Thursday, November 29, 2007


I'm playing at the Star in Tufnell Park tonight, onstage at 9.45.
I've still got a fiendish cold but reckon I can manage my set and then slope off for a Lemsip or two...
The Unicorn gig has been cancelled but I'm still playing the 12 Bar on the 21st with the Band of Holy Joy and the Bar Latina too.
And, of course, nightly in my front room, the two cats and the dog lined up in front of me looking sheepish, tapping their little paws on the floor and humming along in their animal tones, shaking their heads so their ears whack together at the ends of songs instead of clapping, because of course fur is soundless.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Richard and Judy

A couple of years ago, I was sitting chatting to a student in January, outside. She was very upset and we sat there for ages in the cold yakking away. And then I got 'flu- the proper sort where your bones ache for two weeks and you are capable of nothing but flopping around moaning through a raging sore throat. That's when I started watching Richard and Judy, every afternoon; I later discovered that I shared this taste with the Head of Fashion at the University of Westminster. I even saw the film Team America, because they were laughing so much when they described it, I had to find out what it was like.
Last December, I really wanted to write a song for their Christmas Song competition but I didn't because I was having teething problems in my new job- the teething problems of a hippo, actually, or some other animal with very large teeth (or a lot of 'em!).
Anyway, today I sent them my songs, just in case they have another competition, so I can be the first entrant.
It's partly because while I was doing Jury Service I did a wordsearch and tried to win a yellow Spongebob Squarepants Ukelele. I found all the words, but my eyesight is so bad i couldn't read the teensy weensy address printed at the bottom of the page and I gave up and threw the competition form away.
It's time to get some new glasses; perhaps in January, so I can spend the rest of the winter reading enlightening literature and emerge into Spring as a fresh new bespectacled and clever cover-version of the previous me.
And it can be my one-competition-entry-a-year; I did that last year and won this computer, so you never know!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Louise Bourgeois

I met up with Caroline Coon today- she looked beautiful, long straight white-blonde hair, fitted black coat, slender legs and boy's shoes, what style the woman has!- at the Tate Modern, to see the Louise Bourgeois exhibition. We investigated the crack (apparently 14 people have fallen down it so far), then went and lunched with a view at the restaurant upstairs, admiring St Paul's and also the giant cranes; Caroline says she saw a documentary about them once. I told her about the embroidery I'd started of the cranes at Wembley- i got as far as doing the embroidered frame round the outside, then left it too long and in the meantime, they finished the stadium and took the cranes away.
If I was a trillionaire I'd get 'em to put the cranes back just so I could finish the embroidery! It was going to be in black and white, because that seemed like a good idea, what with all those choices of embroidery thread colours. I had several different blacks and several different whites. Alas, my pretentiousness has been thwarted by the passing of time and the completion of the Wembley building project on time, near as dammit!
Louise Bourgeois is completely inspiring- there was one particular marble sculpture, of a seated animal with paws'n'claws and six globes hanging from its chest; its skin was stretched tautly over its spine and you could see the vertebrae just at the most curved part. The marble was polished to such a smooth finish, you wanted to stroke it. There were some drawings and models of housewives, women whose heads had been consumed by square and solid houses leaving their bodies helplessly dangling below them, that defined a feeling almost impossible to articulate in words but all too clear in her expression of it. She'd made little pink sewn model people with two heads, one head, eyelids, almost dolls but a little too scary. Oh do go and see it!
Afterwards we crossed the Millennium Bridge in search of coffee; unfortunately, I became too coughy myself (har har) and decided to tube it home.
Strange to have a cold- I don't get them very often. I hope it clears up by Wednesday because I'm supposed to be re-doing the vocals for the next album. I'll know tomorrow if I'm gonna be better in time. At the moment, I sneeze every time I sniff a strong smell, cough when my lungs hit the cold air, and walk like a 70-year-old man because my legs and arms are so stiff.
My nose is red and sore, my eyes are watering, and my head has settled somewhere between here and Mars.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Playing guitar

The great thing about playing guitars is that you can play them like this...

