Saturday, January 20, 2018

Daylight Music Today at the Union Chapel

What? Wake up and do a gig at rock'n'roll breakfast time? Who are you kidding?
You know what, this event was a lovely surprise for a billion different reasons. You have to go along to one of these!
Outside it was chilly and drizzly, but Daylight Music know how to treat their artists, and they had piled the dressing room full of tea, coffee, quiche and cake. They had warmed the chapel up (did they start that last night?). There were helpers aplenty, everyone knew what they were doing (including us, the artists, because the communication with us was exemplary), so from the outset the omens were great.
The first act was the Perfect English Weather, aka the Popguns, with the pop but minus the guns (that didn't quite work, did it? But this was Wendy and Simon on guitars, with bass and drums in the imagination). Their songs are really memorable, and Wendy's strong, beautiful voice carried them up to the rafters of the chapel and beyond. They have new material that is every bit as catchy as the songs that I was more familiar with, and the audience drifted along with their easy, positive vibe and their irresistible warmth. Rain? Grey skies? Forget it! Magic happens at gigs like this, right from the start. The applause at the end of their set said it all.
In between sets, Simon Fox played ambient music on an acoustic guitar, which prevented the intrusion of music that nobody wanted to listen to, from somebody's iPod. Regular gig-goers will know how often this happens, and it was a stroke of genius to have this instead. This allowed change-overs to happen quickly and the genial MC Ben to get the audience ready for the next performer.
My bit? I loved it. There were a lot of people there but I could tell the sound engineer was doing a really good job. Church buildings can have weird acoustics but what was bouncing back sounded good. It was particularly nice that there were children there, running around dressed as princesses or just dressed as themselves- and lots of elders, too; this was a proper all-ages gig.
Judy Dyble (formerly of Fairport Convention) and Andy Lewis were augmented by a group that included drums, keyboards and autoharp, with Robert Rotifer, who like Andy plays in Louis Philippe's band, on acoustic guitar, and a violin player called Alison who plays with a band called The Left Outsides. Judy's voice is clear and warm, and there were lush vocal harmonies in their music, which I scribbled down as being pastoral psychedelic in style. Just when you thought a song was going to come down to land in a particular spot, it landed somewhere else; for a muso this is like a puzzle that has to be solved, and I now need to listen to lots of their songs to work out what is happening. Judy took 35 years off, and I'm bloody glad she's back again. Their version of Nick Drake's Northern Sky was so lovely it made me cry. There was something in it that summed up the whole experience: us in our coats sitting listening, children running around, people smiling, a lovely chapel in the middle of London on a rainy day, people having bothered to turn out on a Saturday lunchtime (about 275 people, apparently), being part of something like this when life has sometimes been so harsh. Music is a healer, and transcends the musicians who play it. Big thanks to John Jervis for putting this bill together, and inviting me.
The dressing room bantz was pretty cool, too.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Walk Tall

At the risk of repeating myself, this has long been my mantra. It wasn't what my Momma told me, but what Val said.

Words from a Wise Man

About ten years ago a Wise Man told me that some people accuse other people of doing exactly what they do themselves, and criticise them for it. This was an very interesting observation, and can help with the understanding of incomprehensible situations. It's also a warning to be careful of complaining and accusing, without checking first to make sure you're not guilty of exactly the same thing yourself.
Slogan t-shirt on the way...

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The Last Line

Last line, last verse of the song. It took months with Heaven Avenue, and there's another one like that nagging away in my head. Just leave it on the shelf, get on with something else, and it will pop up like dawn on the horizon,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Unusual Afternoon

Yesterday afternoon I took a group of MA students to The House of Commons to look around, and sit in the Visitors' Gallery. We were kindly invited by a chap who used to like The Chefs, and once we'd been through airport-style security, we had the opportunity to experience something that is a public right- entering the House of Parliament- shown round by someone who loves the place to bits.
It was incredibly impressive to stand in massive stone-flagged room that was built 1000 years ago, with a ceiling so high you felt that you'd need a helicopter to change the light bulbs. Everything in the building is beautifully crafted, from the mosaics on the floors to the wooden fretwork and panelling and the paintings that are hundreds of years old. I hadn't realised how badly bombed it had been in the second world war but much of it has been rebuilt, although some of the very old parts survived.
Our host was full of hilarious anecdotes- Michael Jackson trying to buy the gold throne in the House of Lords when he was given a tour, for instance.
In the visitors' gallery, we were prepared to be bored but there was a very interesting paper on Human Rights and the EU that involved some gracious interaction between the Labour and Tory MPs, with John Redwood sitting there and twitching with fury, trying to interject. It was a luxury to hear a well-researched and articulate discussion that was a million miles away from the irritating and publicity-seeking MPs who make sure they are splashed across the newspapers for saying practically nothing.
Going to witness government in action is an experience with much to recommend it, especially if you're feeling disillusioned with politics. It's not hot-headed and dramatic like Prime Minister's Questions, which is more of a furious showcase of party politics. This was the measured and well-argued presentation of facts.We could have sat there all afternoon, and I wish we had- apparently one of the Tories fell asleep later on during Ken Clarke's speech. But for a group of students, none of whom ticked the 'powerful British white man/woman' box, this was an oddly heartening experience.
Tip: make sure you haven't got a pair of scissors in the bottom of your bag!

