Richard Nicoll had a successful design career, which he loved. As his career became more business-oriented and less creative, he found himself in a bit of a creative hole. So he taught himself to play bass guitar (left-handed, even though he isn't left-handed - long story) and started writing songs influenced by his travels with work.
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa https://ketsa.uk/under Creative Commons License
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Other podcasts cited: Mark Steel's in TownSupport the show
Hi, Richard. You have been lucky enough to have a creative career in design. But when working life became less creative, and more business oriented, you filled that gap with something else. What is your new creative outlet? Well, yes, clear. I've been lucky enough to work with creative people in in Creative Industries, all of my career in design, in advertising, and in marketing. But as you say, as my career in advertising sort of progressed, and became more managerial, more leading, less during, as you saw, I found a need for a very different form of creative outlet. And for the last 20 years, I've been writing, performing, recording and producing my own music. So my, my creative outlet is music. Brilliant, exciting. Did you have a musical education? No, not at all? Well, not in the traditional sense. I had a pretty standard education in Essex. I was always quite artistic. And I had music lessons as part of the curriculum, of course, but but nothing formal. So I'd say when it comes to musical education, it It came from my parents who actually were not musical as such, but were massive music fans and massive, massive music consumers, country music or country and western music, as they called it, was always playing at home. And so they were always singing along and I was always encouraged to sort of like sing along to the songs when I was very young. But but it was also you know, when I was a young teenager, that sort of punk rock happened in the UK, and I got super interested in that the youth culture, the look, the attitude, and I became somewhat obsessed, I suppose with the sort of characters and the cast, the form that scene. So looking back, I'd say the both of those, those genres, you know, country, and punk really influenced me later. I've always listened to that type of music and studied writing it a bit later in life. But in terms of formal music, musical training, and guidance, No, in fact, I was when I was young, I tried to teach myself guitar. But without success, I put my fingers what I believe to be in the right places, and it was not really working. And it was only after trying for several months, I realised I was actually playing the guitar upside down. I was actually playing the guitar left handed, which I know sounds weird. But nobody showed me or corrected me because, as I say, I wasn't really from a musical family. So so I just did what felt natural to me. And I because of that, I defaulted into sort of a single string style, which sounded horrible, but the die was cast and I've been playing left handed ever since. It saved me a fortune in music shops all over the world. I can tell you because I there's very limited guitars that I can buy, which is very good for my pocket, but very bad for my interests. Yeah. So you're naturally right handed, but you're now playing the guitar left handed. I'm right handed and everything else that I do, and I I've literally no idea why. Why I play the guitar left handed, the only thing I can think about is when I had a when I was very young, I remember playing a plastic Beatles guitar that had the Beatles printed on the front. And I guess it must have been a cheap thing. And they didn't really mind where they printed the Beatles. And so I was holding it in the right way that the Beatles could be read. So I assume that actually, that formed, how I held the guitar, how I therefore started to learn to play it, as I say it was a expensive error in one way but but great another way. So you know, I but I didn't he didn't stop me clear. When I was young didn't stop me. I mean, as I was at school, you know, I was trying to play badly. But I was also constantly sort of writing little songs and recording them on our tape cassette in my bedroom, cheap mics, making my brother push the buttons experiment with loads of sounds and stuff. And as I was quite an arty kid, you know, I take great joy and creative hands on cassette covers. And sort of fantasising a bit about the bands, as I say, sounding terrible, but I suppose it's so the seeds for some much more productive stuff later on. Yeah. Tell me a little bit about what you did. After leaving school and how your career progressed. As I said, I was quite artistic as a kid, and I had a very good imagination. So when I went to have the interview with my career's Master, he suggested the way that I use my imagination and my artistic talents to move into something I never heard of the time, which was graphic design. So I thought this is probably quite a good idea, I've got to do something. So off, I went to art school, which I loved. And after four years, in two different art schools, I left as a newly qualified graphic designer, just wanting to design beautiful things, whether it be packaging, or brochures, or record covers, you know, I just wanted to do things that were beautiful in terms of design, and I was pretty successful in that and ended up as a design director, in a couple of London agencies. I've always been artists, I said, but I was becoming increasingly interested in the written word to, and fascinated by copy. So as it