Sunday, February 28, 2010

I Am Sad

In the matter of a couple of days, Offsprog 2 has not only shaken hands with Johnny Depp (he's already married, Offsprog 2, you can't have him) and gone to the Tory Party Conference (they are not allowed to heckle and have told they will be removed from the building if they do).
Meanwhile, I have spent this afternoon in distraction therapy, recording a new version of On New Year's Eve which is up on Myspace.
Myspace is annoying me at the moment: they have tried so hard to be Facebook and forgotten that they are THE musician's site and it's how most of us make network and contact each other. It's how I met Martin too!
But both me and Katy have noticed that our song counters jam and don't count after a couple of hours. She thinks its because they have to pay royalties and don't want to. But I have never received a royalty from Myspace; I just think they are so busy adding games, apps and other silly Facebook-a-likes that they have lost the plot.
Bit like me really.
I can't settle: Whippersnapper is not doing too well and I am dreading losing another little familiar.
Us white witches need our magical furry friends to sing to and laugh at.
I have even forgiven him for eating a huge irreparable hole in the back of my favourite jacket when I got back from Scotland last Monday.
I'm wandering round the house waiting for this evening's call from the vet; like policemen they get younger every day and sympathy from a young woman barely out of her teens is poignant in its authenticity.
I am sad.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Delta 5 and The Au Pairs

If anyone knows the whereabouts of Jane or Lesley from the Au Pairs, and/or any of Delta 5, please can you contact me at

Not Slumping This Saturday

Oh, not this Saturday!
I lost yesterday afternoon entirely, as Whippersnapper is terribly ill and has had to go back to the vets. The cure for pancreatitis is to starve the cat, and the cure for diabetes is to feed it. Somewhere between, I hope he will get well.

So today- well, I am preparing a mega-budget for an archive of women's music and memories, in conjunction with Debi Withers, and that is going to take up a lot of today.
Meanwhile, I have been colour-coding the clothes on the clothes rail, which has been amazingly therapeutic. I have no room for a wardrobe, and have to keep clothes acquisition to the minimum as a result. But sorting through what I have results in new combinations and almost feels like buying new clothes. The chest of drawers that wouldn't go up the stairs in this mini-house is going into storage next week and I have to find somewhere to put six pairs of denim jeans and a selection of vintage woollens. Hmm.
Offsprog Two is hovering, or should that be hoovering, but I've just been in her room and observed her habit of storing clothes everywhere but her cupboard, so she's on a hiding to nothing today.

I have started to read Zoe Street Howe's book on the Slits, Typical Girls, and it's providing a lot of food for thought- the cosmopolitan make-up of those early punk bands, for instance, and the surprisingly manipulative Joe Strummer. I read Marion Leonard's book Gender and the Music Industry last week and was particularly taken by the way the Spice Girls reverted Girl Power to the woman's right to choose her make-up and shoes!

Later, I have a super plan. Gina sent me a link to a yodelling video, and I will begin today. I am certain that the meaning of life, or one of them anyway, is stored in the ability to yodel. I may not make the Tyrolean Yodelling Championships, but hope to edge a micro- millimetre closer to being able to mimic Dolly Parton!

Friday, February 26, 2010


It was a cold and rainy February night; I left the maps at home by accident (the resident artist pulled out at the last minute and I wanted to paper the walls with maps) and the felt pens (for drawing on the paper tablecloths); the home made raspberry muffins got distracted by an animals-on-holiday fancy dress party in Brighton, but there we were in the end: Martin Stephenson, Viv Albertine, Acton Bell, Katy Carr, Gina Birch and me, with a select audience and a row of stools on the stage.
We played three sets consisting of a song each, sitting in a row and mixing our songs; we all made the occasional mistake, because these were new songs, but that was OK because this was Club Artyfartle, for people to feel comfortable playing and showing new stuff.
Martin started off, playing his positive and happy songs, and Acton Bell followed on, with a Beatles song she'd heard on the radio in her dream and then realised when she woke that she had made it up herself; then Viv sang a trio of spiky and sharp songs, playing some mean guitar licks and adding a rock slant into the proceedings. I was next, singing Britishly pickin' stuff, and Katy followed, sounding European and mysterious, her strong voice reaching to the corners of the room. She left early, as she had to rise at 4 a.m. to go to Poland.
It wonderful to sit there surrounded by different styles of music, feeling the different emotions of each different performer. Hats off to the song writers for going along with the unusual format and being brave enough to mix it up and go for it: and to the audience for enjoying it all and being so warm!
Moment of the night was Gina's presentation on Birchbags, her boiled wool bag project. She was concise and funny (especially the bag with the red cross on it 'for emergencies'), unpacking bag from within bag, giving Mary Poppins a run for her money and keeping the audience mesmerised.
Diana heckled goodnaturedly from the door, Sandie (aka Foolish Girl) and Val Phoenix took photos, and my Champagne Friend turned up; it was a success, I think.
I have much to learn: a mailing list consisting almost entirely of song writers is not good for populating a club. Of course, a proportion of them are unlikely to come either because they have other gigs on, or they are grumpy about not being asked to perform. I also shouldn't be so secretive about who's playing; I could have at least listed some of the performers. And another time, I will make damn sure I have a poet and an artist.
But generally, I was delighted, so much so that I didn't sleep a wink last night thinking about it. It was a massive privilege being in such company and great fun to mix such styles; the person-pod was on shuffle.
Where and when else do you get to hear such varied and interesting songwriters playing together?
If you didn't make it, check out:
I have Viv Albertine's new CD and I will review it later this weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Artyfartle Review Tomorrow

