2022 Music Jubilees 1997 and 1972
In this jubilee year of 2022, it’s a good moment to celebrate two of the greatest years in popular music – the silver jubilee of 1997 and the golden one of 1972. This celebration was written and conceived as a networking 4Sight presentation back in the summer of 2022, looking ahead to the Platinum Jubilee of HM the Queen. Sadly, of course, she has since died, but that doesn’t diminish the years in question. And it’s a good moment to consider the seeming light years of musical development that took place during the Queen’s long reign.
When she acceded to the throne on 6 Feb 1952, crooner Johnnie Ray was at number one with ‘Cry’, and when she died, on 8 Sept 2022, it was Eliza Rose at the top spot with BODA, Baddest of Them All, in its own way perhaps a great tribute to Her Maj…
25 years on: 1997
My strongest musical memory from that year was taking my son Ben, aged 13, to his first major concert – Radiohead at the NEC on the OK Computer tour, with diverse support from DJ Shadow (amazing) and Teenage Fanclub (one of my favourite bands, but lost in a stadium full of Radiohead fans…). As for the headliners, it felt like a special moment in their career, a blistering set, and as Ben has gone on to make a career in music, I like to think it was a formative event.
OK Computer still makes the top of many album polls, but it was by no means the only great album released in ’97. This year saw so many bands and artists at the top of their game, with favourite albums of mine released by Bjork, Blur, Spiritualised, Cornershop, Teenage Fanclub, Supergrass, Stereolab and Yo La Tengo. Even Bowie released his best album of the ‘90s, Earthling.
These albums + other music referred to in this blog are summarised on this ‘Celebrating 1997’ Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/12KE01MRb45ARgfjecipRd?si=50a21e31f2c44213
Various trends emerged in ’97. For sure, it was a hugely successful year for the music industry, particularly looking back 25 years and comparing it with today’s commercial landscape in music. CD sales were phenomenal. The two bestselling albums in ’97, from Shania Twain and Celine Dion, sold 70M copies, which is more than total CD sales in the US and UK in 2021! ’97 was also the year of the bestselling single of all time (33M copies sold!), Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997, of course reflecting the exceptional circumstances of Diana’s death.
The gap between the commercially successful music of the time (Barbie Girl, Teletubbies, Titanic soundtrack) and the quality of some of the music released, was as wide as ever, and certainly a similar pattern to that of 1972. There were some great tracks though which were chart successes and still sound great: Never Ever, Lovefool, Bitter Sweet Symphony, Firestarter, Richard III, Beetlebum and Setting Sun, to name a few, still sound great.
The beats of the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy were part of an emerging scene, with Daft Punk’s debut, David Holmes’ Let’s Get Killed and others contributing to a new style of dance music. Girl Power was a thing still, with the Spice Girls releasing their second album, Spice World (+ nuts movie) and All Saints debut album, which remains a great record.
Some great artists’ debut albums came out in this year. The mighty Mogwai arrived with Young Team, plus Erykah Badu’s peerless Baduizm, and an unlikely worldwide hit from some wonderful old guys from Cuba, Buena Vista Social Club. Just as great new music was emerging, ’97 also saw some bands tipping over and falling from their heights. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the notorious release of Oasis’s ill-fated third album, Be Here Now. I say ill-fated, it still sold bucketloads, with fans rushing out to get the album after the magic of their first two, but charity shops soon filled up with discarded copies of this bloated mess.
So, looking back, although the nineties and noughties years all start, to me, to blur together a bit when thinking about musical trends, ’97 is definitely worth focusing on and rediscovering.
50 years on: 1972
No danger of any blurring with this year, a true landmark year in music, the year of Ziggy, Roxy and Lou, of prog’s peak, of Neil and Joni and Carly, of Machine Head and Exile, and so much more. I was 15 and spent the summer on Long Island listening to Layla and School’s Out, what a time to be alive!
So much was crammed into each year from, say, 1966-1972 that, looking back, the excitement each month brought in terms of amazing new music was incredible. Whole books have been written about 1972, and indeed many of the albums released that year, so summarising briefly is hard.
However, check out my ‘Celebrating 1972’ playlist for a taste of what happened: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2VIJLnWqUx7ObiPZobpmT6?si=0cc6a5aac894407a
As with ’97, the charts didn’t necessarily reflect the quality of what was going on. In the top five singles of ’72 are Donny Osmond, New Seekers and… Lieutenant Pigeon with Mouldy Old Dough, surely one of the most bizarre number ones ever. In the album charts, the most successful artists were MOR stalwarts such as Bread, the Carpenters and Simon & Garfunkel. However, Neil Young and Bowie were in the top 5 too, which is pretty remarkable.
Great singles of ’72, where to start?? Layla, Stay with Me, Silver Machine, All the Young Dudes, Virginia Plain, School’s Out, Starman, Lady Eleanor… the list goes on! And in virtually every genre, it was a peak year: Prog delivered Close to the Edge, Foxtrot, Argus, Trilogy and Thick as a Brick. In rock there was Machine Head, Sabbath Vol 4, Grateful Dead Live in Europe, Eat a Peach, Caravanserai, Can’t Buy a Thrill, and the last great Stones album, Exile on Main Street. It was also the height of the era of the singer-songwriter, with these landmark albums: Harvest, Pink Moon, No Secrets, For the Roses, Never a Dull Moment, Catch Bull at Four, Sandy, and Jackson Browne.
Three other genres were on the rise, reflecting the diversity of music on offer. Black music was producing some of the most interesting and innovative new sounds, led by genius Stevie Wonder, whose astonishing Music of My Mind AND Talking Book both came out in this year. Miles Davis’ On the Corner remains probably his most controversial album and listening now it sounds light years ahead. Artists such as Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Jimmy Cliff and Al Green were all stretching the possibilities of their genres, producing great music in the process.
Then there was glam… Bolan’s glitter on his cheeks had started it in ’71, but it was Bowie’s Starman on TOTP on 6th July 1972 which produced glam’s truly iconic moment. As well as Ziggy Stardust, ’72 saw the release of (IMHO) the greatest debut album of all time, Roxy Music + the classic non-album single, Virginia Plain. Lou Reed put on the eyeliner too, with the Bowie-produced Transformer, with its Walk on the Wild Side, and one of my favourite album opening lines: “Vicious, you hit me with a flower”. Oh, to get a taste of some Ziggy excitement on the big screen, do check out the Moonage Daydream movie, with its previously unseen clip of a Ziggy-era concert.
The other emerging intriguing genre was krautrock (can I call it that??). Forged totally outside the US or UK traditions of music, the sounds emerging from Germany were so different, so neu! Neu!’s Hallogallo and that first album, when you listen to it you need to keep checking it’s from 1972. Similarly, Can’s Vitamin C and the Ege Bamyasi album, and the ambient/electronic sounds from Cluster and others sound from another planet.
That’s just a selective taster from the joys of 1972 (and 1997), so set off on your own musical jubilee celebrations of 1997 and 1972 – you won’t be disappointed.
