RAM on against the critics

Paul and Linda McCartney RAMIn my last article on criticism I focused on John Lennon. Let’s have a look at what happened to Paul McCartney who had to deal with criticism in a different and more prolonged way.

McCartney had, unlike John, lived his life almost without any form of criticism at all, right up until the end of the 60s. Then it hit him hard. Blamed for the acrimonious way the Beatles split up and appearing to attack the other three and their business decisions, it placed McCartney as the outsider. The press and the public seemed to always side with Lennon and the others. While Lennon’s first solo efforts were seen as deep, McCartney’s were seen as shallow. He suddenly found himself in a place where, just a year or so earlier he was hailed as Britain’s greatest songwriter, responsible for YesterdayMichelle, Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude and Let it Be, his new efforts were seen as pale and trivial.

Today we know better. Listening to Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed of 1970’s McCartney we can imagine that a followup to Abbey Road would have been every bit as great.

In 1971 McCartney recorded his second solo effort and his first post-Beatles LP, entitled RAM. He’d been in a panic as to what to do following the split. The pressure to deliver something spectacular must have been enormous. His solution was a great one: just do what would be fun. He retreated to his Scottish farm and with the help of his new wife Linda, created the new album.

When it was released it face almost universal scorn. Lennon reportedly hated it (it contained secret messages to Lennon encoded in the themes of the songs Too Many People and Dear Boy). Even Ringo, who nearly always managed to stay positive and not take sides said that “there wasn’t a good song on it”. However it did spawn a massive US number one single with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

Everyone, including McCartney’s own record company despised the fact he’d credited the album to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’ and the ‘fan’ backlash against Linda continued. That had begun with his marriage to Linda in 1969 – how could ‘their’ Beatle, leave beautiful and talented Jane Asher (she left McCartney by the way) for this plain, American divorcee? Paul took his family on tour with him throughout the 70s with his band ‘Wings’ and Linda sang (and played) in the shows and on the records, giving rise to the joke, ‘what do you call a dog with wings? – Answer: Linda McCartney.’

But what makes the story of RAM all the more curious is that in May 2012 it was re-released in remastered form, on multiple CDs, DVD box sets and as 190g vinyl record to universal acclaim, with radio stations and rock magazines showering praise and awards on it.

They even went as far as saying that RAM was McCartney’s best ever album.

And Linda turned out to be a devoted wife, loving mother, talented award winning photographer, famous celebrity chef, founder of and instigator of soya protein vegetarian food. When she tragically died from breast cancer in 1999, everyone loved her.

So it just goes to show, even when you face what seems like universal criticism, you can never really be sure of the context, which might be different for every critic. Getting criticism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. People will always have their own agendas and reason for slagging you and you work off.

So take care. You may well have just produced your greatest work too.

(In 1995, the famous and successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry disappeared. His friends got worried. It was because he’d had a bad review for a show. He said he’d felt as low as he thought possible. If his talent and his track record wasn’t enough to fend off just one bad review then it’s no surprise the rest of us suffer.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

A record for your life

“A record was like a massive flat mp3…. there was almost no information on it at all. It was very impractical – it could break or warp in the heat and get scratched…

…but it was better than your life.”
Stewart Lee

Record player Twist and Shout by the BeatlesI finally got my record player plugged back in. I unplugged it in late December to make room for a seven foot Norwegian Spruce that I’d covered in glass balls and low voltage white bulbs. We’d long since thrown that tree away and vacuumed up thousands of tiny needles and now it was time to re-install just one needle in its place.

There was an air of anticipation and excitement. My three children gathered around. From a massive pile of 7” black discs, some in paper sleeves with pictures on, some in plain green sleeves, they selected one.

Oliver (age 6) slid it out of its cover and I showed him how to place it on the spindle by touching only the edges. I told him to flick the switch on the left to ’45’. I lifted the metal arm over just a little bit and Mabel (age 4) flicked the switch on the right; once to make the platter spin and again to lower the needle into place.

We all watched as the disc span round and round at 45 revolutions per minute. A crackling sound, like that of a well established fire came from the speakers. Then, the room was filled with the booming mono sound of the most energetic 2 minutes and 35 seconds ever committed to the physical realm.

49 years ago, a few young men played and sang live in a recording studio in Abbey Road, London, using their voice boxes, guitars and a drum kit. The sound they’d made caused vibrations in the air which caused magnets to create electronic fluctuations along a wire which cause another magnet to re-arrange the rust particles on a lengthy plastic tape into a pattern.

Later, another magnet was affected by those magnetic particles from the tape causing low level electronic fluctuations in a wire which were amplified by a complex arrangement of glass vacuum valves to move a diamond tipped needle to vibrate. The needle was held still while a lacquered disc spun round at speed, allowing the needle to carve a spiral on its surface.

A mould was made from that lacquered disc and a glass disc was made from the mould. This was then pressed onto millions on lumps of hot vinyl plastic which were flattened into a 7” disc.

One of those discs found its way into a shop in mid 1963 and was bought by my Dad. 18 years ago when I got my own house, I liberated it, and now it was here, spinning around in my lounge with my three children jumping and dancing to the sound of the Beatles performing Twist and Shout live in 2012.

They were in room with us. This was no sample. No abstract digital file in the cloud from zeros and ones in a computer. They were here for real. (As real as a reflection in a mirror of you, is actually you, where a photograph of you is not you.)

That record is a time mirror that reflects their sound, via magnets and needles, right here from the long distant, unimaginable so-called past of 1963 to today, here and now. They were with us, alive and happy and infectious.

But more important that all that was the fact that my children were dancing and singing. Music was real. They could see it. They could touch it. They could choose it.

The past two weeks have seen Oliver become a DJ, going through my collection of singles and albums, intrigued how the large cover images may relate to the secret sounds hidden within the grooves. He’s playing tracks for his sisters to dance to, or draw to, or play to. He wants to be like Ringo and play the drums so he can come with me to my conference performances and provide the beat for my keynote songs.

He’s developed an ‘ear’. Some tracks he says are ‘too noisy’ or ‘too sad’. Mabel has lifted the piano lid and is more considerate in which keys she presses. She knows that some combinations are more pleasing than others. Our youngest is just 20 months old. When the records are on she smiles and dances and twirls.

