Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cinderella at Sadlers Wells

I took the girls to see Matthew Bourne's Cinderella at Sadler's Wells last night.
We love Matthew Bourne's shows, which are great for people like us who are not connoisseurs of ballet, but who like to see something special at Christmas.
We were sitting really close to the front of the theatre, which meant that the recorded music was far too loud and I had to stuff crumpled up bits of tissue into my ears, but once I'd done that I could settle down and enjoy it!
It started off with newsreel footage from Wartime Government Information Films that instructed people what to do when the bombers appeared in the skies above them; a man hid in a ditch, and there was a lot of footage from the rear, of suggestive looking fire-hoses extinguishing the flames in bombed-out houses; behind a mesh screen, a family of characters watched what we were watching.
As the screen rose, we were presented with a strange, large family; father was in a wheelchair, a supreme irony in a ballet. There was a horrid, slimy, foot-fetishist lodger (I thought), two glamorous ugly sisters who looked like younger versions of Gert and Daisy (of the Wartime Cookbook), and various other characters. All was in black and white: blimps on sticks hovered on the horizon, and the beautifully-made clothes were in shades of grey. Not only was it black and white, but it also had the feel of a silent movie, with the dancers acting and dancing along to the pre-recorded Profokiev soundtrack that was punctuated by bomb explosions. They were very quiet dancers; although I could hear them breathing (very subtly, through their nostrils), their footfalls were much lighter and more delicate than those of classical dancers with their blocked shoes.
I read some reviews of this ballet before sitting down to write this, because I wanted to know who played the part of Cinderella. I think we were lucky because we saw Noi Tolmer dance the part. She is of Thai origin and she is really the most exquisite dancer: she dances as lightly as a feather, so beautifully that at times I felt like crying.
This is a very romantic ballet. The critics have complained that there is not enough dancing in it, but there is so much else there, and the choreography is fantastic when it happens, starting with Cinderella's dance with the dummy that suddenly comes to life ( with it's references to Liesl in The Sound of Music). (actually, the funny little woman with the 'earphone' hair was straight out of the concert scene in The Sound of Music too). The contrast between her fluidity and the male dancer's stiffness was amazing.
The foot-fetishist (Cinderella's all about shoes, innit?) was genuinely sweaty with juicy lips (ugh!) and kept sliming around just when he wasn't wanted. There were funny bits, sad bits, horrible bits (set in wartime, you could feel the panic and greed in the air, so much at odds with the fabled 'Wartime Spirit'). There were references to Sleeping Beauty that a child could understand, and it was well-cast with old-fashioned head shapes and profiles, although with occasional 1980s-looking hairstyles sometimes they could feasibly have been Matthew's clubbing friends!
The wicked stepmother was truly wicked, trying it on with the leading man (an airman with a suspiciously clone-like moustache); she was a mistress of arch expressions. She tried to suffocate Cinderella with a pillow before being marched off to prison. I liked the fairy godfather too, who conducted everyone whenever he was needed.
We absolutely loved it, and I was blown away by Cinderella's dancing. I think the critics who wrote about this ballet saw it danced by another lead dancer.
Noi Tolmer has just the charm that the part needed and the lightness of bearing that went perfectly with the themes of doom and redemption; it was genuinely magical and we left feeling glad that Matthew Bourne had delivered another inspiring evening out to a family of arty-farties who don't get to go to the ballet very often!

Day

Rest day; coffee, clementines, laryngitis, girls at ex-partner's, Christmas tree lights (tree drooping), past-sell-by-date food to eat in fridge.
Peaceful.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dommage de Fromage

What did I eat today? Two clementines, a whole team of cheese footballs and half a chocolate Santa (Lindt, of course).
Then I went to Viv Albertine's Christmas leftovers party, armed with some more cheese footballs and pistachio nuts (and a chocolate Santa for her daughter, Lindt of course). The table was piled with turkey sandwiches, pasta, nuts and cheese, and half a Christmas pudding.
I met a chap I went to Art College with in Brighton, Dave McFall, who is an animator and who is married to  Sally, who was in a band called Ut in the 1980s. Dave has not changed at all, and he showed me an animated Milka cow he had made using the hand-drawn animation technique which is fading out of fashion, but which will come back into fashion again ( a bit like vinyl recordings, as his partner pointed out). It was really cute, a little purple and white cow on his mobile phone screen.
I also met a writer, Lindsey Shapero, who used to be a journalist for the New Musical Express when I was in Helen and the Horns, and who now writes TV dramas. Lindsey also has not changed at all, apart from her dress style: she used to be a biker girl clad head to toe in black leather, zipping up and down the UK motorways documenting the exploits of King Kurt. I had always wondered what happened to her as she was great fun, so it was rather nice to see her again. She wrote the funniest ever review of the band and was definitely their most intelligent fan.
Viv was looking spectacularly beautiful, and so was Gina; we talked about our gig in Gateshead in February, which will be a great adventure: three rock'n'roll mamas (quite literally) heading up the A1 with a Fender Twin Reverb in the boot of the car and assorted fabulous guitars.
The party became more and more full: Tessa was arriving just as I was leaving to see if I had any more cheese footballs at home.
One of the guests had carried off the tin with great glee and had to be asked to return it, sadly depleted, so that Gina and I could finish them off.
Cheese footballs, the heart of Christmas joy.

The boot of my car is full of hundreds of cocktail sausages. It's my birthday tomorrow and Bruv is throwing a party for me. There is no room in the fridge, so the sausages are keeping cool out there in the winter's night, tempting the urban foxes with their delicious aroma.
I expect to wake tomorrow morning to a fleet of tawny foxes circling the car, eyes glinting and noses twitching, oblivious to the early morning shoppers.
Can't wait!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Screechy Beyonce

Oh dear! Beyonce's on the box and she sounds so awful that I am reaching for the earplugs!
Man, can she bellow. She needs to listen to Aretha and learn how to sing quietly as well as belting it out.
It's a bit of a cheek I suppose, because I am not in her league as a singer, but I'm not on TV on Boxing Day either.
Her sub-Madonna sexy thing is really weird too....
Now, back to those Daintees gigs in Newcastle before Christmas. I have literally never heard the band play so well before. One of my favourite albums is Van Morrison's Live album, which has some of the most beautiful and subtle playing on it as well as some of the most exuberant and confident playing.
Well these gigs (especially the first one) were in that league of musicianship, but not with session musicians: these guys are committed to Martin's material, they are his band and have been for years, and they played absolutely brilliantly. Hats off to John Steel and Gary Dunn for being graceful enough to share lead guitar without ruining it by being competitive, to Anth for rock-solid bass playing and to Kate for being an amazing drummer with the neatest snare playing I have heard for a long time.
They were gobsmackingly good nights, with sharp playing, Martin's quick wit, and an excellent sound guy who made it seem as though the Cluny never ever had bad sound in its entire life. I liked the sound guy extra because I could see him bobbing his head to my songs too, always a good sign, and all the way through the Daintees' set Shippy stood at the mixing desk with a bit grin on his face.
Martin had bought some 'gold' watches at the transport caff at Peterborough for six quid a pop, and he awarded them to his band for long service. Shippy, the promoter of the Jumpin' Hot Club, got a 'gold' pen with his name on it, and so did I. The watches even had spare batteries thrown in!
Pauline Murray of the Invisible Girls came to the second gig with her partner and I am going to interview her for my book (haven't asked her yet though) and she is also going to get her guitar out and come and play a couple of songs in February at the Central Bar in Gateshead the night that Viv Albertine, Gina Birch and myself play solo. All punky band ladies, playing solo! Ha ha! Pauline has never played solo before but she was really enthusiastic about the idea, and she knows that all three of us have been in exactly that position ourselves. I will tell Gina and Viv tomorrow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Merry Christmas, especially if you are spending today alone.
Families are not all they are cracked up to be: go out and have a peaceful walk, and celebrate yourself today!
I promise to write a proper review of the Daintees Christmas shows, but I did have to share the hilarity of yesterday evening's Nine Lessons and Carols service at St John's in Barnet. It is s lovely event, because the choir is amazing and their choirmaster, David Willetts, chooses some beautiful carols for them to sing.
The congregation was a symphony of Christmas hairdos and from a distance resembled a selection of delectable desserts, sugar-coated and blowtorched to caramel sumptuosness.
Three fidgety teenage girls got into the pew behind us (they arrived late, of course), and shrilled their way through every carol, perfectly in time with each other but finishing every line at least two beats before the rest of the congregation.
Finally, O Little Town of Bethlehem was scheduled.
For some unfathomable reason, St John's uses a different melody to the standard one, very beautiful but unfamiliar to most people in the congregation, who pick their way through it nervously and sigh with relief when they manage to complete it.
The three girls were completely undaunted by this. They sang all the way through at maximum volume: they sang the melody that they knew from start to finish, confidently, loudly, and unstoppably, completely disregarding what the other people were singing and the strident commands of the church organ.
What chutzpah!
Noisily, they left a few songs and readings later, presumably to go to the pub.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas Everybody!

