Monday, June 24, 2013

Console-ing Passions, Leicester

Off to Leicester's De Montford University later this week to present the final version of my paper on reggae and punk women's bands. I am looking forward to the conference: mixing with academics is a whole different world to the world of music (and the world of lecturing) and feeds the brain no end.
Till then, life is more mundane: I'm washing dusters!

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Ah- should have been at the gig, all you readers who checked out the Eyre Chapel posting yesterday. Someone was filming it for Youtube, I think. It was a Solstice delight.

Rain Cover (Thanks The Mouth Magazine)

Framus: a Project

Not that I need one; in fact it provided the perfect prevarication because I should have been editing sound for a paper I'm presenting at the Console-ing Passions Conference at De Montfort University on Tuesday... I'll have to rise early tomorrow!
I was heading out with my guitar yesterday and firstly had to stop to clear up the debris from my bin bags that a fox had decorated the street with, and then spotted a poorly-looking Framus guitar in a charity shop on the way to the tube station. It leapt into my arms with a pring of recognition, and who was I to resist?
I have spent the afternoon cleaning it with guitar polish, Pledge (mmm, yum yum smell) and Brasso.
In fact, my cleaning was so efficient that I cleaned the brass 'Framus' logo off the top of it.
I found 'Fram' on the floor after it impaled my foot and I'll endeavour to glue it back on tomorrow; it's on the mantlepiece looking sorry for itself. I know this sounds like an example of over scrubbiness but the whole creature was covered with brown sticky stuff, and underneath it the wood has a lovely patina which is gradually revealing itself.
The action is hopelessly high and it has four thick goo-encrusted strings on it so it'll be off to Guitar Hospital for a set-up soon to see if it sounds any good. It will be a loud guitar, judging by the noise it emits when the four strings are brushed. Made in Bavaria: cue lederhosen and red felt braces.
There is news on the Helen and the Horns front! Watch this space....

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Eyre Chapel, Newbold

Lovely gig tomorrow- Eyre Chapel near Chesterfield supporting Martin. It is an intimate and unique venue tucked behind a pub in Newbold Village.
Tickets are available here:

Flying to Brighton

I booked a seagull. Hanging on to its webbed feet, I flew to Brighton for the afternoon to visit the Offsprogs.
The sea was hidden in white vapour. Offsprog One's friend was painting a gallery front black.
'They say the fog is going to turn to mist later on' he informed us.
We looked impressed.
'What is the difference between fog and mist?'
We didn't know, and vanished into the pale gloom.
Later, we picked our way through rubbish. There is a waste disposal strike in Brighton, just like in the 1970s. There seem to be a lot of dried up carrots in the mix.
'I keep standing on nappies', said Offsprog Two.
I bought some silver coloured shoes half price in the sale.
I rode a squirrel home but it was a bit lazy and took ages.
I wished I'd booked the seagull to bring me home again.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review of Martin Stephenson's Stageit Show

What better way to spend a Monday evening than sitting in the kitchen with a box of ripe strawberries and watching Martin's Stageit show? The anticipation articulated by the subscriber chat in the side-bar was a treat too, as we waited for the countdown from as far afield as Greece, Ireland, Sunderland and Cornwall. And wherever you were...
Sitting in front of a painted set from a theatrical production about the life of Charlie Poole, he began with a short-but-sweet rendition of Soloman to check the volume levels- they were fine, and intimate sounding as they should be for a living-room performance. Requests came flooding in from the feed at the side as we heard Nancy, and Martin swapped to a semi-acoustic for a brilliant rendition of Morning Time to a flurry of Nutella jokes from the silent audience across the net. Morning Time is one of those genius songs that makes me yearn to be able to pick like Martin and despite being written years ago it keeps its air of spontaneity whenever he plays it. Channeling Charlie Poole, he played Sweet Cherwine, a self-cmposed song that pays tribute to one of his songwriting heroes. As the concert progressed, Martin became visibly more relaxed and proved he's got the groove with a version of Orange. The drinkalonga Martin guys requested and received Little Red Bottle and an 8-year old fan heard his request for Boat to Bolivia. As the 30-minute mark was reached, Martin played out with Me and Matthew; Stageit allowed and encore an we heard the newish song Ride (Jim Hornsby's fave), some ragtime playing, Slaughterman (one of my faves), the genius song Rain (why hasn't it been covered a million times?) and Colleen, before being played out with the Reverend Gary Davis. The sidebar banter added to the atmosphere and made Martin laugh from time to time.
As you can see, the little e-gig was packed with music. These broadcasts are going to become a regular thing- hats off to Andy Cairns for rounding up the troops for the second concert.
Ta-ra for now!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Declaring Time

