Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Rich and Varied Tapas

Down to earth with a bump on Monday innit?
Not such a bad day perhaps: I took some tracks to a studio in Barnet called Earthworks to separate into wav files to send to Ross-shire to be mixed for the Martin and Helen album, Hamilton Square. It was interesting to find a studio so close and I might go there and record a couple of tracks soon just to try it out; it might be the place to record Song Club's Christmas song, too.
Within half an hour, the tracks were on their way to the north of Scotland in a recycled jiffypak. They should have got there today.
Back home, and one powerful cup of coffee later, I was writing my lecture for tonight. I am now teaching MA Audio students at the University of the West, which means reviving a lot of sleeping stuff in the cave of my brain.
The information didn't want to be awakened, telling me I'd promised it a hundred years and the kiss of a prince before it woke up, but I forced it into daylight, an activity that took roughly five hours. Then, of course, unwanted clever thoughts switched on arc lights (not just eco-lightbulbs) in my head all through the night, and they weren't as clever as they thought they were. They woke me, unfairly, and I had to stagger out of bed and write them down, only to be disappointed by their mediocrity in the cold light of day.
So I will be relieved when it's all over at 8 p.m. tonight and I can return home, stupid again.
Tomorrow morning I'm going to meet Gina for posh-frock coffee and to give her a copy of Poetry and Rhyme, and then I've promised myself a trip to the Apple Shop to buy a USB guitar lead so I can record my songs on to Garageband as soon as I think of 'em.
I am even going to keep the computer on the kitchen table, because the kitchen has the best reverb in the house, doncha know!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


What a lovely evening. We all went and got chips from the best chip shop in Whitstable and took them to the beach to gobble up at sunset. There were the pinprick lights of Southend across the water; there was the vinegar and the pickled onions in our bags of chips, and there we were, talking music-fan small talk until it was gig time. There were Rowen and Ludek, and the entire Brother Tobias Clan (read his blog if you want a gentle Muttley-style laugh every posting-day http://brothertobias.blogspot.com/).
It was all-ages, all-smiles; Neil and Tim had done a grand job as promoters. I enjoyed my set so much I almost talked more than I played, once I discovered that people would laugh at my terrible jokes. Tim came up and joined me to play and sing Freight Train: how flattering to have discovered that he actually knew all the words from days gone by! He has a lovely mellow voice and should do a lot more singing. Martin joined me to play Autumn Love, Heaven Avenue and Loverman. Then it was ransack the rider time, fruit, nuts, coke (the drinky sort), and then time for Martin's set.
He was really funny and there was a perfect group of comedy audience members including a man whose mobile phone clattered loudly out of his pocket on to the wooden floor three times, and a child in the front row who slept through the entire set, waking at the end, to be delighted by Martin playing Postman Pat to him.
It was a good-natured, jolly gig that was a real pleasure to play, and I loved Whitstable itself, which seemed like a manageable Brighton.
This morning, I woke early to a game of table-tennis with a Youth Leader in Faversham, a Vegetarian Chilli at Luton Airport, and saying a sad Goodbye and Good Luck to Tom from the studio, who came to pick up the Rhodes to take to Brighton, before heading off back to Yorkshire and then New York. What a lovely and unexpected surprise- he has given me his drum kit. I will get hold of a set of brushes and learn how to be a rockabilly drummer, just you wait and see!
Thank you Tom for a brilliant working relationship, four years of patience and learning from each other, I wish you the very, very best of luck in New York with the beautiful Lisa. I know you will do well although of course I shall miss you hugely!

Finally, a joke to end Sunday afternoon:
What do you call a Hollywood actress who loves a cup of coffee?
Caffeine Zeta Jones.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Horsebridge in Whitstable

Yes... I started the blog to big-up my gigs!
I am playing at the Horsebridge in Whitstable tomorrow night: that's Saturday to you.

Here's a joke I've probably told you before, even though I'm sure I made it up last night.
What do you call a cat that likes cutting the grass?
A lawn-meower.

