Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Radical DIY at The Arts Catalyst

Hold on to your hats- this is a long posting!
The Arts Catalyst mixes artists and scientists up in a pot to see what emerges, and they arrange talks to involve the public in the results. After years of prevarication, I girded up my loins and headed down Clerkenwell Road to sit with a crowd of very well-turned-out techno nerds and artists in an atmosphere of bonhomie.
Please excuse the slightly 'note-form' style of this posting- it's taken ages to write it up and I've got some assessments to mark. It was also written on Text Edit which has a charming tendency to get creative with the vocabulary and substitute rhyming words for the ones you meant to use. Science/art- appropriate I suppose! This is who we listened to:

Alistair McClymont: Inspired by the urban myth that you could watch the film of The Wizard of Oz and synchronise it perfectly with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Alistair became interested in the tornado, his favourite part of the film, and decided to make his own DIY one.
His tornado is minimal and industrial-chic with a fan at either side and one at the top, scaffolding to hold it up and a humidifier puffing damp air out at the base of it, all presented in a darkened room with stark white lighting to illuminate the wispy transience of the column of air. 
To look at, it nods in the direction of The Mutoid Waste Company, although he was describing the aesthetics of the sense of touch: the air in the whole room is obviously moving but it is only when you approach the tornado itself that you feel the pull of the vortex. It took two years to 'tune' the column of air to behave like a tornado; he liked the idea of starting in control and then allowing the tornado to have a life of its own.
The piece of work I preferred was the suspended raindrop, captured so that you can look at it close-up.
Through the droplet the world is upside down, with an occasional tiny rainbow . Rain drops are not raindrop shaped, they are curved at the top and flattened at the bottom; there was a lovely close-up photograph of the droplet. Alistair made a machine to blow upwards and hold the droplet still, with a metal plate above it to hold the stream of air in exactly the right place to counteract gravity; each one lasts half an hour then starts to evaporate, rises and flies away as it gets really small. A gallery assistant with a syringe replaces the droplet when this happens, introducing a performative element to the piece. The contrast between the deliberately ugly blowing machine, with industrial filler seeping out of its sections, and the tiny, gleaming raindrop was perfect.
Alistair is an example of an artists who makes things himself a voyage of discovery rather than getting other people to do it for him; as he says, 'you learn about something by doing it'
He wants to take it to the seaside!
The other thing that was engaging about his talk was the description of the faux-poetic names of air fresheners, like 'After the Rain'. He told us that he made a pile of tarmac heated by infra-red heaters that made the smell of a road after the rain when water was added because as a cyclist, this is what is personally evoked by the title of the air freshener. Ha ha!

The next artist, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, was more of a designer and had hand-made a DIY particle accelerator to accelerate electrons, which are lighter than protons and easier to accelerate. 
He bought a Vacuum pump to create 45,000 volts and in the first version of his collider, he showed us the plasma created by electrons colliding with air left in the glass after most of the air had been pumped out. This was a sleek-looking glass tube that looked like a scientific instrument.
He advised DIY science artists to 'get help when you need it'; he was helped by a physicist from Cambridge.
Patrick developed this further into a hand crafted particle accelerator with hand blown glass vacuum chambers shaped like suspended test tubes and light bulbs to tap into science's aesthetic potential; they were told that they couldn't hang things from the ceiling so he made table top versions.
The glass vessels were made by visiting a craftsman glass-blower in Harlow and he learned how to blow the glass himself, which he said gave him a strong connection to the pieces as well as an insight into the craft itself: there is no 'thinking time' in glass blowing; you have to plan it all in advance
The components he used (apart from the blown glass) were all off-the-shelf; a two stage rotary pump to chuck out a stream of air although the  physicists he consulted recommended a diffusion pump which rips the air out in a different way. The air is pulled out to allow the electron particles shot from an electron gun to accelerate without bumping into other things (like air particles). The electrons then crash into a phosphorous coating at the end of the glass globes and make it glow.
Electron gun is the source of particles. 
He equates himself to gentlemen scientists in their garden sheds during the enlightenment; I was more reminded of my brother and myself pottering about with our chemistry sets as young teenagers, coating pins with copper and (in Bruv's case) cooking up explosions that resulted in second-degree burns. You could buy all the chemicals by mail order or by going to the chemists in Prudhoe where they had little drawers full of white powder that they would sell you in paper wrappers.
Patrick's finished pieces were exhibited in Milan's version of Harrods, where passing customers gazed on in amazement from their forest of shopping bags.

