Thursday, December 31, 2009


Yesterday my friend Joan came round for a visit, forging through the freezing drizzle in her new Christmas hat.
She's an animator and she has animator anecdotes that are in a different genre to my musical ones. That's one of the interesting things about Christmas socialising: picking up little stories in your shopping basket. For instance, at Gina's the other day I was told by one of her neighbours about a Marc Jacobs Coca Cola bottle that someone didn't know what to do with.
Put it on eBay? Take it to Oxfam?
'Drink it', I suggested.
 Joan had set up an experiment with pinhole cameras and monochrome photographic paper, with her neighbours. They had all made pictures of the slow trajectory of the sun across the sky and then shown them at Christmas drinks parties. Will Self, the writer, had been at one of them, and had got very upset at the thought of Joan using Photoshop to bring out the best qualities in the prints she'd made from the photographs.
After mulled berry juice in the warm gloom of the kitchen, we went on a tour of the best charity shops in Barnet, foraging and browsing for hours.
Joan was going to a masked ball last night and she bought a lovely midnight-blue dress and two vintage beaded handbags. One of them was dripping with strands of tiny green beads and looked as though it had been dredged up from a coral reef. I bought a sheath dress covered in a print of wisteria (good! I never manage to grow the bloody stuff!) and a tiny silver pill box with a dog's head on it.
I saw other people doing the same as us; there was a woman in a fluffy jacket with beige dogs printed on it who appeared in the same shops, sometimes before us and sometimes after us, buying different sorts of things.
Joan's students are having a competition to see who has the most revolting Christmas-present jumper and we found a humdinger for Joan to wear, potentially: but it was just too ghastly.
Afterwards we returned home with our spoils to show the Offsprogs, as though they were our mums, and scoffed mince pies.
How very different to the fierce and greedy scrum of the sales!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Last night the Offprogs and myself went to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane to see Oliver!
We were in the cheap seats at the top (the 'Gods'), where you are almost sitting flat against the wall and you feel that if you lean forward you will topple into the stalls, but once I'd got over that, I realised that it was quite a good place to be because the choreography looks really great from up there and the actors let you know they are aware that there's a whole theatre there and not just the people who have paid a hundred quid for their seat at the front stalls downstairs.
Last time I saw Oliver! (fave musical- what songs!!!) I enjoyed it but it was a bit of a 'going through the motions' sort of a performance.
This production was superb- it had a really fresh and bouncy feel to it and the whole show, in spite of having cast it's main character Oliver and Nancy from a BBC programme and having Gryff Rhys Jones as it's Fagin, really seemed to be there to showcase the way the songs told the story.
The Offsprogs noticed that you didn't get to know Oliver's character at all: he was there as a foil, an 'everyboy'. They also liked the fact that the children weren't 'stage-schoolish'. The guy playing Oliver had the perfect voice for the part: not too sweet, not too harsh, and able to reach all of the notes in the songs clearly and with good unfussy diction.
The Nancy, too, was really good. She had great stage presence and actually acted, so when the mean Bill Sykes (very scary) beat her up, you really felt for her, and you really wanted to beg her not to be so deluded about him.
Gryff Rhys Jones was fine as Fagin. You could almost smell him. He's not a singer unfortunately, although he made a valiant attempt to do justice to the songs. A deeper and more mournful voice would have suited Lionel Bart's melodies better, and we did think it would have been nice to have seen Omid Djilali in the part. But he managed to transmit the sinister dealings of the manipulative fence very well, and at times made you wonder if the character was a paedophile. The fact that he didn't act like the star of the show was a tribute to his professionalism.
The shallowness (thst's the wrong word, because it didn't matter) of the characterisation meant that when they had to swap Artful Dodgers in the interval, it didn't matter that much.

This was a fabulous production, vibrant, jolly, and affecting at the same time. Hats off to the orchestra, for not being smooth and syrupy, but for feeling the emotion in the songs and knowing when to be rough when needed (that's you, fiddle player).
Offsprog One felt a bit let down by the arrangement of Who Will Buy, and said she wished she could have heard more of the full song. But the song that blew me away was Where Is Love.
I actually tried to think my way into Lionel Bart's head. How on earth did he manage to create such a divine melody that explores all the notes on the scale from every emotional perspective?
You know, a piano has black notes and white notes, all organised in a neat and tidy line, and that guy picked out combinations of chords from that stern-looking piece of clumsy technology that make you want to weep with their fluidity and beauty.
What a genius!
I am going to get hold of a piano score and leave it lying next to the piano in the hope that Offsprog Two learns to play it. Yann Tiersen's Amelie score is wearing a little thin and I should like 2010 to be the year of Lionel Bart.
What better recommendation that we decided to try to go to the theatre once a month from now on?
It is expensive, but what do you call ladies who sit in the Gods?
You call them Goddesses, that's what, and I am more than happy to start 2010 defined that way!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Joke 4 U

What do you call Santa's Scottish football team?
Glasgow Reindeers.

So Many Beautiful Things, So Little Time*

Into London to buy some late presents for my nephews from Urban Outfitters: they make great men's clothes and I'm always tempted to kit myself out at sale-time but I exercised restraint and focused on the nephews. Two t-shirts later, I was bustling through the crowds feeling relieved that I didn't want to buy anything.
Afterwards, I went over to Gina's for tea. They had made lovely curries and the children were making pictures on the floor of snakes and people out of coins. I'd bought them tattoo sleeves to make their arms look as though they had tigers tattooed on them, but they were a little bit baggy so they may have to be worn on their legs instead! We sat round the table and talked about films and comedians and music; the company was good.
In the New Year, Gina is going to make a documentary about women instrumentalists and I am going to help her. It is going to be an exciting year, I think. I will sort out the Chefs and Helen and the Horns compilations, hassle Ashgate to get the Lost Women published in paperback, record the next album, and finish off the rockabilly recordings with Martin, Joe and Cav.
Roll on 2010!
It's my birthday tomorrow, so I might not get round to doing a posting. There's no room in my house for a party, but I will definitely have one next year.

*The slogan is one of Selfridges' ghastly exhortations that hangs above the shoppers who push and shove their way to the designer counters, after being filtered through the doors by grumpy security guards. What a nasty way to buy things!

Avoiding Hamlet

I seem to have spent much of today avoiding Hamlet, the televised play whose drama extended for hours; I rushed in to grab a chocolate, head bowed to avoid the dark emotions, and rushed back out again as fast as I could before they caught me and pulled me off cloud nine.
I've had a lovely Christmas, peaceful and lazy and without stress, and so I have been trying to extend it for as long as possible. put it all off till tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that... any time, but just not now.
I have eaten an entire chocolate reindeer and an entire chocolate orange, plus a few chocolate coins and some very nice chocolate buttons that June and Laura gave me (thank you!), and me and my greedy and inflated tummy are feeling very satisfied and we are going to bed to sleep it all off.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cluny x 2

Just got back from magnificent Newcastle, with its stylish Christmas decorations and polite men who hold doors open for you and shop assistants who can be bothered to go downstairs to get you a different pair of leggings when you brought 'small' to the till instead of 'medium'.
Mission: support to Daintees 80 and The Daintees at the Cluny, and to do a bit more recording with Martin, Joe Guillan and John Cavener.
All accomplished, with photos to follow tomorrow perhaps.

The first Cluny night was pretty packed with a listening audience, and the band, augmented with John Steel on lead guitar (two leaders, both being very gracious and taking turns, most of the time) and Kate Stephenson on drums, played a fantastic set, with Martin in really good voice and a really wide selection of songs.
Fin McCardle  provided perfect percussion and the Dunn brothers completed the line-up, with a guest appearance from Gypsy Dave, who played the Skifflecat Dobro guitar that got made by accident.
The support act was Daintees 80, with Chris Mordey bouncing out those bass lines like nobody's business, and Anth Dunn on guitar.
The support to the support was me. Chris, Martin, Fin and Kate had joined in at the end of my set for Loverman, 24 Hours (by The Chefs, of course) and Freight Train (by Helen and the Horns, double-of course).
I think I've finally got the knack of singing 24 Hours without playing it. As any guitarist or bassist who sings will tell you, it feels very naked standing there without a guitar between you and the audience, so I simply wore mine like a heavy pistachio green necklace and felt fine.
The crowd bobbed along, and all was good, especially when a bloke came up afterwards and told me that he had assumed up till then that I had a bass track playing along with me, then realised that I was actually playing the bass parts too. It's hard to work out what the songs sound like when you are the person that plays them, so this was a very interesting thing to hear.

The second night, the Cluny was full to bursting and it was a party crowd.
I resorted to asking them all to introduce themselves one by one to quieten things down, and they didn't of course (introduce themselves or quieten down). It was fun, though, and the two lots of Daintees absolutely starred again, with Martin's daughter Phoebe taking to the stage for Crocodile Cryer playing a red Skifflecat, that of course she designed the little cat logo for.
She was blown away by seeing her design on a real guitar and she's going to photograph it cos she's got interviews for art college coming up. While she was playing I showed her boyfriend the faces of the audience, and told him how they had all grown up and done their romancing to the Daintees, and how much the band and their songs meant to them: I don't think he'd thought of it like that before. But you can see the individual members of the audience being taken back to all sorts of places in their memories, and it's rather touching.
At one point, there were two bass players, three guitarists, a percussionist and a drummer on stage: the audience absolutely loved it and sang along in blissful Christmasness.

