Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Old Year, Happy New Year

Wishing all you bloglets at peaceful and positive New Year, wishing us all power to change what so badly needs to be changed, and wishing for a return to kindness and compassion in our political world; hoping for international rationality and an end to the prioritisation of money over human beings.
Just one or two simple things!

Mother Goose at The Hackney Empire

Panto is a wonderful tonic for the post-Christmas fatigue and gloom: unsubtle, joyous, inclusive, nostalgic, loud and colourful: you just have to jump into the river and go with the flow. Don't resist; don't try to be a cultural reader; don't try not to join in!
In pantomime reside the remnants of music hall and in east London pantomime is perfectly urban, multicultural and simultaneously modern and old-fashioned.
The Hackney panto is a full-blown rose, with some great singing and the marvellous Clive Rowe as the pantomime dame, wearing costumes that challenge Grayson Perry in all but sexual content.
Everyone in the cast knows their craft thoroughly enough to keep the pace at one hundred miles an hour (after a strangely slow first five minutes).
I'm afraid I don't know any of the other cast names but the Good Fairy had such a fabulous singing voice that it sent shivers down my spine; the bad fairy did a hilarious bit of ad libbing that made the Dame quip: 'At last... a bit of the script we recognise!' when she got back on the rails again.
It was bright, funny (oh those awful jokes: so lazy that when he has a cold he sticks his nose out of the window so the wind can blow it), risqué with some perfectly placed adult moments that soared way above the children's heads, great musical interludes (the cheesy version of Happy had a neighbouring little girl dancing deliriously, and transcended the cheese by making so many children, well, happy), digs at bankers, gentrification and Guardian readers (they know their audience) and colourful, colourful costumes.
All this and strawberry or chocolate ice cream in the interval too!
We were accompanied by a fellow academic and her taxi driver partner. I was concerned in case it was all just too silly, and I didn't dare look. The bad fairy appeared. 'BOOOOOOOoooo....' ricocheted a deep voice from further along the row: 'BEHIND YOU!!!!'.
Pantomime is for everyone, innit!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday Mistakes

Not made today, necessarily, but I have a lot of things to fix after arranging stuff in a rush before Christmas. But we did have a zoned-out morning painting pottery plates and mugs at The Painted Pot in Barnet this morning, my birthday gift from Offsprog One.
It was a great idea, and we had the place to ourselves. The air hummed with concentration; it was brilliant post-Christmas therapy and I'll post a picture of the resulting plate after it's been fired (and theirs too if I can).
We poured out paint for each other, admired each others' work and each worked on entirely different ideas. As always with arty stuff, you have to know when you're finished and not start another bit that ruins it. I think we managed...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sticky Floor

The kitchen floor was reluctant to relinquish my feet this morning so I filled the sink with water and gave the floor a good wash. Now it's still a bit sticky (Persil's not meant for cleaning floors) but it certainly smells nice.
Which reminds me of the ultimate sticky floor, even stickier than the one at The Marquee: the stage at the Twelve Bar (soon to be sticky no more) which was so historically sodden with beer that even my relatively light frame made the stool that I was sitting on (when I was a sit-down player) sink about five centimetres into its mushy black surface.
More swamp than floor, it was an astonishing example of rock'n'roll seediness that was only rivalled by the makeover of the toilets that rendered them more smelly and 'flood-prone' than they had been in the first place.
O Twelve Bar, I love you.
Please don't go!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Two Minutes Left

If I was spending Christmas alone, this is what I would be listening to! There are 87 two-minute songs on this compilation on Linear Obsessional Recordings including one that I wrote specially, where you can hear next door's dog barking in the background. 87 free downloadable tracks- Merry Christmas!

https://linearobsessional.bandcamp.com/album/two-minutes-left

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: The Haunted Highway by Martin Stephenson

Martin arrived yesterday, and so, later, did Rob Ayling with a box full of the Haunted Highway, the latest album by Martin Stephenson and The Daintees. This album has been a long time coming, having to fit in with Martin's hectic touring schedule, with recording by Jason Howe at The Premises Studio, and the stems then travelled to Aidrie to be mixed at Beetroot Studios. And now, here is is. Let me talk you through it....
The personnel apart from Martin are John Steel on guitars, bass and keyboards, Kate Stephenson on drums and vocals, and additional vocals by Alex Smith, with some additional acoustic guitar from Stuart MacLeod, who mixed it. Martin produced the album, and it is the latest in a long line of productions for his Barbaraville label, but more of that later.
The album features two instrumentals, Johnny Red and Mahina. Mahina is a surfing track that rides the guitar feedback and conjures up urban landscapes as the drums drive it along. Both this and Johnny Red, the1960s- flavoured garage band track, show off the musicianship of this band, which has honed its skills through both a substantial touring background, and long-distance e-recording.
Of course, the songs are the heart of the album, and Martin is in fine voice, sometimes sounding like Jim Reeves on the more country style songs (Haunted Highway, which is a country-gospel song that lives in Nashville and has the potential to be covered by many different voices: you hear me, Nashville?), and sometimes calling on his inner Chet Baker as on the sublimely beautiful and intimate Wishing Stone which highlights the flow of his fingerpicking (and is actually my personal favourite as a track). Hobo Trains is a spiritual take on West Coast rock that features a rockin' drum solo from Kate and energetic backing vocals from Alex.
There is so much to sing along to here: Let Your True Love Show, a reggae song with a lovely vocal that is probably the singalongest song on the album; Backhouse Tipping, which reminds me of card sharps and snooker sharks; Stanstead Ground with its relaxed groove. The inner cowboy is channelled by Black Eyed Rose, where John Steel's twanging guitar calls on the spirit of Ennio Morricone and Hank Marvin simultaneously. The last song on the album, Ride, is an anthemic song that will transfer to the football terraces with ease (need a new song, Newcastle United?); actually, maybe this one is the catchiest one?
The band are playing tonight at The Borderline where we will be selling preview copies of the album. I will be playing too and so will El Cid, Martin's daughters band that also features Rupert Hughes, son of Hurrah, another Kitchenware band.
Inside the package is a compilation CD of tracks by all the artists Martin has produced over the last couple of years, the result of months of work mixing, editing, planning and arranging. Listeners will find this to be full of gems, and to be reviewed at a later date.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Slits Documentary

A documentary about The Slits is under way, and this morning I did an interview for it with a gentleman named Bill. He has found a remarkable number of people to speak to: Tessa, Viv and Palmolive, Dr No, Steve Beresford, Gina, and farther afield, Budgie in Berlin.
Strange to be in the office at work, with a shiny nose (dammit, why didn't I bring the ancient face powder that I sometimes wear on stage?); things got remarkably philosophical for a Friday morning in a greige office with the occasional accompaniment of distant drumming students who had to be muted for the occasion.
If you do interviews like this, you explain things to yourself in the process. Or maybe not if you do hundreds of the bloody things and you learn to repeat your angle in many variations of the same theme.
This morning's self revelation was the idea of being born noisy, with arms and legs flailing free, and the purpose of one's upbringing as a girl being to subdue the movement of the arms and legs, scrunch you up, put a hand over that noisy mouth, and pack you into a box to put on a shelf until a husband comes along.
This is what it felt like to me to be brought up in the 1970s. And then along came punk and The Slits who flung their arms and legs around and shouted at the tops of their voices. What a liberation! I hate to say this but punk was much more liberating than women's liberation for my generation. It was amazing to be able to SHOUT at last, fling your arms around, be a noisy tomboy and Not Care.
Just before I left Geordieland for the Deep South, which I knew to be full of what I called 'innitawfuls', a Geordie man who I didn't even know except by sight came up to me and told me I'd become all shouty and American. So apart from the fact that McMum was American anyway, I suppose I must have been about ready for punk when it happened. Yes, I was.
During the filming I worried about my facial shine, and I worried about saying incriminating things or plastic things that could be stretched to mean something I didn't believe in. I am still smarting from being misrepresented at a talk that I did a few weeks ago, where what I said didn't fit in with what the organisers expected me to say so they made it look as though I'd been really stupid, or as one woman said, 'naive'.
But Bill seemed like a decent guy and we talked a lot about what other people he'd spoken to had said, in particular about the nasty violence that lived under the punk umbrella. Thank God the music was so brilliant; yes there was some ear-bleeding noise but there were some brilliant songs amongst all that noise, and most of all it was a world of fabulous ideas and experimentation.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pins and Needles

I have just discovered that live Christmas trees shower needles on to the floor at an alarming rate. The little feller has been out in the yard waiting for the Right Time to come in to be decorated; today was the day, and I snipped it out of its sausage skin net to liberate the fuzzy branches. They sprung outwards and started the needle shower immediately. I wound the tinsel round it; needles fell off it. I wound the lights round it; more needles fell off. Every decoration prompted a spiny torrent until the rug was completely hidden.
The vacuum cleaner gobbled the lot in one go, but the occasional sly needle slips off it when I'm not looking. Will it be bald by Christmas?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Delilah

The year has been sweet and sour, dark and light.
I asked Samson what to do.
'Well, Delilah cut off my dreadlocks and now I am different; I am no longer a raging bull'.
I thought about bulls and China shops.
There is a different way to be, I thought.
You don't have to be stuck where you are, defined by other people's kaleidoscopes into an unrecognisable blob in the mirror.
So I cut off my hair.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Literary Joke

What did the writer of 'Wuthering Heights' use as a dictionary when she was lost for words?
A Brontesaurus.