Or like this....

Or this....


Or even this!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Unicorn Theatre Gig

I have a very special gig coming up close to Christmas, close to London Bridge.
It's a totally acoustic, unplugged gig supporting Martin Stephenson at the Unicorn Theatre on Friday 14th December, and if you would like to come, it would be really good if you get your tickets in advance from:


If you want to check the venue out the website is

I might even sing the Christmas Queen song.
Learn the backing vocals and join in!!!!
Free download from
I'll have a very limited number of CDEPs which I'll do mail order when they arrive, about 10th December- watch this space for details!

Do Not Be Afraid, Little Girl; I Mean You No Harm

It was Bristol, in Trinity Hall with The Chefs. A rabid fan was trying to prise our manager Jonathan out of the doorway so he could get in.
Later, a genial African promoter came in, promising to make me a star. He was terrifying, for the first thing he said was
Do Not Be Afraid, Little Girl; I Mean You No Harm

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sitting About

Oh well, you know, I've just sitted about today. There was no jury service, and I suppose I've done a lot of clearing out and throwing away, stroking Charlie the Bad Cat, looking out of the window....
I've uploaded a different Christmas track on to Myspace, the one with the choir, 'Christmas Queen'.
I know it isn't Christmas yet, but I found a nice little Christmas chef tag so I felt the need to match image to music and Just Do It.
Johny Brown's asked me to play at the 12 Bar with the Band of Holy Joy close to Christmas, and I haven't played there for ages so I'm looking forward to that. All these Geordies... I'm playing with the Daintees in Newcastle Upon Tyne on the 27th December. It'll be Mark Knopfler (yuck) next, or perhaps Sting (double yuck) or possibly, Bryan Ferry (huntin' shootin' fishin'). Or maybe that Dave from the Eurythmics (Durham). Or maybe Laverne from Kenickie... Or perish the thought, that John Miles... "Meoosic was my first love, and meeoosic is my larst... meoosic of the fyoocher...meoosic of the parst..." with that awful bit where the piano gets excited at the end!
Stop, brain, before you send me barmy!
Excuse me.
I'm going back to just sitting about.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Foggy Morn Story

As the bus rounded the corner one damp foggy morn on the way to jury service, I spotted what appeared to be two machine guns on top of a roof in the thick grey gloom.
"Bloody Hell! That's a bit off for the North London suburbs!", I thought.
We pulled up at the bus stop and I realised that what I'd seen was two gigantic papier-mache angels on top of the the garden centre building, their trumpets pointing joyfully at the heavens.
Silly me.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Corbridge was a lovely gig- in a pub called The Angel. The audience was really friendly: Mike and June were there, and Mike-from-Corbridge (well, of course), and my friend Carol, and more.
I'd written the set list on my hand but my eyesight is so awful I couldn't read it. A kindly lady in the audience fished around in her handbag and lent me her reading glasses, so everything was OK.
Hats off to Fin for some brilliant percussion!
I drove home in the grey rain, listening to Aretha's fabulous voice to cheer me up (I miss the northeast so).
It was 299 miles there, and 284 back.
Did my tyres grow or did England shrink overnight?

Friday, November 16, 2007


Wow! Hey hey hey!
Someone from Tbilisi in Georgia checked out my Myspace page (I've got a little map)
The weirdest one so far was Bahrein, but I'm particularly pleased about Georgia, because I go there in my imagination rather a lot, ever since I heard some brilliant Georgian journalists singing in the Cabot Hall in Canary Wharf.
I was the only person there not dressed in stern navy-blue, and what's more I had a yogurt-scoffing baby in tow that loved the music so much it joined in and carried on tootling at the end of each song.
When the show had finished, the Georgian journalists raised their hands to the baby, who got a special round of applause all of it's own.