Oop North!

Ah... only three teenagers here this morning, one more than belongs to me (no trains because of the weather).
I've been out to do the shopping and piled some rolls on the table for the gurlz; almost time to make the giant flask of coffee and then Martin and myself are heading to Newcastle, the rush through the slush, to the Cluny gigs where there's going to be a good old line-up of Daintees to play the winter blues away.
I have selected a winter-weight cowboy shirt for the occasion but apart from that will be travelling light, leaving my cares behind.
Will there be any food in the fridge when we return on Christmas Eve?
I expect Christmas Dinner will be beans (no toast) and tinned li-chis.
What could be better?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Squashages

Oh yes, this morning... a line of six duvet-wrapped sausages on the floor and another on the couch; two went home in the wee small hours because they didn't fit. A night of birthday celebrations and a morning of hangovers.
And this evening, six different teenagers round the kitchen table eating coq au vin prepared by the other Offsprog. I had to float above them close to the ceiling to get upstairs, because there was no squeezing-round space.
It's all a larf, but I'm glad it comes but once a year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Glasgow and Edinburgh

 Glasgow Accies was just as jolly as ever, in spite of the freezingness of the weather outside. It was stuffed to the gills and the Daintees put on a fabulous show, augmented at times by Jamie's harmonica, a fantastic fiddle player and Charlie Carruther's mad Donald Duck impersonations. Bruce Moreton did a short routine that had everyone in stitches. In spite of the talkers at the back (they come out every Christmas just to stand outside the Gents and yak all the way through) Martin's wit was to the forefront and they did some great versions of their songs. At one point the brothers Dunn did some very tasty harmonies that inspired Martin to quip 'Aha- the Alessi brothers!' which made Anth crease up so much he could hardly play. Later, Anth ran through some classic bass-lines, much to the audience's delight: they were all deeply uncool and therefore cannot be mentioned on this blog but the audience were delighted.
These photographs are from the sound checks at the Edinburgh gig, which was held at part of the Cafe Royale, the Voodoo Rooms. The Cafe Royale has well swanked up since the last time I was there, when it appeared to be visibly rotting. It's all been done up in black and gold, all the mouldings on the ceilings picked out in gilt, plaster swags swaggering, and teensy lights peeking like distant twinkling stars from the backdrop! They treated us like Kings (and a Queen) and brought out huge plates of grub, which we sat and tucked into round a black-clad table. McMum braved the ice to come to see The Daintees for the first time, and I sat with her at the side, where she was impressed by Martin's stream of consciousness lyrics and declared afterwards that she had wanted to dance. Not bad for an over-eighty, I thought! We did our best ever versions of Heaven Avenue and Loverman and the Daintees did a great version of Colleen, a brilliant Long Forgotten, and lots of others that I really liked (including The Lilac Tree).
I can't write much more- I am tired out after a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow and a very long journey back which took eight hours. It was a lovely Scottish trip- everyone seemed to be in really good moods and very relaxed, which melted a warm and welcome gap in the ice and snow.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

I had no idea what to title this posting: words fail me, for once.
Last night, amidst Offsprog One's hectic reunion with her best-friend-at-home, which included baking banana and chocolate muffins (hooray! that's the bad banana gone from the fruit bowl) and watching wall-to-wall episodes of The Green Wing while eating them and talking at top volume, Offsprog Two called from Bournemouth, where she'd been to visit the Art College, shouting:
'WE-MISSED-THE-TRAIN-HOME-BY-ONE-MINUTE-ITS-NOT-OUR-FAULT-NOW-THEY-WANT-80-QUID-FOR-US-TO-GET-ON-THE-NEXT-ONE-ITS-NOT-OUR-FAULT!!!'
I was the only Mummy who answered the phone, and I rather crossly agreed to finance the return to London for all three of them, if I could get tickets on some sort of transport.
She hung up on me, because I was cross.
Eventually, after a drama of shouting, hanging up, shouting, and hanging up, her two friends and herself had worked out the best thing to do was to travel by National Express bus.
For ten pence a minute, I listened to Options, and more Options, until by the time I got to speak to a person,  I had developed a coolly angry tone.
'This call is costing me ten pence a minute and it's an emergency, so don't ask me anything irrelevant and do this a quickly as possible!'
The young chap was frightened into efficiency by my haughty snarl, and in mega-quick time I'd bought three bus tickets and the silly trio were on their way home.
And so to today; between wall-to-wall tutorials, and attempts to input 173 marks to the computer system (which promptly lost them as soon as I went on to the next page), the phone rang again.
Offsprog One, this time:
'I forgot to take down the reference numbers of my train tickets so I can't collect them from the machine! Please can you log into my email account and text them to me?'
So I hacked into her account and sent her the numbers, juggling anxious students and the computer man who phoned in triumph, twice, to tell me he'd fixed the problem (he hadn't, and still hasn't).
The house is stuffed full of Offsprog Two's friends; they are her human shield, as she will not have to have a conversation with me about being stranded in Bournemouth if they're all here. Offsprog One has gone off for a couple of days, leaving a trail of half-empty cups and hair dye boxes.
Me? I am off to Glasgow tomorrow, where I will meet up with Martin and the Daintees for a lovely gig at Accies, then to the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh on Saturday.
If anyone ever talks to you about 'the peace and tranquility of rock'n'roll', they are absolutely right.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tea, Cake and Cardigans

I suppose tea and cake doesn't sound quite so good, but I no longer drink and so my Champagne Friend and myself have taken to meeting at the Wolseley and catching up with each other's news before window-shopping in the West End of London.
Janet Street Porter was just leaving, her cap of shiny pink hair a beacon of good health and independent living; Miranda Hart sat at a table looking very happy, with Patricia Hodge amongst her company.
We ate onion soup and Battenburg cake (Champagne Friend) and an omelette and coffee cake (moi).
It's a perfect treat; afterwards we walked down Bond Street looking at the twinkling lights and the even-more-twinkling jewels, and went to Liberty's to look at the baubles in their Christmas shop.
We each bought one. Mine was so fantastically lurid that I shall have to take a picture of it.
I have two days of work before I head to the frozen north for the Christmas Scottish gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Martin is heading to Aberdeen today, meeting up with band members from all over the country.
Right now, I have to go and pick up McMum's Norwegian cardigan from the dry cleaner's. It's a vintage one that I bought from eBay, and I'm a bit worried in case she thinks I've just given her some old second-hand thing. But I remember being dressed from thrift shops as a child, actually, so perhaps the wheel has turned full circle!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Transformation

Is Jeremy Clarkson turning into Michael Barrymore
or is Michael Barrymore turning into Jeremy Clarkson?

The Rrrants Christmas Special

Fortified by miniature chocolate LPs (oh all right then- After Eight Mints- it's the sleeves that do it!) I headed on down to Camden, an easy journey for me. It was heaving with people, even at 6.30 p.m. but they were setting up in The Camden Eye and I took a pew to wait for the proceedings to start up.
I was soon joined by an extremely inebriated young man who demanded a hug, asked to borrow my spectacles, showed me his tattoo, asked me how old I was, told me how old he was, and was a thorough nuisance.
Luckily, my Champagne Friend turned up and I was able to escape; the inebriated young man turned his attention to the next lady in the row and I could hear him pestering her in the distance.
There was a selection of very interesting acts: I really enjoyed the Anti Poets and the Russian Spy, but was not so sure about the spoken word chap who entertained us with lurid physical sex-details: but who am I to complain, who wrote a song called 'Thrush' when I was a mere teenager?
The Bruvs Big and Little turned up with their partners (hi Sarah!), and so did Lester Square, and I hove to the stage to be joined by Paul Eccentric and his spangly band the Rrrants (the keyboard player was lost for a while, but we called 'BEEFY!!!' a few times and he appeared out of the crowd).
We played a jolly rendition of Loverman, a remarkable soulful rendition of Heaven Avenue (the trumpet player had written some lovely brass parts), a rackety On New Year's Eve (I forgot the chords but pretended that I didn't), a splendidly funereal Temptation (the trumpet player, when I looked round, was clutching a euphonium to his lips: I threatened to go downstairs and get my big guitar), and Footsteps at my Door, the fastest I have ever played it.
Do you know what? It was huge fun. They are really good players and it was a massive thing that they had learned all the songs so well and seemed to enjoy playing them so much. There was drums, double bass, keyboards, self on guitar, tenor sax, trumpet/euphonium and two other vocalists: a big band! What a laugh! I hope we do it again!
I've been recovering today and enjoying a feeling of total relaxation.
The horrible term is nearly over, the tension is leaving me, the Christmas tree is up, the Glasgow and Edinburgh gigs are next weekend, I've finished the therapeutic Baked Alaska story, and already made a New Year's Resolution: never again will I allow work to crush imagination and creativity out of my life!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Delights of Droring

Of course, now the students have decided that they like me and they realise that what I have been teaching them is not, after all, pointless, but if they listen to what I teach, they will do well in their assessments.
As always.
My outlet over the past ten days has been rising to the challenge set by Gina and The Gluts to a draw-off between my Baked Alaska and The Gluts' Arctic Roll I have become thoroughly absorbed in the task and now have a piece of fake sheet music to send them when it is finished on Monday morning.
I have really enjoyed it, and it's given me a lot of spin-off ideas.
I also sent off for a book of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings, which have been inexplicably (!) censored so a lot of the chaps are wearing big anti-artistic black capes that Aubrey himself didn't draw, to hide the very rude extremities that he did draw.
I love the blackness-and-whiteness of his style; although I draw really differently, having the work of such a brilliant artist to hand stops me from slipping too far into the ditch of dumpster scribbles.

