Towards 2014

It’s been another rocky year in 2013 as I reflect on plans for my 20th year in business with Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.  Thank you all for your contributions to this blog and in many other ways – they have all helped keep a sense of perspective and balance in times of great turbulence.  A major theme of 2013 and in the last few years of recession generally for me has been reinvention and renewal.

Reinvention and Renewal

After several years of incredibly difficult trading conditions, this year brought some respite in terms of projects of a more significant nature.  This has followed considerable reinvention and renewal of what we offer and via the expansion of our global network to meet the needs of larger companies and the increasing desire of those companies to have an offer which can be scaled and taken anywhere in the world.  The highlights of this were:

  • A major piece of innovation consultancy for a large pharmaceutical company in New York, which we won against stiff competition from the brand leader in the field
  • A masterclass event on creativity and innovation at Nokia, which was regarded as one of the best events they have ever had, again, against the backdrop of competition from the big brand
  • A project to help align the practices of the EMEA operations of another pharma company.  This has spawned further requests for keynotes and summit workshops in Ireland into 2014
  • Repeat bookings at conferences for the pharmaceutical industry and in Nottingham’s technology hub
  • A training programme on applied creativity for Lloyds of London, won against the odds for a small but highly networked organisation
  • An overall increase in the number of requests for speaking engagements and conference designs
  • An invitation to commence a PhD at Imperial College London

Words and Music

I released my 7th book “The Music of Business”, having gained an endorsement for the book from Harvey Goldsmith CBE, the man behind Live Aid via a strange set of circumstances.  I was also delighted to be invited to contribute to David D’Souza’s book “Humane Resourced”.   I’m now trying to fit in the writing of a major tome on innovation and creativity for release in 2014.

Presenting Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music, with The Music of Business

Presenting Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music, with The Music of Business – Click for your copy

At the level of pure pleasure, I compered and performed at a Charity Event, which raised a tidy sum of money for Demelza House Children’s Hospice, an absolutely vital charity ignored and overlooked by Governments.  I was also invited to jam with a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee at Dr Andrew Sentence’s garden party.  Andrew has just released his first book on the economy entitled Rediscovering Growth : After The Crisis.  He has also asked us back to his 2014 garden party to perform with the band so I will have to get practising as his son Tim is a virtuoso jazz player!

Andrew Sentance at a recent event. The other guy did not show up to the Garden Party ...

Andrew Sentance at a recent event. The other guy did not show up to the Garden Party … Click on the picture for Andrew’s new book

I also wrote and recorded a rock song to unleash some of my angst about how we have all contributed in smaller or larger ways to the ‘buy now, pay later society’ ever since hire purchase appeared as an idea in 1920’s America.  The result was a pithy and deeply ironic song about economics, banking and shopping called “Fiscal Cliff” which nearly reached the charts.  We had an absolute hoot recording it. Here’s the video, which we made from start to finish in two hours – So, it’s not exactly a Hollywood production but not a bad job nonetheless.  Feel free to download a copy on iTunes, Amazon or Google Play for Christmas – All proceeds are going to Demelza Children’s Hospice.

Reasons to be cheerful

One of the most important part of running a business is the people you get to work with and come into contact with. Can I extend my thanks to the following people, who I’ve had the pleasure of working or collaborating with in 2013 as part of the Human Dynamics and Academy of Rock offering.  To Steve Gorton, Marjolein Jupijn, Val and Errol Whitter, Simon Heath, Dave Brooks, Bernie Tormé, Ben Weinlick, Andrew Sentance, Professor Peter Childs, Rowena Sian MorganDavid D’Souza, Trevor Lee, Professor Adrian Furnham, Richard Strange, Phil Hawthorn, Doug Shaw, Nadine Hack, Dr Reg Butterfield and many others.  I look forward to many more collaborations in 2014 and beyond.  Also thanks to my   clients Roche, Johnson and Johnson, Nokia, Fuji Film, Imperial College London, Lloyds, Angel Trains, The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, The Association of Clinical Data Management – I quite literally could not have done it without you!