It’s an involved process to choose which record to put on. You have to make a decision that will involve some physical activity that needs to be done with great care. The records are precious and fragile, and therefore by association, so too is the music. So once a record is on, it needs to play all the way through. It needs to be listened to, to be engaged with. There’s no easy way to change your mind, or to default to ‘shuffle’. You make your choice and stick with it.

Is there a danger, in our perceived search and adopted desire for ‘easy’ and ‘quick’ we are at risk of overlooking the experience altogether? After all, what is music ‘for’?

In our instant coffee, free download, always online world, do we rush through the day to get to the evening? Do we sometimes rush through the week to get to the weekend? Do we rush our children through childhood so they can grow up? And rush them through education so they can get some certificates?

Do we risk rushing the journey of life to get to the destination of the grave in the easiest and shortest possible time? Do we risk taking for granted the complexity of the human experience in order to dumb it down to effortless chicken nuggets that we can consume on the move?

Take a moment.

Dust off your own record player (whatever that might be) and put on a record. Choose it. Touch it. See it. Listen to it. Dance to it. Enjoy it.

Life is not about the needle reaching the run-out groove in the centre of the record.

It’s about the music in between.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

And by the way. For those of you who read my blogs and take all the metaphors literally: this is not a blog about replacing new technology with gramophone vinyl records. If you thought that, this blog is not for you. You’ll find material better suited to your taste here.

The 10,000 hour rule: can we trust it?

It’s been said* that if you constructively practice anything well for around 10,000 hours you will have become world class at it. The argument is that talent is less relevant than effort. What do you think? Is this the case?

The Beatles 1964 and 1966 RevolverLet’s try to make it simple and compare like with like. Take a dozen or so rock ‘n’ roll bands from Liverpool in 1960 and send them to Hamburg in Germany to perform 8 hours a night or more in various nightclubs for two to three years. They all have the same background. They all have the same exposure to influences. They all start with similar ability (they’re all aged between 17 and 19 so have been playing music for the same amount of time, between 1 and 3 years).

They are all the same, and yet only one of those acts becomes the phenomenon known as The Beatles.

I’ve been talking about, researching and training creativity overtly for 8 years. (Yes, before that I was doing it covertly).

Creativity is still a dirty word. By dirty I mean messy. It almost doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes when I’ve been talking about it I’ve had to keep it so broad, to encompass so many things that it can become almost meaningless. I make a great point that it has to be practical, that it’s not just to do with a particular artistic discipline, that it’s about making connections, problem solving, intuitive leaps, experimentation and so on. There are different facets to it, like a diamond, and so many differing ways to engage it, express it and use it. It’s what makes us human (as opposed to animal). It’s what forms our beliefs, it’s what allows us to explore the universe and ourselves. It IS science. It IS civilisation.

Here’s a new definition for you: creativity is a human’s ability to imagine a future in the minds and then use the hands to manifest it.

But even with this glorious definition there is still a misnomer that exists. So many people still believe that some people are more creative than others. We’ve got to admit, the evidence is compelling. But it is really true?

I think it comes from a misinterpretation of what creativity is and what it does. People believe in ‘talent’ and often think that talent = ability = gifts = creativity. It doesn’t.

There are many observers who report that talent is a myth. They believe that any concerted effort into consistent constructed practice will deliver exceptional performance. They cite examples in sport, mathematics, performance, art, business, chess, science and so on. Almost everything in fact.

Are they right? If you practice, practice, practice in a constructive way, learning and growing, learning and growing for 10,000 hours or 10 years, you will become a world class expert? Really?

I think the answer is yes, and no.

The 10,000 hour rule works with certain activities. It works with activities that have their basis in pattern recognition. Any sport that is based on pattern recognition will improve with practice. This is true for tennis, football, motor racing and chess. If you want to know more on why those activities are pattern recognition and not reflexes or memory then you need to read these books: Bounce and Talent is Overrated. I’m not going to be going down that route here.

Any sport that relies on endurance, motor skills or strength will not improve with 10,000 hours practice past the limitations of a particular person’s body. We can all get fitter and stronger, but not without limit. Those limits are set by our particular skeleton, muscle arrangement etc. So we’ve found one hole in the practice theory.

It’s said that the Beatles did their ‘10,000 hours’** of practice in the night clubs of Hamburg, playing, as they did, 8 hours a night. To be able to do that, to play and sing for that length of time they needed a few things or they would have collapsed. They needed youthful energy and endurance (this was enhanced by them ingesting Preludin, a drug that increases metabolic rate, then a freely available diet pill, now known as speed), they needed to be able to sing correctly so they didn’t damage their voice boxes. They needed a large repertoire of songs so that they or their audiences didn’t get bored.

So their time in Hamburg made them world class rock ‘n’ roll performers. So the story goes, there was their 10,000 hours, and that’s what made them musical geniuses, right? Is that it?

The time in Hamburg made all those bands blumn’ good at playing Twist and Shout. But the Beatles version is undeniably better than all of them.

There were plenty of bands that performed to the same schedule as the Beatles and who came from the same starting point. Many of them we know about, you can get hold of their record and you can compare. Many of them were also signed by Brian Epstein to EMI’s Parlaphone label. Many of them were produced by George Martin and many of them had a few number one records. But only the Beatles went on to write amazing hits like She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand within a year of coming back from Hamburg. Only the Beatles came up with groundbraking songs outside the rock ‘n’ roll genre of Hamburg like Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby. Out of all the Merseybeat groups that had exactly the same background and experience, only the Beatles re-defined rock music with Strawberry Fields Forever, Tomorrow Never Knows and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band.

So what did the Beatles and specifically Lennon McCartney have that the others lacked?

Can we really say that it was ‘talent’? And if so, where was that talent located and how did it emerge? Were they born brilliant? When did they become genius songwriters and how?

There’s even more to this question because if you looked at the Beatles in 1963 you would already recognise (as many comentators did) the genius songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney, but you would have ignored George Harrison’s songwriting ability. You’d have pricked your ears up in 1966 to his contributions to Revolver but it wasn’t until  1969 with his songs Something and Here Comes the Sun and his triple solo LP All Things Must Pass in 1970 that made comentators place Harrison’s songwriting on an equal par to Lennon and McCartney (some would even place it higher).

So when did George become a genius? Was it with him all along? Was it innate talent, or was it developed by hanging around with the century’s greatest songsmiths? If it was environment, why don’t we value Ringo’s songwriting skills as highly? He was there all the time too?