Today is Tree-day, and Christmas Special day.
I went to buy a little tree and decorated it this morning, fuelled by some very strong coffee, as Offsprog Two cooked Christmas Dinner for some friends last night, and clearing up afterwards (well, that's a good thing) took two very loud hours and rapidly started to approach morning.
The tree smells delicious!
And later, I'm off the Camden Eye to sing. I have rather a sore throat which may have been caused by the vicious anti-moth spray I've been using, but I'll just have to sing a hole in it and if I wear my party clothes then maybe it won't matter so much if I'm a little hoarse.
Giddy-up!
I'm really looking forward to it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gig Tomorrow, Camden Eye

Saturday- it's my Merry Christmas gig at the Camden Eye, a wink away from Camden tube station.
It's a Rrrants Collective benefit night with loads of bands- I'm on at 9.30 but it starts at about 7.30 and costs a fiver to get in: all proceeds go to buying poetry books for secondary schools.
I have borrowed Paul Eccentric's Big Band for the evening so it will have a different twist!

The Definition of Hope: Plane-spotters at Luton Airport on a Foggy Day

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Moths

I've just bundled up as many jumpers as I could find into black bin bags and shoved them into the boot of the car: I found a moth-hole in one of my woollens this evening, and I have heard that a blast of sub-zero temperatures kills the grubs.
How dare they eat my clothes!
The offending garment is rolled up amongst the frozen peas in the freezer, although I may end up throwing it away because the hole is big and undarnable.

Why did I buy that moth-eaten knitted vest at Spitalfields market?
It's lurking in the car sniggering unpleasantly and if it doesn't shut up immediately I'll put it on the compost heap with the potato peelings and onion skins; and the sticky toad that (I suspect) has interleaved itself amongst it all as it rots to keep warm.
HA!

Beautiful Tree with Lights in the Fog

Sunday, December 05, 2010

P.S.

Thanks to Wilky for the much-appreciated Friday cheer-ups and to Anne for the very funny naked angel!

Sticky Skeins

Been away: Offsprog Two filled house with friends, and dishwasher with food-filled pans.
I know they ate lasagne.
How?
Webs of solidified mozzarella, spun between the tines of the forks.

Steve Albini at The Art of Record Production Conference

I didn't take anything along to write notes down at Steve Albini's keynote speech, so my Musician's Union Diary, already full, bore the brunt of my spidery black scrawl, all over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and around the continents, crammed into the blue of the seas where I could read it.

Albini learned how to record musicians in the 1980s, working with assertive punk rockers, and therefore has only ever called himself a recording engineer. None of the bands he worked with back then wanted an 'auteur' producer with their own artistic input, spreading ideas-goo all over their songs, so Albini learned to record bands the way they played to their audiences, and has done ever since.

He said that he realised that he was not a 'record producer' when he saw a couple of 'record producers' in action (at this, the audience burst out laughing).

He told us that digital recording technology was developed from audio editing products, not audio recording products, hence the emphasis on working on the sound after it has been recorded rather than beforehand. He called this trivial, and the work that engineers do in digital studios 'circus tricks'; well, on this point I have to disagree slightly, having done such a lot of analogue recording in the past.
Many of the engineers and producers I worked with were prone to 'circus tricks' and it was just such a waste of expensive studio time back then as it is now. But the fact that digital recording was invented to 'solve the problems' of recording does ring true, and that is why the Take One album was recorded so simply and as a series of one-takes.

He told us how he built his studio out of adobe bricks that he bought in Mexico for 35c each and transported to Chicago for five times that amount. Adobe, being mud, totally deadens sound and is perfect for a studio that does not want reverberating walls or floors: it doesn't transmit anything, almost working as a sponge for sound-waves that want to bounce around all over the place.

Apparently at his talk in London the night before he talked a lot more about his recording methods, rather than the bigger picture. I wished I had been there for that too, as he's such an interesting speaker. Listening to an enthusiast is always inspiring, and I am beginning to think that I might set up my own recording studio- digital! But using Pro-tools for good live sound.

After a five hour drive up the A1 (McMum was worried about jacknifed lorries so I decided to avoid the M1 which I suspected would be chaotic) I did see one high-sided vehicle, tipped over all three lanes on the M58 and blocking the exit; we crawled for a while, in temperatures of -4, but it wasn't a bad journey.
I didn't have time to get 'I-am-going-to-present-an-academic-paper' terror, but more or less had to launch straight into it.
Although I only got about 1/3 of the way through, I managed to show my Futuremusic slides of nerdy white guys nestling in their studios, and I had some good feedback afterwards, mainly in the form of chaps who teach music technology to mixed groups asking me how to keep the girls interested and the boys from taking over. I had an idea on the way back in the car; I hope these guys will keep in touch because I'd like to put it in to action.
I also met some interesting female engineers, and was delighted that Paul Theberge, whose writing I really like, came to the presentation and told me afterwards that he had enjoyed it.
It was a trip well worth making, and it was a pity I couldn't afford to stay for the rest of it- especially the papers on song writing in the studio and King Tubby! (wow, that would be an interesting one!)
I have to save up for next year's conference. It's in San Francisco. I want to go, and I want to do some gigs there while I'm at it!
A New Year's resolution, made in December.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Frozen University of the East

Well, I was there at 8.30, although it took two hours... the three students who made it in were grateful. It had been four, but one of them hurt his eye, and his car was written off, in a skid-induced head-on collision: I tried to get him to go home but he wouldn't go till his sister came to pick him up.
Now that's dedication to learning for you!
We had an intensive two hours on essays; afterwards I scoured Zoe's Slits book for the story about Dennis Brown and the assumption by Island Records that he'd be able to mix Grapevine in the studio; of course, he's a vocalist, not a producer. The tea lady did it, with The Slits.
I think it will fit in rather nicely with the bit in my paper on stereotypes!

Dunno if I'll get to Leeds. It's going to be so cold tomorrow that I think I will wait until the water in my car radiator has a chance to thaw out and set off a bit later. I really, really want to present the paper after all this work. The part of me that wants to loll about at home with a hot water bottle and a cup of chocolate tomorrow evening has lost the battle with the part of me that got a buzz out of digging about for obscure articles and mashing them up and making something new.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Girl Power Point

I've spent much of today uploading images from Futuremusic to Powerpoint. It is a specialist magazine for music technology consumers and it has pages and pages of nerdy white males sitting in graphite-coloured nests made of keyboards, audio machinery and computers. I was going to do the same with another mag but it was a laborious process and I think the point will come across. Halfway through, the anti-trip Apple lead fell out (OK! I tripped over it!), corrupted all the files and I had to trick the computer into recognising the jpegs again.
This is my final image: I've decided not to talk about hip hop but I did want to put this nice hip hop honey in front of a mixing desk to see what she came up with. She is visiting Futuremusic from XXL, a specialist hip hop publication, and she's just getting dressed again (did you think she was stripping?) before she gets to work editing her audio samples and rapping over the top (that's rapping, not raping!).
If the snow carries on, I probably won't even get to the conference (Leeds seems to be particularly badly hit). Caroline Coon has read the draft paper and she says I should do another book! I need to re-work the first one first, and then I need to have a very, very arty rest; writing academic papers and books is so meticulous and time-consuming and I do so hate sitting still. I want to dash out there and do loads of gigs, and I want to go to play in New York in the spring, and festivals in the summer.
I've parcelled up all the articles in neat files to take back to work tomorrow, and there are three bags full of academic books in the boot of the car where the CDs used to be. I've brought them in as I don't think they'll survive sub-zero temperatures.
Part of me thinks I know the whole thing backwards so I won't need notes; the other part thinks I'll be struck speechless if anyone looks at me funny and I'd better make some prompts. Will I feel like doing that tomorrow evening after work? Maybe I should do it later this evo...