Nothing to report today, except perhaps Tomorrow, when Bendi of Sweden officially release 'Helen McCookerybook's Christmas Assortment'. Check them out on
The tracks will be free to download at Christmas, but it's such a nice little CD package I think you should buy it unless you haven't got any money.
It's not a charity record, because I think giving to charity is people's own business and not what songwriters ought to be doing to plug their products (although I never refuse to do a charity gig unless it's a foul and objectionable cause).
It's just that somebody drew it to my attention that Bono did a high-profile charitable thing whenever U2 had a new album out, so I'm wary of such things.
Sourpuss, ain't I?

Tomorrow, up with the lark (or up with the bark, actually, if Blogger has anything to do with it) and off to Corbridge, The Angel, which is where, according to McMum, we celebrated McGran's funeral. I remember the day well, as I made freinds with McGran's freind Katie, who sent me a book of Khalil Gibran's poetry, as both of them had really enjoyed it.
I also cried lot that day, as McGran was my Closest Person and a perfect example of someone determined to spread fun and enjoyment no matter what life threw at her. Somewhere, I have a photo of her playing banjo with a big grin on her face. Even when over eighty, she was also prepared to sit firmly and energetically on a poo-poo cushion when she knew it was there, and be the most extraordinally shocked person in the entire universe to discover that she'd let off a massive fart at the dinner table without feeling any sort of gas-induced abdominal pressure whatsoever.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I'm imagining a party at Brother Tobias's cottage-a-trois, in which we hunt-the-food, and loll about on various chairs scoffing what we find, which I hope would be cheese straws. I'll bring them Brother, so long as you hide them!

We got sent home again today but at least I'm sworn in and on a jury.
That means from now on, everything is secret and I'm not telling you anything, even if you buy me a cheese straw every day for the rest of my life.

Soon, I will be moving house, probably to the grubby end of town. I will pack the cats in their carry-boxes, fold the clothes I never wear and that I've moved about six times since I last wore them, put dusty books into cardboard boxes, wrap china in newspapers... actually, it's all pure fantasy at the moment. But the ground is shifting and I'm leaping from tussock to tussock; I've sold a bunch of stuff on eBay, more to go,

Posh no longer, I can hoot at the football, purchase an unsuitable newspaper, dine on fish'n'chips, and. more importantly, remember what it feels like to laugh out loud every day.
That's priceless.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cheese Straws

I found two snapped cheese straws in the cupboard.
Yellowy orange.
Or orangey yellow.
A little chewy.
If you could marry cheese straws, I would do so instantly.

Musings on Mongreldom; Jury Service, 3

As usual, I was retching as I prepared Blogger's disgusting breakfast. That's the downside of owning a dog, or rather, the two downsides: what you put in one end, and what comes out of the other.
Anway, that's enough about that.
I was thinking about identity and who we perceive ourselves to be. I have no identity, as I am not an English Rose, nor am I Jewish, Asian, Scottish, Jamaican, Lithuanian, African, Celtic, Japanese, Chinese, or anything else.
I am bits.
If I was a dog, I would be one of those grey wiry ones you see in Battersea Dogs Home, covered in coarse lumpy fluff that makes them look as though somebody dunked them in glue and then rolled them around a dirty house. Nobody ever owns them as a Statement Dog, but kids luv 'em.
I have a bit of this, a bit of that, nothing pure bred about me at all.
I don't even really know how to bark properly, but I do know how to run around like a fool with my tongue hanging out!

This is the sort of thing you think about, third day into jury service. I haven't spoken to anyone yet, because I'm having a blissful rest from everything except 'North of Watford' on my iPod. I don't know what makes Northern Soul fit so well with sitting with a bunch of people who think grey is a good idea for a winter coat, but there you go. Since Monday, everyone seems to have melted a little. They are slumping good-humouredly instead of sitting with pursed lips and obviously clenched buttocks. Those who have been siting on a jury have bonded with their fellow-jurors and sit in little judgement-communities making small-talk so we don't guess what naughty things their accused has been accused of. Those of us who haven't been into a courtroom yet are exiles, watching the sinister prisoner vehicles with blacked-out windows gliding past the window, delivering secret cargoes of baddies to the back door.

