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:
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?


Sunday, November 20, 2011

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.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


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!


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...


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


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

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


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:
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


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


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


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.

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.


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!).