Sunday, March 30, 2014

Free Gig Tonight at the Full Stop, Brick Lane

This is a gig organised by Jude Cowan that features herself, Kath Tait and a host of others playing Americana-themed songs, improvising and all sorts. It starts bang on 8.30 and I'll be playing some of the skiffle songs. It's a lovely little caff towards the north end of Brick Lane.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Vinyl Cultures at Brilliant Corners

To follow up on last Friday's fascinating seminar at the British Library, I decided to go along to this event which was run by colleagues at the University of the East.
It was interesting to stroll past the Russian Club Bomonti, where Diana Mavroleon and myself used to run the Songbird night many moons ago. It has now been re-branded, still as something Russian, but it looks as though the studios which appeared to gestate many rude arts professionals trying to get in free and treating the door person as though they were a subhuman-spawn-of-a-slug (that was me, btw), have now taken over the building completely. I hope they enjoy the real tree trunks holding up the bar canopy!
To digress more: I walked into a cafe to buy some coffee, and the staff were buzzing with excitement at the fact that Yoko Ono is due to eat there tonight. East London is surely star-studded; This was merely a stone's throw from where a table is laid each night for Gilbert and George in a Turkish cafe, given away by the sparkling wine glasses and smart silver tableware.
To digress even more, when I was a graphic novelist, I drew a story for some people whose postman was the son of either Gilbert or George, I'm not sure which one. So there's a story for you.

Brilliant Corners is as much art space as a bar, and an OK place to visit on one's own. I have always enjoyed going out on my own whether to see bands, listen to lectures or whatever, because if the mood takes you, you can leave without having to persuade a companion to leave with you. Take a good detective novel and feel comfortable in your own skin and you will have an absorbing time. 
(Martin, my Champagne Friend, Caroline, Gina and the Offsprogs are notable exceptions to this but trading quirks makes the whole process easier).

Colleen Murphy (of ) and whom I interviewed recently, sat at one end; next to her, Jeremy Gilbert and Tim Lawrence from the University of the East; then Dominik Bartmanski, author of the forthcoming Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age (Bloomsbury) and the journalist John Harris.
In turn, starting with Dominik, each speaker spoke of their engagement with vinyl. Their stories were engaging and delivered in different styles. I learned a lot: for instance that vinyl used for records is black because of a graphite additive that optimises the frequencies; that humans like distortion in music and that's what analogue sound recorded onto vinyl gives us, and as a scientist (missed who that was) commented, 'the ear is an analogue device'. Jeremy Gilbert remarked that since digital streaming, music has been decommodified but not decapitalised.
I thought about the Norwegian student that I interviewed about ten years ago who made money as a vinyl speculator. He bought the rare Oasis vinyl that was released as a specialist product and stockpiled it. 
I also thought back to the guy round the corner who advertised his entire vinyl collection on Freecycle. I asked him for all his 12" disco singles (he gave the whole lot of his albums to an unemployed man who just listened to music all day); but the thing was, they had no special meaning for me as did the vinyl that I bought and traded and was given back in the day, and I ended up leaving the lot in the lobby at the University of the West for the dance music producers to take away with them.
Dominik said that the toppy production on early CDs was because the format was originally tailored to Classical music; their length, after consultation with Karajan, was based on the length of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. 
I'd heard last week that this tinny sound was to do with the mastering process not being specific to CDs and I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in between.
And I thought back to cutting the Helen and the Horns single Freight Train at CTS studios in Wembley with a guy called Groucho who was a live reggae mixmaster in the evenings. It was he who told me about the fatigue caused in the brain as it tried to process the stream of on/off signals caused by the clumsy sampling rate on CDs, in a similar process to the way that the pulsing of fluorescent lighting irritates the brain. Many years later I sat next to a chap from Philips at a wedding and asked him if this was true. "Yes', he said. 'We are spending a lot of money on trying to trick the brain into hearing those myriad samples as a constant wave of sound that's as pleasurable to listen to as analogue sound is'.
Colleen talked about working in a record store in New York and the sudden change to CDs from vinyl, and John Harris gave a very funny overview of his own joy in listening to vinyl.
Overall, the panel (as was to be expected) came out very much in favour of vinyl and I resolved to get my turntable out and purchase a small amplifier so I can set it up and listen. I used to feed my turntable through a boombox because we had big empty kitchen units in our old house that acted as makeshift bass bins. 
The drawers here are stuffed with things and I can't get the bass end of the disco singles to thump, so I'll have to think about doing it all properly. I've been yearning to play The Young Marble Giants on vinyl, and also of course the cathartic disco and lover's rock 12"singles,  and it's high time I fought back against next door's endlessly-howling Spaniel puppy with a bit of bass end. A lot of bass end.
At the end of the talk, a fellow from Vinyl's Back Pages took rather an exception to the whole thing, which was to miss the point. Yes, yet again, the concept of innovative pop belonging to the young who can decode it and give it meaning was lost (we were an extraordinary audience, being still so absorbed in pop, reggae, dance music and so on that we gave up a Friday night to attend a talk about it instead of sitting at home listening to Dire Straits through a docked iPod); but this was a stimulating event.
I was half expecting to see Richard Osborne there, who is the author of Vinyl: a History of the Analogue Record (Ashgate); I'm sure he too would have had something to contribute.

