Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Versions of Freight Train (Not My One)

Elizabeth Cotton aged 92- who wrote the song when she was 12 years old; and Nancy Whiskey with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group.
Thank you Martin for telling me about her, and for sending this link too, where Elizabeth Cotton is with Pete Seeger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdKvEiW7cWc&feature=related

Opposite the Blue Cat, Stockport, Christmas 2011

Andrew 'Guitar Weekends' Bailey; self; Martin Stephenson; John Steel; Kate Stephenson; Lou Short.
What a gang!

The Nutcracker at Sadler's Wells

Over the holidays I took Offsprog One and Offsprog Two to see Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker at Sadler's Wells.
Even the venue is perfect for a Christmas break, because it is not too large or posh and the three of us were in various stages of glamitude depending on how frequently or rarely we have a nightlife. Every year we go to the ballet and every year we say 'We must go to the theatre and ballet more often', and every year we don't, so our garb tends to be rather motley.
Last year's production (Cinderella) had recorded music which was a bit disappointing, but there was an orchestra this time (or at least a man with a bald head conducting, which could of course have been pretend).
I have seen Bourne's version of The Nutcracker twice, and the first time I enjoyed the second half best; this time, it was the first half that I liked best: the land of black, white and grey that showed off the dancers' personalities to such good effect. Bourne's company are as light as feathers on their feet and as supple as fresh blades of grass; they fold up, unfold, blow about, and whisk here and there as though they have magic in their veins instead of blood. Their feet land with a whisper and they float past each other as though their bodies weigh precisely nothing, although they must because they have real muscles and look like real people instead of pale spindly (but beautiful) giraffes in the way that classical ballet dancers do. (no spots, of course. Nor horns. Or manes. Not a good comparison at all, really).
They have expressions too: nearly all have big features and they act with their faces and acknowledge the audience, which is something that classical dancers never do, so we were in on the act from the beginning.
I lusted after one of the grey smocks that the girls in the orphanage wore (so stylish!), and I could have leapt up and joined in the dancing at any point; I'm sure I could have managed somehow even though I am a lapsed yoga-ist and dance in a surprisingly elephantine manner for one so formerly slim.
'Our Father', they mimed with big wide mouths as they said their prayers, knelt at the side of their beds. Matron was terrifying and pointy, goose-stepping around the stage in a striped shirt and severe skirt that must have been a nightmare to dance in.
The main male lead looked surprisingly like Will Young, who I believe was at one time Matthew Bourne's partner. Bless! He was a fab dancer, and this being a Bourne ballet we saw a lot of his bare chest. He partnered both Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy with aplomb (ha ha).
The sweeties in the second half were just as good as the last time I saw this ballet, all vibrant colours and nightclub personalities, and when the whole thing was finished I wanted it to begin again because it was so  nice to be somewhere away from the bustle of Christmas, visiting a colourful and energetic version of dreamland for an evening.
It wasn't till I got home and spotted the birthday present the Offsprogs had given me, a big wooden nutcracker in the shape of a very red and pink General with a white fluffy beard and big gnashers that I realised that there hadn't been a nutcracker in the ballet at all. Amazing.

How Weird

I marked almost 30 student papers yesterday, back to back, and I actually enjoyed it.
Now, that is really weird.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rose

As I unloaded the basket at the supermarket checkout, this rosebud was stuck into the wire at the bottom.
I offered it to the checkout assistant but she declined, so here it is in the kitchen at my house.

What I Have Learned This Christmas

That a prominent female family member tucks cracker jokes into her bra for later.

Bardaid Book Launch: 22nd January in Camden

RRRANTS present: 'THE BIG BARDAID BOOK' LAUNCH PARTY!
Sunday the 22nd of January from 7.30pm at The Camden Eye, 2 Kentish Town Rd, Camden NW1 (opposite Camden tube)~
A festival of poetry and music to salute the publication of our new charity anthology. With DEN HEGARTY, PAUL LYALLS, HELEN McCOOKERYBOOK, THE ANTIPOET and more!!
£5 entry includes a copy of the book!
For details www.rrrants.com 07921764712 paul@rrrants.com

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good Luck

Good luck to my friend today who is having a liver transplant. I am thinking of you, crossing my fingers, praying, everything it takes because you so deserve a second chance. Lots of love!
This is an old Helen and the Horns set list from nearly 30 years ago sent by Ian Pritchard. Could still play most of these, i think: like 'one helluvan impro'; was this one of the trumpet players?

The Vehement Temperance Officer

Grrr! There is nothing worse than ME, the person-who-used-to-get-off-her-face-on booze-and-has-now-given-up.
Yes, you see, I can identify a p*ss artist at 100 paces. All the way down the road to Big Bruv's yesterday, the seriously hung over (and still p*ssed) were driving as though they were pedestrians (p*ssed ones at that).
 'Oh, I think I'll cross the road', they would think spontaneously.
Indicators? Those complex pieces of technology that require massive muscular effort to put into operation (let alone hugely taxing brain activity)? Why no! Just make a dash for it, you'll be fine. It's up to the driver behind to take evasive action, innit?
Meanwhile, the driver behind is 'negotiating' Trendy Daddy on his new Christmas bicycle, sure in his heart that he'll never be breathalysed on a velocipede. Santa didn't bring any lights, so he's surviving in the dark on a dynamo. But Trendy Daddy's pedal power is as erratic as his steering and the dynamo flickers intermittently with a sigh of resignation. Suddenly, Trendy Daddy decides to do a U-turn!
In his mind he is skilfully manoeuvring his new piece of kit in front of Gemma Arterton, who is watching him from the opposite pavement, clad only in an Agent Provocateur neglige; alas, in real life he is wobbling precariously in the path of an angry woman an a small but popular German car.
Whoops! Another car has just hopped out, indicating left while pulling out to the right and hopping back into the next parking space down.
Suddenly, a boy-racer undertakes impatiently.
... and another one! They must have just passed their tests before Christmas and now they are celebrating with the boy race to end all boy races, perhaps quite liderally.
The Vehement Temperance Officer tuts crossly. How disappointed she is in the Human Race!
She recently calculated that thus far in her life she has spent around £30,000 drinking, and is happy to be able to add the occasional pair of shoes to her wardrobe these days.
She doesn't get invited to as many parties as she used to although she doesn't mind other people drinking around her, as that would be a mite hypocritical!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chomp

Eh?

According to the Guardian birthdays column, Mick Jones (formerly of The Clash) is 70 today.
Wow, he looks good for his age!
(I was looking as it's my birthday tomorrow and I wanted to see who else is a Capricorn. I will be 85, since you ask!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Shippy and Me

It was a bit chilly in Gatesheed on Christmas Eve!