2014 Resolutions

In 2014  it is the 20th anniversary of my companies Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.  For me this means:

Professional Goals

Continuing to challenge the stereotype that the ‘bigger branded consultancies’ are safer bets for procurement departments to choose.  For me, this means trading from a platform of intelligent content and thoughtful customer focus rather than handing out branded pens and fluffy toys to clients.

Developing the global network – for too many years, people have seen the company as a one-man business when we have a worldwide network of thought leaders and associates and we also work in partnership with others.  One sign of progress in this area happened in 2013 when Nadine Hack asked us to collaborate in a piece of global consulting.  This was a true honour – Nadine is recognised as one of the worlds’ most trusted leaders on ethical behaviour in organisations. She has worked with Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama and many of the world’s greatest corporations to change their collective mindsets about ethical and sustainable business strategy and practice.

To complete the research and writing of my 8th and 9th books on Business Innovation and Creativity.  This will require the usual ‘get up early, stay up late strategy’ …  We’ll have to see if and how a PhD fits in …

Personal Goals:

To find more time for looking after myself.  Yes, this includes cycling when it’s cold and wet!  Damn – I’ve told everyone now, so I’ll have to do it  🙂  Making time for my son, who is suffering under the weight of constant tests and exams in an education system which now resembles the arrival of The Ministry of Magic in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at my local school.  And finding time to support my wife as she cares for her mum.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year !

Peter

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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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

The bookshelf

The Long and Winding Road – Longevity, The Beatles and Business

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Still life with fruit, apple and The Beatles

Last week saw the 50th anniversary of the recording of The Beatles first album “Please, Please Me”.  This caused me to go out and play a version of “Blue Jay Way” from “The Magical Mystery Tour” as a rather unusual contribution to a 50th anniversary night on the Fab Four.  It also set me thinking about the enduring legacy of The Beatles music as compared with the long tail of one hit wonders that typify the music business.  Given that businesses rarely last 50 days let alone 50 years, it also made me think about some comparisons with businesses that have longevity.  Thankfully, my own business has lasted 18 years.

Perhaps one single fact that we learn in business from the example of The Beatles is that managers (and people in general) are rather bad at foresight.  After recording fifteen tracks for Decca records, the group were told that “guitar groups are on their way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” Decca instead chose a group called the Tremoloes, who were local and would not cost as much money.  In business, Sony missed the digital revolution probably because they had a record company.  The question for the smart leader is:

“What long range future trends are we about to miss, because of our investment in the present and the past?”

Beatlenomics – “Give me money, that’s what I want”

The Beatles flexed musical styles within the context of pop music and broke many boundaries of what could be considered to be pop music at the time.  We can hear their influence in ELO, some of Prince’s orchestrated work, Oasis, Kurt Cobain, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Paul Weller, Blur and so on.  Perhaps this has ultimately helped them maintain longevity, as others have built their music on the ‘safe scaffolding’ of what they did.  It probably also helped that they stopped making records before sliding inexorably down the other side of their ‘innovation S curve’.

The challenge to modern businesses, leaders and entrepreneurs is to change what you are doing even when there is apparently no need to do so, at the top of your ‘S Curve’.  The question for the smart leader is:

“Where are you on your S Curve?”

The S Curve and Reinvention

The S Curve and Reinvention

What other business lessons can we learn from The Beatles?  Post your thoughts here.

To learn more about The Beatles and Creativity in Business, try my new online learning programme “The Music of Business”.  Claim a 50% discount voucher (7+ hours of top quality learning for just $65 instead of $125) HERE.  Read all about it here:

To read “The Music of Business”, get in touch with me for your signed copy, delivered worldwide via The Music of Business.

