Friday, June 29, 2007


Just about to get on the train to McScotland to visit McMum and McDad.
I've charged up the iPod, copied them a disc of my latest songs, packed a selection of earrings and enough socks; just got to grab the remains of last night's salad to eat and a cruddy ladies' magazine from WHSmiths and I'll be off.
On Sunday I'm doing a paper about the Falklands and Thatcher and music in the early 80s at the Feminism and Popular Culture Conference in Newcastle upon Tyne. The computer's playing up and I can't print it out any larger than 10 pt which menas I won't be able to read it even with spectacles on. Oh dear. Plus as soon as I do anything academic, panic dyslexia kicks in and I start mis-spelling, mis-reading and turn back into what I was originally- a shop assistant.
Maybe I should have a back-up plan to sit behing a till at Fenwicks for the afternoon instead of attending the conference.
Photos- they are trickling in from Sunday, and I still haven't put the link to Paul Chong's from Birkenhead.
Someday, somewhere, sometime.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tape's rollin

Went to Tom's yesterday and recorded three new songs (well, two and a half: one of them was an old one with a radical change)
A sculptor started drilling halfway through but we managed OK. I also redid a vocal on another song in a completely different way and realised a song is not always what you think it is when you first write it.
I have to go and get my guitar sorted out 'cos it's fighting me at the moment nd we can't have that!
I have enough now for a next album o stuff I could actually listen to myself, but now have to sort out how to release it. Actually, I have to finishe the tracks as they are almost all rough demos apart from Memento Mori which is my favourite one out of all of them at the moment although I think one of yesterday's might topple it from it's perch.
I am going to re-sing lots of them in the happy summervoice (not only is it summer when I sing better anyway but I am happy too and singing yesterday was as easy as breathing).
What else?
Well, e-conversations about Sunday, everything from harrassment by DJs to photographs taken, people met, plans for the future...
Today? Song Club. We are planning a concert in a Retirement Home, infinitely more complex than planning a normal gig. I have a red and white checked shirt on that the children like. They call me a cowboy; there's a lot of gender confusion as Jamie is gay and they call him Miss occasionally.
They have obviously not noticed that I am a woman.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Still reeling...

Kate and Heather reminisce about waking one morning in their squat in Brixton to find a massive knife lying on the bed in a room next door; Penelope and Christine talked about going to New York for the first time together and being completely naive, smoking on the subway (forbidden, and along came the New York police); Poly is going to write a book; Lora Logic is writing music; Rachel Lovell is a grandmother (how can such a young-looking woman be a grandmother?); Zillah Ashworth has completed her fllm about British punk women and is now making one about U.S. punk women.


Today I went to visit Joan Ashworth, who is an animator, and saw the film she's been shooting in Lancashire.
She was brought up on a farm, and as I watched the footage she'd shot I had a shiver of recognition; I was brought up in the Northumbrian countryside, and there were my adolescent feelings, brought to life in a meadow with shuddering trees and trembling cow-parsley, as a solitary young woman swam through the grass on her back, ploughing a dark green furrow, catching a hare. A whooshing dawn, green, green grass, rhythms of the wind and clouds, it made me really happy to see such a beautiful and poetic film on a dull rainy urban afternoon in Camberwell.

... and a-rockin'.