Chairman Ralph's Blog Review/Interview

This is about The Lost Women of Rock Musicwww.chairmanralph.com

Festive Martin Drinks Coffee in Glasgow

Daintees Gigs at the Cluny

My phone has managed to delete some of the films I made, though I did see the DJ Buddha filming from  the Royal Box; I think Rain worked out but there's not enough room on this computer to download it, and until Offsprog One has finished writing her thesis on the kitchen table I can't get to the other one.
They were two wonderful gigs; at the second one the audience sang almost all the way through and were actually pogoing at one point, something they never did back in the day, according to Martin. People had travelled from all over: Terri and Graham travelled from Surrey for the first night and we did The Airship Song for them. Paul Keveney came from Spain, with his partner Louise. On the second night, Shippy supported with Keith on drums (who drums for Stephenson's Rocketts. Martin sat in with Shippy, sporting a Santa hat. Even though Shippy's glitter antlers fell off halfway through, they turned in a great set.
The band had rehearsed Trouble Town just before the gig, so that was a rare track pulled out of the bag as a treat for the audience. It was another stormin' set; I believe there is a serious tour in the offing for next year, plus of course the release of California Star. The band is more than ready to hit the road!
Now it's Boxing Day and I have eaten so much my body is bending over backwards. Fin says I don't write enough about what the music sounds like when I write about bands; I said that when I wrote about the Green Gartside gig in Dalston my notes (loads of them) looked really pretentious but I will find them and post them when I have got through some of the marking mountain (not today as it's a day off).
However...
Acton Bell: she has a very high, clear voice and she sings with a Bolton accent, which is totally charming. She strums her guitar in a simple way and uses simple chord shapes but her sense of rhythm is solid and there is a knowing irony behind her innocence. People always sing along with her. Because she doesn't decorate the songs or try to be clever (she sings a lot of Searchers songs), there is plenty of space for people to enjoy them in their unadorned form.
The Anti-Poet: this is a duo consisting of Ian on double bass and Paul on poetry. They are comical and sometimes rather rude (there is a poem/song called Tights or Fishnet Stockings, that the audience seems to like a lot). They have a fantastic sense of timing: the double bass is almost like another member of the band, and they are extremely funny when they build up excruciatingly embarrassing situations and hit you between the eyes with a punchline! They both wear skirts, or kilty sorts of things anyway, that are suspiciously leathery-looking. But that's not anything to do with the music is it?
I can't remember who else I have played with recently.

Sometimes I don't write about stuff if there is something I don't like about it; there was one gig where one of the performers was so big-headed I couldn't think of anything nice to say.
Sometimes I have been too darn busy (especially writing new lectures since September) and sometimes I sit down to write about a gig I have been to and write about something entirely different.
Sometimes, nothing has happened. People say that I seem busy, but there are a lot of days when I just wander about from room to room with a cup of tea and smile at my house.
Millions of those days, in fact, so I pump up the exciting days to monstrous proportions. There are also a few thousand days when really horrible things happen (whacking great fines that I can't afford, medical problems and scary things too) but I choose not to dwell on those too much because when I first started blogging I decided that it was going to be a positive blog (or just shut up).
Anyway, that's enough rambling for today: Merry Boxing Day, thank you for reading, thank you for commenting and enjoy those chocolates your Nan/Kids/Partner/Friend gave you!
And keep your fingers crossed that we get Martin's car back on the road tomorrow...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Travelling

I'm writing this from a service station at Newport Pagnell and I thought I'd ruminate about the current incarnation of the Daintees. They have got better and better over the past few months with a steady personnel, and they are consolidating into a really punchy band; they have developed that psychic ability to guess what each other is going to do, and they are making each other get even better, which I don't think I've ever seen a band do before.
The first night at the Cluny is normally reasonably full, but this time around it was packed out with a listening audience. This was great for me because I did a set to begin with and I felt that they gave me a good listen! Next up was Paul Handyside (who used to be on Hurrah!) who did a country-inspired set which showed off his deep and powerful voice to great effect; he was accompanied by a lap steel player and the blend of lap steel and acoustic guitar was a great sound....
(continued tomorrow: home now... 12 hours back from Newcastle yesterday: makes you appreciate four walls, a roof and a big bar of chocolate!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Southwark Cathedral

Back home from Southwark Cathedral Carol Concert (no prayers so suitable for the atheists that stuff British Churches these days trying to get their kids into Church schools).
What a choir! They sing with proper voices, not mismsy-pimsy chorister voices, perfectly in tune and they are so well rehearsed! Their belting singing style adds a lot of energy to the music and makes it really dynamic; they have a lot of John Rutter's compositions in their repertoire and he's an ace tunesmith.
It was sold out but me and my Champagne Friend lurked in the cafe (there's quite a scene in that caff!) until it had started and then managed to get the last two returns.
Unlike a normal carol service, we were an audience and we clapped, although we also sang (O Come All Ye Faithful and The First Nowell to start off with) and stared at the innards of the Cathedral, which is like being inside and enormous and elegant sandstone whale, as we did so.
It was worth the twelve quid for the peace and the beauty and definitely worth getting tickets for next year.
Afterwards we walked to London Bridge Station through the towers of mammon, being built as high and shiny as they can go, just to show Southwark Cathedral how important money is. And they are building at night, by spotlight, to heighten the clanging drama of it all, with lots of men in hard hats and orange jackets looking Urgent and Important.
What would Chaucer have thought?
Twenty years ago in my naive cheek I phoned the Cathedral to ask them if I could use it to stage the big-band version of The Nun's Preeste's Tale that I had written. Ho ho! I still have it somewhere in a home-made folder, arranged for about 20 instruments (according to a jazz person I 'ran it by', it works).
As a greedy child, McMum used to scold that my eyes were bigger than my stomach; I think the same could have been said for my youthful aspirations.

Newcastle Gigs

Just getting ready to head for Newcastle tomorrow: the fab Cluny gigs, with the Daintees who are on top form at the moment. Have to do the housework. In an hour, perhaps.
Meanwhile, something to think about for January, The Premises Songwriting course with a masterclass by Chris Difford from Squeeze, and Paulette Henry to give industry advice; I will be the main tutor.
See www.premisesstudios.com

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Poet's Tale

I was showing the cover of Suburban Pastoral to Biff Smith (of the excellent band the Starlets, who supported The Daintees in Glasgow), when a poet came up and heard my story about the chewing-gum painter, Ben Wilson, whom I had commissioned to paint the little lawnmower picture on a blob of squashed chewing gum on the pavement.
He told us that as a boy in Glasgow, he and his friend used to pick the dried chewing gum off the pavement and by gnashing it with a lot of little chews on their back teeth, they could revive whatever minty flavour was left. If one of them had something to do, the other would store his gum under his upper lip for him to keep it soft, meanwhile carrying on his own chewing activity in the main mouth.
Apparently once his friend, while storing his gum for him in this way, had been offered the rare treat of a handful of peanuts by a pal round the corner, which he scoffed in delight.
So when he handed the chewing gum back, it was studded with tiny fragments of chewed up peanut.

Car Radio Clock Says Time For Gig

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Punk and Beyond

Whizzed down to the last day of this today: Charlie Harper was due to play this avo. The exhibition was curated by Gaye Black (aka Gaye Advert from the Adverts) and featured some really good stuff- I particularly liked Gaye's collages, the photographs by Ray Stephenson and Ian Dickson, Penny Rimbaud's painting and Eve Libertine's etchings.
http://londonist.com/2011/11/punk-art-preview-punk-and-beyond-signal-gallery.php
Photo shows one of Gaye's artworks.

Newport Pagnell in a Nutshell

I wish I knew Elton John's private number: I'd get him to bung ten grand or so towards The Watershed Cafe to fix their heating, pay some wages to the guys and give them a bit of a cushion to help them through the recession!
The cafe is positively Narnia-esque, hiding at the end of an eau-de-nil painted arcade in Newport Pagnell and demonstrating an enlightened attitude to both bands and audiences. In the summer, Acton Bell, the Anti Poet and myself played to an audience of fairly p*ssed teenagers, who absorbed the whole lot with bemused awe and then came up and talked to us all about it afterwards: quizzing the Anti Poet about their lyrics, Acton Bell about her cover versions and me about my guitar playing.
This time around, festooned in scarves, a bunch of people who had left the age of fifty behind a few years ago sat in the cold (broken heating system and not enough money to fix it) singing along to Herman's Hermits with wistful gusto, and soon warmed the atmosphere with their good will.
Wilky and Foolish Girl were both there, and so was Jim From Work (old work) who now works at the Open University and posts a lot of pictures of geese on his Facebook page. Indeed, we indulged in a riff about feeding the squirrels (of which there are also plenty, he assures me) to the geese and fattening them up for Christmas.
Andy, the genial and almost regal cafe proprietor who was presiding over a mega-plate of mince pies, told me that Attila the Stockbroker had reduced his audience there to tears with his poem about dementia, and he had gone to the local care home to deliver it to the relatives of dementia patients as a result.
Acton Bell, as Andy observed, has gained in confidence a lot since our last gig and she played three of her own songs this time, all of which held up well in her set of covers. Piece de resistance was Mull of Kintyre, which was fine without the bagpipes marching across the sand.
We did wonder if they auto-appeared when Sir Paul was on holiday about the place, say in Majorca trying to have a discreet sunbathe with the proles. Could be a mite embarrassing.
My fingers were too chilly to play Christmas Queen, although I thought through it privately in my head for the occasion. But I put in a full set anyway, debuting Mr and Mrs Songsmith, and joined for Heaven Avenue, Loverman and Freight Train by Ian and Paul (the Anti Poet) on double bass and washboard respectively. Their manager wasn't there (get well soon, Donna!) so they did a poem I haven't heard before which described some of the poets they sometimes put on at the Rrrants events. The chorus was 'What the f*ck, what the f*ck, what the f*ck, What the f*ck was that?'.
Actually reader, I laughed out loud as I am convinced I myself have watched these poets at their events, and recognised them quite clearly.
'Did they leave the verse out about me?', I wondered paranoidly. Bit naughty of them, but bit funny, too.
So it was goodbye to Wilky, Foolish Girl and Jim from Work; we will be back in six months and my New Year wish is for the council to start subsidising The Watershed, a little gem of imagination and anarchy in the cosy Home Counties.
Pic: the Anti Poet