And of course in the afternoon we'd hopped on to the Metro and recorded in Wallsend, in a blonde-floorboarded flat with a TEAC 8-track and lots of vintage amps. The floor was coverd in decommissioned boxes to keep the melted ice and salt off the wood, and there were scribbled lyrics in places amongst the tangle of leads.
Joe engineered it, and we finished off Rockin'Girl and Can't Fool Love. Our rockin' band is myself, Martin, John Cavener and Joe Guillan and we think we should be on Jools Holland because we sound so authentic.
John and Joe wear perfect 50s gear and we get the sound to go with it. We'll do more at the end of January, because we have an albumsworth of rockabilly songs that are fun to play and full of energy.
well, that's it for today: I'm off to sing carols and eat yet another wedge of Chocolate Orange.

Merry Christmas all, I hope your stockings are stuffed with delightful things (legs, perhaps?) and you have a calm and slothful Christmas Day!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow and Rage

'Mick': how sweet, you signed your name in the snow on my car windscreen this morning, before you scraped a handful off the bonnet to make a snowball.

And I went down to Katy's, and Nadya came along too, and we had an end-of-year Ramble My Rose songwriting meeting. Most of it was drinking tea, but we did each manage a song each as well as talking through what we've written over the past twelve months- quite a lot, so it has 'worked', making all of us write regularly, and take ourselves off in different musical directions.
Afterwards, Offsprog Two met me and we went to get her some shoes- a miracle- the first pair fitted and she liked them, so I smiled and came home. Offsprog One was there with her friend, and had discovered a new charity shop where they had bought dresses, and they were really excited.
I offered the friend a lift home because it was snowing, big slushy dangerous flakes actually, as we discovered when the car slid down the hill and skidded towards somebody's very red, very shiny, very posh car. Luckily I managed to twist the steering wheel in the opposite direction seconds before we smashed into it and slid out of the slush back on to the road. The snow was tumbling down and we found ourselves skidding in jolts through semi-stationary traffic, with an irritating FedEx van behind us that kept trying to overtake (dumb and dangerous), flashing its headlights to try to make me hurry (dumb and dangerous) when its driver could see quite plainly that there was another van in front of me. Poor friend had to get out and walk as we were moving so slowly so we lent her an umbrella that someone had left in the car.
We almost got squashed by a box van that made an unwise decision to try to drive up the next hill and slithered sideways and painfully slowly upwards, with its wheels whizzing in a futile attempt to get a purchase on the ice. I worked out that if I turned the steering wheel rapidly from side to side as I drove forwards, I didn't skid, and after about an hour we got home (less than a mile), and ten minutes later the snow stopped.
I've had some vintage dresses in the car boot to kill the moth larvae (sub-zero temperatures do the trick!) so I brought those in, and scoffed the Chocolate Orange that Offsprog One bought me so she could have some.
Now I have to pack: up at six tomorrow to attempt to get to Newcastle for the Christmas gigs. I hope the trains are running!

Hmm... Rage Against the Machine... £65,000 isn't a lot of money to give to charity, given the massive sales their publicity stunt will achieve. I feel so glad not to be part of the machine that they are raging against and that they are part of too. 
Why were the BBC so surprised when they f*cking swore? The Sex Pistols did all this twenty years ago! 
This little rantlet is called 'Rage Against Rage Against the Machine' and is not sponsored by Sony or Simon Cowell, but originated from my own brain about 5 minutes ago!
Rage over and out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Magic Moments

Luckily Offsprog Two and her friends alerted me to the men's tackle lovingly fashioned from two snowballs and a snow-sausage that lay on our doorstep, nanoseconds before an Essex Lady in a fur coat driving a Chelsea Tractor turned up to remove the pew which she'd bought from us on eBay.
This is parenting teenagers, I suppose, and the culprit was possibly a chap enamoured of aforesaid Offsprog.
Later, perhaps, I will visit Diana at the jumble sale she's got a stall at, and the possibly go down to Mike and Em's Christmas Tea in Brixton. At the moment, I am too lazy to do anything. I have worked hard for months and it's nice just  Sitting and taking stock, even if the air is polluted by thumpyscreechy music upstairs and non-stop TV downstairs.
I watched part of the Unthanks TV programme the other night on BBC 4. I don't like that sort of Folk Music and I find the girls themselves terrifyingly wholesome in look and sound, but there was one beautiful acapella song written by Rachel's dad about the Allendale Tar Barrel Ceremony at New Year that was, dare I say it, awesome. There was a fascinating chord in it that must have made Papa Unthank smile with glee when he found it; each time it passed by, the singers looked relieved when they got it right.
That's what music should have: little surprises and flashes of magic planted here and there to perk up our ears when we hear it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Which I Am Assigned To The Scrapheap By Rough Trade

I sort of had a spare day to day because I was expecting to be travelling back from Glasgae, but of course I was still here.
I made the Offsprogs a brunch of smoked salmon on brown bread and we decorated the Christmas tree, which had to thaw out in the kitchen for an hour first. There is a very sad-looking little lemon tree in the yard that is not going to survive this winter- I used to be able to put plants like that in an outside alcove with the radiator in the kitchen on the other side of the wall, but nothing like that exists here.
As usual, half the fairy lights had stopped working since last year (what do they do? Have a group meeting in July and decide their lives are not wort living any more and just give up?) but there were enough to drape and sparkle and I'm sitting here is magical semi-darkness feeling very festive.
I went to Brick Lane and inhaled the lovely food smells and marvelled at the odd blend of uber-trendy youngish white people and the Asian community of all ages. There's almost a line halfway down Brick Lane where the restaurants give way to trendy shops and bars and the population crosses the boundary each way with their own version of the social landscape imprinted firmly in their heads.
I was in search of a leather satchel for Offsprog One, but while I was there I decided to re-stock Rough Trade with Suburban Pastoral, as they are the only people apart fro me to sell it.
I check the website and if it's out of stock, beetle down there with a few for them.
The guy was just taking them from me to put in the warehouse when a woman behind the counter sidled over to him and muttered in his ear- very rude and humiliating, actually, as the matter clearly concerned his transaction with me.
He looked embarrassed, and told me that they couldn't stock them any more as it was too out of date. They usually take some, as people still want to buy them, but I wasn't going to argue because I felt like a prat.
I got the money from the ones they'd already sold, and left swiftly without spending the money on new music, which is what I normally do.

The thing is, I was enjoying the afternoon anyway so I wasn't going to drop into a miserable sulk even though I do think they are silly and ungracious.
So I went to Covent Garden and got a present for Offsprog Two, resisting the penchant I have of  'one for them, one for me' greedybuying (sorry funky tartan dress, someone else will have to buy you).

When I got home, Whippersnapper cat (who is oblivious to music, CDs and grumpy record shops) told me he was HUNGRY and COLD and NEEDED A CUDDLE and lots of other things that he might get if he meowed really LOUDLY for half an hour. The Offsprogs NEEDED THINGS TOO and will continue to do so, but at present they can't find me as I'm sitting in a corner lit only by candles and fairy lights: they whizz about far too fast and furiously to see me.

I can live with being abolished. I will rise like a phoenix again from the ashes of a career which, rather like charcoal in an annoying cheapo supermarket barbecue in a tinfoil container, never seems to burn out completely.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas to anyone who reads the blog, whether you are visible or invisible.
I haven't even started writing out Christmas cards to send and I might be too late for some people: please don't be Bad Fairies at my Christening, but forgive me, I have not forgotten you!
And Wilky- I can't find the Chefs badges at the moment but as soon as I do I will send you one.
And for anyone expecting me to be supporting the Daintees at Accies in Glasgae tonight- alas! There have been no flights out of Luton today and I had to turn round and come home, missing not only one of the best gigs of the year but also an afternoon knocking round Glasgae with Martin and the Brothers Dunn.
Boo hoo!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Acton Bell's Variety Spectacular

We assembled around 7-ish for our sound-checks; Katy Carr arrived resplendent in a polka-dot suit and cloche hat just as I was singing 'Hot buttered toast and chipmunks to roast' (was I subconsciously thinking about the extraordinary phenomenon of the chipmunks on the beach at Fuerteventura, I wonder?). Thankfully, I got it right later on.

Katy's ukelele dates from 1915 and it's a sweet little instrument, in looks and sound. She told me she's bought seven ukes in the last six weeks and has also acquired a grand piano. Instruments are collecting around her as though she is a musical magnet.
She loved the venue and was bowled over by Acton Bell. 'Isn't she sweet!' she whispered.

Acton Belle was excited: the tables had little bowls in the middle filled with those gingerish German biscuits, and there was a lucky dip. I donated a Suburban Pastoral album and spent the evening worrying in case I won it back (all the performers were given raffle tickets, or dip tickets, I suppose they were)

Alex Dunachie was the M.C. and he sang a folksong with three puppets on sticks, and then I was on.
Lovely! The audience was ready to sing along right from the start and as Acton Bell joined me for Waltzing Away from Winter, they all bellowed along merrily. I would have had an encore but decided that there wasn't time. Why? asked the audience. My other song is 40 minutes long, I replied, and settled back to watch Trees and the Slipway, a line of three men on guitar, bass and big tinky-tonk keyboard with inbuilt Abba rhythms (Katy is ace at spotting these things).

