Sunday, February 14, 2016

Stephen Foster Pilkington- Snarling at the Snooty

Stephen is a great live performer who ricochets between playing violin and guitar, thrashing at both with no mercy. He has just released an album on a USB stick and I'll find out how you can get one, because I've just been jolted out of my Sunday morning stupor by listening to it.
It's name? The Love That Kills, a most appropriate title for a Valentine's Day review, I think.
Stephen's anger is a bit like a social-commentary Santa Claus that rushes across the sky, bringing us gifts of rage; he is magnificently angry, and no word is wasted in articulating how he feels, either directly or metaphorically. In the anthem The Love That Kills, he berates the spoiled and smug using guitars as his weapon; If This Isn't Good, What Is? puts Abba-type piano stabs to good use; sometimes, it's the trusty fiddle which he alternately mocks and flatters: there are shades of Darryl Way in his playing. Do My Eyes See Everything When I'm Looking At You is a lovely song that begs to be covered as the bittersweet sting is buried in major seventh chords. Sometimes The Monkees peep out from behind the curtains, and most hilariously in my fave song She Says She's Seen the Light,  The Pet Shop Boys gobble up Soft Cell in a pumping Euro beat.
Best of all, these songs have choruses you can sing along to- hooray!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mari Elliott, Silly Billy: Poly Styrene's First Single

During the week when people were mourning David Bowie's death, I thought about fandom and how it make people feel. I have never been much of a fan although I have always loved music; I've just not had that total identification with, or adoration of, a musician or band.
I thought about Poly Styrene; she meant  a lot to me because she was so normal, in a really strange way. She had her own world of Dayglo and subverted ads, and was hugely influenced by Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. She wanted to be a singer from a very young age, and used to sing and dance when she walked past the Granada studios in South London with her Mum when she was a little girl.
Before punk, she had a record deal and I have just received this single (alas, minus the illustrated sleeve) which I bought from eBay the week Bowie died. One for the jukebox, when I've got one; I plan to win the lottery tonight!

Gig at the The Stuart Low Trust

It was a druich night in Islington, although the flower shop on the corner was bursting with gorgeous blooms of every colour and description, in anticipation of Valentine's Day.
I was looking forward to this gig; I have played there before on my own, with Martin and also taken a group of songwriting students along to play.
The people who go along on Friday are friendly and conversational; after sandwiches and fruit juice, plus a few announcements and the presentation of a leaflet on happiness and wellbeing, I started off with Three Maple Men and the gig began. The atmosphere was laid back and I could tell the stories about the songs; people asked about the lyrics (I love it when people listen) and the Telecaster twinkled like a musical star. I played the 'folk' version of 24 Hours, a couple of Helen and the Horns songs, but mostly now songs: the happier ones, for verily, it's February and who wants to be miserable? I was delighted to be told by one person at the end that I had cheered him up; he had come along feeling very down and left feeling much better. That's a good gig, innit?
The Trust has a series of events on Friday nights. It is a supportive and informal environment and it's the kind of place that you can go along to on your own. I am always very happy to play for them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


All that writingandwriting....
My eyes decided yesterday that they were designed for staring at a small computer screen. They folded their arms and sat back smugly, having consolidated their purpose in one compact afternoon.
It was a trick!
Today, I needed them for drivinganddriving...
They weren't prepared. I should have sent them to the Girl Guides when they were teenagers.
On the M25 (M for misery, 25 the number of accidents per hour on it's circuit), they shook their heads angrily. Distances? Who said anything about distances?
They tried the 'looking at a computer screen' focus that they had perfected yesterday. Nope, that wan't going to work. By Aylesbury they had reluctantly repurposed, and by the M3 they were motorway eyes, enjoying the Surrey birch woods and the winter skies along the way.
We were headed for Winchester to pick up the Ermelinda Sylvestri guitar that Jimmy Cole had been mending. He has done a lovely job; the action is perfect and it has a funny little honk of a sound. It's giving me a song as we speak, and it seemed that Jimmy would miss it being around.
I passed by Portsmouth on the way home and found a proper carwash. Bliss! The green scrubbers rolled past and rolled over with much flagellating ado, but they haven't managed to shift the luxuriant algae that have taken up residence on the rubber seals around the windows.
There is so much building going on in Barnet that a fine pall of dust hovers over us all, coating our window ledges and cars like the fog of the 1950s. It's that George Osborne in his hard hat, sending out signals to his construction mates in the Lodge: 'You'll always be all right, guys, when I'm around in my hi-vis vest!'.
How I long for him to disappear in a puff of dust!

