Friday, August 30, 2013

The Mighty Wind and The Harmonees

After alternately chuckling and pondering my way through the film The Mighty Wind the other day, and thinking that in common with Nowhere Boy it had the small talk and conceited assumptions of band behaviour at rehearsals down to a tee, I realised that my plans for The Harmonees have more than a little of The Mighty Wind blowing through them.
Could the fact that I left my lyric-book on the tube be telling me something? No-one has handed it in and I have been feeling very glum about that; but I spoke to Martin on the phone today and he reminded me that a while ago I accidentally left my keys in the front door and someone handed them in to a shop down the road.
So not everybody is a hoarding squirrel with other people's treasured possessions.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I know my posting titles have been inverted for the past two days.
This might be because the backspace button is broken on the keyboard and I have developed an elaborate highlight-and-space way of deleting mistakes which drove Offsprog One bonkers this morning when she was typing some questions for the chaps in the Umbrella Shop to answer by email.
It is indeed infuriating, and although I have cleaned it, rattled it and blown under the key in case it is jammed on a crumb from a long-forgotten crisp, it's incurable and it's making me think funny.

Shirts: The End Of

I have some shirts that I used to wear when I was in The Chefs.
Why have I kept them for so long?
For quite a while, they symbolised a life that I didn't have any more. I was a suburban mother who went to work, not an ex-punk who have developed some musical skills during the moment and who went off to live the touring and minor label dream for seven years.
So they were here to remind me, moving from house to house and location to location.
Trouble is, one of them in particular (now raddled with moth holes) reminds me of...
...a scarf that I had, that miraculously had the same tartan pattern...
...which fell out of the front door of the van one rainy dark night and I didn't realise, which reminds me of...
... a bootlace tie with a gold guitar on a mother-of-pearl background and a red lace, which was given to me by a scornful fan, when I told him I'd wear it on Top of the Pops (YOU'LL never get on Top of the Pops, and I didn't), and which got stolen from the dressing room at our gig at the University of London Union, and which reminds me of...
...a pair of coincidentally matching gold guitar ear-rings (see the matching thread going on here!) which were stolen from the dressing room at our gig in Preston... actually, it's not a good thing to keep at all.

I have three. Two are going in the bin (not even to a charity shop) tomorrow morning and I might keep one because I like the colours.
But I might not.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blues (The)

Two things have given me the blues this week: the non-return of a carrier bag  containing paperwork, current sketchbook/lyric book and anarcho-punk paperback book which I left on the tube after a marathon stint at clearing last week (who could want these things? I imagine a drunk young chap lobbing them on to the tube rails for a laugh!), and the accidental purchase of Office for PC instead of Mac, which I can't exchange and which cost a bomb.
The delete key has also stopped working on my keyboard which is also extremely annoying.
On the plus side, Amy's coming for tea today and I've made cinnamon scones. And I have located some amazing women to interview for my next research project.
There are some other pluses kicking about the place and I did enjoy the jaunt to the Bluegrass festival yesterday which Jim and Martin would have really enjoyed, I think.
The week is yet young: let's hope the rest of it looks up!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nosy Neighbours

Looking over my fence. Every day they bring more friends to peer into the back yard.

Loft Contents Fund Academic Conference

I'm going to a conference in Vienna later this year and I've been watching travel and hotel prices rocket.  I bit the bullet this morning and booked the lot, to be funded by an eBay adventure in a few weeks time; there's no point at the moment cos everyone's on holiday, ain't they?
Meanwhile, I'm planning more interviews to squash as many in as possible before teaching starts again at the end of September. I should really transcribe the one's I've got but that seems like a rainy-day Sunday activity and it's just too warm and sunny at the moment!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


London in August is muggy; everyone left here who is not on holiday is a somnambulist, sleepwalking through their days and evenings.
They wander aimlessly through through the thick, warm air, dispersing to cross roads at random points regardless of the traffic, and congregating outside pubs in a fug of roll-up smoke talking about the past, but never the present or future.
Threads of old friendships, frayed by time and sorrow, connect in the frail cameraderie of the left-behind-in-London.
Even the moderately poor have managed to borrow a tent, or persuade a relative to let them have a week in their caravan at Skegness.
Notting Hill Carnival is happening this weekend. A few years ago, the police smashed it to smithereens and it has now been rebuilt as a corporate, controlled shadow of its former self with the same relative authenticity to the old version as a McDonalds has to an actual beefburger.
It's drizzling out there in Londonland...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tottenham Chances, Thursday