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pool Table, Woodend Tennis and Bowling Club

On The Road

Railroad, that is. Glasgow is grey and chilly, but last nights gig was colourfual and warm, and there is the Watershed gig to report on...
However, I'll spare you the iPhone typos for today.
If you are anywhere mead the Haberdashery cafe in Squatters Bottom (Crouch End, of course), there are s whole bunch of us playing 3 songs each, in aid of a local charity. My slot is 9.30, but the music starts at 7.30

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Overheard on Bus: Teenage Boy With Loud Voice

'Hey, is Armania a fashion brand or a country?'.

Christmas Tree

Was just deciding that this year it's not worth getting one (kids left home).
So I have just walked home carrying a five-foot fattie, heavy as hell and prickly as a teasel, getting weaker by the second and resting it on walls and my knees.
A woman in a car that passed me had a jolly smile when she saw my festive burden.
Then for some reason I had a surge of strength and was ready to josh with the pole-sorting scaffolder who was suffering from the cold, just as I got to the doorstep.

Kate Nash's Rock'n'Roll Club For Girls

http://www.collapseboard.com/features/columns/kate-nashs-rock-n-roll-for-girls-after-school-club/2/
From Collapseboard, a lively online journal/blog/conversation run by Everett True, creator of the now resting PlanBmag and once editor of the Melody Maker.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Catmas!

Daycrap

What a crappy day! Drenched floor and feet when bringing in emptied recycling boxes (design criteria include 'lid must not fit'). Could not access University of West account for urgent emails, and printer refusing to print (says it has no ink but it has) so can't print out assessments from the University of the Middle (one of which crashes the Word program, anyway). Decided to drive to Docklands, on M25 to avoid traffic jams. Huge traffic jam on M25. Computer there would neither access Hotmail nor Webmail. Waste of time. Drove home straight away. Another huge traffic jam on M25. Bought cheat's Biriyani in supermarket despite vow never to eat food cooked in that way. Do not possess strength to pierce film lid.
Aaaaaaaaaarghhhhhhhhh!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Watershed on Wednesday

If you're coming to the Watershed Cafe in Newport Pagnell on Wednesday (can you come Foolish Girl?) feel free to learn the backing vocals to the Christmas Queen. It's there on the player }}}}}}}}}}}}}}}
Then I will have to sing it. I can never remember the words but I am trying to, right now.
Acton Bell and the Naked Poet will be there too and it is going to be just as much fun as the last time we all played there!
It is a brilliant place worth coming to for the vintage video games alone.

Friday Night in Dalston

I was a bit late. I had driven part of the way with no headlights, and I had been wondering why there were so many invisible people crossing the road in the dark; and then I discovered that I'd run out of screen wash and I spent seven quid on a tiny bottle of diluted stuff, a thimbleful, just-in-case.

The Queen Victoria in Dalston was heaving; in the front part, elderly Nigerian men played pool while scruffians of a certain age nimbly sidestepped them in a thirst-driven pilgrimage to the bar.
I had missed Alex (the first act) but got there in time for Robyn Hitchcock, who was utterly unlike what I had imagined him to be. Perhaps because he is called Robyn, (a rural moniker if ever there was one) I had pictured him as a whiny folk artist and was preparing patience to tolerate his set with, when he burst into a batch of acoustic psychedelic songs sandwiched between quips: 'This is what the Beatles would have sounded like if they were us', and 'If you could weight trips, this would be a heavy one'. He was also wearing a pop stars' shirt and had a slightly off-beat hairstyle. He was decidedly unpolished and surprisingly entertaining, almost a one-man Yardbirds. Green and Rhodri joined him on stage for his final song, Tarantula. 
There was no dressing room, and the hall itself was magically scruffy. Above the heads of the audience, last year's mistletoe hung, dried to a crisp. Several burst pink balloons dripped forlornly from the ceiling, taped on with criss-crosses of sellotape that were giving up the ghost, presumably dissolving after months of sweat-evaporation from the audience below. There were mysterious black criss-crosses of gaffa tape and drifts of yellow post-it notes on the walls. The performers mingled with the audience and after a few minutes Green took to the stage along with his band and to a rousing cheer, kicked the set off with The Sweetest Girl, a short but sweet version, which proved to be the order of the evening (hooray! I like short pop songs!). At the end, 150 people gave the cheer of a 2000-strong football crowd, and the evening carried on in much the same way. Green was also in the mood for chatting. He told us that his manager had sent The Sweetest Girl to two of the acts he most admired, Gregory Isaacs and Kraftwerk. They heard back from Isaacs' 'people' to say that he liked the song and might do it, but nothing form Kraftwerk. Years later, he met them and asked them if they had received the song he'd sent them.
'Yursss', they had said, 'But we hate reggae'.
This was the night of the good-natured raconteur and happy atmosphere; paper plates of mince pies were circulated, and pass-the-parcel happened somewhere in the depths of the crowd.
When you hear all Green's songs together you realise what a track record he has; and such a strong identity, sometimes answering back to Soft Cell, circling around Spirit in the Sky, or deconstructing The Beach Boys (often, it sounds as though Green has fished out the best harmony and allows us to just imagine the others around it).
My favourite of the night was Brushed with Oil, Dusted with Powder, which is a sublime song that was performed beautifully.
Towards the end they played a song inspired by the Raincoats (it's called Overcoats). I was so excited that I texted Gina, but by the time I'd done that, it was too late to phone and record it on to her voicemail, which  of course is what I should have done. What a techno-fumble!
At the back of the crowd I found Jay Derrick from Brighton band The Parrots. We shared their drummer, Russ, who of course sadly died a few years ago. Jay speculated about what a brilliant drummer Russell would have been for this music; he was a tight and crisp reggae drummer, a mass of sticks and skinny arms and legs. As Green told us that the band were about to play a song that  isn't finished yet, Jay told me that he's been to the first ever Scritti Politti gig at which they played three songs, all  not finished yet. Ah, consistency, the under-rated accomplishment!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A New Sort of Christmas Stuffing: Animals in Barnet