I can recommend reading the articles on the website. Knowledge is bliss.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sometimes You Just Have To Fool About

I can't face life today so I'm fooling about.
I have 13.9 days of songs on my iTunes (6159 'items')
I'm trying to play lead guitar along with all of them, on my Spanish guitar, craply.
The tunings are wildly out- The Three Degrees' Year of Decision is much flatter than Young Marble Giants' N.I.T.A. for instance. And the blues and rockabilly are somewhere else.
I am really, really bad at it but it's extremely therapeutic.
See you in 13.9 day's time.

Honey Ltd - Come Down Live

Thursday, March 27, 2014

More Interviews and a Gig

The barrel of interviews for the transcriber is beginning to run dry so I've spent most of this afternoon arranging to top it up. You have a landscape (oh those metaphors!) of people to talk to and then you think laterally and that helps when you get stuck; and then the original interviewees come back into the picture again (sometimes).
I'm going to be presenting a paper on my research at the Studying Music conference (in honour of Simon Frith) in Edinburgh next month and thought it would be great to have some hot-off-the-press (mtphr agn) information to share there.
Ah... a gig... at the Full Stop in Brick Lane on Sunday evening, organised by the other two members of the once Desperado Housewives, Jude Cowan and Kath 'Lentils' Tait.
There will be lots of other people playing and poeting too and it will be free to get in. so come on down: it's Americana themed which means that I'll be playing some skiffle (although that's British, it's got enough American in it and so have I). Starts 8 p.m. and come early to see Kath and Jude.
See ya there, yee-ha!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Soundcloud Preview of Skiffle Song

Martin, who produced the forthcoming skiffle album, has uploaded a preview track here:

Martin Stephenson on Stageit Tonight!

Here's the link- see you there!


If you've got one that's not in my collection, please let me know:

1. Chin skimmer
2. Dipped-in-glue-'n'-iron-filings
3. Also-flowing-down-the-neck
4. Walrus kiss 'n' mouth surround
5. Butch chinthrust
6. Underchin Only
7. On-the-way, soon
8. Wholeface eyepeeper
9. Suburban Hedge
10. Chindot
11. Foursquare chestcover