It's Survivors poetry night tomorrow at Tottenham Chances and I'm going along to play a few songs. It's free, i think, and a variety of different artists will be performing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Alness Boy Racers

From the windows of the curry house in Alness you can watch the Alness boy racers whose circuit includes the High Street.
Roaring and revving, they emerge in their immaculate shiny black or white cars from a side road, watching nervously left to right for the rozzers, then jet down the road at high speed, twin exhausts yarping like bass-bin seagulls. Heaven protect any unwary pedestrians who might stray into their path!
All is silence for two minutes... then they are back again: harummm! harummm! harummm! ROOOOOOAAAARR!
Rather more delicately, a two-team of girls travels the same circuit, just once or twice.
Suddenly, boy-racer motorcyclists appear, dressed head to toe in lurid lime green, white and yellow leathers and blacked-out helmets. They snarl the circuit a few times then depart for who know where, never having quite synched up with the car drivers.
The waiters peer out of the windows and shrug their shoulders.
'Every night, every night', they sigh.

Later, on the way home, a shamefaced adolescent stands with head bowed next to his little supercar as a couple of policemen take his details.
The dare-game has a casualty tonight.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Martin Stephenson Stageit, Sunday

Martin is doing a Stageit performance on Sunday evening:

Friday Afternoon at The Crazy Horse Cafe, Invergordon

Martin organised a songwriters' afternoon at The Crazy Horse Cafe in Invergordon High Street yesterday afternoon- he has arranged events like this before but this was the first time that I got to go along and perform. It was scary to sing in front of so many of his friends but everyone was warm-hearted and it was fab to hear Miriam sing again (that's her in the middle). Many of the artists have had (or are having) music produced by Martin so I have heard quite a lot of their stuff. There was a great atmosphere which was framed by a host of curious tourists peering through the windows as they strolled around on shore leave from a whopping cruise ship parked next to the oil platforms on the quayside. Davey Cowan and Jimmy Gunn kicked off the afternoon with rousing songs and we all took turns singing before finishing with a whole-caff rendition of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The caff was full of families eating cakes and drinking coffee and almost all of them joined in; it was moving, in the best possible sense of the word.
The afternoon was rounded off perfectly with a giant slice of chocolate fudge cake.
I have also recorded half a skiffle album this week: or was that a dream?
Photo by Roddy Mackenzie.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gaelic Telly

It's funny that even documentaries in the Highlands seem to be about rural subjects. We are watching a documentary about Nepal with a Gaelic commentary, that could be about any rural Highland community except that the woman has four husbands. I don't think that the Kirk would approve of that.
Today we have been recording guitars and vocals and eating fish and chips in the shadow of a huge rig, in for repairs at the dock. There are two there at the moment and at night they are lit up like a giant fairground with green, red and white lights strung across them. In daylight they are monsters of bolts and thickly painted steel. Enormous chains are wound around huge reels and mysterious bits of machinery lie in serried rows across the concrete flats of the harbour.
Tomorrow, Miriam is going to join us in The Crazy Horse Cafe for an informal song circle afternoon with coffee and cakes. I'm going to record my first cover of one of Martin's songs tomorrow evening before heading back to London town to see if Offsprog Two has been remembering to water the plants in the back yard!

Monday, August 12, 2013

No Shin and Do Not Dornoch

We went to the Falls of Shin where there is a marvellous cafe and also a viewing platform where you can watch salmon leaping as they travel upstream.
As we arrived, huge coaches were decanting their cargoes of extremely elderly people, shepherded by tour guides in friendly kilts and green tweed jackets.
Slowly, slowly, the untidy crocodiles of ancient and venerable tourists traversed the car park and headed for the path to the salmon leap.
We decided to give it a miss and headed for the marvellous cafe.
Imagine our shock when we realised that it had completely vanished and all that was left was a very large cafe-shaped patch of black shiny tarmac. Just like Dorothy's house in Kansas, a tornado had removed it in its entirety, including heaped plates of macaroni cheese. There was absolutely nothing left.
Starving, we headed for Dornoch. Dornoch was having a bad hair day. 'Cafe Closed On Mondays'. We headed for the beautiful beach, only to be met by a red tin sign: 'Road Closed'.
They had even arranged for a remote controlled wasp to terrorise us as we tried to eat our ice creams, and squads of electronic seagulls were monitoring us when we finally got to the beach, reporting back to HQ. 'Sassenachs heading back South now', they affirmed.
So that's just what we did.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Yesterday evening I went over to The Argyle Hotel in Ullapool with Martin and his forester friend Henry who plays a home made drum and didgeridoo. Ullapool is a giant-sized fishing village that is scoured by rip-roaring winds in the winter but that can be a sun trap in summer. Big grey mountains abut the sea, with small trees and bushes clinging precariously to their sides. Lines of white houses and little hotels stripe the hillside and the Argyll is one if those; it is welcoming and warm and we set the PA up then sat down for the supper we were about to sing for. Great food!
The bar was full of expectant listeners, and Martin hit the crowd with a bang. He played several Daintees classics like Little Ref Bottle and Home and a lot of Charlie Poole numbers, with a fair few ragtime instrumentals to change the mood. Henry stood beside him, clearly loving his role as accompanist, and then he did a solo spot with his didgeridoo that wowed the crowd. I played a couple if songs with Martin playing with me and managed to smoke out a couple of Helen and the Horns fans.
The audience kept them going until well after midnight. We drove back in pitch blackness through herds of wandering deer whose huge eyes reflected pools of light from the headlamps; at one point a wiry young stag stood fronting us out right in the middle of the road; his antlers shone like spindly ghostly trees. Suddenly he vanished into the dark and then all we saw were minuscule mice darting across the road.
Martin and Henry will be back at The Argyll later this month.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Punkdaddy's Review of Sunday's Gig at the Prince Albert