Windey Handles

I've had a nice day today. I had coffee with a friend at St Pancras station, then walked along to Euston to visit Dubula and give him his copy of Poetry and Rhyme. He was intrigued to have played on a track with Gina Birch, and not to have actually met her. That's modern day recording for you!
He's busy mixing some music by a woman called Anjali, who I met, but they weren't ready to play her music to anyone yet. He gave me the CD he's just finished, A Town Called Addis, by Dub Colossus, which is Ethiopian, and released by Real World, and I can't wait to have a listen.
He always has lots of guitars, and his latest is this fabulous Gibson, a copy of a Gretsch, with red-and-white inlays to mark the frets. It's so soft to play! And the best thing, which took him a year to notice (he was annoyed by the little ridges on the machine heads), is that little winders fold out from the machine heads so you can rapidly change a string on stage without any fluffing about with roadies and string-winders, both equally annoying pieces of apparatus. The colour of the guitar is amazing too- Hawaiian evening sun, a sort of deep burnt orange.
After motor-mouthing for about an hour, I set off for Brixton and had a swan round the market, where I purchased two old-skool plastic hairslides and a blue gingham skirt printed with strawberries, with net petticoat, cheapo fifties style, which cost me the princely sum of 99 pence!
I drifted down Coldharbour Lane in the sunshine to the Barrier Block, trying to remember what number Mike and Em's flat was, and took a guess. Luckily, I was right: Em was having a coffee morning in the afternoon in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief, and she'd made loads of cakes. I had a slice of beetroot cake, fresh from the oven and incredibly edible. I chose it for its pink icing and squidginess and she told me I could eat it because I am thin and high cholesterol levels are sometimes caused by stress. So I believed her.
There was a man with blue hair who was doing psychology research for his PHD and getting donations by getting people to volunteer to do a computer game that he's been trying out on six year olds. I realised that I have never played a computer game before, but I volunteered, and it was fun, actually, and made me wish I was six. Several Actionettes were dotted about in mufti; we drank Earl Grey tea and chatted dreamily as the sun streamed through the windows, puncturing our Autumn time-clocks and taking us all unawares.
After a while, the suburbs called and I hopped on the tube back home, reading a selection of discarded newspapers on the way and unwittingly becoming an expert on the activities of B-list celebrities.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

To My Offspring

I think you probably read this, and think that I can't care much about you as I never mention you.
The opposite is the case; you never know who is reading a blog, and I am respecting your privacy and your right not to be written about. You see, I don't even know if you read it; to some extent, blogging is sanctioned stalking, and for that reason, 99.9 percent of one's life is best kept private.

Socks and Sleeves

When I first went to Brighton Art College, I shared a flat witha girl who was very good at maths, which I wasn't good at at all.
One day, she bought some wool and started to knit some beautiful patterned socks, bright green, red, white, on four needles.
'Oh I wish I could do that!', I said.
'It's really difficult, actually', she told me.
I looked over each evening at TV-watching time; the socks grew, getting more beautiful by the day and by the centimetre.
I was jealous.
One Saturday afternoon when she was out, I picked up her knitting and had a close look to see how it worked.
I bought some wool and four needles, and started to knit my own coloured socks, because it is not hard to knit patterns at all; it requires patience, but you don't have to be a mathematician.
My socks did not match; I was too bored to copy the first sock, and I also thought it was silly that just because we have two feet we should wear the same sock on each one. This backfired occasionally- once, a child walking behind me whispered loudly to it's mother 'Do you think we should tell that lady she has got a different sock on each foot?'
There is also a thing about sleeves. In The Chefs, I used to take the sleeves off one checked shirt and sew them on to another. I am just about to do that with some shirts that I bought way back in those days. There's a logistical problem: I have three shirts, and I can't work out how to swap sleeves around so they all have different sleeves. I am going to solve this problem the way I solve every problem: staring. If I look at the shirts for long enough, a lightbulb will flick on in my brain and a solution will materialise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Catholics and Protestants: the Rules

Catholics: have loads of fun, and then feel incredibly guilty afterwards.
Protestants: don't have any fun at all, and still feel incredibly guilty.

