Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Upcoming London Gig

I'll be playing a full set at this one!

A Day In Brighton

After a meandering train journey that took in Littlehampton and Pulborough, complete with flooded fields, we pulled into Brighton Station and I headed down the hill to meet Offsprog Two and her partner.
Offsprog One made her a brilliant Sean Paul cake for her 21st birthday, which almost tops her Alan Partridge, but not quite (the hideous fluffy grey sideburns take the biscuit). The town was swarming with police because of the EDL march but none of the thugs were about, just a lot of excited cops doing Manoeuvres and Strategies. 'Reverse, reverse! No! Yes! Orright! Stop!'
I gazed at the spectacle for a while before moving on.
I had to stay the night because the trains were so awful and my hotel was a million miles away from town, or at least it felt that way with a Telecaster on my back. But actually it was nice to walk along the seafront and look at the identical terriers that everyone seemed to have, being walked on the pebbles in the early evening. I made a mental note never to take any children to play on the beach at any point in the future, considering the quantity of dog-dump that was probably hidden amongst the flints.
Ugh. Perish the thought.
I watched the Nightingales, who are a bunch of amazingly friendly people, sound checking (sorry about the picture quality) before going for another wander- the air is just so fresh in Brighton and I wanted to drink my fill of it.
The gig filled up fast. The band have had some ace reviews for their new album and I reckon there ended up being around 150 people there by the time they came on.
I have to say, even though it was fairly daunting playing to so many black-clad chaps, they gave me a fair hearing and I was delighted that Bongo Pete and Way Out Woolfie were there to cheer me on. Offsprog One and pals showed up too and I could see their hairstyles standing out against the punkier grooming of the black-clad chaps (who, as I have mentioned, gave me my share of black-clad claps at the end of my set) (sorry).
Ted Chippington was the other support and I found him to be highly entertaining; I wasn't sure whether his confession to being daunted by the lighting was part of his act or not: Ted had to contend with disco lights or something like that, and a bigger sea of black-clad chaps as the room filled up.
Seamlessly, the Nightingales segued on to the stage and took up their positions. Robert had been eyeing up a fluorescent yellow-green shirt during the sound check but he was dressed in his Birmingham Council chic. They started up with a bang and roared through their set, song following song in a relentless tumble of noise and passion. I love the fact that they are such complex musicians yet so un-flashy at the same time; and there are so many ingredients in those songs! Walking bass lines pass by in one song, rockabilly guitar clangs through another, Fliss taps smartly on the hi-hats and then moves on to thrash the hell out of the kit, and over the top of it all, Robert croons, baas, snarls like a chainsaw, talks us though it, vocalises like no other.
'Bryan Ferry?' mused a chap standing next to me at the bar: 'No, much better'.
Everyone sings, but Robert is the un-star star: he is focused, in control, authoritative.
I want to go to his school! They learn better things there!
I have the first Nightingales album, Pigs on Purpose. I loved them then and I love them now; in their music is hidden the throes of Black Country heavy metal, the JB's of Dudley noise reconstructed into an entirely different personality and performed by four people who are all fascinating to watch.
Go to see them now!

 Pics all by self apart from one of self which is by Spinninchilli.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Poetry and Talk

This is artist and textile designer Kay Davis, one of the people I met yesterday at Masol's event. What style!
It was a really enjoyable day, representing young artists, writers and musicians who want to forge a community identity for themselves in the face of the powerful and entrenched urban and political organisations and groupings whose tide they are swimming against. My fellow panel-member, Therryi Jay Brown, is a youth mentor and community business activist who has her own radio show.
When Masol runs her next event in August I'll let you know.
Masol is intent on encouraging young women to be confident through creativity and she has my support 100% in that. She is also an amazing producer and DJ and works with her Mama sometimes on musical and poetry projects that reflect African culture.
Meanwhile check out Kay's work at