Review: Claudia Heidegger

I was going to review two CDs today but I've been unexpectedly busy, and I also have to get on with designing the cover for the skiffle CD (which is going to be titled Anarchy Skiffle after one of the songs). After a spiritual quest this morning and a walk along the Camden Towpath at lunchtime in the moody spring sunshine (sun-hail-rain-wind-snow-sun), I sat down to listen to the one I chose to review, Claudia's E.P. Tell Me Your Dreams.
Claudia is an Austrian songwriter who is studying in London which is why we met. There is something distinctive and classic about her songwriting which puts her music a cut above the average, and she is writing yet more songs as you read this and with any luck will have an album to release before the end of the year.
Good music is difficult to describe: of course, you can't disentangle your own engagement from it. But also, it's the way that a line ends on an unexpected chord, perhaps, or tiny emotional nuances that pull a singer out of perfection and into expression at just the right moment.
Claudia's songs remind me a little of Peter Hall's, a songwriter who comes to the Songwriting Weekend in Dumfries. He spent hours sitting in the shade of a tree writing a song to his girlfriend and brought the house down with it that evening when he played it.
This is an E.P. which she has released herself although you can listen to her songs here
The title track, The Other Side, has shades of Terry Callier and showcases Claudia's violin playing (as do some of the other tracks). Tell Me Your Dreams is a jaunty folk song about disappointment driven along by the ukulele. My two favourites, which are fighting for top billing, are Come Back for Me which features a chord-piano of layered harmonies that form a bed for a lovely, high and wistful vocal performance, and No Reason to Reason. The first of these, in spite of its unusual arrangement, has such a strong melody that it could be covered in all sorts of different genres and still hold its head up. No Reason to Reason, listed as a bonus track, is the star of the show. It reminded me of Judy Collins and the orchestration could have been arranged by Peter Asher (the arranger on James Taylor's first album).
Cathartic listening this Sunday afternoon, and recommended for you to listen right now, whatever day of the week you read this.
Hot off the press:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Keeping Tracks: music and archives in the digital age' at The British Library

This symposium was dreamed up by Alex Wilson, the curator of digital recordings at The British Library, and I went along partly out of curiosity and partly because I lecture in the history of sound recording and also try to work out the future employment prospects for the engineers that we teach at the University. Lots of reasons.
After an introduction by Andy Linehan, the curator of popular music who I know from yonks ago, the Av scoping analyst Adam Tovell gave a very measured and informed presentation about preservation, conservation and storage; he was followed by Alex Wilson who showed a series of slides to the soundtrack of all 164 of the world's National Anthems being played together. he showed us the metadata templates for storing the information about the millions of recordings they have there, that are scheduled to take 15 years to digitise but will probably take 42 years. Metadata comes in from fans, record labels and many different sources, and it was interesting to see Marianne Faithfull credited as a songwriter on one of the Rollings Stones' tracks. I never knew that, no I certainly didn't. And there also were the players on the tracks- people like Ry Cooder.
Lesley Bleakley from The Beggar's Group followed, in interview with Rory Gibb from The Quietus. She has access to the whole of the Beggars Group archive, and she is foraging through it and beginning the process of catalgueing it before digital storage cane even be started. As she said, for a commercial organisation like them who make money from copyright, 'There is a pull between limiting what people can have and letting them have everything; we operate somewhere in the middle'. Streaming systems don't care so much about quality as labels do, and they are working out the highest practical bit-rate for their archiving and the best ways of the engineers re-mastering the music with suitable EQ for the format. They have to think about temperature control in the physical part of the archive, weed out duplicates, all sorts of things. This is all as insurance against the future collapse of the record industry.

I went home to rest my brain and picked up copies of Records and Tea: the best of The Chefs, and Footsteps at my Door, to give to Andy later on. He was astonished, but High Barnet's not far from King's Cross and I'm glad I went home because Offsprog One had locked herself out so I was able to provide a useful rescue service.

I missed part of the afternoon session but walked in on a Skype session from Music Tech Fest at the Microsoft Research Lab. It was rich with ideas: music as 'social connective tissue' whose sociality we can now see in the post-internet age. After that, Jennifer Lucy Allen from The Wire chaired a panel with Jonny Trunk from Trunk Records, Spencer Hickman from Death Waltz Recording Company (both one-man operations with quirky output) and Roger Armstrong from Ace Records. I'd taken the Ace catalogue home to read at lunchtime and even the catalogue is fascinating. For instance, there are CDs of various artists performing songs by songwriting duos like Goffin and King. I mentally noted to buy so many of them that I'd spent a head-grand before I got to my tube stop!
It seemed at some points during the the discussion that there was tension between the panellists, but this brought forth all sorts of interesting material: Hickman's conversations with David Lynch, Trunk's visit to Oliver Postgate's basement, and a wealth of information from Armstrong about not only business but also standards in archiving and data transfer that was fascinating.
I particularly liked his 'Pile 'em low, sell 'em high' motto, which he used to demonstrate the desire for a good quality CD representation of vintage material alongside specially-commissioned essays in the booklet that are unique to the release.
The final flourish was Mark Fisher's impassioned speech about the lack of innovation in music in the 21st Century. Now, I have a completely different perspective on this because I am the mother of two young women for whom music doesn't just mean 'now', it also means 'then'. I feel that if we don't understand the audio and lyrical 'now' messages in what young people listen to, then that is a problem with us, and not with them.
Did our parents understand the nuances of the music we listened to? No, they didn't. We have grown too old to understand certain aesthetic criteria; many of us have simply grown out of pop.
I was reminded of the way I could be obsessed by a song to the point of distraction as a teenager: it would hold magic, sex, emotions, a spiritual resonance and seem to contain all the answers to all the questions I could ever ask. Then one day, I would listen to it and all that would have gone in an instant. Pop music is ephemeral; one of the speakers earlier said that you were originally supposed to play a record, wear it out, get rid of it, and buy some new music.
Collecting and archiving is incredibly important, but allowing moments to pass unrecorded or allowing them to vanish is quite exciting too.
If we don't have some space in our cupboards, we can't see what's in there, can we?

