Friday, October 22, 2021

Antoine's Photos

These photographs were taken by Antoine, the brother of Nico's companion Philippe. Antoine had a secret photographic technique that made everyone, regardless of size or gender, look like a pop star. It was taken in Nico's flat (she wasn't around- I would have been scared to meet her at that point, I think). It was the first time I'd ever been served those wafer-thin slices of raw meat. I carefully rolled them up and hid them under my knife and fork.

Home Made Calendars

It's only fairly recently that I have stopped making home made wall calendars. I started this in my bedsit in Willesden when I was 23 and the calendars were so huge, I just ripped them off the wall and threw them away when they were finished with. They morphed from gig calendars to mummy calendars and back again. I found these today- one from The Chefs days and on from Helen and the Horns days. The latter has a John Peel session scheduled.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Velvet Underground

Yesterday I was planning to spend the evening with Gina at the launch of Cold War Steve's book. In the morning I realised that it would be impossible because I still felt really grim, and I hope Gina went anyway.

This afternoon, I bit the bullet and went to see the film The Velvet Underground at the ICAbecause it's going to disappear, just like Summer of Soul. It has been made by Greedy-Apple-Corporation-Sells-You-Music-And-Things-To-Play-It-On, and I'm not a customer of theirs; it will whoosh on to their streaming service next week, and that will be the end of it. I was so desperate to see it, and I reckoned I could sit there in the dark by myself, and just absorb it even though I still feel crap.

The ICA is robot land, isn't it? Even the toilet is made for robots. On the way out when I went to the loo, the toilet decided that I'd finished my business and flushed anyway. I hadn't finished, but the toilet was very self-assured in its design and now I'm wondering if it was gaslighting me. It was scary.

Back to the film. As far as I'm concerned, The Velvet Underground began it all: the early version of the band, when they were swirling around in both meanness and beauty, was just fabulous. At several points in the film, my hair stood on end. Jonathan Richman, a mad uber-fan of theirs, describes trying to identify what the instruments were playing at a lice performance, and discovering that quite often there were sounds happening that came from nobody's instrument at all: they were just there in the atmosphere.

Yes, they were the sound of meanness, but they were also the sound of mystery, and lyrically they turned over the stone and showed us all the bad things that had been hiding underneath it. What a relief to see and hear that honesty!

The little details: John Cale and his mentor tuning their instruments to the hum of the fridge: I know that thing! Dubulah and Simon Walker used to do that, and I always thought at Millwall matches the chants started in unison in 'G' because the fans had shaved before the match and kept that pitch, entering through their jaw bones, in their heads. Cale has really good recall, and at times the film was his; but really, it was pretty even-handed with only Sterling Morrison's story being absent, although his wife was there to tell parts of it.

We heard the Primitives' song Do The Ostrich and what appeared to be an almost country-style early version of Waiting For My Man which was talked over (sacrilege!). We heard about Lou Reed parting company with Pickwick Records where he was a staff writer because he wanted to write miserable songs that told it like it was.

Mo Tucker was really funny, saying how much they all hated hippies when they went to California, and how useless a flower is when someone's pointing a gun at you.

And there was Nico of the beautiful voice, and Andy Warhol exploiting everyone's vulnerability. It was a really absorbing and interesting movie. Then something went wrong, and all we could hear was the audio, and then nothing. The cinema sorted it out and it started again, but by then I had a humdinger of a headache and came home.

On the way back, I realise that I'd left Summer of Soul early too. Maybe I don't like getting to the end of films because I don't like things ending. There has been too much 'ending' in the last eighteen months, and I've had enough of it. 

Back to work tomorrow, up really early. I think I am going to go to bed now even though it's just after 6 p.m.

Anyway- here's a Velvet Underground song I recorded (for the third time!) because I love the song so much. Of course Nico does it a thousand times better, but it's just such a gorgeous song. The Mexican zine Pintalo De Negro asked a bunch of musicians to record their favourite Velvet Underground song to go on to a cassette they're releasing imminently with a new issue, and I did it for them, with Ian Button and Robert Rotifer on backing vocals. The film is by Damian Cosmas.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Surrealism is following me around today like a lost puppy. The gas engineer phoned while I was out shopping and said I'd left a message that sounded like a Dalek on his messaging service. Juggling my bag, wire basket and a handful of potatoes, I accidentally deleted all the notes on my iPhone during the call in such a way that I can't retrieve them (I don't back them up to anything, and it was a text-delete, not a note-delete, so they are irretrievable). But I was sort of relieved.