Next up was Song Hojun,from South Korea, wearing a banner saying 'Science is Fantasy'. 
He told us about Russia creating the 'mother of all bombs', which the USA responded to by creating 'the father of all bombs'. So Hojun created 'The Strongest Weapon in the World', a weapon of mass happiness that spouts out happy messages and which will cease to exist if there is a nuclear explosion next to it.
He showed us a metal sculpture which you hit really hard with a construction hammer (wearing a construction hat) that shouts 'I love you' if you hit it hard enough (really, really hard)
He made some radioactive jewellery to allow potential suicides to taste death before doing it, with a cutter to remove the jewellery if they change their minds. To do this he ordered uranium off the Internet and advertised the jewellery for $900,000,000 on eBay (he showed us his ad on a slide). 'Why so expensive?' asked a potential buyer. 'That's what your life is worth', was the reply.
Hojun was humorous and demonstrated a different way of being an artist-scientist: he is an enabler with a strong sense of global community and of the effect his artworks might have on other people. As he told us about his DIY satellite, he took out a Primark bag and extracted a mock-up of his little satellite to pass round the room. the satellite has to piggy-back on a bigger satellite on its way into space, and Hojun has booked a slot on a rocket next April. He showed us pictures of Russian and French scientists in white coats: as the satellite was ejected from its adaptor dock (this reminded me of watching piglets being born in Denmark), and the French scientist caught it in both hands. The antennae have to be wrapped around the satellite and ping out when the restraints melt in the heat.
At the Paris air show to sign the contract, about 100 media people had been invited so Hojun hired a cameraman to film the occasion. No one turned up apart from the cameraman but he still made his speech, and there was a shot of the guy-in-a-suit who had supplied the contract smiling smugly beside him.
So, permission: that was very important and took six years. Hojun has his certificate which he got by registering with the Korean Government. Finance: 100,000 dollars to put it into space: Hojun was selling t-shirts to finance his project (of course I bought one: every penny scraped from my bag wasn't enough but he let me off a couple of quid).
The satellite itself is in San Jose in an exhibition but he showed us what was going to happen when it's up: you hold hands with your friends, press a countdown button and upon a signal from Earth a light in the satellite sends out a morse code message that you have reserved in advance. The satellite will only last a year (possibly up to six) after its launch in Kazakhstan after which it will within 30 years return to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.
Hojun says that artists don't have requirements like scientists do, and so they can learn more from science than scientists. I loved his approach, which was utterly without boundaries. He made it plain that we should all be launching our own satellites through the Open Source Satellite Initiative. As he says: 'creation is belief', and he left us with the appeal, 'Where's my satellite?' and it was passed back to him by the curious audience.


Last up were the Owl Project, who again had a humorous approach to their work. I have seen them before, I think, at one of Diana Mavroleon's parties in her woodland in Cromer, where they sat at night in a boy-scout style tent playing amplified pieces of wood, illuminated by footlights made of small logs embedded into the grass in a semicircle with a tea-light on each. Every insect in the universe flooded to the patch of light under the trees and weevils and earwigs rained softly down on us as we watched and listened.
They showed us log-type computer with hinged lids and the iLog, a hand-held synthesiser with its technology packed into a hollowed out log and activated by pulsing lights. 'They're quite hard to use', they stated, with happy smiles. Each instrument has a single action, and they told us that they couldn't possibly justify manufacturing them commercially as they take a day to make. Instead, they do workshops where people make their own, with, for instance, sensors down the side for a flute-player to activate the sounds. Good on them! Like Hojun, their sharing is a transfer of power to the audience.
Some of their iLogs are solar powered, charging up by day so that they make sounds to party with at night. They delighted in their nerdiness (as did Alistair); it's funny to see the partying tendencies of self-confessed nerds and I do wonder sometimes if I partied myself out before the age of thirty. 
I have my own nerdy mini-synth at home (Shut UP! shouts Offsprog Two as I create farts and bleeps) but I don't want to go to any parties with it, definitely. It's a fireside activity, for me.
They displayed a sound lathe, which gave them the aesthetic problem that carving a beautiful object sometimes resulted in an ugly sound and vice versa.
On the River Tyne they have installed a wooden water mill that uses the energy and relative saltiness of the water to create sounds that are broadcast through huge wooden horns, one of which is two meters across. They built the horns themselves, creating computer programs to help with the angling of the wooden slats to maximise the volume so that a 9 volt battery will last for two weeks ; one of the speaker cones was curved using steam but this was a slow process and was abandoned. 
As they said, instead of milling flour, they mill data (salination readings are taken every hour and used to alter the synth sounds), and physically, they are re-envisioning obsolete technologies.
I did like the most Geordie of the blokes who had worked on the construction with them. 
'I thought it'd never work', he prophesied glumly and perhaps with a tinge of disappointment. I laughed: I know that type!