Reviewing tomorrow: Club Artyfartle featuring (cast in order of performance) Acton Bell, Martin Stephenson, Acton Bell, Viv Albertine, Katy Carr, Gina Birch, and me.
working to day, giggging tonight (The World's End, Finsbury Park, onstage 9.15)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Don't See This Out Of My Window Any More

Saturday Slumping

Sometimes you have a day that doesn't map out the way you expected it to.
The morning took an age to rev up; I'd been hoping to rove darn sarf to see a friend but realised that I hadn't made the hearty stew I was planning to make for McMum (I'm going to visit her tomorrow as she's broken her arm), and I was also planning to go to the ICA to hear a colleague's talk on Arthur Russell, the king of disco.
But a visit to the ICA website told me that the tickets were too costly for a woman of my meagre means, so I'm going there in my imagination instead, and I'm visiting my pal by phone later on.
Meanwhile, the stew's been bubbling for a while, and Whippersnapper is delighted as he can soak up my body warmth for a little longer. I think he is a snake or a lizard covered in fur and pretending to be a cat, actually.
Club Artyfartle is bowling along; I bought the paper tablecloths for the audience to doodle on (the idea was to exhibit them next time around). The line-up is myself, Katy Carr, Martin Stephenson, Acton Bell and one more who wishes to do it privately, all playing brand new songs. Gina Birch will be showing the banners she has sewn for a film project, and I am hoping to have a poetry reading too.

Martin's going to start a club in Gosforth called Club Tornado and he's asked me to design a poster for it.
He's made a very funny film starring himself, his mate Davey Cowan, assorted people who called round while they were filming it (the electricity man and the postman) and my lovely red BSA Bantam, out in the fresh air for the day. The film is made by Ali Macleod, and you can see it at

Friday, February 19, 2010

We Love 77: Punk Paintings

The artists Sardine and Tobleroni have painted 77 paintings of punk rock musicians, and tonight was the opening night at The Merchant's Hall, a pop-up gallery at 46 Essex Road in Islington (open 12-6 each day).
I think I expected something quite small, but the gallery is huge, battered and cavernous, and was full of people who had obviously made a huge effort to look good, and other people photographing and filming them.
At one point I came face to face with Johnny Rotten, or it could have been his twin brother. Actually, there was quite a buzz in the air, helped by the fact that the wonderful Don Letts was DJ for the night. I was desperate to dance as he spun all the best of late 70s reggae, Toots and the Maytals and lots of other good stuff that I recognised but couldn't name. My toes were twitching but the cool crowd locked my knees with their 1977 stares.
Gaye Advert was there and we had a chat; she's an artist herself as well as featuring in one of the paintings and she recommended another exhibition which I want to go and see (Andreas von Chrzanowski at the Case Gallery in Curtain Road) and Poly Styrene came up to talk to her. She asked me how the book was doing and I told her that I am talking to someone about bringing out a paperback with some more interviews and asked if she would like to be interviewed and she said yes, so that is good news. Both women are very friendly and don't have the 'I'm famous, don't touch me' attitude that the people who aren't famous have.
I have the right to look for a publisher now for the paperback version; I want to try to interview the Au Pairs and Delta 5 as well as the Marine Girls and Shanne from the Nips, and Kate Korris. I loved doing the interviews for the hardback, it was easily the best part of it all and it would be great to carry on.
Anyway- the paintings. The best ones were The Nipple Erectors (they were selling cocktails of that name!) with a very funny rendition of Shane McGowan with Shanne standing behind him; and one of John Cooper Clarke standing next to a giant budgie exactly the same size as him. The budgie looks affronted, and John Cooper Clarke cowers in fear beside it.
Poly was doing a talk later to introduce a film of X-Ray Spex at the Roundhouse in 2008 but I had to leave to give Whippersnapper his insulin. It was an unexpectedly lively evening, full of what I took to be punk rockers' offspring selling programmes and things like that. There were some very well dressed people (see the shoes above) and I wished I'd got into my finery. I recognised loads of people but wasn't sure why, whether it was because I knew them from back then, or because they were (anti)stars of punktimes.
It was nice to be among people my age who could have given some flashy teenage snappy dressers a run for their money: all is not lost, I thought, until I realised how dowdy I looked in comparison. The hiking boots were a mistake, perhaps!
The exhibition was organised by WW Gallery, and there are screenings until the end of March. Watch out in particular for She's a Punk Rocker UK, by Zillah Minx, on Thursday 4th March at 6.45.