They were great, all singing together and clearly enjoying their brew of Doors/Underground/T-Rexish (plus the aforementioned Abba) pop music. 'Hmm yes we must write some more songs', said Steve, the guitarist after they'd finished the three songs they knew. Crashpad Winter (wooo! sang the audience along with them) was my favourite song, obviously cunningly adapted lyrics-wise for the evening's theme.

Jacob got up to do a couple of songs, a slick fingerpicker, and then Acton Bell performed Herman's Hermits' the ay ay ay ay ay song- what's it called? the audience loved it and joined in all the way through, and Mud's Gonna Be Lonely This Christmas (which Katy and myself helped out with on vocals and late uke solo) the Bolton way: beautifully sung and simply and directly played on guitar.
After the prize draw, which was quite exciting as these things always are, Katy played a set of 1940s songs on the ukelele, managing to sound like a vintage recording (how does she do that with her voice? She's a genius) and then played Violetta and Turpin on another tinky-tonk keyboard whose keys fell off sporadically. She went down a storm.

The last band- I can't remember their name but I will find out and tell you- was two blokes, one on guitar and one on bass. They were excellent musicians and I coveted the guitarist's curly white lead. The sound man told me it was a Vox one so I'm going lead-hunting after Christmas.
Their songs were so funny the bass player was laughing his head off all the way through; luckily, he was laughing in time with the music and didn't miss a note.
One was about white leather trousers, and then they did Wall by Pink Floyd, which was a pet hate of mine at the time (ghastly fake Cockney accents) and remains so to this day, so I opted out of the singalong without bearing a lifelong grudge against the band.
I loved their song about magpies, especially the confusion: 'How many magpies can you see from your nest, human? I mean... how many humans can you see from your nest, magpie?'
It was home time, but they hadn't been asked for the encore which they were determined to play, and they plugged in the tinky-tonk Casio keyboard and sang...'On the first day of Christmas my magpie gave to me, one egg in an egg tree', and so on.
By this time the bass player was laughing so much his teeth almost fell out, and I must say I am a sucker for people who laugh at their own jokes as this is a fault I share, sometimes laughing so much at the thought of the punchline that I become incapable of finishing the joke and getting there. So this of course was riveting, and it was a very humorous end to the evening.
Finally a bunch of us stood on stage and sang Silent Night, which the guys from the last band sang in a jolly and competitive spirit. the guitarist from the last band had won Suburban Pastoral which was a big relief.

It had been a wonderful evening, merry and Christmassy from the start, the Perseverance decorated not only by fat rolls of red tinsel but also by our our smiles.
I look forward to more shows there in the New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Juniper Tree

Sorry to hear about your cat Phil.
I went and bought a miniature juniper tree today, to plant in a pot to commemorate Old Lady Cat; when Offsprog One returns from college for Christmas we'll have a little planting ceremony.
Our old Grumpy Tabby who popped off years ago has a little tree of her own, and the Carrotfish had a geranium, but that didn't last, unfortunately.
I suppose it's a bit morbid, all this with the risk of an eventual small forest of potted trees following me round the country!

Last Minute Gig, Perseverance Tomorrow

What a dilemma! Should I address christmas cards or mark 20 essays?
Wait till tomorrow, I slept badly last night after going to see the new Michael Caine film, Harry Brown, which is horrible and made me dream of people being hung in wooden coffins upside down.
I'm not good at watching violent films, having had enough of the reality of that type of thing.

So, Acton Bell had a few pull-outs tomorrow evening at the Perseverance, so in strides that trusty ex-Girl Guide Helen McCookerybook closely followed by her pal Katy Carr.
It is a 11 Shroton Street, North Marylebone form 8 p.m. onwards; there are lots of people playing and it's £5/£3 and we will make you smile for Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunny, with the odd cloud

Sunny and cold- perfect winter weather! Poor Martin was travelling from Inverness this morning where the fog stopped play, and he had to rush to Aberdeen with a couple of passengers that he kindly offered a lift to, and he's now on the way even further south to play a surprise gig for someone.

I wandered out to the antique market, a small but perfectly formed patchwork of things you want and things you wouldn't let over your doorstep in a trillion years (used to be a million, before inflation); I was lucky and spotted a 1940s dress, exactly what I'd been looking for, not too stinky and not too torn. Upstairs, a large blue and gold pot marked 'Leeches' tempted my dark side, while a knackered piano stool tempted my practical side, but I decided to go away and think about it, and I was glad I did because I phoned the vets to arrange to pick up Old Lady Cat's ashes (I miss her) and to ask how much my bill was.
Every penny I've earned from the University of the West since October, that's how much.
What can I say? Thank God we have a National Health Service for humans, that's what, and don't forget the Tories were all set to dismantle it and sell it off before the change of government, and that's exactly what they will do when they get in, because of course they are all rich enough to pay to jump the queue, aren't they?
That was the one major thing that politicised me, back then, because we have a system that is the envy of the world even though we criticise it, and without it we'll become a feudal society again.
It's sometimes inefficient partly because of it's own success- all those premature babies that it saves, and all those people with previously-incurable cancers- well that type of care costs an absolute fortune and we have come to want and expect it- and it sometimes happens at the expense of more basic things.
I used to work at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, just when scanners were invented by EMI which meant that brain investigations, previously done by pumping coloured gas into the skull, could be done painlessly and quickly. We used to marvel at the horribleness of it. Now, almost every hospital has a scanner.
It's not a perfect system but it has quite possibly saved my life- and quite definitely saved me years of pain and discomfort. I still take a box of chocolates to the Accident and Emergency Department each Christmas, because I'm not sure anybody thinks to thank those at the front line, and I'll never forget how kind they were to me once upon a time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Songs

I have put my Christmas songs up on Myspace, some still awaiting pictures because my camera battery is flat

An Exciting Night Out

These are The Gluts, Gina Birch, Hayley Newman and Kaffe Matthews, who are performing Cafe Carbon in various cafes around Copenhagen during the climate change conference. I was lucky enough to be at their rehearsal the other night and it was a privilege to see their frightening and charming antics at close quarters. 
They have a menu of exciting dishes, and once you've made your selection, they line up and sing through the three songs you've chosen, which are all on ecological themes. The girls are like a compact swarm of crackling and rustling insects, with padded bumps, black pockets and antennae, 
Victorian and mediaeval at the same time, they perform a sly burlesque with lots of quirky details- sometimes singing through megaphones, sometimes through microphones with clumsy red leads plugged into an amplifier in a black nylon shopping trolley, referencing Bananarama in a dark way that makes a negative mirror image of the three scruffy pop girls while making the audience think about what they eat and where it comes from. 
The music is electronica with a nod in the direction of Kurt Weill, but also provides the three with ample opportunities for playful vocal percussion and harmonies. It is huge fun, and their three distinctive personalities come over really well. 
The whole evening was exciting- from Hayley making us cups of tea in full costume, through the little bowls of bombay mix, the giant wall heater in the warehouse that bathed us all in a hellish red glow as it concertina-ed out of the high wall, and the high spirits as the trio lost things, found them, didn't find them, asked us questions, laughed and had more and more ideas as they went through two full meals of songs.
I love this sort of thing- watching a nearly-finished show buzzing before it becomes slick and polished.
They will be brilliant in Copenhagen, and brilliant when they come back!
Above: Gina and Hayley- I took loads of photos of Kaffe too but she moves so quickly she escaped from the frame every time!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On The Way To An Exciting Night Out

...which I won't write about till later when I can post some photographs.
But getting there was just so beautiful.
I'd spent the day looking at people's wan winter daylight faces in the watery, hostile late-December sun, knowing their dead-beat look was reflecting my own.
Later as I drove down Holloway Road the lovely winter night-time came into its own.
There was a spectacular vista of trees spreading into the distance down each side of the street, every one lit up with a mass of pale blue pin-lights that picked out the shape of their branches and twigs and sparkled as the breeze riffled through their leafless skeletons.
Then there was the cinema sign, semi-broken with missing 'O's: _DE_N, it hinted.
All down the road, the red'n'green traffic lights joined the symphony of colour: stop, go, stop, go, stop go, changing and moving the light landscape.
The piercing white headlight eyes of approaching cars joined in, drawing traces of places been and illuminating places to go, and finally the garish flashing yellow of the gritter lorry hidden round a corner made more music and filled my heart with happiness.
What an experience- just there by accident, not by design.

Thank God It's Friday!!!

