Friday, May 29, 2015

Organising a Gig in the Olden Days

I wonder if I've written about this before... in the early 1980s there was a whole bunch of us who had been signed to record labels and who were kicking our heels waiting for things to happen: or 'between labels', as you might tactfully say.
Lester Square and myself had started a country and western band with Mike Slocombe as our drummer; this was the band that accidentally became Helen and the Horns, but that's another story. We decided to hire the London Musician's Collective building for an evening, for the princely sum of five quid plus light bulbs (someone always seemed to have stolen them). Mike did his drum kit up as a steam train and even had cotton wool smoke coming out of it's funnel; he dressed as Casey Jones with a little navy blue cap, a red neckerchief and striped dungarees. I made a cowboy shirt out of one of McDad's old shirts dyed blue, with sewn-on fringing and pink and red embroidered roses.
We learned the Marty Robbins song Big Iron On His Hip and also played an early version of Freight Train, Truckdrivin' Girl and I think Pioneer Town, which I'd sent a demo version of to Mike that had programmed drums on it, and that he said sounded like a drum kit falling downstairs. We invited King Kurt, who were suitably rude, along to play; and Igor's Night Off who did a hilarious song called Dead Man's Gulch sung by Suzanne who had a cushion up her dress; with child, you see. Aptly, the cushion had a life of its own and worked its way out as she sang.
The Simonics played too, all dressed up in Buckskins and calling themselves The Red River Mountain Boys, shrieking and booming their way through Family Reunion and Rose Marie in an assortment of false beards, semi acoustic basses and fiddles.
Lester Square bought a barrel of rough cider and an electric frying pan. I brought sausages. the venue wasn't licensed but for a nominal fee people could buy a little raffle ticket and then eat as many sausages and drink as much rough cider as they liked. They liked!
You didn't need the internet those days to pack a place out. I still don't know how we did it: bush telegraph, I suppose. We weren't organised enough to tell the music papers or make flyers; we just talked about the idea and then we did it.
I suppose people must have phoned each other up, passed it on at Kensington Market while chatting about clothes, talked about it in the pub. With quite a large cast of characters if everyone brings their one best pal you've still got a big audience.
My abiding memory of the night is of chaos and laughing. Chaos and laughing are the best things, sometimes.

Getting Ready for the Union Chapel

I know it, I know it... today I will have almost finished marking (three more things to do) and this evening I can indulge in a bit of rehearsing for the gig tomorrow night at the Union Chapel.
At home I have a Spanish guitar constantly on the go (I'm one of those annoying players who sits and mucks about with the guitar while the TV is on) but it's a different shape to the electric so I have to get used to that: the electric has a narrower neck, lower action (the strings are closer to the fretboard) and the frets are in different positions. 
If you're not careful, you wildly overshoot where you're supposed to be and play a chord a tone or a semitone higher or lower. The electric guitar is also heavier and smaller; it's actually a completely different instrument even though you play the same songs on it.
Any requests for tomorrow night (within reason)?
I'm really excited about the gig because I love the Union Chapel. One gig I went to was entirely dry and we all had cups of tea and people came round and collected the cups in big basket afterwards.
Shall I crack open a ludicrously loud shirt? If it's not raining perhaps I shall. I'll get the butler to choose a selection and lay them out in the dressing room for me while I have my eyelashes curled.
Martin and his crew are driving down in convoy from Bedale tomorrow (they are playing a festival there tonight) and we'll then head down for the sound check. The Blinking' Buzzards are promoting the gig- they are the guys who run the Kalamazoo Klub and they will be playing too. Lots of music; where's me guitar?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Academic Day

At last, the thick felty fog has cleared from my head and I can get on with some research. I have waited weeks for this!
My first hour is to be spent on a 'pretentiousness sweep' of some of my writing. Academic writing is difficult because it's you who is doing it but you need to be as balanced as possible. This leads to archness sometimes; it's probably quite good that I've been busy with marking for the past three weeks because going back to my research it's easy to spot those clunky sentences. If I were a gardener, I would be pruning and deadheading the roses. But metaphor is forbidden in scholar land.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Viv Albertine and Tracey Thorn in Greenwich Park