I am fantasising about a holiday.
My face is the greyish colour and texture of a used dishcloth, and my body feels like the shape of Humpty Dumpty so I daren't look in the mirror to check if' that's so or not.
I am sleepy, because I have to get up and give Whippersnapper his insulin injection early in the morning and once I've done that it's too late to go back to bed.
I just keep thinking about those holiday postcards from hot countries- one big stripe of bright blue across the top, joining a big stripe of bright yellow across the bottom.
Sand and sea
And me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gotta Have a Heart

Gotta Have a Heart

Cmaj7                  Gm                          Cmaj7                       Gm
Won't you come a-long with me I will show you something new
Cmaj7                   Gm                          Cmaj7   Gm     Cmaj7 
Won't you come a-long with me I have made it   just for you
Cmaj7                         Gm                     Cmaj7                 Gm
You put two things to-gether to make a missing link com-plete
Cmaj7                         Gm                     Cmaj7           Gm        Cmaj7
You put two things to-gether to make a plan that you just can't beat

                       Dm          G7   Cmaj7               
Cos you got a soul with-out a heart
                 Dm          G7   Cmaj7
You got a soul with-out a heart
        Am       Dm     G7          Cmaj7
You may be big but you ain't smart
                 G7       Cmaj7
You gotta have a heart.

Cmaj7                    Gm                  Cmaj7                          Gm
You've been living life doing only half of what you could do
Cmaj7                    Gm                Cmaj7    Gm   Cmaj7
You've been living life without a key, with-out a clue
Cmaj7       Gm                            Cmaj7                      Gm
I can open doors for you now to show you a different way
Cmaj7       Gm                                        Cmaj7     Gm           Cmaj7
I can open doors for you now to shine a light on a brand new day

                       Dm          G7   Cmaj7               
Cos you got a soul with-out a heart
                 Dm          G7   Cmaj7
You got a soul with-out a heart
        Am       Dm     G7          Cmaj7
You may be big but you ain't smart
                 G7       Cmaj7
You gotta have a heart.

                             Cmaj7  Bbmaj7 Cmaj7  Bbmaj7
You gotta have a he-aaaart
                             Cmaj7  Bbmaj7 Cmaj7  Bbmaj7
You gotta have a he-aaaart
Gotta have a heart

Cmaj7               Bbmaj7             Cmaj7              Ebmaj7
Doo doo,do do,  Doo doo do do, Doo doo do do, Doo doo do do

Cmaj7               Gm            Cmaj7             Cmaj7
Put your faith in me and I'll put my hope in you
Cmaj7                Gm                     Cmaj7          Gm        Cmaj7
Put your faith in me and we'll see just what our love can do
Cmaj7          Gm                     Cmaj7        Gm
Only two in-gredients make a perfect reci-pe
Cmaj7                   Gm                                    Cmaj7     Gm     Cmaj7
Put your heart and soul into it baby and we'll live in       harmo-ny

Dm          G7   Cmaj7               
Cos you got a soul with-out a heart
                 Dm          G7   Cmaj7
You got a soul with-out a heart
        Am       Dm     G7          Cmaj7
You may be big but you ain't smart
                 G7       Cmaj7
You gotta have a heart.

                       Dm          G7   Cmaj7               
Cos you got a soul with-out a heart
                 Dm          G7   Cmaj7
You got a soul with-out a heart
        Am       Dm     G7          Cmaj7
You may be big but you ain't smart
                 G7       Cmaj7
You gotta have a heart.

                             Cmaj7  Bbmaj7 Cmaj7  Bbmaj7
You gotta have a he-aaaart
                             Cmaj7  Bbmaj7 Cmaj7  Bbmaj7
You gotta have a he-aaaart
Gotta have a heart

Copyright Helen McCookerybook 2009

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Club Artyfartle

About the club- I have arranged for four song writers to perform- it's not an open mike night! There has been some confusion and I'm sorry for that. I am not a promoter, it's more of a club party kind of thing.


I'm selling the stuff I didn't get round to selling before I moved; we have been tripping over it all for a couple of months and I can't get to the cupboard under the stairs. This vase was due to go, and then I photographed it and it looked lovely. It reminds me of mermaids and Botticelli's Venus and has changed my mind by being photogenic. From now on I shall specialise in only selling exceptionally hideous items on eBay, providing they are useful, of course.
(it's not the only thing I photographed tonight that looked nice and changed my mind!)
I have put some different music up on