A circular window and a circular CD- the first ever, released by the Jacksons.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Ralph's Life CD

If you haven't done so already, check out this CD which features 40 artists (including Feral Five, Tom Robinson, and a rare McCookerybook track) and raises money for a mental health charity.
There is a review of it and more details here:
The Hiapop Blog is well worth checking out in it's own write.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Guitar Weekend

Clumsily, I'm typing this with calloused guitar fingers as I return by train from The Guitar Weekend.
There were lots if people there- some new faces but also regulars, Albie, Alan Frame, Graham and of course, Gordon, who as usual stole the evening show by making damn sure his capo was clamped into place for song number two even as the applause for sing number one was in mid flow and the chords for song number one were just dying away.
I loved Christine's song about Newcastle which gave the lie to Tilda Swinton's apparent assertion in this mornings paper that Scottish people love Scotland more than English people love England. It was great to hear Ivan's song about doing his washing in a strangers house by accident, and to hear the myriad ways people use the guitar to make sound and music. And Martin's trio of stars played a rip-roaring set with a particularly beautiful version of Lilac Tree. Andrew got presented with a guitar to say thanks for organising it all so well (he even managed to get those t-shirts printed in time). We all ate too much and some of us (most of us?) drank too much. Numerous stories were told and new friendships were made and old ones revived. As always, the year was restored and everyone went home glowing with good spirits and looking forward to next year.
I will upload the photos later this week!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I have now completed sixteen extensive interviews for my next major piece of research, with three or four more in the pipeline. This has been tremendously interesting, and over the next few months I will be writing my part of it- the social, historical and political context that it's all going to relate to.
During the interview process for my Doctorate, the interview part was inspiring, and this has happened again. It helps to talk to real people because there is such a lot of academic literature to get through and the more I talk to real people, the more I'm able to filter out exactly what is and isn't relevant.
I was describing to a student the other day the way I wrote my PHD, rushing to the computer when The Simpson's was on after mulling over content and argument while cooking the spaghetti for my daughters.
This hasn't been quite so fraught but still has had to fit into gaps in family responsibilities, performing life, and of course, being a very busy lecturer.
I have printed out 'the story so far' so I can start editing and clustering issues together: something that I'm really looking forward to.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cheese Footballs Again

I've finally finished the last of the Cheese Footballs. Christmas is over.


Silence is incredibly noisy. It should be called 'silence'. Just in this office silence, I can hear the multiple-layered rushing of the heating system, the tippy-tapping of my computer keys, the ack-acking of students sitting on the floor in the corridor chatting and laughing.
Every so often, a door bangs with a twang that indicates its resin-based construction and aluminium locking system.
I can't hear sounds from outside but I can see them. There's a row of plastic bags tied to the rail of a balcony over the way (why?) and I can imagine them rustling. Pigeons flap by (I'm on the third floor) busy doing nothing and I am certain that the roar of distant traffic forms an aural backdrop to it all.
The more you listen into silence, the more you hear. Now I can hear the sleeves of my jumper quietly whooshing across the desk and the sound of my watch, its quiet ticking merging into one long white noise.
The 'silent' central heating system reveals more sonic layers, appearing to clear its throat every few seconds and flushing in an indeterminate rhythm.