Monday, June 25, 2007


I think this posting might happen in either two or even three bits; it's about the party for The Lost Women of Rock Music and I didn't sleep a wink last night because I was so excited by what happened.
I drove down to Caroline's to meet the woman from Woman's Hour, who was ideal- she had bleached white hair and was really stylish, and had really done her research which made her very easy to talk to. Caroline looked beautiful (she always does) and had got us a minicab to take the books round to First Floor on Portobello Road. It was the perfect place- just the right size and the sort of place anyone could feel comfortable. Lisa (who was the 'greeter') was already there,and we had a bit of time to settle in. Sara and Emily from Ashgate turned up next an quietly set about making a display.
First guest to arrive was Gaye Black, friendly and serene as always and with a sparkle in her eye that said the whole day was going to be a blast; she was one of the first to say she was definitely coming and hats off to her for getting into the spirit straight away. Then they started arriving, thick and fast; Heather from the Brighton band the Objekts, and the Devil's Dykes (haven't seen her for nearly 30 years).Christine Roberston, who used to manage the Slits, and Penelope Tobin, who played keyboards for them (they hadn't seen each other for years), Steve Beresford who did the same. and Tessa Pollitt (Slits) , the cover girl, with her daughter Phoebe. Kate Hayes, also for the Objekts, who wrote a song for the Raincoats with Vicky Aspinall, but Gina and Ana (Raincoats, also there with manager Shirley) had never met her before. Zillah and Sid, from Rubella Ballet, with Poly Styrene (oh I am so glad she came!) who looked about 15 years old and who was really happy; Hester Smith and Rachel Bor from the Dollymixture, with Karen Grey from the Gymslips and Serious Drinking. Suzanne Long (Reptiles) from Gateshead who spent her wedding money on a bass guitar instead of getting married; Jennie Bellstar with her camera, in a ballgown and pink hair; Mavis Bayton (Mistakes) , also in a ballgown, retiring from teaching to become a blueswoman again; Jane Woodgate from the Mo-Dettes (she looked so brilliant, honestly, I hope someone will send me some links to some photos!) and Lora Logic, calmly beautiful and wearing the most fabulous Indian clothes which I keep imagining because they were so beautiful, with her daughter; June Miles-Kingston also a Mo-Dette but also a Funboy Three (excellent interviewee), Ellie Medeiros from the Stinky Toys (I didn't get to interview her for the book but she flew over from Switzerland specially and she's amazing, and what's more she loved my party shoes so much she took a photo of them!); Vivienne Goldman, who flew over from New York (I think Gina will send her some video footage to post on her site), Lucy O'Brien, having a lovely time and just finished her book on Madonna), Sue Bradley, punk violin player, Enid Williams straight from tour with Girlschool in Germany, with a guitar on her back, Liz Naylor (Gay Animals) just standing there with a huge smile on her face, oh it was great! I kept seeing people smiling, exchanging emails, laughing, and doing sweet things like Hester getting Gaye's autograph for Suzanne's husband.
Caroline made a really good speech- I could see that it affected a lot of the women there in auite an emotional way; she has a way of pinpointing reality that is quite extraordinary. She'll post it on her site at the beginning of July. Poor Sarah Furse had terrible flu and missed it (was that where you were too Mufti?) but we cheered her, Vi Subversa and Ari, and then just buzzed and buzzed.
There I was shaking hands with Paul Gambaccini...
It was over in the twinkling of an eye but I am sure good is going to come out of it, I just know it will. All that exchanging of numbers, I just said to everyone, write your story, write your story!
We were just getting ready to leave when Rhoda Dakar arrived, hot from Glastonbury- she's got in at 8 a.m. and spent the morning trying to find where we were. That's dedication! We poured a huge bowl of strawberries into a carrier bag, and went back to Caroline's for a cup of tea and a de-brief (and a bit of a gossip too)
I can't believe it happened, all those brains and talent all under one roof, all talking and some meeting for the first time.
You know, I took no photos, didn't get any autographs, didn't even eat anything apart from one little thing on a stick, but it was just the best Sunday of my entire life, by golly it was.
All thanks to Caroline, who suggested it, found the venue and funded the entire thing. I know she had a great time too; I am so grateful to her, she is a complete better-than-a-diamond, and I know everyone who came along will agree with me on that.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jammie Dodgers

I'm sure some of the children from Song Club only come along for the jammie dodgers we have at the end.
Today, the head told us not to get felt pen on the floor (guilty- it writes straight through the paper on to the wood)
But we did well- we did a new song about being up in the clouds and alone in the sky that the children learned straight away.
What do you call the part of the plane where a pilot sits? The saddle, according to one of the children.
Ah well.
Up early tomorrow to travel to Gateshead Little Theatre. Martin's been learning some of my songs and I have been learning some of his, so we'll play some together; we have also been co-writing songs by email for the CD we are going to record.
Also, I have developed a couple of London gigs and have therefore not fallen foul of the Cockneys.
Bout time I finished my album too, so must go and do a bit more recording at Tom's.
Bitty posting: Song Club's exhausting; Jamie has a gig tonight at the Goethe Institute with the Irrepressibles, and had one with a covers band last night. He didn't get in till 5 a.m this morning. At least I got to snore a bit longer than that last night.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oh bloody hell! McCookerybook or Reddington?

