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.