Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Next Gig

This is my next gig, at Monkey Chews in Camden on Wednesday the 7th January. I'm doing a sort of mini-tour of London in January and this is the first one. These promoters choose interesting music so it should be a good one.
I was given a box of Rose and Violet Creams, which I have just polished off. Being a punk rocker, of course, I call them Rows and Violent Crimes.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Photo of Me and Paul by Brother Tobias

Birthday Party 2008

The day dawned with a call from McMum and McDad; I was touched to hear McDad say 'Many Happy Returns', as he has grown frail and sometimes it is hard for him to speak at the moment, so that really meant a lot to me.
The cat's birthday present, on the other hand, was a pool of iridescent vomit on the hall floor that necessitated the use of half a roll of festive kitchen roll (2 multipacks for the price of one). How horrible. Remind me not to tell her anything about it next year.
I had home-made gingerbread people and a zebra cake courtesy of my offspring, and a massive pan of veggie chili. The guests were family members, honorary family members or regulars, and included two cousins who didn't realise they were cousins, and my foster-cousin Ted, providing an interesting question about relatives, first-cousin-ness, removedness and all that.
We all squashed into the back room on cushions and scrambled chairs for the music bit.
Kirsty played and sang beautifully, Rowen blew us away with the strength and power of her songs and voice, Alex played some exerpts from Metallica, Charlotte played some lovely baroque flute music, and me and Paul played some songs too, including Autumn Love, for Nick and Sue who were actually there to hear it.. The highlight was Big Bruv who played for the first time ever, singing a song about Nutty the Squirrel, but by far the funniest, a song about Daleks living in bungalows with a chorus that went 'Exterminate! Exterminate!'. The words were so funny I cried with laughter. He has a studio session pending which we clubbed together and got him for his birthday but he works seven days a week and hasn't had time. We are going to MAKE him go in there and record them!
I couldn't get the idea of Daleks with crinoline-lady toilet roll holders in their bungalows out of my head all evening.
I did try to take pictures of the others but I was sitting on the floor and they all came out blurred.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Someone Else's Funny Story

Richard, who is co-writing a biography of Martin Stephenson, wrote to me and told me he'd just bought Vaultage 79 and told me how much he liked the song Bloody by the Golinski Brothers.
I met Darris, their singer, at a party a couple of years ago in Goldtop Studios in Chalk Farm, which is run by Paul Laventhol from King Kurt, and Neil Brockbank, who used to do their live sound.
Darris has been an SDP candidate amongst other things. He said that he has a teenage son whom he is always scolding for muttering and not a-r-t-i-c-u-a-t-i-n-g properly. The teenage son wanted to go to the cinema and phoned the automated Odeon-line to try to find out what was being shown at his local one. He was prompted by the auto-lady to say where it was.
'Uffblingh' he muttered.
'I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again', intoned the auto-lady.
'I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again',
And so on.
And so on.

Djay Buddha wrote to tell me he has a good live version of Love on the Wind recorded in Glasgow- can't wait to hear it!

Finally, a New Year wish which I give to you as a present for any poet you may know:

May all your poems rhyne
In two thousand and nine.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I don't know about you but I find the visit of Father Christmas has more than one benefit, for as well as delivering a sackload of presents, he cleans our sooty chimney magnificently with his fat tummy on the way down, catching the soot conveniently in his ample beard, thereby necessitating the minimum clean-up afterwards.


The sun's out! I'm going for a walk!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ennui, Noel

They're watching Wallace and Gromit downstairs so I have escaped- I can't stand Wallace's voice, which sounds like Alan Titchmarsh being strangled.
Once I recorded a whole gardening programme with Alan Titchmarsh speaking; I was going to orchestrate it and make it into a musical. I've still got it somewhere. Something along the lines of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady playing the little xylophone to get Eliza Doolittle to speak in posh cadences. That's one film I do love, partly because Audrey Hepburn is the most beautiful woman ever born, and partly because of the fabulous costumes which I want to wear in my dreams.
I lost a box of crackers and bought a fancy box at the last minute in case I never found them (eaten by Blogger my dog?). We had the posh ones but they had dull jokes and boringly useful cracker gifts and I found the common box and we pulled those as well. They had really rubbish toys which were what you are supposed to have, and much better jokes. It meant we had to wear two hats each. Every year I am the person who forgets to take their paper hat off for the longest; I catch sight of myself in the mirror at teatime and feel like an idiot.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Airship Song

Speaking of Rochefort en Accords, here's a Youtube of me, Martin, B J Cole and the Rochefort fiddle player doing the Airship Song by Charlie Poole live at the festival:

Where's the end of the sellotape?

Good Review Woohoo!

I woke this morning as a copy of Mojo whacked on to the floor through the letterbox. There was a free Tamla Motown CD which boded well (there's been rather a lot of nerdy Indie music recently) but I hardly dared to open it and look. The page fell open at the CD reviews section and there it was! Yee ha! A review by Lucy O'Brien and four stars!!! It's worth it!!! When I first started up again I didn't know why on earth I was doing it, there was just an urge to get up and play and have music adventures, and really that is what it's all about. But this was such a bonus, and it has been fantastic to have positive reviews from such funky mags- Nude Magazine, Wearsthetrousers, Esquire in Thailand and Collected Sounds. This one caps it all perfectly and I am smiling.
It has been a good year for McCookerymusic, with some fave gigs being Rochefort en Accords and Whitstable, and of course the Christmas ones. I've loved recording in London with Tom, in Scotland with Pete and at Embleton with DJay Buddha and the lads. There have been some crappy lows this year but some wonderful highs as well.
I've also done some brill things- starting with the weekend at Chollerford, then the Writing about Schools project in Northumberland, then mentoring Tom's songwriting (I LOVED that!), then the Songwriting Weekend with Martin and Scott in the Lake District, and the Song Club.
To cap it all, I pulled the curtain this morning and there was the new bin on the path, looking full of itself. I'd thought I'd have to wait till next week with black bags al over the place and rats nesting in the Christmas wrapping paper. To crown it all further I got an email from someone at Barnet Council (they'd been alerted by Google to my predicament), offering to try to locate the missing one. Alas, I'd already forked out for the new one and the old manky one is probably servicing some horrid burglar somewhere by now, looting someone's Christmas presents.
I do hope not.
Now all I have to do is fix the clothes dryer, which is leaking all over the floor. Might just pack it away to deal with after Christmas.

Merry Christmas to anyone who reads this blog! I do know it's a complete jumble sale of rubbish and jewels depending on whatever it is that interests whoever. I look at the blogs of the people who leave comments and they are all much more focused and interesting than mine which is mostly therapy-rambling. But it is nice to know that people read it and I'm not just talking to myself!
That was something that made me laugh out loud once. I was all by myself in a bedsit in a huge dark house in Willeseden listening to the John Peel show. Everyone was out and it was totally silent outside.
'I don't think anyone's listening', said John Peel. 'I know I'm just sitting here talking to myself'.
I really felt that I was the only person in the world at that point and that I was his only listener, and it was the funniest thing!
The man was a genius.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Misread in Doctor's Waiting Room

I picked up one of those glossy cheapo showbizzy mags full of trashy photographs of minor celebs.
'Pick of the Crap', said the headline, or at least I thought it did until I realised my brain had substituted an 'a' for an 'o'.


While I was away playing music, someone stole my wheelie bin. It's gonna cost me £50 to get a new one from the council.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I went into Accessorize while I was waiting at Euston for the train to Glasgow, as I was quite bored.
I was looking for hats to try on but I did not like their hats much until I spied a superb little black hat on a peg very high up, with an interesting ruched ribbon detail and a cool retro style; funky for Accessorize. I decided to try it on and I asked the shop assistant to get it down for me, because I had my guitar on my back and couldn't leap up to grab it.
She got a bamboo pole and gently hooked the hat down. There was something weird about it; I realised it had already been worn and had no price tag or manufacturer's label, and I turned it round to find that it had an official-looking enamel badge on it.
It was a St John's Ambulance lady's hat.
How did it get there?

2 Good Gigs

Accies was the first one; it had been a dreadful journey, courtesy of Richard Branson's Virgin Trains, a man whose face looms in the leaden sky like a ghastly god when the train's late as always and the toilets don't work as always. But Fin and Martin were at Glasgow station to pick me up, and we got to the gig in time for a quick soundcheck. The Moonshiners kicked off the evening, with a very talented young fiddle player, Kirsty, who augmented their gentle bluegrass music. Accies has a great audience who listen and smile, and although I was tired I really enjoyed playing because the sound was crystal clear.
The Daintees were great- they played just with Fin on percussion and did everything from a whisper to a loud rock-out and were as tight as anything and you could hear just how good their arrangements are.
Even the Drunken Nuisance clambering about looking for his coat backstage throughout the set didn't put them off their stride. I had to guard Martin's coat because the soundman tried to give it to the Drunken Nuisance no less than four times!
When Anth struck up the beginning of 24 Hours I was out there again, singing along just like in the old days but with a different band! The Djay Buddha was there behind his mobile desk, recording the music and swaying along; the best song was Boat to Bolivia but absolutely everything sounded fresh and clear, as thought the songs had just been written. The crowd loved it and became a sea of smiles amongst the tealights on the tables.
When everyone had gone home, the sound guy found the Drunken Nuisance's coat right over at other end of the venue, nowhere near where he had been rummaging and tripping over.

