Catch The Rainbow

Ritchie Blackmore … then

I made a rare pilgrimage to the O2 Arena last night to see a life long hero, Mr Ritchie Blackmore.  I say a rare pilgrimage, as I find the sound and vision at the O2 to be generally appalling and I was not disappointed at this concert.  O2 have previously caused my son untold problems over their legendarily bad administration and I freely admit that I therefore have a grudge – see O2 OMG.  That aside, I find the acoustics and size of the O2 quite inconsistent with a live band experience and had previously vowed never to go again after seeing Prince there in 2007.  In this case I felt I had no choice, so I got on my bike and cycled 30 miles for the experience and am overall pleased I went to see a man who remains a major influence on my approach to music and, indeed, my overall attitude to life.

But all is not lost – thanks to the generosity of a fellow traveller we have some better quality sound and visuals from the front of stage. See Rainbow Rising at the O2. But I want to move on to a story, as Ritchie Blackmore was influential in helping me secure my first job offer at Shell ….

Rainbow Rising

I went to a Grammar School, essentially a factory for Oxbridge students.  But I did not want to go to university. My parents were 45 and 67 when I was born and were not especially affluent – my dad was 85 by the time I was 18 and I felt I needed to get a job rather than go to University although there was no pressure from them to do so. Of course, I was completely ostracised by the Grammar School for making such a decision. The so-called “careers master” (also the gym teacher) said “well, laddy, tell me when you have got a job” when I told him I did not want to go to University. So I set about looking for one  …

I was mad about Chemistry and Music as a child. So I applied to the two major employers in the area – Shell and The Wellcome Foundation. I was invited to an entire day of interviews at Shell (who were noted for extremely progressive employment policies at that time). Looking back at the day I was sat before PhD after PhD, who showed me complex chemical reactions on a chalk board and asked how I would solve their greatest problems. Needless to say I doubt I answered any of the questions correctly! When asked about my interests, I recall boring them endlessly about Ritchie Blackmore’s use of medieval “modal scales” as a differentiator in Deep Purple’s music and the 16th Century in general.  In other words, I bored them with my obsession and they theirs. I used to spend hours at the top of the stairs with my record player slowed down to 16 RPM trying to figure out what he was playing … until my mum shouted me to come down and eat my fishfinger sandwiches …

Modal scales and Fish Fingers – the breakfast of champions …

To my surprise I was offered a job at Shell, having bored them rigid with my music obsession and not really been able to operate as a PhD chemist with an A Level, although I eventually took the one at Wellcome (another story). I suspect that they felt my passion for the music and nerdiness. They must have given me the benefit of the doubt that I could actually do the work. Thank goodness that there were no HR people in sight.

Richie Blackmore … now

Back to the concert. For me, Blackmore’s guitar style has matured over the years, with rather more Bach that Screaming Lord Sutch about his performance these days. Many more melodic classical progressions inspired by his love of classical music, rather less random improvisation and brutality. The sound, as I said, was hampered by the size of the venue, which is why I’m so grateful to the man at the front who filmed it. I think The O2 would have helped themselves by training three cameras on the stage and back projecting the results on the screen to give those far away at least some opportunity to see the action, especially given the quality of the visuals for the show. You can find the set list and many of the performances at Rainbow Rising at the O2. A great highlight of the show was “Soldier of Fortune” played on acoustic guitar, although marred by whoops and shouting from the crowd. An added bonus was to see The Sweet, a band who were strongly influenced by Blackmore when they were playing their own songs such as “Sweet FA.” with a wink and a nod to “Hard Lovin’ Man” by Deep Purple. Lest we forget the majesty of Mr Blackmore:

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Peter Cook is  a business speaker who blends deep insights on strategy, innovation and business creativity with parallel lessons from music. An author of 7 1/2 books on business. Read his article on Deep Purple and Improvisation and more on Ritchie Blackmore at The Music of Business and Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.

 

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Deep Purple in Rock: Improvisation and discipline in Business

Deep Purple In Rock

The hard rock band Deep Purple are responsible for millions of young boys camping out in music shops trying to play the riff to ‘Smoke on the Water‘.  At the age of 14 I used to sit at the top of the stairs at home in the darkness trying to figure out the riff with my Hofner Futurama guitar and 10 Watt Zenta amp, until my mum would shout me to come down to get my fish finger sandwiches.  Aside from these problems, Deep Purple offer us a great example of improvisation and discipline in action in the context of a rock outfit.  The Mark II incarnation of the band is generally considered to be perhaps the definitive lineup, but also the most volatile.  Much of the conflict within Deep Purple arose from Ritchie Blackmore, their phenomenal virtuoso guitarist and moody maverick.  Check out Deep Purple Mark II’s work when jamming here:

In this extract from ‘Mandrake Root’ we see the art of improvisation within a disciplined structure as Blackmore sends musical instructions (using his arms as a baton ! ) to the keyboard player Jon Lord, to repeat and develop certain lines (This is particularly obvious around 48 seconds onwards).  He also sends orders to the rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover with respect to starts and stops within the music (around 1 minute 50 seconds).  Blackmore’s signs are perhaps more aggressive than those used by Prince to change direction at short notice within the band 🙂  What then are the parallel lessons for business from Deep Purple?   Here’s three to get the discussion started – Please add your own views by commenting on the blog.

1. Innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity:  Creativity to come up with novel strategies; Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google, 3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection reveals discipline and structure, even if that structure does not emanate from ‘management’ in all cases.  Giving people 20% of their time to work on speculative projects is the business equivalent of a free form jam within Space Truckin’, Lazy, Mistreated and many other pieces of Deep Purple’s repertoire.

2. It requires extremely strong leadership and a compelling shared vision to hold diverse people together.  To encourage a company that continuously learns / adapts and improvises into the future requires leadership that is precise on the destination, yet loose on the journey.  We’ve seen this point before in my blog posts on Led Zeppelin and Prince.

3. Conflict will occur where there is diversity / divergence.  It must be handled properly if progress is to be made.  Ultimately Blackmore’s maverick behaviour proved too much for the band, especially the singer Ian Gillan, and despite several reunions, the band proved impossible to hold together.  There have been many arguments to suggest that what Deep Purple Mark II needed was a manager who could hold the various personalities together and perhaps some time off from touring.

What else do you consider we can learn from Deep Purple about business, innovation, conflict and so on?  Share your thoughts by making a comment to this blog.

Editor’s postscript:  My thoughts go out to Jon Lord who is currently fighting cancer. Although I am a guitar player, it was Jon Lord’s innovative organ playing that led to my fanaticism with Deep Purple. Since I wrote this article, he lost that battle – so sad.

To finish, here’s another piece by Deep Purple’s Mark II line up, the famous California Jam performance where Ritchie Blackmore destroys several guitars and sets fire to his amplifiers.  I can’t immediately think of a transferable corporate lesson from this sequence but it sure is fun.  Takes me back to my teenage years with the Zenta amp on all the way up and me smashing the guitar into the speaker trying to coax some feedback out of the amp!

For more Heavy Metal Business articles – check SPINAL TAP on project management and LED ZEPPELIN on strategy.  Check out our conferences and events – where we extract business lessons from the Deep Purple classic ‘Smoke on the Water’ amongst many other things.  Come along to one of our ‘Monsters of Rock Business’ events, featuring Bernie Torme, who played guitar for Ian Gillan.   Take a look at one of these as featured on Bloomberg TV.

Our books including “The Music of Business” are available at AMAZON.

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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