Their story does point to something else, some other mechanism. But what? Were they born with the talent and potential to write Sgt. Pepper? Were they unique in that respect? If so what DOES that say for the rest of us? Is 10,000 hours spent a waste on time for mere mortals? We’ll no doubt get pretty good at singing Twist and Shout but will we ever be able to transform the experience into A Hard Days Night, never mind a Hey Jude?

Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that the Beatles really, really really wanted to write the greatest songs. They certainly had a driving passion for their chosen field. But just being super keen isn’t enough either, otherwise all the contestants on those talent shows who ‘I’ll shrivel up and die if I don’t make it as a star’ would eventually shine. We know that they don’t.

Perhaps the teenager living next door to you, playing Wild Thing or Stairway to Heaven very badly on his out-of-tune electric guitar at all hours, may well be a future George Harrison, if only he had the chance to perform and/or hang out with some serious masters for enough time? How can we know?

There STILL are too many questions when it comes to creativity and the weird, obfuscated

world of talent (whatever that is) and still not enough answers.

So for now we’ll have to just keep practicing, crank up our 10,000 hours in our chosen field after all, and make sure we do our best to follow our own passion in the best way we can.

* Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
** It was more likely 2500 hours, but that’s actually no less impressive.
Drawing by Ayd Instone. 

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The two year creativity rule and how the Beatles used it

(or Why you must turn She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows)

Beatles US visit 1964 ink drawing  by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1964. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Most things in popular culture have a shelf life of just two years. Two short years before they run out of steam, become passe or boring and disappear, or, change form into something different, and then last another two years.

If you look at the pop charts, there are few artistes there from earlier than two years ago.

Just take a moment to look at your own life. The two year rule appears to work there too.

It’s as if human projects, be it friendships, affairs, or bands, clubs or gym membership begin with an enthusiasm which powers it long enough to last 600 – 700 days before the energy runs low. If the project doesn’t have another burst of enthusiasm, it will fall apart. But if it does get another injection of energy, it will change, hopefully for the better.

If you look at television series, the first two seasons have a similar feel. The third has to change the format somehow which either makes the show a hit and lasts another two years, or loses it’s audience and dies off. When the format ceases to innovate for that third series and tries to keep everything the same, even if it appears to the writers that their stuff is as good as ever, often it has become a parody of itself, re-treading old ground and becoming self-referencing. This is the point it either develops a cult following, or flops and fades away.

It’s the same with our lives. The two year rule reminds us that we must constantly innovate, but must be prepared for drastic change every two years.

If you’ve been in a job, in the same role for two years, the third year will seem repetitive and stale. If you don’t get promotion, changes in your role, more responsibility or something else, you’ll get bored and it will begin to affect other areas of your life.

There are plenty of examples of how best to use the two year rule but my favourite is the story of the Beatles.

Beatlemania arguably began in autumn 1963. The Beatles were enjoying universal success in the UK with their third number one, She Loves You and had just performed for the nation live at the London Palladium. This is our starting point. They slowly evolved, producing hit after hit for the next two years, conquered America and the World, keeping within their winning mop-top formula, keeping the girls screaming and everybody buying their records.

Then the two year rule took effect in late 1965. If they had produced another ‘Merseybeat’ happy-go-lucky song and album at that time they could have gone the way of all the other early sixties beat groups. They didn’t. They went in the studio and recorded Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). In just under three years from recording She Loves You they had produced something which was just about as far away from that song as is possible to get, and which at the time sounded like nothing on Earth. (It incidentally and unintentionally lay a foundation for modern electronic dance music too).

Beatles Revolver 1966 ink drawing by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1966. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

They became the market leader in this new phase of ‘psychedelic’ music. A phase which again, like every other, had a shelf life of two years. Again, many bands tried to stick with this new sound past 1968. They would come to be seen as the next batch of old fashioned yesterdays groups. Instead, the Beatles went (as they described it) ‘back to basics’ on their White Album, which appeared as a literal antithesis of the garishness of Sgt. Pepper which came before it.

This re-found ‘rawness’ heard on The White Album, the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) and Abbey Road took them through to 1970 when another change was due. The change they chose then of course was to work apart.

The musical styles that followed also adhered to the two year rule as the Beatles handed the batten to a new generation of bands to carry it forward. But very few other acts managed to do as they did and survive the two year change and stride the changes that inevitably come, in music and in every field.

From the early 1970s onwards music went through a number of mainstream trends, (some overlap but essentially are) the heavy rock/folk rock of 70-72 into Glam Rock 72-74, Disco 75-77, Punk 76-78, New Wave 78-80, New Romantic 81-83 and so on.

Where are you in your projects, work and life? Have you been working within something for nearly two years? If so you may need to work out what will innovate and revitalise it before it loses power and is overtaken by newer ideas from outside.

Here are a few ideas to do every two to three years:

  • reignite your personal relationships, partners and friends with a celebration.
  • If you are in business, think of a new product or service to launch or a completely new marketing campaign to revitalise the old
  • Start a new hobby or take an existing one to the next level by getting advanced training, new equipment or new players and partners to join in with
  • Go somewhere new for your holidays
  • Have a massive ‘spring clean’ in your home, work and life, getting rid of what no longer serves or is broken

Ask yourself this question: If you’re doing well right now, at the top of your charts with your own She Loves You – how can you top it? How can you create something bigger, better, more influential and yet still very much you: what will be your She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows transformation?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

9th December 1980

John Lennon 1968 by Ayd Instone

My drawing of John by me aged 16

We were getting ready to go to school one cold Tuesday morning. We had the radio on, which was on most mornings. Beatle songs were playing. I think it was my Mum who said it first, “John Lennon’s been shot”.  It was 9th December 1980. I was nearly 10. I listened in for details. Was he going to be ok? What had happened? John had been in the news recently anyway as he’d just released a new LP and single after being hidden away for five years.

Then it was made clear. He was gone. My eyes welled up. I’d been a bit choked when Elvis had died three years earlier, but that was more of just picking up on the cultural feel that was around and watching the news. This was personal. I didn’t want to go to school. It didn’t seem right. Especially as they were playing non-stop Beatles and John’s tunes all day on the radio.

So I went to school on that cold and damp day, depressed and sad, with the tune of Woman playing in my head, thinking about Sean Lennon who was five years younger than me and wondered what he must be thinking.

