Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Song For New Year's Eve


Oh well, that was Christmas. I sent Offsprog One off to Dick Whittington at Wilton's Music Hall with a friend, because I was too poorly to go. Dammit, panto only happens at Christmas and I missed it!
It's been a holed-up-with-films and Lemsip time. Lots of James Stewart (including a birthday trip to the BFI which was sweet and survivable to see The Shop On The Corner. Kaurismaki's Leningrad Cowboys and more, so that I dreamt a delirious dream that I was in one of his films.
The documentary on penguins with the little runt baby penguin hiding behind it's Dadda when the guillemot came to gobble it up, metamorphosed into a computer game in my mind; penguins heads, penguins heads, all lined up and ready to... well, whatever happens in computer games, I don't know.
I have a copy of 8 Women to watch, having missed the showing at Viktor Wynd, and also a copy of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort; tomorrow may be French films and paracetamol, to ring the changes.
Instead of watching Vertigo on TV, I'm writing this. Poor attention span.
I'll go back to reading Sunday's newspaper.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cough Cough

It started on Boxing Day. I went to the doctors today, and everyone was coughing the same cough. Top of the Coughs.
Honey, ginger, and lemon to wash down a truckload of paracetamol; I'm missing the panto at Wilton's tonight. What a shame.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Last Night at The City Hall

Bone-drenching rain fell relentlessly, but nothing was going to damp our spirits. The crew at The City Hall treated us just like any other superstars (The Osmonds are playing there this week) and we had plenty of chocolates in our dressing room thanks to Mike and June.
El Cid played a nifty set; they are fabulous song writers and have grown ever more confident as performers. They brought a welcome West Coast Californian warmth to dreary central Newcastle yesterday evening, as they have developed their garage band palette to a much more mature and mellow vocal-harmony-rich sound. They also look like a proper pop group, and they didn't look too scared to be on a very big stage, which bodes very well for the future. They are such great songsmiths and have such a good sound; they are my favourite band by far that Martin has produced. (and it was really sweet that their mums and dads were in the audience).
I wore my best shirt for the occasion, and ignoring my shredded fingernail (thanks, E, Coli, for leaving me with health issues months afterwards) I had a great time. It was really exciting to stand on that stage where I'd been to see so many bands when I was a teenager; I never in a million years dreamed that I would find myself there one day and it was an extraordinary privilege to be invited on to the bill. The sound man was excellent and afterwards the only thing I could think was 'My fingernail can fall off now!'. I wonder if Rihanna ever thinks things like that?
Naturally, The Daintees were warm-hearted, musical and hilarious all in one package. Previous to this year, these Christmas gigs have been at the Cluny and the audience has gradually (or not so gradually) got progressively more and more pissed so by the time the set drew to a close, nobody was listening any more. I used to feel sorry for the band to have to play their last gig of the year to an audience who had stopped listening. At the City Hall, you couldn't take the drinks into the auditorium and it was a proper gig with people listening all the way through. I loved that, and so indeed did the audience. Some got up and danced at the back, others heckled song titles, and Jamie was invited on stage to play guitar and he did a great Bruce Foxton leap. So did Martin, but Chris has a bad knee and only managed to lift one leg off the ground. All the band were in top musical form and great spirits.
Boo to the local mag The Crack, who frantically tweeted the gig that was being played at The Cluny and not this one, in spite of an ad being taken out and paid for. Bad business and misplaced loyalty, guys.
This was a fabulous gig with a much-deserved encore and CDs flying off the stall at the front of the City Hall. Well done to The Daintees themselves, Andrew their promoter, Mike, June and Laura on the merch stall, El Cid and chiefly, the audience, for making this a night to remember!

