendrix of the classics
  • The storyline / staging – The other area where innovation occurs in opera is in the storyline.  Andy recalls seeing “The Last Supper’ at Glyndbourne, where Judas was included in the guest list at a Last Supper reunion.  Another example is the recasting of “The Marriage of Figaro” in the 1960’s.  The transformation of Rusalka towards a more modern interpretation is just such an example of changing the setting to engage a new audience, even if Daily Telegraph readers were not amused!

In conclusion, superb performance often rests on a number of invisible substructures.  Structure is not the enemy of creativity.   Graceful performance in any field is often the product of a great deal of structure, some of which is non-obvious.  More on this in the forthcoming book “The Music of Business“.   Andy Wooler may be contacted at http://www.andywooler.info/wordpress or at Twitter @awooler

To finish, let’s hear the finale from Rusalka:

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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

Must the show go on?

Just back from a weekend with the Godfather of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Dr Richard Bandler and the NLP master hypnotist Paul Mc Kenna.  At one point during the weekend, the song “The Show Must Go On” popped up in the back of my mind … funny how that happens … Undoubtedly this maxim pervades most entertainment circles.  Does it transfer to business I thought?  I felt a certain unease.  Let’s check Queen’s classic anthem before deciding:

I’d argue vigorously that the maxim is at least unhelpful and possibly dangerous in some circumstances.   One of my great business heroes Tom Peters, points out that one of the hardest things to do in business is press the STOP button.   In rock circles, my friend Bill Nelson has a maxim for reinvention that says “Do not be afraid of the off switch”.  Had Michael Jackson written the song “Wanna Be Stoppin’ Something” instead of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, it would have probably not been a hit however 🙂

But the STOP button is vital in some circumstances.  Kodak would have probably avoided Chapter 11 bankruptcy if they had made the switch from analogue to digital film sooner.  Sony might have avoided a steady decline from being one of the most celebrated innovation companies if they had recognised the advent of downloading and done something different with their record company.

In our personal lives, what things are we doing that we really should not, just out of habit?  I can think of quite a few things that need to go in my ‘life laundry’.  And you?   A periodic pause for reflection before moving on is a healthy part of any smart person’s business and personal life.  Contact me for a free consultation if you need to do your personal or business life laundry.  “STOP in the name of life” may not have been a hit for Diana Ross but it may improve your bank balance!

Some questions to ponder:

  • What activities and habits are you pursuing that are past their sell-by date?
  • What ‘dark alleyways’ do others lead you down that do not contribute to your overall life purpose?
  • What relationships or tasks are you pursuing that are not based on a sense of equity / reciprocity?  How can you change them so that they produce better results for all concerned?

Just for fun, and having spent quite a bit of the weekend in light to moderate trance (my wife says there’s nothing new there …), here’s a humorous insight into the hypnotic world of Paul Mc Kenna:

Postscript:  This post has caused some controversy from people who rightly dislike the manipulative end of NLP.  From my direct experience I can say that Richard Bandler may swear a lot in his seminars but his ethics for using NLP are absolutely in the right place.  People cite politicians and bad sales people as examples as what is wrong with NLP.  If you put good tools in the hands of bad people, bad shit happens … Is that down to the tools or the people?  I leave you to decide.