I regret to say that all I'm interested in this time (you see I did jury service a Southwark Crown Court ten years ago, and acually found the experience quite moving) is eating juror's lunch. A gorgeous smell of chips and other greasy delights came wafting out of the kitchen.
'Would the following jurors please go home and come back at ten tomorrow morning....'

(by the way, Brother Tobias, I hooted with laughter at the thought of Bobby worrying about you stapling Guy's posterior. Time you had a party, for I want to sit on a hyacinth and get my own back)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jury Service 2

Well, remarkably little to report; we all watched a hideous video called 'Being a Juror', with little snatches of fake funk music and a grade-b actress telling us in a deep coo not to be afraid while threatening us at the same time with fines for non-attendance; friendly fines, of course.
Was the actor playing the court clerk wearing a wig or was that his real hair? We shall never know.
Everyone there looked so grumpy yesterday, as though they were going to find all defendants guilty, just out of spite.
After six hours of blank time (which I rather liked), they sent us home.
Today, the barristers stood in casual groups watching us come in, pretending they weren't sussing us out. Ahead of me, a middle-aged man in an anorak was stopped and searched. A large rock with a number written on it in black felt pen was taken out of his pocket.
"I'm a scientist', he explained.
The rock was taken away and bagged up to be returned to him later.

I've read two Reader's Digests from cover to cover (ugh), the whole of today's Guardian newspaper, half a P G Wodehouse book, which as usual made me snort with laughter, and finished some song lyrics for a song called Glasgow Train. I've sat and gazed, eaten a banana and an apple, drunk two cups of coffee, and managed to avoid talking to anyone so far.

Meanwhile, I've had a look at the cover of the Christmas EP, which is a masterpiece of colourful retro fun. I still can't believe it managed to happen. I've listened to it and it's really not bad at all.

Rose Hips 2

Because it was syrupy and you drank it, I thought it was called Ro 'sip' syrup.
Bit like Sean 'Puffy' Coombs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rose Hips

I have just remembered a very odd thing. I talked about it to Diana last night.
At my primary school, we were encouraged to pick wild rose hips. We would take bags of them into school, where they would be weighed and we'd get paid about threepence for every pound- or maybe sixpence.
They were send to a company called Delrosa, who made them into lovely gloopy Rose Hip Syrup, which was a drink made for babies really, but everybody drank it, because it was so lovely and gloopy.

Beirut at the Roundhouse

Zipped round to Diana's, where she was feeding her three doggies, and helped her find her shoes; pootled down to Chalk farm, almost got gazumped by a weeny car for a parking space, and then marched into the Roundhouse, which is an absolutely beautiful building. Somewhere in my distant memory, I recall seeing a Very Serious Play featuring a cast of naked people that included a man with grey hair and a beard. I was about twenty, and thought I had never seen anything so disgusting in my life; the horrors of seeing a starkers old man with baggy skin and grey pubes far outstripped anything the play had to say.
I've never been good at going to the theatre anyway.

Well, this was a real treat. I'd heard Beirut's stuff and was itching to see how it worked live.
At first, the sound guy was having terrible problems. The trumpet blasts blew our wigs off (for verily, we are elderly ourselves now), but even so, this was a group of people who were really interesting to watch, who swopped riffsmanship (and womanship because there's a woman fiddle player who really know how to groove), who changed from following accordion to following the thudding bass drum to following joyful unison trumpet parts.

