Saturday, January 31, 2009

Always, Always, Never

I will always feel tired.
Travel will always be difficult.
I will never have enough money.

These are normal things, common to almost everyone. Subtract them from your list of complaints, and see what's left.
Not so bad, perhaps?

Musings on Missed Boats and Other Things

Why-oh-why did I not have a CD with me? There was Cliff Richards' publisher sitting one sofa away, there was someone offering to give him a copy of my CD if I had one...
Today, I have donned an apron and I'm listening to the Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band and not cleaning while I do so.
I'd forgotten how many TV themes they incrporated into their songs: just little snatches, like sampling. It's not so new, is it?
I remember as a child sitting at the piano and picking out Jollity Farm. Sight-reading eluded me (nought out of ten in the Guildhall Piano Exams) and I got to Grade Three piano before my teacher, Miss Matthews, realised that I could not read a single dot on the page, but was merely remembering the tunes and going home and copying them. Shortly afterwards she sacked me from my piano lessons. Anyway, I didn't want to play those pieces of music. There was the occasional good one, a fantastic Bach study, for instance, but most of them were horrible, a bit like eating cold porridge. Jollity Farm had easy chords that repeated and was simple to learn.
Although their silliness can get wearing after a double album's worth of listening, they were all extraordinarily good musicians and lots of people used to listen to them. My friend at school, Debbie, had a cousin who was a Student, and that's how she heard them. Smeg from King Kurt had a phobia about Eleven Moustachioed Daughters and couldn't be within earshot of it, a similar thing to my fear of The Laughing Policeman by Charles Penrose.
Next up on the jukebox is the merry little squeaks of Shirley Temple. It will be tempting to see if I can still tapdance.
Silently, though, in my slippers on the lino.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Slushy Stuff for Valentine's Day

I made a Valentine's Day song last night and recorded it this morning on Garageband. I still can't seem to get the vocals quite right with the little microphone but a bit of time will probably sort it. I put it on Myspace as a download in case anyone was feeling soppy.
I set up my speakers again- for some reason they were disconnected at Christmas- and I've been hoovering along to Dusty in Memphis (what a brilliant set of songs!) and thinking about being sociable and going out to meet people for coffee instead of moping at home in a sea of used teabags. I was practicing walking in heels today but Barnet's pavements are crap and I sunk into one crack with my left high heel and another with my right, and I've scalped the leather off both beautiful heels; that idea I had of swanning around town in immaculate glamour has bitten the dust, and circumstances have reignited my innate scruffiness!

A Busy Day

This has been a very odd January, even for Januaries in general, which are generally odd.
Cold and wet? Check. No money? Check (£688 for a gas bill: house with huge windows and old radiators. Goodbye February recording budget!) Sickness? Check. Yet still that feeling of a new beginning of a new year and infinite creative possibilities...

Yesterday I met Gina- I think it must be a couple of months since we last saw each other. I have had a mega-teaching load and lots of gigs; she has been collecting and editing material for a Raincoats documentary that will be screened at the NFT on 28th March as part of the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, no less. Over breakfast we talked, talked, talked. I am hoping the Raincoats will donate a track to a compilation called Prams which is to be released by Chuck Warner, who runs a label called Messthetics in the States. I will be writing the sleeve notes and I am trying to help him find the owners of the tracks; he is also trying to race Gina from the Marine Girls to ask for one of their tracks. It's hard to put these things together for copyright and other reasons but Chuck has a lot of energy and dedication. There will be a very rare, unreleased Chefs track too, from our later, darker period.
After that I went to the Dover Bookshop in Covent Garden and had a bit of a browse. When I was an illustrator I practically lived there, and yesterday I bought a great book on 50s packaging (the colours!) and a book of musical illustrations, to inspire the new-found energy for drawing this year.
Next was a trip to Uniwest to hear the songwriters there; it's an oddly unbalanced group of fifteen men and five women. Tensely, they leaned forward into the circle, elbows on knees and grim nervous faces. As we went round the circle and each person had taken their turn, the body language changed and they relaxed, leaned back, crossed their feet at the ankles and let their arms dangle. It was a bit like watching a tightly-furled rosebud very gradually open and bloom, because by the end, they were all relieved and smiling, leaning back and spread out.
I'd love to make an animation of that!
Lastly, I headed down to the Columbia Hotel to meet Rob Ayling from Voiceprint to do some record business.
Today, I am a slumping slug. I walked through the gentle germy rain of someone's sneeze on Oxford Street yesterday and I'm hoping against hope that I don't incubate their virus and come out in a fiendish cold. I have a really exciting cluster of gigs next weekend and don't want to miss anything!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ladyfest Goldsmiths

Here's some info for you about the Ladyfest at Goldsmith's College in New Cross next Thursday, 5th February:
(I play at 10.15 in The New Cross Tavern)

Ladyfest Goldsmiths 2009 –
Thursday 5th February 12 midday until late

At last it is time for Ladyfest Goldsmiths 2009, and time to celebrate
Women’s Creativity. Ladyfest is a community-based, not-for-profit global
music and arts festival for female artists that features bands, musical
groups, performance artists, authors, spoken word and visual artists, and
workshops, and we have our home-grown festival here at Goldsmiths.

Featured in the event:


An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
Das Wanderlust
We Rock Like Girls Don’t
The Cut-Outs
Betty and the Werewolves
November Fleet
Tiny Tigers
Helen McCookerybook
The Bobby McGees

Performance and comedy:

Vulgarians – stripped down music for an afternoon of excitement.

Dockers MC - performance poet and artist. (The Times picked her as one of
2008's literary 'ones to watch') “both spitfire rapid and animated with
slow motion precision, a flurry of sassy South London linguistics and
old-fashioned storytelling” (Wears the Trousers)

Bishi -
"Emerging as a vibrant artist to watch, Bishi is a young singer, DJ and
multi instrumentalist from London. Abandoning a fine arts degree to follow
a career in music, by 17 Bishi (aka DJ Siren) saw her club and live
following grow, and was touring with the likes of Pulp and Goldfrapp.
Making her debut album at just 19, Nights At The Circus is an exciting
fusion of British pop, folk, eastern electronica and urban life. It's a
showcase for one of the freshest Asian (and female) voices to come out of
Britain in recent years."