Oh no, it's not!
It's Thursday.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Eighties Style and Helen and the Horns

I was particularly proud of the fact that we didn't look fashionable: I didn't order the Horns out of a 'we look cool' catalogue and as a band we were liberated by this.
The pop star Marilyn reviewed Freight Train on Round Table, the weekly BBC Radio One round-up of new releases. He was disparaging, sneering after the other reviewer remarked what a lovely happy sound it was,'I'm just wondering how much her mother paid for her singing lessons!'.
Ouch! That hurt!
The Chefs had told me that I sang out of tune all the time and told me I should go and have lessons.
I found a lovely old man to teach me but could often not afford to pay, and I'd sometimes go without eating to make sure I didn't miss a session. He twigged soon enough and started giving me free lessons, with the occasional resting of his hand on my thigh in exchange. Naturally, I could not bear this and went back to paying and starving.
So Marilyn, you were wrong. And when your 'people' phoned to book the Horns for a Top of the Pops appearance, I refused to let you have them. I was not going to let you mock and scorn them because they weren't dressed in the latest fashions like you, and because their sound was more important to them than their looks.
I still feel a pang of guilt that maybe I prevented them from appearing on the iconic TV programme but I do feel in my heart of hearts that I saved them from a scathing rejection by a sarcastic style icon.
Later, we ended up where we belonged- Pebble Mill at One!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Having a lock-up is expensive, but wonderful.
I'd associated it with stress, because I'd had to make the arrangements before work one morning just before moving, and then the heroic removal men dropped off a load of stuff there first before coming to the house (sweet- they were triumphant that it all fitted in and couldn't stifle a couple of ruffty-tuffty grins).
Yesterday I went down there to see if there was room for my vinyl albums, the ones I didn't take to the Oxfam shop, and there was.
It was rather exciting- the place was full of people doing mysteriously different things: there were stacks of boxes destined for T.K. Maxx with 'Farhi' written on the side, young people fitting furniture into boots of cars (just), piles of empty flattened cartons, families dropping off collective family overspill and people locking up and unlocking and trundling trolleys up and down the aisles.
It was a hive of quiet activity, and not the dreaded gloomy experience I'd expected.

Songlab Showcase at Stratford Circus

It was a success!
In spite of the fact that I was well on my way when a panic-stricken phone call from Offsprog 2 made me turn round and head home again (it's rained for a  month and the front door has absorbed the lot of it and swollen up so sometimes it won't open, but she managed to get in and I did a u-turn).
The crew at Stratford Circus were incredibly easy-going about everything which meant our ten minute bursts of R'n'B, hip-hop, experimental, neo-classical, folk and singer-songwriter, not forgetting the soprano sax, was all within their capabilities. We had big round tables and I had brought my Las Vegas rope lights, and the atmosphere was there, and the playing was good, from beginner to expert, and there will be more!
Star of the night was Phoebe Osborne, whose song writing skills have really developed over the last three years and she is one to watch!

Monday, December 07, 2009

UEL-tide Greetings

Tonight at Stratford Circus, Theatre Square, Stratford E15 1BX
A free informal evening of song writing by UEL staff and students (staff Yumi Hara Cawkwell, Jo Thomas, Andrew Blake and me)
Starts 8 p.m.

The Hamster with Poisonous Fur

How amusing!
 This year's dangerous Christmas present is a toy hamster with poisonous fur. Never normally one for one-upmanship, I break my resolve to tell you that my own version of this resides in the fridge: as we were lunching yesterday, Offsprog Two casually pointed out that the butter had an attractive skimming of green fur on it, and had done so for several days.
'I've just been scraping it off and digging underneath', she explained.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Whippersnapper's Toy Mousie


How exciting! After weeks of waking at 5.30, a habit that I developed before moving due to having to get up to pack boxes before work, I overslept this morning and I've had a fantastically relaxed day.
I went to Portobello Road Market by a roundabout route after reading the Saturday papers, and wandered round the stalls looking for Christmas presents. I noticed a couple of stalls with Japanese designers who had made lovely neat little tweed dresses and coats out of different colours and designs of tweed. I tried a dress on but almost got stuck in it, so gave it a miss. There were some lovely vintage Nordic sweaters (quite literally perhaps: they are often rather stinky), and lots of checky shirts (they must be in fashion). I could have spent a fortune on junky jewellery and foetid but exciting shoes. There were lots of nice smells floating about  making an aromatic cocktail- mulled wine and Thai noodles! And music- reggae from one stall fused into jazz from another, a stall where a Rasta kept time with percussion as a saxophone melody snaked through the crowds.
It's the best market in town, partly because it quite obviously hasn't changed that much since the Sixties: some stallholders perched on their stools looked as though they hadn't moved since then, merely getting older gradually and still wearing their Sixties finery and make-up. Their particular stalls sell Indian smocks, perhaps, or Tibetan jewellery, or perhaps vintage handbags from the Sixties that have sat there with them all this time.

On the way back I was struck by this jolly rockabilly Santa whose costume didn't even bother to try to look like a disguise! Perfect for a silly Saturday afternoon.
(Zoot, I hope your cat is OK)


It's on at home, and I'm up late, pootling around sites and overposting on my blog.
I did want to tell you this though.
I drove into the car park at work this morning and turned the corner to be met by a huge line of black-suited backs stretched across the road. I couldn't work out what was happening until I realised that a large delegation of Chinese businessmen were having their photograph taken and there were so many of them that the only place they could do this was in the cold wet car park.
At first they didn't know I was there and I fumbled for my camera to take a 'behind the Chinese delegation' photo.
But just then one man turned round and saw me and they all dispersed apologetically. I wouldn't have minded waiting because I thought it was sweet- they were all clearly in very good spirits. Once I'd passed, they reassembled, did their photo smiles, had a good laugh and went off to catch their coach.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Love on the Wind, Half Moon, Putney

I hear it's going to stop being a music venue and turn into a gastropub
What a shame!
Not forgetting Julia's PHD which she finished this year too!

Anallergies and Friday Doggerel

At the University of the East, there is never a good day.
There are shades of badness; we are not making Ugly Ducklings into Swans (many of the students are physically beautiful), but a lot of the time we are making Fireworks into Swans, which is less of a natural progression and more of a challenge.
This isn't everyone, of course, but enough people to cause bouts of physical dread before each teaching day. For this reason I am glad I live far away, driving round the dreamy grey industrial North Circular each morning into a different world of  misunderstanding and agression, and back each night to my safe little box, through London's grimy and anonymous underpinnings and into my own anonymous suburb.

I have learned patience and to become a sponge for people's anger and frustration. This unrolls itself in music and lyrics and thankfully the kitchen of the new house is sorted-out enough to sit at the table with my guitar and recycle my own anger and frustration as it seeps out of the daily sponge into songs and songs and songs, with Whippersnapper clumping about on the piano keys next door as a feline accompaniment.
Sometimes he frightens himself into an exhilarated state, going crosseyed and yowling like a banshee.

I am just about to go into the studios to listen to some students' recordings. I like this, to be able to help them to make good music and learn how to be confident with technology. I can understand why they want to reject book-learning and just do things.
The problem is that there are lots of people doing things, and the world of music is in a constant state of saturation until fashions move on and leave tiny chinks of opportunity. So I try to explain the power of knowledge, and why it is wise to stockpile ideas so you can think ahead of the obstacles that the various gatekeepers set up to prevent new blood from having access to their precious facilities and money. I'm not sure whether the students understand this until they leave.
That's the only reason I work in education- to give people power. Otherwise I would work in the industry and be rich and cynical, taking power from the creative people and converting it into numbers in my ever-swelling bank account!

I won't be able to have a mega-house concert birthday party this year but next year I think I will arrange a gig that night instead. This year will be about family (an music of course, as we all do something noisy, even Little Bruv who can squeeze a mean tune out of a metal teapot, having learned to play trumpet as a young chap).
This year has been a year of learning: from my kids, my ex-husband, students and friends, and will be celebrated as such.
Some touching things have happened- for Treacle (it's wonderful!), for Gina (at last stepping into the recognition she deserves, not only with The Raincoats but with other ventures too), for Claire and Nadya (two very exciting PHDs which I cannot wait to read!) and for lots of other people I know.

Friday Doggerel

Let's not whine
Bout two thousand and nine
A brand new year
Will soon be here.

Banish blues
And welcome yellows
And we'll all
Be cheerful fellows!


Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Power of Yellow

It's tomorrow, and thank you for your kind messages.
Thank Anish Kapoor too, for I went to his exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts on Tuesday and was bowled over by it.
It was full of adults laughing like children at the cupped and shaped mirrored sculptures, the blood-red wax train and cannon, and the sculpture (I thought it was a painting at first) on the wall that was the yellowest thing I've ever seen, and that made me happy just to gaze at it.
It has been a long time since a visual thing has changed my emotions, but this was just the most happy and beautiful intense yellow that I don't think anyone could feel miserable in front of it. As you passed it, you realised that the intriguing paintwork was actually an illusion, and the deeper yellow centre was actually a hole that went right into the wall.
There was another sculpture I particularly liked, made of huge twisting resin tubes the colour of old dress patterns, marked with little figures and lines in graphite-grey as though it had been made on a small scale with pencil marks and then grown: it had impertinent smooth carmine-red glitter lips pouting out of the top of it, as hard and shiny as the resin tubes were rough-textured.
Like a lot of Anish Kapoor's work, there was a mysterious dark hole which led from the lips into the pipework. It was a sexy French Horn, or a harlot's intestines minus her body, I don't know what it was. But it was funny and beautiful at the same time.
More beautiful things, more beautiful things...
I though of a Christmas concert I went to at the Fridge in Brixton that featured one of my favourite ever bands, The Happy End (Sara Jane Morris era). I even auditioned for them once and failed- I can see why: the band needs a big voice at its helm.
This night, the Fridge stage was decorated with stretched white sheeting, punctuated by miniature Christmas trees all lit up; the band sat amongst them, brass instruments twinkling, all their different personalities radiating from the stage as they tumbled and swung their way through their set, smiling, concentrating, reminding me of a set of toppling plates that never quite falls over. What a huge engine of sound- just anarchic enough, but with fantastic brass arrangements, not only in sound but also visually- pockets of things to watch popped up this side, that side, all over the place; you couldn't stop watching. And over the lot, Sara Jane Morris's deliciously thick and powerful vocal, the Captain of the Ship (yes, I know it was you really, Mat Fox, but she was the one with the hand on the tiller), bouncing on and curling round those fabulously lush sax, trumpet and trombone sections. They also chose their material really well- not many people play Hanns Eisler and get away with it.
Come back at once!