The Saturday Urban Walk

What a beautiful sunny frosty morning it was! On a day like this it's a crime to stay indoors, and I decided to have a walk through town. By the time I got to Warren Street the tubes began to get crushed with Christmas Shoppers so I got off and started to walk.
The camera on my iPhone has stuck on 'Video' and won't budge. I would have liked to photograph the vintage tiles in The Dairy Cafe, with their kitsch portraits of Friesian cows and grass. I delighted in the shabbiness of the cafe, which the men in suits will plan to steam-roller into oblivion once they realise it's there, in order to erect a monument to fashion branding, or an outlet for a cafe chain.
Left, right, I walked, I turned, and found myself in Marylebone High Street, where I once found a fantastic oddly-shaped checked dress in the Oxfam shop that I wore until it became threadbare.
The Conran Shop was packed, and I listened to the floorboards creak under the weight of well-heels.
I popped into Divertimenti and marvelled at the different pastel colours it's possible to buy an Aga in. I went into the Oxfam Shop but my checked dress wasn't there. I had bought it about ten years go, you see.
I went into the Scandi shop and thought about Norway; there were lots of elves and lost of wholesome wooden toys. I was tempted by the Moomintroll scissors, but left them in their safety case.
I stopped for a coffee in a Lebanese cafe (what superb coffee!) and headed for John Lewis's perfume department where a French gentleman tried to persuade me to buy some very expensive perfume, but I settled for a hearty squirt from the sample bottle on each of my wrists.
I walked down across Carnaby Street and through Soho, bouncing though the crowds like a ball in a bagatelle game. Berwick Street is being 'done up' so I imagine the stalls won't be able to afford the rent hike that Westminster Council will introduce. Hooray Henries and their Hurray Wendies will take the place of the horde of 'straight' gay stall holders who used to sell weeping whole cartwheels of Brie and tin bowls of grapes and red peppers; sourdough bread and organic pheasant will be on sale instead to service the bankers that now inhabit the once-seedy upstairses.
Soho used to be a scary place but also a mind-your-own business place. Oddly, going out at night in Soho felt a lot safer than going out in somewhere like Kilburn, which was full of drunks looking for a fight or an argument with anyone, whether male or female. Soho had trannies and sex workers and embarrassed clients who would do anything to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
I didn't go to the comic book shop today, but carried on to Covent Garden. The Dover Bookshop seems to have gone. What a pity! I liked browsing through their peculiar and quirky titles. There are upmarket vintage shops there now. Covent Garden is still interesting, just. High-end fashion shops are starting to cluster in the area but confident little shops like The Natural Shoe Store and Les Nereides, which sells mad French ear-rings, send semaphore support signals to shops like Stanford Maps that seem bewildered still to be there. Should I carry on to Charing Cross, and perhaps cross over the river to Waterloo? I scanned the entrance to Leicester Square tube station; it was reassuringly empty of travellers.
Time to go back for a cup of rosy lea before the crowds decided to head home.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Greetings


Holly Golightly at The Lexington

I've got some of Holly's CDs but I've never seen her live so I was delighted to take the opportunity to see this 'homecoming' gig at The Lexington on Wednesday, a rare UK outing because she's now located across the big deep pond.
The Lexington somehow feels like home to me, and I do hope it escapes the dreadful fate that is inflicting so many of London's music venues (the 12 Bar has just succumbed to the Tory axe) as the city is culturally cleansed of anything that doesn't wear a dark suit and smell of money.

As soon as Holly hit the stage her easy persona radiated over the crowd, who all started smiling as a reflex; they knew that they were going to enjoy this, right from the start.
How to describe her voice? At times it was positively Partonesque and at other times, I thought of Edith Piaf doing boogie-woogie, although there was none of that Piaf wobble: it was more the dedication to the song that came through the singing. Holly is a songster, that old-fashioned idea of the collector and disseminator of songs that should be heard and often aren't. I could hear a lot of blues influences in the music although she's not a hollerer; she sings as though she's speaking to us and we feel like we're her pals, and her love for her material whether covers or not transmits perfectly clearly through this sparkling PA system (hello Serge- you're a great sound engineer!).
In the song 'Your Love is Mine', the audience sang backing vocals, carolling away and encouraged by Holly's smile and the band, who definitely know how to groove. The set list became a prop; it could quite possibly have been a blank sheet of paper. It was picked up and discarded, flapping into the dark and then flapping back up again: 'We've got the words, we've got the pedals, we've got it all going on!', she joked to her guitarist. The most challenging song was 'My Love Is', performed just with voice and double bass. It was absolutely beautiful and brought a tear to my eye.
Just beautiful.
I had to leave before the end but I left with a lot of thoughts in my head about the young people I teach grappling with the concept of authenticity in music. I've had a whole term of it, and we still explore, quibble, argue, examine, excavate....
As I walked up the road, the word 'genuine' appeared in my head, and that's the best way to describe Holly and her band The Brokeoffs. I hear they are in the studio recording a new album. Great playing from all of them; I was inspired and this morning I woke up and wrote a blues song!
http://damagedgoods.co.uk/bands/holly-golightly
http://www.hollygolightly.com/

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Virous

Today, nursing a headache and sore throat. Tomorrow, mini-review of the Holly Golightly gig at The Lexington last night.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Oslo

Thank you to the University of the East for enabling me to go to the Art of Record Production Conference in Oslo!
Oslo was a little foggy and the temperature was below zero a lot of the time but the atmosphere of the conference itself was warm and extremely friendly. It's a unique blend of people- not only from the academic community but also producers, engineers and artists, all approaching record production from different angles and genres.
One highlight was attending a presentation that included a Beyonce song as an example, and a member of the audience saying 'Well yes, I engineered that track and...'.
Wow.
I also went to sessions on copyright (an oblique interest) and sound/genre (ditto) and wore out an entire pencil with scribbling notes and observations all the way through.
Although I didn't have a paper to present because much of the summer was spent in Edinburgh or travelling between Edinburgh and London, I wanted to go to hear what Susan Rogers had to say. Susan engineered a lot of Prince's material in the 1980s and she was really interesting. There were other people that I had some great conversations with (more to come on that later) and a lot of very interesting talk about the influence that, for instance, Mobile Phone playback is having on mixing.
Visiting a city for a conference is weird because you see lots of conference and not much city, although we did take a bit of time out to visit a Christmas market that sold things made of reindeer skin, manned by a genuine Lapp shopkeeper, and the lovely clapboard houses seen from the train out to the University of Oslo made me want to live there!
The Norwegians were great hosts which meant I didn't get a chance to run through my horrible vocabulary of Norwegian swear words, learned at Bellingham International Camp when I was 17. Never mind; that's not much to complain about.
The food was yummy too.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Wallace Collection

I had a lovely morning with Caroline at The Wallace Collection yesterday
Our favourite painting was of a Dutch woman in a stylish cap who was making lace, by Caspar Netscher. On the floor in the painting were two discarded mussel shells, symbolising the fact that she had not been allowed to come out of her shell and was making lace as a means to control her. The gallery assistant, Zeta, told us that the painting had been presented at auction twice and nobody had wanted to buy it.
There were other paintings by the same artist- some of women playing musical instruments.
Dutch interiors are fascinating glimpses into the history of homes, a history that is all too often hidden or forgotten.
The Wallace Collection is fabulous; just a glimpse of those rococo frames makes me really happy before I've even looked at the paintings, and they even have special clock-winding events!
Oh yes- and The Laughing Cavalier lives there, too.
http://www.wallacecollection.org/

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Covent Garden Conversation

A couple of weeks ago Offsprog Two was in Covent Garden when she saw two members of Pussy Riot shopping in Rokit. She texted me to tell me, and then again to say that she had gone up to them to tell them that her Mum had contributed a drawing to the 'Let's Start a Pussy Riot' book. They said 'Tell your Mum thank-you'. What a lovely exchange; how I wish I had been there too. I still think they are up there with Malala as the bravest young women on Earth.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Snippet of Frank Ocean