Good News

Hooray! Helen and the Horns etc CD is back in stock on the Rough Trade Mail Order website.
And the album I have been recording with Martin is heading towards being complete; and I had a very positive meeting yesterday about some other stuff. It was a scramble to do all this stuff before plunging back into lecturing; I'm just making enquiries about possible places to have a launch party for Poetry and Rhyme, because I Do Like a Good Party!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Val Doonican

It has taken me till now to realise that all my life I have been obeying the Knitted One's command to 'Walk tall, walk straight, and look the world right in the eye'. I have been a proud man, and held my head up high, falling down the uncovered drains in my path in the process, but getting a pretty good view of the beautiful sky and stars too. Every time I am scared (lots of the time), I walk tall, in a Doonican way; when I need to feel strong, I recall those Doonican moments and look the world right in the eye. No wonder I became a punk rocker!

Monday, September 22, 2008


I wonder if blogs are going out of fashion. Will I still be stumbling along in a year's time, the only person in the world left blogging, oblivious to the fact that no one is reading mine or anyone else's any more? Will I have to buy a large journal and commit private thoughts to paper in the sad hope that someone might be interested at some point in the future?
Instead of pompously thinking 'Helen talks to the world' every morning (a bit like a personalised BBC Radio 4) I will become 'Helen talks to her cats' or 'Helen talks to the milkman' (which I won't, after cancelling the milk when I found BNP leaflets delivered with it two weeks ago).
Actually, I've switched to evening blogging which isn't so good because I am usually tired and make lots of typos, which are a pain to correct. the other thing is that things look different at the end of the day. Mornings, you are full of expectations and dreads, and trying to balance the two; evenings, one has triumphed and the other been defeated and it's not so exciting.
Today has been a good day, though, with odd little quirks like sitting next to a car in a traffic jam that was belting out Gosrap, a genre that I thought had disappeared. It seemed home-made, with the occupants of the car looking proud and embarrassed at the same time (it wasn't very good and I think theyb semi-realised). I had some nice conversations, and overheard some strange ones. Someone had been nicking booze from the Co-op and the Offy and hiding it in the bushes; the check-out staff at the Co-op were chatting about it.
Apart from that, it is possible that my music back-catalogue house may shortly be in order, whcih would be a pleasant end to the year.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The self-scuppering life

When I'm feeling negative, I'll tell you why Freight Train by Helen and the Horns wasn't a hit.
Meanwhile, a built-in self-scuppering device is at work. No sooner had Amazon re-posted Poetry and Rhyme, they re-posted it with not the wrong title this time, but the wrong name. I couldn't work out why it wasn't there and for the sake of it did a search under the title, and not my name. They have called me Helen McCookery Book, and there it is.
I could try to get them to sort it out yet again, but then they'd probably call me Hellen instead of Helen. Just anything, really, to make any activity to do with my stuff difficult.
Did I say I wasn't being negative today? Oh yes!
Good things... good things..
I had a wander round East Street market in Walworth yesterday on the way to see Joan Ashworth's film, which is getting better every time I see it. It's a funny market with its own logic. One stall sells Christian fundamentalist items, including a 'lulla-bible' CD to make sure your infant grows up straight and proper, right from the cot. There are amazingly cheap yellow and green jewelled jeans (6 quid) lots of trashy and fantastic jewellery, and I bought two bunches of perfect pink roses for Joan for a fiver.
It used to be the Saturday-morning-shopping street when I lived in Camberwell- there were bread shops, cheese stalls, fish stalls, vegetables... it's gone a bit patent-handbag now, but it's still worth a look. Down the road is Baldwins, which has been done up. Baldwins is a health food store that used to sell sarsaparilla on tap, like a pub. I one saw Ivor Cutler there on his bike, a wraith-like fellow with a strange gleam in his eyes.
Once when I let a giant grey-haired Rastaman with loads of gold rings go first when we were queueing for a sarsaparilla and I'd got distracted by a bottle of fancy bath essence, he treated me to a glass of the delicious sweet froth and we stood for a while in companionship like two old geezers down the pub

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I know, I know, I wrote pink instead of punk.
I did that yesterday when looking for the punkbrighton website and logged on to a charming gay one instead

Punk Bingo on Saturday Night

On Saturday there is a special Bingo night in Nunhead. I was supposed to be in the house band but it's Big Bruvs birthday, but me and Jane recorded a pink song specially, and it's going to be present, playing on its own chair. I will upload it to Myspace for three nights only!