I have finished academic paper number one. Every time I looked at it it looked worse, so I decided to call it a day. I was challenging myself so much by the end that I almost turned inside out.
I still think it might be best as a Radio Two show, but I've done my best. Just have to take it into work tomorrow and convert it into a Word file to iron out some formatting glitches.
Paper two I have to disentangle from 30,000 words but I'm looking forward to that. It is more challenging still but it's a lively subject (to say the least).
the rest of today will be spent watching Wallender on catch-up, tussling with a song I'm writing, and later, watching Martin Stephenson's Stageit concert!

Launch: Let's Start a Pussy Riot

Some might say it is postmodern, but actually The South Bank was chaotic  yesterday afternoon. Families collided against each other, and young people with clipboards clutched to their chests like shields looked anxiously for others whose t-shirts matched their own for a sense of community. People sat at tables with leaflets, and a Steampunkish man made announcements through a loud hailer, while simultaneously being photographed and filmed as he apparently gave a running commentary on what was happening now (or should that be 'what is happening now'? Dammit, the moment's passed). Add intermittent showers to the mix and some very firm-to-rude security guards at the doors of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and it was tempting to go home.
But I didn't want to leave without a copy of Let's Start a Pussy Riot in my hands and I'm glad I persevered: and I'm also glad I had the patience to attend the whole event, the launch which had occasional clunky moments and occasionally prompted me to question what artistic freedom is about.
Emily Neu, who put the book together (what a feat! it is a beautiful book) and the editor Jade French (much hard work!) sat together and talked through the process of creating the book briefly before inviting Fox, who had appeared an a Channel 4 TV programme about gender realignment, to talk. Fox has artwork in the book and he is a guerilla artist, pasting photographs of transgender people in public loos. He was joined by Finnish musician and film-maker 'E' who showed a film that told the story of a motley crew of presumably gay men being interrupted in their revels by a group of white-clad homophobic religious people. What bothered me was that the first punch was thrown at a woman, by one of the men. Elias was asked about any controversy thrown up by the film and he said it was mostly to do with the smoking of cigarettes by the actors. I found the film upsetting, because alongside the thread about celebration of (male) gay lifestyles was one of violence against a woman.
I think I was primed by the horrible exhibition that I wrote about yesterday to notice things like this.
However, these feelings soon vanished as Katya joined us via Skype for a very short interview. My skin began to tingle- I found this a profoundly moving moment and I actually started to cry. They have been so brave: witness what has happened to Litvinenko and various other Russian dissidents. I am certain that it is only the international attention that we give to Pussy Riot that keeps them safe. Katya looked so young and vulnerable. I hope she heard our applause.
Then two members of the Pussy Riot collective joined the stage, with their translator (who did a fantastic job). This was truly bizarre. Wearing balaclavas as part of their stated desire 'not to be part of a world that creates stars, celebrities and famous people' (and also I imagined, for safety), they spoke through voice changers and an interpreter (whose voice also took on the Dalek timbre from time to time as she swopped microphones). This was political performance art; occasionally their wisdom was punctuated by a giggle, rendered sinister through the voice-changer. Their message was of individual empowerment: 'We look on our actions as a fight for art'. An audience member asked them if they were afraid when they protested.
'Our actions are more important than fear'.
One of the many reasons that I support Pussy Riot is that they have picked up something that surfaces at times in history and made it their own: the desire for change, and the feeling that the potential for change resides in each individual person in every aspect of their lives.
I felt this at the age of 5 when I was taken on an Aldermaston March by my parents against nuclear weapons. It was embodied in punk and has recently erupted in communities across the world.
This feeling should not just belong to young people. We should never stop caring and never become complacent.
Incidentally, they told us that under Russian law, a prison sentence can be postponed until a convicted person's children are 14 years of age. This makes the incarceration of Nadya, who has young children, all the more brutal. She has only seen her children once a year.
So, to go back to the Finnish video. I have been thinking a lot about artistic and political freedom, partly because of a concern for the proliferation of pornography on the internet. It is difficult to work out what to think and how to articulate it. Perhaps today's personal position is that people who use artistic freedom to abuse other people are abusing freedom itself. But then where does this leave me, the creator of Boriceberg?
The sketch above was drawn because we were not allowed to take photographs. I was going to draw a more finished one but this spontaneous scribble seems more free!
Book available here:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Alternative Guide to the Universe- The Hayward Gallery