I looked in the window of the North London Hospice charity shop on the way back, and there was a harmonium (very good condition, and quite a coincidence because I almost sold my piano yesterday), plus literally scores of white satin wedding dresses festooned about the shop and lined up obediently on hangers, as though waiting for husbands to insert prospective wives into them, waltz out of the shop to the church down the road, and marry them. A veritable production line of marriages, all in a north London suburb. Wow.

Actually, the problem with losing the phone notes is that they partially contained a list of all the things I've got to catch up on after being ill. Will I remember them all? I don't know.

We used to play a game on the train home from school. 'You've dropped your head!', pointing at the floor. Everyone got caught at least once, looking down instinctively before playing the trick on the next fool in a school uniform. I've certainly dropped my head, or the contents, anyway. 

It's quite nice. 

I think I'll leave it there on the floor and see what else turns up in the surreal world of the High Street.

Cooking and Thinking

Grounded by my malaise (pretentious, moi?) I'm cooking and thinking. I had a hankering for leek and potato soup to soothe my throat, and I don't really know how to make it, but calling on Spirit of TV Cookery Show, a pan is bubbling on the stove and it doesn't smell that bad. 

I mean, it smells nice.

I have been thinking about how powerless you can feel in life. One of the things that has always boosted my low self esteem is sitting alone and writing a song. A song is a friend that changes position: sometimes it comes from inside you and you're speaking, then it suddenly changes and tells you things itself. You concentrate, in the same way as you concentrate on drawing. There is an intensity in the moment that can't be interrupted, and that reinforces your sense of who you are and what you feel.

A good song writing session will make you feel taller and stronger, thick-skinned and armoured against the world, and glowing with creativity. It doesn't deplete your bank balance and doesn't have to be competitive. It's made of sound waves and words. Air and ideas, that's all.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Daytime Cookery Shows

Now, I am building my expertise as a watcher of daytime cookery shows. 'Amazing recipes!' they exclaim, before whizzing through a choreographed engagement with ingredients, clashing stainless steel implements, and immaculate kitchen surfaces that always involves several ingredients that I haven't got (and don't know how to acquire), and results in far too much food for me and my limited stomach capacity.

I watch the cooks frazzled by their efforts as they wrestle dough, whisk eggs and trim edges with panache. They obviously have squads of brow-moppers, sweat dabbers and want-a-glass-of-water-sirs: handmaidens to assist with their travails. Hey presto! Magnifique!

When I was young and poor, I used to sit and watch these shows while I ate a slice of bread and butter. The exotic recipes made the bread and butter particularly delicious, with the added bonus that I didn't have to do very much washing up at all, unlike the support squads for the TV chefs. Now, I think 'If I only had that one missing ingredient, I would make that magical hey-presto food, but since I don't, it's pasta for dinner again'. I am also still partial to bread and butter, which can be the most satisfying food in the universe when the bread is freshly baked and the butter is cold.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

These Streets from Daylight Music


Wall-to-Wall Detectives

I've picked up a virus (I hope not Corona) probably from being back at work. I'm hallucinating detectives from the wall-to-wall reading as I work down the trashy novels pile, as I sit unable to move due to fatigue, and nursing a throat that feels as though it's trying to swallow a hedgehog.

The plots blur into each other, female and male detectives transitioning into one ultra-detective that solves everything on the last two pages. The simple act of imbibing soluble aspirin is undertaken in faux-policing vocabulary, and the hypernosmia (I could smell the pages of the books from my bed, probably because of a bout of Covid last year) has vanished to be replaced by deafening tinnitus that jangles along as an irritating soundtrack to my woozy worldview.