The Cluny was the exact opposite in terms of audience- it was a real 'out-for-a-Christmas-gig-gonna-have-a-good-time' gig. It was sold out and packed to the gunwhales (no, it's not a boat, that's just a clever dick term for very full indeed). The audience had a lot of things to say to each other in very loud voices. The Parish Music Box played first- their singer has a very distinctive, very powerful vocal style. The crowd still had a lot of things to say to each other in very loud voices. but they were like that last year, and the year before, so I decided I was going to enjoy singing anyway and so I did. I planted myself on the stage as solidly as an elephant and did my utter best. A lot of people were listening, I could see, and that made the battle against the very loud voices ( I called them the Clunatics) not seem so bad. Martin and Fin came and joined in on Heaven Avenue and Loverman to rock it up a bit. I liked it just as much as the Glasgow gigs- big mobby audiences don't bother me, for verily, I am a punk rocker who used to take bottle tops off with her teeth.
The talkers didn't give up when the Daintees came on, but Martin knows how to deal with them and wove them into his between-song wit. The set was very different from the one in Glasgow- the band was rockier with a drummer as well as Fin's percussion and the show was really energetic and full-on. I liked the version of Indian Summer they did- it had a different rhythm to the version on their CD, straighter, but it gave the song a poignance, partly because Martin altered the words and made them more autobiographical.
When he came on solo to play Rain, the audience became lambs and sang along, as well-behaved as a church congregation, sounding like a big mass Geordie tamed roar. The band finally left the stage to shouts of 'Encore' that went on for about ten minutes afterwards.
There were lots of familiar faces there- Robson and his family, and Joe Guillan and Cav came along and we're planning another Embleton session. I was chuffed to bits afterwards cos Shippy, the promoter, came up and said it was the best he'd ever heard me play. Whatever, They were two gigs that rounded off the year perfectly: good band, good crowds, good company.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gardens, Birds, Off!

My only contact with Bill Oddie has been being shoved out of the way by him in St Martin's Lane as I walked past him one day, but now I do appear to be developing an interest in birds. There was a Redwing after the apples two days ago and this morning a Jay is shyly sitting in a tree, watching the Magpies gobbling up last year's Christmas nuts that were still in the cupboard.
I wonder what the cluster of clementines in a redundant hanging basket will bring?
I'm off to Glasgow this morning!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Slow-motion, I'm getting ready for Accies in Glasgow tomorrow. Everything is packed and ready. I'm looking forward to seeing the Daintees again. I did a drawing for their t-shirt of a cat.
I can't decide what to wear, and may have to unpack and re-pack. Do I dare to eat a peach? Shall I wear my trousers rolled?*Is it cold in Glasgow? If it's not cold in Glasgow, will it be cold in Edinburgh? Or Newcastle?
I have tidied my room a bit today, exposing mega-dustballs the size of footballs. Getting the hoover up the stairs seems like an effort (still not feeling good) so I'm contemplating festooning them with fairy-lights and pretending they are the latest in funky Christmas decorations. I have found a lot of pens, many of which don't work. I haven't found several important phone numbers on slips of paper, though I have found lots of lyrics, also on slips of paper. I take this as a positive omen!
*TS Eliot, of course

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Oh, I am missing the Irrepressibles! It is going to be such a lovely gig. But I'm in bed poorly.
And I have noticed that my Myspace counter has started subtracting; it's going backwards in a very Vivienne Westwood/World's Endish way.
Time for some shuteye.

More and More Blackbirds

There are eight blackbirds there this morning, all arguing and yakking. If they argued less and ate more...
The rosy pigeons are roosting in a tree like benign grandmothers, arms folded, waiting for the racket to die down.
Meanwhile, Joby has asked me if he can recycle the music I wrote for him, for a film project he's working on about Xurbia, the Daily-Mail-type living hell he inhabits in Sussex where affronted people are routinely scandalised by everything that is not them or theirs.
I will christen the track 'Ode to Joby' in honour of our everlasting punk-induced friendship.
Joby's ranting mailouts do my anger for me in a much more articulate way than I ever could, and their total anarchic bias shreds any lingering fears I have about becoming a suburban stick of rock with nasty thoughts running through me in pink sugar writing.
A toast to you Joby, on this chilly winter's morning!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I've been reading a really good review of Joanna McGregor's Messaien concert.
I knew her many years ago when we both worked on a programme called Pictures of Women, which was one of the very first Channel Four series ever to be broadcast, I think.
At one of the many Sarf London parties I attended, we all sat round and talked about a TV series, and the taskes were shared out. 'I'll be the director, you can be the producer, you can do graphics, and Helen, you can write some music', said someone.
'OK', I said, assuming it was a bit like one of those games you played as a child, Cowboys and Indians, you be a Cowboy and I'll be an Indian.
It actually came to pass; I wrote fourteen jingles and some incidental music and Joanna came in to play some classical-sounding piano music. That's when I learned about mixing desks and all sorts of other technical stuff that people don't exoect when they see me out shopping at the supermarket with the kids.
She was lovely, and told me about an occasion when she wrote a trumpet part that was too high for the trumpet player to play, and he was scared to tell her because she was the composer. She hadn't realised it was out of his range, and couldn't work out what the problem was.
We all went to see her play some Rachmaninov pieces at the Purcell Room on the South Bank; she was wearing a beautiful sparkling coffee-coloured Zandra Rhodes dress and she charged at the piano with fantastic energy, flinging her long curly hair over her head, visually thrashing the keyboard, but sounding delicate and precise at the same time. I have loved Rachmaninov ever since.
Later, when she had become quite well-known, she invited me to visit her at her flat in Bayswater. I was too embarrassed to go; by then I had become a leggings-mum, having hit a trough of relative poverty, and I was ashamed of my non-existent musical career and hopeless outlook. I know now that that was silly; in every interview with her, I see that she has not changed a bit and she is still self-effacing and completely absorbed with interest in all kinds of different music and musicians.

More Blackbirds

There was a fifth blackbird there this morning. Stuff the crunch! I'm taking this as a very good omen. In fact, the garden is buzzing with birds- a bullfinch, a collared dove, a wren, two huge fat pinkish pigeons (two more pies), a crow, a magpie, a mistle thrush and assorted weeny flutterers that come and raid the seed-tube.

The Song Club did their stuff at the Festive Christmas Show down at the school this morning. What a pity it's closing down! Barbara, from the Hyde Foundation (who fund the songwriting project) and myself were mourning its demise to the Deputy Mayor who looked mildly embarrassed and kept trying to change the subject to recycling, as it's the Worshipful Mayor himself who is shutting the school down. I am glad I did not put any money in the collecting box he was rattling outside the shops last Saturday. Other charities can have it instead.
The school is right on the estate, and that means that vulnerable children have a little loving school on their doorstep and don't have to walk a mile to the big school, where they will disappear into the masses of children from all over the place. For children from difficult homes, or refugee children, that has been really important. There has always been a lovely air of calm and respect inside it's doors and I was very happy for my children to go there and rub shoulders with others from different countries and different backgrounds; many schools in this borough have an exclusive air to them that seems to be more about keeping the oiks out than education!
Anyway, the Song Club group were great, and even sang the harmony part perfectly. There have been 14 of them this time, a lot compared to other projects I've done there, and their choir teacher had to help out because one of my potential employees forgot all about it and didn't turn up, and the other pulled out after one session, saying she could not work on a winter festival song that did not mention Jesus. Next time, I have invited Martin to work on it, as he won't let me down; there is going to be one final Song Club at the school before it goes.
There's a picture of Dan Whitehouse (who used to do these projects) and myself on the wall, with another Mayor and a bunch of children dressed in newspaper outfits from our previous Rubbish Rockers project, and I have asked for it in the summer when the school gets demolished. I remember going to the recycling centre with the children on public transport in the freezing rain (the school was too poor at that time to have its own bus) soaked to the skin with sopping wet trousers and squidgy feet, looking at piles of old paint cans, shoes, printer cartridges... the recycling men lent us an array of gigantic broken coloured umbrellas that people had thrown away. We were a dripping, yelling, bedraggled and colourful tribe, following the earnest man in his fluorescent jacket all round the site, his infectious pride in his job lifting our collected spirits.
On the day we performed our song at assembly, two children refused to wear the newspaper jackets I'm made for them, until one child tried one on, and then suddenly I had to make one for everyone!

