1980s band members finally make it big - in business
- Credit: Paul Heeren
In the 1980s they were members of a band that nearly made it big.
Today, erstwhile keyboard player Paul Bensley and vocalist and guitarist Paul Heeren preside over fast-growing Woodbridge telephony-based company X-on.
In their rock and pop days, the pair had their sights set on stardom after forming State of the Art, a band inspired by 1970s progressive rock and infused with 1980s pop and funk.
They even caught the eye of music industry moguls and EMI booked them into Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded many of their biggest hits.
The duo met after Paul Heeren travelled from his native Australia to London in 1978 to pursue his dream of making it big in the music industry.
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Now chief marketing officer at X-on, he placed an ad in music weekly Melody Maker for a keyboard player which held out the allure of “millions pending”.
It was answered by Paul Bensley, now X-on’s chief executive and they were joined by female vocalist Shelley Twinn. But although the trio came agonisingly close to a big breakthrough they never quite made it.
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“The head of A&R felt we had a hit in our repertoire, possibly a second, but couldn’t quite convince their whole team to agree to a record deal. It was hugely disappointing after such an exciting build-up. By the late eighties we’d sadly given up on State of the Art but our music still stands up — as well as the wonderful memories,” says Mr Heeren.
He continued to pursue a career in music for many years securing record deals with various bands and writing the theme for the film Highlander 2 while Paul Bensley moved focus and became technical director at a telecommunications company.
In 2000 they were reunited after Mr Bensley persuaded his ex-band mate to join him in a business partnership as part of a management buyout he was spearheading.
X-on was launched in a barn in Suffolk and initially focused on selling IT support services and ringtones to organisations. It moved into virtual hosted telephony services and came to specialise in sophisticated phone systems for the healthcare market — and in particular GP practices.
The award-winning business has gone from strength to strength and estimates its products are now used in 15% of the GP market. And the “millions pending” ad promise has finally come true.
The £8m turnover company employs 70 staff and supports 10,500 simultaneous GP-patient calls — or a total two million a day.
As a result of its rapid growth, the business is moving from Framlingham Technology Centre to Riduna Park in Woodbridge and is looking to attract external investment to fund more growth.
Paul Bensley said: “Rapid development of health technology is bringing radical change in how healthcare is delivered to patients. Our focus is in primary care and devising internet telephony systems that enhance patient access to their local surgery and how GPs in turn deliver care such as through remote consultations — quite a different world from the music business.”
X-on’s flagship Surgery Connect product enables patients to book their own appointments and provides healthcare staff with a full patient history — minimising time spent on administrative tasks and calls.
“Times have changed for us but by no means have they slowed,” said X-on’s chief executive. “When we switched our sights from music to business we didn’t foresee how big X-on would become. Now it takes a whole team of us to keep up. As we all know too well — and particularly after this last year — healthcare never stops needing improvement. We’re really pleased to be where we are and to be contributing to that.”