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"We’re not trying to change the world with a rock song": Peter Cook talks to Finbuzz about Rock in the City
The music group Rock in the City writes songs about monetary policy, stocks, and banking, and is made up of finance professionals as well as career musicians. A mix between Led Zeppelin and Neil Young, the group performs in London and most recently, is collaborating with Richard Branson, writes FinBuzz.
Sentance, the former Monetary Policy Committee Member for The Bank of England, formed the band with Peter Cook, an MBA tutor, founder of the Academy of Rock and author of business leadership books. On the group’s music page, they state their mission as “Humanising the City of London through Music”.
The band includes Haydn Jones, Client Managing Director at Fujitsu, and three other musicians: singer Zee Fincham, a professional session musician, Rick Benbow, and drummer Pete Stephens. The combination of finance professionals and rock music has brought some amazing results. The band has just released two songs: The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street and New Normal with lyrics dedicated to fiscal policy, quantitative easing. The group says they are influenced by Led Zeppelin and Neil Yong.
FinBuzz spoke with the band’s musical director Peter Cook.
Peter, how did this begin?
Rock In The City started in 2011 as an accident really when a CEO friend of mine recommended I connect with Andrew after he had been inspired by one of Andrew’s talks. I found Andrew on the internet and sent him an email. Quite surprisingly he wrote back asking me to come for coffee. So it wasn’t a rock’n’roll style beginning either – we didn’t go bombing Jack Daniels! We met at PwC and talked about business and rock music. He liked the idea of getting a band together with people who have high-flying jobs in the City. I advertised for musicians on Twitter and soon Rock In The City was born.
How did you persuade Andrew to write songs about economics?
Two years ago I was asked by the BBC to write a song called Fiscal Cliff – a hard rock song for hard times. I offered the job of lead singer to an ex MBA student of mine – a City banker from Canary Wharf who worked for Credit Suisse. It turned out that he also wrote poems about management, business and banking in his spare time. This inspired Andrew and he said: “Let’s write an album of songs about macroeconomics and money.”
What was the purpose of creating the band?
We wanted to use the band to support good causes and to lead others in the City to do the same. This inspiration comes from Andrew’s own charitable activities in the Church. Each member of the band has nominated a charity for the current release, ranging from The Stroke Association through a Children’s Hospice care to Build It International, a charity that helps people in Africa. We are also offering to perform concerts for City institutions with a donation to good causes, allowing City firms to realise their CSR ambitions whilst having a lot of fun.
So the band was set up out of the pure enthusiasm?
Yes indeed. Andrew has made economics a little bit more interesting and accessible by mixing it with music. He frequently appears on national TV and Radio and this gives him a more popular angle to this specialist subject which affects all of our lives.
Where do you perform?
We have done some charity performances to date. We will next augment the band with some major rock stars to offer corporate entertainment packages next. We deliver these events anyway via the Academy of Rock. You can see one of our “aftershows” at Henley Business School.
What about Haydn Jones?
Haydn is an amazing person. He is a top manager at Fujitsu, but he spends a lot of his time outside of work developing theatre productions. He’s written an entire theatrical play and he also likes writing poetry. He sent me a poem called The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street and had expected me to throw it away because the words were incredibly complex and he did not think I’d be able to write a melody for them. When I looked at the poem I realised that the words were reminiscent of a Led Zeppelin song like Stairway to Heaven. So I wrote a 16th-century gothic folk-rock anthem to sit alongside the poem. I then asked a professional singer friend of mine, Zee Fincham, to match the words to the music. And after about 3 or 4 hours of working together in my studio we had turned it into a medieval banking anthem.
What is your philosophy?
We’re not too serious about trying to change the world with a rock song although all of our songs in a mildly ironic way call for fundamental reform of the world’s financial systems. Fiscal Cliff tells a story of traditional banking turned into corporate social responsibility via a tale of suicide, an epiphany and resurrection. The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street speaks of a culture that has endured for 400 hundred years in the square mile and it is ripe for change. The CEO of Lloyds of London has also recognised the need for change and I know that she is calling her staff to make reforms to the way the insurance works from my work there.
I’ve just written a piece for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Brand on how our outlook on finance and money is completely changing via alternative currencies such as bitcoin and other changes. Our songs are saying in a very nice sort of way: “Wake up, wake up, bankers! We have to stay less in the 16th century, more in the 21st”. I wrote the music for The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in a 16th Century gothic medieval mode to point out that, in some cases we are still stuck with medieval processes in financial services.
Who leads the band?
The leadership is shared between us. Andrew has been the band’s inspiration. I am the musical director. Now that he has left we will replace Andrew’s contribution with some conventional Class A rock stars to fill the void.
And what about the other musicians?
The other musicians are professional and part-time musicians. We were especially lucky to have the services of Rick Benbow, a session musician who scored the orchestral parts for Status Quo’s Acoustic album last year and who has played in a major Pink Floyd tribute band. We also have Zee Fincham who fronts a Jazz / Swing / Rockabilly combo Boogaloo Jones.
How do the band members find time for the band?
This is really difficult. We are a lot busier than the average rock band musician and have to plan a long time in advance. I had to book them into the studio 3-4 months in advance to record the latest batch of songs. Andrew has a lot to do for PwC, but he managed to find time for the recording session despite the inevitable pressures of work that such a demanding role produces. For this reason, we will adopt the idea of a flexible band structure for the future, rather like the way that Prince organises his bands, using professional musicians to augment the basic band structure.
What are your future plans?
On Halloween, I am hosting a free event in the Virgin Money Lounge in London at 3 pm. We will be talking about business and rock music with Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan’s former guitarist Bernie Tormé. This will be followed by a similar event with upcoming Country Rock band Jess and the Bandits on November 06 who have recently featured extensively on TV in the UK. You can find out more about these events at Virgin ROCKS. We are also offering a range of hybrid Business and Music events built around our books: “The Music of Business”, “Punk Rock People Management” and “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll”, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professor Charles Handy and Harvey Goldsmith. These will feature Class A Rock Stars such as Patti Russo, Meatloaf’s singing partner who has performed with Queen and Cher.
Would you like to say something to the readers of FinBuzz?
I’m happy to meet with any people interested in business, economics, finance, banking and music any time in Canary Wharf or the Square Mile. Let’s drink coffee and chat.
This story fist appeared in FinBuzz.
Photo: bestfor/ richard