Monday, January 15, 2018


Straight back into life today; I finished and submitted an academic article, which was a relief (What stress! Retrieving the password, putting the finishing touches into the style template, wondering if everything it said was true). There was marking to do and a massive list of administrative things which knocked me out just by looking at it.
There is a new song to put up on Youtube, but I only got about 3 hours sleep last night so it will have to wait until I look and sound like a human being rather than some sort of exotic roadkill that has been shocked back to life.
Half of me hates January, and the other half loves it. Being inside looking out at the midday gloom can feel quite snug, but the thought of that gloom lasting into the foreseeable future is a bit grim. I'm going to go to Edinburgh for a few days to stamp about on the frozen grey pavements thinking about McMum and McDad, who no longer live there because they have both passed away. Somehow I think their spirits are still around, drifting between there and Perthshire. It is almost ten years since McDad died; I still have his gardening hat, and the smell of woodsmoke from his shirt when I used to sit on his lap as a child on Sunday afternoons is as easy to recall as anything that happened yesterday. He was quiet a lot of the time, and it's nice to sit in the same room as a person like that: peaceful.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What You Been Doing This Avo?

Learnink my sonks, darlink.💚

Where All The Sparrows Went

A couple of years ago, people were lamenting the lost sparrows of London. I can confirm that they are all in Lausanne, outside the Lausanne Youth Hostel where a cacophony of chatter can be heard at seven o'clock in the morning in January. Some of them are at Lausanne Metro station too, eating crumbs on the platform.
Yesterday I got up early and had a wander around the city as it woke up. The mountains across the lake were invisible again, hidden by January lake mists, but the air in the city was clear and sharp. The streets of Lausanne are steep and cobbled, with a fresh fruit and vegetable market thriving just outside smart chocolate shops. This is French Switzerland, although it seemed like a miniature version of Vienna. In a large department store, posh ladies and gentlemen drank coffee and ate cakes at high benches in the quiet that only money can buy.
The aisles were full of every shape, colour, size and permutation of chocolate. I passed on the churn of chocolates that moos when you open it. Alas, there was no room in my bag, and anyway I still haven't opened the red plastic Christmas SFX device that I bought on a whim in the January sales.
One of the best things was that the train back to Geneva airport was a double decker one!
Through the distant mist, you could see skeletons of trees with no green summer flesh to soften them, layered and silhouetted against the water, with fields of vine stubs crouched over like rows of leaping stoats, next to the tracks. As on Thursday, there were odd juxtapositions: a crazy golf game being played right next to what looked like an enormous power-station, for example.
The plane landed like a feather on a lawn. Coming through Stansted was sad. There was a replacement bus service to Liverpool Street and it was more cheerful to travel with a coach load of people speaking French; it's amazing how easily you become used to another language being spoken around you, and if you don't strain to translate all the time, the music of the speech.

Insect home, UNIL; babbling brook with turquoise water; guitar shop (closed, alas); mooing churn; narnas; spuggy on the Metro; ceiling at Geneva airport (these babies grow to full-size planes in twenty years); shoe shop sign.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I miss...

... the guitar playing bit of the day, which usually lasts at least an hour, is like breathing out a gigantic sigh, and balances out all the other bits of the day in a calming and peaceful way.
No guitars here, alas.

A Day in Switzerland

I have come to a conference in Lausanne to present a paper- it would have been so nice to have spent longer here, but I thought that I would be paying for it myself (the University took a long time to approve funding and consented just before Christmas), so I'm doing it on a nano-budget.
I have seen things from the train (regrettably, not a double-decker, although they had those in Geneva).
It looks like a giant version of Northumberland.
There are huge pom-poms of mistletoe growing in lots of the trees.
There are chicken-yards next to robot factories.
The water in the streams and rivers is a beautiful shade of turquoise.
I have learned...
Swiss people are kind and considerate (a man leaned over to a stranger on the train and offered to lend her his iPhone battery charger when her iPod appeared to have run out of power).
Swiss Youth Hostels are like British hotels.
Quite a lot of French can come out of my mouth if I don't think too hard about it.
I can understand 25% of a French academic paper just with my school French, and because a lot of academic terms are very similar.
It's tiring working out what the remaining 75% means.

Last night I did an interview about my research for a Swiss radio station, so more about that when it its broadcast.

It's a bit cold and misty out there; the guy in the Youth Hostel recommended the beautiful views of the mountains if you walked to the University from the Youth Hostel, but nothing was visible today and a troupe of extremely hungry swans pursued me across the grass from the water's edge so I scooted up here pretty quickly. There's no snow in this part of Switzerland in spite of the avalanches in the Alps; its the same as January in London, minus the dirty drizzle and noise, although it's very much roads'n'rail.
Oh yes- there is some amazing graffiti here.

Countdown to presentation time....

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Dick, who used to drum for The Piranhas in Brighton, has passed away. This is terribly sad because he was quite young and he was such a live-wire as a young man; everybody liked him. He was like everyone's kid brother.
He worked at The Malling Press in Lewes for a while as a printer and left, because the Piranhas started doing really well. I got the job after him, and we both had the experience of being shown the bottom drawer where the National Front letter head was.
'I ain't printing that!', declared Dick, which was brave because he must have only been about 17, in probably his first job.
He was a really good drummer, and when he joined the band they had the line-up that made them successful, partly because of his energy and good time-keeping (metre-wise; I have no idea if he was a teenage whippersnapper and showed up late for gigs and rehearsals).
Even his friends were nice. His best buddy worked for British Rail in Lewes and was always full of smiles if we bumped into each other. Big love to you, Dick xxx

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Next Gig

Busy times- my next gig is Daylight Music at the Union Chapel, 12 noon till 2 p.m. with Judy Dyble, who sang with Fairport Convention, and the Perfect English Weather (that's The Popguns, acoustic).
An academic weekend for me this weekend though- my bag is stuffed with papers and my head is stuffed with thoughts. This is a short posting because I have a lot of travel to organise.

Monday, January 08, 2018


I bought a book of Punch cartoons from a charity shop but this one wasn't in it.
At art college we loved Les; I didn't realise he was a Daumier illustration. Still luv him.