We leave with the title of this blog and a video I made for the online programme on the creativity contribution from The Beatles:

Under Pressure – Reinvention Lessons from David Bowie

This article finds me in Athens, contemplating the talk I am to give at the 7th international HR Leadership Conference.  My theme is to be that of reinvention which is extremely apt for the business world in Greece and more widely.  Compared with all the ‘one hit wonders’ in music, David Bowie has reinvented himself several times and taken his audience with him.  The parallel lesson in business is that of changing what you do, keeping your customers and gaining new customers.  What can we learn about business from David Bowie?  This is the second article in the series – to catch up with the story so far check out ‘The Laughing Gnome to Heroes’.  Before we start, let’s look at another Bowie classic – China Girl:

Bowie Business Lesson # 5.  Perpetual change

In 1983, he released ‘Let’s Dance.’ Bowie recruited Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers to produce the album, giving the record a sleek, funky foundation, and hired the unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan as lead guitarist. Let’s Dance became his most successful record.

Bowie Business Lesson # 6. When change is over, change again

Bowie’s next project was less successful. He formed a guitar rock band called Tin Machine. They released an album to poor reviews and supported it with a small tour, which was only moderately successful. Tin Machine released a second album, Tin Machine II, which was ignored. Time to change again …

Bowie Business Lesson # 7. Form innovative partnerships

Bowie teamed up with Brian Eno to produce ‘Outside’ and went on tour, co-headlining with ‘Nine Inch Nails,’ to lure a younger audience, but his strategy failed. In 1996, he recorded ‘Earthling,’ an album heavily influenced by techno and drum’n’bass. Earthling received positive reviews, yet it did not attract a new audience. Many techno purists criticised Bowie for exploiting their subculture. It seemed that his attempt to cross demographic and culture divides was not going to work on this occasion. Since then, Bowie has formed partnerships with a number of artists including Placebo and reinvented himself as a brand for a US online bank 🙂

The main learnings from this dramatic series of reinventions include:

1. Make radical changes even when your current strategy is successful.

2. Hire and work with the best people you can find, especially if they are better than you.

3. Read the environment and engage with new movements when they are more than fads.

4. Learn from failure and quickly move on.

What else do you consider that David Bowie can teach us about business?  Share your thoughts here.

Finally, let’s catch another Bowie classic.  Under Pressure:

If you enjoy this you will love my new book “The Music of Business” – Acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith:

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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

Life on Mars – Reinvention Lessons from David Bowie

Compared with all the ‘one hit wonders’ in music, David Bowie has reinvented himself several times AND taken his audience with him.  The parallel lesson in business is that of changing what you do, keeping your customers AND gaining new ones.  What can we learn about business from David Bowie?  Read on.  This extract comes from the book “The Music of Business“. Before we start, let’s look at a Bowie classic – Life on Mars:

Bowie Business Lesson # 1.  Find your focus

David Bowie began performing music when he was 13 years old, learning the saxophone while he was at High School and began playing in a number of mod bands.  All these bands released singles, which were generally ignored, yet he continued performing. The following year, he released the music-hall styled ‘Laughing Gnome.’ Upon completing the record, he spent several weeks in a Buddhist monastery. Bloody good idea in my opinion, although I should be so lucky to have written this song in spite of its cheesiness!! Once he left the monastery, he formed a mime company – a non-obvious career move. This was short-lived, and he formed an experimental art group in 1969.

Bowie Business Lesson # 2.  Get the right people

As necessity is the mother of invention, Bowie needed to finance the art group, so he signed a record deal. His first album featured ‘Space Oddity,’ which became a major hit single in Britain. He began miming at T.REX concerts, eventually touring with Marc Bolan’s, bassist / producer Tony Visconti and guitarist Mick Ronson. The band quickly fell apart, yet Bowie and Ronson continued to work together. The next album, ‘The Man who Sold the World’ did not gain much attention. Following the release of ‘Hunky Dory,’ featuring Ronson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Bowie developed his most famous incarnation, ‘Ziggy Stardust’. Bowie quickly followed Ziggy with ‘Aladdin Sane’. Not only did he record a new album that year, but he also produced Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer,’ the Stooge’s ‘Raw Power’ and Mott the Hoople’s ‘All the Young Dudes,’ for which he also wrote the title track.  Lest we forget this great song:

Bowie Business Lesson # 3.  Re-engineer the Business

Bowie unexpectedly announced his retirement from live performances during his final show in 1973. He retreated from the spotlight to work on a musical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, transforming the work into ‘Diamond Dogs.’ The album was released to generally poor reviews, yet it generated the hit single ‘Rebel Rebel.’ Bowie supported the album with an American tour. As the tour progressed, Bowie became fascinated with soul music. He subsequently refashioned his group into a Philly soul band and revamped his image in sophisticated, stylish fashions. The change took fans by surprise. ‘Young Americans,’ released in 1975, was the culmination of Bowie’s soul obsession, and it became his first major crossover hit, peaking in the American Top Ten and generating his first U.S. number one hit in ‘Fame,’ a song he co-wrote with John Lennon and guitarist Carlos Alomar.

Bowie Business Lesson # 4.  Challenge industry sacred cows

Once in Berlin, Bowie began painting, as well as studying art. He also developed a fascination with German electronic music, which Brian Eno helped him fulfil on their first album together, ‘Low.’ Released early in 1977, Low was a startling mixture of electronics, pop and avant-garde technique. It received mixed reviews, but was one of the most influential albums of the late ’70s, as was its follow-up, ‘Heroes’:

We’ll continue this blog at ‘Beyond Heroes‘ through several other ch, ch, ch, changes in Bowie’s career.

More on David Bowie at The Music of Business.”  I wrote a song for Robert Peston called Pestonomics. Peston is a massive Bowie fan and I include a few quotes from Bowie in the song, with donations from downloades to Cancer Research, after Robert’s wife died of the disease.

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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.  His latest book for Bloomsbury is entitled “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“. Contact him via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Books x 4

Bill Nelson: Integrity and Creativity in a bottle

The genius that is Bill Nelson – Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Bill Nelson performs a special one off concert and art exhibition at the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds on October 1st.  This provides me with the perfect excuse to rave on about this man’s genius in terms of the sorts of capabilities that great business gurus such as Peter Senge, Tom Peters and Seth Godin write about.  Before we begin, let’s see the master at work, performing a song he wrote for Stuart Adamson of Big Country and the Skids as a tribute at his funeral – “For Stuart (Triumph and Lament)”.  Bill Nelson produced some of Stuart’s work and Adamson was a great admirer of Bill’s musicianship, which Bill incorporated as a series of ‘musical ornaments’ within this piece.

In case you are wondering just who Bill Nelson is, he led 70’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise.  In spite of his huge success, Nelson left considerable wealth and fame to pursue his own artistic and musical direction.   However, like so many great influencers his footprint on modern music is immense and pervasive.  Nelson is admired by a catalogue of rock’s monarchy, including Mc Cartney, Brian May, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Prince, The Foo Fighters, The Darkness, My Chemical Romance and so on.  If any of you saw MCR at the Reading Festival, you will have heard the opening lines from Bill Nelson’s song ‘Maid In Heaven’ towards the end of MCR’s emo anthem ‘Dead’:

Turning to the transferable lessons for people in business, Bill Nelson articulated his principles for personal reinvention in his online diary.  Although they are artistically expressed, they are directly transferable.  Bill kindly allowed me to do some ‘translation’ in my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’.   We explored a couple of his reinvention principles in a previous blog.  Here’s some more:

Reinvention Principle No. 1 – Trust the muse – she knows best

In the context of business reinvention, ‘trusting the muse’ means that we should trust intuition rather than relying on research as a means of doing new things.  We live in a world that is drowning in data.  As a result we downplay intuition.  New stuff does not always come out of a detailed analysis of old stuff!