What a brilliant evening. Lovely to sit next to Emerald (who has designed so many beautiful CD covers for my songs) and of course to see Nicky Triscott again after probably fifteen years. Nicky is the driving force behind the Arts Catalyst and I must say, this was the most absorbing and exciting event that I have been to for yonks.
Not counting Club Artyfartle, of course!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Club Artyfartle

I'm emerging from a fog of a grant application which has taken the bulk of two weekends plus the whole of this morning so far; I'm dodging a rain of emails from work about work.
I've had a short laugh-break (you don't need to read much of Giles Smith's Lost in Music before you get to that point: this morning, it was the description of him force-folding his fingers round the neck of the guitar as he struggled to play it).
I have a review copy of Lucy O'Brien's She-Bop to read (I had a delve last night and I'm already hooked) and review here later this week.
Let's think back to Sunday....

Cold, wasn't it? I was prepared for nobody to turn up except us, the performers, which would have been fine as it's the sort of do that's interesting to watch as a performer as well as audience. We couldn't get the paper tablecloth to stick to the flock wallpaper (it was the makeshift projection screen and it kept pretending to stick and then silently floating down as soon as we turned our backs).
I had a rug from home and I set up the chairs for us on that, and Guy Forks and the tip jar.
Acton Bell mentioned doing a runner as she was so nervous (we all were) and at one point I thought she really had when she momentarily disappeared. The floor was sticky and the vibe was definitely rock'n'roll, but the quiet sort, for a Sunday afternoon.
 Joan set up the projector on a long chain of extension leads, rather like a funky giant's necklace and definitely not correct from a Health and Safety point of view, but quite spectacular in its own right.
My brothers appeared, and so did my Champagne Friend and her partner; and so did lots of other unexpected people, giving the lie to the fact that Facebook Events are a good idea. As far as I could see (and as observed astutely by Joan), the act of pressing the button to say 'yes' was satisfying in itself and meant that you didn't need to come. They were there in spirit, I know!
It was emails that did it: there was Katy, who is a friend of both Joan and myself, and members of the Gymslips, Dolly Mixture, Strawberry Switchblade and Ut, as well as a clutch of artists and much-loved pals.
So I took the trumpet downstairs, gave it a creaky blast or two and we did a procession up the winding stairs. Lucy sat at one end, I sat at the other ( two old ladies in glasses, I believe the observation was!), with Acton Bell and Paul in the middle.
Fear strangled my voice for the first song and we all had a collection of shaking fingers, fluffs and missed lyrics the first time round; but then I think we got into our stride and one after another we played our new stuff: Amy's wry and perceptive lyrics (enhanced by the fact that she worries so much in case she is too bitchy), Paul's romantic crooning and Lucie's bright and melodic pop.
There was time to talk about our lyrics and the audience was silent and listening: you could hear a pin drop.
Twice round, and we had a break to say hello to our friends and each other's friends; people went downstairs to refresh their glasses, I kicked over my glass of coke and re-stickified my patch of floor.
Then I took the trumpet down and played a fresh fanfare (fartfare?) and off we went again.
Joan's talk was mesmerising; her solargraphs are made through the pinhole of a beer can attached to a lamp-post, over a six month period. The audience was rapt and gazed at the beautiful rich blue solargraph images striped with the softly blurred white tracks of the sun passing overhead, punctuated by photographs of the tins strapped to trees, buildings and the like. And there was the friendly builder in his high-vis jacket who had allowed them access to a next-door public building that was being revamped!
It was fascinating... and very, very arty.
Then it was time for our bit: we started from Lucie's end this time, and she soon had everyone's feet tapping and smiles on everyone's faces. Paul gave us a song he'd only just completed that morning (it was lovely). Acton Bell had intended to play a bit of Mozart on her electronic keyboard but her sheet music had vanished (I think it had done a runner) so she sang a song instead and she sounded brilliant. I played a song that I'd only finished the day before (Change the DJ) in which I tried out 'the Hendrix Chord'. By now, we were rolling and we went once round again; I finished with Women of the World in support of UK Feminista.
The tip jar clinked; I rolled up the carpet and tried to put my guitar away in the wrong case. The guys from The Hangover Lounge who invited Club Artyfartle were delighted with the turnout (so was I!). Big up to them for giving us the opportunity to do it.
Thanks for coming everyone- you were a really amazing audience and it was lovely to see so many people that I haven't seen for such a long time. And thanks to Joan, Lucie, Acton Bell and Magnetic Paul for jumping on the magic carpet and making it all a success!