Painstakingly, I cut and fitted sections of soft black leather to my head, taking days to sew the shapes together to make a hat that fitted tightly over my hair.
On holiday in Scotland that year, I sought out two cow horns, which I sawed and polished to a fine shine.
I was making a horned helmet, like a female viking might wear. Every 34-year-old woman needs one of those, or so I thought.
I was excitedly telling one of my best friends about it; it was almost finished.
Her big and drunken husband was listening in.
'That's a bloody stupid idea',  he sneered. 'When ya gonna wear that? Everyone will laugh at ya.'
I hadn't even thought about that.
So it never got finished, and never got worn.
But Gina has invited me to do a song when the Gluts play at Cafe Oto in March, and I think the leather hat (alas, the horns were thrown out when I moved) is in the boot of my car with the screen was and the Just William story cassettes.
Gonna wear it then innit?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Merrill Garbus

I'm sitting here lipreading East Enders, always best with the sound turned down. I'm rather tired, but that's OK: I had a late night last night and a full and busy day at work today.
I went to Cargo last night to see Merrill Garbus (the Tuneyards). She has just been signed to 4AD by an ex-student of mine, Jane Abernethy. It is her first proper signing and by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd Jane definitely made a good decision; Jane is a fan of all kinds of music, from Ivor Cutler to Larkin Grimm, and is a very talented songwriter in her own right, which means she knows what's going on in musicworld.
Some years ago, Jane played the singer/songwriter circuit in London (and even toured America squashed into a little car with four other people doing house concerts) under the name Hazey Jane, until a band called The Hazey Janes told her she couldn't be called that any more. Fancy having your identitiy abolished!
Anyway, that's enough rambling and dribbling...
Merrill has an incredible voice which sounds like Jimi Hendrix's guitar in its scope: it's husky one minute and sharp the next, and she can yodel (oh I'm so jealous!!!). At one point an eat-your-heart-out Minnie Riperton high was greeted with a ripple of applause from the crowd.
She plays a tenor ukelele, making it sound like a fuzz guitar, except when she's a finger-pickin' it like a banjo, when it sounds like a banjo. She plays a drum, standing square-on and looking like a drum majorette without the uniform. It's not smartass New York rock, but it is art-rockish, except she herself is a warm-hearted and natural performer with an authentic belief in what she is doing. She's accompanied by a stylishly geeky bass player, who supports her and never upstages her.
The B52s? the Young Marble Giants? It was fun, she's lovely.
On the way home by tube I spotted a poster for the film Micmacs.
'A dazzling entertainment machine', said Le Monde in their review.
That's exactly what I thought of Merrill Garbus!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dad, I am remembering you today.

Doodlebug Alley by Jude Cowan

Jude's voice wisps out of her music with the natural airiness of an Aeolian harp, suddenly gripping you with a lewd lyric or shocking you with a wry little aside. Her voice is beautiful, at times using its eastern-sounding flexiblity to take you right out of Blighty on a cold February afternoon.
She accompanies herself with spiky mandolin punctuation, a sparse nod in the direction of music hall, and often delivers the melodies of her songs as poetry rather than using the moon'n'june template that so many songwriters grasp in desperation.
There is a lot of anger in her tales; they are the aural equivalent of Paula Rego's dark etchings; and tales they are, Scandinavian-flavoured fairy tales which have no happy endings and no reassuring musical outcomes, short stories in song.
At times, a distant piano echoes Erik Satie. It reminds me of being terrified by Albert and the Lion as a child: not by the horrid story, but by the frighteningly ancient woman I imagined in an adjoining room who was playing sinister piano stabs so quietly in time with Stanley Holloway's grunting delivery.
Jude's music is very English. It holds all those secondary-school history and English Literature lessons in an icy grip, smacking the dull and pedantic teachers across their smug faces with a sharp and naturally intelligent hand. What perfect revenge on the cruel and restricting world!
The child in Jude triumphs over the sticky treacle of rules and regulations, and she soars off with the dragonflies to crackle in the clouds, a lightning streak of perception and fragility.
It is a delightful album: check her out on