The man outside fixing a wall has a radio which is playing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer; I am as excited as I used to get when I was little!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nursery Rhyme

There were at least four assorted blackbirds pecking away at windfall apples in the garden this morning, young and sleek, old and grey; I got the pastry rolled out and lined the dish, ready for when the other twenty turned up.
Yesterday was a busy day. Katy came over and we went up to the Vintage Fair, setting ourselves up on the stage and taking turns to sing; i sang my normal songs and Katy sang vintage, and then we did a selection of Christmassy ones together before sitting on the wooden floor and noshing mince pies and fruit tea. Katy bought a lovely bright green glass necklace and a forties-style dress. I had my eye on a quaint maroon mackintosh with a hood and interesting buttons, but it went and I was secretly glad as it was a little bit scary. Katy is great company and she liked the shambolic vibe and the little slice of village life.
Later on, I went down to the World's End to play a few songs. There was an artist called Kerry Andrew who did a lot of interesting layering with vocal effects, and a songwriter called Nya Shelley whose songs I really liked, and I particularly liked her unaffected and genuine persona. It was rather a musicians-watching-musicians evening: interesting, impressive and with an undercurrent of competitiveness which kept us all on our toes.
That's four gigs in four days, almost on-tour. The Christmas cards will have to wait another day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Rainy Night in Weybridge

In bounced Dave and Tony, smiling, trombone case and trumpet case in hands.
The P.A. was set up; we stood in line, and started playing. Unbelievable! It sounded and felt just like it did twenty years ago; we just had time to run through the five songs we'd decided to play, and tried to push it too far by attempting Footsteps at My Door, which got so far, and then disintegrated. It was miraculous, though, that we managed to sound so together.
Daniel takes a Train did their check- a proper band, and a 1980s soundcheck, as I remember them. 'Just turn the bass down a little', 'I can't hear myself in the monitors', band members one by one standing out front, listening.
Tony leaned over to remark, 'Last time we played together, mobile phones weren't invented'.
Because we were finished first we were sent over to collect the fish'n'chips.
The guy in the shop was stressed, much to the amusement of the girl in the shop. 'Fourteen cod', he snarled to nobody in particular from time to time. They packed it in a cardboard box and Dave carried it back to the church hall, where the smell of hot vinegar soon pervaded the room and the sounds of rustling and snaffling replaced that of amplified band.
Ian turned up, all ready to listen and to film the proceedings, at which point my DV camera stubbornly insisted that the lens cap was on, even though it wasn't, and just wouldn't work at all. Stressed as the fishandchipsman, I spilled pomegranate juice down my dress, which luckily was red and kindly absorbed the accident.
We went on first, and in the gloom I could see people smiling, some even singing along. They knew the words better than me! It was such fun, honestly, and the guys played brilliantly. It was better than the old days, as we are all older, gentler and better players. What thrilled me to bits was that both Dave and Tony said they'd like to do more Horns gigs and I'm sure Paul will too.
I messed up a line or two, there was the occasional brassy mistake ('You're still making mistakes in the same places', wrily observed Sally, who used to be our live sound engineer, to Tony). It was fun: I smiled, I smiled.
Then of course, Paul joined Daniel Takes a Train, where he exhibits his versatility, playing lounge-bar urban soft rock. Everyone was rosy, smiling, eating Pauls sax-decorated cake. McSis was radiant, and cousins appeared left right and centre.
Earlier, I'd bought a pack of wine gums.
I ate only the red and black ones and left the rest. The night could not have been more perfect.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cheese Raws

'Make me a cup of tea', I asked my cat persuasively as I loafed about this morning.
She smiled and told me with her eyes that although she'd love to, a small creature with paws instead of hands could not even begin such a task. It also involved the use of water, a bit of a no-no for all but the swimming cat.
The kitchen is a mess of disconnected clothes drier and shopping yet to be put away, but I still managed to make a mega-load of cheese straws for Paul's birthday party tonight. It's gonna be good, it's gonna be good.
Daniel Takes a Train are playing as well as Helen and the Horns; Gareth, who is a classical pianist (he played on Christmas Queen) will be playing and some others too. I'm going over a bit early to help McSis shove things about in the church hall, with my party clothes in plastic bags. I'm even attempting heels tonight- gold ones!
I ended up making my own cup of tea; thing is, the cat probably would have put the wrong amount of milk in, anyway.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ears, but Could Be Hands

Boy, I'm tired.
I enjoyed last night's gig. Paul the Girl came, and I'm glad. She is very funny. She said my day of seeing 40 students one by one for ten minutes each was a bit like speed dating. Not quite as entertaining, perhaps.
I liked the first band, Olympic Countdown. They were 'mature' but as enthusiastic as teenagers, with a very competent drummer and a bass player whose fluffed lines only added to the charm. 'A', shouted the singer/guitarist. So the bass player played A, but by that time the music had headed off somewhere else. They had good songs, though, in spite of the ramshackle delivery. Personally, I prefer my music thus, ramshackle, enthusiastic and utterly natural.
I wasn't so keen on a bill with so many poets, but that's just me, probably. I know Ingrid is a poet too and I like her stuff, but I felt like listening to songs and having my spirits lifted last night. I did enjoy singing though and I played the Christmas Queen for the first time ever and possibly the last, as I will never ever be able to learn that many words.

This morning I was up with the lark,
Up in the dark
I heard a dog bark
Across in the park
I had work to mark.
Poetry, nix, nix.

Down to the University of the East I drove, filling up on screen wash for the second time in as many weeks, being as I put the last lot in the engine cooling water but it said on the internet that it doesn't matter (not in a Peugeot, anyway, although I haven't got one of those).
I met many jerky drivers on the road- whizz, screech, whizz, screech: slam-braking with a jerk as they tried to force the people in front of them to drive faster. Jerk in practice, jerk by nature. Don't they notice how many accidents there are on that road? Here's a hint, tailgaters- if you're in a hurry, don't use that road. It is slow and full of speed cameras. Stay at home and think of something else to do, like chasing your cat up the stairs.

You drive jerkular
Round the North Circular

I fanned my guilt for a while at work- there's a major thing I haven't done but I'm putting off worrying about it until I have some spare worrying capacity. I came home late morning to find a Christmas Tree had been thrown over the fence. Well, hootly hoo, I had thought it was going to be respectfully delivered this afternoon, but maybe that's just me again.
It was seven feet high and I had to hack away at the trunk with a rusty saw to force it into its red tin stand. We decorated it, even with the lights that don't work just in case they change their mind. Then I sat back and smiled at it for ages, as they make me ecstatically happy; the smell, the look, the ridiculousness of dragging a massive tree through the house in its white net foreskin thing and scaring the living daylights out of the cats in the process. It was very heavy.
Now I am listening to the beautiful voice of Colin Blunstone. How I wish I could sing like that! Bending and soaring, his voice slides with ease across the octaves, through different timbres, breezing out of his nose, his mouth, his body.
The DVD camera is charging so Ian can film Helen and the Horns tomorrow. Dunno how I'm going to get it on to Youtube though, because my camera is ancient, but I'll have a go. I am really looking forward to it- there were moments when we were rehearsing on Monday when all the excitement came back. I have been singing and playing this afternoon, but we did so many gigs the songs are physically part of me, like my ears.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Voices of Experience, Thursday Night

I'm playing at Voices of Experience tomorrow night. It's a charity evening with lots of interesting artists organised by Ingrid Andrew, who is an illustrator as well as a performer. Her nights are always good- she is a good promoter and it's always nice to play her nights because the other performers are so interesting.
I will be playing a special Christmas set.

Woolielegs 2

Martin's just sent me this photo of Woolilegs, which captured her very well.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rehearsal, Horns

Well it was very nice to see Tony Trumpet again, I must say. He is as genial as ever.
The Christmas traffic almost stopped play, and we had only 45 minutes in the end, but we ran through Two Strings to your Bow, Freight Train, Lonesome Country Boy, Snakebite and My Black Rose. We had to abandon Footsteps at my Door because we have too many versions of it to find our way around. Pity, as it's one of my faves to play and sing. Funny to have been in such different bands, such different flavas, man. It was nice to play the old stuff: second time around, the sax and trumpet started to gel and I remembered what it had been like when Helen and the Horns was in full flow with everything all neat and tidy and punchy. You get such a buzz out of knowing your band is good. I always thought The Chefs made great records but weren't so good live- we were always drunk and I sang out of tune, as I couldn't compete with how loud the band played. On the other hand I thought Helen and the Horns were best live- our recordings sounded good sometimes but there was a real joy to the sound that came over really well when we had an audience geeing us up. I remember people standing in the front row with set lists requesting songs from us, and people pogoing at Warwick University one week then playing the Cafe Royale in Regent Street, and people in full evening dress waltzing around in front of us the next.