Go with it, go with it, it will pass. Don't worry about all the pending things that you simply can't do. Pick up another novel, prop up your elbows, and peer into the grey type littered on the thick corky yellow pages. There you will find the USA, all laid out in all its poverty, unfairness, danger and corruption, all appearing imminently on our own horizons. I am forewarned about people with dementia being kept alive with heart-drugs just so the chains of care homes can continue to fleece their families; people beaten up having to pay their own medical fees, and then having to sue the perpetrators for the money; the oil industry destroying entire Appalachian mountains and polluting the land, water and air just because making money is more important than anything else. People with guns shooting innocent people and then living with it for the rest of their lives, because they carry guns and that's seen as a sign of freedom. 

Corruption too in the UK, taken for granted as something we always will have to live with, perpetrated by people who apparently live in an entirely different astral sphere to normal people. 

This swamp! Somehow it chimes with how I feel. More books to go before I get better.....

Friday, October 15, 2021

Customised Shirts

I have always been a long-sleeved checked shirt sortuva person. In the 1980s I bought lots of my shirts from Flip, but I also bought lots of cheap size small shirts from men's shops. When I got fed up with them I used to cut the sleeves off one shirt and sew them on to another. Hey presto! A new shirt (and a lot of spare sleeves because alas, I was too lazy to sew the discarded sleeves on to the other shirt, although I did sometimes wear that one as a cut-off).


Yesterday, I was walking behind a tall schoolboy and he suddenly sneezed.

I walked through a schoolboy's sneeze. Bring back lockdown!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Learning The McCookerybook And Rotifer Songs

We have our first two ever gigs coming up at the end of November, and it seems sensible to start learning the twelve songs in our repertoire, especially since a lot of them have alien chords to learn, and (even more challengingly) lyrics in the German language. Little and often is the prescription. Chords first, lyrics later. If I can get my body to deal with the music, my head can follow on with the lyrics. I hope.

I had an unexpected conversation with a blues guitarist on Monday morning, which was such a cheering thing to do. Guitar nerds aren't usually on patrol on Monday mornings! He's going to come in and talk to the music students, and they are going to love him. On Thursday, an ex-student who now manages vinyl output for a major label is coming in, and last week I spent 150% of my time scurrying around trying to find a room to teach them all in. Now I think I have, but I won't be able to relax until the lecture is over, when I will deflate with relief like a balloon at a children's party.

On Monday afternoon, I played the songwriting students a selection of political songs, all the way from Billie Holliday through Woody Guthrie, Marvin Gaye, The Specials, X-Ray Spex to Pussy Riot and beyond, finishing with the Tokyo Complaints Choir, who always go down a treat, and shine a light of sunny happiness on drab Monday afternoons. I have to introduce them to Lord Kitchener, Pete Seeger, The Last Poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Charlie Gillet's book The Sound of the City which is possibly out of print. There is so much they haven't heard!

The Milk Bottle Depot

Back in the 1980s, when you rounded the corner on the top deck of a Number 36 bus at Vauxhall, you were rewarded by a glimpse into the milk bottle depot where tight queues of clean milk bottles wobbled on a conveyor, past the industrial-glazed windows on their way back into circulation. For some reason, this was a mysterious and oddly romantic sight. The lines of bottles seemed to be heading on a longer-than-necessary journey, backwards and forwards, through gleaming chrome machinery that was curiously complex. And they were clean: so sparkling clean! The glass positively twinkled under the fluorescent ceiling tubes, the contours of their lips etched out sharply in gleaming light. Oddly, you never saw a human being. It was as though the bottles had found their way there independently and lined up patiently, having made the decision themselves to be recycled. I think this was the most riveting thing of all.

Monday, October 11, 2021

From Drawing Club Yesterday

Yesterday I carried on the Children's TV theme with a drawing of Belle and Sebastian, that black and white children's programme from France, and then revisited the Delft tile idea (watch this space) by drawing a Delft punk throwing a bit of a wobbler.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Being A Darkroom Technician

After I left school, I had a temporary job at the RVI hospital in Newcastle as a darkroom technician. I spent my days in a large cupboard with a dim red light. There were smaller two-way cupboards set into the walls. A radiographer would put an exposed X-Ray film into one from the wall outside the darkroom, and bang on the cupboard door when they had closed it. That was your signal to open the internal door, take out the cassette with the film in it, and feed it into the developing machine, which would then spew it out into a room next door to be collected and taken to the radiologist for diagnosis.