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Two Sundays ago, I wrote for five hours. Today, I will have done so again. This is not music writing (I wish it was) but academic writing which needs to be finished soon for my sanity.
I keep thinking I'm done, and then I find a glitch to iron out.
At the moment, it's tone. I am being critical, but I want to be gracious about it.
I long for the punk punch- that verbal thwack, so swift and direct. But scholarly writing doesn't work like that; we have to twist and turn our way around existing obstacles of thought.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Suit U Up

With apologies to the Fast Show: but things have moved on quickly since then.

My name's Tommy Trotter and I work in Suit U Up, a shop in Jermyn Street where politicians  have been coming for many years to have their suits made-to-measure.
You'll recognise our suits; either dark grey or dark-dark-black-grey, they are a little on the tight side, and they all feature a loose buttonhole mid-belly. The chaps who wear our suits get out of their ministerial car, stand up, and touch their belly-button (see what I did just there?) with their right hand, very lightly, to make sure that it hasn't come undone.
We (Philip, the business owner, and myself) felt that Tony B was a little on the ostentatious side with this gesture,but Dave C has copied him religiously (we laugh when we think how much Dave C fancies Tony B, but that's for another time) and now it's kind of got into the performance side of things alongside running their hands through their Brylcreem and surreptitiously wiping the excess on their hankies.
A woman in a red coat came in a few weeks ago with a bearded chap in a shell suit. I think her name was Diana Priest, or something, and she was trying to persuade the guy to buy a suit from us. He ran a finger over a bolt of our best mohair suiting and winced as though he'd been stung by a wasp, then shuddered. They went over to Subway pretty quickly and I could see them arguing.
Suits aren't for everyone, are they?

Guitars and Photomontages

The Guitar Weekend was especially good this year, despite being held in February. Hats off to Martin, Jim and Brian.
The moment of the weekend was watching Brian dissect Fraser's guitar. Nobody breathed for a full ten minutes, knowing that Fraser is a respected member of the legal profession. It was tense, but the operation was successful and we all breathed again: a sigh of relief.
Yesterday evening I went to a talk by Linder Sterling about her work; Linder was the designer who collaged the wonderful Buzzcocks image of the naked woman with mouths on her breasts. Gina came along, and we listened to her describe her early work with porn mags and catalogues that eventually developed into ballets, work for Chanel, and what I found most interesting, work with carpets.
I wasn't convinced by the carpet/ballet crossover, but I was convinced by the carpet, which was utterly lovely, and had a gold underbelly.
On the way home I may or may not have accidentally shoplifted a lemon. The shopkeeper was on the phone and I did wave it around in front of his eyes, but the till was hidden by piles of stuff so I couldn't check.
I felt guilty, and then I didn't.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Chefs at The Alhambra, Brighton

I had moved to London. Someone in my flat had been showing their friend my budgie, Toby, and they hadn't shut the door of my room.
The house cat got in, knocked the cage to the floor, and sank her teeth into the little bird.
Next morning, I held him in my hand to keep him warm and set off to the PDSA. He was still breathing (just) but on the way there he fixed me with a beady eye, stretched out, and died.
That night, I discovered that The Alhambra in Brighton had burned down.
That's how eras end; you think things will last forever, but they don't.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Huntrhymeswyth's Big Idea