Three cheers for the Punkdaddy (aka Phil Byford of Brighton punk band The Lillettes) for creating and maintaining the website for more than ten years. Sadly, some of the Brighton punks are not around any more but everyone's present on this site in glorious technicolour, painstakingly researched and updated by Phil as a labour of love.
He has written a book about the time as well, and I can't wait to read it. I wrote a bit about the Brighton punk scene in The Lost Women of Rock Music but only a bit: Phil has a comprehensive knowledge of the way the whole complicated scene fitted together and has had complete access to bands and memorable figures of the time- as testified by the mass attendance at the site's tenth birthday party at the Prince Albert in 2010.
Phil is also a musician and worked with Dick Damage (a hugely colourful local character who died a couple of years ago); he is just putting the finishing touches on his next album.
His review of Sunday's gig is here: and will no doubt put s smile on the Nightingales' faces as well as mine. Thanks Phil!

Ardent Facebookers may also be interested in Bongo Pete's archive of Brighton photographs from the very early 80s (and some from the very late 70s) here:

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Alan Partridge Cake

Under House Arrest: Dusty and Grime

Not really: I have been to the dump already to jettison some flotsam and jetsam. But all is in disarray and the jigsaw has to be reassembled. I am listening to Dusty Springfield amongst the dust and grime (not listening to Grime, though). De La Soul accompanied scrubbing the teabag stains off the floor near the bin. I bet they didn't imagine that when they were recording all those years ago!
I realsed that when I had limited vinyl discs at my disposal, I used to sing all the time because I knew all the songs and arrangements backwards. I've got several days-worth of iTunes stuff and I listen to it all a lot, but about a quarter of it is awful and I only listen to it because I have to talk about it at work.
It's varied though: now the Streets is playing and I'm remembering Ragga tunes that Sally and Simon used to record at their studio in Leytonstone.
Sally taught me the rudiments of sound engineering and I have started teaching Offsprog One. It can't do any harm can it? The Midi wouldn't behave so we recorded layers of guitars instead and I showed her all the different leads and what they do.
Here comes Memphis Minnie, her voice and tingling guitar cutting through the hiss of old shellac- what an inspiration! (and she can whistle)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Review of Nightingales etc at The Prince Albert

This guy, Alastair Herbert, describes them perfectly:

New Year's Resolution

Not to put broken things in a drawer in the expectation that they will have mended themselves if I get them out again in six month's time.

File Under B

Big Bill Broonzy.


I don't know whether to throw the pink velvet old-lady cushion with the frill away.

Wind Up

I wonder if the key for the wind-up robot will fit the metronome.
I can'e believe that I actually took it back to the shop to complain that it didn't keep time (!).