My Champagne Friend bought us tickets to this event-in-a-tent last night. Swallowing hard because it was Eurovision night, I realised that it was the right decision to go along because it was a thoroughly absorbing evening.
The interviewer was particularly good; he wasn't sycophantic and he joined the dots between the two women very skilfully, but Viv and Tracey duetted very well (it could so easily have been a duel rather than a duet, if egos had come between them).
Viv's humour pulled the talk away from the technicalities of writing and pulled Tracey into feeling quite comfortable talking anecdotally; on the other hand, Tracey's gravitas pulled Viv towards giving a broader context for her experiences.
There was a lot of laughter and a lot of passionate talk about music and the right to be heard the way they wanted to be heard. Both women are assertive in different ways, but also very clear about the self-sabotage and struggles with self-esteem that have beset them.
The audience were entirely drawn in. Although space was made for readings from their autobiographies, the real deal was the talking and the way the two listened to each other.
Being a powerful woman can be isolating and lonely. Over the tops of our motley heads and to a backdrop of noisy rock covers from a tent further down the Thames bank, the small gap in years, genre and experiences between the two (such a large gap too, in rock years), closed in front of our eyes and crystallised out our own lives for us. Both praised Patti Smith, and both criticised music today, saying rock's moment is over.
(I actually disagree with that because I work with young musicians; young people communicate in code and just because we don't understand it doesn't mean that it's meaningless, or inauthentic to them).
The evening was cathartic. Every time I see Champagne Friend I feel better, and to share such an interesting experience with her was better still.

Back home, it was time for the scores. No change there; politics and corruption that we all know about already were in full flow. I haven't even heard the British song and I realised that I've already listened to 45 student songs and judged them this week, so perhaps missing Eurovision wasn't such a bad thing.
It's back to the grindstone now, with a list of uphill struggles to struggle uphill with.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bleeding London

I have just donated a fresh recording of my song London to Mike Roberts, who is contributing photographs to the Bleeding London project which aims to photograph every street in London. Mike is walking the streets in aid of the Stroke Association and has contributed masses of photographs to the project while doing so.
It is a really interesting project and you can find out more about it here; there are still some gaps to be filled so if you know about hidden streets in your area you may be able to help:

If you would like to contribute to Mike's own JustGiving project the link is here:

I shall be walking the streets today if the drizzle stops. Last Sunday was Hampstead Heath with my friend Jane who will shortly be emigrating and who I will write about when the marking fug has cleared out of my brain. I'd never explored the heath much and I loved it- especially the bit with all the blowsy and overblown rhododendrons and azaleas just beside Kenwood House. A few weeks ago I walked the canal towpath from Camden to Islington. The Bleeding London project is right up my street (ahem) and I'm doing a little sun dance as we speak to make the rain, rain go away so I can get my walking legs out of that door.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Late Night Snack: Boiled Eggs

I can't tell you how to do this because I've never successfully boiled an egg, partly because I don't like them.

Today's Recipe: Beans on Toast

Preparation time: 7.5 minutes

You Will Need

One can of baked beans
Two slices of bread
Some butter


Open the can of baked beans and tip them into a pan.
Put this pan on the cooker and heat thoroughly, stirring from time to time with a spoon.
Meanwhile, put the bread into the toaster if you have one, or under the grill to brown on both sides.
When the toast is ready, place the slices on to a plate and spread butter on them with a knife.
When this task is complete, carefully tip the beans on to the toast.
Your meal is now ready to eat.


You could try grating some black pepper on top, to taste.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Computer Said No

But only after I'd spent an hour inputting 90 marks. It pretended it had saved them, and then thumbed its nose and said it hadn't. I'd waited two hours for someone to help before a kind chap sat on the other end of the phone with me chanting strings of code; I typed away, but we couldn't make it say 'Yes'.
I fell asleep standing up on the tube on the way home and was woken by the smell of paper from a commuting fellow's brand new paperback book.
It was a rather gorgeous smell actually, but I'm so glad to be home.