The Tracks of my Years
The soundtrack of my life, from rock n' roll to post-rock
The soundtrack of my life, from rock n’ roll to post-rock
This post relates to a 4Sight presentation delivered at an online 4Networking ‘Midweek Music’ meeting on 25 May 2020. Various members who attend this group regularly have given presentations on the music that they love or has influenced them. To tackle a similar theme, I decided to set myself the challenge of coming up with a track for each of the years since I was born in 1957, right up to the present day. And then, to avoid the temptation of including endless David Bowie tracks, each artist chosen could only appear once.
Putting the list together (shown below) was fun, and went through many, many edits and amends, as various themes emerged. Are these my 66 favourite tracks? Well, no, as the limitation of one per year immediately precluded all sorts of tracks from various amazing years such as 1971 and 1977. But what did start to fall in place were five key themes which have all been part of my passion for music right through my life:
- The power of the single
- The impact of Side 1, Track 1
- The joy of live music
- The richness of back catalogues
- Oh, and OK then, David Bowie as a separate category (you’ll see why)
The power of the single
When we grow up, single tracks are our first exposure to popular music, on the radio and elsewhere. And so too, vinyl singles are the first taste of buying and collecting music. And the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were the time when the single was everything. Roughly speaking, before Sgt Pepper in 1967, the single was king, and perhaps then no coincidence that that specific Beatles album was the first LP I bought. Before then, the 7” ruled, and gave us such variety, impact and excitement in 2-4 minutes of compressed invention.
My dad was an avid collector and player of jazz records, and so records (or “reggles” as I called them at a very young age) were everywhere and I soon decided I wanted them. Precociously I acquired the Telstar single and the Beatles Twist and Shout EP by the time I was six, and then various others over the years. Clearly, the tracks featured from 1957-1962 have been thought about after the fact, but I do have clear memories of loving Hit the Road Jack as early as when it came out.
With the choices of single I’ve made for the period 1964-1969, what’s remarkable is the speed of development in music at that time. The fact that The Byrds’ Eight Miles High is just three years after the Beatles covering Twist and Shout is remarkable.
The singles chosen for some of the years 1975 right up to 2021 share little except the sheer impact they had at the time, be that sonic or even political. They are thin on the ground in the part of my list in the 21st century, as I just don’t keep up with charts and trends of that type, but 2021’s Seventeen Going Under by Sam Fender is, to my ears, as good a song as any in the period covered.
The impact of Side 1 Track 1
While clearly a reference to vinyl, this equally applies to many CDs I have, where it is the first track that announces something new and special. I love that feeling, which applies to all the tracks I’ve chosen for this section, of playing a new album for the first time, with the anticipation and excitement heightened if it’s a purchase you’ve just brought home, and straightaway every other album feels (for a few days) less exciting and interesting. That new one is the one you just want to keep playing again and again.
With some of my choices (eg The Who, Talking Heads, Kate Bush, Radiohead), these were albums by artists I already loved, but suddenly they went somewhere new and incredibly exciting. With others, the discovery was some time after its original release (Miles Davis, Van Morrison) and with others, and these were perhaps the most exciting of all, it was side 1, track 1 of a brand-new artist. Roxy Music’s Remake/Remodel is the pinnacle of this feeling – who were these people, making this totally new and brilliant music??
The joy of live music
I’ve been lucky enough to see in concert many of the artists I’ve chosen, some of them on multiple occasions. In my presentation I showed a couple of photos of a couple of fantastic live moments that are transcendent in their impact. Seeing Malian band Tinariwen at a small side stage at Glastonbury in 2007, sparking a love of music from Mali that has been strong ever since. The other photo is The War of Drugs performing Under the Pressure at Latitude Festival in 2014, just incredible.
And Covid has starved us of live music! But now it’s back! And, partly as a backlog of tickets for gigs postponed in some cases by as much as two and a half years, and partly the huge wave of bands getting back out there after years away, I’ve got more tickets in the locker than ever before. To celebrate that, I’ve featured tracks by all these artists I’m so looking forward to seeing before the end of 2022: Pavement (I’ve waited 30 years to see them!), Counting Crows, Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Let’s Eat Grandma, and the most exciting guitar band around right now, Fontaines DC. Bring it on!
The richness of back catalogues
With artists like Kraftwerk, Teenage Fanclub, The Fall or Mogwai, how can you choose just one track? With all these, and others, I admit in most cases to being an avid completist. To quote the title of a new book about The Fall which I’m excited about, “You Must Get Them All”. This of course is a quote from John Peel about his view of The Fall’s huge catalogue.
Either via streaming or via the slew of re-releases, remasters etc that continue to pour out, in part fuelled by the vinyl revival, it’s never been easier to take a deep dive into the extensive catalogue of all the artists I’ve chosen in this category. If you only know one or two albums, or even just a couple of tracks by artists like Beck, Pulp, Nick Drake or PJ Harvey, then go and explore further, it’s so easy to do so!
For me, his body of work could be featured in the singles category, as some of the most incredible Side 1, Track 1s, and of course the richness of his back catalogue is up there with anyone’s… and he was amazing to see live. As my Bowie track I’ve chosen his final great statement, from 2016, Lazarus from Blackstar. What a way to bow out. I was delighted to see that Uncut magazine recently voted Blackstar it’s favourite album of the past 25 years.
The list and the playlist
The Tracks of my Years can be found on this Spotify playlist:
|Chuck Berry Rock and Roll Music
|Eddie Cochrane Summertime Blues
|Miles Davis So What
|Johnny Kidd and the Pirates Shakin’ all over
|Ray Charles Hit the Road Jack
|The Tornados Telstar
|The Beatles Twist and Shout
|The Kinks You Really Got Me
|Smokey Robinson Tracks of my Tears
|The Byrds Eight Miles High
|Pink Floyd See Emily Play
|Van Morrison Astral Weeks
|Fleetwood Mac Green Manalishi
|Nick Drake River Man
|The Who Baba O'Reilly
|Roxy Music Remake/Remodel
|Sensational Alex Harvey Band Faith Healer
|King Crimson Great Deceiver
|Modern Lovers Roadrunner
|Stevie Wonder Love's in need of love today
|Sex Pistols God Save the Queen
|Kraftwerk Neon Lights
|Public Image Albatross
|Talking Heads Born Under Punches
|Ghost Town The Specials
|Robert Wyatt Shipbuilding
|The The This is the Day
|Frankie Goes to Hollywood Two Tribes
|Kate Bush Running Up That Hill
|Paul Simon Graceland
|The Smiths Stop Me if You Think…
|Sonic Youth The Sprawl
|Tears for Fears Woman in Chains
|Depeche Mode Policy of Truth
|REM Me in Honey
|Portishead Glory Box
|Teenage Fanclub Verisimilitude
|Underworld Born Slippy
|The Beta Band She's the One
|Counting Crows Mrs Potters Lullaby
|Radiohead Everything in its Right Place
|Gomez Rex Kramer
|My Morning Jacket Mahgeetah
|Arcade Fire Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)
|Tinariwen Cler Achel
|Sigur Ros Hafsol
|Fleet Foxes Blue Ridge Mountains
|Bon Iver Blood Bank
|The Fall Mexico Wax Solvent
|PJ Harvey Let England Shake
|The Unthanks Big Steamers
|Yo La Tengo Ohm
|The War on Drugs Under the Pressure
|Low What Part of Me
|David Bowie Lazarus
|Mogwai Crossing the Road Material
|Let's Eat Grandma Donnie Darko
|Lankum The Wild Rover
|Fontaines DC A Hero's Death
|Sam Fender Seventeen Going Under
|Band of Horses Crutch
Films inspiring writing
Why writing about your business should be like a great film
Films have always borrowed from books, with many of the most notable and famous films being adaptations of novels or stories – Gone with the Wind, Cabaret and The Remains of the Day are just three examples from thousands. Here I want to look at things from the other direction: how storytelling techniques in films can provide vivid and inspirational ways of thinking about how you should present your story, particularly in relation to the challenge about writing about your business in an engaging way that will gain you new customers.