Rosie Wilby (Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year)
'a nice line in surreal patter' - Metro
Rosie Wilby is a comedian, singer/songwriter and MC/event host, based in
Peckham, SE London.

Sophie Parkin - Sophie Parkin is an English writer, artist and actor,
born in London in 1961.

She has also regularly written for British newspapers and periodicals, and
appeared on television and radio as a broadcaster – most recently on
Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. She writes regularly for 3:AM Magazine.

Sara Bynoe
Actor, writer, comedian. In 2000 Sara created the website a comedic database of horrible poems people wrote
when they were teenagers. The endeavor spun off into hosting "Teen Angst"
readings and then Sara edited an anthology "Teen Angst: A Celebration of
REALLY BAD Poetry" (St. Martin's Press, 2005). Teen Angst Poetry has been
called 'Bloody Hilarious' (ION Magazine) and the book was nominated for a
New York Library Association Books of Summer award.

This year due to their being many more events, the day is spilt across
different venues: Goldsmiths Students’ Union, The New Cross Inn and the
Kate & Tristan shop.

Talks from:

Molly Parkin - The highly acclaimed artist, painter and journalist comes
to speak about her life and her time at Goldsmiths in 1949.

"editor, poet, journalist, writer and artist: fashion editor of Nova
magazine in the 1960s, she moved onto the Sunday Times in the 1970s and
became a trend-setting celebrity; her autobiography, Moll was published in

Frances Morgan - Publisher of Plan B magazine... Women in Journalism.

"A music magazine that extends its remit to champion the counter-culture
in literature, film, comics, videogames and the visual arts, Plan B can be
relied on to cover the best new bands you already know and uncover a bunch
of others you haven’t heard yet. Or as they put it, “Confrontational
without being cliquey, Plan B is part of a cultural underground that looks

All proceeds go to the Poppy Project – a London based charity helping
women who have been trafficked into the UK.

Also, art, debates, face painting, cake sales, zine fayre, clothes swap,
bring and buy…..

Plus lots more to be confirmed – look out for updates!

Tickets: all day pass £7/£6 concession. Night only passes £5/£4 NUS.
Tickets available from

For more information or to get involved contact Holly Bott or (020) 8692 1406. or find us on facebook.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


'This is King Tong Puh Hancras', announced the auto lady garbledly on the Piccadilly Line tube. A kindly tourist misdirected another tourist, who had asked him where Lassel Square was, to Leicester Square. By the time they had communicated properly and realised that he'd meant Russell Square, it was too late. As I changed lines, I sidled past a man on the platform wearing a stetson and carrying a large inflatable plastic shark. He looked embarrassed, as though what had seemed like a good idea indoors had lost it's charm in the cold light of the Northern Line.

The venue had been very Sixties- a small Soho dive under an Italian cafe that served not very nice pizza in a charming way.
We sat at candelit tables, and watched Ben Spooner, energetic, fierce and doomy, playing his guitar percussively; every so often his fingers executed spiderlike moves and he revealed a skill in chordsmanship that made me glad his loopmaster had broken.
An aside on loopmasters: years ago when I was a punk I likened the long Seventies guitar solos we'd been born to eradicate to liking the smell of your own trouser-coughs. Loopmasters are worse- akin to shutting oneself into a vintage telephone kiosk with one's own trouser-cough. Ugh.
I was touched by the fact that the bar staff in this venue seemed to be total music fans- they'd congregated for the soundchecks and in between serving the boozers would come out from behind the bar so they could see and tap along with the music. The promoter, Stephen, was very good- he made absolutely sure everyone was happy with their sound, and was totally devoid of that arrogant cynicism that some promoters display. Again, a total music fan. He'd remembered London from two years ago, that was why he's asked me to play. He used to run the music at the Carnaervon Castle, one of the Camden pubs that burned down (the other was the Hawley Arms, haunt of the haunted Amy Winehouse) which I played that long ago with a group of heavy metal bands, I think.
There was a micro drama as Little Bruv identified the scent of Honey and Lemon washing balm in his beer glass but we decanted it into my coke glass and he was happy again. Lucy and Rowen came along too, and A Man Who Used to Like Helen And The Horns stood at the bar, texting like mad.
I sang, I sang, against painted silhouettes of the London skyline. I only had 4 hours sleep the night before and got a bit wavery here and there but did most of the songs justice, I think.
Last on was James Spankie. He had a large number of school friends in the audience who had peppered the evening with exotic text bleeps. They loved him, and so did he (meow!). Somewhere in his head was a stadium; somewhere in the loops were good songs. Everything was cluttered with noise, and although everyone's instruments go out of tune sometimes, two in one night, guitar and violin, made me wish he'd kept it a bit simpler. I don't normally write reviews of things that are bad, and he wasn't bad, really, especially as he is so young (cue comment about policemen getting younger these days from singer-songwriter getting older these days), so that's enough. I always think that if I rubbish someone my next gig will be crap!
I sort of wish he'd remembered that there were other people in the audience than his group of friends, and communicated to us too, that's all.
That was it; an interesting musical evening with a retro feel, and a surreal journey home. What an interesting book that would be, journeys home on the tube at night! They are always mad... people playing invisible musical instruments as they run though the evening's repertoire on the way back; people having one-person imaginary conversations and making the faces that go along with them; people throwing up, talking about bizarre things, humming along obliviously to their mp3 players... mice at the tube stations. Another city, even barmier than the one above ground.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Source Below

Tonight's gig is at The Source Below, 78 Brewer Street in Soho.
I'm on at 8.45 and its costs £6/£5 to get in
Maybe just one new song tonite!
I had a lovely morning, walking through the sunny Marylebone streets to Katy Carr's house, where we started up a songwriting group- Pascale, Rowen, Nadya, Katy and myself; I played the Martin acoustic guitar which is a lovely comfortable guitar to get to grips with and sounds sweet too. That part of London is really old fashioned with greasy spoon cafes plonked right next to chichi chocolate shops. I scuttled past the Conran Shop (I went in one, once) and noted a nice juicy charity shop on the way there. I once bought a brilliant dress in the Oxfam shop in Marylebone High Street and I'll have to go and take a look next time.
It's going to be an interesting (and private) project.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Night at the Perseverance