Karen from the Gymslips is now playing in a gypsy music big-band- more details later...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Confirmed: Guy Forks Will be At Club Artyfartle

Sunday at The Lexington's Hangover Lounge

Don't forget!All new songs from Lucinda Sieger, Acton Bell, Magnetic Paul and me, plus Professor Joan Ashworth's marvellous solargraph photography demonstration. 2.30 p.m.
Bring your sketchbook: you can sketch, or if not, pose for posterity!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Books... Oops! Politics!

There is now a free book 'shop' in High Barnet, where you can donate books and also take up to three without paying. It has erratic opening hours and it's at the corner of The Spires on the High Street. I took these today and will probably return the Le Carre when I've finished with it and keep the others. We took our old computer there to be recycled: they are putting the adage 'waste not, want not', to practical purpose; and it's a treasure trove! Lost in Music by Giles Smith is hilarious and made me laugh out loud when I read it, so I gave my original copy away to make someone else laugh out loud. I am glad I saw this, as I feel like laughing again. Meanwhile, the Friern Barnet library needs your support. It has been closed by horrible Barnet Council and re-opened by a conglomerate of squatters who are not yer usual run-of-the-mill squatters (if such people exist). They are re-stocking the library and I plan to take my duplicate academic books down there soon; they are also doing lots of stuff for kids. The basis for all this is that libraries are places where children can go to read and do their homework in peace, retired people can congregate in the warm and read the newspapers, and everyone is free to browse, use computers and generally become an informed community, if not a learned one.
Having written huge parts of my phD/book in the local library because of its peaceful atmosphere, and knowing that both the Offsprogs went there to do their homework with their pals, I can safely say that I have been a library user for many years. If you would sign the petition, that would be a big vote of confidence in the need for public libraries in the UK (and everywhere, for that matter)
I have also been plundering the charity shops for books. I reckon £100 spent on 50 books from charity shops is worth much more than £100-odd spent on a Kindle. I'm not just being a Luddite, although I do love paper (whether scruffy cacky second hand book paper or brand new smooth shiny paperback paper scented with ink). The books go back and are re-sold, making money for the charity many times over.
Where does this leave bookshops?  Still great, still useful and yes, I buy new books too and really enjoy the environment of browsing in newness, often with coffee and always with an informed assistant to talk to about the books.
Long live reading in all its many forms.

Shouts also to the UK Feminista march today and Helen Pankhurst, with their lobby of Parliament.
I was hoping to go but simply have too much preparation to do for the lectures I'm doing this week. You go, girls!

Whitstable in the Fog

Tube Mouse

I marched down the fluorescent-lit Underground corridor alongside the rest of the commuters. There were distant screams.
The others in my bloc of people broke ahead, more keen to see daylight than me; alone, I walked over a bridge that was illuminated by a ghoulish yellow light.
In the seam between the walls and the floor, a tiny, rotund and filthy black mouse bobbled along rapidly , its tail whisking behind it as it sought the safety of the dirty track and the electrified line that afforded it protection from the terrifying humans who shrieked and flapped at such a height.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day Off

I spent a big chunk of the weekend filling out a funding application for a future research project- calculator, spreadsheets, personal statement, calculator, referee, calculator, train fares, calculator, calculator...
Draining, exhausting.
Today is designated 'off' and I am off on some adventures that I will report on tomorrow.
I have been up early just finishing some work; time to dress in adventure kit, prepare the maps and tiffin, and head to the mystery destination!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Solo CD Releases

Just thought I would list the releases out there: any of these are £12.00 including postage and packing; to use Paypal, just put a message to say which CD you'd like and use the same button as you would for Voxpop Puella.