Nother Review

Just had another review, this time from Wearsthetrousers e-zine, I'm chuffed to bits!!!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rockin' Zebra

I spent yesterday evening copying discs for the Song Club, fifteen in all, while simultaneously trying to practice exotic fingerpicking. I would praise my own multi-tasking, but in reality, both activities took just as long as they would have done if I had not been doing the other.
This morning, I took the bag of CDs down to the school, each one named in case of Fighting. And each sibling had one, too, in case of Fighting.
I can remember the first line of Christmas Queen but not any of the others. This is not because I'm hopeless at remembering lyrics, which I am, but because before I do that gig I have to do one-to-one tutorials with more than 40 students and then record at least three sets of students' songs at the Songlab, which is shortly to be abolished, much to my distress. That's going to be what's known as a 'busy day' but I will be a good listener in those tutorials because if I speak too much I won't be able to sing in the evening.
Note to self: Friar's Balsam in bag for emergency snorting if necessary.
Yesterday evening I also did a drawing for Martin, possibly for The Daintees to use as a poster. I liked that, as I hardly get to draw at all these days apart from doodles at meetings at work.
I hope you like the pics- the rocking zebra from Asprey's (I want one, I want one!) and the nice notice from Foyle's bookshop, an indicator of the predilections of its more nerdy customers.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Book Roundup of 2008

Here are some of the books I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this year.
I thought I would share these with you, as I know you want to be just like me.
Travel Scrabble by Margaret Drabble
Elementary Bowling by J.K. Rowling
Put Some Sauce On by Nigella Lawson
Bully Off! by Evelyn Waugh (I know, I know)
A Sojourn in Boston by Jane Austen
Ranulph the Otter by Beatrix Potter
Five Leave the Light On by Enid Blyton
My Brother Ate My Squirrel by Gerald Durrell
Victorian Chickens by Charles Dickens
Why I Hates Beer by William Shakespeare
The Vicar's Snarl by Roald Dahl
Bond Saves a Lemming by Ian Fleming

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Exciting, Dangerous and Expensive Reason for Not Learning Lyrics

The clothes drier has just caught fire. I thought the toast was burning, then I realised that nobody was making toast.The kitchen was full of smoke and I couldn't work out where it was coming from.
It stings the eyes and I've had to open a window really wide even though it's cold, because the smoke is thick. I have unplugged the drier and put it in the middle of the kitchen to cool down.
Poo wot a pong.
I guess everybody in my house will be giving each other one clothes drier between all of us for Christmas, or more likely we will all walk around in damp clothes smelling faintly of wet dog. Or alternatively we could send our clothes to charity shops when they're dirty and buy a new lot while we're in there, hoping that no-one else has been up to the same mucky tricks as us!

Long-Winded Posting to Avoid Learning Lyrics

There is another review of Poetry and Rhyme in Collected Sounds, an American blog dedicated to female music, by Amy Lotsberg.
It's a really interesting publication, as Amy reviews everything she is sent and actually listens to them all.

Meanwhile, i am trying to learn the words of Christmas Queen for my gigs this week. I just haven't had the time to get the he-mails and she-mails choir together, which is a real pity. I have a darker Christmas song to sing as well, based on a true incident that happened a few years ago.

I can't believe it, but Helen and the Horns will be playing on Paul Davey's birthday in our original form. Tony has come out of hiding, and Dave Jago, who was ill, is going to be better in time. I will have to blow the dust off the horn parts, which are buried in the oak-pannelled archives of this crumbling mansion, along with a Blue Peter time capsule and a set of false teeth for the future.
I hope I can persuade someone to video it! I can remember the songs as clearly as daylight; I suppose we must have played them all hundreds of times. I'll spend Saturday morning making a thousand plates of cheese straws before M25ing it to McSis's side to help set up the hall. It's gonna be a weird weekend as the next day I'm busking the Christmas Vintage Fair and then playing at the World's End in Finsbury Park in the evening. Luckily my vocal cords are made of a combination of thrice-tanned leather and tough sisal gardener's string. I will be selling the leftover cheese straws for charity at the vintage fair, and for my own greedy self in the evening.
If you believe that, you'll believe anything, mate.
Oh God, that's just reminded me of the time Tony, a very heavy smoker at the time, cleaned out his trumpet in the dressing room, for the first time ever after years of playing.
It was SO disgusting... green, grey, yellow, wobblyjelly slimy grobblies... UGH UGH UGH!
It says a lot about how much we liked Tony that we were Still His Friend after that episode.
Tomorrow, my home factory gets into production, to make CDs for the Barnet Hill Song Club Winter Festival Song Choir. It's just one song, and I was going send off for CDs for the whole school but then I realsed it would be better to run another songwriting project there in the summer as the dear little school is closing down forever. I have run songwriting projects there for about thirteen years, first in class and then after school, so it will be the last ever Song Club. I see some of the children walking round town as adults now, and even the not-very-nice ones with fags hanging out of their mouths kicking the bus shelter stop what they are doing and say hello. It's amazing that they're not embarrassed actually!

I do need to find a new studio to work in; that will have to be the January project. I can get so far on Garageband, but it's actually the excursion to the studio that I like. No cats walking across the computer keyboard, no automated phonecalls ('Do you realise that customers all over the UK...'), no baby next door with loud voice having tantrum, no upsetting emails from work, no housework begging to be done with sad eyes! Just pure, clear, concentration time and a feeling of making progress.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Second-hand Christmas Songs

In case you missed out last year, I have four cheesey Christmas songs available on iTunes or Klicktrack. If you search under Helen McCookerybook, they will appear and cheer you throughout the festive season.
When I'm bored, I do searches for Poetry and Rhyme to see what different permutations of the album name and my name that I can find.
Pottery in Rome by Nelly MacBook, perhaps.


The students at the University of the East are doing presentations today, which means I've been trudging about the place bristling with camera tripods, the camera, my computer, my packed lunch and my bones to hold them all together. The job-lot is very heavy and I have been employing a certain degree of momentum to propel myself to my various destinations; I can travel about 3 metres forward after descending the stairs, using no energy at all; the down-elevator gives me about 2 metres if I store the propulsion. Going upstairs is the physical equivalent of a big, sad, sigh and at the moment I'm sitting in my office recharging my batteries through rapid consumption of Marks and Spencer's Red-and-Blacks, soup (that which has not spilled on my dress), coffee, and, in a minute, a banana. I have to time it so that I don't get the dry equivalent of swimmer's cramp, which means sitting still for a while and not swinging on the revolving chair, which under normal conditions is a fun lunchtime pastime.
I dressed appropriately for the gravitas of the situation in greys and blacks, with an unfortunate 'fetching pineapple' hairdo that appeared as a result of getting ready in the dawn twilight. At least I got my lipstick on my lips and not all over my face, which occasionally happens when it's applied at the red traffic lights.

I've been reading the draft of Lucy O'Brien's first novel and really enjoying it. I was only going to read chapter one, but I had to print off two and three because I needed to know what was going to happen next. I think that is a pretty good sign.
Yesterday Martin emailed me the mixes of our album, Hamilton Square. It is almost ready, and then we will have to find a company to release it unless we just do it privately.
I haven't totally given up on The Chefs. Once I've picked myself up and dusted myself off (ha ha) I will start all over again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

R.I.P. Woolielegs

Woolielegs was a round ball of black and white fur who lived wild at the bottom of Jimmy and Martin's garden in Barbaraville.
She ate birds (left the wings), bacon and other bits she could scrounge from Jimmy and Martin, sunbathed like tame cats do, and had that odd self-possessed air (some call it arrogance) that is a feature of feline creatures.
She survived outdoors most winters but had recently moved in to Jimmy's house, I hear, where she actually played around like a domesticated cat.
She survived some horrible injuries (possibly being attacked by a seagull, or maybe being hit by a passing car) but could not survive her own illness.
She was like a little guardian of the cottages, wandering around doing her cat-chores, following the cat map, running through wild animal routines and communicating with humans when necessary in a squeaky little voice.
Poor Woolielegs, I will miss you, and the idea of you too.

DJ Sonny's Review

DJ Sonny sent me this lovely review from Bangkok, and says its OK to put his translation up here. It is from Thailand's Esquire magazine; what a perfect place to be reviewed!

> Helen McCookerybook
> "Poetry & Rhyme"
> [Barbaraville]
> For those who were willing to part with their hard-earned
> to own a legal
> copy of Helen McCookerybook's last CD "Suburban
> Pastoral" from the strength
> of our review, would not believe how lucky they are - as
> they have been
> rewarded with one of the most sublime and beloved music
> albums. The same
> group of people will definitely be delighted to learn that
> Helen is now
> releasing her new album, "Poetry & Rhyme".
> This latest one shines brighter
> than other recent releases. Much credits are due from
> Martin Stephenson,
> Elle Osbourne and Gina Birch, but Helen's precious
> voice and
> wildflower-scented melodies remain highlights. Gina's
> bass in "Screaming"
> distills a lover's rock feel over Helen's folky
> guitar licks. "January In
> Paris" reminds us somehow of a lost scarf once owned
> by The Style Council
> circa "Cafe Bleu" sessions. "A New Day"
> promises a shining hope, thanks to
> Martin which contributes his guitar magic to this catchy
> song. Title track
> mid-album is full of grace, something similar to angels
> singing during one
> of lover's London afternoons. Closer
> "Silkworm", just Helen and her
> keyboards, could well be a lost, much-heralded balearic
> track for this
> winter. Like loving and caring as poetry and rhyme.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Winter Melody: Song Club hits the studio

I spent the morning wrestling with the click-track of Garageband, trying to make a backing track to take into the studio in the afternoon; not being a strummer, my timing was drifting hither and thither, with the blip blip blip of the metronome nagging me at the centre of my skull.
Then I did a perfect version minus a verse; then a version where I lost my place in the chorus and couldn't remember if I'd already played a bit of it or not; then I realised that I was recording it through the computer microphone and not the line-in.
Exasperated, I made a giant cupatea and the ears-rest did me good.
The next version was fine and I burned off a CD and stuck an MP4 on to my USB drive as a back-up.
I'd forgotten Chuck Warner was going to call from the States, but we had a nice chat about all things female-musical 1970s/1980s, and I know we will talk again soon. He's going to send me some music and I'm looking forward to that.