Saturday 20th September 7.30 - 12 midnight, The Old Nun's Head, 15
Nunhead, Nunhead, SE16



Number 78 Bus from Shoreditch, No 12 from Centre take you there

10 mins rail from London Bridge / Waterloo / Clapham Junction

Thursday Joke

What sort of jumpers to the poshest cats wear?
Cashmeowr ones.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Shinobu was a very funny Japanese student.
When her band did a showcase gig, she was dressed to kill in a tight-fitting zip-up 1960s poncho, one of those ones with little peep-holes for the hands to poke through. At a dramatic point in the song, she had obviously planned to fling off the poncho for emphasis. Unfortunately, the zip stuck somewhere near the top, trapping her; she struggled and struggled, unable to reach the zip, her hands straining through the peep holes. She tried to smile at the audience, grimacing in pain instead. She entirely forget to sing the rest of the song, her arms poking and grappling about like two ferrets trapped in a sack, inside the poncho as she eventually tried to unzip it from within. At the end, a massive round of applause greeted her, and she realised the triumph of her performance.
She had to write up her show, and in wry Japanese fashion, she wrote: '... it was very embarrassing, but it was OK, because at the end, everybody was crapping'.

Tea in a Railway Carriage

I met my Champagne Friend in Deptford yesterday and we went for tea in this railway carriage- not quite the Orient Express but quite close for a Tuesady morning in Sarf London. Then we went for tea at the Albany, where I've not only witnessed Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in full flow, but also the late Frankie Howerd. Both performances were hilarious and quite similar in some ways. Vic and Bob's stuff had the air of being made up five minutes before the show in the dressing room (including the props which I think were made mostly out of torn photocopier paper, anarchic origami!).
Frankie Howerd was rolling down the same comedy railway tracks that he'd rolled down for years but they all had originated from the same gently wacky planet, where everything made perfect lunatic sense, and they had the ability to take their audiences with them for a visit. That's the best entertainment, where you completely forget everything physical and mental about yourself and go with somebody else's flow. It takes genius to get a crowd to do that, because you have to make them trust you first, don't you?
Rambling again... Deptford is a funny little place with its own vibe and I always really love visiting. I had a groovy picture on my nicked-phone-camera (never shop at Tesco's, it's full of robbers) of some Elvis Presley towels. How lovely, to be in a grimy bedsit in Deptford and to be able to transport yourself to Vegas at bathtime!
My Champagne Friend writes for the Deptford Mercury and she always knows where interesting things are, and once took me to a bar owned by LAawrence Llewelyn Bowen that has a very large, flamboyant cheesey portrait of him above the faux-baronial fireplace. We larfed till we got hiccups!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Trying to put music on my blog

I've been on a course today to revise what I used to know about Logic, because I want to start writing songs for other people and sometimes those songs might be pop songs. Apparently, Rhianna's 'Umbrella' was all written on Logic.
It's an all-week course and I can only go for three random days, so maybe I won't learn much, but it was interesting anyway and I asked some dumb questions that I have been wanting to know the answers for for years, and now am much wiser. They are boringly technical, so I won't go into it now.
I remembered a guy called Groucho at CTS Studios in Wembley when we were cutting Freight Train telling us that digitally recorded tracks caused listener fatigue as the brain tries to process all those weeny samples of sound, and that means people don't listen to hours of it, whereas they can with analogue sound. He compared it to fluorescent lighting, which pulses and gives some people migraines.
Years later I was sitting next to a man who worked for Phillips in the Netherlands at a wedding, and I asked him if this was true.
'Yes', he said, 'and we are working hard on technology to help the brain to overcome the little leaps between samples'.
Groucho was apparently an ace live reggae mixer. In his room at CTS there was an original recording device where you could sing straight into a cone which led to a wax-disc cutting machine. He was dying for someone to try it, but I was too timid. Now, I'd love to. I wonder if it's still there?
Anyway, as an experiment I've tried to put London, recorded in Ross-shire, here. Does it work? No.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