“Act when there are no alternatives to stasis” Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Reinvention Principle No. 2 – Act only when there are no alternatives to stasis

‘Acting only when there are no alternatives to stasis’ reminds us to examine all alternatives before making a decision on critical issues.  This is not a recipe for not making decisions!  Examining alternatives requires us to synthesise options, to bring alternatives together that will produce better options rather than compromises.  It requires the use of analogue (and/also) thinking rather than digital (on/off) thinking.  The pressure of business life often forces us into action rather than reflection / synthesis, with the result that we get sub-optimal decisions and / or performance.  I’ve written more on this subject in previous posts on creativity.

Check out Bill’s extensive catalogue of music at SOUND ON SOUND.  To study Bill’s 12 principles for personal and corporate reinvention in more detail, read Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll. If you fancy seeing Mr Magnetism Himself check out the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds.  I am proud to know Bill Nelson, who has integrity and creativity written into his DNA, even at the expense of fame and fortune.  Integrity is easy when it does not mean you have to make tough choices, but most people fall by the wayside when the going gets tough.

Bill Nelson has a wonderful skill of making classy pop music, a skill which he has largely left on the shelf due to his desire to pursue his own artistic vision.  Lest we forget what a great talent he has for producing catchy pop hits, I’ll leave you with a film of Be-Bop Deluxe performing one of these 2.5 minute wonders on the Old Grey Whistle Test – “Maid in Heaven”, the song whose opening guitar lines are quoted by My Chemical Romance.  To see more of Bill’s work in this area get yourself a copy of his ITV Legends Concert, which includes “For Stuart” and an entire catalogue of Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise and Bill’s solo material:

p.s.  For a series of 2.5 minute lessons on business and Human Relations check out my new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ – available FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.

ITV Legends Concert DVD – AMAZON

‘Revolt into Style’ – The new book cover

Maid in Heaven – Bill Nelson releases ITV Legend’s Concert DVD

Click on the guitar for the ITV Legends DVD

On March 26th 2011 ITV filmed a special concert in London, featuring guitar legend Bill Nelson, leader of pop art bands Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. Bill Nelson left high profile music some years back, due to his dislike of the music industry / media circus. However, his influence on modern music is immense. Admired by Paul McCartney, Big Country, Brian May, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Eno, Prince, The Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance et al. I’m delighted to announce that the video of this unique evening at ITV Legends is now available on to buy on AMAZON. In case you are still wondering who Bill Nelson is, here’s some background.

Bill Nelson’s career started with 1970’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe, where he had considerable success with classic albums like Futurama, Sunburst Finish and Drastic Plastic. By the mid 70’s Be-Bop Deluxe were conquering America but Bill was disaffected by the celebrity lifestyle and its requirements of him. He disbanded Be-Bop Deluxe and formed Red Noise, a synth / new age band way ahead of its time, paving the way for 80’s acts like Gary Numan, A Flock of Seagulls and many others. Red Noise’s music was jagged and edgy, although it has undoubtedly stood the test of time, influencing artists such as Razorlight and The Kaiser Chiefs.

EMI dropped Nelson at this point since he refused to perform ‘more of the same’. Shortly after Bill pioneered Indie music, releasing albums made in his own studio on his own ‘Cocteau’ record label. Many of these home-made creations were of superior quality to what others have since recorded in the most professional of recording studios.

Bill Nelson’s heart is firmly fixed within the inventor’s domain, with a more or less continuous stream of musical creativity. Much of Bill’s work can be accessed through his website ‘Dreamsville’.

Nelson’s latest works are mostly lush ambient soundscapes, not typical of his recent ITV release, which is a must-have release for Be-Bop Deluxe / Red Noise / music lovers. Almost literally ‘maid in heaven’.  Here’s an example of Bill Nelson’s less commercial work, called Imperial Parade, taken from his recent performance at the Sheffield ‘Sensoria’ Arts Festival – music which owes no regard to an X-Factor culture.