I've just listened to a snippet of Frank Ocean's new material. He's sounding very D'Angelo but also pleasingly low fi. Having recorded a track on my iPhone last Saturday at home (satisfyingly typo'd as iPhome before I corrected it) I am now of the opinion that low fidelity is the way forward. My song has the cars going past, and a nice fade out featuring next door's dog, as well as some imperfect sounding vocals and a bit of clumsy playing here and there. But it is spirited and it seems like a logical step forward from recording 'Anarchy Skiffle' live in Colin's garage in Darlington in February. Here's to the authenticity of the occasional mistake.
Oddly enough, Frank Ocean's track reminded me of Billy Childish's kitchen recording that you could hear him switching the tape recorder on/off in, at the end of each line as he was making the song up. You can hear Frank pottering about briefly at the start and end of the track. Very blues: singing the line twice or three times while you think up the punchline. And also an impressionist painting too, where there are no sharp edges to trip over and kill the imagination.
Frank Ocean on Soundcloud: Memrise ( sorry no italics today; the iPhone touch screen is being anarchic)

Grey Friday

Nope, I'm not buying things because the media says I should. I'm selling things instead, to fund a new laptop. I haven't had one for two years and my copy of Logic Audio is slowly vaporising as my desktop computer approaches its dotage.
I'm rummaging through my old clothes and suchlike, and aiming for the January sales when computers are cheaper; with any luck I'll be recording a new album during the gloomy winter months if the dog next door stops barking for long enough! I have the songs, I have the guitar....
Which brings me to the Bloomsbury Tavern in WC2 on Saturday evening at Lucie's Lounge. Lucinda Sieger has invited me along to play, and my dear friend Nick Page aka Dubulah is going to join me for a few songs at the very beginning (7.30) and then I'll do short set later on. Lucie sings lovely songs, there are more musicians playing and it's all for only £5.00. It should be a lively warm hearted evening.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Early

I awoke very early indeed this morning in a mass of palpitations; butterflies fluttered across my chest and I had to get up and start the day as a distraction. Later, I remembered that today was McMum's birthday and wondered if I was programmed to feel disturbed by that fact; the butterflies eventually settled as practical concerns took over.
The last tutorials for my thesis group were therapeutic; they have worked very hard and their subjects are all interesting. Even the Permanent Absentee turned up, all flustered and urgent. We did what we could; let's hope all that intensity and days-in-the-library pay off for them, the sons of feminists with gracious manners and a good work ethic.
This evening, more therapy: I went to see Royal Limp at Electrowerkz, Despite having concussion, Andy did a great front-man job. I have a new fave song, Public Transport Blues, and I've now decided that they sound like early Modern Lovers. I strewed some of my Guerilla Warfare comics about the place; a man picked one up to read, but put it down again. It was very dark, so he probably couldn't see it.
Over and out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ironing

I'm looking at a big bag of ironing that doesn't, strictly speaking, feel like mine. It's been waiting since the summer for this moment: it's the winter clothes eBay bag, which still contains the summer clothes which I didn't get around to selling in the appropriate season.
The problem with ironing is that you need a TV show without subtitles to iron to, so that you can look at what you're doing, or one with so much action that you can listen in and glance up occasionally. Unforchly, Columbo won't do because we aways know whodunnit at the beginning rather than the end, and rather tediously, have to watch Columbo being clever, and knowing how clever he's being, all the way through.
No.
As I consider the available options, I've taken to the blog, site of prevarication.
I've been receiving bulletins from Martin who has in his northern corner of Scotland caught no less than three mice in the humane trap he bought yesterday. He was talking about tagging them with Tippex to see if it was the same mouse coming back from a long way away where he dropped them off.
I told him about the Blue Peter experiment with snails whose shells they marked before dropping them off in distant gardens, only to find that they had a fantastic homing instinct and turned up again in their source garden no matter how long it took.
The problem is that to catch a mouse to tag it, you've got to catch the mouse.
Hmmm.

Yesterday I wrote a two minute song for a compilation, which I will tell you more about later on. I recorded it using my iPhone, which picked up the clock ticking, cars whooshing past the window, and of course next door's dog which was barking relentlessly as usual.
When I have asked them to take it out more, perhaps, or get someone to take it for a walk when they are not there because the constant barking and whimpering becomes overwhelming, the neighbour says 'He doesn't bark'.
It will not be long before I call the RSPCA to report them for their neglect ; I think they might then realise that their dog does, indeed, bark.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sketching In The Fog

What could be better than sketching in the fog? It may be cold and damp out there but there are still beautiful things to look at, picked out against a white sky or looming out of the grey mist. We drew a pile of tables stacked in front of a couple of tepees, their silvery wood shining in the gloomy daylight. We drew two diggers that moved at crucial moments as though they realised that they were being drawn and were self-consciously adjusting themselves in response to the scrutiny. They did exciting things, like lifting up a metal beam with a chain and moving it a fraction of a centimetre across the site, or scraping the mud in a big bucket with goofy teeth. Their pistons shone, they rotated and gyrated, and they roared. Wonderful! Little distant men in hard hats and high vis jackets pottered and pulled levers.
It got bloody cold.
We went for tea and cake.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Joke

What do you call a person who posts nasty messages on a supermarket's website?
A shopping troll.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Feral Five

I've been wanting to watch Feral Five for yonks, having shared space on the Ralph's Life CD last year that raised money for mental heath charities.
This gig was to celebrate the launch of a compilation CD by the band/label Gertrude called Songs About Women (in the 21st Century) at the Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel Road. I'm sorry not to have got there earlier because it had clearly been a really successful night, but it was great to have the opportunity to see Terry and Andy at last. The photo shows them just before their set.
How to describe their sound? Well, I scribbled various things in my illegible hand as the set proceeded. I'm a compulsive influence-miner, so
'Dr Who dark theme' and 'Siouxsie Quatro' summarised the first song. They play guitar/percussion (Terry) and bass (Andy) and are accompanied by a computer beatbox that thankfully doesn't dominate the sound. I like it when computers know their place, and walked out of a gig a couple of weeks ago after seeing the Macs lined up on stage and overhearing the shocking arrogance of the producer just before the act came on (and didn't review it, because it was so upsetting).
Everything here builds around a deep dark, dirty bass groove, sliced up into chunks with electric guitar attacks or neat riffs; Terry sings acerbic lyrics over these sounds and the computer contributes atmospheres and beats underneath it all. Sometimes Terry, Andy and the drum machine nod in the dark to techno, and sometimes Jungle underpins their music. Sometimes they could be the B52s without the hysteria.
Strung Out is murder disco of the first order;  I wonder if they've been listening to Sylvester? Over the grumbling and thwacking in the background, Terry's almost bratty boy-sounding vocals are a refreshing change from the over-Beyonce'd or hyper-Adele'd norm, relating much more to punk than to the music-college honed perfectionism that sometimes seems to have taken over all of the space in the universe. She has a upbeat and clear-sounding voice that delivers these short, punchy songs with aplomb.
People are dancing and in the audience, and for the first ever time, I see women headbanging.
The new single Angel Road is a stunner. Terry uses a builder's mallet and scraper as percussion and Andy takes to the microphone; the beats are sparser, and the bass line reminds me somehow of the style of Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth. Lush-sounding electronic noise moves through the track, which conjures up a sense of emptiness and loneliness and begs to be the theme tune for a black and white film about Kansas, post tornado. They encore with Germ Free Adolescents, joined by a sax player. Although this is a very different version to Poly's, I think she would be very flattered at the thought of her song being re-worked so many years later.
The Gertrude tracks can all be heard here and downloaded for free:
http://gertrude.bandcamp.com/album/songs-about-women-in-the-21st-century
And you can hear Feral Five here: http://feralfive.moonfruit.com/
It was great to see Felix in the audience; she has been helping female musicians for a long time and she did a great interview last year for this current research I'm doing. And Rasha was there too; keep in touch!
Confession: the first thing that I wrote in my  notebook was a comment about the disgusting toilets at the Rhythm Factory. Owners, whoever you are, if the punters knew just how much money you make out of flogging them alcoholic drinks that send them scurrying to your horrible bogs, they would be scandalised. Get a grip!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Is What I Do