Diana said they reminded her of early Nick Cave, but they reminded me of all sorts of things- Herb Alpert (I'd forgotten about him! McDad had an LP of his stuff that he played constantly- maybe that's why I formed Helen and the Horns), Glenn Branca, believe it or not (I think it was the line of three ukes being played out at the audience), Andy Warhol (all those multiples- sometimes three trumpets at once, the three ukes), Sesame Street (the happy feeling, even in sad songs), a toy box, a conversation (the instruments were speaking to each other quite clearly); always something to watch and something to listen to.
They were dressed nerdily ('A Bloke') but were full of open charm; Zach held the trumpet behind his ear or balanced it on his shoulder in between toots; before one song began, one of the uke players shuffled on his feet and tensed up like an amateur athlete at the beginning of a race, waiting for the starting pistol- or even waiting for the head teacher to say 'Ready, steady, GO!!!'
Musically,I desperately wanted to be in the gang! Sometimes, the sound cleared and left Zach to sing, to lead the band, who burst in to punctuate his vocals: at other times the trumpet arrangements were so delicious I was wildly jealous and wanted to be back doing arrangements for Helen and the Horns. They were mesmerising; they could so easily have failed but they know exactly what they are doing; you could feel that this band trust each other as musicians, and the work was shared out so there was constantly something new to watch and to listen to. Zach is not an egotistical front man; it's all obviously his dream and his baby, but he knows that if you're using a collective of people, they have to be able to shine, and this is exactly what they did.

One rather funny thing. Halfway through, a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to stop tilting my head (I was trying to peer round a pillar to see what the other trumpet player was doing).
I laughed all the way through the next song, and missed it.
Which was another thing I really, really liked, and it's something valuable lots of bands and artists forget- short songs!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Bloody hell, it's Thursday already. Last time I looked it was Sunday!
Did a gig last night at Songbird with MArtin Stephenson who flew all the way down from Inverness for the evening, playing some songs that we've written together mainly via email. Our set was short, as such long-distance collaboration is a little slow-paced. But it was really good fun to play with another guitarist, and we will do more, I am sure.
Stefan from Bendi seems to really like the Christmas music (phew!) so that's great. What else?
I haven't written any songs for a while, cos the Christmas foursome borrowed a little on my creative credit card. Friday's house gig with Mike Wexler has been cancelled but there will be another closer to Christmas.
My next one's in a couple of week's time in Tufnell Park, towards the end of Jury Service.
Gonna have fun selecting a wardrobe for that!

Sunday, November 04, 2007


What a lovely sunny day! I've already been out in the garden, picking up windfalls and sorting them into piles of edible and inedible fruit. I've met some miniscule slugs in the process, who've waved their horns at me quizzically and charmed me with their liquorice skin.
I had an odd day yesterday; soon I'll be moving house, massively downsizing, and I went to look at some tiny houses, one of which was a total slum and the seller should be ashamed to let people into it. It was uninhabited and the old furniture was slung about in it, it was dark and dirty, there were old freebie newspapers all over the floor and it had a horrible atmosphere. I've moved into a house that someone's just died in before and I guessed and I did not mind, but this house was completely ghoulish.
I spent four hours cleaning the old house last week and I reckon I'll be spending another four this week; but I'm definitely having my birthday party here before I go!
I've been putting old sound equipment on eBay and I'm debating whether to sell the Hofner guitar I bought after selling the Viz Comics. Selling guitars is hard- they are like friends, or witches' familiars; they sit there and look at you, and passively indicate 'play me' to you, and you know they are full of songs that they will reveal to you if you only would give them a chance! Dunno; it's a bit of a spoilt brat of a guitar, but one should love all one's family equally, regardless of temperament....
Today, I'm going out for lunch with McSis to celebrate her birthday. I have bought her some cushions and I'll bounce through the crowds to see her. Later, I'm going to Morvern Callar's House (she's called Jane really), and I'm looking forward to that too because I haven't seen her for ages.
I've sent off the Christmas songs to Sweden- I can't stop listening to the one with the choir on it- what a wheeze! Eight people who didn't know each other, had never sung together before, hadn't heard the song, some of them had never been in a recording studio, hadn't learned the lyrics (I was still making them up on the way there), the whole lot was rehearsed and recorded in about 40 minutes!; it's not perfect but it has a great feel to it and I'm using it as therapy to get me through a few difficult things. Stefan, the guy from Bendi Records, has been designing the cover, which is suitably cheesey. He sends versions from Sweden by email, and is obviously really enjoying it. The working title is 'Helen McCookerybook's Christmas Assortment' and it's a real dream come true to make a Christmas recording. I'm thinking of calling the choir the he-mails and the she-mails, 'cos that's how I recruited them; maybe that's a step too far!
I hope Richard and Judy have a Christmas song feature again this year! I desperately wanted to do one last year but it was too busy at work and all I managed was a few scribbled lyrics on a scrap of paper.
Now of course I want to do an EP every month of songs about that month....