You might think I'm bored but I'm not. I've seen end to end students today and its nearly four o'clock. I didn't get a chance for a lunch break although I did eat some Pear and Almond Tart at my desk and I've drunk a bottle of water. In between the students I re-wrote something for the third time and responded to a whole lot of emails, and in the course of that read the very sad news that Bob Crow had died.

Bob Crow has been a one-man opposition to our dreadful government and our abysmal mayor and has looked after the safety of the London tube system. Now he's gone, that will be come impersonal and unsafe just as the abysmal mayor has always wanted it to be, in order to make more money for its private investors (it's called, in doublespeak, 'saving money'; imagine saving money at the expense of passengers [scrub that, customers], in piggy banks clad in pin-striped City-investor suits).

After that rantlet, I'm going back to listening. Then I'm going totake in a student song that's shaping up along the corridor past the sitting students.
(They take up a lot of corridor space with their sprawling and every time I pick my way through them, I say 'Crunch, crunch, crunch, broken fingers' which makes them whip their hands away in nanoseconds).

Monday, March 10, 2014


Doesn't the very word fill you with dread? There's something onomatopoeic about the drudgery implied by it's hollow vowels and coughing consonants.
Worse still are the implications: queueing, and all that.
In the library today I went to reduce some big drawings.
Downstairs, one of the librarians was photocopying. 'I'll be ages', she lied.'There's another photocopier upstairs'.
I hauled my lazy legs up the stairs. Yes, there was another photocopier upstairs. She'd forgotten to tell me that it had a laminated 'Out of Order' sign on it though.
Back downstairs, she'd stopped and was sitting rubber-stamping and stapling sheets of white paper at a desk next to the machine. So I headed over and got started.
I felt a vibe.
Agitated, I punched in the wrong instructions, again and again. Once, a plain piece of paper even photocopied itself.
I wasn't doing well.
Slowly she rose to her feet, papers in hand. Like knives, they pointed at me obliquely.
I felt more vibe, and made more mistakes.
She stood there.
'Are you going to be long?' she asked eventually, moving almost imperceptibly towards me.
'No, no, no', I blustered, 'Only two more to go!'
Well, it would have been only two more to go if she hadn't been vibe-ing there beside me. The machine swallowed two five pence pieces and didn't like them. Paper floated everywhere.
I started to perspire.
Her A4s slanted menacingly.
So I came home with the wrong sized copies, triumphant.
Why triumphant? Because she'd managed to slow herself down by slowing me down by being so rude, and in so doing had managed to infect me with her own petty spitefulness.
I'm off to give my brain a refreshing shampoo, and then I'll be back free of jobsworthyness!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Prevaricationary Posting

Sunday morning and the sun is shining. I was up with the magpie on the orders of a builder who is supposed to be repairing my roof. It's his second not-coming; he supposedly passed by my house on Friday but described an utterly different building. He insisted that I was up to greet him at 8.30 this morning; it's now beyond 9.30 and I have that foolish feeling one has as a teenager upon realising that one has been stood up, yet again.
I have an absorbing task to do today but i don't want to dive in just yet. Instead, I'll briefly relive Thursday's visit to the Hannah Hoch exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery.
Caroline Coon and I meet up every so often to look at art together, and then converse over food about anything and everything we can think of. She puts colour where so much of the London experience is black-and-white; circling a gallery is an enriching experience because she knows so much about politics and the history of art. She knows that Hoch's severe cropped'n'slashed hairstyle itself was a dig against Hitler and his Rhinemaiden chic of blonde plaits symmetrically laid down bountiful Aryan bosoms in parallel thick gold chains.
Hoch was a precise collage maker; my favourite pictures are the simple ones where, for instance, a delicately trimmed face merges faultlessly into a set of wings. There is something lovely about the colour of the faded newsprint and the shapes of the collaged figures against the plain backgrounds, and there is none of the sense of exuberant randomness that we find in some collage. Beneath the careful snipping and selection lies a heart of seething rage and a great deal of bravery.
Later in her life she was able to watch herself and look back on her past with some objectivity; a very large collage summarises her life and shows happiness and contentment in a lustrous garden.
I particularly liked the film; it's so absorbing to watch someone draw confident lines on white paper, and this had an odd coincidence with an idea on of the students I'm supervising told me about that morning for a video.
So to cake and coffee and politics: Caroline gets one to question one's opinions while stimulating the formation of new ones. I feel lucky to have met so many women through writing my book and researching essays, who act as catalysts not just for myself but for so many other women (and men).
Caroline's website is . You will always find stimulating writing there (and some beautiful paintings).