The Gardener has left the household, and I'm renewing my pleasure in the leisure.
Mowing the lawn, that looked from a distance like a gruelling sport, is actually very similar to hoovering, except with hoovering, the daisies stay on the floor. I have discovered the secret of the Scottish lawn- moss! My lawn is at least fifty percent emerald-coloured spagnum, but it's beautifully bouncy and lush and I love it.
I have been shaping conifers into pointy shapes with the blunt shears, and pulling up huge lines of blackberry plant whose route disappears under the fence; gradually, I have been hauling in all sorts of spoils from the neighbour's garden: snails, plants, a trowel, and I am on my way to a full set of garden furniture.
There are some squidgy rotten apples lying about the place, full of wasps, but I know their beastly tricks and am leaving them where they are to rot in peace.
I have bashed my head on the bird-feeder twice but not thought to move it yet, and I've developed a way of unhooking spider webs and hanging them on the next-door plant so I don't walk through them and collect spiders about my person.
Once, a couple of years ago when I had red woolly hair, I spent a morning pulling clematis from the apple tree, only to discover an entire colony of earwigs in my wig, which scuttled away to safety across the kitchen floor after I'd fluffed my hair with my hands. They had succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of me and I spent the whole day shuddering and jumping, believing that there was one last one in there in hiding, ready to summon the others back at any minute.
Now, I'm resting, and I know where the term 'green fingers' comes from, because my fingers are, quite liderally, green.
I have developed a Disneyish love of nature, to the extent that I have even bonded with a sweet little clothes moth that lives on the kitchen paper roll near the cooker, and that creeps round to the other side when I am boiling up pasta because it gets too hot when I turn on the gas ring. When I've finished, it creeps back round to its favourite spot.
Bless. Who would have guessed that I'm the same maniac who used to leap around the front room, clapping my hands as hard as I could whenever I saw a moth, and watching them turn to dust in front of my eyes?

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Trendy McCookerybook

Well, I'm an up-to-the-minute typeofagal, hanging out in the East End on a Saturday afternoon.
Weeks of sulking because Rough Trade appeared to have abolished me by no longer having Suburban Pastoral on their website were nipped in the bud by a simple phone call.
'We haven't got any left', they said.
So I put on my best 1940s dress and slinked down to the tube station, entering a commuter's reverie as soon as I sat down.
'The next station is Ramshackle', announced the smooth-toned tubelady.
'Boneless Banquet For One', announced a KFC poster. What a brilliant insult! I thought of at least five people I could use that one on.
All too soon, we arrived at Aldgate East and I crumbled on the cobbles as I walked down Brick Lane, unused to high heels. After successfully delivering ten CDs to the beardy chap at the counter, I resisted the urge to rummage to see what was there, and fell into a vintage clothing shop instead. It was buzzing with people but had masses and masses of not very nice clothes- or so I thought until I stumbled on a pair of perfect men's boots, size six, a size too big but to nice to let anybody else have. I tried them on and looked like Olive Oyl, but there are worse people to look like and I resolved to put all the boots I have that are a size to small on Ebay as soon as the winter sets in (that's quite a few boots).
Perfect logic! So you will hear me clumping and thumping around as my feet echo in the void where my toes should be, and I will probably trip up as much in my big boots as I did in my tottery heels.
I had a moments' nostalgia seeing the signs pointing to the Toynbee Hall. That's where I had one of the best experiences of my life, working on a childrens' musical called Identikit with Lester Square. The director was a brilliant guy called Kevin Dowsett, and he was generous enough to share his raw script with us and let us help to cook it. It was about schoolkids- in a nutshell, the prissy boy became a teenage tearaway and the naughty girlfriend became a policewoman. It was a blast writing the songs for it- we divided them between us and became mildly competitive but I think we both wrote some great things as a result. Kevin insisted on one song, a punk one, having a Fisher-Price Activity Set solo, and that one fell to me to do. Lester Square's finale had them all sailing off on a ship of fools, and I had the idea of the young guy's graffiti-d name, Nigel, being flipped upside down and looking like a ship, the other way up. It actually worked. And we got to sit in the orchestra pit with 2 girls from the ILEA Youth Orchestra on Bassoon and French Horn, Nick Smith (love him, wish he was still with us) on keyboards, Simon Smith on sax, Tony Hepworth on trumpet (LOUD), Lester Square on guitar and me on bass. It was such fun, believe me, looking up at everyone's chins and getting the giggles for no reason a all just because we weren't supposed to.
There were at least 20 young people in the cast and they grabbed their songs and ran with them like a pack of terriers and a set of ham bones. The shyest boy, Damien, got cast as the sex bomb and I wrote him a fake Elvis song full of innuendo and a fake Tom Jones song called (ha ha) It's Unusual.. He suddenly turned into a total extrovert and boomed his songs out like a pro, picking up a clutch of admiring girlies in the process.
I think we only performed it on two nights, but the rehearsals were fascinating: watching a good director get the best out of his cast was a real education. I missed it when we stopped and started looking for a job as a musical director, but actually it was the writing of the songs and fitting them like a fashion designer to the people who were going to wear them that was the best fun.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Not Blackberry Picking