Moo

Those four-litre milk containers- like having a bloody cow in the fridge.
SPLOSH!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bags and a Poem

I went to Gina's today to catch up on her news; because I had to keep going with preparing the academic paper, I took the music technology magazines round to scan at the same time. She sat in the kitchen making Birchbags (lovely felted wool bags) and I sat on the landing, scanning image after image of men in front of their recording consoles.
About ten years ago, a student did a brilliant piece of research about music technology teaching in schools, Why Men Twiddle Knobs and Women Don't which started off with 19 photographs of producers in their studios, looking very pleased with themselves, all taken from consecutive issues of Sound on Sound, one of the main studio magazines. So I have made a series of images in a very similar vein to project while I'm talking.
The problem is that I had to put a new operating system on my computer a few weeks ago and the Powerpoint won't work, so I am going to have to try to do it on Offsprog Two's PC.
Anyway, Gina made us lunch, we talked about all sorts of stuff: poor Ana broke her wrist in Paris and Gina had to do the Raincoats gig on her own with the drummer and the violinist, but it looks like she rose to the occasion: she showed me a Youtube film of her bouncing around like an energetic teenager, with the others in the band giving it their all. Wish I could have been there to see and hear it!

Best wishes to Ana for a speedy recovery.
This (below) is the best example of Poetry on the Underground I have ever seen. It almost made me cry, it's so beautiful; it perfectly mimics the slow 3/4 time of a whale traversing the oceans and should be prescribed to everyone especially those who do not understand the desperate importance of looking after our beautiful world.

Monday, November 29, 2010

There was a refreshing interlude yesterday afternoon- a visit to a little house in Stratford, where two colleagues, Persis-Jade Maravala and Jorge Ramos, are opening ip their house to the performing arts staff at the University of the East to make installations, music, artworks or whatever.
We sat around and ate things for a while (always nice!) and then explored the house, which must have been built around the same time as mine although it is bigger and has more original features, in particular big wooden cupboards with brass latches and a lovely old wooden floor with the scars of years of human traffic etched upon it.
Jorge is going to start up a blog about what we do: the project will be called Domestic Science.
Then it was back to my books and papers and some rather interesting forays into the fringes of the Internet.

I went by tube to the Regent Street site of the University of the West this morning to present some of the research I'm doing.
There were two passenger alarms in the train carriages at Camden, which the driver didn't believe and she told us all off so we went on to Euston with an unconscious passenger in the doorway.
The tube staff are right about needing staff in the stations. What if someone has a heart attack? There appeared to be only one person at Camden running the whole station and no-one could communicate with him.
There was a fire alarm halfway through the seminar, but the students were really attentive and I was glad to have spoken to them. I asked their lecturer whether my presentations skills were OK and he was very positive.
I am nervous: there are 54 male presenters and 15 female ones (roughly) at the conference next weekend. It was a debatable decision to present this research at a Music Production conference instead of a Feminist one, but I like the idea of raising consciousness somehow, rather than adding pique to the pot.
That male:female ratio is better than a music technology conference I was involved with about twelve years ago which had 50 men and two women!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Prince Philip

It's so funny!
Amazon has decided that I'm a Royalty Fan because I bought a second hand book of Prince Philip's gaffes.
I wanted to find the one where he said that women were ideally suited for production-line work because they had different brains from men.
He was basically equating us with pigeons, actually, because you can train a pigeon to differentiate between differently- coloured grains of rice on a conveyor belt.
It wasn't there, but now I am officially interested in books with titles like 'At Home with The Royals'.
How do they equate this with my recent purchases of book about Gangsta Rap, I wonder?

Morning, 12.45

Breakfast: coffee, crisps (to come) and writing down of the disturbing anecdotes (aka empirical research) about my own experiences of engineering and production over the years, rationed to an hour on a getting-it-off-my-chest basis.
In today's Observer, there is a review of a concert by Jamie Woon, who was a student I taught at the University of the West a few years ago.
I am glad he is becoming successful: like The Irrepressibles, he had his own way about him and he has needed to do a lot of groundwork to make people respect him and take him seriously. I discovered back then that he has links to Crieff in Scotland, a secret surprise of a place full of Perthshire-pinkVictorian mansions and an eccentric, perpetually-raining Highland Games (see a few weeks ago, Euan McGregor the Highland Chieftain) that once featured a display of dancing Bigfoots.
Bigfoots are those trucks with monstrously huge tyres.
I loves 'em.
So big up to ya Jamie; one of his best shows was him and a drummer, lovely and sparse, and according to the review he is still playing about with space.
I like that. I am a total fan of Big Sounds in Empty Spaces and I shall be writing a song to prove it!
Now where's those crisps?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Academic Research into Female Music Producers and Engineers

Oops: there I was thinking that yesterday's meeting would be serene.
I exploded, right in front of the student representatives and all the staff. But boy, did it feel good! I hardly ever lose my temper, although I do get angry about things. I feel so much better now, after weeks of unbearable pressure. Who knows what will happen next: a reprimand?
At least I had a peaceful evening with all the pent up fury left in the meeting room, sitting on a blue plastic chair with a tubular steel attachment for putting your writing paper on.
There may it rest in peace.

I have been writing all day, since about 10.30 It has been fun. I had an hour off for lunch and a charity shop trawl, before sitting down to the books again, all 21 of them, plus numerous academic articles.
I have written seventeen pages so far, with more to go, but the computer has started being silly so I'm going to switch it off for an hour. All the frustration of the past few weeks has turned into writing energy; I do hope I manage to do this paper justice at the conference on Friday.
Almost all of it, I could tell as a string of anecdotes about my own life, but that's not what they want.

Lucy's partner made a very good point about student grants last night. If students pay their own fees, they are thinking about 'learning for me', whereas if the grant comes from the Government (i.e. all of us who pay taxes) they have some sort of social 'thumbs-up' for what they are doing- and possibly, some sort of greater social awareness as a result. I have actually had a student come to me saying 'I pay all these fees and what do I get? 60%! I expect a first for all that money!'. I pointed out to them that:
1. We pay for a Driving Test, but do not pass just because we have paid. Imagine what would happen if we did!
2. They would not be happy to go to a doctor who had passed their exams purely because they had paid for their training. We need benchmarks so we can trust people in whatever situation: cultural, medical, scientific, whatever.
3. 60% is a good mark anyway.

Anyway- bye for now!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Coda

Yesss! I have found the first two pages of the Clawson article, but lost the last two of John Shepherd's Music as Social Text Chapter 8.
I Know!
Look on Amazon and buy the whole book!
Price: £80.00
I think not.

Kelloggs Variety Day

A wagtail waddled across the concrete at the University of the East.
Strange- wagtails seem to like universities. There are wagtails at the University of the West too, also waddling along with a sense of purpose, perhaps on their way to a lecture on the Psychoanalytical Approaches to Tail-wagging in European Birdery.
The only green woodpecker I've ever seen was pecking the wood of a willow tree at the University of the West, and small fieldmice regularly run along the large outdoor corridor there.

Ah me! I had lost all of the pages of Mary-Ann Clawson's article on female bass-players in rock bands in Boston; I only had page one so I went through every single paper I had and eventually, I found the rest of it.
Now I have lost page one!
I have had to 'let it go'.

I have a pile of books and articles over a foot high to take home tonight: tomorrow is writing day and I'm going to take over the kitchen table with a delicious spread of audio magazines (to play 'spot the woman' with), books, papers and other things to rummage about in for the paper on women and audio technology.

And I have just had the most fantastic, unhealthy, greasy lunch and I feel amazing: solid, fatty, strong, warm (take that, O thou cold weather!), sleepy, and untroubled by the pressures building up around me.
Let them!

On the way to work this morning, I not only had a song idea but also a very funny idea for a spoof of univerities that I have been writing for about ten years and have got about 4 lines of.
And Julia, who shares an office with me, says she doesn't mind me including her story of the day she dealt with a serious allegation of sexual harassment, only to find that the end of the day that she was till wearing the sparkling diamante Claire's Accesories tiara she'd put on as an ironic statement.
It makes me laugh even thinking of it.

Later, I shall be attending a meeting at which the students are allowed to criticise the way we teach and the content of our lectures. I am expecting to get slaughtered and I shall merrily agree with them. I wonder what they will think of that? Turgid and slow after my feast of grease, a placid and stupid grin will adorn my face and repel their arrows with dreamy splendour.