(apart from The best of The Chefs which can be ordered from

Helen McCookerybook CDs

2006 Suburban Pastoral Label: Big Song
Tracks: Dreaming of You, Temptation, Heaven Avenue, Don't Know Why, Colour My Day, London, Hill of Fools, Songbird, Running Away, Swan, Hymn to Kent, Once in a Blue Moon, Britannia Great, The Word is, Goodbye
(guest musicians including The Horns, Lester Square, BJ Cole)

2008 Poetry and Rhyme Label: Barbaraville
Tracks: A New Day, January in Paris, Poetry and Rhyme, The Properties of Chalk and Sun, Butterfly, A New Day, I Feel It, Rock'n'Romance, Screaming, Sulkworm, Memento Mori, Dreaming of Narcissus
(guest musicians including Martin Stephenson, Gina Birch and Elle Osborne)

2010 Take One Label: Barbaraville
Tracks: Daisies, The House on the Hill, The Song of the Landsman's Soul, She Will Fly, Little England, Two Little Girls and Me, New Year's Eve, Gotta Have a Heart, Three Maple Men, The Song of the Unsung Heroine

2012: Voxpop Puella Label: Barbaraville
Tracks: One Cell Wonder, Sugarstuff, Hermit Crab, A Husband So Handsome, Brittletwist, Watching Myseif, Paradise, Saygudbye

(2008 Hamilton Square with Martin Stephenson: Hamilton Square, Black Eyed Rose, Glasgow Train, Making Love, Loverman, Stansted Ground, Love on the Wind, Sweet Saviour, Apple Tree Song, My Heart Beats a Song for You, Autumn Love, Can't Fool Love; 2012 Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses with Martin Stephenson: beachwalk, Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses, Steal You Away, Mandy Rose, Mr and Mrs Songsmith, Gaudi's Garden, Samba Blue, All Systems Go!, Sunny and Blue; 2012 The Best of The Chefs, Damaged Goods; 2012)

Martin Stephenson on Bob Harris

Just listening on iPlayer to last night's session

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Watching Myself

Have finally managed to get the song to upload to Reverbnation- click on the player opposite to hear it or follow this link

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nother Friday Post

There's nothing on telly. I have left Eastenders in the front room to shout to itself for a while. It doesn't need me: it can survive perfectly well on its own without anyone to watch or listen.
Here is a pic of the box of CDs- wahey! I'm numbering them and signing them. there will be no number 13 unless someone specifically asks for it.
A sample track is here
And also.. Helen and the Horns support The Daintees at The Borderline in London on Friday 9th November. Reverbnation won't let me add the gig to the list for some reason.
Chocolate time. I'm off!