Helen & the Horns Footsteps Video by Foolish Girl - MySpace Video

Helen & the Horns Footsteps Video by Foolish Girl - MySpace Video

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Newcastle's a great city to wander round: there is so much to see.
We walked down from the Metro at Monument, where Lord Grey stands and surveys the beige stone vista of Grey Street, to the River Tyne, to look at the series of bridges that span it. 
Newcastle is a bridge museum, displaying the bizarre double-decker High Level Bridge (trains on top, cars underneath), the red and white Swing Bridge (jauntily nautical), the bridge-like Tyne Bridge, and the eyelid (is it the Millenium Bridge?). 
Only in Geordieland would you find the High Level Bridge, because in Geordieland the abnormal is normal, yet if you're not Geordie normal you're cast out of the tribe and have to go to Art College to recover.
A cormorant dried its wings in the cold easterly wind, and we crossed the eyelid to the Baltic, and went up in the glass lift to the almost-top floor where we watched a woman preparing the floor of an exhibition hall, which was probably more arty than the art that was destined to be displayed there.
Buskers were braving the February grey as we crossed back over: one of them talked to us through frozen lips.
The Cluny 2 was pretty chilly inside, but the soundchecks warmed us all up. Shippy was wearing a rather natty blue cardy, and I realised how many of the Newcastle musicsters I know now.
Gem Andrews played first, and I recognised quite a few of her songs from the last time I saw her play, probably two years ago. She has become much more confident, and the venue, a blacked-out theatre, is ideal for a listening audience. The bar is upstairs, so the clinking of glasses and the scrape of the ice-shovel happen elsewhere, and there is no bar to lean on and murmur. 
The audience gave Gem a really warm and well-deserved welcome.
My set was similarly received and I was slightly nervous to see Cav and Joe Guillan's hair silhouetted against the back wall, with Keith the drummer, but they came up afterwards and said they liked it so I was really chuffed. Rob Ayling from Voiceprint came and I gave him a listening copy of the songs I recorded at the Cluny Studios two weeks ago.
The Green Goddess is a bit of a stranger at the moment cos I haven't been playing her much, and a couple of times I was caught out by the chords not being where I thought they were, but generally, it was a relaxed place to play and I really enjoyed it. I could see Mike and June smiling and that helped too.
Martin had Fin McCardle with him and between them they made a whole-band sound. 
Martin was really on form and I noticed a woman to one side weeping with laughter. A gentleman journalist was there taking notes, and he kept putting his little spiral-bound away and then getting it out again and scribbling when Martin made another joke- it was very funny! I joined him for Hamilton Square, during which my shoe heel fell down a hole in the stage, and later for Sweet Saviour. Before that, Martin invited Shippy up on stage to sing a song for his friend Elvis, who died a year ago. Shippy had written a lovely song for Elvis (called Elvis cos he wore glasses like Buddy Holly's).
At the very end of the gig, two people were waiting at the door: they had gone into the main Cluny venue and watched Punishment of Luxury by accident, thinking they were Martin's support act, and hadn't realised till the end! Oh Bless! They had driven over from the Lake District too. Martin promised to put them on the guest list for his next gig.
This morning I was supposed to be going over with him to do backing vocals for the stuff we've been recording with Joe and Cav and then over to a garden to perform a song to be filmed by Phoenix Films, but I was so worried by my ten hour journey on Friday (yes, it was ten, not nine!) that I decided to drive home straight away in case it happened again. Length of journey? Four hours. Gaaaaah!
BTW, the Irrepressibles are playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall tonight. I wanted to go and review the gig but I'm worn out. I am wishing them the best gig of their lives on this Valentines Day.
Also I have a Valentines song on Myspace, it's going tomorrow to be replaced by a 15th of February song instead!

Friday, February 12, 2010


I'm sitting in a hotel room when I should be singing at the Gosforth Hotel.
Martin organised a reunion of Newcastle punk bands and they are all there and I was going to sing a Chefs song but...
I have only just got here: it took more than 9 hours to drive here today and my head is still somewhere near Sheffield, eating a panini, although my body must be here, because I'm typing this.
At one point, it took me three hours to drive six miles.
They have closed part of the A1.
Only problem is, they don't tell you that until it's too late to get off it and on to the M1.
I now know Rutland like the back of my hand!
I only almost cried when I drove into the back of a massive pickup truck and a human pig got out with a face like thunder.
His boorish truck was unmarked, thankfully. I  drove like the fairy on the top of the Christmas tree after that.
Only 9 hours? Somehow I managed to listen to four days worth of songs on my iPod!

Come to our gig at the Cluny 2 tomorrow night!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Martin's Website

This is a link to Martin's site, which he's just building. There are some great photographs there.
He has a new agent, Liz Pressure, who will be booking his gigs from now on.


'I've broken my thump', wrote Sylvester, the German recording engineer, from his skiing holiday.

This is my oddball right thumb; some people call this deformity 'hammer thumb'. It makes playing guitar delicately difficult, or clumsily crap.
I met another woman with a thumb like this on a Community Leadership course: we became friends and she told me these big toe-like thumbs are the result of poor nutrition in the womb.
The thumb on the left hand is similar, though not so bad; both thumbs are seriously double-jointed. I used to draw on the left thumb, making it into a nun with a cowl and a puzzled expression on its nail-face; Climb Ev'ry Mountain, I thought.

Once, a Nun came to school to do work experience when I was in the fifth form.
She asked me to pin a chart up on the blackboard with drawing pins. Blackboards are made of hard wood which is resistant to pins, and it took a huge amount of effort to shove the pin into the wood; my thumb locked and then suddenly flipped into double-jointed mode, and the drawing-pin rapidly reversed itself and embedded itself in the pad of the offending digit.
'F*CK', I yelled at max teenage volume.
The Nun stiffened and her pale eyelashes quivered.
After a moment of silent shock, she carried on with the lesson as though nothing at all had happened; scared, the class followed suit.I wouldn't have believed it myself, but the little bead of blood on my thumb told me otherwise after I'd sloped back to my desk.
Last thing of all about thumbs? Well, I'm just watching Nigel Slater's cookery show on BBC 1, and I could swear I spotted a couple of human thumbs in the Allotment Supper they were all tucking into.
I wonder if they noticed?
I still don't know what boxy meant.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


'Great drum sound! Totally boxy!'
Studio jargon, couldn't understand a word of it.
I used to take the words home with me in my head after a session, and roll them around this way and that to try to make sense of them.
I don't like feeling stupid, I don't like being made to feel stupid, and I wasn't brave enough to say that I didn't understand, because a lot of what I learned was through quietly observing what was going on and listening to the results.
But some of it just left me shaking my head in bewilderment.