This is a weird exhibition. I had expected a much more positive and entrancing experience when I went along with my friend. Nova Castria.
I'd torn a page out of the Guardian and watched a preview on the local BBC News programme and was expecting an afternoon of inspiration.
Instead, I felt a sense of being trapped in the heads of obsessive men, whose attempts to nail down the beauty of life in mathematical schemes and quasi-scientific diagrams reminded me of people at school who seemed to be afraid of the realities of life and who hunkered down spinning protective webs of pencil lines and shooting missiles of carefully formed semi-algebraic numbers and letters at intruders.
That was not the worst of it. As I wandered past a wall of intricately-designed building plans created to represent people by the 'artist' A.G. Rizzoli, I realised that at least two of the buildings were representations of young girls who visited his house to see the exhibitions of his work that he staged there.
I went across to read the information about the lifelong virgin whose work, he says, diverts urges that might be taboo should he put them into practice, or something along those lines.
So the guy realised he was a latent paedophile? So what is his work doing here?
Worse still were the horrible dolls made by Morton Bartlett, who took a year to make each one and learned to sew and knit so he could dress them and then pose them as ballerinas and so on.
I know a lot of women who make dolls and am not expressing a prejudice agains men doing this. But there was something more than creepy about the way the dolls were posed, and the physical early-adolescent bodies of his subjects. Really nasty.
Nova Castria also really disliked the work of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, which she nicknamed 'Reader's Wives'. The guy had photographed his wife in many poses, sometimes naked. Pictures of their claustrophobic relationship scattered the walls with obsessive repetition.
This is a vile exhibition. We felt tainted by it all afternoon, and our visit to Tate Modern was tempered by an over-heightened awareness of what painters actually might be thinking when they create art that features women and children.
Ugh, ugh, ugh!
To be boycotted at all costs.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Big Brother is Watching You

I wrote the song a few weeks ago ( and of course, Big Brother has been watching us for a long time.
Sometimes people who share information on the internet forget that people are watching. And of course, it works both ways: even people who think they are invisible are there, once they step over the e-threshold.
In my blog, I bounce from high to high and probably give the impression that life for me is easy-breezy and fun all the way.
That is because when I set it up in 2006, I was recovering from major surgery and decided only to write positive and happy things and to make the blog a therapeutic start to the day.
In general, I have stuck to this.
I rarely identify my children or other family members and tend not to write about horrible things or things that make me angry (although occasionally I stray over these borders). Nor do I identify colleagues or even friends who don't have a professional profile of some sort.
I know I have my share of stalkers (hello again!).
Very occasionally I tell a whopper!
Blogger will disappear one day, and with it all this writing (you can't save it). The internet is greedy and unstable and market forces come above responsibility to its many users. Just look what happened to Myspace! For example, as soon as a responsibility for paying royalties kicked in, my own daily plays went down from 60 to 2, and I'm not the only artist that this happened to.
I don't bank on the internet, in more ways than one.
Which brings me to banking...
It has always been the case that banks have cheated and exploited their customers- remember the moneylenders in the Bible? I am re-visiting a song that I wrote almost 20 years ago about the banks during John Major's sorry Prime Ministership.
Sorry to be so gloomy- is it the grey skies above?
Time to pick up my guitar again: the best therapy ever!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Gigantic walls of books tower in my living room. We are moving offices at the University of the East and I hadn't realised how my regular raids on the free bookshop in Barnet for music titles, and my capacity for buying second-hand books through the internet, had resulted in such a plethora of cardboard and paper with writing on.
I have two academic papers to write: well, one to finish (two more books arriving next week) and one to start. Every time I think that I'm close to finishing the first one, another question mark appears on its horizon and I have to dig deeper, deeper.
The second one is controversial and feels like setting up one of those life-size wooden people at the end of a shooting range, and waiting to be shot at. So a lot of the research will be to create armour to deflect the shots. That should be fun.
Sometimes I think about a garden shed with a notice on the door saying 'Library'. It would have to be tiny; I haven't got a garden, but I have a yard. Where would I put the dustbin? Perhaps I could hang it from a reinforced washing line.... perhaps I could hang the books in hammocks, from the ceiling.
I have half an album on this computer too. I have to decide whether to keep things simple and manageable (I could do it all myself) or to add musicians and make it complicated (and expensive). I am going to listen this weekend and think about making a decision.
You may have guessed that I am prevaricating. It's time to look at Academic Paper One and change the red bits (=needs attention) to black (=sorted!). Every time I do this, the need for more red bits arises.
As soon as the new-old books turn up and have been devoured, I shall tell the paper: 'You're done!'.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Songwriting Course in London

This one's in London- Hackney to be exact- at The Premises recording studio. It's different to the Dumfries one, being urban and with a solo performance from myself in tutor role, although Ed Harcourt will be doing a masterclass and Paulette Long from the PRS will be along to talk about publishing and so on.
there are still one or two spaces for enthusiastic songwriters, whether experienced or not.
The course lasts four days- email or phone Julia for info.