I wrote a personal cameo about Bill Nelson, who I am proud to know, in the book Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll, as he is a master of continuous creativity and reinvention. A copy of the cameo can be found at the Academy of Rock. A video comparing the reinvention qualities of Bill Nelson and Prince Rogers Nelson can be seen below:

Bill Nelson – Master of Personal Reinvention

Today, I’m looking at what makes a master of personal reinvention. Not through the usual business suspects, but through the example of the music legend Bill Nelson. I’ve been inspired to write this as I have just managed to get a ticket to see Bill at the filming of his ITV Legends concert in London on Saturday March 26th. Check out the concert details if you want to be a part of this once in a lifetime experience to meet a true master of personal reinvention.

You might be wondering, just who is Bill Nelson? And what can a rock star teach us about personal reinvention? How is that relevant for us in our lives and work? Some background…

Bill Nelson led 1970’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. In spite of his huge success, he disliked the ‘rock’n’roll circus’ and left considerable wealth and fame to pursue his own artistic and musical direction. However, his influence on modern music is immense and pervasive. Nelson is admired by Paul McCartney, Brian May, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Prince, Bowie, The Foo Fighters, The Darkness, My Chemical Romance et al.

Reinvention is hard enough for most of us. It’s even harder if you have a Rolls Royce, five sports cars and a mansion calling you to just do ‘more of the same’. This is the situation Bill Nelson faced with EMI music in the late 1970’s. Most of us are being asked to do some personal reinvention at the moment. You may be trying to learn new things to get a new job? Maybe you run a small business, struggling for contracts in a changing business landscape? Or you might be instigating corporate reinvention to keep your company in tune with ever changing customer moods, wants and needs? All these things require you to be excellent at personal reinvention and mastery of change. Check this video out which compares Bill Nelson’s approach to the artist Prince:

So, what are Bill Nelson’s secrets for personal reinvention? He wrote these down when contemplating a new album release and wishing to break away from simply repeating himself. Bill kindly allowed me to interpret them in my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’. Let’s explore a couple of his principles:

Bill Nelson says “Do not be afraid of the ‘off’ switch”. In my experience of composing and recording music, this means not continuously adding more layers to a piece of music and losing the simplicity and resonance of the piece. It also means stopping when what you are doing isn’t working. Many businesses would be better off if they were to adopt this principle, i.e. stopping things that are no longer wanted or needed rather than just carrying on regardless. We are all creatures of habit to some extent. There is often irresistible temptation and pressure to continue in the face of compelling evidence of a need to do something different. Kodak experienced this with the death of conventional film processing. Had they chosen to notice the trend some years back, they might have been in a better position to respond to market change.

Bill Nelson adds “Refuse to sing when no words appear”. An excellent lesson for most of us to learn. Why do most songs have to have lyrics? Why do most websites have to have text? Why do most businesses have departments they don’t need? and so on. Masters of personal reinvention don’t slavishly copy success recipes. They adapt and improve upon them to precisely meet their needs and those of the people they serve. If you want to serve yourself well and your customers, by all means use success recipes as basic ‘templates for life’. But also question their relevance and precise fit for your particular circumstances. In the words of the master himself “Stay young, and keep in touch”. This means that you should approach new opportunities with a fresh mind. Always check to see if your success recipes are still up to date with the world around you. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, there can be a tendency to think that you are invincible. Hubris in business is a killer, as Marks and Spencer, Sony and many others nearly found out.

The coaching lessons from this are:

If what you are doing isn’t working, stop, think and do something different

Question the things that are the essence of your success from time to time

I’ll be writing more about Bill Nelson’s principles for reinvention in future blogs. If you want to read more about personal and corporate reinvention, come along to our next free event on March 22. If you fancy meeting Bill Nelson in person at a champagne reception after the ITV Legends show in London, check out the ITV Legends concert.

Footnote – The Legends concert DVD is now out on AMAZON.

The Legends DVD cover featuring Bill’s Campbell Nelsonic Guitar