A Night at Le Beat Route

We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith (not to be confused with the novel of the same name by Catherine Bruton) is a book celebrating in photographs the youth culture that most people would know by the Blitz Kids. On Thursday, a mass of people congregated at Le Beat Route to listen to DJs such as Jay Strongman spin the sounds of the scene and launch the book.
As punk was petering out in London, New Romanticism was beginning. The whole idea of individual style and empowerment through looking unique and different carried on and young people (particularly from the industrial parts of Wales and the UK) dressed up and partied to their hearts' content to celebrate their defiance of the 1980s recession.
The most famous club was probably the Blitz; I went once but couldn't get into the 'standing and looking at each other' vibe; it was a fashion-based scene and I wasn't keen on a lot of the music that was played (too much mushy Eno).
However, Le Beat Route was a different kettle of fish altogether.
It was run by a guy called Ollie and my friend Stephen Mahoney, who was a bit of an angel to me in those times. I was between bands (The Chefs and Helen and the Horns) and Stephen and his then partner Richard Ostell, who was a fashion designer, used to cook food for me, buy my drawings and generally have a laugh.
Every Friday Stephen used to let me and my pals (Treacle, Charlotte, Ruth and Claire) into the club free. We came down early, all with big black hair in a cloud of hairspray and glowing red lipstick, and partied like mad until the early hours. Other people posed for photographs and looked splendid; we ferried drinks from the bar, danced and laughed in the background, heading home at 3 a.m. on the Kilburn night bus that stopped off at the all-night Kentucky Fried Chicken and dropped everybody off at the end of their street!
Jay used to run a 1940s-1950s-style stall in Kensington market called Rock-a-Cha with immaculately tailored trousers and jackets, and was also the lead singer in a band called the El Trains (they had a female drummer called Max whose long and lustrous red hair was a legend in itself).
The El Trains were one of the bands that The Chefs' guitarist, Carl, used to transport around in our van.
The club was full of people wandering round in a daze, remembering the past and greeting each other enthusiastically. Lots were dressed up (Boy George was there in a fetching outsize green hat) and others were just there for the vibe. I talked to a woman who had worked behind the bar back in the day, and to a chap who was just about to do The Knowledge (that's the London Cabbie's exam).
The details about the book are here:
www.unbound.co.uk/books/16
I've still got the membership card somewhere.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Also

Also, I had an email from Zack Furness, who has been editing a US book called Punkademics which features contributions from academics who used to be punks. I had been working huge amounts of unpaid overtime when his call for chapters went out and I ended up submitting a cartoon story, which is going to be published. It's La Lectrice Gourmande, and actually I am happier to have submitted that than anything else!
It is available for pre-order here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Punkademics-Zack-Furness/dp/1570272298
Zack also sent this link to a very interesting documentary http://www.fromthebackoftheroom.com/home.htm
Over and out!

An Awful(ly) Strange Day

Three hours in a traffic jam to do a journey that normally takes an hour... the North Circular was paralysed by a fire and we crawled along watching the day disappearing before our eyes.
A quick call to the Security Guards at the University of the East got a note pinned to my door, and I arrived in time for... nothing.
Apart from a Bulgarian TV documentary maker and his charming camera woman, who came to do an interview about British pop music. We sat nestled amongst the floor toms and cymbals in the recording studio, talking about the Trio Bulgarka, Adele and Laura Marling, and of course Transglobal Underground who did that work with Bulgarian choirs in the 1990s. The high wind had blown my hair into an eccentric version of itself, stress has turned me into a ten-years-older version of my former self, and I dried up at a crucial moment, but it was intriguing (especially to see that they still do what McDad called 'the noddies', filming the interviewer nodding sagely, to be intercut with the interview footage later).
They say they will send me a copy, which will all be translated into Bulgarian, in January.

Cracker Joke Without the Cracker

What did the grumpy snake say to its pals in the festive season?
'Crappy Hissmas'.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Chinese Britpop

Returned from work with the kind gift of a Chinese Britpop CD.
Apparently there is much debate about the name in China!

5 Hours

I got so absorbed in writing today's lecture that I sat there for five hours yesterday. Now my body is moulded into a 'sitting down' shape, as unbendable as Barbie's poor 'high heel' feet, and not even a bath could melt me.
I shall deliver the lecture poker-straight but not poker-faced!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Songwriting Couse in January: from The Premises Studio

We’ve just received confirmation of a great new Masterclass tutor for our next Songwriting and Recording Workshop, double Ivor Novello Award winner and founder member of Squeeze, Chris Difford.  Famous for his storytelling, kitchen sink style lyrics he has co-written classics such as Cool for Cats, Up the Junction and Labelled with Love and we’re delighted to welcome him onto our course. We’ll also be bringing in the Vice Chair of the PRS, Paulette Long, for a special session on “Making Money from your Song” – an important part of any songwriter’s knowledge.
The dates for the 5 day course are January 13th – 17th 2012. As well as the masterclass sessions with Chris Difford and Paulette Long the course will be made up of 3 days of intensive tuition with Helen Reddington, one of the most experienced songwriting tutors in the UK today. Over the following 2 days you will have individual recording slots in Studio A with a top session band where you will record a track you’ve written during the course.
The cost is just £395 including the recording sessions. Places are limited to 16 and we expect this to sell out fast
To book contact:
office@premisesstudios.com

Blog Prevarication

Two hours into writing a lecture about Music Scenes for tomorrow. The coffee is cooling (and so am I- it's bloody freezing in here).
As always, I am finding out fascinating stuff- the Liverpool Poets brought out a book of poetry called The Mersey Beat in 1967 and it seems that they were just as prominent as the Beatles for a while.
I also love an academic book called The Hidden Musicians by Ruth Finnegan which describes amateur music-making in Milton Keynes. This is particularly interesting since McSis and her husband (who plays sax in Helen and the Horns) have joined an amateur orchestra near where they live in Surrey.
There is so much music being made in the UK. It must be good for our collective soul, surely? Maybe Michael Eavis should look to the amateurs next Glastonbury and give them a bit of a plug. I know he has been grumbling about the lack of developing good guitar bands to headline. Amateur need not mean crap; a couple of years ago I did some gigs with an amazing cello player called Natasha who played with the Kensington Philharmonic, which is an orchestra of professional-level classical musicians.
It's not all the Portsmouth Sinfonia (although they must be secretly good, because Steve Beresford told me that he played with them).
My coffee's actually cold now. Back to work.

Monday, December 05, 2011

BT Infinity -- Olympics

BT Infinity -- Olympics
That's Jamie from The Irrepressibles singing! Congratulations guys!

Old Helen and the Horns Photo From Years Ago

EDM

I'm reading about the electronic dance music scene in Philadelphia. Interesting, especially as the author describes euphoric and spiritual sensations when listening to the music that are absolutely beyond my comprehension. It's not even a Generation X thing, because she is a fair bit older than the scene herself. One writer's meat is another writer's poison, I believe.
Rave Culture: the alteration and decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene by Tammy L. Anderson (Temple University Press, 2009)

Book News and CD News

The paperback book The Lost Women of Rock Music and the CD Records and Tea: the best of The Chefs will both be out in February/March next year.

Herb Alpert

At a birthday party last week I was chatting to Steve Beresford about my trumpet. He suggested that I should take lessons and he is right. I will, as a New Year's rez.
I am also going to learn Spanish and /or Japanese as they are offering lessons free at one of the places that I work. Spanish would be most sensible but I love the idea of learning the meaning of different symbols to the Western cultural ones- Arabic, Greek, Chinese, Japanese. I flew an email into the ether to let fate decide!
Where was I...
Oh yes! here was  DJ there called Toby Woby who was playing Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain by Richard Harris (vinyl album signed by the songwriter Jimmy Webb). He had lots of old LPs including one by Herb Alpert, which reminded me of McDads small collection of pop LPs at home, really just consisting of Melanie's album (can't remember what it was called but it had candles on it) and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Sour and sweet, you could probably say.
McDad loved Herb's tootlings and would do silly dances round the table in his slippers, tidying up as he went, and (I confess with embarrassment) my love of trumpets and all things brass may well hark back to this time. In fact I could probably transcribe some of those arrangements from memory!
I also loved his extra-slushy song This Guy's In Love With You, which I imagined (at the tender age of ten) to hold all the secrets of grown-up love and romance in its crackly grooves.
Imagine how disappointed I was when my manager Claudine tried to sign Helen and the Horns to Herb's label, A&M, in the 1980s!
What did they say?
'We've got a female artist already'.
(Joan Armatrading)
Grrr!

