I have just bought Peter Cook’s highly acclaimed book on The Music of Business (buy it here now)
I swear I have not yet opened the cover but realised that I wrote the following piece (but never published it) about innovation occurring at last years Cambridge Rock Festival and thought I would publish it before I get accused of stealing ideas from Peter. So here goes…
It was a Friday night at the Cambridge Rock Festival back in July 2012. Mick and I sat having a welcome cup of coffee, surveying the site. So many of our rock heroes were playing over the four days, mostly with new younger musicians that still wanted to tour and had yet to get so annoyed at the ‘rock gods’ that they would vow never to play with them again. The day before we had seen excellent copycat bands You Too, Ultimate Eagles, ZZ Tops and today Mick had his first experience of John Otway. I still had a twitch list of Del Bromham, Mick Ralphs, Vernon Allan, Thijs Van Leer, ex members of UFO and a number of newly formed prog bands. So we surveyed the site and realised that we had so far been pretty devoid of innovation and change which is such a strong driving force in my ‘working’ life.
So we wondered ‘what goes on in the Acoustic tent?’. A passing friend said that ‘Fred’s House’ were just about to take the stage (which was quiet enough for only 20 minutes between changeover of bands on Stage 2). So we peered in and a youthful crowd with an even younger band drew us in. Four or five songs later we were hooked. A terrific show, all self written songs, all with a charm and enthusiasm that we could see this was a band really going places. No one left during the performance. Mick had to queue to buy their latest and only EP. We thought ‘things can’t get better than this’, an unexpected highlight of the festival so far.
We wandered out, our spirits lifted, so this is where the innovation and new growth takes place, in a small tent, where the big bands and most of the thousands present are not aware of the soon to rise S-curve.
We dipped into the other stages but we had tasted new found riches and so quickly got back in the Acoustic Tent for the final act, Velvet Handled Revolver. We watched the band set up in amusement as we joked about travelling through a time vortex back to the sixties. And why the deckchairs? At 10pm as the sound from outside died down they took to the stage. Sitting down they began a mesmerising acoustic rhythm reminiscent of Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The keyboard came in and it was the jangly sounds of the Doors. Then the singer, Lee Vernon, looking like a smart young Lee Brilleaux grabbed the mike and sang in the most gravelly and luscious tones that made Chris Rea and Rod Stewart sound like choir boys.
The songs progressed, the rhythms were amazing, the sound and experience was much greater than the sum of its parts. More and more punters were welcomed into the tent. After 20 minutes we were worried that the noise of cheering might be a problem for the other stages. Then the singer revealed that they had a plan, to be heard over the noise. He announced that they were about to go electric. I was so in ‘sixties mode’ that I shouted ‘Judas’, triggering much laughter and several anecdotes from Lee about heckling that covered the transformation that was about to take place.
Kicking away the deckchairs they launched into a string of songs that just got better and better. Tight intricate rhythms punctuated by full on Doors style keyboards this was something new and fresh but bringing together elements already proven to be successful. Exaptation at its most sublime. They really rocked and the sound was loud but crystal clear from an amazing Bose sound system. As we sailed past the 10:25 scheduled finish we were visited by the great Dave Roberts (festival organiser) who coordinates and keeps CRF going. Apparently we can go on till midnight and he wants us on the main stage next year. A cheer went up, whether this was true or a great joke, who cares, we were watching a band at the peak of their creativity, working their socks off.
Another sixties moment occurred part way through but this time in reverse. This really reminded me of ‘Blow up’ the 1966 film about a be-suited David Bailey who photographed young ladies:
It was an amazing set, timed at one hour and forty minutes. Songs were being repeated, the audience were cheering and whistling. Four times a steward from the Second Stage came to ask us to turn down the sound and each time our sound engineer mimed a turning down motion at his console. This set was worth the entire festival ticket fee itself. I bought their new album and acoustic EP and can’t stop listening to them in the car.
So my thoughts about innovation:
- Its often about bringing together already existing ideas in new ways
- It happens where you least expect it
- The existing big players may be totally unaware of it until too late.
- When people are focussed and encouraged they can deliver much more than the sum of their parts.
- We sometimes have to go back and start from a stage in the past as opposed to progressing what we have now.
- An atmosphere of deprivation helps (this was the only way they could get on the bill)
- Time restriction – blow us away in 20 minutes
- Bringing together a group of different individuals and nurturing and protecting them until they build enough material, their own style/sound
NB: Don’t get me wrong the rest of the festival was fantastic but this was the story and the performance that will stick with me for a very long time.
POSTSCRIPT [Limited number of tickets remaining for launch of next album at Bedford – get yours at www.pearlhandledrevolver.com ]