It was time to go down to the school and collect the children. They were all there, loud and with their packed lunches, and Sejal was there to help. We made a shouting crocodile and shouted up the road in the bitter cold (why didn't their voices scare the frost away?), crunching to a shouting halt at the kerbside, folding together like an accordion before expanding again as we crossed. They stumped down the narrow stairs to the studio and into the live room, and subsided on to the floor where they rummaged in their Tesco bags for their peperamis and crisps. Lee had set up a couple of microphones and we did coats-off (no velcro, zips or rustling anorak material to spoil the singing), and launched straight into it. The song came together second-take, and we managed to do a harmony too before they trooped into the control room for a fidgety listen. It's more of a boisterous shout than a song, in places, but I felt proud of them because they are so young and they got into their gig like a bunch of mini-pros. In less than an hour, the lyrics were de-blutacked from the wall and we were off back down to the school, much too fast because it was downhill on the way back and childrens' legs are set to auto-run on downward gradients, pre-fall. Every so often I had to slow them down as the angle between their heads and their feet became dangerously acute.
We had a listen when we got back. It was great. I had had a nice day, and so had they.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I've just got back from the vintage fair, a chaotic affair for me as my teeny technology let me down , and since there were stalls all over the stage this time I had to station myself in the corridor leading to the Gents, much to the embarrassment of the gents-in-need who had to sidle past me.
My babiest amp, the one that I was going to put the microphone through, had a case of suddenly dead battery, and the multi-adaptor I'd brought just in case was so multi-pronged it wouldn't fit into the socket. Oh well, I thought, I'll sing unplugged.
At least the micro-cube guitar amp was working, although it's power switch had displayed an appalling design fault as it had switched itself on in the box and drained a full set of batteries.
But I'd forgotten my guitar strap in a case of hasty packing, and adapted to that by resting my foot on a chair, only to find that the battery of my guitar tuner had packed up too.
Those Luddites had something, you know.
However, there was a good reverb in the stairwell and I serenaded Monty, my niece and nephew, assorted children and babies, embarrassed gents, the person on the door taking the money and the stylish Ma'ams who had nipped out the front door for a quick fag from time to time. I played some of the more rockin' songs and had a good old bellow.
It was ok, you know.
And tonight I'm off to Daniel Takes a Train's single launch.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I've cobbled together a duo of teeny amps for tomorrow's Vintage Clothing Fair gig. They are so small they will probably have the opposite effect to amplification, and will actually make my guitar and voice quieter than they really are instead of amplifying them. This should be an interesting scientific phenomenon and I will take a photo of it if it proves to be true.
I think I will play at about 12.30. I'll put the dinner on first, then hoof it up to the church hall with a big bag with the little amps in it. My nephew and niece have been staying- I taught him how to make spaghetti bolognaise this evening- and if he wakes up in time tomorrow I will teach him some chords and he can strum along on his left-handed guitar. He also plays trumpet but he hasn't brought that, more's the pity. That would make those cool vintage shoppers leap out of their Betty Barclays! (pardon the vintage-shopper in-joke).
We drove round all afternoon trying to ice-skate. The queue at Alexandra Palace was massive and it was bitterly cold, so we went to Parliament Hill Fields because it said on the Internet that their open-air rink was there today, but there was no ice to be seen, so we went back to Alexandra Palace, only to find they had no skates left in our sizes. I had been entertaining them with stories about me falling over backwards and learning to prevent that by skating with my chest and bum poking out so I look like a stupid duck, so this was a disappointment for all.
They are comfortably seated at the Odeon now with a bag of toffee popcorn, watching the new James Bond, while I wait in trepidation for 25 school kids to turn up to celebrate a birthday here. Don't ask- it's complicated! My ban on Singstar has been over-ruled, and I'm just hoping the journey back from Pizza Express takes them as far as the eleven o'clock curfew when the carriages appear to take them home where they will turn back into mice, pumpkins, &c
Where's my guitar? I feel the blues a-comin' on.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reprise of Christmas Joke, Just 4 U

The children at Song Club loved this joke so much it stopped them from being able to think of any others to tell me in return.
The burly Viking Rudolf the Red was looking out of the window at the falling snow.
"Ahhh", he said to his ever-loving wife, "Look at the rain!"
'You are very much mistaken, darling', said his wife, "That is snow!"
He turned to her, pityingly.
"Rudolf the Red knows rain, dear".

Pootling, and the Strange World of Music Shops

I woke up with a sore throat and realised that perhaps it WAS a good idea to get a microphone for Sunday's show at the Barnet Vintage Fair. I had changed my mind about getting one after experiencing Digital Village's rude staff yet again.
So I checked in on my University of the East students, who are recording their songs, and then hopped on the DLR to Denmark Street in the West End to see what I could see.
I had called yesterday and discovered I could get an SM58 for £79.00 (a lot of money, yes, but actually very reasonable for such a robust and useful microphone), and I went into the shop I thought I'd phoned.
After much umming and ahing, dramatic peering at the computer screen (which may or may not have been on) and tapping away at a calculator with a clickety clackety flourish, the guy informed me in a sorrowful tone that the cost was £89.00, and that I would find this to be true wherever I went, because that's how much they cost these days. I explained about my phone call and he said, 'Well, perhaps you mean the shop downstairs, but we are part of the same company and I know they won't sell you one any cheaper'.
Worth a try anyway, I thought, and lo and behold, downstairs the microphone cost £79.00.
Do you think they added a tenner for every flight of stairs you ascended? Just imagine how much it would cost by the time you'd got to the tenth floor!

Music shops have always had their own logic, which often involves their salesmen being contemptuous of their customers, particularly the female ones. I mentioned this in my book. But it works the other way, too; the guy in Sound Control in Oxford Street (sadly no longer in existence) was so easy to talk to and so accepting of the fact that I am a guitarist who knows about guitars, that I bought my lovely green Gretsch from him without a murmur, on interest-free credit sure enough, but I expect that he probably did a lot of business with girl guitarists by being the way he was.
It was such a relief not to have to climb the mountain of someone else's prejudices before being able to get on with what I wanted to do!
Denmark Street is fun, though, even with the comedy shop assistants, and the journey lifted my spirits so much that I didn't even mind getting on the wrong branch of the DLR to get back, and the train breaking down for ten minutes. I watched a man in an orange fluorescent jacket looking down a huge hole while I was waitng for the train to start working again. I wonder what he was looking for?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


First of all, this blog was for bigging-up my gigs and other musical activities; it then turned into a diary-cum-autobiography with a bit of early-morning positive therapy thrown in from time to time.
Once, I had the idea of the negative-personal blog, Helancholy McMelancholy's Miserablog.
Parallel to this one, there are a series of ranting drafts, where I have vented my spleen and then not seen the point of publishing the results! They are saved as a cautionary series but will never see the light of computer screen.
I can be a meanie and a moanie, as my bitter 500-word non-posting about the sexist smirking staff in High Barnet's Digital Village music shop would have attested to, should you have read it.
As it is, feel at liberty to create a negative mirror image of every positive posting here, along with a positive mirror image for all the negative ones!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Things

I had been unreasonably upset by Gordon Ramsey's (alleged) affair, not because I know or like him, but... well, everybody's at it, ain't they?
Anyway, yesterday evening changed the icy headwind. First of all, I'd booked Jo Thomas to come to talk to the M.A. Audio students at the University of the West. She is a composer in sound who uses processed vocal signals to create music, and her talk was technically fascinating and really absorbing.
Unforchly I had to leave halfway through to head down to Balham (I only got lost twice) where one of the undergraduate songwriters I taught last year, Alex Lipinsky, was a finalist in a songwriting competition organised by the Musician's Benevolent Fund, The Peter Whittingham Award. I'd never been to the Bedford before- it's much smaller than I'd thought, but the better for it. The finalists were a mixed bunch; no black performers, which was a shame, and one pretty dirgey pianist, but the winners, a band from Liverpool with a very charming singer, deserved to win.
What thrilled me to bits, though, was that Alex got a special award to research and develop his songs. He'd submitted what I thought were fairly standard sounding songs, but the performance of his second one was amazing. Last year he composed a whole bunch of songs featuring the ukelele, and managed the coup of not sounding like George Formby at all, but sounding like what he is, a young and talented singer-songwriter. So I know he deserves the money and he's shortly to go off to the States, where I think his sunny nature and positive songs will go down very well.
Richard Lobb was there (he is a songwriter friend of Lucy Silvas, one of the judges along with Nick Heyward and Joan Armatrading) and we swapped venue reviews. He plays with a band that is financed by Damian Hearst and who have been recently supporting Oasis. But I can't remember what he said they were called!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don Juan Who?