Academic life certainly has its ups and downs; after a grim Wednesday, Thursday was completely uplifting. One of the reasons that I've been so busy (I believe I may have mentioned nine-hour admin days a few times) is that just before term started, the lecturer due to deliver a series of business lectures was offered a full time job elsewhere.
Instead of booking another series of lectures from one person, I decided that the students would benefit more from people coming in to talk to them about what they actually did in the world, and the ups and downs (see above) of their professional practice. This has happened a little bit before, but not as a matter of principle, and it's proving to be very interesting and well worth it.
It started off with a visit from David Sheppard, who wrote On Some Faraway Beach (about Brian Eno, see http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/jul/18/some-faraway-beach-brian-eno), writes for Mojo, edits Art and Music  and is also a practising musician, see https://www.facebook.com/ellisislandsound
After lulling the students into a sense of security by his self-deprecating style, they gradually began to realise that they were in the presence of a genius of lateral thinking and they ended up listening with church-like stillness to his strategies and imaginative troubleshooting; he has had the ability to capitalise on accidental opportunities to quite an extraordinary degree.
The following week, Colleen Murphy, former protege of David Mancuso and who started up and runs Classic Album Sundays http://classicalbumsundays.com/ came along and wowed them with her energetic focus. Completely different, she shone a light on the ways that an idea can grow from a small event run in a living room to a worldwide franchise.
Joe Boyd and Nile Rodgers have both spoken at her events; now that's an event!
Hot on their heels came Urban Development http://www.urbandevelopment.co.uk/ who run events and advice sessions for up-and-coming musicians in East London and beyond. So useful, so well thought through and such an opportunity; they run music industry events at the University of the East: well worth checking out!.
Next up came Gina Birch, to talk to them about her journey from punk musician and artist to film-maker and Glut, taking in all of the ups and downs on the way (or many of them, anyway). 'Kinda cool, isn't she?' commented one of the students afterwards. Well, she certainly is, and she's about to go to Paris with Ana Da Silva; and someone's writing a 33 1/3 about the Raincoats' first album at the moment as well. http://ginabirch.net/theginabirchexperience/front_page.html
On to Thursday; we had a delightful visit from Ian Damaged of Damaged Goods Records http://damagedgoods.co.uk/ who, he told us, had never spoken to students before. It was an amazing talk, a mixture of anecdotes and advice, delivered in a really positive and engaging way. Information flowed out of him and the students were rapt and crucially, laughed at all the funny bits so I knwo they were thoroughly attentive (that's the lecturer in me speaking)
I felt privileged that they have released The Chefs and Helen and the Horns back catalogues, and I'm looking forward to having time to mine through some of their other stuff again (Penetration are there, and of course Billy Childish, the genius of being indefinable).
Tired? You bet I am, especially because I finished my chapter for The Music Entrepreneur and sent it off yesterday morning. I slept for 12 hours last night, only waking to take a fleeting and crackly phone call from Martin in Devon, who is travelling around and gigging constantly at the moment. the Daintees have a beautiful new album out soon, you just wait and see.
Below: with Ian from Damaged Goods, both lightly dappled by a Powerpoint projection of the website. Frowning because there's a projector shining in our eyes. Art, innit?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Editing

Strange that the first manifestation of the research that I've been doing for the past four years is to be a chapter in a book about music entrepreneurship! It has been quite a pressurised experience writing it because of what was happening earlier in the year and I'm now re-editing it after the editors' comments (it's actually been more of a re-write). Every morning I print it out, every afternoon I re-read it, and every evening I make corrections. Really, there's only one more day to go and it's winging it's way over to my work computer as I write this, to be printed out tomorrow and read tomorrow afternoon.
I have become a ruthless slash-and-burn reader of my own work, all the more so because of the lack of time. 'What's this rubbish?' I bellow at myself (well, silently in my head), and I press the delete button, or the copy-and-paste as large chunks of text vanish from one part of it and reappear in the next.
The pink fluorescent marker pen has run out of ink and the Editor's Pencil has travelled back and forth many times between my fingers and the convenient slot behind my ear. Nearly 7000 words have swirled and swarmed like a murmuration of starlings and landed in line on the screen in front of my bespectacled eyes.
On Friday morning, the chapter will fly off into the sunset, and on Saturday I'll go out to play.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Exciting Afternoon

Well, it was a combination of fun and learning things. The students at the University of the East have been writing songs for the last six weeks and this afternoon was their opportunity to listen to each other's group songs.
It was a bit haphazard, but the first group managed incredibly well given that some of their members were missing. We heard hooks, a good rhythm, some lovely chord sequences and a very interesting guitar sound.Then one of the other groups had to play an instant cover version of their song!
They did a remarkably good job, especially since the song they were covering only had a verse and no chorus ( one of the missing members had that in their head, I think). But we could hear the bits they remembered: quite a lot, as it happens.
We listened to the next song, a full group this time, who had everyone whooping and bouncing around: good performers. They had a very earwormy chorus, and two rappers which made things rather difficult for the group that had to do an instant cover of their song; they had one female singer!
But it was fine, because goodwill carried them along.
The third group had run away and left one poor member shrinking at the thought of performing on their own, but I was kind and allowed her to sit the session out; what a pity that they missed the fun.
What's more, all hands were on deck to put the gear away.
That's my kind of afternoon.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Gaps

Marking, innit?
It has been such a busy beginning of year, catching up on stuff I didn't do while McMum was ill, covering for a new member of staff who hadn't started yet (and now he has, and all is good), and after having made a decision to take my research out into the world, doing that.
There has been little time for blogging, hence the copious blog gushing when I actually do get out and about. I would have loved to experience some culture: The Girl of the Golden West, the opera by Puccini at the ENO; various plays; the Conrad Shawcross installation in the car park in Berwick Streeet to celebrate Ada Lovelace; the Abram Games exhibition at the Jewish Museum which is never open when I can get there (get the gentiles to do the door at weekends?). But since the summer I've played some nice gigs (largely thanks to Martin because I hadn't organised anything myself, but also thanks to Spinningchilli in Brighton), talked some talks (Southend's Metal event, the Cybersalon and the Concerts and Colloquia event at Middlesex University) and now I hope will have time to write both words and music, and to draw.
There is still a massive backlog of stuff to do, listed on paper on the table with circles round the 'do today' things, but at least now there is the time and space to do it.
Time, the final frontier.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Distraction from Grooghsvile: Last Night's Rrrants

Let's see what my typing skills are like today. It got to 5 a.m. last night when I finally admitted to myself that I was unwell and wouldn't be able to go to work today. There is a cold prickly boulder in my tum and I'm hoping it's not Norovirus. I wait in suspense.
Let's be positive; I've had to stop working as I'm unable to spell a whole word without mistakes, and I may well abandon this posting if there's too much correcting to do. But last night's gig was fun so here goes...

Last night's Rrrants gig was marvellous; everyone was on top form and there was a great atmosphere.
Martin travelled down in the daytime and we had to have a quick rehearsal which meant that we missed the fabulous Lobby Ludd in all his unfabulousness. I'll never forget the machine he brought on stage once that had horns, cymbals, so many additional features that he became intrigued mid-song and abandoned the audience for a couple of verses until Paul yelled (with great charm) at him to get back to what he was supposed to be doing. Luckily, I now have a copy of his CD to listen to.

We managed to get there in time for Julie Mullen, who sported a gigantic ugly baby with a huge green face and who talked us through her childbirth experience in great detail. The baby didn't seem to mind, remaining impassive throughout, which I though was rather ungrateful of it.
At this point, three fresh-faced young men rather unwisely chose the three seats directly in front of the stage to sit in and provided additional entertainment, especially as the face of the freshest one was readily observable throughout. They looked like happy puppies, lapping it all up along with copious pints of bitter that led to much mockery from the stage (more of that later).
Richard Frost told us a long shaggy dog story; perhaps it was a shaggy horse story, or even a shaggy bear story. Partway through the horse story, he waited for a few seconds. I think the horse had just met a bear, who interrupted the joke. Why the long paws? asked the horse.
Reader, that's right up my shaggy dog street.

Poeterry got up, and pretty Poeterrifying he is too. He loves women....
Dressed in a brocade waistcoat and tails, he tells us in poetry about the various women he has fancied. The audience, a family of eccentrics (who I appear to have become one of as I realised during my comfort break halfway through), know all the words and chanted along very much like a group of primary school children chanting along with teacher to learn a nursery rhyme.

There were other comedians too; Mel Jones thrilled the three fresh-faced fellow with her bawdiness which they absorbed with drunken hunger. Actually, my favourite bit of her set was the compilation of CVs which any of the third years reading this will fully understand. How I wish I'd filmed it to show them!
I think I have written before about the Rrrants night when the Offsprogs came along and were slightly taken aback to hear about middle aged (and post-middle-aged) people's sexual fantasies being articulated as comedy poetry. Looking at it from that perspective, it's refreshing to realise that the miraculous discovery by their generation's rappers that they have penises is really just as silly as everything else.