Gina is going to Copenhagen with Hayley Newman by train to busk in cafes at the Climate Change conference.What a good idea!
She told me Akiko had given Hayley a copy of my Suburban Pastoral album and this made me feel important and appreciated.

What else? I am thinking about starting up a 'new songs' club in the New Year. A lot of artists get stuck in the rut of old material, even famous ones, and I though it might be nice to create a small and informal night for trying out new stuff. So that's in the pipeline.

On Monday my students (and me) are doing an informal songwriting showcase at Stratford Circus, starting at 8 p.m.
Entry is free but you have to email me if you want to come. Expect a mix of hip hop, electronica and guitar-based music. Something for everybody, I hope, rather than nothing for nobody!

Ah, Old Lady Cat, we'll plant a little juniper tree for you and think about your clear blue gaze.
Aren't humans funny? We have 'house babies' to dote on and we are so upset when they die. We have to remember to love the living too. I have been giving tissues to crying strangers and cup of tea money to people who looked like they needed it this week, after finding it impossible to walk round with the usual hard shell you need to function in a big city like London.
I wish I could be like this all the time.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Poor Old Lady Cat; as she had her operation on Tuesday the vet discovered a raging pancreatic cancer and phoned me to ask permission not to wake her up.
So we have all been in tears, and disbelief at how quickly she became ill. Whippersnapper cat started howling the night before she died, and I guessed that we would not see her again.
Years ago, I kept canaries and finches (and a mad budgie with a posh voice), and found their lifespan and vulnerability difficult. I moved to cats because they last a little longer, but it's still hard especially when they've been around for more than 12 years attempting to rule the household with their furry rules.
This is the last miserypost I'm going to do. If I can't think of anything happy, I'll take a sabbatical till January.
Still, I'm an optimist.
See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sunday Lunch

Gina and the girls came (after getting severely lost and having the patience to get on the right road again) and so did Diana. It made home seem like Home and we stuffed our faces on blueberries, raspberries and halva.
It counteracted the feeling I have that we Brits spent too much time laughing at the former East European countries' lack of efficiency. The phone isn't working (again) after they forgot to give me my old number back and it took an extra week to do that, and so I couldn't set up the internet, and so on and so on.
It worked for a while, just to show me it could (what a tease!) and is now as silent as a tomb.

I now speak to telephone helplines in a stupidly slow voice, enunciating each word so carefully that my kitchen is full of spittle, and making the operator repeat everything back to me (they have always misheard at least one word, and that's before the mistakes in their keystrokes) so the whole thing sounds like an early Edison recording, complete with hisses and pops (that's the steam escaping from my ears and my blood vessels bursting with frustration).

At least there is now a guitar propped up in the living room, waiting expectantly for some songs to land in it.

I hear from Martin that their debut Skifflecat day in the north west was a roaring success: their guitars sound great and everyone was fascinated by their tea chest basses. Brilliant!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Library Internet Catchup at High Speed!!!!

Through a fog of tiredness, I hopped on the tube to The Perseverance, that warm and friendly pub. Acton Bell was there already. and so was Steve, the guitar virtuoso, and a motley collection of open and friendly musicians. Steve started the evening off with a short but sweet psychedelic instrumental guitar adventure, and I played next as Martin had offered to give me a lift home (after his 10 hour drive from Inverness in his unheated car, bless him) to keep an eye on Old Lady Cat. SOmething has suddenly clicked with my live perfromances- I have got back to the ease that I had with Helen and the Horns where I am no longer fearful of forgetting words; my head and body have joined together and I'm at one with the Gretsch, so it's a joy to play and sing, as natural as breathing. The audience was smiley and friendly and they seemed to like the Daisies song a lot. I saw a bit of Portia Winters' set as she sound checked but not much else this time around unfortunately but I'll try to catch more next time on the 15th December at Acton Bell's next night.

Rick, who was Joby and the Hooligans' drummer, was there and it was great to see him again.

Later, I got a wonderful text from Kienda Hoji, head of the music course at the University of the West. Our entrant to the Peter Whittingham Songwriting Competition, Sherika Sherard, had won first prize and I am absolutely delighted for her. She's brilliant, a natural of urban folk. Check out her myspace at

Next morning, Old Lady Cat came to the vets with me. Overcome with sadness, I could not help blubbing which was really embarrassing. They have kept her there to feed her steroids and fluids, and all my Christmas present budget has now vanished into the vets' coffers. I can't believe she has become so ill so quickly and we are all missing her at home, even Whippersnapper, who is normally so selfish.

Feeling as though I was wearing a heavy coat whose pockets were stuffed with unpleasantly sharp objects, I scraped up the M1 to Milton Keynes, where I met Martin and we went on to the gig in the barn.

What a beautiful venue! The Cruck Barn is painted white inside, with exposed wooden beams. Someone had arrived in a fantastic 2-tone pastel vintage Chevrolet with wraparound screen, and after soundchecking we sat and chatted to one of the founder members of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a guy called Ray who used to play tuba and drums. He told us a very funny story about being asked to drive a van from Tunbridge Wells to Newcastle upon Tyne and realising he hadn't got enough petrol and he had no money. So he picked up a series of hitchhikers, asking them to buy petrol. Poor things thought they had a free ride and discovered that they had to finance him instead!

The promoters had done a really good job- there were projected backdrops made from our images that they had downloaded and the sound was crystal clear. The audience was quite well-to-do, but they were open minded listeners and gave both of us a reallty good reception, and we were invited to join them at their tables for dinner. I think that the gig will appear on Youtube and I'll write the details down when it does.

Hi to Wilkie from St Albans- I hope you enjoyed it!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stop Press!

Martin may not get there tonight, as his car is playing him up...
There's a late addition to it all, a private gig gone public, tomorrow the 27th, with both of us playing at


The Cruck Barn

Located in the grounds of Bradwell Abbey

City Discovery Centre

Alston Drive

Milton Keynes

MK13 9AP

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Old Lady Cat has a hyperactive thyroid and had chemotherapy twice a day (that's me chucking poisonous pink tablets down her throat); she is now really ill, sitting in her basket looking glum and thin, and taking antibiotics too.
Meanwhile, Whippersnapper Man Cat ran away for two hours on a dark rainy night after opening the catflap by hooking it inwards with his paws. Out in the garden with ham and a torch, I could hear him fighting with the neighbourhood Tom and feared the worst. He returned with a fat bushed-up tail, excited by the conflict.
Meanwhile, Chuck Warner has been in touch from the U.S. about a 'South Coast' compilation.
Does anyone know where Dave MacDonald is? He'd like to get in touch with him or Pete Smith to ask for permission to use their Fan Club music on the CD.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Sorry to anyone who has received multiple emails about Thursday's gig.
Yahoo has been updating and modernising and has neglected to delete one contact list before starting another. It memorised the people I'd already emailed and added them to the ones I was emailing for the first time.
I have given up, before I got to the letter 'M'!
Myspace does this sort of thing as well, trumpeting its exciting new services (trying to copy Facebook) while making itself ever less user-friendly.
How to make one's potential audience extremely annoyed.
I think I'll have to reinvent myself like Ponce did, and just have a collection of letters and numbers for a name, which I can change at will to escape the trail of destruction left in my wake!
It's quite addictive, working in the library: the public and staff moo and baa gently in the background and there's a comforting smell of damp coat.
I might move in and dine on buns and dandelion and burdock for the rest of my life.

Acton Bell's Gig

Acton Bell is putting on a night at the Perseverance in Shroton Street, Marylebone, this Thursday 26th November and I am playing there too.
I did a flyer but I didn't bring it with me to the library- It's here a few pages ago I think!

Normality is gradually returning... I  bought a pair of loafers in the charity shop this morning (o dear, I'll have to curb this habit!)

It's time to revive friendships and do all those things that have been waiting in the wings for the upheavals to subside.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


In order to make space to walk across the floor, I decided to take about 40 LPs to the Oxfam shop. They are heavy and slippery but I got them into my car, and I'd already found out from the PDSA shop that you can leave your car on a double yellow line with the lights flashing if you're dropping stuff off at a charity shop. I parked, I flashed, a kind motorist stopped as I negotiated the sliding vnyl tower out of the car and across the road, balancing and tottering. I got through the heavy glass door successfully; the charity shop man was approaching, a condescending smile on his face...
I caught my bag strap on the door handle and the whole lot collapsed and cascaded all over the floor in a many-hued display of redundant albums that nobody in their right mind would want to purchase in a million years
How embarrassing!
I smiled a ghastly smile and my teeth dried up and I couldn't get my upper lip down again.
A woman took pity on me and helped me gather them up again.