Damn! Forgot to go again this year!
Every year me and my chums used to plunder the fields and hedgerows of Barnet, braving big crabby spiders and their sticky webs and tall magic nettles that seemed to be able to throw their stings into you from great distances, to fill tupperware boxes with blackberries. The berries seemed to disintegrate as soon as you picked them, and they made your fingers purple and sticky, and you couldn't eat 'em without washing them first in case a dog had walked along and widdled on the blackberry bushes (I saw it once, and that was that). But o the joy of getting home, switching on the oven, mixing some flour, sugar and butter and making a blackberry crumble straight away and eating it straight away with lashings of cream to mix into the juice and make it bright pink.
And the smug snicker in the supermarket, looking at teensy weensy boxes of blackberries priced at two quid!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Of course, the Universities start up again soon; work changes from touring ( I love it) to teaching (I love it sometimes). This time last year, two weeks of Jury Service landed on my head just as teaching time hotted up; while I was away, a conference threw my students out of the studio for being noisy (they were- it's music!- but they were meant to be there recording their songs). A nightmare of angry students turned into a tempest of trouble, which has taken all year to recover from. But there, in front of my eyes, were two brand new control rooms and a large live room, with a technician beaming from ear to ear so widely the top of his head fell off on to the mixing desk.
My colleague-in-the-office was back from her hols, glowing with peace and happiness; the little planes across the dock queued up patiently, oblivious to human concerns like the dynamic between work and holiday, for verily, they are merely machines at the mercy of human needs and will, and have no emotions to interrupt their mechanical drill.
I have a huge stack of Mojo freebie CDs in my office, waiting to be listened to and put onto my iPod. I have two Mon Fio badges, green and red; some alphabet sweets that I spell out silly words with on top of my computer. Sometimes I have a guitar for those odd moments of inspiration. And of course the room is stacked high with papers, just like every other paperless office.
Shortly, I shall apply my nose to the grindstone. I've got 2 jobs now, to make ends meet, and I am hoping the end of one will meet the beginning of the other and there won't be a financial hole in the middle. But I am still the singerplayerperson, and will be doing that too to keep my spirits in good order.