Finally- I'm going to Lucy O'Brien's tonight (Lucy wrote that fantastic book She-Bop) with a box of multi-coloured macaroons and a set of funny 'I teach at a university' stories to swap with hers. I am knackered, but my jowls have dropped as low as they can go, the bags under my eyes are as big as they can get and I have absolutely nothing left to lose on the energy front...
YEEE HA!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Supermarket

We are tired. With glazed expressions, we buffet round the supermarket in the evening after work, hands bristling with packets and boxes, Edwardsupermarkethands.
We didn't think we needed a basket; in fact we do, but we can't be bothered to get one now.
Behind us in the queue, a businessman in an expensive navy topcoat restlessly moves from foot to foot, occasionally bumping into us; he is clearly not used to queueing and his impatience burns our backs.
The fluorescent lights are piercingly bright, and make us buy things in coloured packets that we don't really want or need.
We just want to have 'done the shopping' so we can go home and have a cup of tea.
Oh yes we do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Notting Hill Interlude

It's nice to have an excursion planned; I bounced down the road, wrestled with Foucault on the tube, stopped off at Butler and Wilson for a pair of sparkly earrings (stuff the grey shirt!!), bought sandwiches, crisps and chocolate and then meandered down Portobello Road, window shopping.
The feeling of the swinging sixties is still palpable: slightly odd bohemian women of a certain age (mine, probably), lurk in the dim recesses of shops festooned with jewellery, feathered headgear, twenties-inspired beaded dresses and handbags.
It was cold and sunny, the perfect winter day.
I overshot Caroline's street, passing through a phalanx of builders eating their sandwiches and stretching after a morning's work, and there she was, smiling and waving at the window. The painter was busy, rolling fresh paint on to the walls with a silently hissing roller.
Caroline made tea, and we sat and talked about music, feminism, technology, and everything interesting under the sun, flanked by her extraordinary paintings.
One one side, hermaphrodites leapt into the air in a basketball game watched by hundreds of tiny people, all exquisitely painted. On the other, a work-in-progress of flowers sang out in brilliant blue hues.
Her walls are lined with books on art, politics and music, and her conversation is humblingly knowledgeable and totally stimulating.
After lunch with Caroline, my brain feels wide awake and I feel as though I need to rush off and immediately do things, change the world, write books, draw pictures, sing songs: she is a very alive person, a tireless campaigner for the underdog (especially women: underbitches, perhaps, to borrow a term from the ceaselessly misogynistic hip hop men!).
Refreshed, I left as the mirrored splash-backs for her kitchen arrived.
Later I downloaded a couple of articles for the paper I have to deliver in Leeds in two weeks time. I am weeks behind with it and I've decided that rather than being detailed and plodding through facts, I am going to be philosophical. The facts are there, but the story is far from enchanting; my challenge is to infuse energy into subjects that people don't want to talk about. And that is quite a challenge....

Offsprog Two returned from the student march. They had been corralled by the police into a street where there was an empty police van left for them to attack, and of course some silly people attacked it and made news headlines; nobody mentioned that the van was empty, and it seemed obvious to us at home (Offsprog One was here watching it with me on News 24) that it was a stunt van, left there on purpose.
Stuck for two hours in the freezing cold, some of them lit little bonfires to keep warm, which were reported as acts of deliberate destruction. Some of the schoolchildren (that is what a lot of them were) were frightened and were crying because they did not know how long they were going to be stuck there hemmed in by the police, and did not know what was going to happen to them.
This has been quite an education for Offsprog Two in media manipulation.

Ah well, the evening flows by: shall I do some more work or shall I watch another repeated episode of Poirot?
No contest.

Caroline's website is www.carolinecoon.com

Get well soon Martin! x

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Band

Good job I did that distraction therapy on Sunday.
I almost forgot- there was the sound of a loud band playing in the street in Camden, and as I crossed the bridge I could see them- four young chaps in funky street clothing playing paint-by-numbers punk and thoroughly enjoying it. People in the crowd were smiling even though it was bitterly cold. Youth! Noise!
'I know how to do that', I thought, and laughed out loud at the thought of being 53 and punkier-than-thou.

I stopped off and bought a grey shirt, to match my teaching.
I have responsibility for 150 students and 6 staff, 5 of whom are new and need varying degrees of mentoring. Most of the week is spent averting disasters or potential disasters, while the teaching that I love (Songwriting and Production) buzzes along in the background, and I am starved of the pleasures of working on my own songs at home, as there simply isn't time. There is no other word for it but malmusician!
I look at it positively when I can: I currently have a job. But worrying about horror-Thursday (up to two hours travelling either side of a nine hour day) seeps back as far as Sunday evening now and I imagine spinning plates crashing to the ground from their poles.
Gah! That's enough moping.
I am going to see Caroline tomorrow with a picnic (she's got the builders in) and looking forward to a good yak with her: she's full of vitality and could cheer up the most miserable slug on a building site!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Walking and The Museum of Everything

Halfway through the marking, I'd had enough, so I hopped on the tube down to Chalk Farm to visit The Museum of Everything. I had been curious to see this Museum, which I believe has been curated by Peter Blake, the collage artist responsible for the cover of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 
I hated the first corridor which featured posters and photographs of small people and giants: the famous 'General Tom Thumb' was there and it seemed crass to be gawping at the same images Victorians gawped at, in this so-called enlightened age. After all, those people had feelings, didn't they? I don't think it's necessary to recycle these pictures to be re-gawped at, frankly.
In the first room there was a beautiful model of a wooden steam-roundabout with carved little horses ridden by little chaps with tam o' shanters, sandwiched between the occasional tram car. There were oil lamps fixed above them, presumably to light them up as they merry-went-round. It was inspirational and I loved it.
There were lace-decorated cards, dusty and crusty with age in frames, and a small room full of shell-pictures and figurines: crinolined ladies, rabbits, coy-looking cats and intricate clipper ships with sails made of smooth flat clam shells.
A room full of ventriloquists' dummies and Punch-and-Judy puppets spooked me with their rictus grins and hysterical-looking cheerfulness.
One ventriloquists' dummy sitting in a miniature basked chair bore a passing resemblance to Jools Holland (oops! I'm sure the man has feelings!).
A rather fetching paper-mache dog shared a cabined with an evil-looking and frightening baby with a piercing squint. I felt empathy and horror in equal measures for the Judy puppets with their tiny helpless feet and the dead arms sprouting from their chests.
Next up was erotic Berlin Woolwork and some witty Alice in Wonderland Pieces, all of which were colourful and well-made.
A large room displayed hand-painted banners which advertised circus acts: a man fights a bear, and people with distended stomachs, frilled arms and huge feet are 'All Alive'; Don Carlos's Dog and Monkey Hotel, 'Strange little People', dogs in ruffs, a 'Midget Bull', a 'Two-headed Calf' and 'The Most Terrifying Creature Alive'... by this time I was speculating that perhaps that one was Peter Blake himself. The celebration of the macabre was beginning to depress me beyond redemption.
The exhibition was redeemed temporarily by, up some stairs, a display of beautiful fairground signage handpainted in rich colours: steamboats, traction engines, Kings and Queens and a painted 'Carters Dodgems' sign that featured the head of Little Richard between the words. Lovely- I'm going back with my sketchbook to sketch the perfectly-executed painted typography (there's a thousand pound fine for taking photographs, as numerous notices tell me).
The cases of stuffed animals: well, I remember wanting to see these when I was a student in Brighton. Today, they seemed like fusty cases of (in the case {sic} of the red squirrels) endangered species stuffed and posed as schoolchildren with black beady glass eyes, their rust coloured fur fading to beige.
Two headed lamb, three legged duck: was this part of some evil childrens' nursery rhyme? There was a hunt populated by a team of stuffed dead puppies called 'The Sporting Party'. Ugh. At the point where a set of stuffed animals act out boxing scenes in a series of glass cases, I decided that I'd had enough, and walked down to Camden.
That's where I saw this cheerful steel pan band, braving the cold and wearing their Hawaiian shirts over their jackets. They are called The Caribe Allstars and this is my namecheck to them.

Hi Guys! You brightened up my day- thank you!