It was a quirky night last night; we had agreed to hire the Perseverance as an experiment for Winter Voices and see if we could make a go of it. I parked outside a brothel and moved my car as soon as I realised; the Perseverance was just around the corner and was deserted downstairs apart from a couple of regular old geezers, somewhat in their cups, propping up the bar. Upstairs,Ingrid was lighting candles and putting them on the tables; Lucy leapt forward all smiles, holding her mandolin; people milled around with poetry books and musical instruments and the sound man patiently set up the microphones.
One of the old geezers seemed keen on doing a turn; he had a club-singer's voice and serenaded whoever would listen, eventually roosting on the stairs looking for new victims. A couple of punters turned up, and we started sound checking.
The room started to fill up gradually; Debi and Red had come along and it was really nice to see them, as I hadn't expected them.
Ingrid's nights are always a friendly mixture of standards and abilities with one thing in common- total commitment from each artist. Some of the poetry I find a trial because it's a little on the gloomy side, but tonight's first poem proved a red rag to the bull. Ingrid and Lucy were joined by Huma and they began a poem that reflected on the situation in Gaza, decrying the cruelty of the Israelis and sympathising with the plight of a besieged community. It was a balanced and careful performance; I listened carefully as there are so many moral issues about the situation and I never know what to think or how to express what I think either. But it was very good.
However, at the end, the drunken old geezers, bristling, stood up and yelled 'Six million Jews! We thought this was music and not political propaganda! This is disgusting! We're going!'.
Lucy's riposte was equally heated. 'Twenty thousand Russians!'; her voice carried well, as she is a trained actress.
Ingrid gently calmed them all down. 'Oh dear. What a pity', she understated as the geezers grumped off downstairs.'They might have liked some of the other music and poetry'.
The geezers had only listened to what they didn't want to hear, you see, as many people do.
After that dramatic beginning, the proceedings bumbled on amiably; I liked Graham Cole's voice and his retro style; he could make a fortune as a covers-entertainer at people's birthdays, I think.
Later, I'd completely unwisely decided to try out three new songs. The Man in the Moon was fine, especially as halfway through the song I realised that I didn't have a snowflake's chance in hell of getting the instrumental part right and drew the song to a close before I got there. I completely cocked up All Systems Go! which was a real pity cos I was really in the mood for doing it. It is a fast song, however, and although I'd practised it loads, I hadn't practised the singing into the microphone bit and there was just too much going on and I had to jump ship and abandon it. I sang Summer Days and dedicated it to the woman who inspired it, who discovered that she had breast cancer and was then deserted by her husband for another woman the day she started treatment. It's a song about loving your way out of adversity, which I think after my own experiences of the past few years is all you can do. Lastly, I played A Bad Day and was unnerved that people were listening to the words so closely that they chuckled at the sarcastic bits that normally pass by unnoticed!
The best act was Jude Cowan, whose songs are sarky and poetic at the same time. She is also a really good musician and fingerpicker with a lovely voice which probably not everyone notices as she plays with such ease and grace. She is well-rehearsed and focused and well worth seeing, although her songs are sharply pointed and not for the fainthearted!
Heartssong played in their open and loose way; they are very much the sonic equivalent of naive art, dedicated, anarchic, rambling along at their own pace, no song sounding the same twice. Sometimes they are hard to listen to when the tuning goes off, but Ingrid's genial manner carries them through, and their Way of Disorganised Organisation means that any performer feels comfortable playing on the same bill. Before Christmas I played two songs I'd never played before at Voices of Experience in Tulse Hill because I knew it would be OK. This is really important and hats off to Ingrid for making performers feel relaxed enough to break out of their self-imposed cages!
We made the money on the door to pay the sound guy- the night was a success, a strange success, but it was a happy return journey home.
Strange fact of the night- three of us forgot the words to our songs. Something to do with January hibernation, perhaps?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I went to the 12 Bar last night to see Alex Lipinsky play. Interestingly , on the way in a very well-dressed man was offering a student some cocaine in exchange for a quid for the parking meter. I wonder if he does that in the supermarket? It would be weird to see him at the checkout with a bag of groceries trying to pay with a wrap of heroin! The poor (quite liderally) student just said, 'Sorry, I'm a student, I haven't got any money', which put cocaine-man's gas at a peep.
Alex's band are great (although they need some advice about what to wear on stage). They are very well-rehearsed, give Alex space to sing, and support his sometimes quite shy, but not coy, performing persona loyally. The songs are Big- it was incongruous to hear what will become stadium-filling songs in the tiny and squashed 12-Bar ( I didn't buy a drink as I didn't want to use the disgusting loos. Take note, bar manager, if your takings nosedive). However the sound system in the venue is of such high quality that the whole show worked really well. The songs are tuneful, characterful and have strong choruses, and best of all Alex is a really committed and sincere performer. Yes, he was my student, and yes, I was proud of him!

Tonight, come down to the Perseverance in Marylebone (1 Shroton Street), where there's a night of song and poetry beginning at 8 and costing £3. I have decided to play some new songs, but I won't unless you come along. Put on your scarf, your mittens with elastic running through your coat sleeves and that hat you look silly in, and bumble down to the funky West End for the evening!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ponderings on my Wanderings

January: mend things, clean things, maintain things.
In search of elastic to fix a rock'n'roll petticoat, I meandered into Barnet's handicraft shop, only to overhear an upsetting conversation that made me want to cry. The man was ranting to a customer about having a pension and not being allowed to work (eh? what was he doing there?) and then launched into a rant about ' You're not supposed to say it, but these asylum seekers, over here, taking our jobs, they've all got a car and a flat while our people...'.
That's the third time I have heard this rant against refugees in shops in Barnet; once was in the pet shop (you lost my custom, pet shop), twice was in the Oxfam shop (I know! What a bitter old bag that was!) and then again today. To my shame, I didn't tackle the others but today I had to. I told him that he would lose customers if he talked like that and it's a recession and it's not a wise thing to do under the circumstances. I told him that I did not agree with what he had said and that I would never come back to the shop again.
He apologised.
So what? He was worried about losing custom, not about being nasty.