Monday, September 08, 2008

About Songbird

The song, I mean, not the nightclub.
It symbolises the first whiff of freedom I had for years. It's about the first summer party I went to near Cromer, a strange event on Diana's piece of woodland that has a big wooden shack and a little wooden shack, a hill, and loads of trees and roses.
I got into my car, opened the windows, shoved a cassette in the player and sang my heart out all the way up the M11 and across to Cromer, almost missing the turnoff but finding it because Diana was roaring madly in the opposite direction in her car. There, through a gate, was a crowd of whey-faced Londoners, all of us glad to be away from our stresses, and a huge, colourful hippy tent with a carpet on the ground. There was Gina, her partner Mike, and their two Chinese babies; that night I would sleep in a wooden shack on a mattress with them all, listening to My Boy Lollipop being played at maximum volume at 4 am.
Everyone took turns on the veranda that served as a stage, playing a couple of songs: I was a novice, and shivered in the cool evening air as I clumsily chorded and picked: Heaven Avenue, Moses, The Word is Goodbye. and other songs that I later abandoned because they rambled too much. Later (or was it earlier?) we climbed a little hill and sat under trees which rained big crisp leggy insects down on us, peering into a brown tent where a clutch of serious and hairy people played electronic instruments they had made from things they'd found in the woods- bits of branch and string and twig, improvising behind a semicircle of footlights made from tealights balanced on sawn logs stoved into the ground, the musicians moving gently in the gloom of their tent. When they'd finished, we explored further and found a man who had made tripods that held suspended prayer bowls, spinning towards each other and bouncing away with a 'ting'.
Half a bottle of wine later, the disco began, and we danced our pain away, judging the best male dancer (yes girls, they all had to show off for us in order to win a prize that was promptly taken away from them and given to someone else in the next competition), all presided over by Diana in her peaked black cap, her dogs at her feet. A poor stuffed cat toppled sideways, its ears chewed in death as in life.
' We have to keep the noise down everybody', bellowed Diana over the P.A. and into the darkness,'The next door neighbour is dying!'. The music from twelve inch singles pounded through the woods, we took off our jumpers, sat exhausted at the side at little rickety tables, slept (the children), listened to sea shanties sung by a sailor friend of Diana's, and we wondered who each other was. A lot of people seemed to be called Ben; everyone got a dirty face from sitting too close to the fire. I had missed Judith dressed as a mermaid: she'd been the talk of the afternoon.
Next morning, Gina's little girl got me up and we went to the portaloo, picking our way through the debris from the night before and washing our faces and hands at the cold tap that sprouted up out of the long tangled grass, an old sink full of orange plastic plates having sprouted up next to it. Some of the Bens had slept on the stage and woke up looking like trees that had come to life. Someone made tea, the genius.
Gina's little girl had been trying to stay awake so we could sing the Three Little Fishes song, but sleep had overcome her; we compensated by singing it right then, the next morning. I drove home, feeling entranced by the whole experience.
So I wrote the song to celebrate Diana, a human catalyst on a unique trajectory through space and time, and took myself back to that wonderful weekend in Norfolk, singing in the studio as I let my imagination wander and improvised the tree-harmonies. That weekend was the beginning of an equally exciting and scary phase of my life, in which it became time to treasure once again those people that are seen as Outsiders by The Normal Robots.

Ashfield Village Hall

Ashfield is a stone-cottage hamlet not far from Stirling, and they have a village hall that they are justifiably proud of. It seems to belong to the whole community, and is freshly painted inside with buttermilk-coloured and pale greeny-blue paint
On Saturday afternoon, I met up with Martin and we did a little song writing workshop, with a woman who had been inspired by a poetic moment with her daughter into abandoning her parsnips and watching a butterfly; another guy sang us a song in praise of dustmen, after having had that occupation held up to him by his wicked stepmother as an example of a disappointing career when he was a young man.
The promoter, George, was hiding his panic as he'd only sold two tickets for that evening's show; luckily, it was pretty packed with a very attentive all-ages audience. I had been worried as I caught a Ryanair cold the week before and was dreading the high-flying notes, but it wasn't necessary to yell and I really, really enjoyed playing. At one point I forgot the Martin guitar only has a short neck and made a horrible crunching chord at the end of Love on the Wind; I was forgiven, and actually the little brown guitar sounded gorgeous; it likes intimate gigs and rings out like a miniature piano.
Martin was hilarious and poignant by turn, singing a song to his shadow at one point. He has a new bowler hat, and makes an interesting shadow as a result. I watched from the wings, dosed up with aspirin; DJay Buddha had come over. At one point, a spider nipped across the stage and went into hiding under the door. Martin told stories and sang more stories, and the audience drank him in like water on a hot day.
Afterwards, people stayed behind and chatted. I liked it that they had listened to the words. I sold a couple of CDs and Martin sold quite a few. The villagers tidied away the chairs and the village cookery book(£10), folding up the tea towels and smiling.
It was sweet- a little village had made their hall into a place where people could play music and people could listen. They had all sorts of stuff going on the next day too.
Finally- I had completely forgotten how beautiful those Scottish skies are, with their layer upon layer of sparkly stars in the thick black sky. Magical!