Hibernating

Weekend of chocolate cake and songs. Just about perfect.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Edinburgh Punk and The Tube

I was talking to a very interesting woman last night who is writing a book about the Edinburgh punk scene.
She had been in a band and I asked her if it was the Von Trapp Family- that was Muriel Gray's band, and I had tried to find Muriel as I would have loved to talk to her about it all.
However, it never came to pass. Muriel screen tested for The Tube on the same day as I did. Actually, so did the guy called Nick who later had a hit record with a song called Northern Town or something (which I assume was about Newcastle although he was from darn sarf) and a girl called (I think) Michelle. You had to interview Jools Holland as part of the screen test.
They all got jobs on The Tube and I didn't, which could have led to an extreme case of paranoia but I only needed to watch one episode of Michelle walking backwards holding a microphone interviewing someone to realise that I wouldn't have had the guts to do it!
The producers were rather naughty, as I'm sure many are. They had 'brainstorming sessions' in various cities around the UK, which we were told were arranged so they could meet young people who could possibly act as presenters for the series. They then proceeded to nick everyone's ideas for the entire first series. There was a young woman at the London session who was a regular attendee at air guitar competitions at Camden Palace (now Koko). So there was a  feature on that. My contribution was to tell them about Jammin', a fanzine run by Tony Fletcher. I suggested that they should do a feature on the fanzine and also interview him. So there was a feature on that. And so on, and so on.
However, it was a damned good programme and always had ace music on it (including The Daintees). It seemed that they were capable of airing bands that hadn't been plugged to death and who sounded fresh and authentic, and it was also live which gave it a frisson of excitement, especially one week when Jools Holland swore.
Must say I prefer a bit of good honest swearing rather than a clapped out tw*t trying to publicise his latest book in time for Christmas by 'being controversial' on live TV at a time of industrial unrest.
He doesn't even deserve a name, I'm afraid.

Some Very Beautiful Nature Photographs

http://nature-thoughts.blogspot.com/

Songwriting

I have been working with my Songpal this afternoon; I showed her how to use Garageband to record and guitar and vocal track. All computer programmes can be difficult, but Garageband can also be easy and I hope I showed her this.
I have worked out the mysterious chords to a song that she had recorded a while ago; because I'm not 100% sure what they are called but I know what shapes they are, she photographed my hand on the fretboard so that she can copy them.
Music-making is weird; it is often dominated by people who have names for sounds and shapes and rhythms. The thing is, it existed before these systems of naming did, and it is possible to write a lot of it while bypassing the labels.
Songpal's first song to send was recorded as a Voice Memo and texted to me. That worked fine for us, and didn't involve any leads, wires, manuals or stress. It feels a bit like slipping under the radar, and it's definitely quick!

Biodegradable

A pile of ten library books to bring home, slithering around in their plastic covers.
Aha!
I have a bag of emergency carrier bags under my desk.
I hoist them out, only to find that I am excavating shreds of stinky plastic with the remains of supermarket logos barely visible on the rotting fragments.
I suppose it's good that they do what it says on the packet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Old Drawing

A Hefty Moan

Martin has just sent me a DVD made by Sean at Newcastle's Echo Films, featuring a track each by Gina Birch, Pauline, Murray, myself and Viv Albertine (in that order). It reminded me what a fab night that was, one of the best things in 2011.

I have had to go for a very long walk today. Naturally I am on strike, along with a lot of other people, and I can't bear to watch TV and see more vox pop interviews with people saying 'It's OUR taxes pay for THEIR jobs and pensions.'
One third of my pay goes on paying tax, dumdums- for YOUR state pensions, your kids education, your use of the NHS and many other things. My vehicle tax pays for your roads (you use them more than I do, probably). I educate your kids, patiently and thoroughly; I often listen to them complaining about you, actually. And I contribute 6% of what I earn (which is well below the tax credit threshold) towards my own pension fund, the provision of which was one of the reasons I took my stressful and sometimes exhausting job in the first place.
Sorry about the rant; it's the coincidence of the strike with the horrible George Osborne showcasing his fiscal experiments with an eye on making a buck after he leaves politics in the USA. The more right-wing he appears to be, the more likely it is that he will be able to set himself up a nice little earner across the pond.
That nasty little pink smirky mouth reminds me of a pug's bottom.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Degas at The Royal Academy

Ah such delicate jellyfish! The 1950s copies of the National Geographic featured, in perfect technicolor, underwater photographs of the billowing skirts of mysterious creatures of the sea, off on secret missions we will never understand.
Here, back through history in starched ballet skirts, is an underworld of rehearsal: gloom, stretching and secret communication that the master of the unusual palette, Degas, tapped into on coloured paper, slipping us a pale green shine on tidily coiffed black hair, and gleaming white tights on pointy-toed stretched legs.
These pale pierettes convulse into strange physical shapes that challenged even this master draughtsman (there are some mistakes here, I think, that were he still alive he might wish to bin); some rather long mismatched limbs and torsos whose legs have shifted uncomfortably to the right. But his genius is colour, and not only that: the ability to convey body-weight. His ballerinas are embodied and sometimes even tired; sometimes they stand pre-rehearsal as light as feathers, and sometimes they stand posing solidly, having finished their exertions, patiently waiting to take the weight off their feet.
The exhibition concentrates on motion rather than colour, but if you ignore all the other stuff about film and photography (although there are three beautiful photographs he took in 1895), you can soak up the atmosphere of France in the 19th Century. The most unusual painting is the Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer's Opera Robert Le Diable, in which the ghosts of nuns rise vaguely from a stage in the background; between them and the heads of gentlemen in dark suits (we see the backs of their heads and their various ears), is the orchestra, lit up in yellow, the tops of their bassoons profiled against the stage lights and looking like old-fashioned rifle-butts aimed at the dark caverns of the opera-house ceiling. Magic!
It's much darker and fuller of contrast than this in real life:
http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/the-ballet-scene-from-meyerbeers-opera-roberto-il-diavolo-news-photo/113491834?Language=en-GB
So  now before the student gig, I'm listening to Electro Swing: French, of course.

This Is Tonight And It's Free!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Names... Crash!

Late last night I went to Passing Clouds on Dalston to try to catch the Axiomites, one of my friend Dubula's many bands. Dubula was a founder member of Transglobal Underground, before breaking away to form Temple of Sound. In the 1980s he was a member of Bumble and the Beez, a band started by Mykaell Riley, former percussionist/vocalist with Steel Pulse. Mykaell's ex-partner used to be my manager, after doing press for The Chefs (and The Associates, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Stray Cats and many others).
Phew, what a name-dropping exercise that simple introduction turned into!
Mykaell used to chat to me about Helen and the Horns. 'You've got some nerve, getting up there with just a guitar and three horn players', he would say as the band leader of a band that featured two rock guitarists, a classical violin player, a reggae bass player (Winston Blissett, best in the country) and himself on cowbell, bass drum and vocals!
Anyway, Mykaell was singing with the Axiomites last night and as he has a beautiful voice and I had been really looking forward to it. A swift call from the Edinburgh train revealed the fact that they were playing so late that it might be worth going to see them.
I shot over there in the red convertible (ahem) and hung out for a chat; Mykaell said I'd just missed some Swedish acapella folk singers.
Time passed.
What a shame, really... promoters know that people will wait for ages to see a band and go to the bar and spend lots of money while they are waiting. So keep them waiting... and waiting...
If you are me, you don't drink and you still pay to get in, and of course you notice the time passing because the alcohol-clock ticks a lot slower than the real-time one.
It was lovely to see Dubula and Mykaell and to chat with them, and eventually to imagine what the band would have been like with their singers and brass section and all of that jazz; I couldn't just wait and wait.
It is a lovely place, but I was so disappointed.
Another time, I'm sure!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sheffield Greystones