Years ago, Arthur from the Lurkers came round to our flat in Camberwell; we were friends with him, as my ex-partner's band King Kurt did a lot of gigs with the Blubbery Hellbellies, a group who had grown from the Lurkers. There, we had an elderly couple, George and Molly, living upstairs who were very kind to us- they had a shop at the Oval and used to leave a little basket of vegetables on our doorstep every Friday evening.
In spite of the fact that he went over the road at least twice a week to buy his fish'n'chips from (also) George-over-the-road, who was Greek, George upstairs would proudly tell us that he asked George-over-the-road every time he went there, when he was going to 'go home' to Greece.
I talked about this with Arthur for some reason, wondering whether this was because his generation had been though a World War when people from other countries were 'the enemy'.
Arthur would not allow me to make this excuse for George upstairs.
"Everybody in this country is well-educated, and well-educated people have no excuse whatsoever for ignorance', he said.
Arthur was right. We share the same sun, the same sky, the same problems on our little planet whizzing through space.
I am feeble about challenging wrong things sometimes, though not always, but from now on I will do more than simply boycott shops with racist staff. I will always speak up and tell the shopkeeper that I think their views are offensive and hurtful.

Before I get trapped in an alley of moral blab, let me change direction! I have finally admitted to myself that I can't see a thing and have to get a proper pair of spectacles. You see, I want to make a good job of these illustrations for the book of Martin's lyrics and peering through a hazy mist at a shining sheet of white paper trying to decipher my own lines just isn't an option; I bought the paper today, lovely shiny CS10 (now out of manufacture, according to the man in the shop) and am heading up the road for en eye test later.
So, see you later. I need a cup of tea.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Songwriting and Slugs

In the past two weeks I've read and marked more than a hundred undergraduate essays. Sometimes this has been utterly dispiriting; yesterday's workload, though, involved listening to 5 CDs of songs written by students, and it felt as though the sn had finally come out this gloomy January. There was one that was so good that I had to listen to it again and dance round the kitchen; In nearly all of them I could hear that the students had really enjoyed creating their music; there was one where one band member had been a bit sulky and you could hear him playing crossly, only to be shoved firmly back into line when the joyous vocals thrust him out of the way to chorus their message.
Today I start with a new Songwriting group. This is exciting; last year's group came up with Alex Lipinsky, who won a lot of funding from the Musician's Benevolent Fund Peter Whittingham Award. I am hugely proud of the students who do this songwriting class. Emmy the Great is touring the UK and is doing brilliantly; Jamie McDermott's orchestra, the Irrepressibles, got a four-star review for their EP in this month's Uncut. Back in the past, Kevin Mark Trail sang on The Streets' first album and is now an artist in his own right; and (perhaps irrelevantly?) Arianne Sherrine passed through the gates before she graduated to become a journalist and scriptwriter and engineered controversial red bus slogans! Perhaps the most famous University of the West graduates are The Feeling, or two thirds of them. They didn't do this songwriting thing, sadly,but I did give one of them a place on the music course in spite of his overwhelming shyness, which meant I had to peer under his hair to make eye contact, a little difficult as his eyes were fixed firmly on his shoes all the way through the interview.
Meanwhile I am completing some new songs and will be possibly playing some of them at the next couple of gigs, Saturday and Monday. One of them is six minutes long, the longest song I have ever written.
I suppose it may be just too long and drawn out ever to play live; if that is the case I will line up a neat set of slugs in the garden and play it to them instead.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I wanted to put the light on to see by when I was changing the lightbulb, but I couldn't, because I was changing the lightbulb.

Protection; a McCookerybook Version of Sun Tzu

Want to know absolutely the best way to silence a person who is ranting at you full throttle about you shortcomings?
Draw yourself up to maximum height and beyond and sneer, 'My face, your arse!'.
In my experience this can take a full half-hour for them to work out through the red mist of anger, by which time, of course, you have retired to a place of calm and security!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bins, Continued; Only Read This If You Are Extremely Bored Because It's Boring.

In the dark in winter, I have just discovered, you can't tell which is the Green Bin and which is the Black Bin, because there is no smell of rotting food from the Green Bin to tell you. I tried to guess and almost put the wrong rubbish in the wrong bin, because night-time makes both bins a foggy greyish colour and they look identical.

Post Break Post

I have written to loads of people and told them the wrong date for the gig at The Source Below in Brewer Street- it's a week today, Monday 26th January, 78 Brewer Street, and it's £6/£4 and I'm on at 8.45.
Not surprising, as I was going a bit bonkers with work etc and had taken to buying wild cowboy gear online. A rather nice bolo tie featuring a celluloid cowboy on a bucking bronco with pink lanyard turned up today, and I believe an extreme cowboy shirt is on its way. Luckily I stopped before I got to the stetson stage, as I would have found it difficult to live with myself had I gone that far. Ol' grandpappy McCookerybook would've been rotating in his Scottish grave, his tartan chest heaving with shame and dissatisfaction, his shabby deerskin sporran quaking with disgust.
As for CDs- Shirley Temple, Camille, Nina Simone, Phil Harris, Eartha Kitt, a bucket of Northern Soul and a Van Morrison compilation are buried under the chocolate teacakes on the side in the kitchen, waiting for a dancing cookathon, at which point they will burst from their cellophane like the Incredible Hulk and leap on the the CD player to shake their shiny round little glass asses! I dare not insert my card into the wall to find out how much money I haven't got, but luckily I don't splurge like this very often, only when the January terrors take me. Perhaps an S.A.D. lightbox would have been better.
Perhaps not: you can't dance to those.

I have been away for a couple of days and am now calm and studious again. My plan after Hamilton Square ( a nanosecond away from being finished, just needs polishing and the cover design finalised) has found a record company home, is to sell a lot of my stuff on eBay so I can go to New York and record my next solo project at Tom's studio. I do quite fancy having a stab at doing a bit of analogue recording in London though, so I probably will, once the January Gas Bill (urgh) has arrived and been disposed of. My fingers have missed my guitar, but I haven't had any wild inspiration while away although sometimes these things take a while to filter through and explode into your head at dawn.