I've written before about reading Mills and Boon paperbacks that had been left there by a previous technician: it was just light enough in there to decipher the text. Waiting between films was desperately boring and even Mills and Boon was better than nothing.

Occasionally we'd mix massive plastic tanks of developer and fixer, bending the stinky chemicals with water to the correct concentration. In other parts of the department there were rooms where we'd have to develop and fix the X-Rays manually, which was daunting. X-Rayed teeth (occlusal) were processed this way and I remember seeing tiny grey and white films clipped into chrome frames having in the tank of fixed waiting for diagnosis.

The colonoscopy area was disturbing. Woozy drugged people in hospital gowns were wheeled in and out of the camera rooms, and often their prognosis was not good. One day I saw blood in my stools and was horrified. I went into work the next day and whispered my fears to one of my workmates. 'Ha ha!', she laughed. 'What did you eat last night?'. Lots of tomatoes. Yes, it was par for the course to self-diagnose with dreadful bowel complaints when you worked in that part of the department. 

There were workplace romances: one of the surgeons was regarded as particularly desirable, and I had the impression that he was taking his pick from the lovely young radiographers in their starched white uniforms. The radiographers were fun. One fo them couldn't afford to go on holiday so she found a French radio station on her transistor radio and sat sunbathing in her mum and dad's back garden for her two weeks off, pretending that she was in the south of France. 

We all had to wear little rectangles of X-Ray film pinned on to the skirt part of our overalls to make sure we weren't getting over-exposed to radiation. The Radiographers had heavy rubber aprons that they put on when they were posing a patient, and we had to stand back from the doors when the machine was in operation, just in case..

One of the radiographers had a father who was a jeweller, and one day he secretly came in and pierced everyone's ears at a reduced rate. There was a heatwave that summer and I remember walking through Marks and Spencers to get the train home (it was the only air conditioned shop in Newcastle), and gingerly touching my tender ears. What a strange sensation it was, metal and skin! I don't think McMum was delighted when I got back home.

The X-Ray department was a world of its own. Apparently a senior radiologist had allowed a vet to bring in an anaesthetised pig one weekend; and  I bought a length of tweed from a salesman who turned up in our rest room one day (and later sold it to one of King Kurt's guitarists to have a suit made, because I couldn't find anyone in Newcastle to adapt a tailor-made man's suit so I could have one made for myself). I earned enough money to get my hair cut, but it looked awful. Thankfully, it all grew again.

Such hot weather, baking in the dark in a tiny room deep in the heart of the Royal Victoria Infirmary for a whole young summer. Isn't it funny where life takes you?

Saturday, October 09, 2021

24 Hours

I had the strange experience yesterday of being tagged in a Twitter post by a record label that is releasing a version of 24 Hours by The Chefs. Last week sometime, I had inadvertently 'liked' a similar post in passing, thinking at was a radio show but actually it's a reissue label that seems to have got hold of several people's tracks (including one by the Monochrome Set), without them knowing anything about it, and who plan to release them all next year.

Their Twitter followers are really excited, and one admonished me as though I was being churlish for noting that I didn't know anything about it.

Think about this: if you had been in a band that made very little money despite being professional for years, how would you feel if the songs that you had spent months writing, rehearsing, playing and recording were completely detached from you, and people were allowed to repackage and sell them, alongside merchandise that they have created themselves, and pay you nothing, without even asking if that was OK? Somewhere out of sight, a bunch of businessmen have exchanged contracts, shaken hands, had a beer and gone back to their huge houses in Surrey or Islington or wherever (and you can bet your bottom dollar they vote Labour), patting themselves on the back. And the people who will buy the records (known as 'the market' buying 'units') will feel as though they are interacting with the artist by buying another record for their collection.

Quite possibly some of the bands and artists don't mind, and in fact are delighted to be remembered. I am completely aware that I am not famous, and should also probably be feeling incredibly grateful for all the attention. I don't- I just feel as exploited as I always used to until becoming completely independent and DIY, or at least as much that as one possibly can be. 

Have you ever tried to buy a loaf of bread and offered to pay with gratitude? 

Or a bag of tomatoes and offered to pay with self-importance?