I've had to miss some acts out, sorry; they were all good!
John Hegley was up next and demonstrated his mastery of stagecraft and audience manipulation. Within seconds, he'd told off the three fresh faced chappies for filming, telling them in the process a neat little anecdote about a recent children's performance where the audience had been asked not to film for fear of spoiling the children's magic. He eyed them sternly when they were restless, and sang songs accompanied by a very beautiful woman on ukelele. Paul and Ian joined him for the Guillemot song on washboard and double bass respectively. By now, John was on the floor in front of the stage, artfully blocking one of the fresh-faced who was attempting to return wobblingly to the front row with a tray laden with overflowing pint glasses.
The audience flapped their wings, made like fish with their hands and laughed.
It was good.

Finally, Martin and myself got up to play our combi-set of his songs and my songs. We started off with Me and Matthew, followed by If You've Got the Blues and then 24 Hours. We played Wholly Humble Heart, Anarchy Skiffle, Little Red Bottle and finished with the Cannonball Rag with Paul, Ian and Steve (who plays with me in Helen and the Horns), who played a rootin'tootin' trumpet solo or two. Lobby Ludd could be heard tootling his kazoo in the background. It was great fun to play as a duo even if the rehearsal was a bit last minute, and at times we hit the groove even though my Telecaster decided to go off-piste at one point and contribute some unintended Hendrix-style feedback.
The Antipoet rounded the evening off with Tights or Fishnet Stockings. Hilariously, after all that had come before, this was the song that made the fresh faced chappies look really embarrassed. Maybe it hit a nerve, or maybe it missed one; I couldn't work it out but I spent the song watching them listen in stunned silence. They completed the evening, really, and at one point I did wonder if they were a deliberate plant recruited from Marks and Sparks menswear department earlier in the day.

Great to see Tom out with his lovely partner, and Wilky and various other chaps and chapesses.
Foolish Girl, where art thou? We miss you!

Thanks in abundance to Paul, Donna and Ian for putting on these intimate, hilarious and warm-hearted evenings. They will be greatly missed: I've enjoyed both performing and being in the audience; could there be a better night out?

http://rrrants.org/


Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Smartees

Many thanks to Zoot Piranha for sending me the demos that Steve Bearsdley made of Smartees songs all the way from New York City!
I can't think why Steve did it; Zoot says we were looking for another drummer to stand in because our existing drummer Ricky couldn't do the gigs. But I think I might also have left the band by then; who knows? It was before I really wrote songs; Thrush was there but Let's Make Up!, which I wrote with Tracy, wasn't.
The Smartees was the band that I was in between Joby and the Hooligans and The Chefs. It was started by Joby, who wanted a band like The Monkees, and it had drifting personnel. I played bass, Steve and Carl played guitar, Tracy and Joby sang, and Ricky played drums. People used to leap on stage from the audience and join in with the singing, which I remember enjoying a lot; there was a darker side because there were a lot of collapsing relationships in the band which is probably why the content of the songs moved from the political to the personal.
Zoot reminded me of just how busy The Piranhas were as a band back then- endless gigging with no break. I don't think they ever really got their due as a band. At early gigs, Madness used to come along and beg for a support slot, but the Piranhas manager wouldn't let them do it for some reason. You can definitely hear the influence on Madness of the early Piranhas explorations of reggae rhythms. Isn't that strange? Madness are seen as one of the quintessential examples of the processing of reggae by a young British band in the late 1970s and early 1980s, yet it was a little Brighton band that provided a lot of the inspiration for that.
While we are on bands... I went to see Offsprog One's band Royal Limp last night at a Dalston warehouse event that was really good fun. There were lots of artists playing and Royal Limp played a short, neat set that revealed a lot of progress since the last time I saw them about a year ago. they were much tighter and more direct and the new song was brilliant. They play songs very heavily influenced (to these ears) by the dronier side of the Velvet Underground; one audience member described them as 'not as miserable as The Fall', which they definitely aren't. Andy, the lead singer has a very amenable stage presence, for a start, and to these ears The Fall sound like chaos of the most pretentious order.  Sorry if you're a Fall fan reading this, but I used to teach a PR person who worked for Mark E Smith and anyone who directs nastiness at working people in manual trades is a rat, a prat, a gnat and a tw.... well you get my drift. Not fair game.
Back to the positive side of things: Andy says they are due to do some recording soon and that's very good news.
Ok, ok, ok, back to marking essays, which I've been doing in one-hour chunks ever since 8.30 a.m. this morning. Could this be counted as a spiritual Sunday activity? I don't think so. Tell you later.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spam

Half listening to the TV this morning was I got ready to go to work, I heard of the new National Spam Bank.
Delicious.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm Here

I'm here, and over there is my coffee... and over there are my lecture notes. Beside me is a USB stick with the Powerpoint on it for this morning.
In front of me are rows of desks and chairs (are there enough? a layer has been removed since last week).
The radiator is trilling as water splashes through it and the windows are jammed open too, so I can hear the traffic roaring down below. It's sunny; I'm tired. There is much to report, but not right now.
I am dressed as a pantomime feminist, in a boiler suit, because I'm delivering a music lecture from a feminist standpoint today. What other standpoint is there, these days?
I  noticed that even the review of Sting's musical in the Guardian today mentioned that all the men's songs focused on grand subjects, whereas the women's songs focused on men.
And there was the story of the woman who painted all the 'big eyes' pictures that were so famous in the States in the 1960s, and her husband took all the credit for them: shortly to be released as a film by Tim Burton.
Ho hum.
Soon, students will start drifting in with their mobiles, Velcro bag-fastenings, and sleepy heads.
I came in early to give them extra help, but they're not here.
But I'm here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The UKIP Song

Strangely, I was talking to a group of students two weeks ago about how odd it was that UKIP hadn't got a band. Other political parties usually have cronies who support them with music and endorsements, but UKIP didn't.
I suppose I was using them as an example of a cultural desert personified, and I suppose that position hasn't really changed.
How can anyone take them seriously? A fake calypso song about keeping foreigners out?
They are surely a joke sent from outer space to parody humankind.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Toadstools

It was Sarah's birthday on Sunday and she and Little Bruv (who is bigger than me, but younger than Big Bruv, who is younger than me but older than him, and also bigger than me) came up for lunch.
Sarah liked the idea of a walk to look for toadstools as she makes lots of crafts, and crocheted toadstools are what she is working on at the moment. So we went hunting.
Most of all, Sarah wanted to find Fly Agarics, the red spotty toadstools that elves sit on, because she had never really seen proper ones. We hunted all over the place and found myriad different toadstools- plump white hair-covered ones, delicate pink baby-ear toadstools, purple velvety ones, fat beige ones, but no red spotties.
There were an incredible number of different varieties- and all completely different form the many different sorts that I'd found when I went up there last year.
I remembered finding a young Fly Agaric nestling behind some grass right beside the road back then so I suggested that we walk along parallel to the road to see if some had reappeared in the same place.
Bingo!
Big Bingo!
Huge great things, almost looking as though they had been deliberately planted there to celebrate Sarah's birthday.
Happy birthday Sarah! Sarah's blog is here http://circles-of-rain.blogspot.co.uk/



Monday, October 20, 2014

The East London Prairies

There are a lot of lost young men on bicycles, searching, searching.
With neatly-fluffed beards and checked shirts, they seek the prairies of East London; they look high and low and they are terribly busy.
I wish them luck but I think they are looking in the wrong place.