Here are the Daintees sound checking in Sheffield last night. They did a great show especially this bit, where they played acoustically. That's Kate second left, playing a Cahone that sounds just like a full kit. I was their support act last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it; what could be better than to support my favourite band? Mike and June were there doing the CDs, Andrew Bailey of the Guitar weekends showed up and so did David Lelievre who runs the Eyre Chapel gigs.
I love Sheffield, it's a great city to wander about in with some nice caffs and a TK Maxx! Martin and I had a lovely day wandering around and exploring. The audiences for music are always really welcoming too and the band stayed in a really quirky B&B with huge antique baths with giant's brass taps and massive beds, and an academic living there who works with sound technology who was recording the band as I left, alas, for work! They are playing at the Greystones again tonight and I hope they have just as nice an audience again. I had a sunny drive back, writing two songs in my head, a weird one and a cheesy one, and did a seminar this afternoon with two very enthusiastic MA students. Tomorrow morning, I have four hours of tutorials, after which I shall slink out as a shadow of my former self and make some revisions to a much-revised document before returning home and slumping in front of Poirot on Channel 10 as usual. I can honestly say that Poirot has been a lifesaver this autumn, bless his little black moustache. Is it made from the carapaces of shiny black beetles, d'you think?

Sparkleshadow

Sunday, November 20, 2011

futureradio.co.uk

Richard Penguin's playing The Song of the Unsung Heroine today, plus a Raincoats track and lots of other good stuff- 2-3 p.m.
www.futureradio.co.uk

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Valves

Even more noise for my neighbours: the mystery of the silent trumpet has been solved thanks to the chaps at Liberty Hall Music who turned the valves round so they were in the right direction.
I tried to play some notes.
A giant who had eaten nothing but tins of beans and cabbage for six weeks farted into a massive tin lavatory, no matter which note I tried to play FPPPPPHHT! FFFFPPPPHHHHT!
That's my aim of the week- to play a note that sounds like a note!

Bass

Watch out neighbours! The Harman Kardon speakers are out of the secret cupboard and boosting the bass! What fun! I am dancing round the front room instead of doing the housework!

Issues and Things: Jumblethoughts

I have been dodging Big Issue sellers; I always buy one but for the last two weeks the sellers in Barnet have become so assertive that they call across the street or come running up. I haven't always got 2 quid to give them and it's quite embarrassing sometimes. I know these are desperate times for all of us and I even paid the guy when it was the David Cameron issue but didn't take one (whose silly idea was that to put turnip-face in charge for a week?). What stopped me (it's only temporary, I promise) was the same seller standing in two different places and selling me the same issue twice. Grr!
After the mid-week crash in mood, things have looked up. I went to John Lewis (the Church of the Moneyed Middle Classes!) to buy McMum some fancy shower gel for her birthday, and the shop assistant at the till told me she liked my style! I thought I had been stumping about like a sad and bedraggled frump, so naturally I was delighted, especially since I was entirely dressed from Charity Shops; I told her that I was dressed in second-hand clothes.
'Vintage', she corrected me.
I have now officially re-branded myself as a vintage lecturer, songwriter and artist, 'cos it sounds good!
This morning I sent 14 CDs to Miguel in Madrid. I hope they (a) get there and (b) aren't smashed to bits if/when they do. I am still reeling form the loss of a £50 dress that I sold on eBay and that never arrived. A book that I'd ordered from Amazon never turned up either and I became convinced that there is a light-fingered post-person somewhere  in the area. What can you do? Write a song about it? Ha ha! Say your prayers when you post it and be glad you won a tenner on the lottery last week (I did! How exciting!).
And Andy Cairns has sent a DVD of Helen and the Horns (and I think The Daintees?) at the Jazz Cafe. Thank you Andy, I shall watch it tomorrow and listen to your music too.
Right  now, it's the housework to the soundtrack of the 'Complicated Music' playlist I made yesterday. I have just started properly listening to music again. being a music lecturer is similar to being an A&R person at a record company, I think: you listen to music, music, music all the time, often not what you have chosen. But somewhere in between creating playlists for students to listen to and discovering the lost Michael Garrick track, I've fallen in love with recorded music again.
Strangely, a perfect recall of the original BBC session of Galilee has kicked in; the bass line has changed considerably and also some of the lyrics. I am tempted to reconstruct a cover version using the original double bass line and lyrics to see what happens.
Oh Norma Winstone, please read this and send me a recording of the original session!
Finally, I think I am almost ready to start recording another album. Tomorrow I will rehears some new songs and try them out at the Sheffield gig (Greystones, supporting The Daintees on Tuesday).
Phew! Slippers on, hoover out, dust in eyes: housework time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Being 'Better'

There's nothing like feeling ill to make you appreciate feeling better. Today has been a lovely day, just because I haven't felt like I did yesterday. I have been bouncing around, trying to avoid work emails (that's something I'm going to work on) and in the afternoon, spending some time song-writing with my pal that I'm helping, which is a good way to spend an afternoon.
I had been going to go out to see Kath Tait play tonight but decided to sit in and work out some mysterious guitar chords from a recording of Songpal's that she had done with another guitarist. I like puzzles like that and I think I have almost cracked it.
Probably about time I wrote some more songs myself but I am stuck on the song Feathers, which I can't stop playing because it is actually written about a person who has been disempowering and insulting people. I have never met them, but every time I think of them I get cross and have to sing the song again!
So no going out tonight.
I just had to imagine Kath's gig in my head; she's a mistress of funny songs, rivalled only by Liza P. In the days of the Desperado Housewives I had hoped that she would join us: but Hyde is rather a long way away...

Subtracting

Dropping in for a visit to Myspace, I discovered that the Visitor Map has been subtracting places that people have 'visited' from .
Does this mean that some places have vanished from the face of the Earth?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

MSG

OMG
Been unwell
MSG
In the sweet'n'sour sauce
Too sick
To go upstairs and sleep it off
UGH!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ghost Town

Somehow, my lecture on music and subversion ended up with Ghost Town by the Specials.
I might well have ended at Band Aid and Free Nelson Mandela, if I hadn't started at the Communist witch-hunts, with Pete Seeger and Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill. There wasn't time to advance beyond the 1980s.
Jerry Dammers was interviewed on the local TV programme today about just that song, and the way it was adopted by the ANC: that must have been a thrilling moment for him. He had been campaigning against apartheid since his school days.
I played The Slits' Typical Girls next to Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me to show the different ways reggae entered the British music world; and Bob Marley's I Shot the Sheriff next to Enoch Powell's oops I mean Eric Clapton's. And there was Gil Scott Heron, almost inventing rap singlehanded (with a little bit of help from the Lost Poets).
I have been really enjoying putting these lectures together and I have learned a lot- mostly about Ewan MacColl and his partitioning-off of English/Scottish/whateverish folk music, which stopped anything he laid his hands on from cross-fertilising, which is what pop music does, traditionally.
In isolation, the lyrics of Under My Thumb by the Rolling Stones sound exactly what they are- misogynistic poo. I told the students about Women's Liberationists dancing away to them before realising that it was time they formed their own bands! And there was Poly Styrene, mocking the way teenagers were marketed-to as grubby and in need of a good scrub: Germ Free Adolescents sounded as fresh as a daisy.
You were a poet and a genius, Poly.