I've been mulling this over for a few days. I rarely go to the theatre; if I do, it's to the pantomime, which I love more than anyone else, especially if it is small, regional, and the leading lady is getting rather long in the tooth. Generally, I avoid it like the plague, and I particularly dislike musicals and especially the awful cheesy version of Grease that I went to see in the West End a few years ago. I almost forgot- there was a really good play called A Play What I Wrote; that was brilliant, especially as on the day we went, the guest actor was Miranda Richardson, who played the Queen in Blackadder. It made me weep with laughter, and a chronically ill member of our party guffawed all the way through.
Anyway... Sara, who used to play percussion and sing in No Man's Band, a pre-punk all-female Brighton band, invited me to make up a group of people to go to see this play at the Riverside Theatre in Hammersmith; her sister had devised it, directed it and was also acting in it. Sara's such fun, I couldn't say no ( A New Day was written about her), even though I had misgivings, and wasn't sure I could sit through an hour and forty minutes without fidgeting or falling asleep and snoring.
Well, I did neither of those things. It was a very funny play, is a kind of sly way sometimes, and a boisterous way at others. It had been devised on the internet by British and Slovenian actors. It was very feminist without telling anybody- the nudity (lots of it) was male and at at one point, when I thought 'Oh no, they are going to show the tits now', a woman's body was revealed to show flesh-coloured binding on her chest and a hilarious fake willy-and-balls set made of beige nylon.
There was one pillow fight (looked like a hundred pillows) in which the women buried the men, and a later one where the men buried the women. Sometimes there seemed to be too much writhing, but then there were some very funny 'to camera' type confessions, a dual text with words projected n the backcloth (often mocking the storyline), and constant translation into Slovenian which sometimes turned the English words into a joke, just by clever use of facial expression.
What did I think? It was very well done, and I found the actors' faces fascinating. I didn't feel enlightened, but I did feel amused, and the wry cynicism poked fun at both men and women, highlighting cliche without resorting to it. I didn't fall asleep, snore, burp, fart or doodle; it was interesting all the way through, so I didn't look at my watch; there was something very up-to-the-minute about it, as though all the ideas were hot off the press, and it was really energetic. So for a rare foray to the theatre, it was definitely worth it, and all the better for catching up with Sara too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weather Vanes

When my cats stamp on my head with their sharp and spiteful little feet in the mornings as they try to 'persuade' me to get up and feed them, I can tell by the temperature of their paws what sort of day it is outside. Warm and dry? Gonna be a sunny day. Cold and dry? Sunny but chilly.
Cold and wet?
Get lost, you little brutes, I've got mud all over my face and now I'm gonna have to wash the pillowcase!

Friday, November 21, 2008


When you are a teenager, everything seems wrong with you, physically and mentally.
I had long brown wavy hair, which was wrong, so I decided it needed to be curly.
I wetted it and plaited it in lots of little plaits tied up with string; next morning, I untangled it.
'You look like a sheep', said McDad.
Because it was wrong for my hair to be curly, I decided it needed to be straight.
I got the ironing board and spent an evening ironing it with McMum's iron, which involved excruciating bodily twistings and stretchings and pulling my hair so hard it hurt.
It still didn't look any better.
I n the end, I cut it all off.
That taught it a lesson!


Well, life is a many-splendoured thing indeed, featuring today in my case a morning lecture on how to write about the music technology used in pop and rock, through a depressing staff meeting, through an 18-mile rush round the North Circular, to the final day of Song Club in which the children blew the roof off their computer suite with their lovely singing, then choc chip cookies all round. Hats off to their singing teacher for holding the fort unexpectedly yeaterday.
I can't believe that the end of the week has come.
The DJay Buddha has sent some rough mix tracks through from last weekend's amazing sessions and I'll put one up on Myspace this weekend; the low point of the week was the shenanigans surrounding the Chefs album, which got so close and then fell away again; when I've recovered a bit I will try a different approach, perhaps, but disappointment takes it out of you.
Some nice gigs have accumulated for next year; I was hoping for a review of Poetry and Rhyme in Mojo (I know Lucy O'Brien did one) but it's not there; instead I have a review of the book in Popular Music!
Tonight it's time to relax. I will cook something that involves lazily chucking items into a pan at ten minute intervals, listen to the Zombies compilation that Daniel Coston sent me, look at my clothes (I like that, after a week of grabbing what comes first when I open the cupboard door; it's fun to find the clothes that have been hiding all week), drink tea, drink more tea, watch a small amount of crappy TV and wander round the house from room to room experiencing the different flavours of silence.
My luxury, which now replaces chocolate and ice cream, will be phone conversations with a couple of friends about nothing in particular. There is nothing like the sound of a friend's voice on a Friday night to soothe the prickly problems accumulated over the week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Treading Water

Tough week; the Chefs album has been shelved, due to copyright issues. What a disappointment!
I've also ended up running Song Club on my own after being let down by both of the students who should have been involved. I can't believe it, but I realise my mistake was to employ students and not ex-students as I used to. The children are great though and adore silent head-and-shoulders (the knees and toes one, not the shampoo). You should try it sometime, it rocks, especially when you start taking bits away.
I spent early morning doing a rapid Garageband emergency recording of their song, with harmonies, so their music teacher can take over tomorrow.
I found a good review of The Lost Women of Rock Music in a pop music academic journal that's just come out more than a year after the book came out, but better late than never. It's particularly interesting because the Typical Girls discussion group is absolutely bubbling with stuff about the Slits, some of which made me so fed up I almost unsubscribed: people were making wish-lists of different line-ups, completely ignoring the fact that Anna and Dr No (who I know) and Adele have done a fantastic job of being as Ari says, 'new blood' and have helped to get the band going again. However, the discussion calmed down and became more interesting, talking about the idea of not being able to play and what the band actually sounded like way back then, and how they evolved musically. Meanwhile it seems their management or publicists or whoever are so rubbish that the gig they had planned in London has been cancelled because nobody knew about it and nobody bought tickets. It must be damnably frustrating to be in such a band, wanting to play and wanting to record, and having those things made impossible for you to go forward with.
Meanwhile the DJay Buddha has done a great mix of Rockin' Girl. Should be interesting to hear Joe's mix too! I'm still running on energy from that weekend, actually.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It's possible that there's going to be a historic five-oh birthday for Paul 'sax' Davey, who is putting together not only Daniel Takes a Train but also Helen and the Horns, with Dave Jago and Tony Hepworth (bless!) for his birthday do. It's all being planned but I do hope we can film it.
Meanwhile, Song Club has started up again this week; we're writing a Wintertime song, me and a clutch of 14 red-sweatshirted children, words, singing and end-of-day energy.
And I've just been down to LA Strings' new premises in North Finchley to get the Gretsch looked at (nothing wrong with the electrics; I think I'm a conductor), where I tried out a tempting guitar with a quilted maple finish, and watched some Youtubes of a couple of their clients doing fantastic things with their guitars. It was nice to see them again, as they are total enthusiasts.
Time for lunch, if I can get sushi into my mouth before the cats hijack it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Embleton Sessions Part Two

I thought I'd post a pic of the evening gig the second night. Lots of people came, and drank lots of wine. They got noisy very quickly, during my acoustic set, but I didn't care because I was still fired up from the daytime, and apparently the chef really liked it! Martin came and played Heaven Avenue with me, the best he's ever played it, it was absolutely beautiful. he did a short set but even more wine had been drunk by then so the guys got up to join him and launched into a full-scale Sun-sessions rockabilly set, then songs from Sweet Misdemeanour, a CD that Martin and Joe released a while back. Do you know, I got up and played guitar while they were doing this and I could play almost everything once I knew what the beginning chord was. And the audience leapt to their feet and started jiving. The atmosphere was fantastic, i just couldn't stop playing and I thought my fingers were going to bleed. The young 'un was playing along really confidently, doing a brilliant version of Tequila, the double bass was thwacking, Martin and Joe were singing, it was brilliant. I only stopped when Martin had broken four strings and I lent him my guitar because I honestly think my fingers would have worn thru to the bone if I'd carried on. But then of course, you just try sitting still with music like that going on; you have to dance until your legs drop off!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Embleton Sessions

I'm going to see how far I can get with this as I'm so knackered I can hardly push down the letters on my keyboard.
I've just had a blast of a time in a remote town in Northumberland that feels the way Christmas did when I was a small child, recording in a village hall with some of he best musicians I've ever played with.

Where to start? I was so scared I didn't sleep a wink the night before and practically cried as I went through the London rush hour to catch the train to Newcastle with my guitar on my back- people were literally shoving me out of the way in their hurry to get to work (mad!). A scary stop at the Beef Jerky place off the A1, a mile's drive across cold, quiet, flat fields to get plates of beans on toast, could have turned into a Deliverance experience and it was good to get going again. When we got to Embleton, an hour later than we meant to, everything was set up but waiting for a funeral in the next-door church to finish. There was the DJ Buddha, calm, sitting by the tea-hatch with his portable studio; the kit was set up in the corner, three amazing Gibson amps, like a little cream-coloured family, waited for their sound, and an array of fabulous guitars leaned casually up against the walls. A beautiful blonde double-bass reclined on the floor.
The hall was a throwback to the past- those thin flowery curtains you can't get any more, evidence of Brownies and Guides on noticeboards along one wall, a chilly kitchen with masses of cups, old fashioned chairs stacked up. It was the perfect place to do what we were about to do.