Special terminology is the way some people form exclusive communities (or even gangs in some circumstances).
If you don't understand the lingo, you can't be part of it.
Offsprog Two and her friends have teenager ganguage: 'butters' means great, 'buff' means sexy and a 'beef' is a fight, for instance.
Knowing all the micro-names for different forms of hip hop music is the way some teenage men make space for themselves. It happens by accident too; people in the South thought it was hilarious that Geordies talk about 'bubbling' (crying) and 'getting wrong' (being scolded) when I first moved darn sarf, without noticing their own propensity for rhyming slang.
But studio-speak is like the aural equivalent of the snotty chaps in the musical instrument shops who are so busy being busy that even guys feel intimidated by them; it's designed as a filter to keep the inexperienced in their place, that is, permanently inexperienced.
I was really lucky, because one day I came across an engineer (his name was Simon Tassano) who talked me through all those little buttons on the mixing desk and told me what they all did, without making me feel like a fool for not knowing. A rare man indeed, to demystify the role of the studio engineer in such a way.
Big round of applause for sharing knowledge!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Cabbage Soup

After wrapping the pansies I bought yesterday in polythene because of the snow, I headed down to Katy's for Song Circle.
She lives off Marylebone High Street and the yummy smell of soup curled down the stairway as I puffed and panted up a million flights of stairs to her eyrie above the chimney pots. She was disappointed recently to discover that the Grand Piano she'd been given couldn't get up the stairs, so she has bought something like eight ukeleles to compensate. They hang on her walls, twinkling with potential.
We sat and drank tea till Nadya arrived. Our subject has been 'house' and Katy played hers first- almost a mazurka, it was a bouncy song about how much she loves her flat and how she'd like to win the lottery so she could buy it! The lady upstairs gave her wardrobes when she moved out the other day and Katy has tidied up and was excited to show us. She has wonky floors like me and has to shove bits of folded cardboard under the legs of things to stop them tipping drunkenly; it made me optimistic that contrary to my fears, my house is not in imminent danger of falling down.
Nadya's song wasn't finished yet, but we've decided to make the next session 'finished songs'.
Her song was all about the flavours of living in Tottenham- all the things she can hear around her from her house. Nadya's songs are simple and poetic, and I told her that she should keep them like that: it's a good style to start off from.
I was last, and mine wasn't finished either; but I remembered enough of it to do it. Mine was the House On The Hill, about living in a beautiful house that has no heart because it doesn't want people in it, just sunshine. Nadya told me at was the best song I have written so far.
The woman across the road told me while I was moving out that the two other families who had lived there before us had divorced too. It was a beautiful but poisonous house, destroying three marriages.
I didn't tell the family who moved in. Maybe they will break the pattern: I hope so.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Twillings on a Sunday Evening

The alarm went off shortly after five this morning. Except it wasn't the alarm- it was a vivid dream, over-efficient in the sound department. Indignant, I tried without success to go back to sleep.

Whippersnapper didn't want to go back to the vets, understandably; but I had to show the vet that I could inject him with insulin, so we went at the crack of dawn in spite of his loud protestations, and a small pot of insulin has joined the wrinkled old ginger root and the empty egg-compartment in the fridge door.
I bowled down to Brighton, getting there in record time, and took Offrprog One for Tapas before helping her to move a couple of heavy boxes of clothes and books into a warm, dry, tiny room that only has room for half her stuff. She is disorientated, and I hope a night's rest in a better room will help.

I bought some pots of pansies on the way back, in a effort to prompt the onset of spring, and now I'm going to sit with my guitar ad try to join some words with some chords via a melody, because it's Song Circle tomorrow and I haven't done my song yet.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

It Never Rains But It Paws

Whippersnapper was fading so fast today, I took him to the vet, who took blood to test and sent us home; five minutes after we got back, the phone rang and we were back again, so I could learn how to give an insulin injection: he has diabetes.
Offsprog Two remarked that every time he goes to the vet he returns with a different part of his body shaved. He looks like a Premiership footballer with his fancy haircarvings.
Meanwhile, McMum slipped on the ice for the second time since Christmas and has broken her arm and must sleep sitting up.
And Offsprog One is moving house tomorrow; after I've shown the vet that I can inject Whippernapper successfully I'm driving to Brighton.
The University of Brighton has a housing service, Unihomes, which seems to be totally irresponsible and totally unregulated: they gave a builder a key one Saturday morning to just let himself into a flat with 3 teenage women in it- outrageous.
And then her room got colder, and damper, and colder, and damper, and her clothes went mouldy in the wardrobe and her leather belt grew green fur on it, and the ink ran on her drawings, and the Unihomes people git cheekier and cheekier and told the girls that their landlords had terminal cancer- which was true, but how cruel to use that as an excuse!
They missed appointments, letting their tenants down, who had taken precious time off University to wait in for them. Poor Offsprog 1 has been camping out in the tiny living room, after finding a collection of slugs behind her wardrobe.
Finally, she is moving to a little room around the corner and I'm going down to help her move her stuff.