In 1979 Beatlemania gripped me and my mates as the BBC broadcasted all the Beatles films: A Hard Days Night, footage of the Washington gig in 1964, the 1965 Shea Stadium concert, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine and Let it Be. (This was the last showing to date for Shea Stadium and Let it Be.) It was amazing. My friend Sean and I formed a band, calling it the Bronze Beatles. I had got a guitar the previous Christmas but couldn’t play yet and we made a drum kit from chocolate boxes, drew guitars and sang songs from Help! (Sean’s Dad had the LP). I wanted nothing more than to be a Beatle and live in Help!

That Christmas my brother and I got a tape recorder for Christmas. We had two blank tapes. I filled them up by recording my dad’s Beatle LPs and singles by placing the take recorder as close to the record player’s speaker as possible and telling my brother to be quiet.

In January 1980 my Mum and Dad hosted a Burns night super. My Dad had got some Highland music records and he wanted them on cassette tape to play in the stereo system they’d borrowed. He had to tape over my copy of Help! It would be five years later later before I’d saved up enough money to buy my own vinyl copy. But my Dad got me a tape of the Beatles Rock ‘n’ Roll Music volume two to make up for it which gave me some new songs I’d never heard before such as I’m Down, Any Time at All and the brilliant Hey Bulldog.

Up until then I’d only had access to a few Beatles tunes. My Dad had three Beatle LPs and I inherited (or rather, I sneaked out of his collection and into mine). There was Beatles for Sale (their 4th LP from late 1964), With the Beatles, their 2nd LP, from 1963 and Revolver, their 7th, from 1966. He also had the EP Twist and Shout which contained four songs stripped away from their first LP, Please Please Me and the singles She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand and Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out.

My Dad had a Bush single speaker mono record player. It played 45s, 33&1/3s and 78 rpm records. You could stack up a few singles on the spindle and it would play one and then another would drop into place.

John Lennon 1968 by Ayd InstoneI discovered the record player at a very early age and rifled through my Dad’s collection of records. He had a handful of singles, most from the early sixties. Quite a few LPs, mostly Johnny Mathis, Herb Albert, the odd Sinatra and Dylan plus a bit of classical. I ignored all these. I was drawn to those four faces that stared out at me from the gatefold cover of Beatles for Sale. I knew that they were the same faces as those on With the Beatles. I found out they were called John, Paul, George and Ringo, but there was nothing on the sleeve to say which was which so I had to guess. My mind worked out that since they looked younger on With the Beatles and that it was in black and white, it must be the first album, perhaps preceded by Twist and Shout – also in black and white, but smaller. Then must come Beatles for Sale because that was in colour and a gatefold. But what about Revolver? That was in black and white but looked quite odd. The music was slightly different too. It was 1973. I was nearly 3. I surmised that With the Beatles was the past, Beatles for Sale was the present and Revolver was from the future.

An earlier thought I had about the Beatles was that my Dad was John Lennon. The evidence was the photo on Twist and Shout looked just like him and the message of We Can Work it Out  I felt expressed he ethos of my Dad. That was obviously a short lived theory.

It wasn’t until around 1976 that I found out that the Beatles weren’t still together. The re-issue singles were in the chart, as was Lennon’s solo Stand By Me and Imagine singles. From that point, like every other Beatle fan in the world, I’d been hoping and longing for that reunion.

John Lennon, 1974

John Lennon, 1974

John Lennon, 1967

John Lennon, 1967

Years later we learnt that John had planned to visit the UK in early 1981 and the four Beatles had agreed upon a reunion recording, perhaps a performance too, that year and had sworn secrecy on the details. All hope was dashed with the news on that December day.

I’ve read loads of accounts of the Beatles and their lives in the hundreds of books published on the topic. There is a strange feeling reading the details of that fateful day, about John’s sessions at the Record Plant studio, of the killer’s meeting with Lennon earlier in the day where he signed a copy of Double Fantasy (there’s a photo of the two of them together). As I read the details and it all becomes more and more real I start to feel as though I can change the outcome somehow, as if the history of has not been decided. I meet John outside the recording studio and urge him not to go home straight away that night, then I wait near the Dakota building as dusk falls and spot the killer, tackle him, call the police, anything.

But history doesn’t work like that. It felt as though there was so much more of the Beatles story to tell, so much more songs to come. As it must be the same as with anyone who loses someone, anyone, it feels as though we’re cheated by being given an alternative, grimmer history that the one we were promised. People older than me have said that the Sixties finally ended that day and the dreams of their youth were over. You can mourn a man you never met if what he stood for was an important personal idea. It was that idea that died that night.

John Lennon 1965 by Ayd InstoneSome people say the Beatles, and Lennon, aren’t important. They’re wrong. Derek Taylor described them as ‘the 20th Century’s greatest romance’ and he’s right. We still don’t know why or how it all happened, but it did, and for a short while, many, many people in the world shared something. It represented probably the last great collective memory, a potent beam of optimism, hope and fun, that touched so many lives in so many ways.

On 8th December 1980 the world was reminded that we are all mortal, ugly, vicious, spiteful and powerless. But there is still hope. We can still put on a Beatle record and find that the magic is still there, divorced from time and space, separated from the mortal men that created it.

There IS joy to be sought and cherished in life no matter what undesired twists and turns we face.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Read more here.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Imagine and the Millennium Prayer

John Lennon beatlesIn 1999 I wrote an article about the two songs released at Christmas that year which competed for the number one slot in the UK single charts.

They were John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘The Millennium Prayer’ (the Lords Prayer sang to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’).

As we approach the 31st anniversary of John Lennon’s untimely death, I thought it might be worth looking at again.

Both songs were saying very different things to very different people – or were they?

Both are very simplistic musically and lyrically, presenting quite complex ideas with enormous consequences in straightforward everyday language.

‘Imagine’ is John Lennon’s most famous song, but by no means his best selling (that honour goes to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’). It was composed a year after the Beatles split, at his house in Ascot in 1971, becoming the title track of his second solo album. Some of the lyric came from his wife, Yoko’s book ‘Grapefruit’. The song stands out on the album like a healthy thumb on a sore fist – its plea for world peace is at odds with the bitter and cynical songs that follow it. It was not released as a single at the time and had to wait until 1975 when it was released to promote a Lennon greatest hits compilation (reaching number 6). It was re-released following his death in 1980, taking the number 1 slot for four weeks in January 1981.