Ah Bisto!
O for a fountain of endless style and solid substance and an abundance of energy to plunge into it with...

A cleaner would help.

I've been away, guess where?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I'm going to re-do the lead vocal on All Systems Go! so I've swapped it for the new, equally mad Glasgow Train,
Have a good day!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I've mentioned before that I have a collecsh of weird dolls at work and I'd been meaning to get hair-colour-change Ken a Val Doonican combo of sweater and jeans at some point, but he's been dressed in an old red sock for several years.
One of the office cleaners must have been playing with him and has altered the sock to make a hijab for him, although he is a man (or I think he is; he possesses no equipment of either gender so could indeed have been outed as a woman by his mystery wardrobe assistant). I have decided to leave it for the time being while I consider the clothing question.

Monday, January 12, 2009

All Systems Go!

Have fun to chase the rants away! I had recorded my space song All Systems Go! but it was all systems too slow, so tonight I did a rapid recording at a rapid speed- 140 bpms instead of 120. It's a silly demo but I put it on Myspace anyway. I used a Fender Telecaster and did two guitars tracks, one with loads of reverb and echo and one with loads and loads of reverb and echo. I think I might ask Steve Beresford if he'd like to put some nutty outer space sounds on it and Martin if he'd like to put some wild guitars. You have to wrestle with Garageband, which is harder to do neat quick edits on than Logic Audio, and there is such a buffering problem on my little computer but I thought up a wheeze of creating extra tracks, recording in short bursts and then editing them together. The programme took a while to catch up on that one and by then I was as finished as I could be. It's part of the fun of using Garageband, I think, working out how to get round it's belief that only hip hop and rock exist and everything else is a sonic mistake.
The cat turned up for her vocals but she was too late today and the piteous meowing happened at mixdown stage and I even managed to stroke her while I was splitting and neatening up the backing vocal tracks.

There are urls for a little review and an interview to come but a later posting for those.

Shouts to Sid, Ari and Shirley. You know why, lots of love.

Warning About Shops

This is going to be a rant. I'm sorry!
After working in a shop in my twenties I automatically add up prices as I shop and by the time I reach the till, I have a good idea of what I will be paying.
Beware of W.H.Smith's in Barnet- for the second time in two weeks I have been charged much more at the till than the price on the shelves. This is nothing to do with alterations in Value Added Tax- the amount is too much for that. I had to get the assistants to check both times, which was a time-consuming fuss and seemed to cause a degree of resentment on their part.
I am not going there again. This is very similar to the trick that Sainsbury's in East Barnet regularly played on its customers- stacking goods that were the normal price very close to 'Two For One' offers, making it easy for a customer to make a mistake and buy two full-priced packs of whatever. After having to check my bills time after time, and challenging the store staff about this misleading practice, forgiving them, going back and having it happen again (and again), I've given up going to that shop too.
I actually think this is stealing from customers, isn't it?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kalamazoo Club and Bullets

Martin sold out the Kalamazoo Club last night and it was a brilliant gig. He played one of the best versions of Home I've ever heard him do live, and his story about the big scary skinhead drummer keeping the amps hostage when he got chucked out of the band was hilarious. He did about three encores. Paul came over and played clarinet for me (London and Autumn Love which Martin also played on) and also played for some of Martin's Old Timey songs.
It was a perfect warming January gig; the guys in the first band, a string band with lots of guitars and an acoustic bass, played a set of gentle blues numbers which was mellow and got the audience settled. They were a smiley listeny audience who gave me a good response too. The Kalamazoo is normally a comedy venue but it was just right for one of Martin's gigs and they booked him straight away for January next year.

Meanwhile I heard a very funny story. Another of my pals who shall remain nameless for reasons which will become obvious, passed though airport security and caused a terrible commotion. The Officious Lady demanded to know what was in their hand luggage, as uniformed people clustered round the computer screen looking at the scan and muttering ominously. The bewildered pal eventually unpacked the bag, to bashfully reveal at the bottom (sic) a pack of Anusol suppositories.
The Officious Lady and her colleagues had thought they were bullets.


the council has refunded the fifty quid I had to pay for a new bin!

Friday, January 09, 2009


I almost forgot to say- I'm playing some songs with Martin Stephenson tonight at the Kalamazoo Club in Crouch End. Paul Davey's coming along too to tootle a bit on the sax.

Morning Musings and More On the Silly Saga of the Bins

Wow. After a festive season that has felt at times as though I was an elephant asked to cross a field of eggshells without breaking any, I have had a couple of days to breathe. Tiredness has hit me and I'm glad I have a short break in Barcelona coming up next week. It is probably cold there, but Spain-cold, not England-cold, which I am sure will be different.
I have been listening to Jim Byrne's CD, On These Dark Nights and have been enjoying his guitar pickin', especially on the track Weather Girl, which has a sparkly old-timey feel. I also particularly like the countryish Tenderness, but the best track (I'm a sucker for the catchy ones) is Sunday Morning, which has a strong riff and a singalong chorus, and a dark little twist to the lyrics. His myspace is
Last night I recorded another weird track, All Systems Go!, a totally quirky pop song. I am going to spend part of tomorrow editing it. I love editing sound, but Garageband is a pain to do this on if you are used to Logic Audio. I reckon if I can get through the pain threshold and learn a bit of patience, that will be a Good Thing. It's sort of fun taking up the challenge of combating things like latency when you pile on the backing vocals; I'd been thinking of getting some backing vocalists. Terribly tempting to be able to render my songs live complete with harmonies, but if you make space for band members the space tends to become a hole when they are not there for some reason, and I am very wary of that.