There is good news as well though: Martin has agreed to play Club Artyfartle, and it will be lovely to have him there. It's going to be a very special night. And this weekend I'm playing the Cluny 2 in Newcastle with Martin and Gemma, a full set of songs.
Lots of people have been buying Skifflecat White Cat guitars after they got a good review in Guitar and Bass magazine, all thanks to Liz for telling them about the company.

All we need now is a bit of spring sunshine and a chocolate tap in the bathroom.

Club Artyfartle

I think I've sorted the line-up for Club Artyfartle, although I have yet to contact the poet I'd like to do it.
Planz, planz...
24th February
The Perseverance
11 Shroton Street
8 pee em

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Good Exhibition To Go To

Yesterday I took my Songwriting group from the University of the West to the Identity exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation on Euston Road.
This was to show them how important it is to be aware of what's happening around you culturally if you are involved in the creative arts, and also to try to get them to think about their own identities before they start writing songs.
I asked each person to try to define themselves in four lines of poetry before next week, when they will play me songs they've written before.
It's a good exhibition, almost amateurish in its presentation and almost arbitrary in its chosen definitions of identity, but all the better for that. The students liked a sort of delayed-image mirror that disconnects you from your self-image. I liked a small set of diaries; "I'm not that sort of girl!' someone had exclaimed in big letters. I also liked a series of photographs in the eugenics section, of Chatham Shipyard workers, Westminster Schoolboys and murderers, differentiated mainly by their haircuts. Most of the shipyard workers had their thumbs in their non-existent lapels, trying to look authoritative; the schoolboys had foppishly shiny hair, and none of the murderers looked remotely guilty.
I was delighted that my students had introduced themselves to the Museum attendants. That bodes well!
Exhibition: free
Cafe: brilliant
Vibe ****

Thursday, February 04, 2010


While I was at Brighton Art College, my boyfriend was an aspiring film-maker.
Imagine his glee when, hitchhiking to Pontefract one day, we were given a lift by Ken Russell in his blonde Rolls Royce to match his tumbling grey-blond curls!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Tube, For No Particular Reason


Whippersnapper cat has a fetish for melon; he snorts and grunts as he snaffles it, and has been known to steal the rind from the recycling in the middle of the night for a midnight feast.
His latest passion is for liquorice.
I can eat it because it's cholesterol-free, and he's been trying to climb into my mouth just now, with a fiendish look in his eye and a sniffing set of nostrils, growling with gleeful anticipation. I had to bung it all in my mouth to stop him, but he then tried to eat the packet and I'm sitting on that now to hide it from him.
He's mad.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Today's been a bits day; there have been lists written on bus tickets, corners of magazines, envelopes and all sort of other scraps of paper, and they had to be acted upon at some time.
So the lovely beige 70s phone with working dial went back to Past Times (dial not working after only being used about 15 times).
The resulting refund bought half a week's shopping including catfood for Whippernapper, who has brought on this belt-tightening episode.
I wrote to Ashgate asking if they're going to bring out a paperback, 'cos if not, I will try to find a publisher who will.
I looked for lashings of grey wool in the loft to give to Gina, who is making 'Birchbags', felted wool bags with spotty linings. Alas, Gina, I fear I gave it to the charity shop before I moved.
I put a newspaper on the floor in an attempt to find out if the constant puddle is coming from above or below the vinyl flooring.
I cleared a runway in my room; shelves are going up tomorrow so I might even be able to walk in front of the window from now on!
I read the newspaper and recycled it half an hour later.
I drew a poster for Club Artyfartle and messed up the writing so I'll have to do it again.
I wrote to my students about the mysterious field trip I'm taking them on on Thursday.
I ate liquorice.
I threw away the bits of paper that I'd done the things written on (?)
I wrote this.