I Am Dusty

Not Springfield: real dust, so much that I have sat down because I'm spreading it about the room. It is Cleaning Day and everything is now more dirty than it started off, for some reason. Maybe osmosis: it's bleeding in from the street as I empty the house of cack.
But now I have found pencils. They are in an exciting tin with a Mickey Mouse visibility wristband, fuse wire, dried up correction fluid, a miniature blue plastic recorder, some one-size-fits all spectacles from Boots, various decaying rubbers and lots of other stuff like that. The pencils are the best discovery because they are Caran D'Ache crayons (lots of white ones) and I have rammed them into the drawing tin which now needs an elastic band to hold it closed. Oh yes... just found one chopstick in there too. Useful.
I've just sent some of these song sheets (which were coloured with Caran D'Ache crayons) up to Martin. The drawing was supposed to appear in black'n'white in The Glastonbury Free Press, printed on a vintage Heidelberg which they moved laboriously into a field. It even had it's own blog- but then it didn't work. We have printed some colour ones and Martin will sell them online, from his site when both of us have signed them. They are a bit more subtle than this in real life and they are printed on laid paper which has a bit of a texture on it.
Just also been talking to Ian at Damaged Goods and we are hoping that the CD of Helen and the Horns Peel sessions will be out around October time, and there will definitely be a gig or two to promote it.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A Prefect Gig

The promoters Spinningchilli put on gigs which feature bands that recorded sessions for John Peel; this was my second visit to Brighton and I had been really looking forward to it. I love the Nightingales and was also really looking forward to playing.
Offsprog One was hanging out with me and we rolled up to the Prince Albert at soundcheck time; the band was setting up and we chatted to Robert. He was sure that (a) The Chefs had supported the Nightingales years ago (I couldn't remember it) and that (b) their bass player, who is German, had seen me play before. I was secretly sure that neither of these facts were true but I have the memory of a shrew and just went along with it all.
Downstairs, people were assembling, including both Chrisp brothers and their partners (that's Jonathan, who managed The Chefs in London, and Bongo Pete who is probably our number one fan and who wrote the Wikipedia entry about us). Simon Walker came along, he of the band The Simonics who only had members called Simon and Nick, and so did Simon Smith ((ditto) and his sister Sally, who was Helen and the Horns live sound engineer. So did Bruv and his partner, and so did The Punkdaddy himself. It was fantastic to see chums from way back, but also scary. What if I messed it all up?
Thankfully there was such a good atmosphere that the jitters shot out of the upstairs window. I was touched to see The Nightingales watching- gracious gig manners- and I had rehearsed 24 Hours, Records and Tea and Let's Make Up from The Chefs repertoire as solo songs.
Then The Nightingales hit the stage with a powerful wham- boy do they pack a punch! Their songs have evolved considerably since the beginning of time (sorry, punk days) and are complex, with several chapters of music and storytelling in each number. But they are incredibly well-rehearsed without that awful slickness that some bands acquire after gigging a lot.
Fliss their drummer drives them along, the top half of her body dancing behind the kit as she drums, pulling textures and feels and sounds out of an incredible repertoire. The bass player crouches over his bass, attacking its strings like a hungry wolf; the guitarist leaps from rockabilly to African licks with ease. And in front stands Robert, challenging the audience with his suit and spectacles, adventuring with the microphone stand and laughing at his own lyrics (I love it when people laugh at their own jokes!) and secretly controlling the band because it all hangs on his way with a melodic vocal riff. Oddly, I thought of Beyonce's claim to have invented a style of singing that controlled the backing music with its vernacular rhythms...
We loved the way that everyone in the band sang at different times, and the way Robert left the stage and stood in the audience like a proud parent, to listen to his fabulous band. I bought one of their CDs for Offsprog One, and thanked my lucky stars that the whole evening had more than exceeded expectations. We left everyone having a final drink in the bar, picked up a little gossip and drove back to London. I thoroughly recommend any of the gigs Spinningchilli put on- they are great promoters and bands and artists love 'em- so the atmosphere at the gigs is buzzing.
Naturally, today I have been knackered. But two puzzles were solved: the bass player had been at the gig in Dalston where Christy and Emily had played with Gina Birch supporting  and me support-supporting. We talked about the gig and how good Christy and Emily are. I wonder what they are doing now? And the other- Bruv told me that The Chefs had supported The Prefects (the pre-Nightingales band that Rob Lloyd and half the staff from the University of Wolverhampton were in) in that tremendous city in the 1970s. So the doubts were unfounded and everybody else has a better memory than me. I'm not surprised.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Prince Albert Tonight

One last quick run-through of an awkward song, then off to Brighton with Offsprog One to do the Prince Albert tonight. I am going to dig out my vinyl copy of the Nightingales' album tomorrow specifically to listen to their track Bread which sums up life in that 1970s/80s recession perfectly and which forms a nice little set with The Buzzcocks' Boredom.
And they both begin with a 'B'.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Thursday, August 01, 2013


I'm still in song writer mode... today I extracted a metronome and a guitar tuner from my handbag. Somewhere at the bottom of it is a collection of plectrums... and one fell out of the laundry I was hanging up this afternoon.
Now it's time to start rehearsing my own songs for Sunday's gig in Brighton.