Guest Blog – Peter Cook “Fiscal Cliff”

This is the story of how a new Rock Song came into being – from my friend and colleague , Peter Cook (Not that one – the one who is a consultant, conference presenter, author – and musician…here’s my interview with him…

1. Tell us about the song – how did the idea start?

As the discovery of Penicillin and the company 3M were started on a mistake, so Fiscal Cliff started with a mistake. 3M bought 3 mountains to mine carborundum and found nothing in them – this forced them to innovate and the rest we know.  In the case of Fiscal Cliff, I’d had a piece in the City AM newspaper, saying that I was writing the song – actually I just had two words at the time !  The BBC World Service phoned up after the newspaper hit the streets and said “Could we have the album?”.  I was compelled to then write the song and record it for them.  I’m hoping the Beeb will now follow through with a programme, having invested quite a bit of money in the project.  By the way, people can buy the single on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and so on.  All formats available via this link DOWNLOAD FISCAL CLIFF.

Fiscal Cliff - the single

Fiscal Cliff – the single

2. How did the process of setting up and recording go?

I knew I needed great people to do this so I invested a lot of time in what we might crudely call “HR”.  The hiring process was more like that in the famous film “The Blues Brothers” than anything that the CIPD would recognize!  It was also a lot more effective though.   I called my friend Bernie Tormé, who has played with Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan.  I asked if he wanted to get involved with a Spinal Tapesque song about macro-economics.  He was unmoved.  I pointed out that I would have to hire his studio and he may have to smash a monument of the Bank of England with a burning guitar and he said “I’m there”.  I then needed a singer, so I turned to one of my MBA students who writes poetry and is himself a Swiss Banker.  I had no idea whether he could sing.  He could.  More importantly he brought attitude.  I hired the bass player on Facebook, having put an advertisement out for a female bass player for a song to be broadcast on television.  Just 30 minutes later the reply I got proved that she had read the ‘job spec’ accurately.  It read “I’ve got tits and I play an upright double bass and electric.  Check my music out at Scarlett Rae and The Cherry Reds.  Andee Price can certainly play and she is female.  Life lesson for all of us:  Read the brief and respond to it quickly and clearly!

Bernie Torme, Guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan smashes the Fiscal Cliff with a  burning guitar

Bernie Torme, Guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan smashes the Fiscal Cliff with a burning guitar

We had to fit the recording of the song and the making of the video into one short day, starting at 10 am and finishing at 4.45pm.  This was some going.  We also had to take the “Stonehenge” monument I made to a churchyard, set light to it and smash it with a burning guitar.  It’s the usual stunt for an economics song in my experience!  We only had one chance to get this right on film.  I was helped out by Val and Errol Whitter of i54newmedia who are consummate professionals in making the film.

3. What was harder than you thought?

Selling the record.  We started with a rush and sales on iTunes were racing away.  As soon as we put the film up, the downloads slowed down.  I must admit that Fiscal Cliff – the MOVIE is absolutely superb, but the lesson here is that once people have consumed your youtube video, effectively they have no reason to buy the record online.  I’m sure this experience is mirrored for professional artists.  Am I sounding like I’m begging you to download the song? 🙂

4. What was easier?

Getting media interest in the song.  Within a week it had been in the Evening Standard, City AM, Management Today, a New York based innovation website, local papers, radio and lots more places.  The current media round up can be found at Slideshare – Fiscal Cliff.

The whole recording process was much easier than it should have been.  The ‘band’ came together in Folkestone for a one hour practice, two weeks before the recording session, during which time we played the song in several different ‘genres’ including a rockabilly and country and western version!  Andee the bass player had not met any of us.  The singer and drummer only knew me.  None of them knew Bernie.  On the day, it went like a dream.  It’s really all down to selecting people with attitude and talent and letting them do the rest.  I could not have wished for a better result from the team.  The whole experience was an object lesson in teamwork, which we discuss in our corporate seminars and performances.

5. “So far” tell me the story?

Fiscal Cliff tells the story of a broker who reflects upon his life of spreads, swaps, junk bonds etc. and decides to end it all by jumping the Fiscal Cliff!  He seeks help with his condition in the form of a consultation with “The God of Economics” who reads him a prayer, which changes his mind.  Finally, he pulls back from jumping the cliff and repents, becoming a sustainable business person!  It seems that this story has been key in engaging people with the song.  It’s an unusual twist on the recession.  Somewhat sadly, it’s matched by reality – well the suicide bit.  There was a report of a significant increase in suicides since the 2008 recession hit, with 85% of cases involving men.

Verse & Chorus

Verse & Chorus

6. Where are you now?

Well, I’m off to New York to run an innovation event for a major Pharmaceutical company shortly.  The company have heard about the song and it seems I’m going to have to play Fiscal Cliff on one of their evenings!  Whilst I’m out there, I’m hoping to arrange some press coverage on TV and Radio in New York.  The song was played the other week at my friend Dr Andrew Sentance’s party.  Andrew is a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and said:

“Fiscal Cliff follows in the tradition of other rock songs inspired by the economy, like “Money” by Pink Floyd and “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis. But it’s the first rock song I’ve heard mentioning Quantitative Easing and John Maynard Keynes!”

Another company has asked us to provide a master-class on how we did the marketing for this alongside one of our unique team building events with music.

7. What’s next?

One of my network colleagues in Canada has contacted Bachman Turner Overdrive, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne and Celine Dion to ask them to collaborate with me and Bernie Tormé on the follow up.  This is because the new boss at the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is Canadian and regarded as a bit of a rocker.  We’re calling the follow up “Forward Guidance” !! 🙂

Kindness creates confidence

I’ve mentioned Roy Lilley before – hard witting hard-working Health Policy analyst and conference person.  If you have any opinions or feelings for our NHS – you should take a peek.  His latest blog (access via ) was about “The Little Things”.  His main story was linking the little things that make a difference in Supermarket choice to the little things that mean a lot if you have to access NHS services.  His mum’s friend had been in hospital recently.  Roy was cringing , waiting for the news of bad behaviour, lack of cleanliness or just bad treatment choice.  He shouldn’t have feared.  They were all so kind.  Everyone was so kind‘, she said.

Now I don’t know about you, but this made Roy proud, even as ‘just a bystander’, as he self deprecatingly described himself.

Little things do mean a lot, don’t they?  It’s that moment when someone says, whilst you are waiting for your Cream Tea order to be taken “I’ll be with you next – sorry about the wait…”  Or conversely, if you have been on hols in Devon last week, and your experience of the same situation was “(…if I don’t look at the customers and race past because I don’t know what I’m doing as I haven’t been trained and no-one seems to be boss around here and I just need to look busy…”) – then that little incident means a lot too.

Little things mean a lot.  Same situation, completely different feeling for me.

De-icer - a little thing that meant a lot to me in February, just left for anyone to use at a company car park

De-icer – a little thing that meant a lot to me in February, just left for anyone to use at a company car park

How often does this sort of thing happen in your daily life?  Yes, the big boys (still mainly boys, sadly) are sitting in their meeting pontificating on strategy and vision.  And the Customer Service team are spending hours on sorting out complaints.  Yes, both are important things to do.  But the way to success is often much simpler and day to day, and it’s too easy to neglect that in our big picture views.  It is about feelings.  It is about being polite and involved and being there and smiling and saying thank-you and fixing stuff and saying sorry and being happy to help and support each other.  That’s all.

And it is so easy to forget it in our busy-ness