So, here are four ways in which great films can teach you about attracting and keeping readers to material you write about your business. This blog is based on a presentation delivered in Jan 2022 to an online networking group, 4Networking, at the launch meeting of a group bringing together people interested in films and in business: Film on Friday.
Films are brilliant at this, and, thinking about it, probably most of my favourite films have this effect on me as I’m watching them. I love films which upturn what you believe is going to happen next or subvert the genre of the film you believe you are watching. Many of my favourite directors achieve this in some or indeed most of their films: Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola (Francis and Sofia), Tarantino, Ridley Scott, to name just a few.
The film I focused on in my presentation isn’t from any of those directors, but is the 1971 Michael Caine film, Get Carter, often referred to as one of the greatest British gangster films of all time. It was the directorial debut of Mike Hodges, who also wrote the screenplay. That is significant, because it is the quality of the dialogue, the choice of locations and the brilliant plot which help this film to stand out, and to still be a gripping viewing experience 50 years on from its release. The performances of course help too, with Caine never better or more believable as a tough East Ender set upon revenge for the death of his brother.
Get Carter defies expectations in a number of ways:
- Use of location: This is East End gangsterhood transplanted to the northeast, using Newcastle and the surrounding area in ways that at the time were surprising, and still add brilliantly to its atmosphere. Fascinating too to see how much Newcastle has changed since then. Keeping it grounded in a recognisable place, being unafraid to be local in outlook is a great lesson to learn when writing about your business experiences.
- Be flawed, be believable: ‘Flawed’ is a euphemism for the extent of Carter’s character shortcomings, and Caine had already given us some great anti-heroes in films such as Alfie and The Ipcress File. But here he takes it to another level, and yet you still root for him throughout. It makes him believable, even in some of the extreme moments of the plot. Now, in your business writing, don’t of course go about advocating killing people or bundling women into the boots of cars, as Carter does, but don’t be afraid to lay bare your flaws and mistakes, as any solutions that emerge from this will then be so much more believable.
- Surprise ending: A Hollywood staple, and so true in Get Carter (no spoilers here, in case you’ve missed this 50-year-old classic!), but what is so great here is that the film has spent its entire duration earning its surprise ending, so that, once you’ve seen it and taken it in, it feels the only possible ending rather than a gimmick tacked on at the end. And what a great way to end a business blog, book or even an email – a surprise ending that enthrals your audience but feels earned and justified.
- Be authentic: This film has authenticity in spades, even when at its most theatrical and dramatic, to an extent which was in danger of putting off audiences. Instead, it proved to be its strength and is a key factor in its enduring appeal. Contrast this with the terrible Get Carter flop remake from 2000, with Stallone in the title role. The strapline on the film poster is ‘The truth hurts’ and that is painfully the case in relation to the critic and box office response to this woeful remake. Stallone is no Caine, he’s just not believable or relatable in this role, and this too is a warning when writing about your business – be authentic, particularly to a UK audience, as BS will get you found out.
Revel in language
This may sound a surprising aspect to learn from films, as clearly this is what you can gain from well-written books. However, many of my favourite films take a delight in words, in dialogue and in descriptive language. They have created so many quotable and quoted lines and coming from a film they have passed into widespread usage in a way that lines on a page have rarely been able to reach.
In my presentation I invited people to be more Tarantino, or more Scorsese in creating scenes with memorable lines or sayings. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino lets his two gunmen indulge in a detailed discussion about cultural differences, centred around McDonald’s in France serving up a Royale with cheese. Far from frustratingly slowing down the action, you are now invested and interested in these dark characters, and it is this surprising, rambling dialogue which has achieved this.
When looking at films from the perspective of what can be learned that will help when writing about business, lets look at what is probably the supreme ‘business film’, The Social Network. Not only, it can be argued, is the rise of Facebook the most important business story of the 21st century so far, but the way this film portrays it is hugely instructive and inspiring. Funny, gripping, suspenseful, surprising, crazy, with Mark Zuckerberg as its flawed central character, the film’s success is built on its brilliant adapted screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, which rightly won an Oscar.
The film has many scenes with people just talking, often in offices and boardrooms. Talking about contracts, numbers, business, strategies. All of it is made gripping and fascinating. As one tip from this blog, anyone aspiring to write about business must watch The Social Network, as this is how it should be done!
Use real-life stories
Increasingly, filmmakers have understood the unique power of an inspiring true story and used these to create some memorable and moving films. Fact really is stranger and more powerful than fiction. I cited two examples in my presentation. The great Alan Bennett has produced so much great work in books, on stage, on TV and in films. The History Boys started out as an excellent play and went onto be filmed using the stage cast and is a lightly fictionalised version of school life you could imagine Bennett having had. However, this 2006 film, while great, doesn’t stay with you in the way that his next film venture does. The Lady in the Van started out as a story, then a play, but it is the 2015 film, with Maggie Smith in the title role, which is its greatest incarnation. I saw it again recently on TV, and its plot, that of a madly eccentric woman living in a van on Alan Bennett’s drive for 15 years, would seem barely believable and rather farcical if it wasn’t based on the truth. The life story of Miss Shepherd turns out to be funnier and more outlandish, yet also more poignant and tragic, than that of any of Bennett’s invented characters.
The other example I chose was films which tackle the appalling episodes of children being taken by their mothers by religious orders in Ireland. The notorious Magdalene Laundries were portrayed powerfully in the fictional The Magdalene Sisters film from 2002. But compare this with the astonishing Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, based on the true story of Philomena Lee. The film conveys the reality of the situation more powerfully than fiction ever could, the film ending with the now obligatory shots of the real-life person the film is based on.
So, dig deep into your life story, and into real-life examples of business wins and losses in your writing. These will resonate more deeply than anything you could choose to invent.
Create a narrative arc
A coherent and compelling narrative journey is just as important in non-fiction writing as it is in fiction. As with the point about revelling in language, it is film which can illustrate most powerfully the importance of constructing a solid narrative arc in your writing. Even a sales email should have a beginning, middle and end, and incorporate devices such as suspense and withheld information, and end with a moment of inspiration and call to action.
To illustrate a great narrative arc in a film, I chose for my presentation the master storyteller Steven Spielberg, and his greatest film, E.T.