Finally, a bit of bin news! The council agreed to buy back my new bin after the return of the prodigal bin, so I washed it out
ready. Fiendishly early this morning a lorry drew up and proceeded to load up the old bin, complete with rubbish, which I'd put out last night for the normal Friday collection. Blearily I watched them from the window before dashing downstairs.
"No! No! That's the wrong bin! It's full of rubbish! I washed out the other one for you to take back!
'Doesn't matter luv', the driver smiled through the early morning fog, and drove off.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Recording and Domestic Animals

I suppose she was very patient and it took her more than an hour before she came and gently laid her ample tail across the computer keyboard, but did she really need to utter a loud 'Meaow!' just at the very end of the track when I was recording the last vocal of all? The microphone didn't even pick up the loud party downstairs, but she's quite definitely there in all her bossy glory.

Monkey Chews Gig

It's a nice room- a bit of a bohemian womb, if such a thing can exist. They were obviously expecting smart company, as the bar was lined with about twenty bottles of champagne and same again of Jack Daniels. I was very pleasantly surprised to see Simba behind the desk, ex-University of the West, who told me his brother Beenie (also ex-University of the West) is now drumming for Gabriela Cilmi. I am very pleased; Beenie studied Songwriting with me, was always late for class but wrote some very interesting and intense songs.
The first artist to play was Samantha Whates. She comes from Melrose originally and as a guitarist shows the obvious influence of Joni Mitchell. However, that's where it stops because her songwriting style is altogether different and I absolutely loved her high, airy, fresh voice. which was perfectly pitched. The melodies of her songs meandered and ran up and down scales without being busy and fussy, and she made simplicity out of complexity, which was very clever without being Clever, if you understand what I mean. In some ways she reminded me of Morvern Callar, although her songs are a little more complex, which is not to their detriment. It was refreshing to be fascinated as well as entertained by a singer. I loved it.
I went on next; Katy joined me to sing on Heaven Avenue- it was nice. I tried a new song called Summer Days to fight the January blues, but forgot the last verse. Nobody seemed to mind too much. I almost drifted off to dreamland on Little England; the horrid norovirus is still there burrowing away in my system, I know it.
Chris Tanzi was the next performer. She was very good, very professional but it was not so much a style of music that I like; I can imagine she is very good at festivals and other large gatherings. Katy was looking to pinch her flute player!
Last, but not least, was School of Imagination, which for want of a better description, was a psychedelic string band. They had bass, drums, guitar, uke and mandolin, and lots of singing by three men with identical voices who sometimes sang in harmony and sometimes in unison. Their songs rambled about all over the place, but as a listener I was very happy to ramble with them; they were so well-rehearsed you felt happy to be driven to an unknown destination in a strange vehicle. Were they early Pink Floyd? Not really. The Eagles? Too English. Nick Drake muliplied by five? Possibly. There was a 'World' music thing in there too. Oddly, the music they most reminded me of was Bill Keith, the jazz banjo player, whose music bounces softly along like a thick cloud, colliding with rhythm just enough to hold it down and stop it from disappearing up its jaxy. The thing about Bill Keith is that he has no drummer, and this band has a very competent drummer who flows along with the rest of them, gazing skywards as if to read his horoscope from the ceiling as he plays. If I was a film maker I would make a film specially to have this band playing along in a corner.
Well, that was it- apart from the fact that Dec came out to the gig. He used to run a record label for the University of the West and I always really liked him and his rapport with the students. It was lovely to see him: my music is not his cup of tea but he really enjoyed the evening and I hope to see him again soon.
Katy's planning a songwriting get-together of lady songwriters. Will we give away our trade secrets? Who knows!


I awoke this morning a genius, full of wise things to note on the blog.
I fell back to sleep and woke again, and found I'd forgotten the lot.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Housework Avoidance

The urgency to make another posting has taken over from the (non) desire to do housework.
I saw four redwings out there today, being chased by blackbirds; here are two of them. I saw two bluetits, a wren and a robin as well. The little birds came back after I shifted that hanging bird feeder thing with seeds to where they could see it from the sky.
Before that I had been performing an interesting excavation of the kitchen cupboard, to the strains of Jim Byrne's lovely album, which I will review soon.
Angelica? Intriguing, I bought it for it's stringy plasticky green-ness. What's it for?
Crystallised violets, bought in Italy three years ago, I somehow thought that perhaps Italians lived on a diet of crystallised violets, tomatoes, olive oil and wine and this helped them to be good painters and ride Vespas.
Vanilla pods- loads of them! In long glass tubes like test tubes, which I have washed and will use either for my pretend chemistry set or as sniffing-tubes, because they still smell of vanilla.
What are sniffing-tubes, you ask? Not sure, as I've just invented them, but I'll be sure to elaborate when the idea has matured.
Lots of cinnamon. I just kept thinking of cinnamon toast when I was out and must have bought cinnamon every time. Atishoo!
Cocktail sticks: wishful thinking about parties and a half-orange with cheese'n'pineapple, probably.
There are also mysterious and possibly poisonous things in cardboard packets which I don't dare to throw away.

Anyway, here is the recipe for cinnamon toast in case you wondered what it was.
1. Make toast
2. Butter it
3. Sprinkle sugar on it
4. Sprinkle cinnamon on it
5. Put under grill until sugar and cinnamon melt and mix
6. Eat, perhaps with a mug of hot chocolate to wash down

A Gig Tonight

Yes, I have a gig tonight at Monkey Chews, a pub with food, 2 Queens Crescent in Chalk Farm, NW5 4EP
It is free to get on and I think I am on at about 8 p.m.


I got so agitated after that last post that when I was performing the 41st housework, cleaning out the kitchen cupboard to the strains of Northern Soul, I knocked over a huge drum of cocoa powder, which fluffed out in clouds all over the kitchen and all over me, coating the floor, the chair I'd mountaineered on to reach the shelf, the worktop, my dungarees (yes, I was in hillbilly mode) and even vertical surfaces with its matt brown powder.
It's all cleaned up now, and I distracted myself from the horrors of warfare with a Big Thought about whether the currants I found in a jar are OK to make rock cakes with.
How suburban! This is why housewives end their days on ever-increasing prescriptions for tranquilisers. Or glass after glass of gin and tonic, ice and a slice.
This gives me my proper heavy-duty New Year's resolution. I resolve to put serious time and effort into campaigning against the sale of weapons, and warfare in general.

