Regret #9

Steven Wilson should in my view be much better known than he is.  He has been putting out music under his own name, his former group Porcupine Tree and other projects for over 25 years.  Lazy people would describe his music as progressive rock, but his back catalogue covers everything from math rock, to pop, electronica and acoustic material.  His tunes ought to fill stadiums.

That said, he can sell out the Royal Albert Hall to those in the know and tours all over the world.   Although a multi-instrumentalist he works with some of the most respected musicians both in his band and looser collaborations.  But it is clear that most of his recorded output is the product of his vision rather than a committee.

So although he spent a long time with Porcupine Tree – which included for example the former keyboardist of Japan, Richard Barbieri, and Gavin Harrison who is regularly placed high in polls of the top rock drummers, I suspect he finds more freedom in his current “solo” set-up, where he is supported in the studio and in his live shows by regular collaborators (including bassist Nick Beggs – once of 80s flash in the pan Kajagoogoo!), but not as part of a formal group.

Of course I don’t know what the commercial arrangements are around their involvement but I guess they are essentially hired guns, with individual contracts for work in the studio, and others for support on tour.  Not being a music lawyer I can only speculate as to the level of detail in these but what interests me is how such arrangements – which can only really contract for inputs (turn up on given dates, be available for interviews) – can lead to a great recording or performance – which is of course an entirely subjective output.

Regret #9 is an instrumental at the heart of Wilson’s last album, Hand.Cannot.Erase.  He toured in support of this record in 2015 and 2016 – the first shows largely with the people who performed on the record. But by 2016 the original guitarist and drummer had moved on, apparently if you believe youtube comments, due to some form of ‘musical differences’.

So here is a link to one of the 2016 shows in which they perform Regret #9 as part of a full playthrough tof Hand.Cannot.Erase along with some of Wilson’s other work.  Regret #9 starts at 41:55 into the video.  As an instrumental it gives the whole band an opportunity to improvise around the album arrangement, firstly led by Adam Holzman’s keyboards and then the climatic guitar solo from Dave Kilminster.  Beggs and the drummer, Craig Blundell drive the whole thing on, with Wilson content to play second fiddle on rhythm guitar.

Now the tune may float your boat or it may not but have a look at the next 6 minutes or so of this video anyway as I think it provides a valuable lesson in what drives high performance in a contractual environment.

The song begins with Holzman taking the lead – the others giving him the space to riff around the rehearsed structure – in fact Kilminster steps out of the way entirely.  Blundell and Beggs watch and respond to support the dynamics of Holzman’s scales.  Wilson joins the rhythm section at 43.00 and Blundell gives it a bit more stick in response.  During the latter part of Holzman’s piece both Beggs and Kilminster can be seen applauding – guess they hadn’t heard those bits around 43:35 in rehearsals and Beggs goads the crowd into doing the same as the keyboards hand over for the second part of the song.

The guitar part rises in intensity as it progresses, and by 45:07 the whole band is giving it the full monty, before a calmer coda arrives at 46:00 for the rest of the song.  It’s a great 6 minutes of music.

Of course performance is what musicians are all about and any worth their salt are not going to look at a music score and simply play the contracted notes.  But what is it that drives them to work effectively in a group?

Firstly they are all clearly enjoying themselves and working with each other.  If they didn’t then they wouldn’t be together for long.

Secondly there is a clear, shared objective.  Wilson may have written the tune but they are all responsible for entertaining the audience.

There is professional respect and appreciation between them.

They have clear roles that match their expertise. Wilson is a good guitarist but knows that Kilminster will deliver the better sole.

As a ‘client’ Wilson is happy for everyone to get on with their job and improvise as necessary.

They give each other feedback and encouragement.

Lots of parallels with successful strategic partnering and outsourcing arrangements then. However well the performance clauses in the contract are written, it also needs key individuals on all sides to support each other and work effectively to produce excellent outcomes. I think it is really difficult to capture the concept of partnership into contractual documents, but it is possible to create the governance structures that allow it to flourish.  Whilst not always the most scrutinised part of an agreement, the effectiveness of the governance clauses can, by facilitating the right partnering behaviours, avoid the need to regularly refer to the rest of the contract to get what you want.

It is also possible to test the chemistry that leads to great client and supplier relationships, which is why I always recommend that the top bidder and client teams should have at least one contact session during a tender process.

And quite often it only takes about the length of one slightly proggy instrumental to decide whether you want to work with each other or not….

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