I’m a huge fan of great sci-fi, but the strength of E.T. is that is mainly a human drama, in a humdrum suburban setting. It superbly sets up these five stages in the narrative, which could equally apply to a business email, blog or even a book:
Create intrigue: An alien lands on Earth – what is it, how is a boy going to be involved with it, will it get back to its planet?
Help people to identify with the situation or issue: By ET being brought into a family home, you empathise with an extraordinary set-up.
Create suspense + show possible solutions: How will ET be protected from menacing forces? How will he communicate and get back to his planet?
Show that standard methods won’t work: The government agencies can’t seem to save ET’s life – it’s all down to the boy, Elliott.
Show the power of your solution: The uplifting ending! ET is saved by the unlikely force of boys on BMX bikes, along with a little ET magic.
The film ends with ET saying to Elliott, “I’ll be right here”, pointing to his head. This is where you want to be with your clients and prospects, by creating such a powerful story that you’ve got lodged in their minds. As self-employed business owners, writing about your business is all about describing why you, the underdog, should be the one preferred over bigger, corporate alternatives.
So many great films celebrate the triumph of the underdog and end with an uplifting message, and so does this blog! Be inspired by E.T., get on your BMX and outrun your competitors!
Movies about music
Continuing my occasional diversion into the world of music, here is a piece looking at great movies about music. This follows on from this being presented as a 4Sight at the 4Networking online Midweek Music group. In this definition, I do NOT include musicals!
This is an unashamedly personal choice, the movies about music which I have enjoyed most across a period of over 50 years. All of these are cinema releases as opposed to any purely TV shows. These include biopics, concerts (surprisingly few), Beatles films (a genre in itself) documentaries, mockumentaries and, to finish up, five cult movies run through with great music.
In the spirit of High Fidelity (included below), this includes a couple of Top 5 lists. Nearly all my shortlisted movies I have seen at the cinema, the only way to fully appreciate them.
There are so many excellent music biopics, with the combination of great music and an often incredible life of the artist providing the ideal mix for a movie. There have also been loads of these which have assumed that this combination is unbeatable box office without working out that you also need a great script and direction, resulting in all sorts of fumbled attempts.
I'm just going to focus on good ones, with a longlist that goes across many eras and musical genres:
Liztomania: Roger Daltrey as Franz Listz, in Ken Russell's wonderfully bonkers portrayal of the composer. Probably the culmination of his series of composer biopics, this one is great fun, with Liszt probably the first person to have a rabid fanbase, hence the title.
Bird: Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker in this 1988 movie.
Ray: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles.
Get On Up: Completing a trio of amazing biopic performances, the late, great Chadwick Boseman as James Brown.
Miles Ahead: Flawed but entertaining Miles Davis movie, a labour of love starring and directed by Don Cheadle.
Coal Miner's Daughter: Sissy Spacek as country singer Loretta Lynn.
Backbeat & Nowhere Boy: Two intriguing Beatles back-story movies.
Love and Mercy: Required viewing for any Pet Sounds fans, this is a moving biopic about Brian Wilson.
Sid and Nancy: Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, what a story!
Sex & Drugs & Rock n' Roll: Andy Serkis as Ian Dury, again, what a story!
Contol: Beautifully shot 2007 Anton Corbijn take on the Ian Curtis story, with Sam Riley and Samantha Morton.
Straight Outta Compton: NWA continue their own mythmaking, but worth a look.
Rocketman: Taron Egerton is brilliant as Elton John in this look at '70s fame and its pressures.
My biopics Top 5
Amadeus: The 1984 screen adaptation of Peter Schaffer's play, this in its own way is as shocking as a Ken Russell tale, with Mozart wonderfully portrayed as a precocious brat.
Lady Sings the Blues: Billie Holiday is endlessly fascinating to Hollywood, with new movies emerging about her, but this 1972 biopic, with Diana Ross delivering a lifetime-best screen performance, is still the definitive portrayal.
Walk the Line: Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon on never-better form as Johnny Cash and June Carter in this 2005 biopic. Johnny Cash is the real thing when it comes to music stars.
Good Vibrations: This 2012 film isn't about the Beach Boys, but about Belfast legend Terri Hooley, promoting bands in the midst of the Troubles - a joyous celebration of the power of music to heal.
24 Hour Party People: Tony Wilson is a fascinating figure, as a brand-new biography by Paul Morley illustrates. Turning the whole Factory Records saga into a comedy is inspired, with Steve Coogan perfect for the role.
How many times do you watch that DVD of a favourite concert? Not many I would bet. I have Bowie's Reality tour disc and I have only watched it a few times, despite it being a memento of my favourite Bowie concert in 2003. And the pointlessness of holding up your phone and recording a couple of minutes using a feeble mic, in the process blocking the view of the people behind you and taking you away from living a gig in the moment... well, don't get me started.
Anyway, here are three concert movies worth a look. Two gigs that have a special resonance by being farewells - Bowie's famous final Ziggy Stardust concert, and The Band's The Last Waltz. And a perfect live album and equally great movie - Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense.
All the Beatles' films are worth a look, from the early grappling-with-fame A Hard Day's Night and Help, through the psychedelia of Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, to the disintegration recorded in Let It Be. Turns out they couldn't obey that title, with the new Get Back TV mini-series revisiting all the footage to provide a more balanced view of their life in the studio at that point. With both of these, they are worth it alone for the footage of the rooftop concert, surely the greatest live performance captured on film.
An excruciating memory is, aged nine, persuading my parents that we watch Magical Mystery Tour on TV on Boxing Day 1967. Confirmed them in their suspicion that The Beatles were overrated and probably high on drugs, which on the basis of that unscripted, incoherent mess, it was hard to argue with.
There are of course hundreds of docs about music, across every genre of music, but I've chosen just three I have particularly enjoyed.
Rockfield: The story of the world's first residential studio, tucked away on a farm in the Welsh Borders. Pretty well most great characters in British music, from the '70s to the present day, have stayed here, so the stories are fantastic.
Gimme Shelter: There are several Stones films, but this is the most interesting, allowing, as it does, the horrendous killing of a fan by Hell's Angels at the Altamont concert, to be shown and dissected. There is the death of the spirit of the sixties right there.
After the Screaming Stops: This 2018 doc about Bros is such an unexpected treat, with the brothers Goss delivering line after line of unwittingly hilarious material. So many quotable lines, but this is a typical example: "The letters H. O. M. E. are so important because they personify the word ‘home’".
You could be forgiven for thinking the Bros doc is a staged mockumentary, but it is for real. Similar confusion surrounded This is Spinal Tap when it first came out, inventing, as it did, the now much-copied idea of a mockumentary. Is this a real band, many wondered. The best movie about music? Certainly the funniest, with just about every scene having quotable lines in it, and one phrase having entered the lexicon: Turn it up to 11.
Wrapping up this tour is another Top 5, movies which are about music in the sense that they are suffused with it, either via a brilliantly chosen soundtrack selection or include musicians' lives in them.
O Lucky Man: I saw this three-hour epic at the cinema, a 1973 sort-of sequel to If, directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell, fresh from Clockwork Orange. It's a tale of an innocent's journey through a strange version of Britain, and includes Alan Price as himself with his touring band, who provide the excellent original soundtrack music. Track it down!
