30 November 2009

I can finally breathe a sigh of relief as the new week marks the beginning of the new era at UKFast. With UKFast’s 10 Year Anniversary Party at the Palace now a fond memory, I can reflect on the funny stories now that I know the night was a success.

It was 11 years ago at Granada I first used the Grand Ballroom at the Palace for an event. It was to raise money for the Christie’s For Cancer Appeal. The night was a huge success and I fell in love with the room. It is the perfect room for hosting a ball.

I knew the hotel well, as I’d originally played the piano there in my early years when I first came to Manchester. I had some great memories of the place and I made some fantastic friends. It was during the era of Les Miserables. And the cast used to pile in there for a few drinks after the show, before dragging me out until dawn. It was a real experience and my links to the area so strong, I bought an apartment in Oxford Place next door.

Years earlier I had my first job in a shop called A1 music, right opposite the Palace on New Wakefield Street. I did a range of jobs, from brushing up, to decorating. The funniest of these jobs, (although not at the time) was when Ann the proprietor asked me did I know anyone who could do plastering? Fancy asking a 17 year old for advice on building. Of course I promptly answered, “I can.” I had seen people plaster many times  with the houses my father used to renovate when I was growing up. I failed to mention my specialty was demolition.

The plaster eventually went up and although not particularly smooth, I was quite proud of the job. I spent that evening building all the furniture for the room. The next day I was greeted by Ann’s husband Graham who was furious. He marched me up stairs to see my handy work. All the plaster had peeled off the walls and had covered all the brand new furniture. It had then promptly dried over night!

I did a variety of jobs at A1 including their book keeping, but it was the selling I enjoyed the most. As a “Saturday boy” the professional sales guys hated me in the sale floor, so I was only able to cover for people when they were on their lunch.

Guaranteed with out fail, every lunch I would have a field day selling. I learned that by being honest and directing clients to what they needed as opposed to what the thought they wanted was a great recipe for success. I also realised I only had an hour, so I concentrated my efforts and honed my craft.

As I held the record for the biggest sale in the company’s history, Ann was much aggrieved when the sales men clubbed together and convinced Graham to put me in the basement wiring up reconditioned speakers.

Happy to accommodate, to the basement I went. It was there I was told to answer the telephone and I learnt a knew skill. I was now only able to sell when carrying the speakers across the floor. So this is precisely what I did, and I learned how to get to the point almost immediately, and with in months, we had sold every pair, with me selling the lions share. On the telephone I was also developing relationships, there were a few massive deals where I convinced the keyboard player of a touring band who were playing at the Apollo, who were number 4 in the charts at the time to come in and part with £21,500. Eventually Ann forced Graham to concede that it was ridiculous to bury someone showing promise.

It was around this time that I got my first job as a professional pianist, and rather than rock the boat with the other guys, I moved on and decided to use my musical talent to further my career. Which brings me full circle back to the Palace.

The event on Saturday was seamless, from the outside at least! Behind the scenes, the band, Clem Curtis and the Foundations were without a drummer who had broken down in Nottingham, and with 45 minutes before the start, I called my brother-in-law to ask for help. Dave is a fantastic drummer and agreed to lend me his kit, so we could get it set up and sound checked whilst everyone enjoyed the champagne reception upstairs. He also offered his services as a stand-in drummer too!

There is a saying “you cant chose you family,” and if you could, I couldn’t ask for a better guy. His attitude and calmness meant I was able to enjoy dinner and even with 30 minutes to spare when the actual drummer turned up, I couldn’t have been more relaxed.

On hind site though, it reminds me why I dont do this sort of thing for a living anymore.  If you think computer hardware is unreliable, you should try managing musicians!

I also was reminded of what I loved about event organising too. Giving pleasure to so many people is so rewarding. Being on this side of the fence too, where I was the client and the organiser, meant I could make the right decisions there and then. The team comprising of Gail, Rach, Paul and Jonathan literally had the entire evening organised and scripted to the minute. I could not have asked for a better team. Jim Collin’s description “the right people on the bus can be moved anywhere” was demonstrated by the way my events team, comprising of a few of my senior management team, changed roles as efficiently as a chameleon changes colour. But although I had great fun revisiting this former profession, I would not swap what I do now for the world.

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