I have been dropping off my embarrassing unwanted items in a rota to different charity shops so that they don't twig that actually I am having trouble throwing my precious rubbish away and I need them to do it for me!
I have finally been found out, my wares spreading themselves out in full unwantable view of a whole shopful of customers. No more leaving black bin bags full of old stained tupperware at the back of the British Heart Foundation shop! No more piles of cream polyester pillowcases crammed into fancy baskets dumped in the North London Hospice!
Writing this post has made me blush with embarrassment.

I feel as though I have been found out

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Half Moon in Putney

It's a bit of a schlep from Barnet but we put on our patience costumes and stop-started round the North Circular, arriving just in time to treat ourselves to some Italian food at a lovely little Italian restaurant diagonally opposite the venue, sitting in a tent thing that sprouted from the front of the restaurant at a little table with a green-and-white checkered oilcloth over it.
Jimmy Cole the banjo player was waiting for us; Liza P was poorly and couldn't come along which was a shame as I'd been looking forward to seeing her and hearing her.
Soundcheckman was young and agreeable and as Martin and Jimmy checked the guitar and banjo I realised that the P.A. system was fabulous and that Soundcheckman has really good ears- he pulled all the characterful sounds out of the little Martin guitar and did the same with the banjo, and then got Martin's vocal sounding mellow and strong at the same time. This made me feel that it was going to be a very good evening.
I went on first, and like the Leicester gig, although I had felt at the end of my last drop of energy before I went on, once I got up there I was happy as a lark and really enjoyed it- my guitar just seemed to play itself and I felt comfortable and as though all the experiences of the past three years had made me stronger, and not weaker (as I feel sometimes).
It felt as though I knew so much what I wanted to say in my songs that I was saying it for other people as well and therefore deserved to be heard! And it felt as though the people in the audience were really listening and understanding, and that feeling is better than winning the lottery, I can tell you.
There was a chap there who was a dedicated Chefs fan and who told me he had got all my music since then, which was music to my ears (ha ha), and a couple who had really enjoyed the Helen and the Horns set at the Borderline.
Martin's set was brilliant: he started off as a comedian, making people practically fall off their seats with laughter, and once their guard was down he set off on a musical journey that took him through favourites like Rain, through Charlie Poole, to a section that sounded Celtic as Jimmy joined him onstage.
Jimmy is not a flashy showoff banjo player, but a steady presence on stage and the banjo sat very well inside Martin's songs, never overpowering them, just complementing the music. He'd come up to play Loverman with me, joining Martin on the Martin guitar, and making us into a little string band. It was interesting, musically.
Martin finished solo, and afterwards a guy came up from the audience and told him that he'd had an awful day at work but Martin had completely cheered him up and made him feel better about life.
What better compliment could an artist have than that?

I missed the launch of Katy Carr's album but I hope to hear from her this weekend how that all went.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Interesting Few Days

Sprinkled amongst the practicalities of electricians, phone queues, removal of vinyl albums to Oxfam and other house-related things (not forgetting very LOUD very ANGRY cats trying to exit every crack in the house while they are on house-arrest until they realise they live somewhere new), some interesting things have been going on.

On Monday afternoon, I spoke to a woman called Shehnaz Suterwalla who is doing a PHD at the Royal College of Art about women's dress and resistance. She wanted to talk to me about punky stuff (she has four case study areas, the most contemporary one of which is young Muslim women wearing traditional clothing as a statement even though this is not part of their established home dress code).
Because my research was not about clothing, I found that I was remembering and talking about stuff that I hadn't visited for years- exactly why I wore what I wore, and all the different ways young people, and especially women, around that time wore things that declared them to be punks without spending a fortune that they didn't have (most of us were unemployed) in Seditionaries or Boy on the King's Road.
 I remembered seeing Poly Styrene, before I even knew she had a band, sitting in her little stall at the World's End in Chelsea with her name above it, carved out of that white expended polystyrene stuff that puts people's teeth on edge.
At that time you could buy a toy that consisted of a hot wire stretched between a two-pronged red plastic handle that allowed you to cut very slowly through those white polystyrene tiles that everyone had on their kitchen ceiling, without it snapping or disintegrating into irritating bobbles. She obviously must have had one of those at home and this made me warm to her immediately. The clothes she was selling were all made of bright plastic and she sat amongst them like a serene alternative princess in an alternative world- very different from the aggression that emanated from Malcolm McLaren at the time.
I remembered the clothes that were dumped by the clothes-fairy outside the room I shared with my boyfriend at the squat in Lansdowne Place: I wore them for months.
And I remembered Dave and Pete and their black bin bags full of fantastic attire for the young punk woman: fitted leopardskin jumpers, giant cardies, peculiar dresses. They would delve into their bags on a whim and pull something put for one of us to wear.
I had a fantastic boiler suit. The first drummer in Joby and the Hooligans, Dub Duncan, came from Burgess Hill and his father had been in the Air Force.
He appeared for his first gig with us wearing his Dad's old boiler suit in airforce blue. Joby immediately went to the Army Surplus Store and got himself a green one, closely followed by me (grey) and Steve (also grey). They were great, and since I had discovered the hard way that looking like a sexy punkette got you sexually assaulted, they made you feel safe and comfortably neutral.
I liked talking to Shehnaz and she liked talking to me so we are going to do more of it in a couple of weeks time, and I'll dig out some photos which I will also send to Caroline, who is writing a piece for the F-Word, and who was concentrating more on the music than the look.

Then yesterday was another interesting day. I went to the London Academy of New Music to do a Songwriting workshop. It's in Bow in East London, an area of big skies, big roads and warehouses, a 'Hackney in Waiting'.
The students were lovely but there was only one woman in a group of 15.
People seem to understand multiculturalism but not gender equality. It is almost as though they will look at anything but that! And hey-ho, we have the National Front again, calling itself the BNP this time around, and people will again have to learn to understand the need for tolerance, acceptance and promotion of equal rights for all people, and again will ignore female people's rights and abilities and the need to look at why women might be excluded from so many areas of life.
But I digress...
...but it was an important digression...
The students were great: they jumped on board the ideas I had straight away without that puzzled look of being patronised that you get from some mature students.
 I'd taken in a Daily Mirror and a Metro (ugh to both, but never The Sun, never The Sun, that horrible piece of birdcage liner) and we looked for headlines to base our songs on. Later, they did lightning cover versions of each other's songs to see if they worked- and they did, and I was happy and I hope to go back again sometime.

Tonight, I am guesting with Martin at the Half Moon in Putney.
I'm at work now which is why I can do a longer posting. I came in specially early at a student's request- she cancelled at the last minute and so did the next student. If I get annoyed with them they will cease to turn up altogether and produce bad work. Bit of a chicken and egg situation, or the bad version of that... dead chicken and bad egg perhaps.
But I have tonight to look forward to, and tomorrow not to look forward to (the return of the 50 essays I have been frantically marking in every gap of the day for the past week, and the disappointment of the new first year students as they realise they are not brilliant, as they had previously supposed).


Life is bittersweet, sweet and sour, hot and cold.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cigarette Break

I was pushed into the road on the way to the library by the large group of people smoking outside a local church.
I'd been thinking... why not replace the fag break with a something-else-break instead?
A ten-minute foot massage... an opportunity to win £1000... a mini-manicure... a session in which the smoker (by now ex) is allowed to moan for ten solid minutes to a moan-receiving-person without any interruptions or attempts at giving helpful advice... a guilt-free daydreaming session in a chair with a fantastic view out  of the window...
Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Am A Fool

Because I bought a clothes rail from a Big Shop, took it home, tried to construct it, found no scews and allen key, took it back, they were out of stock, I have to go back and pick it up next week (urgh I hate shopping) came home to throw away the wrapping and found the screws and allen key.
And someone crashed their car into me on the way there.
I am a fool.

Luckiny, I am also a musician with a lovely muscial partner and we are playing at the Half Moon in Putney this Wednesday.
If I don't destroy everything in my path on the way there.
Get well soon, Liza P!

Saturday, November 14, 2009


On the way to the library to use the internet, I spied a funny piece of graffiti on a boarded up window that made me laugh.
'Picture this as a window', it instructed.

The house is tinier than I imagined and I blunder around it as a clumsy oaf, breaking things left right and centre. This morning, it was a captain's lantern that used to hang in our kitchen in Wylam. I was trying to put the clock up on the wall, and I knocked it over by accident.
While I was sweeping up the glass, I knocked the clock off the fridge and smashed that too.

I am supposed to be at the Art of Record Production Conference in Cardiff, but Offsprog Two is really poorly and I have stayed at home to administer Lemsips and healthy food. She would rather I had gone so she could visit her friends and spread her germs, but this would be antisocial in the extreme, so she's parked on the only comfortable chair, reading a book.
While I was cooking lunch, the food caught fire under the grill and set off a duet of smoke alarms, one indigenous to the new house and another still semi-packed. In a panic of deafening noise, we had to locate them and remove the batteries, stumbling and bumbling and spilling food all over the place in the process.

