Farewell to Pete!

It’s with a huge amount of sadness that I’ve just learned that Pete Lawrence has stepped down as head honcho of The Big Chill. Easily my favourite festival on the planet, and having provided me with some of the most spine-tinglingly brilliant experiences of my life (as performer, participant and member of the paying public), it’s a festival that Pete has steered with partner Katrina Larkin from small beginnings to something truly massive and global.

Every summer tens of thousands of people get excited about the prospect of going to Eastnor Deer Park (or previously Larmer Tree Gardens) or one of their many overseas excursions (most recently Goa, but most memorably an amazing week on the Greek island of Naxos). And yet despite the growth of the festival from the tiny 1000 capacity ones I remember in the late nineties Pete has managed to steer it so that it has retained it’s independent, smiley feel. And his influence obviously goes far, with him managing to organise for blazing sunshine to bathe the festival almost every year!

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve just wandered around a Big Chill festival on my own, a huge smile on my face, just meeting people, chatting and enjoying the sights and sounds alongside likeminded souls. From our very first performance at The Big Chill’s Enchanted Garden – hundreds of grinning loons, several peacocks, and an impromptu jam with a stilt-walking percussion group – to 2006 when we performed live with the amazing Bent vocalist Katty Heath and saw over 1000 crazy people go mad to every single tune we played (see the footage from the stage here and here), I can honestly say that I owe Pete Lawrence a huge amount. In fact, thousands of us do, whether we realise it or not. Pete’s dedication to independent, individual and life-affirming music events has had an unmeasurable effect on the landscape of music in this country and beyond. And the Big Chill events make it easy for even photo-duffers like me to take the occasional decent pic:

Naxos 2001

Eastnor 2006

It’ll be really sad not to see Pete perform his traditional (quite bad!) dancing on stage, during Norman Jay’s Sunday set. Good luck in everything you do from now on, Pete!

Read Pete’s official statement here.

edit: In fact, I’ve just remembered that The Big Chill is also partly responsible for my career as a club and event promoter, as the first event I ever organised (alongside my Phantom Beats cohort Matt) was a Big Chill benefit night after we read about how they’d been the victims of horrific weather and a short-sighted local council. I seem to remember we raised a fairly paltry amount for them, and Pete slept in my bed. Not with me in it, obviously.


Bits and pieces

I haven’t written anything for a couple of weeks now, but thought I’d highlight a couple of nifty sites/apps that I’ve stumbled across recently.

Videoclix is a video system that allows you to click within videos and find out more about the things you’re watching. It will be fantastic to get background info on movie scenes at the touch of a button, without having to have the director’s commentary switched on. But sadly the most obvious application of this is advertising. In the example video on the site we see James Bond zooming around in a car, which we can click on to find out more about (as well as where to purchase, no doubt). We can access info on the island he’s on, the watch he’s wearing etc etc. Developments like this could bring a huge surge of product placement in films (something that the last Bond was pretty blatant about), knowing that revenue streams from the resultant clicks would easily recoup the exorbitant amount the manufacturers are no doubt charged by the film-makers.

Solovietalk is a small app that sits on your mobile and allows you to make conference calls to other mobiles. My limited understanding is that until now you would have had to route all calls through a call handler, which was expensive. This software allows you to manage the whole process yourself at a pretty reasonable minute-by-minute rate. I’ve not tried it myself, but the developers assure me it’s a smooth process. Seems pretty ideal to me, as more and more of us are out and about most of the time.

Qik allows live videocasting from a web-enabled phone, meaning that instead of having to wait for your video to be uploaded and processed (à la Youtube), your video will be streaming live to the world with just a 5 second delay. It’s worth just going to the site to see what other people are broadcasting. It’s compulsive viewing. Soon we’ll all be producing our own private Truman Shows….

News just in as I’m writing this: “Microsoft has offered to buy the search engine company Yahoo for $44.6bn (£22.4bn) in cash and shares”. More here from the BBC…


Doctor Who and keeping it local…

I got an email a few months ago from a friend in North Carolina. They asked me what it was like to live in Doctor Who’s city. At first I was fairly staggered that they knew it was actually filmed in Cardiff, but then I realised that they probably watch BBC America, and had maybe caught one of the Doctor Who Confidential programmes that goes behind the scenes.