Monty's Birthday

Yesterday evening, Paul and myself went over to the Southgate Club to play a set for Monty's 50th Birthday. Thirty years ago, Monty used to come to see The Chefs with his twin brother (who now lives in Australia), and ten years ago we bumped into each other in East Barnet Sainsbury's one Sunday morning when I was out shopping with the family.
He comes to see me play whenever he can, and I was delighted to be invited to play on his special occasion. We did a mixture of songs- some Chefs ones (24 Hours, Let's Make Up and Northbound Train), some Helen and the Horns ones (Freight Train, Lonesome Country Boy, Snakebite, Oh Boy, Girl Versus Boy) some now ones (Love on the Wind, Daisies, Loverman, Gotta Have a Heart and London), and of course Happy Birthday to You, which we played twice because Monty's friends had made him a huge birthday cake. Happy Birthday Monty!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Desperado Housewives Limited Edition Christmas Sock

Look! http://desperadohousewives.bigcartel.com/

An Old Brush Sweeps Clean

I have put a new set of songs up on Myspace, including the Christmas songs and a couple of Chefs ones and some rare Helen and the Horns tracks. Daisies is still there though...
www.myspace.com/helenmccookerybook

Talking of sweep: I used to be in love with Sweep from The Sooty and Sweep Show. It was something to do with his eyebrows.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Greyness and Blandness

This morning's traffic jam (an hour to drive five miles) was surprisingly fruitful in terms of ideas.
I was stationary for long enough to sing into my phone on a couple of occasions, and I must remember to put a notebook in the car again: I took it out because I didn't want the mechanics to laugh at my scribblings as well as laughing at me for being a mug and believing them when they told me the list of things that they said needed to be fixed (some of them have miraculously cleared up since then: how can that be?).
There is something beautiful about the ugliness of the North Circular, particularly in the fog. 
The flyovers loom ahead, piercing the gloom with concrete certainty as they curve through the obliterating whiteness; an X-Factor competition has run for years, ensuring that only the ugliest and most functional of buildings and warehouses are allowed to abut the carriageway; signs and logos must be (i) gigantic and (ii) yellow and blue (goes with grey). 
Helplessly, motorists in knackered cars and vans (no jaguars allowed) follow each other like strings of hopeless sausages, forgetting their destinations due to the length and tedium of their journeys.
It's an enormous surprise to arrive because the North-Circularness is so absolute and enveloping.
I emerged from my car blinking and shocked this morning, feeling that I had already done a day's work just by travelling there.
In contrast to yesterday's struggles, the student feedback sheets for Songwriting and Production all said 'satisfied' and 'very satisfied' today.
One of them said it was his favourite Module and he looked forward to it each week. I needed to hear this as lecturing can often feel like pushing a massively heavy boulder up a very steep hill.
I bought books, but I've left them wrapped up in my office because there's no chance I'll be reading them for months. I've got to check about 50 essays this weekend (mercifully, short ones), as there are new staff members with different standards from their previous Universities, both tougher and more lenient, and I have to make sure the students get a fair deal.
But tonight is mine!! 
The mini poppadums are rustling in the kitchen, excited about being scoffed by such an enthusiast. I have sucked up the rugs with the vacuum cleaner (serves them right, the buggers!), sorted the recycling, and will embark on a spell of balloon-popping when Offsprog Two goes out (sorry, but they take up vital space in this tiny house).
I have been daydreaming about allotments: mud and onions, nasturtiums, cold red winter fingers and plumes of breath in the frosty air. Too late now for Barnet, but perhaps one day when I relocate somewhere friendlier and greener I shall have a garden.
I think it says something about the suburbs, that I have lived in Barnet for nearly fourteen years and I don't have a single friend here. 
Behind so many of the smiles there is judgement, frightening racism, a sense of competition ('what school did you say your daughters went to?'), and a desire to criticise the habits of others. 
My pals are a set of misfits and oddballs like me, and sometimes they turn up in squads: fluorescent, leopardskin, laughing, singing and fascinated by the conformity in the streets and the rich pickings in the charity shops jettisoned by their previous owners in their search for anonymity and blandness.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dubula

This is my pal Dubula, or Nick Page as I used to know him.
He started up Transglobal Underground and Temple of Sound, and manymany years ago, he had a band called The Red River Mountain Boys, a slightly silly band that played hillbilly music.
Sillybillys, I suppose.
I remember the bass player's stick-on moustache sticking itself to the mike-stand and staying there jauntily when he backed away with a bald upper lip after singing his song.
The other day I got an emergency call and went down to St Aloysius' Church Hall to play bass for The Red River Mountain Boys, with half an hour's rehearsal.
I was fine until we got to Frank Ifield's Rose Marie. Sensing my panic, Nick tried mouthing the chords at me: 'B', he mimed.
I looked at the strings in incomprehension. There were only four of them!!
Yes folks, I have officially become a guitarist instead of a bass player,  a six-string Sheila, although I delightedly remembered the feeling of the bass thundering through the soles of my feet and up my legs and the sheer POWER of playing bass.
And it was lovely to see Nick and his mates again, and to share a stage with Simon Walker, a superb fiddle player.
I used to hang out with them all years ago: before I got married and had children, they were all part of my life so it was a very touching experience to see them all again, and I hope to do a bit more hanging out with them in future.

Numberz

Three hours travelling, six hours teaching, two hours marking, one hour at a meeting, all after four hours sleep: big plate of food, cup of tea... perfect!
The Daintees gig at the Half Moon in Putney last night was an absolute stonker. The band have got into their stride and the sound guy was really good, a gruff Glaswegian wha didnae smile but who put all his efforts into making a crystal clear sound for the band. Martin was hilarious but also the perfect crooner, John played some roasting guitar solos, Kate played drums with sharp precision and Lou underpinned it all with a big bass sound. Martin's guitar playing is really on form too and the PA system did the little Yiari justice. Paul Davey came along and saxaphoned merrily and could be seen grinning away in the background.
The band got a standing ovation, and they deserved it. They are in Portsmouth tonight and I know it's going to be a fantastic gig. Wish I could go!
I was told afterwards that my set was good too, and I was also roadying and selling CDs- one woman bought six. There was plenty of crap joke telling in the dressing room (my fave way of passing the time) and Terri and Graham turned up, the couple whose wedding the guys had played a few months ago.
It was absolutely the best way to spend an evening; sometimes I think back to the miserable evenings I used to have in the big house down the road, sitting watching things I didn't want to watch on a mega-sized TV on my own, and I do really count my blessings.

Today wasn't as bad as I'd thought it might be; my colleagues have rallied round and we dove into a pile of essays to double-mark, fortified by chips, chat and coffee. There are still trillions left but it's nice not to feel so isolated.
The chap across the corridor had brought in his guitar to be looked at by the guitar techie in the studios, and I persuaded him to show me. It is a solid-body wood finish Guild, absolutely beautiful, and when I told him that he retired purring back to his office!

The house is a mess (Offsprog Two has hosted two birthday parties this week that involved huge chocolate cakes) but I fit in rather well, really: hair all over the place, pasty tired face, notes scribbled in pen all over my left hand, holes in socks and pot belly. But I don't care, because the dreaded Thursday is over for another week, only three more to go till the end of term, I have survived, and some of the students even smile at me from time to time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rehearsals Etc

I had a rehearsal last night with Paul Eccentric's band for the Rrrants Christmas Special in December.
This was a real education because I had to communicate all sorts of stuff about my songs via Paul to a whole band: Mp3s, parts written out, chords, lyrics, and all at speed because of the huge teaching mountain  that is casting its shadow even at breakfast time.
The rehearsal space was just off the M25 in a converted stable, and they were all set up and ready to go when I got there: drums, double bass, keyboards, trumpet, sax and two vocalists. We worked hard, abandoning Memento Mori, which, it became apparent, is really only suitable for solo performance. But I had a chance to share out lead vocal lines, and On New Year's Eve is going to work really well as a band song, even though by then some of us were literally propping ourselves up on the walls with tiredness.
Paul realised halfway through, after a call from his partner, that he had left our mid-match snacks on the cooker at home and had practically set the kitchen on fire. Oops!
There were some lovely musical moments- it's great to work with other vocalists (in fact the Desperado Housewives have started to work with harmony now too), I was able to punt a nice sax and trumpet harmony, there was some beautiful double bass playing, and I left knackered and happy.

It does feel a bit like touring with The Chefs or Helen and the Horns- I am just about to pick Martin up from Luton to take him to the Half Moon in Putney, where the Daintees are playing tonight. I shall play a few songs as well, before taking Martin and their bass player Lou to back to their hotel in Enfield after the gig, then up at 6.30 tomorrow for a day's teaching. I have spent the morning writing Friday's lecture and buying leads for the P.A. for Monty's 50th Birthday Gig which I am doing on Saturday.
I have what I used to think of as 'tired bones'- I wake up in the morning already tired, and follow a plan of what I have to do as though I have been told to do it by an invisible Sergeant-Major, focusing on each detail of the day as though it was the only thing I had to do.

At odd moments, I imagine my life as an illustrator and musician, creating things instead of managing them.
On the plus side, I have become adept at realising when people are just about to snatch the credit for something from under my nose, and I am becoming fierce about defending the effort I have taken to make things work.
I suppose you could say that I'm toughening up, and I may surprise a few steamrollin' personalities over the next few weeks!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cake Stall

Wisps of cold fog curl into the dimly-lit main entrance at the University of the West.
A lone student stands at a deserted cake stall, eating the cakes himself.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dublin

Friday was an oddity of a day.
At work, I got a text from the lecturer who was intended to talk to my students that morning to tell me that she was stuck in a never-ending traffic jam, so I had to wing it and do the lecture myself.
I grabbed a copy of Suburban Pastoral and a CD player, and talked them through Heaven Avenue, Songbird and Don't Know Why as sound productions before they went off to their song writing workshops. Two of the students asked to buy copies of the CD (unprecedented!) so I gave them half price copies as it seemed morally dodgy to be marketing my music to them in a lecture, even if it wasn't pre-planned!
They are in groups writing songs, which they will soon start to record, and the morning was spent visiting their rehearsals and giving feedback.
At 1 p.m. I climbed into the McCookmobile and sped up to Stansted, fielding calls when I got there about the song writing competition at the other University, where yet more students have disobeyed the rules and tried to sneak into the competition. A guy did just that three years ago, and I got egg all over my face because of it (the competition organisers withdrew him and I had to take the blame), so I actually got quite angry that people are trying it on again.
One of the members of the internal University judging panel is upset because a very good and interesting lesbian rock band has not got through; but five years ago, I took The Irrepressibles all the way up to Liverpool for the final and they won not a cent, so I know that the organisers of the competition are looking for 'safe' sounds and 'safe' performers and I will not enter a group, no matter how good, who will have the bad experience of being rejected by a mainstream competition.
It's just not fair on them.