In April 1970 Lennon had walked out on the most successful and popular entertainment phenomena in history. After leaving the Beatles, he began the process of deconstructing his cheeky, friendly mop-top image, much to the disappointment of his fans. John had married Yoko One, an avant guard Japanese American artist in 1969 – from then on the two were never seen apart. John began his new role of dressing in white and parading around the world outraging his fans and critics alike by proclaiming peace and ‘War is Over – If You Want it’.

His message, like the lyric to ‘Imagine’ was simple and by his own admission, childish. If everyone stayed in bed for a week, there’d be no more war – Lennon knew he was no politician (who he described as ‘all insane’) but he knew he had a presence and the attention of the world’s youth. Outraged by the crisis of the late sixties and Britain and America’s involvement in Biafra and Vietnam he began his bed-in for peace campaign.

Born out of clownish stupidity John described himself and Yoko as the ‘Laurel and Hardy of the peace movement’ seeing their role as drawing the world’s attention to the issues then allowing the serious peacemakers who lacked his public appeal to take over. John wanted to fight the enemies of peace with humour, vowing he would never take himself seriously, because he said, ‘all the serious people like Ghandi, Kennedy and Martin Luther King got shot’.

After ‘Imagine’ was released, the World Church approached Lennon to ask to use the song as their theme. Initially he was interested until they asked to change the line, ‘Imaging no religion’ to ‘Imagine one religion’. Lennon flew into a rage saying that they had misunderstood the whole point of the song. But what was ‘the point of the song’?

John refers to himself as being regarded by the world as a dreamer. He knows that the sentiment of ‘peace’ sounds idealistic and even foolish. He then informs us that he’s not the only one and that someday hopes that we, the listener will join with him and all the ‘dreamers’ so that the world will live as one, in peace. To me that’s the most important part of the song. A personal request for us all, when we’re ready, to join those who dream of world peace.

The Beatles had been involved with religion before. In 1967 they attended a talk by the Marharishi Mahesh Yogi. Ringo never really got stuck into the eastern philosophy (he didn’t like the food) and Paul’s Catholic upbringing made him feel uncomfortable with it. George and John however dived in head first. George was the first to renounce drugs in late ’67 in favour of meditation. John’s affair with the Hindu mystic was short lived, pulling out of their stay in India after discovering that the Marharishi had urges that were certainly very human.

A year earlier had come the first sign of Beatlemania turning against them. John had mentioned in an article in a British magazine interview that he believed the Beatles were now more popular than Jesus. In Britain no-one took any notice, but the southern states of America went into a frenzy of burning Beatle records in numerous bonfire points culminating in the Beatles receiving a death threat from the Klu Klux Klan. In a very uncomfortable interview, John had to explain to a press conference what he had meant, and apologise. He said, ‘I didn’t mean that we were better, or greater than Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong and now it’s all this. I use the term Beatles as I see them…If I has said television was more popular than Jesus I might have got away with it.’

John’s involvement with the peace movement was always from a common sense point of view. He was attacked by critics for seemingly criticising protestors involved in the riots in 1968. His Beatles song ‘Revolution’ says that instead of violence, ‘You’d better free your minds instead’. In an interview around that time he said, ‘Ok, so you bring down the government, what then? You assassinate the leaders, what then?’ Lennon’s view was that it was the system that needed attacking, not the people and to attack the system people’s minds needed changing on an individual basis, a personal belief that he had found lacking in eastern mysticism.

Lennon gave up his peace protests in 1975 after the birth of his son Sean. Now living in America, he had been threatened by the CIA who had been bugging his telephone and had agents following him around over a period of two years. With the risk of him losing his permit to stay in America, he wrote to all the movements that he had been involved with, including his record company, saying that he was withdrawing from public life to bring up his son.

Lennon said in 1970, ‘Jesus was all right. It’s his disciples twisting it that ruins it for me.’ At that time he was surprised to hear that his close friend Bob Dylan had become a Christian. And yet in his last interview (two days before his death in 1980) he talked about studying early Christian gnosticism and had become an avid viewer of television evangelism.

Taken alone, ‘Imagine’ appears to describe a humanist utopia, but in the context of Lennon’s life and his other, rather large, body of work, it proves to be a reductionistic prose that, like the Lord’s Prayer, hints at a greater goodness. It would take many more words to explain fully but through gentle well chosen passages, stirring strings and a haunting piano, it manages to capture the attention of today’s impatient minds, perhaps just long enough for them to consider the message.

Lennon’s work alternately switched from proclaiming peace and love to proclaiming his own humanity and frailty. The line in the song, ‘Image there’s no heaven’ is presented as though he believes that it exists, like he believes there are countries and possessions. What he wants to achieve from the song is the removal of obstacles that prevent world peace and that prevent us living for today, the same message as ‘give us today our daily bread’ – we cannot eat yesterday’s or tomorrow’s bread, only today’s.

The message of ‘Imagine’ is the same as of most of the Beatles songs, essentially the same as the Lord’s Prayer, that of universal, eternal love.

In 1967 the Beatles were chosen to open the first satellite broadcast around the world to 300 million viewers. John wrote a special song for the occasion called ‘All You Need is Love’. George Harrison said of the song and the broadcast as ‘an opportunity to do PR for… God’. It wasn’t that he really thought that you don’t need food or water, only love, but instead that we actually do have everything already, but what we really need, the thing that is missing, is love.

What would Lennon make of his song being used for the Millennium? From his reaction to other things in his life we can safely assume that his reaction would not be the one we’d expect. Having his song used for a bland aimless celebration of nothing he would certainly have disapproved. But if in minds of the hedonistic aimless revellers at the white elephant of the £789 million Millennium Dome, it it stirred some thoughts on peace, he would have been pleased.

Cliff Richard’s ‘The Millennium Prayer’ was released by an independent record label, Papillon Records, after Richard’s own label EMI refused to release it. Proceeds of the single went to aid charity Children’s Promise. It was panned by the critics and many radio stations refused to play it. A 2004 VH1 poll labeled it the worst number one record of all time. (Imagine had been ranked by Rolling Stone as the third greatest song of all time)

The Millennium Prayer won the Ivor Novello award for the best selling single of 1999. It was Richard’s fourteenth number 1 hit, hitting the top spot on 4th December 1999 and was the third highest-selling single of his career. The re-release of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ sat behind it at number 3. Both singles were beaten to the Christmas and new millennium number 1 spot by Westlife with their ‘I Have A Dream’/’Seasons in the Sun’.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Read more here.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The Imaginary Audience and the Ingredients for Creativity

I’ve written nearly 500 songs. The lyrics for the first 400 or so are typed up and bound in a book. The original lyrics and chords are contain in dozens on hardback notebooks, usually written in multicoloured ink, dating back to 1985. All my hundreds of cassette tapes and recordings have been remastered onto 96 CDs, all with nice covers.