Thursday at Chalkwell House, Southend

On Thursday I will be taking part in a panel chaired by Zoe Howe (who wrote the fab book Typical Girls: the story of the Slits and many other titles) and with Enid Williams, who played bass with Girlschool, at Chalkwell House, Chalkwell Park, Southend. It's going to be great, I know. I'm really looking forward to it. We will be talking about guitars and girls playing, and all that. Always a 'now' subject, even now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

9 Hours

I'm looking down the day. It's going to be another nine hourser; I've done a few of these recently which is why I'm too tired to go out a lot of the time. It's mostly admin- booking seven lecturers for the University of the East, all with different but amazing expertise, for instance.
But I'm also writing and refreshing lectures and finishing a chapter on music business entrepreneurship which has a deadline of next week.
That's meant a lot of (very interesting) reading in a new area but my latest trashy detective novel has been splayed out waiting to be picked up on for two weeks, poor papery thing.
I've been hoisting all sorts of unsavoury messes from the back of the freezer. I'm not sure what they are but nothing's killed me yet although I've had a few dodgy comfort breaks and I'm wary of sprouting a pot belly after my posting a few days ago about middle-aged spread.
I'm seriously considering another ten mile walk just to remind my body that gravity exists, and my head should be way up there and my feet, way down there. My working position in front of the computer is becoming disturbingly foetal.
Time to get back to work and mine the pile of post-it notes. What have I forgotten to do?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Middle Aged Spread

I don't have middle aged spread around my middle; well, not much. But I do have middle aged spread  at the tips of my fingers, quite liderally.
For the past few days I have been suffering dreadfully from fat finger syndrome, mis-spelling texts to such a degree that I've been shooting off all sorts of obscenities completely unintentionally.
Luckily, I don't do online banking (because everyone I know who does it regularly loses money from their accounts) so I haven't accidentally paid thousands of pounds to an electricity company, for instance. The obscenity thing is worrying enough; what is more worrying is the fat fingers, though.
Just how fat will they get, and will I still be able to ease them on to the strings of my guitar?
Will I be pressing multiple doorbells when visiting pals who live in flats, or confusing the lift at work, which won't be able to tell which floor I'm aiming at?
Condemned to walk up the stairs forever nursing my chubby digits, the additional exercise will ensure that I'll remain free of middle-aged spread around my middle, but I have resigned myself to a destiny of constantly having my hands picked up in error at the supermarket as they are mistaken for a packet of Wall's Porkinson Bangers.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Martin Stephenson at The Blue Boar in Maldon

The extremely funny and talented Stephen Foster Pilkington and his wife Katy, the lovely opera singer, put on a very quirky gig last night. The Blue Boar is an old, timbered building in the centre of seaside Maldon in Essex, home to sailors one and all. The space is up in the eaves, with beams spanning the inside of the roof, and every wall covered with gilt-framed oil paintings of some very ill-looking men from previous centuries. An enormous carved wooden bureau stands against the back of the stage wall, its lions, maidens and grapes picked out in detail by the portable stage light.
The audience is a smiley, motley crew, who mostly came last time and who feel like friends.
Stephen is first on, and treats us to a set on complete other-worldly eccentricity, tricking even me, the audience introvert, into singing along. Wilko-Johnson-powered  (he loves him), this is a rocket fuelled performance that embeds the lovely and quite serious song Do My Eyes See Everything amongst comedy, farce and tragedy. As he finishes, Katy is invited to join him from the back of the room and she treats us to walkabout opera. You don't get that a a One Direction concert!
I play a quite laid back set apart from The Chefs Let's Make Up, and Martin joins me for Heaven Avenue and If You've Got The Blues. I enjoy singing; the feeling is there tonight. My fingers are obeying instructions, the Telecaster is jangling and I'm happy.
Martin is on form, treating us to a set that includes Morning Time and some of his more introspective songs before launching into Little Red Bottle, at which point the crowd leaps to their collective feet and dances the antiques off the floor. I witness some very tense but enthusiastic Dad dancing, lots of blonde hair swinging about, and enthusiastic laughter. Martin has The Bounce in his fingers, no doubt about that; he never ceases to amaze me with his ability to entertain and turn in a different show every night, bless 'im.

I worry that those ancient pictures lining the wall are somehow the captured and pressed souls of previous audience members, flattened and forced into picture frames and imprisoned forever at the end of the Ball.

Today, I've mostly been asleep. It's been a busy week of work and play. While sleeping, I dreamed that I was running a songwriting workshop which wa excruciatingly embarrassing because I couldn't get it off the ground; nobody had any ideas. Name of the song?
'Wake Up'.
Well, yes.
Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vivien Goldman at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club

Vivien will be coming in to talk to some students at the University of the West next week and I was delighted to go along to her Punky Reggae Perty event on Wednesday. I sat next to Gina, who was filming the evening, and her partner Mike, near the front so we got a great view of Vivien herself and also the slides of some very stylish people from back in the day: Reggae and Punk people both from bands and not. Everyone looked good back then (or maybe that's the rose-tinted specs talking). There was even one of Darlajane Gilroy and her then partner Rick; she appeared on the cover of our Brighton zine Pick of the Poseurs.
It was a really warm-hearted evening with some technical glitches (a microphone that cut out from time to time, and the wrong track selected to play from time to time) but the talk was very powerful.
I welled up when Vivien paid tribute to Poly and Ari, and there was an utterly charming moment when she sang along to Launderette. What a catchy song: it is so much 'of the time'.
I took away with me a visual image of the child Vivien at family parties handing peanuts round to her parents' friends who had Nazi tattoos from the camps on their arms; and a lot of other food for thought.
What an generation of people! We all have different memories and different stakes in the past that are  all equally valuable and all equally subjective.
Without each person creating music, taking photographs, writing, making clothes and fanzines, or putting on events, the whole shebang couldn't have happened. Being punk, even the audiences were just as important as anyone else.
Hats off to Vivien for collecting together such a great bunch of people (Chrissie Hynde, Don Letts, Gina, Andrea Oliver and Neneh Cherry- whose music sadly I missed due to getting up at the crack of dawn to lecture next day- and many more). This was a fantastic evening that sold out very quickly and I'm glad I went; look out for more Punky Reggae Party events in future!
Below: Launderette, and Vivien looking good beside the slide-show at The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

No More Mrs Nice Guy

Making up Powerpoints for my lectures sandwiches between reading assorted books on the music industry, production and trashy crime novels. Life stretches ahead into the future as a series of deadlines, some terrifying, some exciting.
I'm listening to Lover's Rock and eating food that's got an 'Eat By Today' sticker on it, and revelling in the world of ideas that swirls around me.
Through the rain, I run in a squashed-looking hat to the supermarket past swaggering men wielding demolition company umbrellas, shocking them by rounding on them as they snarl sarcastic comments at me.
I have zero tolerance for any sort of abuse or rudeness: no more Mrs Nice Guy!

One night a small team of drunken young men were throwing our bins into the middle of the road and I flung up the window and yelled at them. They were terrified. The police got 'em.
I used to be so timid. Where has this high self-esteem and determined self-defence come from?

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Good Hour

On Friday I sat in front of the computer for nine hours, planning this, juggling that, tidying up loose ends and creating more loose ends, tippity tap on the keyboard, eyes drooping, feet icy even though it was warm outside.....
Today I got to do one of my fave lectures, about voices in songwriting. I love talking about things I feel enthusiastic about. In songwriting workshops you do this in the vernacular but at a University it has to be academic but that's just as much fun. Finding the right scholars to articulate an idea that originated on the street, or something that everyone knows but nobody says: it's like being a detective. And next week I get to play them The Cocteau Twins, and some Kurt Weill, and maybe even Marlene Dietrich. And the Maddox Brothers and Rose, X Ray Spex, Cher and Space Lady.
Shall we have a disco afterwards and dance to Northern Soul, or shall we watch a film? Les Parapluies de Cherbourg?
My living room is wall to wall books and you can't sit on the kitchen chair because there's a pile there too. Post-it notes sprout out of them at regular intervals and there is a pile of frail newspaper cuttings on the floor that rises and falls with a gentle sigh every time I walk past it and disturb the air, settling back down on the rug in a slightly more disordered fashion every time.
Books, music, art... And a slice of chocolate cake, please, with the top icing taken off and thrown in the bin (too sticky).
One good hour's lecture, and I sit in the evening with a Cheshire Cat's grin on my face.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

He for She

I'm pondering about this. Feminism has become the new hipster fashion which is both a good and bad thing; great that it's being discussed a lot more than normal, but not so great because fashions come and go and I don't trust fashion to lead social change.
I also don't trust colonists: if feminism becomes a hipster commodity, then it won't belong to women any more and will start to be shaped by men.
I left an event the other night because the DJ, who had been listening to a lovely choir with the rest of the audience, commented during the interval: "I could really use them in my set!"
The idea of feminism being metaphorically used in the DJ set fills me with dread.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Excuse Me While I.....

It was a long rambling drive back from Brighton last night through the foggy wilds of Sussex, diverted off and then back on to the M23. Petrol was getting low; there was no moon and no stars. It was scary.
Then today a lecture on Authenticity at the University of the West, followed by Songwriting at the University of the East.
I ate my lunch at 6.30 p.m. and then came home and I've been doing admin for an hour.
The gig was great, but I'm too tired to write about it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Food

I've spent most of today cooking and the rest eating.
And practicing the songs or tomorrow night!
Work starts big time on Monday and I had a lecture to write and course materials to prepare. It's a full on day after driving back from Brighton and I imagine that I'll be too tired to cook that night.
I made a plum cake too for the Offsprogs and me, if I manage not to eat it all this evening.
I had some of those plums that go straight from unripe to over-ripe and I just sliced them in half, put them on the bottom af a tin and made a sponge cake mixture with loads of vanilla. Because I was cooking lots of other things I managed not to keep opening the oven door to peep in so the cake cooked beautifully and it's so delicious I've had to hide it.
That reminds me of McMum's American friend Inky who tried to see if the light in the fridge really did go off when she shut the door, and who ended up shutting her nose in it!
I'm all ready for tomorrow: dress ironed, boots polished, songs sung, just the set lists to do tomorrow morning.
Watch out Brighton, the Horns are on their way!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Interview on Juice FM 107.2 Tonight

Kelly Westlake interviewed me for Brighton radio station Juice FM  and it will be broadcast tonight at some time between 11 and 11.30.
You can listen online as well as over the waves, here: juicebrighton.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hat

And back in the day I used to wear a hat when I sang and played in Helen and the Horns.
Unforchly during the plague of moths in my flat last year, I lifted one felt hat off the top of the other and found a ghastly mess of tufty gnawed wool, glittering moth wings, seething grubs and disappointment.
Both hats had to be thrown out, so it's going to have to be Big Hair, ultimate Marge Simpson at the gig on Sunday (but not blue hair).

