The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Sometimes You’re Hot, Sometimes You’re Not …
December 2, 2009, 5:51 am
Filed under: Comment

Christmas 1984 @ approx 3am:

I run into my parents bedroom, bursting with excitement and asking if I could open my presents.

Because my parents loved me [read: I was an only child] they only needed minimal cajoling before traipsing down the stairs half asleep and joining me by the tree so that we could start our annual habit of handing out each other’s presents.

As usual, I would be subjected to the torturous pleasure my parents got from handing me some pointless present from god knows before finally I’d get to the ‘good stuff’…

Over the years I’d had all sorts of great [even if they broke within minutes] presents …


Astro Wars

Demon Driver

Tin Can Alley

Merlin [possibly the first, and worst – multigame handheld system]

An Ingersol digital watch [that told the ACTUAL DAY as well as the date!]

G7000 videogame system

My beloved Raleigh Grifter [where I passed out when I saw it]

… however in the early hours of December 25th, 1984, I received a present that was probably the best value-for-money gift my parents ever bought, because it started a love affair that has lasted – so far – at least 25 years … because on that cold, dark morning, I was given a Les Paul copy electric guitar.

To be honest, I knew I was getting it because my parents had taken me to Carlsboro Music in Nottingham to check it out – mainly because they thought I had shown talent on a 2 string acoustic guitar that was lying around the house [where do these guitars come from? Seemingly every house has one – they’re worse than rabbits for breeding] and liked the idea of me learning a musical instrument – however even though I had previously had my heart set on a synthesizer and thought the Les Paul was a bit girly [till I picked it up and it weighed more than a small car] I was excited. Very, very excited.

Of course part of the ‘deal’ was that I had to have lessons and so in Jan 1985, I started a weekly half hour ritual at ‘Dave Mann’s Music’ where I would learn the basics with the brilliant Jim – who after a year, pissed off to earn a damn site more than the 2 pounds 95 pence my parents were paying him to be Ozzy Osbourne and Bryan Adam’s guitarist.

Over the years I fell more and more in love with the guitar … playing up to 8 hours a day every-single-day, starting a band, recording, touring, buying ever more ludicrously expensive equipment … basically just having a ball.

And here’s the thing … there were days when I would wake up, pull out the twanger [that’s slang for a guitar, not a euphemism for pubescent activities] and think I was quite simply the greatest guitarist in the World. EVER!

My fingers would do as they were told, the sounds from the guitar would be exactly what was in my head, the tone would be huge and perfect … in short, I was the new Jimi/Clapton/Beck/Angus/May/Bettencourt all rolled into one and was quite simply, invincible.

However just 24 hours later – having experienced no dramatic change to my environment or mental health – I would pick up the guitar and suddenly find my hands were crippled with arthritis, my guitar would be in a strop and refuse to play anything my brain instructed, the tone would be tinny or waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to bassy … in short, I was a fucking retard who had never picked up a guitar in his life.

It as if it there was an inbuilt anti-overinflated-ego component in my brain – ensuring I could feel good about myself but pulling me back when I was beginning to feel too good about myself – and that’s the thing about the guitar, it keeps you fighting to succeed, there’s never a point you can think you ‘know it all’ and that keeps it all exciting and challenging … so while I don’t play nearly as much as I once did – and almost never plug in my copious amounts of amps and technology – I still can feel exceedingly energised or freakinglyfuckingfrustrated when my fingers pull, or stop pulling, weird shapes along a piece of wood to make a glorious/catastrophic noises.

The reason I have written this long – and boring – history lesson is that I think what I have explained will resonate with anyone who has ever played a musical instrument [or pretty much any other activity that is driven by passion] and yet in adland, we seem to have this belief that we can always do stuff … that we will always perform brilliantly … that we ‘know it all’ and not only is that plainly bollocks, but it reflects an industry that doesn’t really care about maintaining high standards, because if it did it wouldn’t protect it’s ever-decreasing niche, it would welcome with open arms, different opinions, thoughts and ideas as opposed to the usual strat of ‘ad churn’ simply because its the only way they can get their cash these days.

Yep, adland is in the volume business.

Of course not all people or agencies behave/think like this – but there is a worrying trend of feeling invincible – and while confidence is a good thing, over-confidence has the ability to destroy everything in the blink of an eye and when you look at the state of what our industry produces on a daily basis, over-confidence is the last thing we should be feeling.