Today I woke up and played my guitar and I was Helen McCookerybook. Then I phoned Caroline and I was Helen Reddington; I became Helen McCookerybook briefly again while logged on to Myspace to arrange some gigs, before Reddingtonning again to grade some Fame Academy applications. I then had half an hour of McCookerybook, playing my guitar, and then answered the door under that name to a group of women making a documentary about similarities between Spanish and British punk bands in the late 1970s, who had come to interview Helen Reddington. I remained Reddington while talking to Nicola from Woman's Hour about the Lost Women celebration.
Who was I when I went shopping?
Probably Helen McCallum, the name of the timid schoolgirl who cringed in the sixth-form at Walbottle Comprehensive School.

This code will take you to Poly Styrene's new anti-war track

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I could sleep on a chicken's lip

I've just driven back from last night's gig in Leicester through about 15 rainstorms to work (yes, me and those little rugger-playing tykes at private schools ar busy on Saturday mornings!).
The gig was great, at the De Montfort Hall. Little Bruv went to see Johnny Cash there and the first two rows of seats were taken up by Leicester's dustmen!
I went on as Martin's guest- it was a sort of festival and there were children there who seemed to really like my songs. Good job they didn't realise that one was about sex (Temptation) and the other about drugs (Heaven Avenue). I sang the Airship Song with Martin and we were going to do Loverman but I chickened out because we didn't have time to rehearse it before the gig and I'm still a bit wet behind the ears as far as tasking risks with songs is concerned especially in such a massive venue with such good sound! It was really good to play in a big place again, which I haven't done for at least 20 years.
It's Little Bruv's birthday today and we're going to Greenwich Park to get rained on and I'm not going to eat Scotch Eggs. Who invented them? They are horrible.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

2a Price Street

Well, it was one of those surreal gigs in Birkenhead last night. It was organised by Peter Jones (hi Peter!) who reads this on Sundays while the Antiques Roadshow is on, and was in aid of a children's charity called Jellybean. There was a giant green fur jelly bean playing drums when we got there, and no microphone although there was a PA system; someone phoned for a microphone, and then we noticed that there was no clip on the mike stand to fix it into, although there was a roll of sellotape which was just being wrapped round the microphone to stick it to the stand, when an audience member said they had a mike stand in their car boot and went to get it. So sound materialised; Martin and myself had out photos taken by Paul Chong (who keeps finches and also reads this, hi to you too!) with the giant green fur jellybean.
There were people there from the guitar weekend- it was nice to see them again, and Mike and June were there too (hi Mike and June) with Mike feeling guilty for having a bootleg copy of the Helen and the Horns album, but I told him it wasn't his fault as he'd bought it in good faith off the internet, but I'll have to write a Letter to the Japanese company to tell them to stop manufacturing it.
It was a good gig, all in all, with a great atmosphere once everything got going, the giant green fur jelly bean got everyone dancing (including me with my rusty old joints) and by the end the floor had so many jellybeans on it that everyone's feet were sticking to it.
Weird but fun!
And I rushed back today to do Song Club; I wasn't standing any nonsense today AT ALL CHILDREN and miraculously, we actually got something done, at jammy dodgers, and were all still speaking to each other at the end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Essence of Scotchness

Look! This is the sort of perfume that Scottish people wear. If you detect this aroma, you can be sure you are in the vicinity of one of us.

If you live in or near Liverpool or Birkenhead, come to 2a Price Street tomorrow; Martin Stephenson is playing and I am too!