Someday All The Adults Will Die! at the Hayward Gallery

After work I treated myself to a wander along the South Bank and I dropped in to the Hayward Gallery to see this exhibition of punk art.
It seemed strange to see bits of my life on display in a museum and there were a few middle-aged guys taking a similar trip down memory lane.
I was actually struck first by the music being played; somehow I have managed to convince myself that apart from the 'good' bands (Buzzcocks, Pistols, Slits, Ruts, Raincoats, Damned, Adverts, Mo-Dettes) everyone else was rubbish. Not true! Something about the thudding basslines woke up my inner punk; there was something about that sound that was actually nothing to do with music, but more to do with making time and space our own: the world belonged to other people who were aliens with mullets, crimplene clothing, prawn cocktails and brown-on-brown patterned wallpaper, listening to mush and fluff. Punk music was like an abrasive blast that cleaned out your ears and all the cack you'd been fed by everyone up till then... all the stuff they said to comfort themselves while simultaneously shutting you out.
In the exhibition, lots of the feeling was there: the cheapness of the paper, the attempts by McLaren and Westwood to garner more of the credit than was due to them; work by Gee Vaucher that lived alongside Jamie Reid's better-known images; cheap cassettes that shunned commerciality. The Desperate Bicycles vinyl single that exhorted people to do it themselves- it can be cheap!
There was the single by Brighton's Louder Animal Group, aficionados of Scritti Politti and featuring Nick Dwyer, fresh from leaving Joby and the Hooligans (featuring yours truly on bass), and now a gardener supported by Stomp! royalites (yes, he was a founder member: told you punk was full of imaginative people!).
And there was a copy of PIN (the 'n' should be backwards) the fanzine produced by my Dutch friend Terri who also played a semi acoustic bass and who got in touch with me earlier this year (she is a rockabilly now). And there was a copy of Rapid Eye Movement, published by Nicks' brother Simon with.. ahem.. an interview with the Chefs in it.
A sea of boys in school uniforms flowed in with spiral-bound notebooks and pencils to try to capture the moment in 2012. No way, boys! The whole time was too weird and it's continually surprising how important it seems to have been; at the time it seemed like trying to stay alive when the whole tide of everything was crashing in the other direction.
This is a nice little exhibition, small and perfectly formed with a little of that air of bafflement about it.
On till 4th November and worth a visit: free.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Voxpop Puella is Here!

8 tracks, digipack limited edition of 100, signed and numbered: the seven ages of woman from the show of the same name that toured the UK in 200/2001 supported by the Arts Council of England

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


As a distraction from contemplating Thursday's inevitable and awful strike, I have been trawling the local charity shop for crime novels. There seem to be rather a large number of lurking men around the shelves at the moment looking as much at the women looking for books as at the titles themselves!
Is this the new supermarket pick-up etiquette?
I picked up a Peter James novel (on the recommendation of Andy Cairns) and a thumpingly-heavy Ruth Rendell. They will both return whence they came in a day or two.
I find these books a welcome sandwich between the dense academic texts that I read, books that are much more interesting really but which take a long time to digest.
Sometimes you feel like a slice of thick, squidgy, unhealthy pre-sliced white bread, and sometimes there's a case for brown wholemeal bricks that you have to saw through for half an hour to get a frail and crumbling slice that collapses before you can get it to the toaster!

Monday, October 15, 2012


That big storm that Michael Fish said wasn't going to happen...
I woke up and the cat was running around, frightened by the whooshing of the wind outside. The bedroom was a ground floor extension with three outside walls and a flat roof, so it was very noisy and frightening. We put the radio on and sat it out.
Next morning, all was devastation; but on the back wall next to the window, three little empty plastic plant pots stood in a neat row, just where they had been the day before.
Huge trees had crashed to the ground; I had to walk three miles to work and climb over them because they blocked the roads and no buses or cars could pass; there were smashed things all over the place. The world had been rearranged in an extraordinary manner. The normal chaos of noisy, busy, dirty roads was replaced with silence, calm after the storm: grim surprise.
Three little plant pots: quaint survivors!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Two Books at a Time

In the small hoose there is little room for books so some of them live at work. I buy most of them second hand from eBay and recently I've developed a bad habit, fuelled partly from enthusiasm for ideas and new perspectives; I buy books twice because I forget that I bought one three or our months ago because it's either at home or a work (delete that which doesn't apply). These are not the sort of books that anyone else might want as they are usually to do with some sort of lateral thinking process, yet I can't really throw them away or give them away because I don't think anyone else would want them.
I'm contemplating bringing all my books home and literally lining the walls with them to insulate the small hoose from the winter cold and provide reading matter at the same time. Then I could take the duplicate books to the free book shop just around the corner from Waterstones (must be a thorn in the side!) for lateral-thinking yummy mummies and their Offsprogs-in-a-pushchair to peruse in Starbucks on a weekday afternoon. As I pass by on the way to the music shop, I'll glance through the window at a Boden-clad beauty with her nose in Christopher Small's  'Music, Society, Education' while her Offsproglet wails in vain for attention, its muffin toppling soggily on the floor beside mummy's designer satchel. Or perhaps the Offsproglet will be lolling there riveted by the copy of 'The Audience and it's Landscape' that mummy has wedged into its pushchair, poor teddy weeping inconsolably in a rejected heap under a mountain-bike style buggy wheel.
Such joy could be brought to Barnet if I rectify my double bookings....
That sounds like a plan!

