As part of our Interview series 1, we spoke with Steve Muzolf the principal of music and theatre academy in St Neots. He started playing the piano at the age of six and tells us about the rest of his amazing career.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Steve Muzolf, I’m the Principal of the Peppercorn Academy in Eaton Socon.
How did you get into the creative industry?
Really no other choice. My parents especially my mother, insisted that one of the things I would do would be to learn the piano. So I was dragged along at the age of six to our local lady piano teacher. And that’s how I started in the music business.
Having had parents that were one was a refugee from a place called Gdansk. And my father was a Polish freedom fighter, if you like, who was recruited over to the British forces. Hence I am now here, German mother Polish father, born in Bedford. We’re talking here quite raw near to the Second World War.
My mum being German and the only if you like, foreign family in the village, I had a very difficult time at school starting at school with a huge German-Polish accent, which was ridiculed by the children and the teachers as well, which happened in those days.
I really didn’t get on very well at school and was a sort of a failure, but my mother insisted I never miss a piano lesson. It was about the only thing I could do. So that’s really where my creative side came in. And on my 13th birthday, I can remember coming home, I walked into the dining room and there was a Hammond organ. And it must have cost my dad back in those days £2,000.
So I think they had put everything, their life savings the whole lot into buying this instrument for me, which immediately got me into a 70s style reggae and rock band, because not because I could play the thing particularly well, but because I had a Hammond organ and everybody in those days had to have a Hammond organ in their rock groups. And that’s how I ended up with my first performing arts thing. And being taught to read music suddenly had to develop playing by ear as most of the bands didn’t read music. And that’s how I developed my ability to play by ear write songs, make up music, but I could still read music and had the grounding to get me going into the industry.
But I did actually suggest it might be handy to have a real job if the music industry didn’t work. So I did do an apprenticeship at London Brick Company in engineering, so I can weld and play the piano, but not at the same time.
It’d always been my intention to not be in the engineering business or the brick making business I always wanted to be in the music business in some way, so I made that my priority.
I met my wife. I still had a sensible straight regular job at the Brickworks, which meant I got a mortgage for my house. And very promptly after that quit that industry and decided with a colleague to set up a music shop in St. Neots, and that’s where our business in St. Neots started.
We had a retail shop, which was a bit of a failure. It didn’t work very well. We were selling instruments not enough to make a go of the business but we were getting the customers come back saying “Well, can you teach me how to play the thing now or do you know where I can learn?
So we ended up with our shop, which we then closed at five o’clock, opened it up as the music school and started to build up a base of lessons. So it was a few years of living on baked beans on toast, but we managed to get the teaching school going to the point where we hired an office in Eaton Socon called Peppercorns Lane. And we took the name from the name of the road, Peppercorns, and that’s how the Peppercorns Academy started, but only doing music lessons. It’s obviously changed considerably since then.
What tips would you give to someone starting out in the creative industries?
You’re probably starting in the creative industry at one of, if I’m controversial here saying the best times you could ever be.
The internet is a dinosaur monster and an angel at the same time. It has given us so much opportunity for people to go out, be creative and show their talents. No longer do we have to sit at Warners or Sony’s office in London and wait for 10 hours before somebody would listen to your little cassette that you’d brought as a demo. You don’t need to do that anymore.
The opportunities are immense and we’re now moving into media where there are two, three, four hundred channels. So there are opportunities in the employment side to do music and to work for those channels. The film industry is booming because of the internet I think now is the time that young people who have got the ability and would like to show off their artistic talents especially with musical instruments and signwriting you couldn’t have wanted for a better time to do it.
You stand a chance.