happens, the agency I was working with, through an acquisition became part of such and such as the advertising agency. So 20 years ago, I moved from design, which was predominantly a creative endeavour, into advertising, where, initially, I started as a creative, but it it sort of changed. As I rose through the organisation, such and such, he was brilliant for me. It taught me that to really think big, and he taught me that nothing is in fact impossible. But while I was at searches, actually, for a number of reasons, you know, I became more and more involved in FTK, to excel in the business side of the of the agency, so I was still leading a creative team, then. Unfortunately, it didn't match being a creative and being a business guy didn't quite match the agencies. Roger rather pigeonholed structure, I was encouraged to make a call bsps suit and focus on the business, or just stay creative. I've been thought about this a lot over the over the years, but at the time, I made the call to move into business, I really enjoyed business, I enjoyed meeting clients, I'm Joe joyed, understanding their business issues strategically, as well as creatively. And I also had the responsibility of my team that I brought to searches and I was responsible for their for their mortgages and their lives, too. So I decided to make the call into into the business side of things, and actually ended up managing agencies for Saatchi all over the world, in London, in Dubai, in Singapore, in in China. But it was the day that I made the call to move away from a creative role to the business role that I really started to redirect my creativity. And very soon after that, I really started to ramp up my songwriting and my music. Yeah. Did your wife buy you your guitar at that time? She did. Did you ask did she see that? I think a bit of both. I'd had concerns I was lying around the house, all the way from my teenage years, and I met my wife when I was relatively young, and we set up home together and had a family. And, you know, I would have always had sort of guitars hanging around the corners of rooms. And I picked them up and I try to play them and I couldn't. So she, she realised, and I realised about that time it was it was time to take a proper stab at learning guitar. So for my birthday emotionally, remember which one, I asked for this left handed semi acoustic bass guitar, and hey, presto, when I put my fingers on the right strings on the right part of the fret, it was the correct notes, all of a sudden, I could start to make make the right sounds, and that was hugely enjoyable. And I'd been playing probably for about a couple of weeks, and I had a bit of a stroke of luck. My kids at the time attended the local Cub Scout group. And so it happens that it was the time of year for the annual camp. And the other dad said to me, will rich bring you guitar alone, and we'll play together and I thought, well, this is going to be around the campfire and Kumbaya and that sort of stuff. But it turned out to be quite different. It turned out to be really, really enjoyable, playing all sorts of music, and they were sort of showing me what to do. And I was, you know, playing enthusiastically on this bass guitar. But of course, the audibility of the acoustic bass guitar in the middle of the woods is pretty low. I really could have been playing anything. A while, A while later, one of the dads Jeff rang me and said, Hey, I mean, I mean, I'm in this band rich, our bass players gone AWOL, do you want to step in? And I said, Well, Jeff, I'd love to, but I can't play. He said, No, no, you'll be fine. And I thought about it. And I thought, well, what's the worst could happen? And I thought about back to the camp, sort of Jeff's guitar playing. And I thought, well, he wasn't great. So I'll give it a go. Sorry, Jeff. He said, fantastic, Richie, I'll put my John's in the car, and I'll pick you up for rehearsal at six. I say What do you mean? So I'm the drummer. So it turned out, he was the drummer. And he was a very, very good drummer. So and I turned up at this rehearsal room and the other band room band members were equally virtuoso. So, you know, I turned up even before I got into the room, I heard this guy on the keyboard playing like, john lordan, you know, the guitar player was almost like, you know, Eric Clapton esque, in terms of the riffs he was coming out, I think I'm gonna be in a lot of trouble here. But they were very, very kind. And they helped me tune the thing. And when he showed me where to plug it in, show me what to play. And actually, within a month of starting, I was actually playing live gigs with this with this group just covers but even so you can imagine after 30 odd years of wanting to do that, it was a brilliant thing to start to do. And in fact, because of, because if this was the start of a new process, almost a new chapter, I think, I surely got into my songwriting. So I started writing songs for that band, and we played a couple of them live, which was remarkable. And beyond that, I pretty much played guitar every day since. Amazing. Yeah, progressing, of course, from bass, which is what I started to six string guitar. You know, I love the way I learned to play mandolin and ukulele. And, and because I've been travelling around the place, you know, various Asian and Middle Eastern stringed instruments, but the more I played, the more I wrote, the more I recorded, the more I built up sort of like a library of sounds or library of ideas, which has been super fun. Cool. You've mentioned the travelling. You travelled a lot with work, how has that influenced your music making and