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014


Over the past few days I have dabbled in writing up my most recent research; some interviews are still being transcribed but I hope to reduce the book pile in the kitchen in gradual increments until that part of the kitchen at least looks like a kitchen again. Today is a proper writing day.
Next week and the following week I'll be doing lots of gigs with The Daintees, for which many thanks! I hope the new skiffle album will be ready by then- a limited edition pressing- and I will be taking it with me. I've been learning the songs gradually day by day and shredding my fingers in the process; I'm not used to strumming at high speed although I used to do a lot of casual strumming when I ran childrens' songwriting projects a few years ago.
My hands and nails are protesting and a diet of strawberry jelly cubes beckons, which is what I lived on in the 1980s when I swapped from bass to guitar for Helen and the Horns.
It will be fantastic to be completely steeped in music for a couple of weeks; when I went on tour with the guys two years ago I didn't want to come back to reality at all.
I shall be returning to a mountain of marking, selling the car, fixing the roof, trading in the computer and digging through the giant 'sell-me-on-eBay' bag.
Until then, I'm a researcher and a musician and hats off to that!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Silence Falls

It's going to rain. It's fallen silent out there, and the Barbie Girl blackbird is holding court, it's twurglings and chippings sounding very close by.
Two fresh new cats have been playing Pounce in the yard and I've had to cover up a plant pot that they assumed was a litter tray. I don't mind them passing through though, along with the fat squirrel and a stray sparrow that has lost all its friends in the missing sparrow mystery.
The white sky is slowly clouding over with skeins of brooding grey; a distant blackbird sings a different song, telling the neighbourhood where its territory lies.
Also in the distance, buses squeeze their way down impossible streets choked with parked cars, their diesel roars of anguished impatience echoing across the back gardens.
The birds dread the downpours that soak the spring out of our anticipation. It's as though they are uttering their very last words, clear and precise: prophets of doom on a Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mindless TV

After a three-hour lecture with the third years, I left work in a daze and headed home to rest my mind.  Then I got a text from Gina and realised that I should have been at the Horse Hospital to watch Kitty Finer. The head said Not, and so did the body.
How I wish I'd gone. Watching TV does absolutely nothing for the brain.
Did I tell you that the other day I went over to Gina's to sing harmonies over some of the tracks for her new album? There is some lovely music there; I am looking forward to hearing what it all sounds like when it's been through her mixer masher processors!
Soundscapes one day, Peter Seeger another.
Life is a rich tapestry punctuated by mindless TV that is very much a threadbare cushion cover.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Loose End

If you're at a loose end tomorrow evening, come down to the Boogaloo in Highgate where a motley crew of musicians will be playing tributes to Peter Seeger at one of Nat Loughran's wonderful 'Under The Influence' nights. It's three quid to get in and worth getting there for the kick-off at 8.30 because the acts go on in a random order. Everyone plays two of their own songs plus a Peter Seeger. I'm playing The Banks Are Made Of Marble which I think was actually a Weavers song; it's uncannily relevant today. I will also play a couple of the new skiffle songs but no albums just yet: I think they'll be arriving later in the week. I will bring some Helen and the Horns albums though.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Home Again

From Edinburgh I travelled to Ross-shire, which was all gloriously decked out in Spring yellow: wild gorse, semi-cultivated daffodils (thousands), and farmed rapeseed fields as far as the eye could see.
We watched a strange winged fish in Ullapool harbour dawdle in the oil-streaked waters, and bought fish and chips in Golspie to eat by the side of the Loch.
The air rang with birdsong. 'It's never winter here, oh no!'. they trilled, saturating the soundscape with a multitude of melodies.
We bought ice cream at the 1950s cafe in Strathpeffer, and sat on a bench to eat it, warmed by the Highlands sunshine.
I came home to a flood of emails, but I read the week's newspapers with the remaining relaxation lest it leave me too soon.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lonnie Donnegan

After a tip from a group of professorial vinyl fans at the conference this weekend, I visited the wonderful Backbeat Records in Edinburgh and left with a Bear Family Lonnie Donnegan compilation to plonk on the turntable when I get back.
That, and a load of 12' disco records from the 1970s. And Champion Doug Veitch, and Girls by the Moments and Whatnauts to remind myself that gender-dodgy lyrics served up by amazing singers on a bed of delicious music is definitely a pre-21st century phenomenon!

Scottish Sky

On one side, an airbrushed, dark, purplish-grey leaked from the sky to the land that blurred the distinction between the two and foregrounded a dirty mist.
On the other, a merry blue sky twinkled with innocent joy; plumped-up clouds shone with a cheeky pinkish glow: 'It's SPRING!' they trilled.
From left to right, the battle of the seasons, the battle of the sky, was about to begin.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The chap in Edinburgh's Backbeat Records told me that Lonnie Donnegan and The Moody Blues got stoned together at the Isle of Wight Festival, and Justin Heyward sold the copyright to Nights in White Satin to Lonnie. The Donnegan family recoup royalties for the song to this day.