The chest of drawers I keep my clothes in was too big to get upstairs, so that will have to go into storage, as soon as I can find a man-with-a-van. This is not the posh end of town so we don't get a free newsaper any more, which slows the process down. At the moment, it's standing in the kitchen, preventing the kitchen table from being there; the kitchen table is in front of the front door, so we've been walking sideways like crabs ever since we moved in.

Mentally, I practice new guitar parts. The guitar I normally use is wedged under the bed, blocked in by boxes of things that seemed vitally important in the big old house but seem totally superfluous now. I am throwing things away like mad, but I can't get to the bin because the removal men put a huge lemon tree in front of it, which soaks me with rainwater every time I try to get past it.
It's too heavy for me to move and I'd like it to fly off into the sunset, flapping its leaves like a demented many-feathered bird. Perhaps next summer will be the year it manages to produce full size lemons instead of dolls-house ones!

And I wake up every morning not worrying. I feel safe for the first time for ages, and will get used to living small. There will be a different way of looking at life and already I feel I am walking taller than before. This has been an intense and emotional year that has reminded me that it is better to struggle against what is wrong than to ride along with it to a destination that is destructive and negative.

A different sort of people live at this end of  town: not so well off, louder, and more direct. This is an adventure and a new beginning.
Bring it on!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


What a strange sensation... to wake up early, as usual, but to wake up with nothing to worry about!
The move went very well- exhasuting up to the last minute, but what a blessed relief to lock the house of horrors for the last time.
Offsprog Two and myself floated round in the car for a couple of hours; we couldn't leave it as it was full of guitars. But we gobbled up a massive pizza each before driving round to the new gaff for a couple of hours more waiting. The removal guys turned up and the old owners were just finishing off their loading. They just handed us the keys and said, 'Move in, let's not bother waiting for the lawyers, everything's going to be all right'.
And it was.
Hat's off to Rogers Removals, they were brilliant and made it all stress-free and calm.

So on Saturday, Martin came down from Luton and we drove to Leicester, to a venue called the Donkey.
It has a great atmosphere and I'd had an email from a Chefs fan, saying he was coming along with a bunch of his friends.
That seemed much more important than fatigue and actually, it was great to play after two weeks of solid boxing-up and carrying. The sound was crystal-clear, and Gary who runs it, is a great host (he plays sax for The New Beautiful South too). The Chefs fans were great, all smiles and applause.

Halfway through Martin's set he started playing 24 Hours and I went up to sing it but I forgot half the words. The Chefs fans didn't and they put me to shame but at least I had brought loads of old badges to give them.
I don't think I have met so many since we were actually playing all those years ago. In fact I didn't know we had so many even back then!
Martin played brilliantly well, getting sounds out of the Martin guitar that I didn't know were in there.
Perfect gig, really, and I am so glad not to have bottled out with tiredness.

Today, well, the house is stuffed with stuff.
Between us we have emptied 35 boxes and that's it. Later I'll get into the loft and just put the rest up there for now. My chest of drawers wouldn't go up the teensy stairs so it's in the kitchen looking smug; little does it know it's going into storage in a couple of week's time so the kitchen table stops blocking the front door.
A mountain of books blocks the window, and an island of chairs and pans with no place to go has colonised the middle of the kitchen floor.
I have no washing machine yet so I went to the laundrette yesterday, where three thirty-something men folded their clean laundry into big bags, absent-mindedly sniffing their clean t-shirts as they did so.
It's a bit damp and I will have to get Men In to see to that that some time soon.
But Offsprog One came up on moving day to make a raspberry cake, and Offsprog Two's friends all walked in and said 'What a lovely house!', which I could have hugged them for as it's so hard for a teenager to move house.
I feel like I've borrowed the body of a hundred-year-old farm labourer and I look demented, but I don't care: it's done, I'm gone, I'm there.

The future starts now!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pre-programmed By Their Computer

Q. What is your favourite colour?
A. Sausages.

And so at 8 a.m. I sat at Big Yellow Storage in Finchley, faced by two pleasant young assistants who were hopeless at maths and had to phone someone else who didn't answer their phone to find out how to calculate how much to charge me because their computer couldn't do it.
You see, I had left the rails of normality, and I hadn't ticked a box they'd learned at their training day.
I tried not to faint with anxiety and frustration as they gradually worked it out after the phantom phone was answered.
It took 45 minutes.

Here I am at work, having received what looks like a standard email from Barnet Council after I'd tried twice by phone and twice by email to suspend the parking bays so the removal lorry can park outside my house.
It looks like a standard email because they haven't answered my question- an easy one. I have got visitors parking permits: can't I use those?
Instead, most of the email tells me how awkward I am to leave it so late and they are not sure if they will be able to do this within five working days.
Four working days ago, I phoned them and emailed them, and I'm moving in two working days.
That makes six, I think.

I do hate so much to moan, patient readers.

However, I have spent two years sailing in unfamiliar territory and I live in eternal hope that people who answer the phone at the different organisations I have to contact might feel confident about what they do for a living, and also listen to the questions they are being asked and answer them.

At the  moment I'm savouring half an hour of guilty bliss; my student has not turned up for his tutorial and I should be upset that he has not contacted me.
Instead, I am delighted!
I spent from 7.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. packing yesterday and there is more to do this afternoon.
This peaceful moment is wonderful.

I have a gig in Leicester with Martin on Saturday, at the Donkey.
I am REALLY looking forward to it.
Something normal, something fun, nothing to do with moving house, nobody will want me to pay them hundreds of pounds and then get whatever it was I paid them for wrong.



Monday, November 02, 2009


They were out there rummaging for metal and I had a semi-knackered washing machine to get rid of, and I had got from number 11 to number 1 in the telephone queue for parking permits...
Talk about multi tasking!
I muttered into the phone from one side of my mouth and muttered to the skip-hounds from the other, trying to prevent them from doing damage as they ripped the washing machine from the belly of the kitchen.
Off to the charity shop again with unfeasibly large bag of toys and books!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

More from Big Ben University

BTW, a new student has enrolled at Big Ben University: Timothy Arsely.
He doesn't like being called Tim, and he answers so many questions correctly that the Lecturers can't bear him (could it be that he's cleverer than them? He's certainly cleverer than the rest of the students)
Recently, he inherited a beautiful cottage on the Gower Peninsula from his deceased grandfather, and can't wait to tell all his friends about it at any opportunity.
He has a loud voice and a slightly Cliff-Richardish lisp, and he has an enormous motorbike in the garden of his flat, which he sometimes shows his girlfriends when they come round.
Especially the ones who are really someone else's girlfriend.


Just had a lovely pizza in Waterloo with all the family to celebrate McSis's twenty-first twenty-first birthday, which was a tonic for the soul. 
Had fun riffing with Big Bruv and Sarah about activity clubs for 'hobblers', the equivalent of 'toddlers' but at the other end of life, dreaming up names for their exercise classes and music classes and so on.
There was a toddler there, Samuel, whose mum, my cousin Anna, told him we were Grandma's children.
Samuel looked baffled, for of course we are not children at all: we are old children.
Indeed, we are almost hobblers.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ah, Saturday

It was so tense yesterday afternoon: if contracts on the houses weren't exchanged by 3.30 we'd have to wait  until Monday.
The central heating broke down.
At 3.25 my solicitor called to tell me it had been done.
I hung up, burst into tears and then phoned the removal company as soon as I'd composed myself again.

I sat yesterday evening, dazed, with the fan heater purring away and the cats trying unsuccessfully to find the warm bit in the room.
Poirot solved mysteries silently in the background; Nadya called and told me she'd recorded a Russian dub song with Adrian Sherwood.
I can't wait to hear that! Nadya's music has an early Bowie/early Kinks sound with a very gritty grip on lyrics.

Just before midnight I got a text from Sherika, the songwriter who has entered the song competition. She got through to the final, and I'm absolutely delighted. Wouldn't it be nice if she won?

So, Saturday.

I wait for the plumber, the delivery of boxes to pack in, the ex-husband who hasn't told me what time he's coming to pick up the rest of his stuff.
I will roll up the rugs in a sheet later, and I've already vacuumed Offsprog One's room. She's coming to take more stuff tomorrow morning, which she will probably lose out of a hole in her bag, like her phone yesterday and her keys a month ago. Different bags, different holes.
I have suggested that she gets a bag without holes in it.

The washing machine is on its second wash of the morning before it gets taken away, the clothes dryer is stuck at £32 on eBay but has to go for more if I'm to get a decent washer/dryer, and this is a very domestic post indeed!

Oddly, although I woke at 4 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep again, the relief is making me contented. There have been two years of tension, more than 50 people shown round the house, countless housework-blighted Fridays and a fear of being stuck here forever.
This is a beautiful, beautiful house, with stained glass and old fireplaces, but it has always felt like someone else's house.
Often when I've been alone here I have felt like the real owners have popped out for an hour and left me to look after it, and they'll be back soon and I'll be on my way.