So if advertising feels all too easy for you – then may I suggest you start seeking out frustration or start your own agency.

28 Comments so far
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I love you like a brother. Like the brother I never had. I have never met you and yet it is so. Why do you ruin brilliantly personal posts with nonsense about brands and advertising? You had me at Grifter.

Comment by Marcus

welcome to my fucking world of pain marcus. you wouldnt love him like a brother if you actually had to work with him, you would think of him like a red headed fucking step son.

campbell. i thought planners were supposed to help make complex, simple and interesting so why the fuck did you subject us to a journey through your spoilt, little fucking prince, only child life (with an additional dollop of your shit music taste thrown in for miserable and sadistic measure) when all you had to write was ‘when you think you know it all youre fucked.’?

and tin can alley was shit. it looked good on the ad but it was fucking crap so sucked fucking in.

Comment by andy@cynic

best fucking present i got as a kid at christmas was a fucking orange with the peel still on so whats the moral of my story? dont come from a big family with tight fucking parents.

see campbell, my entire present life story with ‘message’ (thats much more important than fucking planning) in the time it takes you to open your wallet to buy another piece of pointless fucking tech gadgetry.

as punch said to that bitch judy, thats the way to fucking do it.


Comment by andy@cynic

since i am all for high standards, i always liked being part of the orchestra. it didnt matter if i didnt feel like performing all great, the whole experience was awesome. especially while playing some pieces of west side story. it made me high. actually, there was nothing better than playing with a bunch of people. no idea what thats got to do with advertising.

Comment by peggy

A synthesizer? Even the word sounds dated. 🙂

I don’t know who they all are, but your list of guitar heroes shows you really are a hairy greaseball rocker. Just without the hair anymore.

Marcus and Andy may not like this post and think it goes on too long but I like it. I had never really thought about how talented/passionate people are locked in a daily battle to feel ‘on top’ but of course it makes sense and it links well to your view why our industry is in the doldrums because there are a lot of people who happily believe they know it all and can do it all, but isn’t that the same in most industries?

I need to think about it some more but I like this post.

PS) You were definitely spoilt.

Comment by Pete

Dear Marcus … it’s bloody lovely to have you back, I love you like a brother too [even though I don’t know what that really means because I never had one and the friends that did seemed to spend their time hating and hitting them] but it’s not like I’ve always ranted on like an alcoholic on a booze fueled bender so deal with it. Ha.

And Andy, I’m a bit confused – you’ve always said I am a product of your training and nurturing so surely if you think I go on too much and take us on tangents even a protracter can’t measure, it’s an indicment on your training than my behaviour?

Pete. 🙂

[Except the bit where you say I was spoilt, ha!]

And Peggy is back – that makes me very happy – how was your adventure??? You were in an orchestra – how cool is that. What did you play and are you still doing it. And I think what you say has a lot to do with advertising – especially interms of both collaberation and a shared goal/philosophy – though I also think it is about how working in a bigger group both improves and challenges you, resulting in everyones standards getting better as I wrote here:

For me it’s about ‘survival of the improved’ and whilst there’s nothing wrong with the simple enjoyment you get through participation, in commercial industry, in my opinion we have become far to willing to accept mediocrity simply because it is easier to put up with than addressing fundamental issues and fighting for [internally and externally] better standards.

OK [tangent and not very well thought out] rant over …

Comment by Rob

I will take a less andy-esque position on this post and say that I really like it. Great story. It made my mediocre morning coffee taste better. Maybe it’s the spoilt only child life I relate to. Ha!

Unlike Marcus, I’m not that bothered by your letting a childhood memory illustrate the point you’re making about Adland. Anyway, I agree: Adland is, for the most part and in most places, a volume / production line business in which getting stuff through the system is the easiest short-term approach for agencies to take in order to deliver the numbers for next time Sorrell is in town. So I can’t see how a vast majority in Adland find any reason at all to feel any level of confidence let alone over-confidence.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Funny how Freddie’s first comment on here in bloody ages coincides with his first blog post in even longer. 🙂

But as usual, it’s bloody great and what’s even better is that rather than him commenting on stuff that’s going on around him, he’s talking about stuff that comes from him – and given it’s for a client that would make P&G look radical, it’s further proof that intelligence, perseverence and an appreciation of the clients needs [not just the agencies] can sometimes pay dividends and when it does, it’s even sweeter.