All my music on CDs

I haven’t written too many songs of late. And there’s a backlog of unfinished songs from the past few years, some good ones, crying out to be recorded. But recording seems to take so much time these days. It’s hard to get my old band mates together. I often don’t get my guitar out of its case between shows that often. What’s going on? Obviously I’ve got a young family now. But has my creativity run out of steam? Am I just too ‘busy’? Or are there other, missing ingredients that I once had, that are now lost?

I’m not boasting that I’ve written 500 brilliant songs. Some of them are an embarrassment, like this one, See You at the Top.

Some, which I derided at the time, have a certain quality now, years later. What is interesting to note is that because I wrote them down and gave them a ‘number’, they are all different. I didn’t re-write the same song over and over and I didn’t re-write someone else’s song; each of them are unique.

Have a listen to The Land of Dreams. It had the best lyrics I’d ever written and yet we preferred it without any at all, so here it is as an instrumental. That’s just me and Jase just after we both turned 21.

I have a particular fondness for the ones that were composed with others, where John or Jase contributed a line or a chord or where Twan and I would sit down and craft a hit tune for our forthcoming CD or record something really weird to send in to Nightshift (Oxford’s music magazine) to see what they would make of it.

Try this for weirdness. We randomly arranged fridge magnet words and used them as the lyrics as an etherial stream of consciousness. It got a good review: Ghost Writing.

Dreamweaver - The World Turns All Around CDHere’s a more serious example, The World Turns All Around. It was written when I was 20. Here’s the original solo version.

And here’s the band versionwhich was our second biggest seller. I was 26. Our biggest seller, incidentally, was this song.

Going back even earlier, I would write a new batch of songs and record them as my new album just to impress Jase, just to beat what he could do. Then he’d do the same and I’d be amazed at what he’d come up with so I’d go back and wrote a new album of songs with even deeper themes, cleverer lyrics, catchy or haunting tunes and so we’d go on, out-doing each other. My favourite from this era is Pipedream. Here’s the original solo version from 1991 and a live version with Twan on mandolin in 2002.

What did we write our songs about? Probably what every teenage boy starts writing songs about: girls. Usually particular girls. In my case most of the early songs were about the same girl (she never knew). Can you write a dozen, very different songs all about the same girl? Of course you can, because she wasn’t a real person, or rather she was based on a real person but became something else: a muse.

Here’s one of those songs: Dreamcatcher

Here’s another, with the lyrics I’m most proud of as the songs began to get more sophisticated and eclectic, describing abstract feelings, emotions and consciousness. This is Never Forever.

At college almost every one of my friends was a musician, and most were songwriters too. It was like being in a stable of artists like how I imagined London to be in the 1960s with all the bands hanging out together with Mick and Keith from the Stones popping into the Beatles’ Revolver recording sessions and John and Paul returning the favour on the Stones’ We Love You recording. There was a sense of belonging.

Inspired by Syd Barrett, George and I spent two days immersed in what we thought was the founder member of Pink Floyd’s mindset, to attempt to write and record a batch of songs just like his. We did it, and the results are still impressive today. We were both 17. A year later John, Mark and I (then called The Jinx) wrote and recorded this Pink Floyd style song, Soul Survivor. The inspiration for which was the cover of a Brian Aldiss science fiction novel (You’ll see why when you see the cover for Last Orders).

Of course, between the ages of 17 and 22 is the time in your life when you have the most time on your hands. No wonder it was my most prolific era. I had no responsibilities except for failing my A levels (because they came second after the music). Plus we all got by without the pressure of having to earn much money.

Back in 1980, John Lennon felt as though he’d left the buzz, the wild times and the charts behind. He’d been writing the odd song here and there but since 1975 he’d been concentrating on his family and bringing up his son Sean. He felt that the magic had left him somehow and that his creativity had nothing to hang onto. There seemed to be nothing to fan the flames. By all accounts, he was generally happy, after all, he wanted for nothing at that point.

It was during a sailing trip around Bermuda when he re-discovered his mojo. A storm came up and the crew where unwell and unable to sail the ship. It could have been certain disaster but for the 39 year old Beatle who, with rain lashing at his body, sailed back to safety. He felt ‘alive’ again. The next day the songs came thick and fast. The first ones to be finished went out on what was to be his last album, Double Fantasy, in October 1980 just after his 40th birthday. He continued to write and record right up until the night of the 8th of December when a gunman cut short his creativity and silenced the voice of a generation.

If we analysis all this we have a few ingredients that are needed to be a prolific songwriter, and in fact, to be prolifically creative at anything. Here is what I think, from my experience, is needed:

• The fun of collaboration
• A muse
• Heathy competition
• A sense of community
• A particular goal
• Time
• A lust for life

But there’s one more element needed that I’ve failed to mention properly. One of the most dehabilitating thoughts and feelings when it comes to your own creativity is a lack of confidence in your abilities. This can often be worded as ‘people don’t think I’m any good’, or ‘who’s interested in my stuff?’

I find that a real block to writing a song today. Who’s interested in my stuff? I mean really. I’m not 17 anymore. I haven’t had massive chart success. There are millions of songwriters out there. I’ve got no fanbase. Who gives a fig? What’s the point?

What’s happening here is that there is a need for an audience for our creativity. We want approval, recognition or at least acknowledgment that we have done something. After all, art isn’t art until its put in a frame and hung on the wall. It’s not art when it’s in a drawer or in the attic.

The irony is that at this point when I think I don’t have an audience, more people have viewed my band’s song Whatever Turns You On which has had 527 views on YouTube, than ever saw all of our gigs put together. My song about the psychic octopus has had 3574 views.

In a way we’re like a post-modern Velvet Underground. That ‘famous’ band featuring Lou Reed only ever played in their home town to small audiences. By the time the world had caught on they’d all but split up.

The other odd irony is that when I was at my most prolific and when we were in the band, pushing our own boundaries of song composition and performance, ‘who’ did we think we were doing it for? It certainly wasn’t to just impress the twenty or so people who may have turned up to one of those gigs. It wasn’t even to impress potential record promoters, managers and talent scouts as we knew they were not likely to be there.