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Surreal in South London

I have had a very surreal adventure tonight. I was going to write about my lovely trip to the Hanna Hoch exhibition with Caroline but I'll write about that tomorrow. Tonight has nudged that out of the way.
Have you noticed that young people, forbidden from the streets and with no youth clubs to go to, now ride around endlessly on the buses, singing, shouting, ganging, commandeering the back seats and making teenage colonies to practice their slang and make plans? It's a wonderful new subcultural activity and I don't honestly think anyone can stop them. Three cheers for them! There they all were on the 36 bus as I went to visit a student on his placement. I can't talk about that but I am delighted that he is so happy where he is.
Camberwell has always been an oddball place. It's being gentrified by the second but there are defiant scrubbygutters and lit-up windows with broken blinds and torn net curtains that insist on poverty even though in some driveways there are very expensive cars and in others, Lambrettas that would have been stolen twenty years ago.
I remember walking through an estate; some silly pizza delivery boy had left the keys in his bike as he went into the flats to deliver a pizza. A young chap just hopped on to his bike and sped away, as brazenly as anything.
Anyway, I digress. As I walked past the park where I used to take my daughter and her cousin when they were babies, I peered across to see if Hook of Holland was still there. Hook of Holland was a garishly-painted house with concrete windmills in the garden, painted in blue, white and red enamel and with wire sails. Had it been housing-associationed? I couldn't see. Once, I'd seen a cat rush up to the front door of the next-door house and enter via the letterbox. On the other side of the road there had been a house whose front garden sported a set of plastic doll's heads on pea sticks, all lined up as though they were snapdragons.
As I was thinking this, I noted the stillness. There wasn't a soul about, no wind, but sirens over Brixton way. A thick-legged spider whisked across the pavement in front of me.
As I stood in the dark at the bus stop, a white sports car roared down the road and did a U-turn nanocentimetres in front of the 36 bus that was going to take me to the tube station. 'That was a close shave', I said to the driver when I got on, but my voice was drowned out by a tall young black guy who was telling the whole bus about Jesus in a very loud voice.
I clambered upstairs and rode past the big derelict church where I'd seen huge rats pottering around one night when I was walking a deaf dog who was more interested in attacking traffic cones than rats. There was another set of teenagers on this bus, a little older and more glamorous, and this lot had a volume-controlling teenager who shushed them when they got too loud.
As we got to the tube station I went downstairs. A white-haired white-skinned vicar with a dog collar and an ostentatious silver cross upon his chest was battle-testifying with the young man.
He sounded as though he came from Durham.
'I'll testify to you too', he flung over his shoulder, nose pointing forward.'I'm a prison chaplain. The Good Lord gave me the skills to do that'.
'Oh bless you and bless the Good Lord' said the young man.
'.... and the Lord gifted me with the blessing of poetry!' exclaimed the vicar arrogantly.
In his loudest church voice, he belted out some doggerel that included the line 'and when I am emptying the chamber pots'.
The young man was very impressed. No one else paid any attention at all.
They carried on in this vein, playing testifying tennis until it was time to get off the bus.
At the tube station, I played the scene over in my head as I walked past a brightly-lit hole-in-the-wall newsagents. It was the most abundant hole-in-the-wall newsagent that I had ever seen. Stacks of kitchen roll, mops, Kit Kats, chewing gum, were piled high and very neatly on the pavement, and a side-order of newspapers rather apologetically fanned out on a little table to one side.
In the station, I stopped. I had to take a photo of the shop and it's proprietor, an African man with a beautiful embroidered hat. I set up my little camera and strolled back out again. There was a lady buying something and I raised my camera as the shopkeeper vanished under the counter, getting something for the customer, I assumed. I clicked away as his head popped up, and I suddenly realised that he was hiding from me.
I thought this terribly funny until I realised that (a) he was probably here illegally and/or (b) he was scared of people out to get him.
The strangeness continued on the tube journey home; did I walk into an alternative universe this evening? I think not. I remember Camberwell as perpetually peculiar and there is something reassuring in the fact that it hasn't changed.