Starts Easy, Ends Hard

I've spent the last couple of days methodically doing lots of things my feet have not wanted to move me towards. I have marked forty essays (more to come, unforchly), paid forty bills and done forty houseworks (both more to come, unforchly).
I have played forty guitars too, though, which has been a total lifesaver as usual.
I am trying to remember to practice old songs as well as write new ones, and sometimes I forget the chords and have to work them out from scratch. I don't write them down as I don't know what a lot of them are- they are weird ones I make up to fit in to whatever I want to hear. I did buy a guitar chord book but it's buried under a pile of papers at the moment.
I have also done a bit of drawing, for Peter and the Penguins, and when the Art Shop opens again after its long New Year break I am going to Investigate Pens. It is part of the New Year Plan to seriously start drawing again as well as musicking more than ever.
I see this recession as an opportunity to spread my creative wings even more and flap about like a blissful idiot while everyone else is moaning. Honestly, what can we all do about it? The thing that concerns me infinitely more is that aggressive men are still wasting money on destroying people's lives, families and homes, claiming historical justification for this.
Sixty per cent of British manufacturing income comes from manufacturing weapons. That's why we all live so nicely in our lined-up houses with our white goods, plentiful food and smug attitudes to people in the developing world.
Those bombs, mines, bullets, grenades, and other horrific ways of injuring, maiming and killing people all over the world have 'Made in Britain' stamped upon them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

John Hegley at the 12 Bar

Last night I decided to meet up with Joan the Animator and see John Hegley play at the 12 Bar. We both know him- she because he goes and does writing workshops with her quiet animation students, and I because the Chefs drummer Russ Greenwood used to be in the Popticians with him, and Russ's brother Nick plays bass with him still. On the way there, as I walked down from Tottenham Court Road tube, a man came up behind me and asked me if I was French.
'No', I said. 'Why?'. 'Because you look as though you might be'.
Well this led to all sorts of thoughts.
"Did you have brussels sprouts for your tea? You look as though you did'.
"Have you got an aunt called Moira? You look as though you do'.
'Will you be taking the day after tomorrow off work to go shopping? You look as though you will'.
'Has your sister just had triplets? You look as though she has'.
And so on.
It was chilly in the 12 Bar and I went to the newly refurbished loo, or perhaps I should say, reverse-furbished. It was always pretty awful, but they have downgraded it to utterly disgusting and you honestly couldn't tell which one was for men and which one was for women, apart from the third one which was obviously for men. I resolved to drink the minimum amount that evening in case I had to go back!
Joan turned up, attractively pink with cold at face points, and wearing a black puffa jacket as thick as an Antarctic duvet. We sat for a while chatting until Nick, John and Vicky the trombone player joined us, and I was persuaded to sing backing vocals for Stetson Jim's song later on.
We followed them through to the cave-like live room and listened to songs about guillemots that sit on the window sill a lot, bungalows, gay men and other real life things. John Hegley is funny and scary simultaneously; I liked seeing him with a band- they were very good. The drummer (who became and Uncle ten minutes ago, according to a relative in the audience) was light-handed and brisk, and Nick is a very skilled and musical bass player. Me and Joan decided that Vicky had Audrey Hepburn potential were she not a tomboy, and her trombone playing really iced the musical cake. It was a quirky musical evening with a very warm-hearted audience and was infinitely better than staying at home and watching the telly. When Stetson Jim did his song I sat on the edge of the stage and read the lyrics off a scrap of paper, as I can't even remember the lyrics of my own songs. Musically, it was a very interesting night because there was quite obviously a degree of spontanaiety in the way the band was working.
And what a funny little venue it is. I have often wondered how it dares to exist in the trashy, cheap, money-riddled West End that steamrollers the heart out of everything. But there it is- shabby, with its own style of acts, sometimes packed, sometimes deserted, tatty, dirty, but completely charming.

Awful Joke

What happened to Winnie the Pooh when he grew up?
He became a Teddy-Boy, along with his friend, Quifftopher Wobin.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Ants