In our heads, we were at Shea Stadium. We were on the Ed Sullivan Show. We were on the Apple rooftop. In our minds eye we were doing a spot on Wogan or Parkinson, on TFI Friday, on Ready Steady Go!, on the Tube, The Old Grey Whistle Test and of course on Top of the Pops. We imagined our own audience and wrote and performed for them. By doing that we were constantly trying to beat our personal best for our ideal audience.

So if you don’t feel you have the audience, or the right audience for your creative project, or have a block or that feeling of being uninspired, whether its songwriting or a book you have in mind, or something else entirely, look to see how many of the ingredients listed above you have.

Think of the ideal audience for your work and play to them. You never know, they may just turn up…

Here’s one more song to end with. Play this on Saturday Morning

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

How to write songs (or create just about anything)

John Lennon and Paul McCartneyThere’s an important difference between most classically trained musicians and self-taught musicians that gives us an interesting clue into our creativity. It’s to do with the difference between prescriptive practice and trial and error…

Few self-taught musicians play classical music, they tend to play more popular styles. The reason for that is that classical playing is difficult and requires dedication and discipline that, in most cases, needs tuition to get right. Pop music on the other hand has few rules and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what they are.

Most songwriters and music composers are of the self-taught pop music kind. In fact, being a self taught pop musician almost always leads to composition, whereas much fewer classical players write their own music. (Just about every fledgling rock guitarist has written a batch of songs within 6 months of learning to play. The average member of any orchestra, no matter how accomplished, may never put pen to paper).

The reason is that the two types of playing, or rather the journey that arrives at the types of playing, use different kinds of learning and result in different types of creative expression.

With the classical musician, the task is to master the instrument in the proper way, to learn the language of music to be able to read it and perform it with accuracy and then hopefully, with personality.

With a pop musician, the task is to knock out your favourite tunes to entertain yourself and others as quickly as possible.

With the classical musician, the task of learning heads towards perfection through practice. Mistakes are corrected and eventually eradicated.

With the pop musician, mistakes arrive quickly due to ignorance or lack of technical ability on how the favourite song should be played. But instead of correcting, some of these errors are kept in to give a deliberately imperfect performance of the song. Getting ‘the gist’ of it gives a much quicker result.

With the classical musician, the task of playing does not naturally lead to original composition whereas with the pop musician, original composition is the natural destination. When the pop musician strikes the wrong chord, or sings the wrong note or lyric and that mistake sounds ‘interesting’ they have, due to that mistake, become a songwriter.

The thing that first impressed Paul McCartney when he first met John Lennon when John was playing with his band The Quarrymen at the school fete on 6th July 1957, was that John clearly didn’t know all the words to the rock and roll songs they were performing and because of that he made new ones up that sounded roughly right. He was already a proto-songwriter.

The driving force for many pop musicians isn’t that different from classical musicians: they both start off wanting to perform a particular piece with perfection.

With Paul McCartney, he wanted to sound like his heroes such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. His early inadequacies meant that he could get close, but not all the way. Those performances that were close, but slightly different then easily became modified into new songs in their own right. They sounded similar to the inspiration but had a different personality. This inability of Lennon and McCartney to write songs exactly like their heroes is what gave us that amazing Beatle sound and those brilliant new songs.

As the sixties progressed and McCartney became such an amazingly proficient musician, he could replicate his favourite songs exactly and easily so had to draw upon new sources and methods to create new songs. You can hear the transition in 1965/66 with the songs like Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby. The reason he could move on to write in a different way was because of the way he had learnt to play, by trial and error. The resulting connections in his neural pathways gave rise to a whole new direction for his composition.

With a pop musician, most new compositions arise from the happy coincidence of unusual chord progressions, melody or rhythm combinations. This is because the way they learnt to engage with music was in a way that allowed errors, and, allowed those errors to be incorporated and developed.

In business we need to think more like the pop musician rather than the classical musician. Our aim is not to aim for a prefect rendition as an end in itself, but to aim for perfection as a method that throws up interesting diversions that could very well lead to a fantastic innovation.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Read more here.

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Avoid the comfort zone of the re-release

Beatles illustration 1967 by Ayd Instone

Illustration by Ayd Instone

We’ve all seen them – the Beatles re-releases on CD, iTunes and the Rock Band video game. Don’t think that this is nostalgia. It’s something else, a bigger phenomenon of re-fashioning and re-making pre-existing material for new audiences to make even more money from what’s already been sold. This concept can prove to be, in some ways anti-creative if we’re not careful.

Artistically, the Beatles have inspired many of the great rock bands (and not just artists in the music industry but all sorts of endeavours in business, art, charity, technology and science) and those that have been inspired have gone onto inspire others.

The continued presence of the Beatles is a good thing; it does the same job as they did in the early sixties – everyone else has to rise their game. Otherwise we’d all have no choice but to be still listening to things like Shirley Temple and Frank Ifield.

It’s like how Apple’s iPhone has raised the game in the realm of hand held communication devices. Every phone company now has their own ‘iPhone beater’ smartphone. Their previous tacky, simplistic and overpriced standard phones are just not good enough. Apple, like the Beatles, proved and continue to prove that it can and should be done well.

But there’s a danger. It doesn’t lie with the likes of artists and scientists, most of which continue to push boundaries and create new content. The danger of the nostalgia and re-release industry is that the audience gets soft. They get comfortable with the familiar and don’t try or value new things.

This is why Hollywood constantly makes (inferior) remakes of classic movies. This is why West End and Broadway musicals are re-hashes of old ones, old movies or successful old back-catalogues. This is why people will go and see a performance of a Shakespeare or Pinter play but not a daring new work by a new playwright.

This is why the music industry in is disarray. The biggest selling act of the 90s was the Beatles. The biggest selling album of the 2000s was: you guessed it, the Beatles. The money just keeps coming in. There’s no real need to search for and develop new talent. When Elton John’s contract came up for renewal, all the record labels clamoured to get him to sign with them; he’s a safe bet. Few are prepared to take a chance like George Martin did with the rough, unknown, unproven Beatles in 1962.

Today there is still a healthy gig-going culture with some great bands. In fact, live music is a bigger industry than it’s ever been. But so many of these never each their full potential because they don’t get the wider backing.