Saturday, October 13, 2012


I'm roadying for Martin today; he is playing a solo gig at Appleton and Thorne village  hall near Warrington. I've been telecastering away in the room finding chords for my latest song, and taking advice from Offsprog One about next week's strike. When she was a student at Leeds College of Art there was a strike by the lecturers there and she gave me the perspective of a student.
It's all to do with bullying, in the end. Trying to please bullies is pointless.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tea with Dubulah

Dubulah has been in town to play some Dub Colossus gigs which have gone very well; I missed them unforchly due to working hell-for-leather but we decided to take tea together at Foyle's Cafe.
Wedged between laptop-wielding trendies and a couple of formally suited businessmen who shone out like lightbulbs with their incongruity, we talked politics and Protools, fretboards and foreign climes, until it was time to go home and beat the rush hour.
When Martin is in town, when Dubulah is in town... what wonderful guitar adventures might happen!
January, perhaps.
This evening I did an interview with Jonathan for his blog, which focuses on Voiceprint artists- here's his blog . We talked about blogging and I told him about the blogs that I read- Frayed-at-the-edge, Circles of Rain, lots of them. When I got to Leaf-pile Jonathan was even more interested, because he collects children's books
6 a.m. start tomorrow; time for the land of nod!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


I have been writing a particular song for about a year and tonight I finally put the finishing touches on it; every word as just right, and I could play it perfectly and sing over the music which it sometimes takes me a while to work out.
Only one problem... When I'd done all that I realised that the song was a load of rubbish
Ho hum..

Club Artyfartle Poster

Monday, October 08, 2012

Short Review of Green Door Store

Long link though!

Club Artyfartle

I'm sitting here doing a poster for Club Artyfartle, a delightful afternoon planned for Sunday 28th October at the much-feted Hangover Lounge at the Lexington on Pentonville Road.
Acton Bell and myself are running the do, which will feature guest artists Lucie Sieger and Magnetic Paul (all four of us will be playing brand new songs unplugged) and special guest speaker Professor Joan Ashworth from the Royal College of Art who will be demonstrating the art of solargraphs and showing some of them. 
If I have time to finish him I will bring Guy Forks along too.

After a rest from the fumey pen, it's now finished and I'll scan it tomorrow after I've lugged the printer in.
Have I got four new songs? At a pinch although one of them will have temporary lyrics, I think.
The idea of Club Artyfartle is to have people who don't play that often in London airing their new songs to a small and perfectly formed audience with friendly ears and open minds.
There has only been one event before this, at the much-missed Perseverance in Marylebone, where Acton Bell, Viv Albertine and Martin Stephenson joined me in music and Gina Birch did a presentation on Birchbags, felted bags made in a unique and funny style that she later exhibited properly.

It will be free to get in although we will be passing round a hopeful hat.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Life's Little Hiccups

I've been polishing the piano, making new Erik Satie compositions as the duster skims across the keys. For a couple of months I've been wondering whether to sell it, but it's just such a beautiful thing, even though it's officially an ugly piano: modern, mass-produced in Korea. But even being a non-pianist I tried out about fifteen in the piano warehouse and chose one that sounded good, proper notes ringing out top and bottom.
Keep it, keep it...
I was going to moan in this posting (hence the title) but I'm not going to.
I am happy. There are troubles on the horizon but I'm not going to rush there before it's time.
There is a new song to chew on, soup to slurp, a new CD on its way, a slew of autumn weekends to look forward to (favourite time of year), great students to teach, and a DIY plan for draught-proofing the homebox that I've already started in true polyfillafingers fashion.
And Pledge Original furniture polish smells nice.
How's that for a positive posting?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Nothing on Telly Last Night

Oh you know, those panel shows with smug white middle-aged comedian manfaces; nul points for appeal.
So I took to the Internet in search of the Hendrix chord, found it, and began the delicious puzzle of writing a song in unfamiliar territory.
As always happens when I am teaching songwriting to groups of students, even in my rule-free way, I am disobeying my own rule-free rules with gay abandon.
A couple of ideas disturbed my sleep but I actually  put in 12 hours last night. To-beautiful-day, in spite of the sunshine calling me outside with the sound of bright and joyful bells, I feel as though someone has stuffed my head with felt. It's not a hangover as I ceased to touch alcohol more than five years ago, but the feeling is close.
I think of conscientious exercisers I know who run for thousands of miles or swim millions of lengths. Even the thought is exhausting. I think of Martin watching the extreme exercise DVD he bought, sitting on his sofa with a mug of coffee and a chocolate biscuit.
It's peaceful to just sit and be at one with the world, and I am doing exactly that.