Top work Fred and a top comment on here – but only because you’re defending me, ha!

Comment by Rob

Finally Pete hasn’t written a comment that expresses my thoughts, Fred has.

Thanks Fred.

You’re still a spoilt only child with terrible music taste and annoying loud guitar habits, but you’ve got more hunger to do interesting things than people half your age which is why I will put up with reading your Christmas history even when it has nothing to do with the purpose of the post. 🙂

Comment by Bazza

I’m with Fred. it’s the worrying lack of confidence in advertising agencies that I find so depressing.

Comment by martin

I assume when the commentators talk about confidence, they are referring to the reputed commercial skills & talent of the advertising industry which leads me to wonder out loud what commercial skills & talent they can be so confident about when so few, contribute so little?

Robert and co are obviously one of the advertising companies exempt from that statement.

Comment by Lee Hill

Isn’t that down to the clients?

Comment by John

I swear to god I will get you to agree to speak at some ad conference somewhere in the World. I know it might mean I have to threaten you with violence, but I’ll do it because your comments are bang-on and it’s going to be very hard for the myopic, back-slapping, self-congratulatory ad industry to slag you off when [1] you can prove what you say and [2] are a believer in adlands early involvement rather than just passive ’30” wallpaper makers”.

It’s going to happen so why don’t you just accept it and agree.

Comment by Rob

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

Been doing it all my life so what’s one more to add to the pot, ha!

Comment by Rob

As a ridiculously passionate music lover I have to say I like this post.

He may have terrible taste in poodle rock but the man knows his instruments (ahem).

I got given an acoustic for my tenth birthday, and an awesome Squire Stratocaster on my 18th birthday (anal detail – locking bridge, reverse head). That saw me through my uni band days.

Now I have my beloved Korg MS2000b synthesizer that I use for my gigs, and the love is the same.

Pete – Synths are definitely not uncool. They were, but not so now.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Thanks for answering my question. Passion is the point. Always has been, always will be.

Comment by John

Your comment has made my life much better Mr Mortimer. I can now tell my team that they don’t have to be ashamed they’re nerds, there’s a new loser in town: musicians. 🙂

Comment by Bazza

Comment by Rob Mortimer

no baz youre wrong. the new gods of sad fucking nerds are planners who think they are musicians. the sort of musicians who never got laid.

Comment by andy@cynic

That is sad, though there is a soft spot in my heart for creatives who make every ad as if aiming for a yellow pencil despite working on clients that don’t know what D&ad (or talent) are…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

look at mortimer having a go. nice. except isnt it good to have high fucking standards even if your client has taste lower than a snakes cock? am i missing your carefully crafted sarcastic point here?

oh its an award slag off. oh fuck i agree with that shit, do real work to win awards not con jobs where some shop keeper in the mid west has been tricked into running some bollocks that they dont understand and wont get credit for when 3 months later a bunch of judges heap fucking praise on it because they dont want to be seen associated with shit even if what they celebrate is about as real as pammys tits.

have i done you proud mortimer?

Comment by andy@cynic

Carefully crafted… pff!

Point 1: Yes, it’s great to have high standards. Isn’t a planner trying to be a musician and a succesful artist the same? hah

Point 2: Indeed.

Point 3: Not bad Andy. Not bad.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

sometimes i try to please others mortimer. this was one of those times. feel smug, feel very fucking smug.

Comment by andy@cynic

Thanks for the permission, I may just…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Have any of you actually heard Rob play? Because I have to say he is a bloody brilliant muscian and agree with Marcus why bugger up a great emotional post with boring ad blurb. Hi Rob! Nik x

Comment by BTBB

Hello Nik … what a sweetie you are, especially as I now play about 8 hours a year, whereas then it was 8 hours a day.

Hope you’re doing OK, been seeing a few things on Facebook that look like you’ve been having some challenges, so I hope it all has worked out.

Take care lovely …

Comment by Rob

sorry for the major delay rob. its still pretty adventurous, with a hint of chaos. just how i like it haha.

yes, playing violin in an orchstra, for a couple of years. i m no longer doing it. its been voluntary in music school. i had a think about it again and maybe the best part was going on trips using the money we made from ‘gigs’ 🙂

that “a bigger group both improves and challenges you, resulting in everyones standards getting better” when collaborating and having a shared goal/philosophy is to the point i think.

Comment by peggy

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