Thankful for Large Mercies

I managed all day yesterday not to fret; I managed not to race to work and I managed to control my trembling fingers as I unlocked the office today.
Yesss! The USB drive with all my research on it was still plugged into the back of the computer. Can't remember when I last backed it up, you see.
Praise the Lord, I will not have to excavate the recycling bin full of smelly rocket wrappers (I buy it and don't eat it), and I won't have to try to re-write it all from the last saved version.
What a relief.
Now I just have to work out a way to hide the unavoidably feminist conclusions so that potential readers can see beyond that to a very interesting discourse.
After marking the last fifteen pieces of work and doing one more day's data inputting, of course.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


I went to meet a friend this afternoon. It was lovely to see her; on the way there I walked through town.
The sun was shining into my eyes so I decided to put my sunglasses on.
It wasn't until five minutes later with the sun still shining in my eyes, and when I became irritated by not being able to see anything further than a metre from my face, that I realised I'd put my normal glasses on instead.
That's what Tuesday's day of data inputting did for the brain.
When the marking mountain has disappeared, you will hear me whooping from the rooftops!

Listening to BBC Radio One

To alleviate the tedium of the deadly task of washing the winter jumpers to put into the loft, I tuned into Fearne Cotton on Radio One for an energy boost while I kneaded and scrubbed the knitwear at the kitchen sink.
I rarely listen to the radio, but I have enjoyed today's adventure.
Amongst a tangled skein of processed vocals, Lianne La Havas stood out a mile. I have recently had an overwhelming impression of tracks sung by women being invaded by male rappers, but that doesn't seem so bad at the moment. It used to sound as though we weren't allowed to express anything private without a bloke being there to comment and monitor. Bursting through the doors of the song, the guy boomed out an assertive message that reduced the female singer to decorative hummings and twitterings, her own message superseded by Mister.
I also enjoyed Courtney Barnett's Dead Fox, despite it sounding bit Brit School round the edges.
There are quite a lot of London accents about on the airwaves (Tinie Tempah was there too); but where are the regional accents from other parts of the UK? Urban music must surely strike a chord (sic) in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff. If I was an A&R person (which thankfully I'm not, if being one is anything like the 'listening to 45 songs on Monday' experience) I would trawl round the regions to find out who young people are listening to. Does LIPA encourage young northern acts to northernise their output? They definitely should.
In amongst the backing track undergrowth, I heard echoes of early Depeche Mode (or 'Depressed Mood' as their publicist Claudine used to call them, when I worked for her in the 1980s), with a strong Vince Clarke influence, and swooping through the vocal mixes I heard the Bee Gees, no less!
Pop music hasn't changed that much, I don't think.
If you look back at old Top of the Pops episodes, you can see and hear just how dire it used to be; some of it is rubbish (and always will be), but there's some great stuff out there too. For every clumsy rapper who can't fit in the bars there's a hilarious wordsmith, and for every over-manipulated (sic, sorry) young female vocalist signed for the looks we can't hear on the radio (meow, sorry again), there's a genuinely beautiful voice that authenticates meaningful lyrics with its loveliness.
It has been a very interesting listening morning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cutting Vinyl

A few weeks ago, Martin went off to cut a track the old-fashioned way, on a lathe while playing live.
I wish I could have been there to see it; they made a little film.
Over there stand Martin, Jim and Frankie (who is playing double bass). In the foreground, Lorna bends over the machine, rapidly brushing the debris off the black lacquer as it revolves, with a tiny white long-haired brush. You can see the grooves being cut, and under the machine is an ever-growing pile of shredded lacquer that has tumbled off the disc.
We were talking about this at work today: about the sculpture cut into lacquer by amplified sound waves directed on to it by a microphone, from a band of musicians playing live. They have to get it right; they only have one chance, and the song has to be roughly three minutes long or it won't fit on to the disc.
Musing on the train on the way home from work, I wondered what would happen if you reconstructed the spiral of lacquer that fell to the floor and tried to play that. Would you get a negative image of the music on the disc? What would that sound like, I wonder?
How very Georges Perec! Pretentious, moi?

Monday, May 18, 2015


I'm so tired that I can't even move. I've marked and given feedback on something like 36 songs today, and my ears are ringing. Last week I marked 49 websites, 20 one thousand word essays and 20 three thousand word essays, and there is more of the same to do this week. Then there is the data inputting, for three lots of 40, and two lots of 55 students. Then I have to re-write an academic article, apply for funding for a research project, write an academic paper for a conference in June and if I'm lucky, start recording an album. One day at a time, I think.