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Spooky Coincidence

Two things happened today that have never happened before: one a thought, and one an incident. That they happened on the same day, that was weird.
I was heading up the escalator at Euston in an anarchic frame of mind for some reason. Looking for trouble.
As we ascended, I spotted an Emergency Stop button halfway up the staircase. Ho ho! Wouldn't it be fun to press it! Would anyone know it was me? Of course they would: CCTV.  I imagined hiding a stick under a voluminous coat to poke it with, but the thread of anarchic thought snapped when I imagined the sudden stop of the moving staircase an people tumbling about all over the place.
The moment passed as soon as it arrived.

On the way back home, I was descending a steep escalator at another tube station, daydreaming about something else entirely. Suddenly, the escalator snapped to a halt and nearly threw us all forward. We had to stumble down the rest of the way holding the momentum at bay; I saw that a woman had fallen down and someone had pressed the emergency stop button.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering if I'd had some strange sort of karma-premonition or something like that.

Then I put the kettle on and had a cup of tea.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Lantern Theatre, Sheffield

The Lantern Theatre is a little gem in the suburbs of Sheffield. Mini-rows of red velveteen seats perch expectantly facing the stage, and all the features you associate with big theatres: wings, flies, the brick back wall, are all here in pint-sized portions.
I couldn't escape the writing tasks in hand but I read on the train and scribbled notes in pencil on my ration of one sheet of A4 as I travelled somewhat stressfully with other passengers from our cancelled train, changing at Doncaster for another train that was late because of points failure at Meadowhall, or 'Meadowhell' as the conductor called it.
Strangely, I got there at exactly the time I was supposed to; that's just one of those things you can't figure out.
Jim Hornsby was accompanying Martin on guitar, he of the steely Eastwood-like glare and the heart of gold. The sound was great; they have an excellent sound engineer at The Lantern and I think he recorded the gig. I pulled out some old songs- Summer Days, for instance, which I thought would echo the Indian Summer temperatures outside. They weren't there: it was cool and misty and I kind of yearned for a jumper. But it was nice to play again. I've had a bit of a break after losing McMum. It was nice to smile and feel happy.
That all increased when Martin and Jim played, too. Martin also played some songs that rarely get an airing- Nairn Beach, Synergy (two of my favourites) and a song called Daffodils that he played after describing Anth's idea of throwing Morrissey's daffs into the Regent's Canal when they were sharing a dressing room with The Smiths at Dingwalls in the 1980s. They had stopped at a golf course on the long way down from Newcastle to pick magic mushrooms, and after eating them, floating the flowers in the canal seemed like a good idea at the time.
Apparently Morrissey had to make do with tulips that night.

Friday, September 19, 2014

O Stratford, How Fabulous Thou Art

I've had a writing day; I needed books. I went to Stratford, to the library. It was muggy and thundery. I got the books (some of them). I took a picture!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Listening to Song Selfies from the Past

I'm heading through old recordings when I'm meant to be looking at and learning the Helen and the Horns song structures for the rehearsal on Tuesday.
Here, I find the songs that I wrote when I very first picked up a guitar to play solo without a band in around 2005 and the invitation of Jamie McDermot from the Irrepressibles, to whom I will always be grateful.
Clumsily, my fingers trip over the impossible chords that I had invented. My voice sings at a higher pitch than it's meant to and poor cello players valiantly try to play along with me.
The songs are weird, but the lyrics say quite a lot- some of them overtly political.
I'm going to try to work out the chords (which will be an uphill struggle: what the heck was I playing?)and once work has settled down for the new term, I'm going to revive these songs and have some poptastic fun with them.
Wouldn't it be lovely to go to New York in search of Tom Greenwood, who recorded them in the first place! I failed to win the lottery this Saturday (and last Saturday), but I'll keep on tryin'.

Flowers

Look at these beautiful flowers! They arrived early this morning with a huge bag of apples and vegetables, from Adrian in Stockport, who grew them on his allotment. They are so gorgeous that they seem edible; and I did almost eat the cactus, which in the gloaming I thought was a strange form of okra that I hadn't come across before. Good roughage, I suppose.
Thank you Adrian. I will never forget the Allotment gig that Martin and myself played at. These flowers have brought back some very happy memories!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Grumble

Alas, today I have to moan. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I worked 12-hour days trying to write the material for the University new year. One University has changed from semesters to whole-year teaching. The merging of different modules and cross-referencing to make sure it all does what it says on the tin is extremely time-consuming. I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon doing this too and I'm still far from finished.
It's my job, and so I don't mind, but my body does. My shoulders feel as though they are raging on fire because I've spent so long hunched in front of the computer. No matter how many breaks you take, shoulders don't want to be doing this. They want to be walking ten miles on the NHS march.
They liked that, even though my feet didn't.
Yesterday was rescued by a visit to Gina's; we are writing a song about nuisance neighbours, something we both have recent experience of.
Before she moved, hers did so much building work that they cracked the walls of her living room and there was constant noise. Mine won't repair their chimney, which is leaking into my loft, and they have bought a dog which barks very loudly whenever they go out (burglars, take note: it's the opposite of a watch dog). This is usually three to four hours every day.
Gina and I work in three-hour slots, and we are remarkably productive.
I remember writing my PHD in even shorter bursts, during the double-bill Simpsons on a Friday night which kept the girls busy, and writing most of the songs for Suburban Pastoral between 8.15 when I took Offsprog Two to school, and 9.45 when I left for work. Mumalicious!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Musicky Time

After a day grafting away at timetables for the new University year (seven hours today and the same tomorrow), I'm leaning back and listening to the backing track that Gina Birch has sent me. We are writing a song together about nasty neighbours, something of which we both have ample experience.
We are thinking Kinks over dirty electronica. Watch this space...
I am also rehearsing songs- some for the gig at The Lantern Theatre in Sheffield on Wednesday next week, where I'm supporting Martin Stephenson, and some for the gig at the Prince Albert, a rare Helen and the Horns gig in sunny Brighton which we will be playing at the invitation of the wonderful Spinningchilli promoters (Bad Bad Whiskey are supporting us at that one).
At times my two occupations, lecturer and musician/songwriter seem to be poles apart.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Pyjamas

McDad could be remarkably camp. A poor unfortunate male friend had missed the last bus home and had to sleep in the spare room.
McDad appeared with pyjamas. "I've got the orange winceyette, the pink and white brushed cotton or the green linen/ cotton blend", he offered (or something like that).
The poor stranded fellow looked baffled and embarrassed in equal measure. Which to choose?