Michael Garrick

I have just read the obituary of Michael Garrick.
When I had just discovered that I was expecting my first child, I attended a jazz singing course at the Guildhall School of Music (I was the worst one, rather screechy) where I was lucky enough to have a one-to-one singing lesson with Norma Winstone (who has a fabulous voice and who used to sing with Ian Carr's Nucleus) and also to work with Michael, singing and writing lyrics to an instrumental he had written called My First Born, which naturally meant a lot to me through my daze of morning sickness.
When I was in the sixth form I would sit alone in my room, listening to John Peel and then letting the radio run on to Jazz Club, which is where I first heard Garrick's music. In between the taped reggae and Pete Atkin quirkiness (this was pre-punk, guys), I taped a beautiful Garrick track with Winstone singing it called Galilee.
I could never find it: and now I have just downloaded a gorgeous version of it sung by Nette Robinson.
These things are always a matter of taste, but I think it is the most achingly beautiful piece of music with Robinson's voice soaring like a bird in the sunset over Garrick's shuffling piano rhythms.
Somewhere in this house is a vinyl album of Garrick's very English-sounding jazz. Some of it is disappointing but the best of it has an Alice-in Wonderlandishness about it, particularly when Winstone is singing.
Jazz has always been a bit of a mystery to me but something about listening to this track in my teenage angst and isolation makes it really evocative.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Subversion

Tomorrow's lecture is on subversion, and after a broad sweep of music associated with social agitation, I have of course landed on punk.
I wanted to download The Rolling Stones' Some Girls, but it's just about to be re-released so thankfully I couldn't. I went to print out the lyrics and then decided that they are so utterly offensive that I couldn't read them out in class.
Sometimes people used to ask me why I wrote the song Thrush. After a diet of the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and so on (even Girls by the Moments and Whatnauts), I had no alternative. Time to say it from the girl's perspective, being on the receiving end, so to speak!
As usual I have really enjoyed researching this lecture: I have re-visited Robin Denselow's When the Music's Over, and blended in with Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City, Mark Katz's Capturing Sound, Mark Cunningham's Good Vibrations, Simon Frith's On Record and George Lipsitz's Dangerous Crossroads, I will have visited aspects of 20th century pop and rock from all sorts of different perspectives.
It has revived my interest in very early recordings, in folk music in the UK (Ewan McColl and Pete Seeger tomorrow as well as the SLits and X Ray Spex), and in pre-rock'n'roll r'n'b.
I'm even going to wheel out the hippies tomorrow.
Soft Machine or Curved Air anyone?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Three Ex-Punks Play Norwich!

We had a sunny run down to Norwich, and met Ana and Shirley (the Raincoats' manager) at Olives, which was being set up ready for the gig.
Peter Lyell, who runs The Chefs website, came along to say hello; we had never met before and he had another thing to do but I told him about the new Chefs album. The site is here:
www.sukeplow.demon.co.uk/chefs/chefs.htm
Multiple wire-tanglings and lead-swoppings later, the sound checks were done and we were ready to go.
The venue filled up very quickly, and I went on first and played a full set, which I don't often get a chance to do. The audience were really up for everything, which was good luck as it's sometimes scary opening for artists with established credentials, which was what happened last night.
I'd never seen Ana play before and I really enjoyed her set, especially the song about the disco ball! Ana has a poetic way with words and performed in front of a real-time film of the lighthouse off the coast of Sunderland. Gina played some of her set with the DVDs but the wire-tanglings and lead-swoppings kicked in and she abandoned the films, proceeding to prove her mettle as a proper punky song-writer, funny and perceptive and dramatic all at the same time. She had me (and a lot of other people) in stitches with her song about secrets and gossip. I saw Richard (Penguin, the promoter) appear with a gleam in his eye, and sit down next to Gina and Ana with a persuasive look, and after Gina's set Ana joined her onstage, Gina picked up the bass and they launched into Fairytale at the Supermarket. Three more Raincoats songs later and the audience went home satisfied.
It had been a music-packed night, I gather from Richard very different from the type of show he normally promotes. Hats off to the guys behind the bar who worked so hard at getting the sound right, even popping over to the shop to get a battery for Gina's foot pedal; to Richard and his partner for putting so much positivity into the gig; to Martin Stephenson for having the idea in the first place; to Ana for stepping in; to Viv for landing the Damned tour; and to Gina for revealing the fact that Ana puts green paint on all her plectrums to make sure no-one makes off with them!
It was a good-natured evening indeed, and I hope we will be doing more in 2012, possibly with Pauline Murray too.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Norwich Here We Come!

Guitars packed, spare leads, strings CDs to sell.
What does one wear to drive so many miles and then play?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fantastic Music Library

...especially of very early recordings
www.archive.org

Guitar

I have never had a guitar lesson in my life; I learned (and am learning) the band way: watch people play and get jealous enough (or inspired enough) to go home and sit for hours working out how they did it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Panic

I have started to apply for research funding, partly spurred on by the negative reaction by some people to the lectures I've been doing recently.
Funding applications take hours to fill in; the other weekend I spent two days doing one, and I've been sorting out a different one this week, bouncing it over the various approval hurdles at work, emails here, there and everywhere, PDFs, Word files, Excel spreadsheets....
Deadline yesterday.
Finally, it was ready to submit after a last-minute iPhone email conversation or three during my lunch break with a very patient research person at work, from the corner of a muddy field which was the only place I could get a signal.
I heaved a sigh of relief.
Then I got an email.
Disaster! I was locked out of my account!
The patient research person called me at home to tell me the bad news; she suggested I set up a new account, fill the whole thing in again, and try re-sending it.
I plodded and plodded through the evening re-creating it, set up the new account and pressed 'submit'.
But would it get to them?
This morning, I called the funding people; a very nice chap said he was sorry, but his computer wasn't working. Could I call back later? Well, I had a three-hour seminar with a short break, so I thought I could.
Then there was a fire alarm, and the entire University turned itself inside-out. We trooped down the stairs and huddled by the side of the building while a man with a megaphone instructed us in barking tones to stand back and get off the road. We milled about in the chilly car park and waited to see if it was a false alarm or not.
Luckily I had evacuated the scrap of paper with the chap's phone number on it, and I called him from an island of quiet in the crowds.
Yessss! The application had got through to him!
Frankly, I almost don't care whether they give me the money or not; the sheer effort of getting the thing to its destination feels like victory enough.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Trumpet

It's a trumpet, in that box; it won't make a sound at the moment so I'll have to take it to the trumpet doctor for some tender loving care. It's a beautiful fellow, a little on the battle-scarred side but all the more loveable for it!
It sits amongst the book-piles on the floor awaiting repair, looking shyly up a the guitar propped on the chair and at the strident piano that inhabits most of the room, waiting for the day when it can add its voice to the home cacophony.
Parp!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Coach 'V'

On a train journey, the woman seated next to me had a deep, rich and germy cough. I discreetly turned away, but across the aisle a young woman with a rose-red nose sniffled sadly. In the next block of seats, a man sneezed loudly from time to time.
Martin wondered if this was a special coach for people with viruses to share, coach 'V', rather like coach 'B', 'the quiet coach'.
Given the propensity of viruses to mutate, I wonder what sparkling new disease we could have created on a six-hour journey?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Walk in Trent Park

Trent Park is a beautiful park in Enfield, especially at this time of year.
I have been to lots of different events; the council can't seem to make it's mind up what the park is for. For several years they had a mega-firework display with lasers and a huge bonfire. Then other years in the summer they have had balloon festivals, and crafts festivals that featured traction engines and a steam-driven plank-making machine (I loved it!)
Funniest was the stoat-racing year which I did write about at the time. For 4 pence (who on earth settled on that fee?) you bet on a hopeless stoat- they were all hopeless- and yelled encouragement. One got halfway down the tube and stopped, with its fur peeking out from joins in the plastic tubing. Another got halfway down the tube very quickly, changed its mind and backed out again. And one got almost to the finish, the end of the tube, and backed out again too. The eventual winner was very casual, pausing for thought a few times (you could see its shadow stop and start) before sauntering out of the end of the tube, looking bewilderedly at the cheering crowds.
This photo shows the carved benches and gargoyles that continually mutate and change. You never see the guy who makes them: maybe he's a ghost, or a horde of elves. All the stages of the process are there to see, from the massive trunks of felled trees to the grey, seasoned furniture you see in the picture.
There is also an animal sanctuary, which I was tempted by (they sell fresh duck eggs), but the smell of chicken sh*t was a trifle pungent today so I gave it a miss!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Business Illustration

This is from the 1990s.