A Finnish delegate asked me the time. Instinctively, I looked at my watch.
Unfortunately, I had a full cup of coffee in my left hand, which tipped out faster than I could correct it.
Fortunately, hooked on to my left wrist was my half-opened umbrella, which caught the coffee neatly and channelled it into a nylon-walled puddle ready to be mopped up by a paper napkin.
Note to self: learn gravitas.

Friday, April 11, 2014


A stiff East Coast breeze blows up my coat sleeves and chills my heart as usual; it peppers my eyes with tiny bits of grit and I weep grey Niddry Street tears.
For much of the last two days, I've been sitting in an intellectual stew: a very friendly and interesting one, thank goodness. Suddenly, I know about copyright in Senegalese Rap, and Finnish yoik.(autocorrect that, iPhone!)
I have presented my paper and imagined a virtual bookshelf of essential new texts, and been mildly scared by Robert Christgau. There are some old pals here and some writers whose books have become close companions, and I have met some stimulating new people.
Edinburgh is as bonkers as ever. High culture rubs shoulders with charity shops (three interesting albums, only faintly scratched, bought on the way there this morning). 
I escaped a looming pub crawl to look for fish and chips, but instead found a Lebanese Cafe full of what I took to be Lebanese people. It was the right decision to eat there, but I do smell of barbecued food and chips. Eau de caff!
On the way to the bus stop, my path was blocked as the pavement was spilling over with a hen party who were full of excitement, and bubbling over with pride in their idea. No pink bunny ears, micro-mini skirts and porn heels for them! They sported rollers in their hair (some hair dyed bright blue-grey), 50s frilly pinnies, slippers, thick foundation face make-up and coral lipstick. They knew how funny they were and they tumbled along like a clutch of puppies chasing butterflies.
It's so subversive not to be sexy!

Apologies for typos. The phone's slapping unmovable  'send feedback' messages all over the place. The feedback I want to send as a consequence of this is unprintable.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Hoo-ha! Hoo ha! the printer sings a chain gang song.
I'm printing out interviews to read on the train to Edinburgh.
In a moment of genius, a transatlantic email interview has turned up and actually brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart beyond words.
I've been trying to get funding for this research and not been able to, so it's all powered by goodwill and that has been delivered in spades; people from behind the scenes have given time and energy to something that I think will be a unique body of research.
Now, I have to edit it all (and one more interview to do) and write the most interesting academic essay I have ever done in my life. It needs to be watertight. The kitchen is piled with books and newspaper cuttings and in the intervals when the dog next door isn't barking hysterically, I'm going to engage my brain and get to it!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

No Adventures At Present

It's not that life is boring: just a little confusing at the moment.
Practicality barges in, of course; it is time to sell my trusty car, which has many a mile on it's clock but still a super engine and which has rarely ever failed an MOT.
In fact, I think the guys down at the depot may even shed a tear when I drive up with a different one.
I've had it for more than ten years so it's time for a change: a rusty banger, probably.

It's also time to sell guitars for the car fund and I'll deal with that next week. I've sold a vintage telephone today and a pair of shoes.

iTunes is feeding me Gospel at the moment. I'm listening to Mahalia Jackson right now and Mary Mary beforehand. It's almost as though Apple is arguing with Donna Leon, whose Venetian detective character has been tussling with his lack of religious faith in the last few paperbacks that I bought from the charity shop that files them in alphabetical order (irresistible for an academic like me!)

I've printed out a hot-off-the press interview transcript to read on the train to the Edinburgh conference later this week. Bless the transcriber's cotton socks, she's absolutely brilliant. Thank you Sarah!

I've been peer-reviewing some undergraduate submissions for a student's Independent Project, an undergraduate thesis website. It's a brilliant idea and she has managed to get eight submissions so far which is pretty good going.