In our village, a family used to organise Carol Singers who walked round from house to house; the dad, a massively eccentric man in a deerstalker hat and tweed knickerbockers, rang a handbell and bellowed encouraging instructions, and villagers were collected from each house they visited to swell the ranks. The whole thing ended at their house by the River Tyne, with mulled cider and nice food and good-humoured posh-people's gossip. They had stuffed deer on their walls with oranges pronged on the horns, and holly and ivy about the place.

On Wednesday, it's Songbird at the Cross Kings pub on York Way, in King's Cross. Martin Stephenson is coming down from Scotland and we are going to do some songs together. I've learned to play some of his and he has learned to play some of mine, we'll be doing the Airship Song from his Hi 7 Moon 5 CD and also a song we wrote together, by email.

Come to think of it, email's a bit of a silent friend and helper at the moment!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hey... hang on a minute!

I'm just taking 5 after doing this morning's lecture. I played '#1 Deejay', a 12" disco single that lasts 6 minutes, and 'Boredom' by the Buzzcocks and talked about sounds and space and purposes and bodies and subcultures and hedonism and anger. In the middle of it all, I became really interested in it all again (like I was when I wrote the lecture last year) and started dreaming around it and getting excited by all the ideas.
Did you know that Rabelais imagined recording in 1532? He imagined a frozen sea, where the sounds of battle froze to silence in winter; when spring came the frozen sounds melted and you could hear them once more, only the battle was over by then.
Isn't that amazing?
And Kurt Weill invented sampling. He used to have record players on stage with the orchestra.

You know, I might actually start reading serious books again.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Life moves like a caterpillar- crushed up in one part and stretched out in another. I was so excited and nervous yesterday about the recording that I used up the whole day's energy in an hour and had to rest when I got home. Later, I went to Housman's Bookshop for a very laid-back chat about the book (they were expecting me to bring copies to sell but I haven't got any) and a laid-back unplugged sing. Dawn Saunders from the Objekts came- such a long time since I've seen her, it was lovely to catch up with her. Peter Knight came, still glowing from the morning's singing. Two people turned up just as I was packing up to go home.There was wine, and police sirens whooping in the background (well, it is in King's Cross).
And so today, even though I've been working at the University of the East, and in spite of the fact that there was a (false) fire alarm and a real fire-engine turned up, I was bored. I wanted exciting studio experiences, I wanted to be writing backing vocals, I wanted to be having ideas about songs, I wanted to be building up layers of sound like sculptures in music.
I ate a sandwich.
I looked at my computer.
I looked at my computer again. I drank coffee.
I drank water.
I looked at papers.
I gently complained about hopeless situations with jobsworthies that will never be resolved.
I drank more coffee, and mused on the emasculating (effeminating?) effect of possessing a red plastic flask. What a nerd I am!
I shared some pink and yellow alphabet sherbets with Julia who I share an office with. They match the pink throw she brought in to disguise the beige chair (who invented that bloody colour? Surely the devil!).
I did enjoy listening to the songwriters, who are getting more confident by the second.
I wanted to be playing gigs in Ireland and Scotland and Wales.
My fingers yearned to be picking the guitar. My voice told my brain, 'I am for singing'.
Music has taken me over.