High Fidelity: OK, the least cultish in this list, but, along with the book, a love letter to record shops and to music, and has got to be in a Top 5!
American Graffiti: Another love letter, this time to '50s rock n' roll and golden high school days. George Lucas brings humanity and warmth to this that his other work lacks - a joy from start to finish, with a wonderful soundtrack album.
Nashville: Many of Robert Altman's films can be hard to love but here is where his sprawling ensemble approach works perfectly - a fascinating patchwork representation of the musical world of Nashville.
Radio On: Another askance look at Britain, this time from 1979, in brooding black and white, with a great soundtrack and an early cameo performance by Sting.
So, those are my choices, many of which are available on streaming platforms or pop up regularly on terrestrial channels. There is also a Spotify playlist featuring tracks from all the key movies - tune in and enjoy!
My journey through 60 years of electronic music
For me, a fascination with electronic music started early. My dad, a keen collector of jazz records, was probably looking for an excuse to go to one of his favourite record shops in Hove - Wicker, Kimber & Oakley (sadly, no longer there). On my sixth birthday, in Feb 1963, we went there, and he bought me my first single – Telstar by The Tornadoes. I loved the tune but more than that, it was the intro and outro of the record I really loved – some electronic sounds, not that far removed from what sounded like the recording of a coffee percolator, imagining the 1962 launch and transmission from the world’s first communications satellite, Telstar. The product of tortured genius Joe Meek, I remember picking up the needle and playing just the beginning and the end of the record again and again.
From that precocious start, in the early sixties it didn’t take long for my thirst for new sounds to be satisfied. Cue Dr Who, with its amazing theme music evoking perfectly the thrill and danger of travelling through space and time. Listening to that original version now, it still sounds like the future in a way that successive BBC versions of the theme music have totally failed to do. This was another tortured genius at work – Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. For the full story, I can strongly recommend the BBC Arena drama/doc Delia Derbyshire: the Myths and the Legendary Tapes, written, directed and starring Caroline Catz.
It was becoming clear that electronic music was ideally suited to science fiction and to movies. Jump to the seventies and early eighties for three more of my favourite pieces of electronic music. It’s clear that Stanley Kubrick treated the choice of music in his films as seriously as every other detail. The dissonance of hearing classical music throughout 2001: A Space Odyssey was of course striking, but what he did next made me purchase my first film soundtrack album. Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s electronic versions of classical pieces in A Clockwork Orange lifted this already remarkable film (seen in the cinema, sneaked in as a 15-year-old) to another level entirely. How else could a speeded-up comic one-minute orgy be conveyed except by Carlos’s similarly speeded-up electronic version of the William Tell Overture? It was the brooding electronic collage of Timesteps which was the real highlight of the album though. A Carlos composition, it was only years later, when the Clockwork Orange Complete Original Score album by Carlos became available (although still not on YouTube or streaming) that the full amazing 13:50 length version saw the light of day – track it down if you can!
In 1977, I bought my second movie soundtrack album, Sorcerer by Tangerine Dream, although I only saw the movie relatively recently. A remake of The Wages of Fear, it was William Friedkin’s first movie following the smash hit of The Exorcist. Friedkin was given millions of studio dollars and months on location in the Dominican Republic, and all that time and money is visible on-screen. It was an expensive flop, but I reckon it’s fantastic, with the brooding, atmospheric, electronic score complementing the visuals perfectly. I love a fair bit of the rest of Tangerine Dream’s sprawling discography, with many of their best recordings being live – check out the Ricochet, Encore and Logos albums.
Next up, in 1982, was what remains probably my favourite movie, Blade Runner, with its haunting, understated electronic score by Vangelis. Again, the music and the images complement each other perfectly, and only an electronic score could match the still convincingly future-looking LA of the movie.
So, that’s electronic music as accompaniment to science fiction and to some great movies, a trend that has of course accelerated further in the last forty years.
Next up in my electronic music journey was the discovery of the godfathers of most strands of electronic music, Kraftwerk. Seeing them in 1975 play Autobahn on Tomorrow’s World was another great moment – they looked and sounded like nothing else. This clip probably spawned thousands of bedroom synth dreamers, many of whom sprang into life when affordable synths came along in the eighties.
When founder member Florian Schneider died in 2020, the outpouring of tributes made it plain that Kraftwerk’s influence is incalculable. From popularising Krautrock back in 1975 with Autobahn to helping to spawn Detroit Techno via Africa Bambaataa and others, Kraftwerk are acknowledged, quite rightly, as one of the most innovative and enduring electronic music acts. Their live shows, complete with stunning 3D visuals, keeps mining their stunning quartet of albums Autobahn, Trans Europe Express, The Man Machine and Computer World to great effect. If you see Kraftwerk coming to a festival near you, don’t miss it!
So, the ‘80s and the arrival of all those synth duos! A seemingly obligatory line-up: a geek at the back, stabbing at keys or twiddling various knobs, and a singer heating up proceedings with some surprisingly warm and emotional singing. This became a winning formula for Eurythmics, OMD, Tears for Fears, Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys and many, many others of the era. Perhaps the best example was Yazoo – Vince Clarke, serial geek with Depeche Mode and Erasure, at the back, and up front, Alison Moyet, the warmest, bluesiest voice, belting out “Don’t go!” It was synths that allowed a whole band to be packed into a duo, with only one of them playing an instrument. This formula, has, for me, been brought wonderfully up to date in the ‘90s right up to the present day by Underworld. There is so much more to them than Born Slippy, great though that is, including their sprawling 6-disc Drift project from 2020.
Underworld plant electronic music firmly on the dance floor, and that of course is another of its strongest facets. Electronic dance music year zero for me was 1977. Now, looking back, it is not punk but Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love, with Donna Summer that is that year’s most enduring musical artefact. Just like the Dr Who theme, it still sounds like the future.
What has followed is electronic music ubiquity, all available at the click of a Spotify playlist. Whether it’s ambient electronic music to work to (perfect for a self-isolating self-employed book editor to get lost in…), ever more atmospheric movie/TV soundtracks, or the insistent electronic beats in music great or awful from around the world, the sounds generated by electronic instruments are here to stay. But, as Kraftwerk have proved, it is only when wedding those sounds to indelible melodies that enduring art is created.
The world has changed...
As the benefits of the vaccine programme take effect, it looks like parts of the world, certainly the UK, are edging back towards a more normal life. And yet it won’t just be a question of waking up from a 15-month bad dream and going back to exactly how we were. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of bereaved families, shattered lives, failed businesses, lost hopes, fractured educations, exhausted health workers… the list goes on.
But aside from the terrible wreckage of this 15-month period, there is a much longer-lasting impact. As well as the medical syndrome of long Covid, there will be a societal long Covid. With the medical version, it looks like it may take years in some cases for people to be able to recover and lead fit and active lives.
Similarly, the societal long Covid means that it will be years, if ever, until many many aspects of our lives will resemble what they did in, say, February 2020. And this will have an impact on how we think, how we act and how we interact with others. In other words, it will continue to shape every aspect of our lives.
What has all this got to do with books?