It’s easy to joke about geo-illiterate* Americans, but I’m chuffed that my adopted hometown’s on the map in the States. And besides, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have been able to name any cities in North Carolina had I not been lucky enough to have been there a few times.

I mention all this because David Tennant and co. were outside my house filming last night and it caused a real buzz in my otherwise sleepy neighbourhood. Here’s a video I shot of The Doctor almost being run over by a van (and proof that Tennant does his own stunts!)

Anyway, it got me thinking about how ace it is to have a really cool “brand” produced in the UK’s 11th biggest city. The bravery of Welsh writer/producer Russell T Davies to keep the production here should be applauded, alongside the plaudits he’s received for reviving the franchise in such a brilliant way. I wonder how much that decision has contributed to the Welsh economy. I reckon it could be in the order of tens of millions over the next decade. I’m sure it has improved tourism, and it will no doubt showcase Cardiff (as Torchwood seems to do in a more obvious way). From small acorns…

On a bigger scale I’m sure the New Zealand tourism board has a lot easier job of things ever since Peter Jackson decided to base all the Lord Of The Rings production there. A quick Google shows up a few links about the effect it’s had on tourism there.

But what’s more important (and more valuable) in the long run is that people no longer see New Zealand (and hopefully Wales) as a sleepy, rural idyll that can’t compete with it’s slick neighbours in terms of creativity and innovation. If i had the money and needed world class special effects I’d be on the first plane to NZ, knocking on the door of Jackson’s Weta Digital. Why be stuck in LA trawling around the many faceless CGI companies when you could be overlooking the Cook Strait and South Pacific with one of the world’s most cutting edge companies…?

There’s a great (but probably untrue) story about Peter Jackson that demonstrates the power of having done great things against the grain and using resources that nobody expects to work (i.e. New Zealand).

He was wrapping up post-production of the final Lord Of the Rings film and had already signed up to direct King King when his phone rang. It was the studio in LA that was producing the giant ape-a-thon. They were putting together a production schedule and wanted to know what studios he wanted to book in downtown LA.
“Why on earth would I want to film it in LA?”, said Peter.
“But you can’t film something of that scale in New Zealand”, said the dumb studio exec.
Peter waited a few seconds, cleared his throat, then said “You know those massive-scale films I just produced in New Zealand that grossed millions of dollars and won 11 Oscars….?”

*If that’s not a word now and it ends up in the OED in ten years time I want royalties!


I’m famous!!!

Well, not really. But I’m certainly a little bit better known because of two relatively small actions. I’ve seen the power of the internet in action this week and its ability to unexpectedly put you in touch with relevant people overnight, and bring you to other people’s attention. This is something that we kind of take for granted now – the free advertising and the people-connecting. We’re so Myspaced out that the fact that someone from Malaysia might send us an email out of the blue no longer fazes us. But I’ve been amazed (and amused) twice this week.

Firstly, the good guys at mentioned me in their videoblog after I donated a few pounds to their cause. I was just checking in with their blog to see what they’re up to – they’ve recently embarked on an epic journey which I think deserved my financial support – and almost spilled my tea all over my laptop when I saw my name briefly plastered all over the video. I only donated a very small amount and mentioned them in a post but was rewarded with this groovy namecheck. Although I genuinely didn’t donate for any other reason than to help these guys out in a small way, it was nice to get a shout out that may send a few people to my blog…

Secondly, regular readers will know all about Pollen (yes, a proper website is coming soon) as I’ve been harping on about it for a few weeks now. I set it up on a whim one evening when I was frustrated at the slow progress towards launch of my new business. I thought creative entrepreneurs in this area needed a “support network”, for want of a better phrase. Traditional business support in the UK really isn’t best suited for those of us who do things differently. It started off as a Facebook group that I set up in 2 minutes flat. As the membership passed 100 in the space of a week I realised there was some solid interest so I quickly knocked up a website on one of these “build your own” sites and sent out a few emails to tell people about it. It took 20 minutes. All of a sudden I was receiving phone calls from business magazines, offers of help from internet companies and I’ve got several meetings set up with other organisations with the prospect of receiving financial support. Again, despite it being a relatively altruistic action on my part (if you believe in that kind of thing – I’m certainly no angel!) I’ve found myself receiving a lot more attention and offers of help than ever before. And the overwhelming demand means that our first event is literally a few weeks away.