Artist's Warning

Cough on ink + rub out = smudge


It was hot (some suffered from sunburn), busy (more people than ever) and the quality of songs shot through the tree canopy. I can't get The Windmill and the Orange Tree out of my head, but there were some great songs and some very funny stories (especially Ivan's tale of doing his washing in a stranger's house in a small town in Sweden, thinking it was his mate's house). Claire and Ruth stunned us with their beautiful voices; Liz wrote a charming song about her guitar; Alan Boyd inadvertently became some kind of God and we promised to teach the guinea fowl to chant his name, next time; Martin and Scott were just great to work with and the hotel staff were lovely.
We didn't even mind the midgies on the Friday night although John had an exotically decorated forehead for the weekend. Nice to see Mike, June and Laura, and of course thanks to Andrew Bailey for organising it- and to everyone who came, without exception 'up for it' and achieving personal bests as songwriters.
Have a good year everyone- see you again next time or at gigs before then.
I will be posting news of a London songwriting course later today for anyone local!
Pix: Tim shows how it is done: active, dynamic, draft after draft, practicing till the fingers bleed etc etc. Not. How come his song was so brilliant?
Martin in the magic spot where scattered rhododendron blooms and pine-cones litter the floor of the woods, illuminated by the morning sunshine.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Congratulations to the Auldgarth Songwriters- best one yet, in temperatures that Spain would envy.

Friday, June 07, 2013

No Problem

'No problem', says everyone in Edinburgh, whether there has been a problem or not.
Order a coffee? No Problem! Pay for a train ticket? No Problem!
Very polite, but sometimes nonsensical.
I tried an experiment as I bought a spare t-shirt.
I tried saying nothing at all myself, undertaking the entire transaction in silence.
'No problem', chirped the assistant.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Scottish Accents

The window is open. Do blackbirds in Scotland sing in Scottish accents? I read a while ago that ducks (I think it was ducks) quack differently in different locations.
I can confirm that pigeons coo 'You stupid b*gger' wherever they are.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Rock in' At The Hostel

The Ware Rooms in Carliol Square is a big, friendly wooden room that had been crying out for rockabillies to go there and play.
Along came Martin Stephenson and his idea for Rockin' at the Hostel (there is a youth hostel attached), and on Sunday evening an assortment of guitars, double basses and a cocktail kit turned up alongside a group of enthusiastic musicians, and soon the room was rockin'.
Sugar Doll started the evening with an amazing selection of retro sounds, real toe-tappers; I did a short set and was joined by Martin, Joe Guillan and John Cavener for a Stephenson's Rocketts version of Freight Train and Rockin' Girl, which we last played about four years ago on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Impressively, Joe still remembered the guitar solo of Freight Train.
Then Jim Hornsby joined Martin for some fingerpickin' tunes and they played a short set of mostly old timey songs and instrumentals and got the crowd laughing and ready for more.
Next up were the Honey Bop Trio, who consist of Hannah (acoustic guitar and lovely vocals), Dave on rip-roaring electric guitar and John on double bass (bowed for the first song). They have a brilliant set of songs and Hannah has a voice to die for. She used to sing for the Kentucky Cowtippers and did a good job with them, but in this trio she really has the opportunity to shine.
Little Mary joined them for a couple of songs- wow what a big voice!
Finally, Colin Mee and Mandy took to the stage with Joe on scorching guitar, and gave us the performance of a lifetime. Mandy plays a white double bass and never lets up with the rhythm, smiling that beautiful smile; Colin dances wildly as he plays intricate rhythms on the cocktail kit or thrashes his acoustic guitar with a fiver wedged in the strings to make the sound percussive, his big voice booming through the room like a healthier young Johnny Cash. Joe slices the air into shreds with his scorching solos. The Mee Kats got us up dancing!
In between, Sugar Doll slipped to the decks and treated us to more sounds that perfectly complemented the evening.
Three cheers for Martin for putting on such a fun night and for all the musicians for being such fun and so brilliant. I came away inspired and energised and humbled for being on a bill with an array of  such truly talented musicians and entertainers. Rock'n'roll on the next time!