The cast was ace guitarist Joe Guillan and his friend from school years ago, Cav, on double bass, both impeccably attired in 50s style; Keith, of Deacon Jones and the Sinners, was to sit behind the kit. Martin and myself were on guitars and vocals, DJ Buddha was at the desk, and last but not least, Cav's 14-year-old son had brought his sax along and was to be the only one-take wonder of the whole weekend.
So we got to work- Rockin' Girl took about 2 hours to knock into shape but we became almost a band by the time it was ready to record. I can't believe I played bar chords for nearly three hours on Friday afternoon without a murmur of cramp from my fingers. Now I will call their bluff and call them spoiled bastards if they ever complain again! The thing is if you are totally into what you are doing you don't even notice anything like that. It was amazing- the guys picked it up so quickly, and we recorded a really energetic track. Joe is a fantastic guitarist- he works out the chords then works out really good voicings, and then weeds out anything he doesn't need, and you end up with some searingly powerful playing.
We braved the cold winds of Seahouses to get fish'n'chips (goodbye cholesterol-free diet) then went up to the hotel to do the evening gig, which was low-key, four visitors and the guy from behind the bar, but mostly it was fun to sit and talk. Cav played us a lovely song he had written, before we retired to sleep in rooms that had been undressed for the off-season, naked pillows and duvets, bald mattresses, but warm and comfortable.
So next day, we started with a vengeance; ten o'clock saw us recording Martin's song Walking Cowboy, with Cav's son on sax; I got to play Joe's tenor guitar, a squarish-shaped dark green Guild De-Armand, which I played with a pick; Martin yodelled and crooned like a Gene Autry, and I sang on it too. Joe wrote out a sax part for Cav's son to play and he did it first take. Next up was Cav's song; Cav has a lovely high tenor and it's a sweet song with a really catchy melody- I've been singing it all day.
Then I played them Freight Train and they liked that so we did a rip-roaring version of that, getting tighter playing together all the time. I think the best one was probably Martin's You Can't Fool Love, a song that's going to be on Hamilton Square, but which we really rocked up, and Keith in particular did a brilliant job on. We finished with Loverman, a proper Sun-sessions type version, and then headed up the hill to the hotel again for the evening gig.
I'll have to tell you about that tomorrow, when I upload the photos!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just got back from...

... a nice gig at Viva Viva; one of the other acts was great, a guy called Ivor Game. He played daftly happy songs with a very easy but deceptively complicated style; they were all short and sweet, and put a smile on everyone's faces.
Little Alison came with her beau, Les Curtis, who is a rockabilly drummer and knows Joe Guillan, which is a coincidence because I'm off up to Newcastle to record with Joe tomorrow! Another coincidence was that another drummer, Karen Yarnell (Gymslips and Renees) came with some friends too; and she liked my songs, which made me chuffed. Monty was there, happy because I played London for him.
I had a nice day at work because two students, both quite shy girls, sat down at the piano with the poetry of one and the chords of the other and started writing a really beautiful song together, greater than the sum of its parts. I just liked the way they were doing it, each one quietly encouraging the other, concentrating really hard, running through it bit by bit and smiling when they'd cracked a section of it.
Bless. That's what its all abaht!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I found this photo of Tom that I took on my phone when we were recording Autumn Love. My phone keeps crashing and they are sending another one so I've had to delete everything in case someone steals my identity: my contacts, my friends, my songs (can't be bothered to delete them, as I'd have to do it one by one and bluetoothing them on to my computer from my kaput phone took an hour yesterday).
Wonder how he's getting on? I've had to learn Garageband because Tom's not here any more, which I suppose is good, except I finish songs before they are ready; all the harmonies, all the bits and pieces that I used to savour doing at the very very end, are now there from the beginning except not sounding polished and clear. I hope I don't end up like Brian Eno, creating complex mush with too many layers and no tune, a foggy day for the ears. That's why I love dub reggae, because you can hear all the parts as well as the whole. Tom became sh*t hot after a spell working on hip-hop; those guys gave him a really hard time and blamed him if they made a mistake. But their demands showed him how to be a really good soundsmith and I felt the benefit of that when he recorded and mixed my tracks.

Yay Yay! It's Music Day!

At last! I have been bombing from one University to the other, East to West, West to East, getting the students writing songs, lecturing, sitting drawing fishbirds and pigbabies when I should be paying attention at meetings; and now at last I have at least half a day to myself, which is brilliant because on Friday I'm going up to record some rockabilly tracks with a genuine rockabilly band in Newcastle. I've been writing another bit for Rock'n'Romance and I hope to make a proper recording of the Rockin' Girl song as well with a guitar solo instead of a vacancy. I have two unfinished songs which I might try to finish on the train up to Newcastle, which is where I'm headin'.
I have a gig at Viva Viva in Hornsey tomorrow too and I'll have a chance to run through the songs before then.
This is what it's all about, music, when everything else to do with earning a living jostles and shouts for attention.
And Joby, if you are reading this, I am playing at a pub in Sussex in February that has motorised Jobyvehicle access. I hope you can come- could you get a lift there from yours?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Chefs Compilation

I have become totally dispirited with this. The tracks are all selected, and I was feeling really positive. then it came to contracts and lawyers, and then who was allowed to make money out of it. One of the reasons I pulled back from it a while ago was that so many people wanted to get their oar in- often in a very well-meaning way, but these songs are precious, not because of money, or even what they mean to anybody else, but because if what they mean to me (and to the others, I assume).
being in bands saved me from the brink of being totally self-destructive and suicidal. I have never seemed like that sort of person because I smile and make jokes, but in some ways that is worse because it is so hard to get those feelings out of your system if everybody thinks you're happy. writing songs was my way of taking part in a world that looked as though it only made sense for other people and not for me. It allowed me to feel different because I was in a band, instead of feeling different because I could not see where in the world I fitted in, and it allowed me to say things in songs at arms length instead of thoughts curling out of my mouth like wisps of cigarette smoke and poisoning me.
We took a huge amount of pride in making our music exactly right- our harmonies, the structure, all of those things that people have lessons in these days. All we had was our instincts and belief in our songs*. We used to argue all the time, but the music was more important than that. It's hard to believe now, but we were completely dedicated to it all, even moving to London en masse to find different audiences, and rehearsing all day, more days in the week than there actually are. I think we ground ourselves down in the end, drinking too much and losing faith in one another. We had crap business sense, signing a publishing deal with the Piranha's manager and Pete Waterman for a pound, because that's what we thought people did. We were misadvised, but not intentionally; we were all totally green and innocent.
I am hugely grateful to John Peel for playing our music and believing in us. I will never forget the experience of turning Radio 1 on at ten o'clock and hearing my hero playing a record that I had written and played on. That was really something!

*Actually, I had two rusty parrot cages too.

Orange Gaffa Tape

Diana had orange gaffa tape the other night.
Where did she get it from? She wouldn't say. It was excruciatingly funky. I want some.

Last night at the Green Note was a sweet gig. People had braved the elements and we sat cosily secluded in the back room, paying a fortune for our drinks (£1.85 for half a coke?) and made some lovely music. Paul Davey came along and succumbed to Martin's charm, weaving through to the back of the room with his clarinet and blowing himself to the land of bliss in an improvisation that was well beyond anything he'd done before. We did a duo (London) and a trio (Autumn Love), and Martin was on form, having discovered the bar person was from Barcelona and could do deadly high-fives; she got the joke and joined in gleefully from the other end of the room. I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday evening, actually.

Meanwhile, my cat posts my postings before I intend to.
She's just trying to get attention by walking all over the keyboard, but she seems to imagine she's some sort of feline editor.
The other one has learned how to open a packet of crisps.
All is surreal in the suburbs, you know.