Friday, October 05, 2012


Sixteen days of working every day: it's the evening of the sixteenth day, I've paid the paper bill and it's time to put my feet up at last. There is home-made vegetable soup (Offsprog One taught me to roast the vegetables first so it doesn't taste like a compost heap) and no need to do any housework as I rarely have visitors. I am unearthing long-lost CDs and may actually set up the turntable and have a bit of a living room vinyl disco-fest tomorrow afternoon.
Boom-chack, boom-chack, boom-chack, boom-chack.
While commuting this week I've read Sadie Plant's Zeros and Ones and Helen Shapiro's autobiography, Walking Back to Happiness. Plant's book is interesting for the writing on Amy Lovelace who was an important link in the development of computing, but not for the writing about Luce Iragary (I just don't get her at all: is there something wrong with me?). Helen Shapiro's book is interesting as an example of resilience and small insights (they sped up one of the backing tracks to make her sing higher, and she was pals with the Beatles just before they got famous), but not for the phrase 'bits and bobs' which turns up too regularly. Oddly, something about her face reminds me of Donna Summer!
I've got a book about the Beatles to read next week. I have always felt that enough other people read about and listen to the Beatles so I didn't need to bother, but I suppose I probably should as I am teaching songwriting this term.
You see they were my growing-up group. I had a little grey plastic guitar badge with a photo of George in the middle. He was my fave because of the dimples, although I betrayed him later for John Lennon, whose eyes had it. My first single was I Wanna Hold Your Hand which I still have in it's red and white Shephards of Gateshead cardboard cover. 'She loves you, yay, yay, yay', chanted out uncool primary school teacher in between walloping us and grabbing us by the shoulders and shaking our teeth out of our heads.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Hendrix's music is so beautiful it makes me want to blub.

Playing at the Green Door Store

What an amazing venue. It's totally un-health-and-safety and all the better for it. The longer it resists being ironed and folded the better; the floors are uneven, there's a brick thing in one corner that could be another room that has collapsed, and the warehouse-style doors let in the night light from the street lights outside. Hooray for down-and-out!
Last night's gig was an annual event in tribute to the late John Peel and it was a privilege to be invited to play. I am almost at the end of a solid 16-day workfest (I have some legal bills to pay later this year to keep the roof over my head) and was feeling lumpen on the train on the way there but a quick meal with the Offsprogs coupled with a warm welcome from the promoters soon set me up.
I was taken by the fact that the lead singer from the Flaming Stars was so polite and friendly, too. Sometimes main bands can be stand-offish but he went and shook hands with everyone. They play at the Dirty Water Club in London and I will go to see them there (last night I had to get a train home before they played to be here to work this morning).
I thought I'd be playing to an empty room but people filtered in and in the end there was a goodly crowd. I mixed in some Chefs tracks including a disastrous version of Northbound Train whose walking bassline went all over the place without asking (why? It sounded fine when I rehearsed it) and a version of 24 Hours which I managed to keep bowling along with the help of some vigorous foot-tapping by one of the Chrisp brothers and which got a big cheer at the end. I talked too much to get Freight Train in there which I regretted when I met a Helen and the Horns fan at the bar. Thanks to the sound guy my guitar sounded suitably rocky and I have to say that I really enjoyed playing and pulled in some songs I don't often play as well. I loved playing Let's Make Up from the Chefs, and also My Ambitious Friend; grr here comes Chrissie-Hynde McCookerybook! They are a bit more ruffty-tuffty than some of the more melody-based songs that I normally play and I almost yelled when singing. Almost.
I'd like to play again in Brighton soon and I hope I will, possibly at the Prince Albert; or maybe I'll go and busk in the November winds on the sea front and entertain those grumpy seagulls.

Tuning Up, Brighton

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Distressed by the fact that (as I admired myself in the mirror)  I appeared to have suddenly sprouted additional ears on top of the originals, I realised that I was gazing at my reflection in the bevelled part round the edge.