Dazed by work, I disembarked at Dublin airport to be met by a taxi driver bearing a laminated card with 'Ms McCookerybook' written on it. The taxi was posh with aircraft seats in cream velveteen and I started to feel a bit like a pop star. We wound our way through Dublin's rush hour to Whelan's and arrived just as The Daintees were finishing their sound check, so I nabbed Martin's Yiari and played a quick Love on the Wind to learn the shape of the guitar neck (quite different to mine) before nabbing him and going for tea in the caff next door.
The gig had been really well publicised and was jammed to the rafters ( a week ago Martin had been flown over to do some pre-publicity). The support band, the Gandhis, were a four-piece who were all good singers. Their songs harked back to The Beatles but twisted into odd directions that gave them an original slant. My favourite one was actually sung by the drummer; all four group members were singers.
I played for about twenty minutes and Martin came up to join me for Heaven Avenue and Loverman. The crowd were lovely and shushed the talkers at the bar (well, it was Saturday night in Dublin) and I felt very happy with the way my set was received.
The Daintees bounded on next, with Kate Stephenson on drums, John Steele on guitar and Lou Short on bass. Martin was on top form and the band rocked; the audience were in seventh heaven. All the way through the set, the guys pulled different things out of the bag that kept the energy at an amazing level for two solid hours. There were some great harmonies in Running Water, and everyone sang along to Rain like I'd never heard before.
Somehow on the way out we lost each other and I ended up in the vice-like grip of a young woman who wouldn't let me go. She clamped her arms around me and even though I tried to duck down to wriggle free, I actually had to fight her to get out! Even when I managed that she grabbed my hips and tried to drag me backwards. Scary!
Next morning we all piled into the caff for breakfast and had a right larf. All of the various line-ups of The Daintees are very good company and an absolute joy to do gigs with.

So here I am, back down to earth, with fifty study skills essays to mark and a tired face. No wonder I've written a long posting!
Anything to avoid the essays.... shall I put the kettle on?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sorry- the Perseverance gig is cancelled- the pub has closed, Acton Bell doesn't know why.
She left me a message on Friday evening while I was in Dublin and I was unable to email anyone and tell them. I hope people get this message in time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Drat

I have just lost a two pound coin in the crisps display at the Pret A Manger in Stansted Airport

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gigs

Tomorrow I'm flying to Dublin in the afternoon after work to play at Whelan's, where I'm supporting the Daintees; back again on Saturday to play Acton Bell's night at the Perseverance. Martin will be coming too and I will invite him to plays a couple of songs with me.
Should see my eyes- I have elephant's suitcases under them.
Thursdays are very hard work.
Gigs to the rescue!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Music

I wrote a miserable post about the inevitability of losing my job (the Government is cutting all of the funding from my area, Humanities) and therefore my house at the age of Too Old To Get Another Job, then I hit a strange key and the whole lot vanished, which I took as a signal to live in the present, so here I am, not worrying about the future!
I've spent the evening multitasking, simultaneously cooking a stir-fry and listening to entries to a University-wide song competition that I am judging.
It's amazing how many entrants seem not to have read the rules. In fact, none of them would qualify at all if I did not think I could knock them into some sort of shape in the next couple of weeks.
Fifteen people entered, two people's CDs wouldn't play on anything (duh! first rule of sending music to people that you want to listen to it, is that the CD must work!), five of them were far too quiet, about seven of them had songs lasting up to five minutes (the time limit is 3 minutes and 45 seconds), several of them had sampled music (there is a rule that says no sampling) and so on, and so on.
Is it haste? Is it arrogance? Is it laziness?
The prize is £5000; surely it would be worth reading the rules and sticking to them!
Last year, the winner stood out a mile and she went on to win the national competition; this year, it's much harder to tell who should win our heat. Luckily there are more judges than just me; my initial job was to do some weeding out, and six songs have gone to the next person to listen to.
I love teaching song writing because it's so exciting helping people to make a song work. I did it for 10 years before going back to writing songs myself, and then it took me three years to apply the things I told other people to do, to my own songs.
I don't know why that was; maybe I didn't feel that my songs were proper songs that deserved the attention. Now, it's as much fun thinking of my own work as though it was someone else's and working on them in that way.
The shortest song that I've ever written is this one:
A song
Doesn't have to be long.


Offsprog One went on the march. It had all but finished when the trouble started, which makes me think that the trouble came from other people, not students. 
I remember going on marches years ago, and there were always bunches of excessively aggressive young men who seemed to be getting a buzz out of being violent and destructive and who totally ignored the other protesters around them who were peacefully demonstrating. I think they may be from the Socialist Workers Party, and they are dangerous and nasty and do quite the opposite of what a demonstration is supposed to do, which is to create a show of numbers to indicate how a section of the public feels about a Government action.
Luckily, in the news broadcasts that I saw, this was pointed out quite clearly, not least by the head of the Student's Union.

The March

I am not on the March against the 100% Government cuts. I will be on the next one.
I have been too ill and I am frightened of ending up somewhere I can not get back from, but I support the protesters 100%.
Our bosses do too, but I don't think they are marching; they are relying on those who are, to protect their jobs ( frankly, a bit like me today!)
Another thing is that tomorrow, as every Thursday, I will be working a ten hour day sandwiched between to one-and-a-half-hour commutes. It takes me a week to recover (I teach Tuesdays and Fridays as well and do freelance work and motherhood in between).
All because I am worried about losing my job.
Luckily (!) the laptop I use for work is poorly and is not here, so there are parts of my work I can't do.
The feeling of inconvenience and the related stress are counterbalanced by the glee that I simply can't proceed with some of the urgent stuff. For today, life has slowed down to an unpressured pace and I am even going to do some singing: I have a gig supporting Martin at Whelan's in Dublin on Friday and another at The Perseverance on Saturday which Martin will be coming along to. For gig dates see www.reverbnation.com/helenmccookerybook
I'm giving Myspace a rest for a couple of weeks as it crashes my laptop.

I'm trying to drum up the energy to complain to the Crown Prosecution Service after the three magistrates who tried Offsprog Two's attackers decided not to try the main culprit, as his defence barrister argued that because of his low IQ, he was too suggestible to stand trial.
We were allowed to talk to them afterwards; we had discovered that the young offender was on his last offence before a custodial sentence and that a judge had thrown out the doctor's evidence at a previous trial.
We pointed out to the magistrates that they had released a habitual offender, probably a knife carrier (Offsprog Two's bag straps were slashed) who, if he was a suggestible as his defence barrister said, could quite possibly seriously injure or kill his victim next time.
Because he was neither convicted nor acquitted, we could not ask for a restraining order to prevent him from harassing her again, as he had after the crime.
How do I feel? A combination of anger and fear for Offsprog Two's safety.
How does she feel? 'I'm going to get stabbed.'

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I'm at work; the traffic is whooshing past in the rain three floors down and the window is jammed open so the wind is interfering with the sick building aroma of the room. Grey carpets, grey desks, grey minds too this morning.
Even out of this grisly environment, flowers blossom, and none more so than Jamie McDermot.
In yesterday's newspaper, two pages were devoted to him and his band the Irrepressibles, an incarnation of whom I accompanied on an overnight trip to Liverpool to enter a song writing competition. In some ways I'm glad they didn't win (I thought they were too good) because Jamie's resolve strengthened and focused.
We first met when I interviewed him for a place at the University of the West, and when he came on to the course he instantly became a catalyst, organising gigs, buzzing, sharing... he was the person who made me get my guitar, covered in dust, out from under my bed and start playing it again!
He has got a beautiful singing voice, sometimes compared to Antony Hegarty's, but Antony's voice is frail and vulnerable, whereas Jamie's is strong and certain, even when he is singing about uncertain things. He thinks about politics and beauty, and sings about both with the most exquisite poetry.
He is going to be very successful, and I am absolutely delighted.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Detox

Pak Choi, ginger, almonds, a dash of live yogurt.
Now I'm off out to get myself a Mars Bar.