your songwriting? massive, massively, actually, really important part of I guess why I still do it. Because, you know, I've been lucky enough to travel, worked in the Middle East, worked in Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and China. And I've had projects all over the world. And wherever I go, I, you know, I take a notebook, and I try to, I try to take in some of the local culture, in terms of songwriting style, I'd like to think I've a varied style, but I do tend to default to lyrics that have a sort of mirror where I am in the world and what's going on in those places, at the time, and importantly, my life but also the lives of those around me that I need. So I like to write songs from the perspective of the people that I meet, whether that's a taxi driver in Delhi, a merchant banker in Hong Kong When x pack, also, the songs often express some acts, you know, it was probably, you know, the same stories or vibe, as I was listening to in my teens, you know, the stories that were in country music, sometimes the sad, but also the anchor that's in punk rock. So it was sort of themes that focused on the tension of everyday lives. And I've learned along the way, it's not just teenagers who are angry and confused, by the way I lived. For the last five years before I came here in Hong Kong, right up to last year, I saw the tensions building there. And you can imagine how the breakdown of that society might resonate, you know, with the sort of anarchy in the UK vibe that I grew up with in the 70s. It was very real. And in fact, one of the last shows I played in Hong Kong with my band, we were playing the cover of the clashes white riot, as riot police were running down the streets last October. It was the the Chinese national day played at a small venue. And there was lots of kerfuffle, the audiences were playing white riot. And it turned out afterwards that it was right, please, running down the street outside the venue as we were playing it. So it was very real. The songs that I write tend to reflect that they're often loud, they're often fast. But hopefully they will they have a good story, embedded in them all. Brilliant, the kind of parallels that you're seeing now that you were as a teen as well, that's been the joy of it, actually. Because the themes, you know, I mean, in some way, it's it's disappointing that the themes that were so resonant to me as a sort of, like fresh face teenager, are still evident in our society, not just society, in the UK, but society everywhere. And, you know, I, as I've got, as I've got older, I'm still frustrated and angry about some of those things. And I like to write about them. And I like to write about them from my point of view, but I like to write them about them from the point of view of other other people that I meet. Yeah. from, from learning to play, and continuing to learn, and then playing covers and then playing actual live gigs. How did it come that you were formed a band and recorded an album in your 50s? And what was your motivation to do that to move from actual performing to recording? Well, I, as I said, I've always been interested in recording since I was a small, a small boy in my bedroom. And as I mentioned before, you know, I got into very soon after I picked up a guitar properly, for the first time, I was sort of CO opted into a band. So for 15 years or so I've been in bands, some covers band, but some bands as a vehicle for for my own songs in and then I played a lot around around where I lived in Essex, playing a lot of the open mic, small shows, to be able to sort of showcase the music. But obviously, during my time, at an ad agency, like Sasha and Sasha, I've learned that creativity can really spark and take a more interesting term and you work as a team. So I decided, as all this was going around in Hong Kong, and some of the music that I was writing that I that I that I would be interested in should should actually look for collaborators to form a band in Hong Kong that allowed the songs to develop and others to influence what was coming out. And that's the the last Governor's came into being so the last Governor's was the band in Hong Kong. I formed along with my compadres, Bob and john. And we set about writing songs as a site that was that resonated with people there and played the songs live built up a bit of a following and got support slots with UK touring bands like the UK subs. That was hugely fun, you know, people who had bought records from when I was 14. Now sharing the stage when I'm when I'm 54. Great, a great, a great and slightly surreal experience. And we found that people wanted to hear the songs they wanted to hear the songs live, but there was actually there was no recording so it was natural for us to record. So we set about creating a couple years ago what was in effect a punk rock album inspired originally Music. Now some guys are in their early 50s. But I think because of the things that we were singing about, were totally authentic for people of a certain age and, and relevant to where we were in Hong Kong, it sort of worked. And people really responded to it. We spent six weeks in a local studio with a brilliant engineer, co producing it, and then decided to release this music not just as a not to stream it or make a CD, but we decided to release it as an album. We got the album pressed in vinyl in somewhere deep in Guangdong province in China. We created cover art for the album we did we had band photoshoots in a booklets, we wrote all the lyrics out. And you know, we didn't have a didn't have a great run of pressings. But we've pretty much sold out everything