Well, non-fiction books, the area of writing in which I work, hold up a mirror to our lives (as of course does all great fiction), and they need to provide relevant, up-to-date advice, information and guidance on their subject area. The problem is that, now, every book published before the pandemic is, to a greater or lesser extent, out of date. No author (except of sci-fi books) saw this coming and therefore could not have possibly addressed what has happened.
Now is the time to write a post-Covid book
If you have ever had the ambition to write a business-related book about your world, then now is a perfect time. This book of yours could be the first book in its sector to reflect what is happening in this new world, as it relates to your business topic. How amazing would that be??
So, this disruption could be your opportunity. We are all searching for new guidance, new reassurances, fresh ways of looking at this new world that can help us to make sense of it. This now may well not be provided by a book written pre-2020. Indeed, dipping into a couple of books I enjoyed in 2019 which seemed to provide a refreshingly bold and original take on aspects of business now seem pale and timid. The solutions they offer now come across as tinkering at the edges rather than facing up to what are now seismic shifts taking place.
What are the big changes?
Where to start? Let’s start with the big one: death! In the 8 months of the blitz in WW2, between September 1940 and May 1941, 43,000 civilians died in bombing raids across the UK. During this pandemic around 130,000 people have died from Covid in the UK. That helps to put some scale on the issue. We have never in our lives previously had death tolls announced nightly on the news. We have all been touched by death.
This makes us appreciate life, family and friendships so much more! So, every book on relationships and family, every book with any ‘live life, it’s the only one you’ve got’ message, of which there are so many, needs rewriting.
The next big one: health and wellbeing
Probably the fastest growing non-fiction genre! Never again will we take our health and wellbeing for granted! The spectre of Covid and long Covid has been hanging over all of us, and it has made us all cherish and focus on our health. Obesity, poor diet and lack of fitness have been shown to be proven points of vulnerability to Covid. As for our wellbeing, well, our mental health has been tested to the extreme, so again, there has been a focus on this as never before.
Other business areas:
Networking: Meetings via Zoom are the new normal, and yet what books on networking talk about Zoom etiquette?? So many questions are unanswered in previous books on networking: How to produce an effective Zoom 40 seconds? How to use Zoom Chat effectively? How to follow up after an online meeting? And many, many more.
Migration online: Any book which has some element of discussion relating to online strategies will have underplayed online’s importance. Five years’ worth of online migration trends has been compressed into one year! The most obvious changes happening in retail but the effects of this are being felt across every sector. For example, it’s now even more overcrowded online, so how do you gain attention?
Work patterns: For the self-employed little has changed, working from home probably was the norm anyway. But what is the future of the office? Managing people has suddenly become far more complicated! Many organisations are saying that ‘mixed’ working is here to stay. If you were managing teams where everyone was in the office 9-5, 5 days a week, this was so much easier than the prospect of everyone now being dispersed permanently, or even more complicated, in the office 3 out of the 5 days. So, every book on management is out of date!
Motivation: How to motivate people remotely? How to stay focused and self-motivated? Everything needs reappraising, with fresh strategies needed.
Already written a book? Create a post-Covid updated edition
If a reappraisal of everything you put across in a pre-2020 book is necessary, then the good news is that this may well be able to be achieved relatively quickly, easily and economically. The beauty of a self-published book is that you have the flexibility to create a new edition. This will require a new ISBN number and a tweak to the cover. Amend relevant sections of your book and flag up on the cover that this is a post-Covid updated version of your book.
Start reappraising your world and get writing!
Sales of books, audiobooks have risen greatly during the pandemic – people are hungry for answers! So, if you are a coach, an expert in your field, a leading practitioner of a skill, your time could be now! Others will be busy having the same idea, so get writing a new book for a new world… NOW!
Plan your 2021
Making new year’s resolutions is generally an overrated business, as we all know to our cost, looking back at our generally poor record of sticking to them. No? Just me then! However, taking stock at the beginning of the year does make sense, if only to lay down some structure to some good intentions for the year ahead. Although 2020 is now thankfully consigned to history, 2021, in early January, as the UK heads into another lockdown, is already showing precocious signs of being another unpredictable and disruptive year.
So, in the face of all that, and the prospect of yet more enforced time in the home/office, how best to at least set out a plan to write some material which will raise your profile, demonstrate your expertise and provide useful hints and tips for your target audience?
The answer is to start with modest ambitions and then to exceed them, rather than with bold and unrealistic plans which soon run into the sand and join all those other abandoned new year’s resolutions. I’ve written previously about the value of using the twelve months of the year as a writing and planning structure, and right now, in early January 2021, is the perfect moment to use this constructively for the year ahead. As a modest but achievable target, think of the four seasons as four different themes to develop for your writing in 2021. This could be four different products/services you need to promote during the year by wrapping content around each one and posting as articles or blogs on a regular basis. It could be four different audiences you have identified as ones you want to develop in 2021. Or it could be four different broad issues you want to tackle and explore during the year. Or perhaps four different communication channels you wish to cultivate during the year; for example, here are four different ones: LinkedIn, your website’s blog, targeted Facebook business groups, and specific networking organisations.
Once you have your ‘fours’ identified, then move on to twelve: setting down your broad monthly activity. At this stage in your planning, don’t even think about the next two possible calendar numbers, 52 and 365. If you are not naturally in the habit of writing or producing any type of business communication ie video etc, then to set yourself a target of creating new content weekly or even daily is doomed to failure. Start modestly with an absolute minimum of 12 new pieces of writing. That’s 12 pieces which can be articles, blog posts, LinkedIn posts, networking presentations or a mixture of all of these.
Now, twelve pieces of content posted in twelve months isn’t going to hurtle you up the Google rankings for your sector or top the content contribution league tables which are increasingly being published by various Facebook business groups each month. But ask yourself this: how many pieces of content did you produce and post during 2020? The answer for 90% of business owners will be fewer than 12, so 12 will represent real progress.
The other good news is that, by starting in this modest way you are more likely to start to develop a taste for it and start to develop a more regular habit of posting. Three posts in Jan-March could well become six during the April-June quarter, and maybe by the time October-December arrives you will have surprised yourself and edged up to a seemingly unattainable hit-rate close to once a week. Set out to be pleasantly surprised rather than guiltily disappointed by your writing activity.
Feedback becomes the ultimate encouragement. If your social media article generates Likes and Comments, even if some of this is disagreement, then great, you have created a reaction, an interaction with your audience. So, faced, as we are, with at least a couple of months more lockdown, use some of that time wisely to generate profile-raising content for you and your business.
If you would like a copy of my simple 2021 blog post planning doc, then ping me a message, thanks.
Books on music
Top 5 tips on seeking out great books on music + a list of recommendations
Frank Zappa famously dismissed all writings about music by saying, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” To me, though, far from being an irrelevant or even a contradictory thing to do, writing about music can lead to a greater appreciation (or dislike!) of a piece of music. If you’re a fan, a well-researched and written book about a favourite artist or band can give you some great insights into how the music was made, the people behind it and the times in which it was created. While each person’s response to a piece of music is unique and personal, to me it rarely breaks the mystique of that interaction to learn more about it or to discover other people’s opinions of it.