Potential Title for Non-MOR Album

She Disnae Dae Disney

Benjamin Rabier

The post-it notes have reached epidemic proportions again; I need to get out more, perhaps.
Gradually I'm starting to feel better.
I was looking for things to sell to make space, and I found this book.
McDad had two books by Benjamin Rabier- a copy of this and another featuring the smart goose, Gedeon.
I bought this a few years ago, but it's actually different from McDad's copy, which McMum gave to me with the Gedeon book; they are so clever and they are completely inspiring.
My favourite picture is missing from this one: it's of a weary monkey, obviously exhausted from days and days of travel on foot. The monkey has heavy bags, and can't carry on much longer. What a delight! The monkey sees, just over the brow of the hill, what appears to be two pitched roofs and a smoking chimney. At last! A house! (You see this all in one frame).
At the top of the hill, the monkey sees that this illusion has been created from the tips of the ears of a placid elephant as he sits in the middle of the road with a pipe, blowing the smoke upwards, his trunk held aloft.
So this book will be going on eBay, perhaps. The problem is that I know people take books like this to pieces, frame the individual pages, and make a fortune. My moral dilemma is whether I should do this myself. I can't bear the idea of picking a book to bits, but it's cover seems to have been damaged by water at some point.
I guess I will have to hang on to it a bit longer....

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Alldayer Photos

Photos of the Punkbrighton Alldayer here http://punkbrighton.co.uk/alldayer.html

Kittens

On a steep slope, a reservation between busy sections of the complex motorway in northern France, a posse of kittens gambolled happily in the warm sunshine, oblivious to the fact that their owners had dumped them there, unwanted.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Hilaire Belloc

Yippee! a book by Hilaire Belloc, the writer of cautionary tales, landed on the doormat today.
That's what I shall read this evening!

Friday Reds

What's that?
The opposite of the blues!
I didn't post yesterday's sad complaint about my nine-hour working day with a two-hour journey either side of it. I am finding work extremely difficult at the moment especially because I just can not shake of this virus, which means I'm going to miss Treacle and Charlotte's fiftieth birthday party tomorrow- HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU TWO!- and probably won't be going to see any fireworks anywhere, but in my imagination, in my imagination...
Because of enforced homeness, I am suffering from televisionitis, and starting to like/dislike TV celebrities, which is actually completely pointless.
Last night's problem was Nigella Lawson.
Offsprog Two watches her partly out of fascination (she says she feels sorry for her) but I can't stand to be in the same room as that voice, that licking, and that odd illuminated smilingnness-into-the-fridge which I actually find frightening (a bit like The Laughing Policeman by Charles Penrose, the most terrifying record of all time with it's fake and uncontrollable glee).
So I had to stand in the kitchen for half an hour until it was over.
Tonight, it's QI, which I used to tolerate, but I'm damned if that monster Stephen Fry is going to be allowed into my living room again; I am devising a Fry-avoidance activity as we speak.
Shall it be a packet of marshmallows all to myself? A session with the guitar on the sofa?
I'm not sure but I am sure something constructive can be done.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Chefs Photograph

Peter has just sent me a link to this: it was taken probably around 1980 by a food photographer (which we found very funny) who was trying to get into taking photos of bands. We went to the studio where he was an assistant, gobbled up the chicken curry that he had been photographing earlier on, and did the shoot. It was so hot under the lights that James, Carl and Russell started sprouting stubble.
I've got a whole lot more from this session somewhere either here or at the storage unit where I keep the things that wouldn't fit into my house!
He was actually a very good photographer and his name was John but that's all I can remember about him.
This was the night that, after we'd finished, our manager Jonathan and myself wandered over to Portland Place with a copy of 24 Hours and waited for John Peel to walk in. We were very self-conscious but when he came in at 9.45 to do his show, he invited us up to the studio and put the record on there and then, broadcasting it before even hearing it.
It was mortifying and I tried to talk over it but he shushed me because he wanted to listen to it. He then went on to play it almost every night, it seemed and it became an independent hit.
We were such a silly band, looking back on it: quite immature. The only sillier band was Black Uhuru, who spent a whole interview session with the New Musical Express arguing about a ballpoint pen with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it. I remember reading it and thinking 'That sounds a bit like us'.
I remain hugely proud of our recordings though. The one thing that we totally agreed on was working and working on our songs until we thought they were perfect, as good as they could be, and I definitely think we had a 'sound'. From time to time over the last 30 years the occasional person has 'discovered' us. I spent a while corresponding with a Swedish teenager who used to run her own fanzine; she would write lovely emails about climbing mountains and eating raspberries with her boyfriend, and she told me she always played The Chefs songs before going out because they made her happy.
Someone wrote to Julie Blair at Attrix and told her they had got married because of 24 Hours, and then of course there is Monty, whose birthday party I am playing later this month.
I have still got three checky shirts that I used to wear on stage, and a rather natty fringed buckskin jacket, but a lot of stuff got stolen from dressing rooms- I had some little gold guitar ear-rings and a bolo tie that matched them with a mother-of-pearl disc with a gold guitar in the middle.
And of course, I've got the first Hofner bass that I used to play; the second was a violin bass that had a horrible sound and a heavy neck that pulled it skew-whiff if I didn't hang on to it all the time.
Yellow and blue, yellow and blue, those were our colours, happy colours to brighten up the recession!

Added Words

I have added words to my Lectrice story to make more suitable for an academic book. The editor likes it now!
I'm getting a fix of Gaydar radio which is proving remarkably cheery; I am waiting to see if I've got glandular fever, which might explain the constant fatigue and headaches I have at the moment....

Link to a Blog

Pete Chrisp drew my attention to this:
http://fruitierthanthou.blogspot.com/2009/09/chefs-john-peel-session-11th-may-1981.html
The person who posted it got it a bit wrong- it was Joby and the Hoologans who were dubbed the 'worst band in Brighton' by Keith Hurley, who promoted the dear departed Alhambra. 'But I will always book you 'cos you pack the place out and I don't understand why', he added.
Perhaps The Chefs were the worst band in Brighton too? I suppose that is possible.
Some of our live recordings are pretty dire.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Chieftain

This young chap was born in Crieff in Perthshire, and was the Chieftain of the Highland Games one year. At the time I hadn't got a clue who he was. I believe I may have mentioned many posts ago the frisson of excitement he had caused in the local ironmongers when he tried on a waxed jacket. I was the next person to try the jacket on and the shop assistant was terribly excited when he told me about it.
Unforchly, my total lack of knowledge about either celebs or films meant that I merely smiled politely and carried on riffling through the sturdy socks and enamel campware.
It's an odd photo: it looks a little bit like he's just about to saw his leg off and is rather proud of the fact.
What a brave laddie!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Conference Paper

I have been snacking away at a conference paper I am due to present at the Art of Record Production Conference in December. As usual, I have unearthed far too much stuff and it's a case of condensing, editing, deleting, sorting... finally, I have decided to start at the end and work to the beginning to prevent it from being yet another 'woman moans at how unfair the record industry is' type paper, which God only know the bloody industry deserves to hear again and again until it's so worn down it changes.
Me versus Gangsta Rap? Not a chance! What a frightening world: once a line is crossed by a woman, it's hard to get back over to safety again.
And that rotter Stephen Fry!*
The Oleaginous Gent reminds me of those kids at school who wound you up constantly and as soon as you reacted, burst into tears and rushed off to tell the teacher.
I don't think I've ever met a woman who does not enjoy sex (or as some of us call it, making love). The world is full of women who enjoy physical contact with men whether briefly or long-term; maybe they just decided that Stephen Fry was not the person to tell about this? I knew he didn't fancy women, but now I know he doesn't like us, either. We like to be choosy, you know, which is why we don't generally fall flat on our backs as soon as a man snorts and bucks and charges in our direction.
Of course, now he pretends he was joking. Well, Stephen, that sort of joke isn't funny from this angle, the one that women see things from.
Ever though of apologising? I don't think so! That might rock your smug perch a little, mightn't it?

Well, that's the anger-pipes cleared out satisfactorily: sorry about that!
Here is a photo from a 1960s children's book to show you (or remind you!) what little girls were brought up to do: write things down, while the boy actually did things. I have been reading about the cotton mills in the industrial revolution where men stayed at home to look after the children because they didn't know how to use the machines; and the US Air Force, where once computers were introduced to aid navigation, that job which had been done mathematically by women suddenly became a man's job because it involved machines.
Then there was the time I went to work for a day in a Special School and the young men made a high wall around the electronic keyboard by standing close together and presenting their backs to the room so that the young women couldn't get anywhere near it!
There's so much stuff but I do want to make the talk positive so I am going to imagine a fine future for women producers. Will anyone even turn up to hear it? That's always a risk. I am thinking of presenting the paper in fancy dress, as Beyonce or somebody like that. Bootylicious!
* Television presenter Fry was interviewed by Attitude magazine and remarked that women only put up with sex so that they can capture a husband: if they actually liked it, they would cruise like gay men. 
Of course.