Interview in Making Waves Zine

This zine originates from Camille Lan and I was delighted to do an interview for them:
http://mwzine.tumblr.com/

Friday, September 05, 2014

Marching for the NHS

After a sumptuous brunch of fish fingers on toast (September is austerity month and everything is served on toast to augment its belly-filling properties), I went to look for the NHS march who were supposed to be stopping for lunch in a little local park on their way from St Albans to Edmonton. I'd been working all morning on charts, timetables and other such administration, and a walk in support of something that I fervently believe in was now the priority of the day.
The Conservatives have never been able to stand the idea of something as essential as health care being in public hands. Just think how often people get ill- and just think how much money can be made out of that!
This drove me to join the Labour Party many years ago when John Major was ripping it to shreds (since lapsed, but I'm watching) but I think the best way to look after the NHS now is by signing every petition that crosses my path, and walking part of the route from Jarrow to Trafalgar Square in support of the amazing women who have walked the whole way.
A small welcoming party was waiting in the park but I walked up the road to meet them. They didn't stop for lunch but carried on. Boy do they walk fast! I'd arranged to meet Offsprog One at the next tube station down the line but we were well past there at the allotted time so we had to rearrange.
A van met us every so often to hand us piles of leaflets (I was tweeting it so I didn't leaflet but I did hold a banner with a marching fellow for part of the way). People were reading the leaflets, not throwing them away, and drivers were drawing up in cars and winding their windows down to ask for them too.
We stopped at Arnos Grove, and there was Offsprog One with her camera. A very nice Italian shop let us all use their loos, and quite a lot of people bought ice creams before we set off for the last two miles to Edmonton, walking mostly alongside the North Circular which is possibly London's most dangerous and dirty road. But the company was great and we heard every sort of car and lorry horn tooting in support; some of those lorries have the most amazing sounds: hoarse, grunting, tuneful, I'd never realised the music available in air horn form. One of our number had a bugle, too, which was a very cheerful accompaniment. Every time a car or lorry hooted, a man with a whistle mimicked their sound, and we waved and cheered. It was knackering but good fun. Sometimes the march slowed down a bit, for instance when the over-50s group joined for a while.
I'd been planning to walk from High Barnet to Arnos Grove, after meeting Offsprog One at Whetstone. But we carried on and when I got home I was surprised that our leg had been 9.5 miles.
The people who have walked the full distance deserve a massive amount of respect.
They are setting off from Edmonton tomorrow morning and aiming to be at Trafalgar Square for 3, where there will be speakers including the writer Owen Jones.
Somewhere along the way, we were wondering what the Queen thought of the NHS being privatised. All those poorly subjects, feeling to ill to sing the National Anthem. Bless.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Timetables and Taps

Six o'clock... What a fabulous time to wake up, if you're a bird. I had been hoping for a lie-in, but alas something woke me up and I thumped downstairs to put the kettle on.
Every single morning, I forget that the cold tap in the kitchen is actually a fire hose. A thick jet of icy water spurts out and drenches everything in the kitchen- floor, worktops, window, and of course, me.
Once everything was dry again, I sat down and did Timetables for an hour and a half, managing to win the fight against the table I was creating yesterday by simply deleting half of it.
'Ha ha! Destruction!', I thought nastily and put the kettle on again for coffee.
Soaking wet again, I got changed and headed down to Gina's to make music for a couple of hours. It's difficult to describe what I'm contributing but it's definitely something- lyrics here, lyrics there, vocal harmonies, a bit of programming, a bit of guitar, feedback (the talking kind, not the sound... yet) and some quite stringent editing in places. It's great fun, a different way of writing that goes against the normal rules that I've inadvertently hemmed myself in with. I think I get tangled up in structure as though it were barbed wire, and Gina deconstructs to create a forest of sound that you can get lost in; things definitely change between the beginning and end of the sessions, I hope for the better- the process is really energising, anyway.
I'd been hoping to go to an Employability Conference this afternoon but in the end I had too much work to do. Finally, a pile of 'finished with' books is starting to grow and the list of orders to myself has started to diminish with more crossings-out than instructions. Time for tea again. Toodle-pip!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bring Forth The 5USA Cop Shows!

This evening, I have taken on the Lego 'writing shape person' attributes. I've been sitting at the kitchen table planning teaching schedules and battling the general grumpy feelings that come along with trying to make grids in Microsoft Word that disappear as soon as you try to fill them with anything. I've still got a grid with no line at the end of it, so I abandoned ship and transferred my attention to another professional endeavour.
I'm trying to write as much as possible this year. There are reasons why, but not that I want to share at the moment. It's hard work, but also very interesting. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Chantal Epp, who runs this fledgeling company http://synergysounds.co.uk/
Before we met I had no idea that cheerleading music even existed and it was fascinating to talk to her, especially as she is so enthusiastic about what she is doing.
I am writing a chapter for a book on entrepreneurship in the music industry, and I'm devouring books about the creative industries as fast as I can eat them. The sofa is covered with piles of books that have scribbled notes sprouting out of them at unusual angles.
It's just like writing music in some respects. You dig deeper and deeper into it and suddenly it's dark outside and you haven't had anything to eat for ages. It's not good for the body: your shoulders stiffen and your feet get cold, but you feel that it's good for your mind to flex and connect different ideas from different places.
The cop shows are on TV- I'm off for a tat break!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Brighton Gig Coming Up!

On 28th September Helen and the Horns will be playing at The Prince Albert in Brighton with Bad Bad Whiskey supporting us.
It's one of Brighton's best venues and it would be lovely to see some old friends there. We will be playing a new song I think, and I'm really looking forward to it.
Phil (formerly of Brighton band The Lillettes) runs the punkbrighton website and has done a lovely write-up: http://punkbrighton.co.uk/

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kitty Finer's Night At The Horse Hospital

I'd had a text from Gina to say that she was playing a few songs at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.
Well, it had been a fulsome day, starting at seven witha stop-start journey round the M25 to brighton, pre-loaded with Offsprog One's belongings. All was fine, until I got into Brighton itself (accessed via Hollingbury Racecourse, an extraordinary but quite beautiful route). The Satnav swore blind that Offsprog One's road simply didn't exist. I tried all sorts of tricks and eventually broke into mild perspiration after several stressed phone calls to her through clenched teeth. Rename: Satan-nav.
A tough looking man (who had obviously done so much teeth-clenching that most of them had fallen out) had baggsied the parking space outside Offsprog One's house, but somehow we managed to unload and I even found a space further down the footpath-masquerading-as-a-street and had a quick cuppa in her pocket handkerchief garden.
Then it was time for Offsprog Two. We tried loading up from the next street (she was moving from only a street away from Offsprog One to the Big Yellow up the road), but eventually settled on a double yellow line with hazard lights (cue more mild perspiration) and then had a comedy-film hour of the wrong person being at the storage facility to sign the papers, no padlock, the trolley ran down the hill with the house contents on it, etc etc.
Back in London, I sighed a big sigh and thought that at least I'd done a bit to help and nobody looked too miserable even though homelessness was impending (maybe that's changed today).
I felt I deserved a night out in fantasy land and I was not to be disappointed. I got there just in time to see Gina play (did Kitty play too? I'm so sorry if I missed her). Gina was looking exceptionally glamorous and played four songs, including my fave, I Do Not Want To Wear Stilettos. She got a very good reception and was closely questioned by one audience member about her lyrics, and gently mobbed at the end.
There was a chap called Sebastian Willan (I think) who according to Kitty (who was a very charming and funny mistress of ceremonies), wasn't called Sebastian at all, but was really Sam. Sebastian/Sam sang four very funny and simple songs nestled within anecdotes, with an appealing DIY simplicity about them. The best one was his song about the Chairoplanes at Carter's Steam Fair where he had worked for a day, apparently becoming bored after the first half hour. He'd obviously been mildly indoctrinated during his day's employment as his eyes glazed over slightly when he told us the ins and outs of the Chairoplane. He wore super shoes and a shirt that he claimed looked good on the shelf but on the person was a little too like something Noel Edmonds would wear.
Emma Bennett, wearing double headphones, sang, spoke and chirped along to recordings of herself responding in that way to birdsong. It sounded like Dada or Savant poetry until you realised what she was doing and then it all made sense and took on a more beautiful aura, shifting from Joyce Grenfell to Laurie Anderson in one fell swoop. Very aurally interesting and nice to see a committed performance of something so detailed in its dedication to the transcription of birdsong.
Finally, Molly Farquar (?) appeared, telling us about living in the same street as David Bowie, who painted his house black when he moved in, while Molly's family's house had been black and they painted it white. Molly had a box of records and she played firstly Cliff Richards' Summer Holiday followed by a seemingly random series of vinyl singles that got us all up dancing for the grand finale. Funny coincidence of the finale was Molly picking out Jimmy Cliff's You Can Get It If You Really Want It, followed by The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

8

Press 8 to answer the phone; I'm at the clearing desk, interspersing answering student queries with an attempt at accelerated reading of half the books in the library. I've got two on the go at the moment, but I'm concentrating most on Simon Frith's Performing Rites: on the value of popular music. Like most books written on the fast-moving and ephemeral world of pop and rock music, parts of it are out-of-date but Frith has the skill, probably honed while he was a pop journalist, of condensing complex and opaque ideas into sound-bites which explain everything in a nutshell. Nutshells are immensely useful aides in navigating through the densely-forested world of academic discourse.
He also prompts recognition; you feel that he's reminding you of ideas you had yourself last week, for instance: ‘... to read images into the lyrics that are not there (always a pleasure of pop)…’ (page 7).
Next in the pile is David Hesmondhalgh's The Cultural Industries. I have a feeling I'm going to be hefting another big pile of books home on the rush-hour tube.
Brrrr...ing. the phone rings again (actually the onomatopoeic sound is more like 'pibble-pubble, pibble-pubble').
8