I’ve always loved reading about music, ever since avidly devouring the Melody Maker and then the NME in the ‘70s. The excitement at the arrival of punk was heightened by the writings of those young guns at the NME, Nick Kent, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and others. They opened a window onto what was happening in London, Manchester and New York. Even before that, my faded scrapbook of early reviews of King Crimson, Bowie and Led Zep is avid fandom just as much as owning the records.
The music weeklies gave you news, reviews and interviews, taken up when they faded and disappeared by glossier monthlies. I’ve been a subscriber to Mojo pretty much from the start, as my attic cupboard testifies as I can’t quite face getting rid of any them. I wonder what they made of The Fall’s Middle Class Revolt in 1994? I’ll just dig out that issue and find out.
However, it’s books, particularly in the last twenty years, which have become a fantastic source of information and entertainment. Those hasty cash-in fan biographies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, written about stars when they were still in their twenties or even their teens, have matured in every way. Those stars have got older, and many of course have now died. There is a richness and a depth to their stories and the ability for those lives to be written about with a sense of perspective. Pop music, as a form of expression, was one which our parents thought would be some passing fad and would soon be forgotten, with primacy being rightfully restored to less frivolous forms of music. Scholars and critics in the 1960s who started to compare Lennon and McCartney to classical composers were derided and told that the music of The Beatles would soon be forgotten. Who knows what judgment on the music of The Beatles there will be in, say, 2220, but certainly in 2020 their importance is undiminished.
So, what do books bring to this? For me, all the great books I’ve read on The Beatles, and on all the varied types of popular music I’ve wanted to read about, of the ‘50s right up to (generally) the end of the twentieth century, help to convey two main things. Firstly, the sheer importance of music to the culture of the times and to our lives during those decades. The importance of the charts (remember them?), the thrill of live music, the gatefold album sleeves, the rise and fall of stars, music as protest and a catalyst for social change, breakthroughs in recording techniques… the list is a long one of the many fascinating aspects of music and music making which can best be explored in the longer form of a book.
The second aspect I love exploring via books is the wonderful variety of music which has opened up over the past 70 years. Pop, rock, folk, blues, jazz, minimalism, metal, reggae, electronic, ambient, prog, punk, post-punk, indie, glam, disco and a splintering of hundreds of sub-genres and movements in-between – I love reading about it all. There are now loads of books on virtually every major artist and genre – in fact, we are now spoilt for choice, with a slew of new titles appearing every month.
So, how to navigate your way through so many books? What music you choose to read about will be largely dictated by your musical preferences, but regardless of these, here are my Top 5 Tips. The ‘Top 5’ is inspired by Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which is full of musical top 5s. That book (and film) is exceptional in that it is a great novel about music. In my experience, novels which feature either real-life or fictional bands are incredibly difficult to pull off successfully, with many creating a cringing mixture of not-quite-accurate evocations and pointless name-dropping of real stars into fictional worlds. Some great novelists have tried to tackle the ‘rock book’ and have failed, so generally, I steer clear of music fiction.
Anyhow, here are my Top 5 Tips about books on music:
- Don’t buy books which date too quickly
An example of this is one of those list books such as 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. I have an edition of this from 2005 and some of the albums included are, from a 2020 perspective, bizarre: The Darkness and The Zutons?? Similarly, biographies written part-way through an active music career end up missing vital albums or events. A biography of Bowie, Starman by Paul Trynka, which still features in book lists, is “…now with an update on the making and release of The Next Day.” So, even the updated version is out of date, not featuring Bowie’s amazing final album, Blackstar.
- The best books aren’t always the most comprehensive
Volume 1 of Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles All These Years trilogy, published in 2013, only goes up to 1963 and runs to over 900 pages (1700 pages for the ‘expanded’ edition!). While fascinating and interesting, way more fun is Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time, which just focuses on some great (and in some case little-known) Beatle stories.
- Fans rarely write the best books
Books by fans may be labours of love, but often there is no critical filter, no perspective and way too much nerdy detail. The book Big Day Coming on US indie darlings Yo La Tengo by Jesse Jarnow was referred to by the band in some liner notes as an “exercise in tedium”: harsh but fair!
- Where to buy books on music
Please avoid using the Evil Empire to buy books on music. Many are from by smaller publishers and obscure authors who need all the support they can get. Small, independent vinyl record shops often have a book section, which I head to even before browsing music. HMV and Fopp have bargain ‘2 for £6’ deals on all sorts of music books. The new initiative for independent bookshops, www.bookshop.org is a great new online store. And music festivals usually have a great little bookstore among the hippie clothing outlets.
- Go to book talks and signings
This is such a great way to see your heroes and hear them talking about music. These have sprung up over the last few years at book festivals across the UK. Here in Sheffield, Off The Shelf festival usually has more than one book on music featured. And then, join the queue, get your book signed and try not to say anything too embarrassing to your musical hero in your 30 seconds in front of them (here I speak from experience, unfortunately.
So, with Christmas coming, and the prospect of the 2020 festive period being one of largely enforced quietness, what better than to curl up with a great book about music. As for recommendations, mine are skewed in favour of my heroes, hence my list includes books on Bowie, The Beatles, Joy Division and The Fall, see list below. And I’ve even created a Spotify playlist based on that list: https://open.spotify.com/user/lexiconmark/playlist/3C47qael2rUbSSrT254LsR?si=MczE33jfRmmz7w_pL2wUUQ
Books on music: recommended reading
Craig Brown - One Two Three Four
Ian MacDonald – Revolution in the Head
The Beatles Anthology
Pete Paphides – Broken Greek
Thomas Jerome Seabrook – Bowie in Berlin
Roger Griffin – David Bowie The Golden Years
Tony Visconti – Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
Chris Frantz – Remain in Love
Nick Hornby – High Fidelity
Roddy Doyle – The Commitments
Guy Peellaert – Rock Dreams
Steve Hanley – The Big Midweek
Jon Savage – This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else
Jon Savage – England’s Dreaming
Jon Savage – 1966
Simon Reynolds – Rip it Up and Start Again
Simon Reynolds – Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy
David Hepworth – 1971 Never a Dull Moment
David Hepworth – Uncommon People
Peter Hook – Unknown Pleasures
Stephen Morris – Record Play Pause
Viv Albertine – Clothes Music Boys
John Lydon – Anger is an Energy
James Rhodes – Instrumental
Wilko Johnson – Don’t You Leave Me Here
Michael Bracewell – Remake/Remodel
Joni Mitchell – Morning Glory on the Vine
Julian Cope – Head-On/Repossessed
Dylan Jones – Sweet Dreams
Mike Barnes – A New Day Yesterday
As you may have noticed (!), the world has tilted on its axis... permanently. Every assumption we had about life, work and business has been challenged by the pandemic and its effects. It’s not too dramatic to talk about needing to view the world BC (Before Covid) and PC (Post Covid).
So, what does this do to all the business books out there written pre-2020? It is making whole chapters, whole sections, whole BOOKS out of date and irrelevant!
It is hard to think of an area of business advice which would feature in a book which is not now subject to some sort of adjustment and update to stay relevant to this changing world. Networking, telemarketing, HR practices, customer service, retail success… you name it, there are new chapters and whole new books to be written right now.