that we that we bred, and sold it to folks who attended our gigs and others. And you know, we had people asking for it. We got a few local record shops and what have you, you know, it wasn't it wasn't we weren't trying to be rock stars, right? We weren't interested in doing anything other than recording for ourselves and those that appreciate our music, just to say it was more about being creative than it was about any any superstardom or money. Certainly, certainly, we achieved that. It's amazing when people buy your music is a tremendous validation, you know, people are laying out 20 equivalent or 20 pounds, buying an album of songs that you've created is a wonderful feeling. And it continues, you know, as as Charles had it, a change of direction of work meant that I left Hong Kong last year, just as it was getting a bit interesting and tasty. And move to the Middle East again into Dubai on a face of it a very, very different place, Claire, but I quickly saw beneath the veneer. And I saw there's many many interesting tensions and themes to inspire me here too. And I as I've learned that it was more fun to be in a band through my experience in Hong Kong, I set about finding new collaborator, collaborators here. And I put an old school ad in one of the Dubai music, Facebook pages sort of thing used to put in me or Melody Maker hooked up with my new bandmates Alex, Andy and Phil and created something called gone rogue. DSP, which, you know, is probably a great name for a band here, because, you know, most bands here follow the norm, they follow the bashing out covers of Hotel California to to in the corner of the bar, but we sort of definitely have gone rogue by again, writing songs that are about Dubai, talking about the fact we live in a bubble, you know, pointing out the fact that a lot of people are both lying in the sun and lying in the sun. And, and so we're now in the process of finalising another album, we're almost done, it's reflects in part, the Exceptional Life and Times we're living, you know, in the COVID times, and the plans to release this in some sort of form in the spring. And hopefully at the same time, that's when live music performances will start again. So we can we can we can rock a few joints here and and make a bit of noise. Brilliant. So have you recorded this second one? Have you used the same process you did before? You know, we have more choice these days. So when we recorded the first last Governor's album, went into the studio, great engineer. And actually, you know, we've started thinking about the second last governance, although I'm no longer in Hong Kong, we've been working on tracks in the remote collaborative method, recording our own bits, putting it all together ourselves, which is really interesting, actually, you know, you can think of the baseline gets laid down in inside Kong In Hong Kong, and you know, we're putting the guitar licks on it here in Dubai. The the tracks that we're working on in Dubai have been recorded pretty much at home via sort of computer interfaces, you know, with all of us doing our parts and or being part of the process, and then mixed and mastered by our producer in London. And he's putting those finishing touches in this guy, David watts has worked with the fall and Kaiser Chiefs and what have you. So, you know, he comes with a good pedigree, he's done some great stuff and it's all sounding really really good at the moment. Thing is more than just the music and you know, we're enjoying looking at things like cover arts as big thing. That's a big thing for us, you know, trying to add interest to every track Alex Sort of bought some original photography, it's type of fee and illustration to the, to the project. And when we put them up on the streaming sites, you know, it's quite quite possible to have the art supporting the track at that time and is important to us so, so the music is one thing, the art is another thing, but the project that has gone rogue is is hopefully going to go from strength to strength next year. So you don't mind that that Alex system? Some cover up then? No, not at all. Because absolutely everything that I've done in terms of music in terms of that has been, I've done it all, I've pretty much done it all myself. It's very much this DIY approach. So to actually meet someone who was both a brilliant bass player, but also, you know, a as creative as me in terms of aspiration. And he's absolutely not from a creative career background, he works in property and real estate. So to have someone who is as creatively, fluid to collaborate with on every aspect of the band has been brilliant. Yeah. Brilliant. So what are your plans? for the future? I guess it may depend a bit on travelling or maybe you have more control over it? Well, we'd love to I'd certainly love to travel. I mean, I said I've been No, I've been nowhere for a year pretty much. But but that's, that is okay. Because, you know, I'm doing my best to make sure the madness The world doesn't hold me up. live performance is out of the question right now. I've actually been performing my songs, solo via stream, Facebook, open mic. And that's been real fun as well, that that's that's given me another thought about how I can get my music out to people. And that's been very well received. In the immediate future, I don't see too much travelling, but I see the need. And I'm looking forward to finishing the gun ronette gone rogue Alba, getting ready to perform that album live here in the spring, maybe other places to keep keeping going writing my own songs, I now have more than enough material to start thinking about a