It was summer, or maybe Easter, in the 1970s, and the 1st Wylam Guides were camping somewhere in Northumberland with a group from Gosforth, possibly near the Kielder Forest or possibly near Rothbury. It was warm and sunny, and we were all very jolly: rough, smooth, rich, poor, urban and rural. Carol, from Wylam, was my best friend. She was a hard kid but we got on really well. She called me Macadamized Cheese and I made her laugh and she made me laugh.
We were all really excited one day because we were going off orienteering, which meant you went into the forest with a compass and a map in groups of six, found something (I can't remember what) and then came back. I was the Patrol Leader. I am not sure why as I was bad at everything except drawing, but I'd developed an authoritative demeanour that meant everyone trusted me. My patrol seemed to consist of all the oddballs but I liked that and so did they.
The camp was surrounded on three sides by wooded hills, and we started off, climbing through the bracken, brambles and ivy-scrambled trees, laughing and talking and fooling around, looking at our feet, the trees and each other but not at the map. We probably walked for about an hour in this way until we came to a track through the trees, a double-line of sandy soil where a farm vehicle obviously passed regularly. 'Ha ha ha', we chortled, until Susan said 'Look!'.
If you looked closely at the sandy tracks you could see they were seething with ants, millions of tiny bustling quivery-antennaed creatures, climbing over each other, weaving through crowds of each other, piled in trembling layers.
Susan was obviously upset but I was a country girl and I reassured her all the time, and we strode over them, heading towards a patch of light ahead, which I was sure was a field, but having lost contact with the map, not sure which field. We brushed the ants off us as well as we could and climbed over the wooden fence, jumping down on to a mound of wood shavings...
...which turned out to be a HUGE ants nest. They were dotted all over this open area in the wood- it was impossible to tell if they were man-made or ant-made, but there were loads of them, all busy, busy, busy, giving the impression of a haze with all the micro-activity upon them. They were massive, some reaching waist-level. These ants were fierce and red and bigger, and there was a collective resentment in the way they reared up as we approached. Although they were still tiny, the sheer quantity of them was nerve-wracking; we had disturbed them in the private planning and execution of whatever it was that they did, and they didn't like it, and there were more of them than us. We were clodhopping, stupid, slow giants in their sophisticated antworld.
One by one we began to freeze with terror. Nobody knew where we were, especially not us, and there was not another human being in sight, and no sound except a sort of sinister rustling. I tried to keep calm and look at the map while everyone else started twitching and shrieking and trying to stop the critturs darting about all over their trouser-legs. We tucked our trousers into our socks, and in slow-motion took what seemed to be an age to pick our way across the field, fright freezing each one of us in turn until the others called out encouragement to keep moving.
Finally we reached the furthest edge of the field and clambered over the fence again, shuddering, into the cool shade and an area where the ants seemed to be the safer black sort and not the nasty red ones we had encountered in the clearing. Our voices choked as we spoke and we focused on getting Out. At least under the trees the ants were operating in one dimension- they were on the ground and not piled up in great fear-inducing heaps. Deaf with the horror of it all, we crowded together and carried on.
It took us all day to get back to the camp. I don't know how we did it, because we totally abandoned the map and just walked. Gradually, the ants faded out and we started to hear the sound of other human beings doing ordinary things, voices oblivious to the awful experience we had just been through. We crackled through the undergrowth and down the sloping hill to the camp, almost afraid to believe we'd finally got back to somewhere safe.
It was impossible to explain to anyone what our day had been like. The collective fear had gripped us like wire. The ordinariness and calm of the camp seemed unbelievable for several hours. But being young, we put it to one side next day and got on with enjoying the rest of the outdoor experience.
Except, every so often, Carol hissed 'Antssssss', and stopped the six of us in our tracks.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Funny how humans reduce everything to grids. Knitting patterns- grids. Computer music programs- grids. Guitar necks- grids.
I once devised a project that involved making music out of a knitting pattern. You played the music into the computer, it made a visual grid and a piece of knitting came out the back. I even found a knitter in Aberdeen who would work on it, too, and some enthusiastic supporters. The problem was I just didn't have time to do it, just to have the idea.
When I make knitting patterns I usually work it out on a grid but then get more confident and do it freehand. When I program music I have to remind myself to be a listener not a watcher, cos if I'm not careful I become fascinated and distracted by the little coloured columnar pop video I'm creating on the screen.
Lots of folk dances work on grids too and I imagine the weaving as people are galumphing about in formation. Of course that actually happens physically in Maypole Dancing. Strange that such physical things are reduced to geometry, and I know that is always one of the problems with notation, because you can't notate emotion in music or indeed the stamina that it will take different dancers to get through a dance. Notation is a sad little world of its own; I have a very funny picture of a bird with its song carefully notated out beneath it, without the fresh air, the temperature, the other ambient sounds, the age of the bird or the purpose of the song.

I hope you like the folksinger jumper. It was knitted all on one big needle and I have always meant to do sleeves, but then I didn't get round to it and realised that all the best folksinger jumpers are tank tops anyway, aren't they?


I've spent liderally the whole evening trying to upload a video of Helen and the Horns on to firstly Myspace, then this blog, then AF Acoustic Collective, then Youtube, then Myspace again, twice, firstly from this Mac and then from a PC.
It's just not gonna work!
I did upload a weird demo called Slow Down on to Myspace though which is a scary song for some reason.
Reminds me of Smeg from King Kurt who couldn't be in the same room as Eleven Moustachioed Daughters by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band; he was terrified of it. My terror-song is The Laughing Policeman. I have to leave the room and come back when it's finished; I even need a helper to come and fetch me in case I come back in too early, and hear a little bit of it by accident.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Sugar Babies 4 U

More About Bins, Mysteriously

I bought a new wheelie bin from the Council for fifty quid last week.
There was another new one on the front path today.
The old one come back, rejuvenated?
Yet another new one from the Council?
Someone trying to help?
What do I do?
Phone the Council?
Steal the second bin and try to get a refund for the first one?
Start selling bins on eBay?
Meanwhile, when I got back last night some tosser had spread the contents of both bins, dry messy bin and splodgy smelly food'n'green waste bin, all over my neighbour's drive, which I had to clear up in the freezing dark at 10 o'clock before they came back.
I think I'l go and live on Mars.


On this my day of rest I am sitting idly wondering if it's possible to dance The Dashing White Sargeant to Rockin' Girl.
I don't think it quite works. I am trying some others though. The Gay Gordons, The Miltiary Twostep, The Eightsome Reel (the dance that drove patient Uncle James almost to tears when he tried to teach it to his clumsy nieces and nephews).

What I Bought Last Year: a Festival of Fibs

I bought a new hoover
When I went to Vancouver
I bought some old pants
When I went to France
I bought a blue biro
When I went to Cairo
I bought some maracas
When I went to Caracas
I bought a new loo
When I went to Peru
I bought a huge palace
When I went to Dallas
I bought an old fork
When I went to New York
I bought a silk turban
When I went to Durban
I bought a veranda
When I went to Uganda
I bought some ripe cheese
When I went to Belize
I transplanted a kidney
When I went to Sydney
I bought a pipe cleaner
From old Argentina
I bought me a phone
From Sierra Leone
I bought a bin liner
When I went to China
I bought a nice song
When I went to Hong Kong
I bought a red mac
When I went to Iraq
I bought a sauce pan
When I went to Iran
I bought a toy crane
When I travelled to Spain
I bought a new home
When passing through Rome
I bought some rank vermin
When I went to Dunfermiline
A box of pink tissues
When I went to Mauritius
I bought a fine pistol
When I went to Bristol
I bought something frilly
When I went to Chile
I bought a new clock-o
When I went to Morocco
I bought a guitar-a
When I went to the Sahara.

Hey-ho for my greed!
Now there's nothing I need.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

And I mean that. Stuff the recession- take control of your own life and make it work for you. Having scraped through the one in the 1990s with very little work, two babies and an empty fridge, I'll punch this one's light out if it tries to do me in Grrr!
As for yesterday, the dratted Norovirus got me and I spent most of the day in the bathroom making extraordinary sound effects and shaking with the ague, wearing three jumpers and a scarf and hallucinating about small animals.
Tomorrow, I will write a sensible, measured and intelligent (ha ha) posting, but today is for resting and appreciating the taste of a lovely cup of tea.