I learned to play guitar aged 14 from Hold Down a Chord, books one and two.
I played The Grand Old Duke of York (G and D7, followed by C and back again) for almost a year (dum-ching, dum-ching) before progressing to book two, which I only managed to get halfway through because it was so difficult, although I loved the names of the people- Reverend Gary Davis and Big Bill Broonzy. McMum and McDad had asked me what I'd like for my birthday and I'd said either a guitar or a violin, and I think they had a think about what our cat and dog might think of the latter.
The guitar was three-quarter-size and made in China; it was of pale wood with varnish that came off in drifts of snowy dandruff if you ran your fingernail across it, which of course you had to do once you realised what fun it was to scratch it. Its sound was tinny and cheap, but I loved it straight away; I loved the way the body vibrated when you played and the strings changed pitch when you turned the tuning pegs. Hold Down a Chord book one became my friend and I started to invent new chords (or so I thought) and wrote them in blue school fountain pen in the margins so I wouldn't forget them.
My first song was Haunted Castle, a psychedelic teenage angst song, which thank fully I can only remember the melody of; I played it in Music at school and the music teacher refused to believe I had written it, which I found completely distressing. I was a quiet girl and I was trying to express emotions I felt, and had been accused of being a fraud.
It's amazing what you can do with two or three chords. I hated the cold and discovered that if I had a 'guitar group' at school we could sit in the Geography Block and play our three chords all winter lunchtime while it blustered outside.
Later, when I was seventeen, I hung out with a group of lads in the village. I don't know why they tolerated me and nobody else female; I think it might have been because I was a total tomboy and obviously not girlfriend material. I used to sit with them while they played electric guitars; there was one guy, from Liverpool whom they all admired. I don't know why, it might have been his provenance; but he played endless, endless guitar solos with his eyes half closed and their pupils skywards, mouth open, lank dark hair quivering with emotion.
Never once did any of them ask if I might like to play; I don't think I learned anything from them, either, apart from how groups of teenage lads operate. They were nice, and they were latching on to music to help them pass the time until they left home and became free.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Green Note in Camden

Paul Davey (clarinet) and myself will be joining Martin Stephenson for a couple of numbers at the Green Note, Camden, tonight. It's a lovely little vegetarian restaurant not far from Camden Toob along the Parkway.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Desert Music School

This is a poster for a benefit gig tomorrow night (Saturday) organised by Diana Mavroleon in order to raise funds for the Desert Music School in India.
It's in Tufnell Park, close to the tube.
Put on your best clothes and come along!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Sixties

It's such a tiring time of year... it has always been that most of my lecturing happens between October and Christmas. I found myself saying goodbye to a woman on TV who was saying goodbye yesterday. It's hard to resist saying thank you to the bank machine.Nice things happen amongst all the work though; I met Caroline Coon today at the National Gallery (after annoying the staff in Jigsaw, who cannot conceal their hatred of clothes-unfolders, but I do need to see the sleeves, shop-assistants!). we turned right, and wandered through rooms of Impressionists, Van Gogh (there was a lovely grey-toned portrait of a man that we both loved). My fave painting, Seurat's 'Bathers at Asinieres' was there, so big and beautiful and funny and inspiring. There were a few paintings by Degas, a lovely painting of South Norwood by Pissaro, and lots of little gems in between. There is nothing like real live paintings with glistening brush-strokes and dabs of bright colour to take your mind off gloomy damp autumnal London, and galleries are free and big and exciting. Caroline was on good form and an excellent companion as she knows loads about artists lives. Because she is a painter, it was interesting to see which paintings she liked best: an early Degas, unfinished, of the Spartans preparing for a wrestling match, intrigued both of us. She paints constantly, paintings of the local scene in Notting Hill, and she should be a lot more respected as an artist than she is.
Funnily enough, Joe Boyd mentions her in his book, and we talked a bit about the 1960s, in particular because of Obama's presidency, which is the culmination of seeds of change planted in that decade.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No Beach Boys either

1960s Playlist

I'm doing a lecture on the 1960s Cultural Revolution at the University of the West tonight.
It's taken me ages to write the lecture, and I have decided to hinge it all around music; there's no Dylan, Pink Floyd or Stones here, but quite a lot of revolution between the lines:
Rod McKuen: Eros (gay male!)
Shirelles: Will You Love Me Tomorrow (first all-female rock group number one in Billboard chart)
Chubby Checker: The Twist
The Tornadoes: Telstar
Ruby and the Romantics: Our Day Will Come (well, I'm a DJ and I just like this one!)
Pirate Radio Jingle: London My Home Town
Goldie and the Gingerbreads: Chew Chew Fee Fi Fum
Rolling STones: I Can't Get No Satisfaction (we will just imagine this one, as i can't stand the Stones)
David Bowie: London Boys
The Kinks: Dedicated Follower of Fashion (the Carnaby Street tracks)
The Beatles: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
The Velvet Underground and Nico: All Tomorrows Parties (two different drug-fuelled tracks)
Soft Machine: Hope for Happiness
Sly and the Family Stone: Dance to the Music
Food Glorious Food from 'Oliver!' (the allegory of the rise of the working class: see later postings for a riff on the Oliver! characters in British pop music!)
Jimi Hendrix: The Star Spangled BAnner (from the Woodstock recording)
Marvin Gaye: What's Goin' On

I have to recommend a book called White Bicycles by Joe Boyd. Apart from producing some of the best folk and rock artists of the decade, he set up the blues tour in 1964 that brought Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Gary Davis and Sonny Terry to these shores, where the young white musicians could see and hear them in the flesh. It's a brilliant read!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Return to Ross-shire

I flew to Inverness and then travelled further north still, passing the oil rigs, so massively huge and all lit up, in for repair at Invergordon. What a spectacular sight! Further down towards the sea, another one sparkled on the horizon.
Earlier, I was taken to Strathpeffer for a proper hot chocolate, breaking my stern no-cholesterol diet for a gorgeous silky, delicous cupful of luxury.
A notice rather meanly forbade people from photographing the highly photogenic chef in her tall paper hat, her sweet little face earnestly frowning as she prepared chocolates in the kitchen.
Strathpeffer is a little Victorian town that has a bandstand and a famous pavilion where the Beatles played even after they had become mega, honouring their earlier commitments, the gentlemen.
In the evening, we visited Henry the woodsman and sat in the Logtogon, his wooden house in the trees strong enough to have an open fire in an old car-wheel. The Logtogon is on its way to being a recording venue, I think; it is wildly dramatic, standing in the middle of the woods like a Native American Indian dwelling, and accessed by a ladder in the dark. I hope I get to record there one day because is the most amazing place and I imagine all that wood makes a superbly resonant environment, particularly for singing.
Friday was studio-day; the studio is in a modern house in the middle of fields, fields, fields; Pete is the engineer and his mum, who is 91 and a painter, lives there too. You sing in a living room, looking out of the windows at little birds foraging in the hedges in the cold sunshine.
I was there to do the vocal on Glasgow Train, the last track of the album to be finished. Martin had craftily taken it from my control-freak hands and Joe-Meeked it into a joyously mad track with drums, vibes, guitars and bass, that bowls along and makes you grin from ear to ear, so it was a cinch to sing over. That left time to record another track too, using a Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Nocaster, clanging and twanging and singing and songing.
Then it was all-the-way-back, part driving through glorious Highland dawn, and part training it, reading Joe Boyd's riveting account of the 1960s, White Bicycles.. What a weekend to remember!
Photos: Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion (Roy Orbison played there too!), oil rig at Invergordon (it was me that was lopsided, not the rig!), Martin Stephenson plays Pete's little inlaid bossa-nova guitar, sunrise in Ross-shire.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No Smoking

Met up with Rowen today to wander round the Wallace Collection, room after room of ornate gold clocks, strangely-formed armour (horse-armour with eyeholes and ear-protectors) rococo paintings (lots with dead hares with one leg in the air-symbolic of something highly peculiar!), cabinets full of little portraits that made both of us feel uneasy (it looked as though some of the young girls had been coerced into posing), Napoleon, Napoleon everywhere. I told her how delighted Little Bruv McCallum was to discover an American baseball star, Napoleon McCallum, as he is a big fan of the teensy Emperor.
On the way there, I was intrigued by a tube station called No Smoking, until I realised I was reading the sign inside the carriage and not the one on the station wall opposite. That says it all about this week really; it's been a little disjointed.
I waded through almost forty essays yesterday morning, despairing, despairing, until I came to the one that happily told me all about 'the full rectum of possibilities'. This confusion of the word spectrum and the back passage made me laugh out loud and saved the day.
Luckily, I'm off to Inverness tomorrow to put a vocal on Glasgow Train, the last track of the album I've been distance-recording and writing with Martin Stephenson for the last year.
Then it will be time to pursue the elusive Chefs album, I think!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008


Have you noticed them?
Every 15 minutes or so on the commercial TV channels.
The floatywalkers are everywhere: beautiful, slender, with clouds of silky hair and satin skin, they floatywalk through life, cooing 'Because I'm worth it' and 'mmm Danone' in gentle voices, peeking sideways through almond eyes as they gently bounce in slow motion, tossing their glossy manes from side to side...
Poor floatywalkers! They are condemned women, never allowed to rest; they do not work, they do not sleep; they live on a diet of licked foil lids, and every time they walk past a man, he blows their hair with a hairdryer or clamps it in a twirler, or sometimes smooths a wrinkle-lift cream on to their skin.
They can not escape; they are stuck, their legs sashaying them past beauticians until the end of time.
How painful! Mascara is slicked on to their overloaded eyelashes that can not sleep; those legs just walk, walk, walk around the world, their dresses flutter, flutter, flutter in the artificial breeze, their long limbs are uselessly employed in an endless, gorgeous traipse through beige scenery where occasional companions sip cocktails and look on admiringly.
They may be fifty, and don't look it; they may be lying, and don't realise. The floattywalkers sold their brains and souls to the advertising industry long ago, and atop each head and hidden from view is a small slot, akin to that of a piggybank, for money to be inserted when the floatywalker slows down.

'Why do you do it?', we ask.
"Because I'm worth it', they reply, automatically.