A Boat Missed

For the first time, I was too late with the design for The Guitar Weekend T-Shirt. Sorry Martin and Andrew! I'll change the date and we can use it next year.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Courses at The Duke of Uke

Yes... one of which I'm running:

Announcing! All new curated programme of workshops and events at the Duke of Uke!

Make your way down to the Duke of Uke, where you can take part in a variety of courses and events, led by some of the UK’s leading artists and industry professionals.

Whether it’s becoming a ukulele virtuoso, honing your song writing skills or writing your first hit, learning a new instrument or playing style, or taking your first solo break in a jam session, we're curating a variety of workshops to suit all ages, tastes and abilities!

Check out our Eventbrite Page for more details:

March line-up:
Song Writing Taster Course with Helen McCookerybook

Road to Foggy Mountain – An Introduction to Bluegrass Banjo with Alistair MacKenzie

All Fingers and Strums – Finger-style “Hot Jazz” Ukulele with Martin Wheatley

The Ukulele Yurt – Music sessions for 0-5 year olds, parents and carers with Anna Cornish

The Bluegrass Slow Jam – Multi-instrument jam workshop with Joe Buirski and Ally McAuley

Old Time Clawhammer Banjo with Simon Watson

Clawhammer Ukulele with Simon Watson

Beginners Folk and Blues Harmonica with Ed Hopwood

Introduction to Jazz with Francisco Bernhard

Book online at:
 (4 photos)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Two Very Different Gigs

On Friday night I loaded up the car and headed to Islington to play for the Stuart Low Trust. They have Friday night socials in a church hall off the High Road that welcome people with mental health issues with a plate of food, a cup of tea and an evening event. Sometimes it's a talk, sometimes it's music, and occasionally, a comedian (John Hegley, for instance).
I have not only played ther myself before but I've also taken a bunch of students from the University of the East to try out their songs in front of a discerning and sometimes critical audience.
The set up is very basic. I had to leave my own sound gear in the car because I got there so late due to an accident but the cobbled-together guitar practice amps did the trick and everyone seemed to get along with at least some of the songs. It's such a nice event because the audience chats to you between songs, and you can ask them want sort of song they'd like to listen to. Informality- that's the trick.
Yesterday afternoon Martin flew down from Inverness and I roadied for him. We drove over to The Hat Club, a small and cosy room in the Beaconsfield Squash Club which was crammed with people. Martin played an eclectic set punctuated by some very funny stories; he played the very beautiful Synergy as well as a gorgeous version of Lilac Tree. There was a mixture of seasoned Daintees fans and people who had no idea who he was in the audience, and he won them all over, row by row, until the room was one big warm grin. The crowd were incredibly friendly and sat and talked with us both as we waited to start; they were as well heeled as the previous night's audience weren't, but both nights had a warmth and intimacy that made me feel very glad to work at this level.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


Is that spring in the yarden?
Offsprog One bought me a clutch of hellebores a couple of years ago from Columbia Road Market; they were planted in the ex-compost pot and they are thriving: wonderful white petals mixed with gorgeous greenish-purple.
A discarded hyacinth bulb, nibbled at by urban rats, has defiantly burst into bloom and shouts 'BLUE! BLUE! BLUE!' against next door's decaying red brick wall.
In a big, ugly, red plastic pot, a clutch of delicate miniature daffodils quiver like indignant elders huddled together at a bus stop.
The spiky quince has given up on dying and is producing pink fists of maybe-blossom against it's better judgement, and the pink and blue plant that the bees like (pulmonaria? pulsatilla?) that I can't remember the name of has decided that it's almost time to come out to play.
Sparrows have already nipped through the buds of my precious, delicate climbing alpine clematis, and one lone snowdrop has piped up in its little white voice to scold the constant lashings by winter wind and rain.
Hold back fellas- nature has a habit of stamping on all this hope with an icy foot!