Ah, here's Sister Rosetta, also singing Gospel! Really, I need to listen to some harmonies. Gina has asked me to sing on some of her new music (CD here and awaiting listening space). And also guitar: I have distortion and 50s echo at the ready as well as a little fingerpicking (I was listening to Merle Travis this morn). I have no digital Trio Bugarka or London Community Gospel Choir but somewhere I have that gorgeous Belgian band Zap Mama. I'm off to find them.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Multi-Locational Day

The day started with a meeting in Stratford; a repeating-meeting. Then I relocated to Oxford Circus and met the two students from the University of the West who I'm supervising (that's always a pleasure); the up to Turnpike Lane to do the second-last interview. This evening I have been preparing a Powerpoint (urgh, how I hate it's attempts be be helpful: it's like trying to put up a curtain rail helped by a four-year-old). I will be presenting a paper at the Studying Music conference at Edinburgh University later this week, which is a conference to honour Simon Frith's retirement.
Simon wrote the first academic book that I ever struggled through, Sound Effects, and to celebrate that fact I have a tiny quotation from that very book submerged in the paper I'm presenting.
I have such a mass of material that it's now become very difficult to extract parts of it to make into a conference paper and for the first time even I am going to read the thing out loud tomorrow and time it.

Friday, April 04, 2014


I spent the day dazed by painkillers asleep in bed; later, I got up to buy some carrots but got distracted by the Oxfam shop. Metabolically, I was 100% slower than normal so I could be bothered to browse through almost every single vinyl album and 7" that was there and I left with an armful that included  7"s of The Frank Chickens, Annie Get Your Gun (that's an EP), Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky, a Kate Bush to sell on eBay, Julie Covington singing Housewives Choice, a 12" of Lonnie Donnegan's songs, and LPs by Anthony Newley, Danny Kaye and the Girl Guides singing, which I've had to promise Offsprog One that I'll never play in her hearing.
A vinyphile tried to nab the Annie EP out of my arms- couldn't believe his cheek- then tried to engage me in conversation about musicals as though to prove that he needed the EP more than I did.

Once I bought a Boy Scouts Gang Show EP there which I gave to my pal Jim who works now at the Open University recording studio. He always had lots of weird albums, with the sounds of babies in the womb and that sort of thing.
There were a whole lot of 7"singles with birdsong on them and some ZZ Top albums.
Sometimes I try to imagine the person who must have offloaded their collecsh to the charity shop- but sometimes I don't!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Under the Influence: Pete Seeger


Thanks to Alone Trooper for hosting a great BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN night this month.

To mark the sad passing earlier this year of renowned folk singer and political activist, PETE SEEGER, acts will pay tribute to his music on Easter monday (April 21st).

Each acts plays one Pete Seeger song as well as two of their own.

Acts include:
Steve White & The Protest Family
The world's favourite east London semi-acoustic singalong political folk punk group.

Helen McCookerybook
Singer from, John Peel faves,The Chefs and more recently; Helen and The Horns. Performs wonderful songs under her solo moniker: Helen McCookerybook.

Into The Headwind
Traditional Folk duo who perform acapella and keep the spirit of trad folk alive.

Roger Askew
Great songwriter, worked on an album with Peggy Seeger in the 90s.

Stu Crane
Aka: The Sneezy T's, aboynamedstu, Stu Crane has a ragged punk folk quality to his songwriting. He is also half of Cigar Box Guitar and Drums duo 3 Chords & A Lie.

My Mate George
Lyrical acoustic songs with quite an English feel. Witty and heart warming stuff.

Matt Milton

Matt delights in digging up old folk songs while his own songs are inspired by William Burroughs, sci-fi movies & visionary poetry. He plays guitarbanjo, mandolin, ukulele & fiddle.

Nat The Hammer
Your host: singer with indie-rock band The Reverse. Under his solo guise he performs witty, narrative yet delicately melodic songs.

Entry only £3
From 7.30pm
The Boogaloo, Highgate, 312 Archway Road, N6 5AT

The Beatles: I Want To Hold Your Hand

Shephard's had a wonderful hectic jingle. It seemed like such a glamorous shop, just like Fenwick's.
Back in those days, every single building in Newcastle was black because of the coal dust and pollution, and all the railings were mere stumps; they had been shorn in the second world war supposedly to melt down for building planes and ships (I heard later that that's was a Big Fib designed to boost morale).
This was the first ever record that I possessed. My teacher at primary school hated The Beatles with a vengeance, which was all the more reason for me to love them. This was a trophy!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Listening to the Skiffle Mixes

I've just been listening to the skiffle mixes- they're sounding pretty lively which is pretty darn good. Colin Mee has put the Sam Phillips slapback on them and it's livened them up no end.