So, on both a local and international level I’m suddenly receiving attention. Self-publicity isn’t really important to me in most respects, although the attention is nice. The fact is that it shows what occurred directly as a result of two actions that I’d barely considered the consequences of. Just demonstrates what could be possible if you put your mind to it…


My first networking event

I’ve just set a date for the first Pollen event. I set it up as a network for creative entrepreneurs, as I felt that business support in South Wales wasn’t particularly well tailored for us.

I’ve been to networking events before and they’ve either been too formal, pretty irrelevant to me, or both. And so I’m hoping that Pollen will serve a purpose by allowing creative entrepreneurs to come together in a relaxed environment, chat about their successes and failures (or football and TV, I don’t mind) and maybe go away feeling less isolated and more inspired.

And that’s pretty much it. At this stage i don’t feel a great need for there to be a huge agenda for it. One may come over the months to follow, and I’ll let that be driven by the members (well over 100 so far!). As long as people have a way of contacting and meeting likeminded people then I hope Pollen will be of use. I know that I definitely get a buzz out chatting to fellow creative entrepreneurs. Spending a few hours over lunch with the likes of Katherine, John, Paolo, Aristos or Glynn (amongst many others!).

My only problem at the moment is i’d like to get some sponsorship. I’m happy to cover the cost of event hire, web hosting etc etc. But I would like to have some money behind the bar. A few drinks always helps these things move along a bit better. But where to start? Business support agencies? Private companies? And how to approach them? I suppose it’s just a case of asking. But it seems a bit silly asking for such a trivial amount – I’m only looking for a few hundred quid once a month.

Anyone want to donate?!



Is Google dangerous?

I’m currently reading The Google Story. I don’t read many business books as they tend to be really dry. But so far it’s been an interesting read. Larry Page and Sergey Brin certainly do things differently. And it’s bought them a lot of success (and money!).

But it’s only really tonight that I’ve realised how dependent I’ve become on them. I read a great post on Fortuitous a few months ago about all the different sites and widgets available that allow you to do stuff via your browser, and not using software on your PC. And slowly I’ve migrated to doing just that. And they mostly seem to be powered by Google…

I use Google Docs to collaboratively work on planning a project with my mate Steve. My friend Paddy just emailed me (to my Gmail account, natch) a spreadsheet and I just opened it up in Google Spreadsheet rather than download it to my destop and then open it in Excel. I use Google Homepage as my, erm, homepage and I have my news/biz/sport RSS feeds piped straight into that, as well as the brilliant Google Calendar (which I’ve become dependent upon). And obviously I search God knows how many times a day through my homepage. And on top of all this I use Google Browser, which allows me to log on to my PC or my desktop and have all the settings, bookmarks, tabs and windows waiting for me just as I left them on the other machine. And to cap it all off, this blog is powered by Blogger – owned by Google!

Anyway, it’s a good job Google don’t do banking otherwise they would have me completely and utterly in their pocket.

The thing is should I be worried about one organisation having such access to me and my life? I think I’m happier with them as a company than most of the other major online “players”. Having read the book I feel comfortable with their business culture, and their attitude. And although there have been fears about privacy with them in the past, I’m not sure that they’re any worse on that front either.

Is it dangerous to have all my eggs in one basket, or should I be spreading it around?

Edit – Would you believe that just as i was posting this I’ve had a free text message from Google Calendar reminding me of a meeting I have tomorrow…


About me

My name is Neil Cocker and I have run and worked in small businesses in the music industry, marketing and development for the last ten years. I currently work as a freelance adviser in the fields of the music industry and entrepreneurship.

This site will primarily be used as a holding page through which I can be contacted, but I will keep the pages and links on the right updated with articles and links that hopefully my clients (and anyone else who stumbles across this page) will find useful and interesting.

My biography

Neil Cocker was a co-founder of Wales’ all-time most successful electronic music label, Plastic Raygun, and ran its Marketing and A&R for 5 years. With his colleagues he helped steer the label to many awards, plenty of underground smashes and a Top Ten hit. He is also one half of DJ/Production duo Phantom Beats, who were voted in the top 5 breakbeat acts in the world at the International Breakbeat Awards. On top of this he has performed live on Radio One, at countless festivals (Glastonbury, The Big Chill etc etc) and has played in almost 30 countries across Europe, Asia, Australia and America.