The Chefs

I've just learned from Nick Greenwood, Russell's brother, that there is to be a Brighton Bands Day in October, with people re-forming to play.
I have often wondered what it would be like to play with the original Chefs again, but I don't think it would be the same without Russell there.
We haven't been asked anyway!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Yep, It's A Multiposting Day

Phil at has put up a gallery of Chefs pictures that I sent him a while ago (some are wrongly captioned). They are at on the excellent site, which really captures the spirit of the Brighton punk and post-punk scene.
Phil has written a book about those times too, but I think the publishers keep delaying it, which must be incredibly frustrating for him. I can't wait to read it.
I doubt whether there's as truthful and interesting a site about a local music scene anywhere else in the world, but of course I am wildly biased, having been in three of the bands (Joby and the Hooligans, The Smartees and The Chefs) and having known just about all of them, no mean feat given the quantity of groups in Brighton in the late 1970s!
He includes fanzines, posters, badges, and all sorts of other stuff that builds up an idea of the power of the do-it-yourself world we all inhabited. It was a full-time occupation and the whole place was absolutely fizzing with energy, terrifying the Police and the local council (and quite a few snarly minicab drivers).
It was so creative, just like punk scenes everywhere: that's what people forget or simply don't realise.
It wasn't all about clothes or worshipping Malcolm McLaren: not for us, anyway.
Life was a vacuum and we filled it up with music, art, our own sort of clothes, fanzines, posters, politics and talk, putting on gigs and other events and refusing to lie down and suffer the consequences of not having a job.
Once on Radio 4 they set me up against Suzy Quatro, who set off on a little diatribe about women musicians in punk bands being not very good at music, how dare they, etc etc etc.
I knew she was quite a Tory, and I pointed out that the choice was either to do nothing, or to start something up and make a life for yourself, which is what a lot of that female music-making was about.
Entrepreneurial, n'est ce pas?
She agreed with me.

They're Taking Our Jobs

Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I am appalled that even some of my students, who should be more enlightened, come out with this rubbish.
I remember quite clearly that in the late 1970s it was us females that were supposedly taking all the jobs.
We were part of the cause of mass unemployment. We were supposed to stay at home and look after the working males, not go out to work ourselves (what were we supposed to do until we were married?).
Don't believe what the silly chattering papers tell you!
I used to feel incredibly sorry for the doctors, accountants and other professionals at my daughters school who were forced to take menial jobs because they were refugees. I felt that their skills must surely be useful in Britain.
In a world recession, there is bound to be unemployment. It's horrible not having a job: my former partner and myself spent half of the 1980s and half of the 1990s constantly being made redundant, over and over again. You'd start a job, work for a few weeks and then the boss would come in with a grave face and break the bad news.
 t was utterly dispiriting. I worked as a cleaner of retirement homes for mentally handicapped people; he worked as a cleaner at Earl's Court. We had an empty fridge almost all the time and a sweet kind milkman who gave use free milk until he got arrested for being Robin Hood. We wore our clothes out and went to the Post Office with so many letters of application that we wore a hole in the pavement.
How dreary that it is all happening again!
We mustn't scapegoat other people for imaginary reasons.
Artists, craftspeople and musicians, we need to share our skills so that people without jobs don't feel ashamed and useless.
If we are in work, we must not resent supporting people who are waiting to work again, and we must understand the depression of those who are long-term unemployed.
There is such a thing as society, and unfortunately it appears to have little control over its destiny, but to sway from one extreme to the other at the mercy of corporate financiers.

Work in Progress

Guitars: a Twilling

Fretboards: you get to know them like friends.
My most comfortable one is the old red Gretsch I used to play in Helen and the Horns and that I keep by the fire to write songs on. I feel like I could play anything on that guitar and it's totally relaxing to play. It's an old pal.
 The Martin acoustic has a flat fretboard with an easy action: sometimes my fingers cause the strings to squeak but it's lovely for bar chords as it's so gentle to play. It's got an amazing sound, acoustic and amplified, and does 50% of the work for you. It can perform unplugged or not, and accompanied me in the studio last week, sounding absolutely amazing.
The new pistachio-green Gretsch can be challenging but it still feel shiny and new; there's something quite rocky about the way it feels, even though I sometimes play quite jazzy chords. I think every time I play it it's amplified, and this makes me feel powerful when I touch the strings.
The Telecaster is more of a stranger but it feels exciting and punky and brash and honest. That's one I have to get to know a bit better.
The Hofner is on holiday with Martin at the moment. It has a strange thick neck like a Southern farmer in the USA, with a wide open feel that gives me different sorts of songs when I write on it. It sounds twangy and reminds me of sunshine.
I sold my Spanish guitar to a girl in a red beret and felt very happy about that; she told me she was a beginner songwriter and I told her the guitar was full of songs. I wrote lots of my first new songs on it (London for instance) when I started up again, and all the childrens' songs for Song Club. I haven't missed it, as it was quite hard to play although its sound was deep and mellow and woody.

I meant to watch the Mo Mowlam film last night but got totally distracted by drawing a poster for one of Martin's gigs, and also reading Marion Leonard's book, Gender in the Music Industry. I love Julie Walters and I thought Mo Mowlam was a very interesting woman. I do hope they repeat it.

I was delighted that McSis and her partner Paul, who plays sax with me sometimes, both liked my new album. Martin phoned and helped me to weed out the rogue track, and it just needs putting into order.
I have put one or two tracks up on Myspace.

Time to take Whippersnapper to the vets for blood tests.