The Kinks were a great live band in the early 60s. They played exclusively covers of hits of the day. People booked them and people went to see them because they were a great band. In 1964 when Ray Davies wrote the hit You Really Got Me they embarked on a recording career. Their first three or four albums are pretty mediocre (with the exception of the included singles). But they were allowed to develop and improve and what followed was exceptional. They became one of the defining acts of the era. That’s unlikely to happen now.

It’s the same in publishing. Massive advance payments and marketing budgets are available for the same old thing or the ghost written celebrity memoirs while the new author with the ground breaking novel is either not published or just left to their own devices and baring some miracle, goes unnoticed.

Until very recently Disney was going to do a re-make of the Beatles 1968 animated feature Yellow Submarine. They were going to use the same storyline, the same songs – but make it in 3D, thereby losing the unique charm of the original. Why bother? Why do it when the original is so good? Why not re-paint the Mona Lisa or re-build Stone Henge while you’re at?

Why redo things? Why not do something new? The Beatles never re-trod old ground. In most cases they didn’t even put the singles on their albums as they thought it would be a rip-off for the fans who’d already bought them.

They never did anything the same twice, there was was always a progression, always something different and they moved on fast. So too did everyone else around them.

We should all be more like that. Try new things. Create new and different approaches. Experiment and move forwards, not back. Re-invent ourselves. Take what has gone before an build upon it, improve it where possible and keep going. Yes, there may be a few mistakes along the way, the odd Magical Mystery Tour TV special or Get Back sessions. The occasional Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. But those slight low points of errors in judgement also allow for the great highs of the successes like Something or Hey Jude.

We need to take risks with our creativity, as both creator… and appreciator.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

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Don’t let your ego get in the way of success

Ayd Instone John Bloor Jason BlundellWhen I formed my first proper band aged 17 we were almost ready to take on the world. By that point I’d written close to 100 songs (and bandmates John and Jase were writing good stuff too). But we had a problem.

With the exception of Mark on drums, we all played guitar. John was far and away the best lead guitar, but both Jase and played rhythm. We had no bass player. With hindsight it’s easy to see that either Jase or me should have switch to bass, even if just for gigs. A year later both of us independently bought bass guitars to use on our recordings and we both quickly learned to be quite good at it. I even enjoyed it (and still do).

The reason neither of us did what was so obviously needed is the same reason that other enterprises fail, be they bands or businesses: we were both totally stubborn and had fixed ideas about what we wanted to do.

Let’s compare this attitude with the early Beatles who faced exactly the same dilemma 26 years earlier. They had three guitar players. John’s artist friend Stuart Sutcliffe had played bass in the early Hamburg gigs, sometimes so badly that he’d turn his back to the audience so no-one would notice he’d be playing the wrong notes. But he had left to continue his painting and be with his German girlfriend, photographer Astrid Kirchherr.

So that meant they had no bass. Who was going to switch, John, Paul or George? It wasn’t going to be George because he was lead guitar which is something you usually can’t do when singing. As George wasn’t going to be a full-time front man it made sense for him to stay on lead. John was stubborn and refused as he identified the guitar as the front-man’s instrument. I bet he’d realised that it would be too hard to pay bass and sing too. I think that Jase felt that way too. In retrospect I should have been the bigger man, like Paul, who switched to bass without fuss. Paul’s genius with melody enabled him to play some of the greatest bass lines in popular music whist singing the main vocal line live. The Beatles then had the perfect line up to create their sound.

My band, The Jinx on the other hand, were stuck with two rhythm guitars and no bass, creating a thinner, trebly sound live with no low end to drive it. As I found out much later, I was perfectly capable of playing bass and singing live. If only I hadn’t put my fixed ideas and stubbornness in front of the big picture.

The lesson learnt: sacrifices may need to be made for success.

Having fixed, immovable ideas can hold you back. I didn’t want to play bass because I wanted to be the John in the band, not the Paul. There were even four members of the band because that was the magic number: anything to be like the Beatles, that was the model. But trying to shoehorn our quite different attributes and personalities into a preconceived model was foolish. It disregarded each individual’s uniqueness for the sake of an fixed idea. A decade later, I found that we were a better band as a threesome, ‘a power trio’. It took that long to break away from trying to follow the wrong prescription.

The lesson learnt: have a model to follow, but don’t make it above question and change it if needed.

The band contained yet another example of this. I’d taken the model of each member of the band being of equal status with Jase and I being the two front men (i.e. the John and Paul), John taking George’s role and Mark as Ringo. In many ways it would have better suited us if I’d been less fair on the spotlight and pushed myself forward as the singer/songwriter and had the rest, as ‘my band’. At the time, that model would have shown our uniqueness clearer to agents and bookers. But Cliff and the Shadows or even Bob Dylan and The Band were not my models. Putting as the main face could have been better, but so too could the idea of making Jase the figurehead. I recently saw a picture of a young Elvis Presley. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I’d seen a photo of Jase, circa 1989. Again, the arrogance and insecurity of my youth did not allow me to realise that we could have sold the band off the back of Jase being pushed to the front instead of me. His tall, dark and handsome Elvis look complete with quiff was exaggerated by his adoption, unlike me, of contemporary late eighties fashions which owed more to the late fifties than the then alienness appearance of sixties fashion which I was looking for. What’s more people came to see Jase, or more importantly, girls came to see Jase. They didn’t come to see me. I thought they should have done, after all, I was the songwriter and band leader. It took me years to discover that girls don’t care about such things. Not when there’s a better looking guy stood there.

The lesson learnt: get the right people in the right roles irrespective of your own ego.

Pride is a hard thing to swallow. Geeky-looking Manfred Mann pushed cool-looking Paul Jones and then Mike d’Abo to front his band. Noel Gallagher knew that his brother Liam was the face that would sell Oasis.

Bill Stainton picks up the best example of this in his book ‘The 5 Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made’ when he points out that the biggest thing John Lennon ever did, as an arrogant and confident teenager, on the lookout for success and girls, who already had a working band, was to let young upstart Paul McCartney into his band. Paul was better looking, more popular with the girls, a better singer, better guitarist and was also a songwriter like Lennon. Paul was the most deadly rival a cocksure and yet insecure pubescent Lennon could ever have faced. And yet Lennon was big enough, strong enough and far sighted enough to realise that sharing the front of the stage and sharing the glory with this rival would make a better band with a better chance of success. Lennon was proved to be right and was a far bigger man than I was at the same age.

The lesson learnt: bring in people better than you.

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