Jeremy Huntrhymeswyth looked in the mirror. Great face! Unlined, smooth-skinned, punctuated with sparkling eyes (especially when he looked at his own reflection).
Could be years younger than his real age!
His eyes roamed upwards. The hair. Was it time to stop using gel?
He’d been applying Snake Oil Hair Restorer for weeks, which Beatrice, the receptionist at Thai Therapies (in Shepherd’s Market, where he went each Friday for a power massage they called ‘Gentleman’s Relish’), had given him with the assurance that it would solve his problem.
But it didn’t; like the retreating tide at Frinton, it was stubbornly pulling back from his face, half a centimeter at a time, its recession linked in an unnerving way with each step of the step-by-step dismantling of the bloody National Health Service.
This was a major problem; Richard ‘horseteeth’ Branson was waiting at the wings flapping his Bank of Bermuda cheque book, and at the other side, the fellows from The Lodge were murmuring things about putting off his promotion to Grand Farolera.
He inspected his hairline carefully. Transplant? Maybe, but Roger’s transplant, even though it had been done by the top chap at Harley Street, reminded him of miniature rows of vegetables.
He’d tried to get Torquil to look into repealing the Hippocratic Oath but Torquil had got back to him and said that it wasn’t a law, it was an agreement between doctors that had nothing to do with law or Parliament.
Moving away from the mirror, and the slightly distressing reflection, a thought occurred to Huntrhymeswyth; it lit up the dank parliamentary office like a light bulb.
If he could, in conjunction with that lab in Surrey, develop a brand new virus that knocked out The Poor, The Unemployed Shirkers, The Asylum Seekers, The Disabled and The Elderly, what a lot of money that would save!
In the short term, they’d have to cough up a bit to Murdoch to make sure that it got reported properly: ‘nothing we can do’ and so on. And keep the United Nations out of it: mind their own business.
Of course it would cost a bit to ‘treat’ them all, but they could commandeer a few of the luxury flats that the Chinese and Russians were pulling out of, now they realize that the London property market is going to crash. Ship ‘em all to London and let the new Labour mayor sort ‘em out; that will give him something to chew on, little upstart!
Cosmo in Statistics would be able to work of the ratio of the elderly that the Tories need to keep going- maybe a ‘vaccination trial for elderly people only’, so as not to lose too many Tory voters- ha ha!
Rubbing his hands with glee, Huntrhymeswyth strode across the room to pick up the phone to call Budgets. It was time to put the plan in motion, before anyone could stop him. A neat, white, rich UK population of Tory voters within the next five years, and no need for social anything any more.
A gleam of light shone across at him from the mirror.
With a sinking heart, he met the gaze of two greedy, sparkling eyes that were peering back at him from the dome of a shining, and now completely bald, head.

Big Yellow Taxi

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Perhaps you could call this research; I have spent two hours looking through a pile of cuttings and articles, weeding out the useful ones, discarding the interesting-but-not-relevant ones, and throwing away the rubbish.
There is still a fat pile of physical stuff to look through, plus a substantial amount of links and some notes-to-self to download some academic articles.
My research is looking miserably unsubstantial, but the upside is that it's really thorough. I have two volunteer readers and I think I might have finished in in two week's time. The might mean that the enormous pile of books that I've amassed in the last five years can be weeded out too and perhaps I'll see the surface of the kitchen table.
After all this is done (and I have an April deadline for another chapter plus two events in June and July to plan, more coming soon on those), I am going to re-boot my music life. I have had an album ready to record for six months but was clobbered by E Coli in September on the way to look at an analogue studio (yes, it was that quick). It's time I re-did my web page because I've had the same one for ten years. Stuff like that.
Now, however, I'm off to count houses. The neighbour over the back fence has build a humungous loft extension in place of a smaller one with obscured windows. I don't want to look at their child from my kitchen window, nor their teenage son apparently half-undressed, and especially not at what appeared to be two writhing human beings on the bed this afternoon, so I am going to post a tactfully-worded note through their door and advise them to put curtains up!

'Sweetie' Cover Photo By Claire Barratt

The Dansette Tour

This is a brilliant idea. It is the anniversary of The Daintees' album Boat to Bolivia this year. The band has made a re-recording of the original songs which will be released on vinyl, and Martin Stephenson will be going on a house concert tour of the UK with a Dansette, playing the album and talking about the songs.
It has sold out already- I think it took about a day to do so.
(I love the poster too, designed by Kieran Fitzpatrick)

Chefs Posters (again)

I am going through my 'archive' looking for the disc with the scanned Chefs posters on it- sadly, I appear to have mislaid it, but I did find these.