Friday, September 05, 2008


I've just been to Marks and Sparks, buying vegetables and lentils; I have discovered that I have high blood cholesterol and have to eat a special diet from now on. No more walnut whips, ice cream, chocolate, butter, cheese or brazil nuts from now on, only grey and beige food. What a disaster!
I am not fat, but neither was BIlly Fury. Bout six weeks after one of the best live performances I've ever seen in my life, rockin' and a rollin' to the last, the skinny guy with the big voice died of a heart attack, so I am taking heed of the warning and being careful.
There was a robin fluttering around in the shop, not really in a panic, more curious about the displays of fruit in little cellophane boxes. Every so often, it buzzed to the window and looked out at the rain. I had the feeling it had flown in on purpose and was hoping to build a nest amongst all that food. What a dream date for a little bird!
I'm getting ready to travel up to Dunblane to do two music workshops in Ashfield village hall tomorrow afternoon, and a gig there in the evening. I am collecting aspirins and throat soothing pastilles from their various roosting-points about the houseas the storm clouds of a mega-cold are gathering on the horizon.
There's a pile of Opal Fruits on the table. I would feel sad about not being able to eat them, but they are the orange and green ones, and I only like the red ones.
Did you know, they all taste almost identical if you eat them in the dark? I discovered this while sitting next to Jonathan, The Chefs London manager, on the way home from gigs in the north as we headed back down the motorway. I used to sit next to him and feed him sweets to keep him awake, as I was so terrified of him falling asleep on the steering wheel like Watto, the manager of Midnight and the Lemon Boys, did on the way home from a gig in Winchester once in the fog. I know I've posted about it before, but we were all so plastered we were sitting in the back laughing at him as he lay with his head on his arms at the wheel. Then someone said, 'He shouldn't be asleep, he's driving', and we woke him up.
Rock'n'roll, wot a larf!

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Last night's gig was a sweetie: Richard Lobb (Katy met him at a song writing week at Bath Spa) started the evening off (Charlotte Grieg and Sharon Lewis pulled out cos it wasn't a paying gig and they had far to travel); he's a bit like Jack Johnson in style but has a way with little guitar runs that follow the melody he's singing that is quite distinctive. He runs a song writer's night in Bounds Green which I will find out about and tell you.
Then came Katy Carr, solo this time, singing mainly old stuff at the piano. She looked absolutely great and was in fine voice- her voice is developing all sorts of interesting timbres, possibly through having new material to sing. I played five songs- Bad Day, Heaven Avenue, Love on the Wind, Temptation and Memento Mori. I had a sore throat but it was a nice night and it didn't matter somehow. I had dressed up all rockabilly for the occasion.
The evening finished with Bromide, whose talents include being able to mimic birds, and a cat stalking them, perfectly. It turned out that one of the promoters was rather good at doing 'Donald Duck Says Hello', so the evening ended on a Disney note.
Katy came to stay, and we got lost on the way home because of our yakking. Today... well the sore throat kicked in and I sat looking sorrowfully at the workload I can't plough through. I've just made a raspberry, nectarine, orange and banana smoothie so I know the bad throat will have cleared up by tomorrow

Last week, there was a HUGE spider in the kitchen. I put it outside, but it was back when Jane came round last Monday to make music (oh yes! The punk bingo song is going to feature on its own, but I'll tell you about that another time). Then on Friday morning last week, I found it on my head in the bathroom! aaargh! It fell into the sink with a crash and tumbled over the edge and ran away when I tried to catch it. Then ot appeared again in the front room before finally popping up in the kitchen last night again. Katy caught it and put it over the neighbour's fence, but I bet it comes back, because I suspect it's a homing spider with ideas about being a pet, a bit like a hamster. I am going to call it hamsterpig, inspired by the Simpsons.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Boring Posting: do not read unless absolutely necessary

It's been a hectic weekend, with gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh and a visit to the McParents. Glasgow was great, at the Accies club in Jordanhill, a proper family night with lots of teenagers and a good-humored audience including a trio from the Songwriting weekend. Edinburgh, at the Village, was quieter, but Tom Fairnie was there with his partner and it was nice to see him again.
On Wednesday this week, Katy Carr, Sharon Lewis, Charlotte Grieg and myself are playing at the Edinburgh Cellars in Newington Green Road, not far from the Angel. The gig is free to get in and should be pretty damn fabulous as I have seen or heard all of them play and they are all excellent. The gig will be recorded and posted on the web at www. musicborn. com
This is a bit of a boring posting, I'm afraid, due to the fact that I'm tired and trying to clear a path through the papers spread over the floor before I have to go back to work- car insurance, tax forms, essay marking and all sorts of other things that will land me in deep merde if I don't do 'em.