End of Carrot-fish: sorry, some sadness

When I came downstairs this morning, the carrot-fish's gills had stopped moving, his colour was pale and dull and he had parked finally with his nose wedged in a corner of the tank.
I'm just about to remove him and give him a decent burial in a plant pot so when he decomposes he can feed a plant.
I cried yesterday morning because he was so ill. SIlly, isn't it, to cry about a fish?
I have a friend, Mykaell, who says that when he peels onions he really cries properly, because the onion-induced effect of crying reminds him of all the sadness he feels.
The worst thing is feeling unhappy and being unable to cry.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Poorly Carrot-fish

Oh it's awful- the carrot-fish is poorly, its bright orange scales have gone pale and dull with grey blotches, its face has swollen and gone knobbly and this morning I found it with its snout buried in the gravel.
I've had him for more than seven years and he's been a feisty friend; he peers at me boldly each morning out of the tank with his revolving black eyes as I come down the stairs, and flaps about when you go up to the tank to look a him.
I gave him fifteen drops of medicine. I hope that works, because we have had a close relationship over those years, and I am very fond of him.

I have to tear myself away because I'm actually going into a rehearsal studio today. I have two gigs this week, in Birkenhead (2a Price Street) and Leicester (as Martin's guest at the De Montfort Hall) and I've started forgetting the lyrics to the old songs because I've been writing so many new ones. So it's an all-day rehearsal, with frayed finger-ends and a lost voice by the end.

Keep your fingers crossed for carrot-fish.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Horse Art

Yesterday I took some photographs to give you an art show but I'm not going to post them just yet. In fact, I'll just tell you about one of them. I'd been driving past this painted sign that said 'Horse Art' which I thought was wonderful; I was imagining horses making potato-print style art with their hooves, horseshoe-shaped coloured blobs in primary colours on sugar paper. Or blowing inkblots with their flubbery lips to make spidery patterns. Alas, no; at close quarters, the poster said 'Horse and Art' and was some sort of club for humans to make paintings of horses.
What a disappointment!
Today I went to Rough Trade and re-stocked them with Helen and the Horns CDs. I bought the new John Savage book for Little Bruv's birthday and a Borat T-shirt for him too which I regretted when I got home. I was paid for the Suburban Pastoral CDs they have sold so far, which is going straight into the kitty for the nearly-finished next one. They also asked about my book, so I'll have to get the publishers to contact them, and I gave them some chewing-gum art badges to give away too.
I'm removing 'Dreaming of You' from Myspace as soon as it stops playing up, and replacing it with another new one, 'Love on the Wind' which is a demo at the moment.
This is the picture I'm gonna put with it.

Lastly, a joke:
What do you call an mp3 player with very sad music on it?
A cry-pod.

Sorry Grandpappy

When I was six, my Grandfather died of lung cancer. I had a very special relationship with him: he was gruff and cross with everybody except me. I used to draw for him and make him take up a bucket and spade and play in the sand with me.
When he was very ill, as his life was ending, he asked to see me.
I was told he was wearing a mask to help him breathe. I'd just had four teeth out, and had gas through a horrible-smelling black mask to make me go to sleep, which was one of the most dreadful things that had ever happened to me in my life. I was too frightened to go to see him.
I had no idea what it would feel like when he was not there any more, and nor did I understand how much it would have meant to him to see me as he lay dying.
I have never forgiven myself for this, the heartlessness of being young.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Last Night's Songbird