solo album and a little bit more confidence in the fact that I understand the process a lot more than that. So it could be a really good product, I'm thinking of calling it a collection after my surname, I thought that could be a good name for it. It's an uncertain world right now, of course it is been I'm certain I'm going to keep doing this. And the longer I do it, the more I enjoy it, I'm going to keep writing, I'm going to keep recording, keep being creative. Although the job I do now is more creative. Again, great thing is that the hasn't hasn't stopped my, my creativity in music. So I'm getting the best of both worlds now. And I'm creating advertising campaigns as well as, as writing music. So I'm going to keep up this DIY approach to the music creation. And wherever I am in the world. Hopefully, it'll inspire me to do more. It's good that like you say you've you've got visual, still getting involved with now creatively and the audible, but also the confidence, you've obviously you've mentioned, the confidence that you've gained when people buy albums, or people come to see a show or people want to see you streaming on Facebook overall, that confidence has built in your musical ability has been all on you really I think has a net rather than an actual training. Yes, that's a really good way of putting it I think, I think if you It's expected as as someone who trained as a designer, and works in design and advertising and marketing, it's expected for people to behave in a creative way. And creativity, you know, by definition is easier using using intellect and using your imagination to overcome problems in hopefully unique and, and original ways. And so that's expected but the the the confidence to be able to do that in a hugely congested space like music, and to be able to have the self belief that people are going to take you seriously as a musician is is something that there's developed and so it's exactly right. I think that you know, although I listening to your podcast series, you know, there's lots of people there who are, who have who have not come from creative backgrounds who have found creativity. I've just found a different area of creativity. And confidence is hugely important in being able to optimise that and to bring forward all of that potential. There are many, many podcasts out there, it's difficult to know where to start. So I like to ask my guests for their recommendations. You're welcome. But one that I would love to recommend not only what is the, from the comedian and the writer, Mark Steele, and he has his podcast, I think is a radio for thing called Mark stealing town, which I love because he travels around the UK. And he tries to get under the skin in somewhat of a comedic but also sort of a cultural sense of the towns he visits visits and, and I i love that because that's almost exactly what I I try and do with my music. And he's also a very, very, very funny guy. You know, he was he will come up with local pearls of wisdom that are absolutely on point with his audience in that locality that people outside of the town outside of the area would never know about. And he draws tremendous reaction. I'm I love listening to it because I learn more about places every time I listen to him, so not not no more than that. I see some of what he does in these bars while I do. Yes, def definitely a theme with you places. Yeah, I think so. And people are new to people who live in those places. Because there's no more fascinating thing than people I should have been an anthropologist. So that's another podcast, you have to go and talk to somebody else about that aspect of you. Have you another one you can fit into? How can people connect or contact you to the latest recording projects are up on Soundcloud and that is if you go onto SoundCloud and and type in lost governors, you will be able to hear the album that I talked about the recording in Hong Kong. And if you want to hear some of the early versions of the gone rogue album as we're finishing it, then again, same same thing. SoundCloud gone rogue D XP, that's GL n e. r o g UEDX been fabulous. Thanks so much, Richard. I mean, I really enjoyed the process of thinking about that, though, because I hadn't done so before. This thing about confidence is really important. Because as a creative person, and I've listened to other people on your podcast, and you know, they, you know, mostly, they have this sense of they want to do something different than that in their in their life in their career. And it's you can see, you can see the drip, drip drip of confidence coming in to the point where they then you know, get accepted to the Royal the Royal Academy. It's a summer exhibition or whatever been yet when this and this is maybe something which is I should that when you become a musician, you know, my my wife said to me, You want music? You are a musician? Yeah, at some point is a really, there's a realisation that you've been doing this. And you can actually genuinely call yourself a musician, which is wonderful. Really? Yeah. Yeah. I suppose a lot. Yes, definitely. And a lot of the chat with people kind of helps them to frame that as well, where they haven't done so before. By talking to me on the podcast. I'll send you this. This is the script. Right. I wrote this one. And as I was writing it, I was thinking, you know, this is actually really interesting, you know, because I was very conscious that I wanted to answer your questions in a relatively concise way in my golf on a tangent. Yeah. Yeah, I appreciate it's been a great experience. I thank you very much. You're welcome. You're welcome.