Will I feel like I belong in the tiny new house?
I hope so, for a while at least.

Friday, October 30, 2009



'You see, we all have to do it when we get old', I tell Old Ladycat as I pop an Evening Primrose.
I have just chucked the very poisonous tablet down her throat (she's disturbingly passive about it).
I wondered last night: does this make her breath poisonous?
As her purrs thunder out of her nostrils, is she gassing me gradually, evening by evening?
Will her fur become toxic as it builds up in little airy piles on the wooden floors, and will I find upended spiders next to the skirting boards, their twiggy legs clutched to their chests in pain?
The vet told me her poo will be poisonous, but that's outside, in the middle of the lawn... probably poisoning the last of the sparrows.
Oh dear!
So much to worry about!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


A mildly racist electrician came round to change the light pendants, taking down ours and putting plain ones up.
Every so often, he baited a line and held it over me to see if I took a bite.
'Of course, I lost my job to three Polish men...'
'Now, of course, in Kent, well, it's getting very full, with people moving in from Europe...'
'The Indian people, of course...'

Of course.... he's not the only work person I have come across who thinks these fishings are part of a value-added service.
I am constantly shocked by the way that these nasty views are seen as respectability.
The woman across the road mentions 'asylum seekers' (formerly known as refugees) in every second sentence, so regularly that I've developed a knack of keeping conversations short so we don't even get there.
The oddest thing is that they all have a friend who is working in Canada, or Dubai, or France: something isn't computing, somewhere.
Of course.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


What a bizarre day!
I have fallen asleep and woken in the land of the mad with March Hares bounding all over normality and Martians peeking into the windows and sniggering at me through snaggly teeth.

The morning started with feeding oldcat a poisonous tablet, so heinous that I had to use specially-purchased non-latex gloves from Boots to do so.
Soon afterwards, the date-of-moving panic began, which throbbed throughout the day like a sore tooth and is still here now.
The removal company weren't sure whether they could do the new date and I had to find another removal company, who are coming round tomorrow. Meanwhile, the original removal company discovered that they could do the new date after all. But it's not a definite new date yet anyway...

Ex-partner went sailing past the house in a huge van at 10.30 and didn't reappear till an hour later. How mysterious! Was it him? Yes, it was!

Diana came round with a pair of opal earrings and  a broccoli quiche for me, Offsprog Two screamed as the fridge disappeared along with frozen contents for Ex-partner's sister whose son was there to help, and we get on so he had coffee and Ex-partner didn't.

The British Heart Foundation phoned: they were to collect a bed from here on Friday to sell in one of their shops.
Diana went upstairs to look at the bed and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to hire a van so that she could have the bed upstairs, and give the British Heart Foundation her old bed instead. She then had to divert them to her house to pick up her bed on a different day, and the woman on the phone couldn't understand her postcode, what was happening, the day of the week to pick up the bed or Diana's name.

Meanwhile I was frantically trying to check my computer for emails to see when we might be moving.

The house insurance people sent the insurance forms to the house I will be moving to instead of to here: except the first time, they got the house number wrong. The second time, they got the house number right, but they should have sent the forms here, shouldn't they?
So I was trying to remedy this too today, when their computer went down and lost all my details.

A large and non-functioning TV sits looking embarrassed in the front room. It has been half dismantled, its outboard video and DVD players packed uncomfortably in a box that is too small for them. A skip will be arriving tomorrow, and a man to dismantle all the light fittings. Lots of the lightbulbs have given up in disgust and the remaining ones are popping at a rate of knots.

There are frantic pencil scribbles on a sheet of paper next to me, totally indecipherable, just like today.


I've just scraped several handfuls of snails out of a plant pot before getting that shuddery thing and having to stop!
Supposedly my ex-partner is arriving today to take away his stuff and I'm running the washing machine frantically to get all that done before he takes it away, and I've cleared paths through the piled up boxes so he can take his furniture and books. He is a linguist as well as a legal practitioner and lots of his books are in ancient French.
I will be so glad when this process is finished for once and for all. I haven't been able to finish any songs for a month (although I have started them) but I have done a bit of drawing.
Diana is coming over today and Gina sent a nice message; there is support from the north of Scotland and the south of London.
Now I just need a moving date...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

That's the Way to Do It!

One day the Offsprogs' childminder turned up with an ominously large gladstone bag stuffed with something lumpy and heavy.
She opened it and turned it upside down: a host of second-hand Barbies tumbled on the the floor.
'They belonged to my daughter,' she told us, 'And they were up in the loft and I thought the Offsprogs would like them'.
The Offsprogs were curious; they had built up a mini-stock themselves that nestled in its pink nylon-ness in a discarded pile on the bedroom floor.
And I was furious, as I felt that I was being used as a skip to throw away unwanted loft contents, but I gradually came round to the generosity of spirit rather than the desire-to-dump of the gesture.

Soon, the Barbies had become punk rockers, with cropped hair coloured green by the felt pen set; they spoke a language called Argety Bargle that only they and the Offsprogs could understand, which was based on parodying the L'Oreal 'Because I'm Worth It' ads.
They acquired facial tattoos and some rather nasty red felt-tip injuries. Gradually, I wafted them towards the bin, one by one, as they became so disfigured that I started to feel physically uncomfortable every time I chanced upon one of them propped against the wall.

One day as I sat drinking tea in the kitchen I heard a steady thump-thump-thump-thump coming from upstairs where Offsprog Two was playing on her own. I went up to investigate, and she was holding a poor Barbie by the trotters and whacking its enhanced plastic breasts flat as pancakes against the bedroom wall; there was a pile of future victims beside her.

Next day, I rescued the lot by throwing them away.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Gig 4 U

X-Factor: My Musical Response

BTW, I wrote a song about/for all the women I know who do great things and never get famous for them.
It's called Unsung Heroine and is at


Ah yes! I'll offer my services to everyone with a no-name office. Operation Doorscream, here I come!

Yesterday evening I did an interview with a woman called Caroline Blase that will be published in an e-zine called the F-Word, which looks g-reat!
She asked some very pertinent questions and had interviewed Gina Birch in the morning, and is interviewing Caroline Coon today. I enjoyed it, even though I was tired after work. She knows the background to it all really well and I think it will be a very interesting article.

And this morning, I woke up with the feeling that I'd swallowed a cactus with large and terrifying spines. So I decided to travel to Scotland by train tomorrow, although I will not be able to get a seat on the train. Perhaps I should carry a flowery cushion like an old lady and wedge myself in a smelly corner for the duration of the journey.
I was supposed to be doing more packing today but have mostly been doing Sitting Staring Into Space instead.

Later, I'm drawing some flyers, for Martin and for Acton Bell, which puts Sitting into a different context: Productive Sitting.
Meanwhile, this Writing Sitting has knackered me.
I'm off to Just Sit.

Friday, October 23, 2009


At the University of the East, they have taken everyone's names of their office door (if they share an office), saying that people change offices a lot and it costs too much to give them individual name labels on their doors.
All the shared offices say 'Academic Office' now.
So students can't find us by looking for our names on the doors, and we feel like neutral objects rather than people.
Me and Julia, who I share an office with, were grumbling about this.
So now our office has a notice next to our door with yellow crowns and pink writing and patterns round the edge.
We are 'Princess Julia and Princess Helen'
That'll teach 'em to force anonymity on us!


Oh how beautiful! As I rounded a dowdy corner past the industrial estate this morning on my way to work, I came upon a small park that was filled with mist, thick as milk close to the ground and wispy and delicate as it dissolved into the warmer air higher up. A series of small trees punctured it evenly in dark green spikes, just beginning to take colour from the rising red sun. The mist was fenced in severely by the walls around the park and it dribbled slowly over the edges, overflowing its constraints.
It was like a secret that only early risers could see.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The house has become a sort of soup. I am sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by bananas, a pair of earrings, an Elvis Presley CD, a child's painting of a green witch, a French centime coin, the coffee in a flask I made this morning and forgot to take to work, a toothbrush and three screwdrivers.
Everything has slid about on a slide rule principle: the plastic dinosaurs are still in the bathroom, the rope lights are on the stairs, three empty guitar cases lean lopsidedly on a chair and a pile of duvet covers wait patiently on the landing, where we are trying to ignore them.
If I sneezed forcefully enough, everything would blow into the air and return to a more logical resting place.

Gina called this morning, full of the joys of being in the States with the Raincoats and Viv Albertine. She had a very funny rock'n'roll story about being caught in the hotel lift by the manager with a sofabed that she and Viv were trying to move from one room to another. They pretended that Viv had had a row with her husband and needed to move the sofabed out of his room and into Gina's.
Actually, she'd borrowed the sofabed from some guy they knew so she could sleep in Gina's room because a very born-again Christian Palmolive had come to stay too and it was getting rather crowded in there.
Apparently the hotel manager was really sympathetic to the guy they'd borrowed the sofabed from when he checked out, and told him he hoped they'd get over their quarrel!

There was another funny thing but I'm going to disguise that a bit like the Weasel and the Stoat story, and tell you another time!

I'm supposed to be writing tomorrow's lecture but I am unbelievably tired. I have the powerpoint from last year and I remember it leading to a lot of discussion, so let's hope that happens tomorrow too.