This is a picture of Diana introducing the Bardos Band, two women who sang and played ancient instruments- a giant pale wood viola-type thing. It was lovely to hear such music- normally I give it a wide berth but it seemed to fit the warm atmosphere- somehow, Visions had transformed from its shebeen/strip joint aura into a proper nightclub.
It was full of teenagers selfconscious in their first statement hats (never been to Dalston before) mixed with stout square-set ladies in crimplene and k-skips; a very typical Diana-mixture of people. There were beautiful projections that looked like shards of home-made toffee. I sat and drew people for a while, then Diana moved my chair closer to the music. People were chatting loudly; she suggested they suck their thumbs if they couldn't stop, and that soon shut them up. Next up were two guys from Manchester, one of whom was called David Jaycock. They had forgotten their CD, which was a shame. Their songs were all short, like little Russian film themes in a nutshell, with a whisper of Robert Wyatt in there too; one played a Spanish guitar with a very unusual sound, and the other guy alternated between a harmonium, a lap steel guitar and a banjo. Very laid-back and and mellow fellows, but just right.
As the Gentle Mystics climbed onstage, all the teenagers flooded to the front possessively. Diana introduced the band, one by one: Orlando, Merlin, Cosmo, Naomi.... 'Hampstead!', whispered J, who was sitting next to me. They were indeed Hampstead, but they were also very good- at least the first two or three songs. The singer, Naomi, has a fabulous voice and I absolutely loved the melodies of their songs; the arrangements were very well thought out, the drummer was brilliant and had a stylishly distinctive way of playing. Naomi even played the saw blade too, something I haven't heard since the Wylam Folk Club. They had an awful white rapper for one song, though, and after the first few songs there was too much oom-pah which made everything seem comedic instead of beautifully-crafted (which is what it was, really). But they were very impressive. Hats off to Merlin, too, for some nifty accordion playing.
I'd spent part of the evening gazing at the onstage tuba, wondering if it was two tubas, or one tuba reflected in the mirror.
It was the guilty source of the oom-pah, and should have been left in the tuba cupboard at home.

Self indulgent ramble about Suburban Pastoral

I've been meaning to do this for ages. Because I'm writing lots of new songs, I wondered why I'd written the old ones, and this is why.

Dreaming of You- I probably have already written about this. It was a dream- a little woman singing in a huge dark hall in a deserted Butlins-type place, with an out-of-sight and out-of-tune orchestra; she was standing alone on the stage in her best prom dress, spotlit. The atmosphere was damp and cold. There was no audience, just me in the shadows. I remembered the song she was singing and wrote it down when I awoke.
(Another time I dreamt I did a songwriting project in a pub and there were teddy-boys dancing on the bar, but that's another story)

Heaven Avenue- two groups of people at opposite ends of Brighton sample pure LSD; they agree to walk along the seafront and meet in the middle. One group has a beautiful other-worldly experience; the other has a total nightmare, and never leaves the house.
(At least they know how to make tea when the other-worldlies arrive)

Temptation- this is from a song-cycle I did about the seven deadly sins. I tried to read the Old Testament and got stuck at page 3, so decided to write my own nonsense comic-book version

Don't Know Why- a song about unrequited love and the foolishness surrounding it

Hill of Fools- I wrote this for Gina's Birthday. I'd been in the mountains of Italy, and then in the mountains of Scotland. When I was a little girl I always used to think the Beatles song 'Fool on the Hill' applied to me because I never seemed to fit in anywhere. Then I started thinking that maybe it was everyone else that was wrong and not me. So this is about making yourself feel as though you matter, even when everything else points to another conclusion. I often sing it in the morning when the day ahead looks unbearable, just like children used to sing hymns in assembly at school.
Ultimately, everything looks small and insignificant next to massive mountains that have been there for millions of years.

Running Away- well, yes, who doesn't feel like this sometimes?

Colour my Day- this is a song about trying to remain optimistic and look at difficult things from every angle. Sometimes trying to make another person happy can make you happy yourself.

Swan- I nearly drowned twice in very shallow water when I was very little- once in a bath and once in a paddling pool. These memories ended up in the same in-tray as a tale of a gang of terrifying swans following some young men in a rowing boat on a Sussex river, and a guy from art college who blasted out his brains with LSD and fell through the ice on a pond.
I wrote it to an ice-skating rhythm, because I love doing that even though I am very bad at it and fall over a lot.

Britannia Great- this is a song about compromise, a terrible but necessary thing

Hymn to Kent- beautiful Garden of England, inhabited by the National Front who have headquarters in Welling. How can we have fought wars against racism yet harbour it still in quiet places?