Work

No more postings about lectures etc.
Education is private.
The blog is returning to its former bland splendour.
There are more appropriate places for some of the things that need to be said, and more appropriate readers/listeners. I think I overstepped a mark a few postings ago and I have deleted the posting after making the decision that my attempts to anonymise situations are not effective enough!
I apologise.
I am mad. I bought these this afternoon on my way back from work. They are so like the pair of Pirelli slippers I had when I was in The Chefs and that I wore for the first of Claire's marvellous photographs of the band, during a phase when I was rather chubby. We ironed, hoovered and polished, and she hand-tinted us to perfection.
I already have a similar pair in brown which I shall now have to wear, in order to allocate these a place at the back of the queue.You know, I did an internet search for a pair about a year and a half ago and all I could find was a mention of a pair in South Africa. Fact!
This morning I spent with my inspiring bunch at the University of the West, just across the conference table from my friend Dr No, also doing dissertation tutorials; then this afternoon I went to visit a music organisation in Kilburn (Dyne Road, where me, Treacle, Carl and Simon Smith lived in a big house owned by the Conneallys, who had three houses with adjoining back gardens ruled by a flock of chickens who used to pop into the kitchen and help themselves to the contents of the cat tray for supper-ugh!).

Monday, October 31, 2011

For England

I have been writing a lecture and making a playlist today, which has taken me almost all day. By mid-afternoon I started flagging and watched a bit of Margaret Rutherford and James Robertson Justice hamming it up in a Miss Marple film.
It has been one of those days lived in limbo, where things have happened, but not with my active involvement. I have noticed that I don't look as overwhelmingly knackered as I did a week ago so maybe limbo-days have a purpose!
The weekend before last I was frantically filling in a funding application to run something for the students at the University of the East, and last weekend I was drawing illustrations for hours: I love that feeling of being 'in the zone'.  For days afterwards I can remember exactly what I was watching on TV (or rather, listening to) when I look at the drawings. Louis Theroux featured heavily last weekend, with his horror at the baboon's lurid backside and the exceedingly odd big cat sanctuary owners flooding into my mind at every scrawl and scribble.
Mercifully, I have been unable to do any housework as the painter Higgins is upstairs, sticking the ancient rickety windows back together with a coat of paint and half a ton of filler. This means I have been sitting dutifully researching and writing, with a cup of tea ferried upstairs every hour or so. I have been unable to go to the supermarket and buy a gigantic bar of chocolate, a daily habit that has not helped me to get into my winter trouserwear. There aren't even any carrots, so I can't have soup; just reheated stuff from sad little plastic boxes in the freezer.
You see? I can bore for England when I try!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Studio Dreams

I have more than stretched the feminist muscles in the past couple of weeks; thank God that's not the only think my life consists of. I am furious that I have to be one, but there is no alternative!
It's very strange at this time of year, because this is when most of my lecturing and tutoring happens. It is easy to forget that I'm a musician and artist. I have not played any 'proper' (i.e. full length set) gigs in London for a long time and I am beginning to feel like doing that again.
However, I am completely out of the promoter and venue loop. All suggestions gratefully received!
In about a month I am going to start recording again. The pressure-cooker of work has had the usual effect of making me write lots of songs in the tiny gaps between writing lectures and delivering them.
At night. my imagination takes me into the studio and as I sing and play a raft of ghostly musicians floats through, landing as softly as gossamer on pale wooden floorboards, blowing life into gleaming brass, sawing away at feather-light fiddles or strumming silently on cedar-scented guitars before fading away again.
In reality, I scrub the bathroom sink and rise at six to head into the Eastern sunrise through the chill of dawn, running through my lectures in my head and wondering at the textures of the skin of russet apples and the colours of autumn leaves as I travel.
When I get to Bank Station, the labourers' fluorescent jackets, dusty boots and copies of The Sun give way to cross pink faces and navy blue coats as the City workers push me out of the way on their journeys to Nastywork.
I don't know what they do, but it makes them money/doesn't make them happy simultaneously.
Then I gaze out of the window on the Docklands Light Railway at the cormorants drying their wings in the pale, weak sunshine.
So beautiful!
Life, life... what is the meaning of it all? I don't know, but I can tolerate it all so long as the cormorants can.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Visit To Westfield, Stratford

After work today I met my Champagne Friend in Stratford to investigate the spanking new shopping centre in Stratford.
She is very funny and told me about her ex-childminder, who has now appeared on the front pages of the right-wing press, having been involved in the Dale Farm siege.
As for the spanking new shopping centre in Stratford? A very fancy casing for a mega-branch of Greggs!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Song

Feathers www.reverbnation.com/helenmccookerybook

Saturday Night in Pop-Up Portobello

Last night I braved the tortuous Saturday night Underground system with all its weekend cancellations to go to the pop-up cinema at Portobello Road.
Don Letts was showing films, as a tribute to Ari. I went with Gina, her partner Mike and their two children.
Christine Robertson, a film-maker who managed The Slits for some time, had been invited to show her film of the Slits on holiday. She was a very interesting person to talk to for the book and it was lovely to see her again. And I also met Desmond Coy for the first time, though very briefly- he is Don Letts's brother, and I am reading the manuscript of his book at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it: it's one of those books that conjures up pictures in your head.
Sooo....
The first film was a sort of fan-homage to Don and his son, who Don told us are rebuilding their relationship after he left the family when his son was three. His son makes Dubstep music and the film followed the setting up and running of a gig in East London. I thought his music was great- I have never really listened to much dubstep- or not consciously- and thought it was worth listening to more. There was snippets of fascinating stuff: Don recording a programme for Radio 4 called The Story of the Bass; the bits about Don's father, who ran a sound system in the basement of the church after the morning service where people came with bibles under their arms (there was a photograph of his father standing next to his painted speakers, Duke Letts with his Superstonic Sound). And there were some baby Slits, Palmolive and Viv fascinated and concentrating intently as Chrissie Hynde showed them some chords. Then Don talked about the riot at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival. I can see how that acted as a catalyst for punk.
Next, there was some awful footage of Ari at a fashion show, displaying 'pum-pum power' as Don (and she) called it. Since she died I have heard stuff that made this seem all the worse.
Nuff about that.
Christine's film was delicate and very moving: in black and white, Ari, Viv and Tessa rolled in the sand on a faraway beach, and waded into the sea one by one, splashing and playing in the waves and walking back on to dry land hand in hand. I know they all fell out (and later in again) with each other, but this showed three girls who were friends, young, unadorned and free, free, free. In colour, they had dressed up and were fooling around, shuffling in slippers on the rocks in shrouded headgear and decorating a huge cactus with hats, scarves and socks. It was so different to the tough punky time they had in England and it was oddly sweet and innocent. Last of all, Viv introduced a series of short films that Don had made of the group to go with tracks from the Cut album. There was footage of them at a dub club, just about the only females and definitely the only white people there, the sheer front of the activity rendering them perfectly safe amongst the clouds of ganja. My friend Kim used to do this too: the love of the music took her to places where it should have been dangerous to be a white girl, but everyone left her alone as she danced the night away. My favourite of these films was the one shot at the bandstand (where weeks later an IRA bomb blew up a young guardsman on his horse). Grinning frantically, Budgie slicks and clips away at the drums; Ari swoops about like a large bird, Tessa plays bass in her own private bass-world and Viv hits her guitar chords with sharp precision. Each girl wears a red item of clothing and the moving patterns of thes jump across the screen. A nun quietly settles on the grass to watch them.
There had been nothing like this at all in the world before, and there has been nothing like it since.