Now, in the early months of 2021, we are nearly a year into this changed world, still not even sure, even with the vaccine arriving, when some semblance of normal life will return. In the continuing face of empty offices, city centres and performance venues, it is easy to get carried away with an apocalyptic view of many business sectors’ futures. Just as no-one predicted this pandemic and its all-reaching effects as recently as January 2020, so no-one can correctly call what the world will look like in, say, October 2022.
By then, will we be able to look in our rearview mirror at events today and realise that all the consequences of Covid were short-term and have evaporated? Who knows? Somehow more likely feels a situation where working practices, attitudes and established assumptions have been challenged and shattered forever. The unquestioned habit of the Monday-Friday commute feels like a pattern which has now been broken permanently, replaced by a shift to some level of home working or more flexible working. Likewise, our cosy assumption has been shattered that advances in modern medicine have been so great in the last 100 years that a pandemic even vaguely akin to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919 could never remotely occur again.
Most analysts agree that changes in online trends, migrations of consumption and activity online have speeded up at least five-fold, meaning we are, in 2021 where we first would have been by 2026 or even 2030.
So much seismic change and torn-up rule books, one of which could be the book you wrote pre-2020.
Post-Covid updated editions
If a wholesale reappraisal of everything you thought and put across in a pre-2020 book is necessary, then the good news is that this may well be able to be achieved relatively quickly, easily and economically. The beauty of a self-published book is that you have the flexibility to easily create a new edition. This will require a new ISBN number and a tweak to the cover. Flag up with a corner flash or message somewhere on the cover that this is a post-Covid update to your book.
When to update?
As the haziness of an October 2022 crystal ball illustrates, undertaking a knee-jerk rewrite of a book right now could be hazardous, and so you need to weigh up which is the bigger problem: a feeling of crashing irrelevance right now about your current book as it is, or a premature rush-to-judgment update which has exceptional topical relevance now but is dated by upcoming events in less than a year’s time.
With the flexibility available to a self-published writer, it’s not too crazy an idea to put in place a 2021 edition, worked on now, with then the option of a 2022 edition prepared in October 2021, when the future lie of the land looks a bit clearer as the benefits of the vaccine rollout fully take hold.
Write a brand-new post-Covid book
Here is where great opportunities lie. Looking at the Amazon bestseller lists for various categories and sub-categories of business books, it’s surprising how long ago many of the established, still best-selling, titles were published. Of course, classics such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, written in 1936 and still currently in Amazon’s top 10 ‘Business Books’ category search, contain timeless truths which resonate just as much now as ever before. However, many other ‘authoritative texts’ on various business topics are now being threatened with new-found irrelevance.
This disruption could be your opportunity. We are all searching for new guidance, new reassurances, fresh ways of looking at this new world which can help us to make sense of it. This now may well not be provided by a book written pre-2020. Indeed, dipping into a couple of books I enjoyed last year which seemed to provide a refreshingly bold and original take on aspects of business now seem pale and timid. The 'gamechanger' solutions they offer now come across as tinkering at the edges rather than facing what are now the huge shifts taking place. The game has changed in ways that so-called gamechangers (inevitably!) failed to spot!
I’ve written elsewhere about how lockdown and the removal of commuting time has created the time and space to get writing.
It’s also created the conditions for a wave of essential new business books, one of which could be yours… so start planning and writing now!
Start your book
How to start writing a non-fiction book
For many people, the biggest barrier to writing their first non-fiction book is just the whole prospect of getting started. They never finish because they never in fact start. And the irony is that, in most cases, if people do start, the floodgates open and the inspiration builds as the early fruits of writing inspire yet more ideas.
But of course, the prospect of sitting down to produced at least 35,000 words that makes sense and that other people will be interested to read, is daunting. So, here are some tips to help you to get started. Each person will have different preferences for how to get organised, focused and motivated, but in my experience in working with budding non-fiction authors, these tips may well work for you.
- Just start writing: Now, this advice needs to be treated with caution, in that to solely do this in the hope that everything will just flow correctly, is a high-risk approach. But it IS a really useful first step. Before you have your structure worked out or even a real plan, if writing is not a natural, habitual process for you, then just break that blank page moment by getting something written. At this stage this really can be anything at all and does not need to be something which will end up in your book. For example, it could be a diary entry of what happened at the weekend; or reaction to something happening in the news; or a draft post responding to something you have seen on Facebook or LinkedIn. The main purpose is to just write, to get you into the habit of typing your thoughts, to express yourself, to begin to find your style. Write at least 500 words and preferably around 1000.
- Evaluate what you have written: Step back from what you have written. Leave it for a couple of days and then go back to it and read it through. Does it make sense? Does it flow? Does it have a logical structure? Does it make a point which it easy to follow? How long are the sentences? How accurate is it in relation to spelling and typos? If judging it objectively is tricky, then be brave and give it to someone else to read and ask them to answer any of those relevant questions. The most common intervention I make when editing a book manuscript is shortening sentences. People ramble on, with endless subordinate clauses, making the point being made difficult to follow. This is an understandable tendency, as it can be easy for your ideas to run away with you. In your head, your point is clear, but what about once it is on the page?
- Correct style issues early on: The main point of following tips 1 and 2 is to try to establish a writing style for your book which will work from the outset. By at least having some reminders to yourself such as “Check apostrophes!”, “Shorten sentences!”, “Add sub-headings!”, following a critique of your initial work, you will save yourself, and potentially an editor, a significant amount of time correcting things later on.
- Go dramatic: As your next piece of writing, focus now on a key episode/point to be included in your book. As I have recommended elsewhere, this may well end up not be in the first section of your completed book, but it will be something which is easy to write. It will flow, there will be vivid writing, a clear story and interesting lessons to be drawn from it. Once written, this will inspire you to continue! It will also spark ideas and help you to develop the next point, the book’s structure.
- Work out the book’s structure: Some people may choose to focus on this task at the outset, and that’s fine. If you are confident in your writing style and have a clear idea of what the book will be about and the key episodes/points you are going to talk about, then skip points 1-4 and focus on creating a clear structure for your book. If points 1-4 have been a useful warm-up, then it’s now time to step back, stop writing and create a coherent plan. At whichever point you choose to do this it cannot be skipped – it is essential! Without a plan and a structure your book will merely read like one thing and then another thing and then another thing and so on. In this way, you will guarantee to lose the interest of your readers after no more than 10 or 20 pages. How many sections? How many chapters? What is my beginning, middle and end? To save you the angst of trying to anticipate all this before you’ve properly started, the easiest thing to do is to make a few basic assumptions and then amend from there. In this blog, Year of the Book, I recommend starting out with a 12-chapter structure, based on thinking about each chapter as a month of the year, 12 in total. This also assumes a 4-season section structure. If you cannot come up with 12 chapter titles/ideas, then probably you don’t have enough content for a book. If you bust out beyond 12, then fine, but 12 gets you to a rounded start-point.
I have created a 4-section/12-chapter book structure planning template which you may find helpful. Ping me a message to obtain a copy. I have also created two completed book structure examples, one for a ‘business journey’ book and one for a ‘life journey’ book. Again, ping me a message if you would like copies of these.