The Word is, Goodbye- about all types of ending and how they make you feel. Sorry, a bit depressing. Someone said they'd like this to be played at their funeral.

London- not what it seems, especially if you wander about a lot at night like I used to do in the 1980s with all those late-night gigs, walking home to Kilburn at 3 in the morning, talking to the transvestites and prostitutes on the way back.
Lots of people don't know that before Margaret Thatcher, there were no people sleeping rough or begging in London. A musician from Berlin came over once to stay and could not believe his eyes, as he'd heard that Britain was a wealthy and successful country. He'd not realised at what expense.

Once in a Blue Moon- I think I would call this song an appeal from the soul

Songbird- this was written for Diana Mavroleon's birthday. She has a lovely party in the woods in Norfolk every year and I wrote this after the first one I went to. We all sat in front of a brown tent, with 'footlights' made of tealights on top of small cut branches banged into the ground, listening to a group playing instruments they'd made from trees, amplified so we could hear how strange they sounded. As we sat there, multicoloured bugs rained down on to our heads and clothing but nobody minded. Later, we all danced to disco music under the stars until we could dance no more. I lay in a sleeping bag in a shed with Gina and her partner and children listening to the music for the rest of the night, falling asleep to the boisterous strains of 'My Boy Lollipop'

And that's it, end of self-indulgence. You can get my CD from if you haven't got it already.
I have nearly finished the next one now.

Later I'll review last night's Songbird, which was very enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lost things

Mostly time; an hour calculating rooms, equipment, dates, and technical assistance, lost by the computer at work as I tried to save it; three hours in traffic to travel 20 miles (although I did see two mad horsemen of the apocalypse charging through the traffic in racing carts with massive wheels, bellowing with horse-carriage road rage, with the most beautifully-shaped black'n'white horses I've ever seen), but most sadly, all the photos off my phone, including those of A Smile and a Ribbon, Temperatures, Katy Carr and Sharon Lewis, Martin Stephenson, and lots of other pics of friends and quirky things like some grated cheese that fell into a cup of tea and melted in the bottom of it.
Oh lost things, lost things!
I did find something today though- my friend Saffie Ashtiany who I had not seen for about eleven years. She is making a film about ordinary people in Iran, and has also pulled off a minor miracle by looking ten years younger than she did the last time I saw her, even though she is ten years older! She made a really excellent video for King Kurt in the 1980s that was a homage to Busby Berkeley, amongst many other things.
Her father used to make films based on Persian folk tales, which the Ayatollahs found politically disturbing; but so did the Shah. Too many uncomfortable truths for the powerful in ordinary people's stories, and he ended up in exile in Paris.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I hates 'em- or at least the sewing on bit.
But if you get a lot of clothes at charity shops, you have to do it sometimes.
I have moved the buttons on a cheesey 50s-style holiday shirt, and now have to sew a hook and eye on to a 1970s Droopy and Browns dress (horrible colour, lovely fit) and do the same on a 1950s dress with pink roses on it.
You just have to get into the zone, and then you can reward yourself by playing a few riffs.
No thimbles, though.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Nice Guitar 4 U

This is the Eko guitar that I was going on about at the Cockpit Workshops in Deptford the other week; thought you might like to see it.
I realised reading the last posting that I did that I gave the wrong impression about my book. It's about not-famous people, too, and Sue (fiddle), Suzanne (bass), Sara (vocals), Mufti (drums), Sian (bass), Kate (guitar and vocals), Julie (keyboards), Liz (keyboards) and others will be there alongside those you might have heard of. That's the whole idea.
I've put a new song on Myspace, recorded on Thursday at Tom's. It's called Loverman and has Martin on backing vocals and rhythm geetar, which really drives the song along. I'll leave it up a few days and then put another one there (trying to catch you out, you see!).
I'm planning gigs in York and Edinburgh- funny, none at all in London at the moment. Have the Cockneys fallen out with me?