What am I doing tonight? Trying to catch up on three months writing. I've been at it for four hours now and the computer's just about to run out of battery and power down.
Hip hip hooray! That's as good a reason as any to out the TV on and take a break.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Newcastle City Hall

Tonight- where I saw Santana (charming bloke and fabulous music), the odious Spinal Tap-like Yes (with a boyfriend), John McLaughlin (self indulgent) Kevin Ayers (the PA broke down, and he did the whole thing acoustically).
I always had to leave at 10.30 to get the last train home to Wylam, being a country girl.
Tonight I get to play there, supporting The Daintees, with El Cid.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Music Entrepreneurship

This book, edited by my former colleague Allan Dumbreck, and Gail McPherson, comes out on Thursday. Really it's aimed at students but I think it's got stuff in it that any young music entrepreneur will find interesting.
I did the Case Study on Recorded Music, which comes out of the research I'm doing at the moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


My phone is such a know-it-all. It has just autocorrected the word 'geminid' to 'feminist'.
It's like arguing with a misinformed pedant, but quite funny at the same time.

Carols for Crisis

I had a long urban stroll today, through Covent Garden, down to the footbridge over the Thames and then along the South Bank. There were vast quantities of Santas, many of them Very Merry. There was an utterly plastered gentlemen in a tailored suit with an all-over Christmas print, regrettably too unpleasantly aggro-drunk to ask for a photo.
I was on my way to Southwark Cathedral for the Crisis Christmas Carol Service. I hadn't got a ticket but I'd got a hopeful feeling and luckily there was a spare chair.
It was lovely. The cathedral was packed to the rafters and the service kicked off with the Merbecke Choir singing a lovely a cappella song with lyrics by Oscar Wilde called My Heart Stole Back. They sang beautifully and so did the Crisis Skylight Choir, only in different sorts of voices.
Jonathan Pryce (a patron) joined them, which was really touching. He narrated their second song, a version of When a Child is Born, but sang with them for their first one, Hallelujah, too.
The congregation burst into applause and just to be fair, applauded the other choir every time they sang too: and the members of Crisis who spoke about their lives.
They bravely stood in front of the congregation and told their stories; one particularly moving one was told by a young Irish chap those father, who didn't provide the love he ran away to seek, died on Boxing Day a few years ago. Through depression, alcohol and drugs, homelessness took these people's hope and confidence away, and Crisis gave them back through education, companionship and care.
We carolled away in between: Once in Royal David's City, Ding Dong Merrily on High, The Holly and the Ivy and O Come All Ye Faithful. Babies cried and chuckled, little children were escorted to the loo, gentlemen coughed their Christmas cough, groups of ladies from Derbyshire reminisced and rattled with perspex necklaces. There were readings: one by Jeremy Paxton (much rustling from the Derbyshire platoon: had he shaved off his beard? He had).
We all put as much as we could afford into paper envelopes because homelessness has risen by 77%  in the last five years. That's awful, isn't it? A combination of lack of housing, benefit sanctions and very poor behaviour by employers (who in some cases withhold pay for months) added to depression, makes it surprisingly easy for people of all ages and backgrounds to completely slip out of what most of us regard as normality, into a hellish life.
Crisis volunteers cook Christmas dinner for thousands of homeless or vulnerable people every Christmas. They do it for all of us who don't do it, and that is why it's particularly important to support them at this time of year. I'm not a street charity donor, and in case you're not either, here's a link to the Crisis website in case you are feeling generous today:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tickets for Newcastle City Hall

How exciting! Where I saw Santana, Kevin Ayers and the abysmal Spinal Tap prequel, Yes:

Darkness at Dawn: Another Early Start

Camden didn't offer me anything exciting this morning, but an early pondering in Stratford, wondering if Pret a Manger would ever dare to do an Away in 'a Manger' Christmas advertisement, kept me amused for a second.
I sat an an empty lecture theatre for the second morning in a row, and watched The Decline of Civilisation, Parts Two and Three. I am reviewing these films (and Part One), for the Jisc magazine Viewfinder, and it's taken a million years to find Blu-Ray equipment that actually works; it has been worth the wait though. Sitting on my own in the emptiness as dawn broke, I was completely absorbed by the films and the obvious trust that the protagonists had for Penelope Spheeris.
Part Two stands apart from the others. I have never liked Gene Simmonds and I now have a new-found dislike for Steve Tyler. What repulsive men they were, and possibly still are.
Lemmy, however, has a noble working classness about him and so of course does poor old Ozzy Osborne, a spring chicken making an omelette (see what I did there?) in his rather unflashy kitchen, as always bewildered by the peculiar world of heavy metal he appears to have been born into.
Well before the film was finished, I was bored by stories of groupies, d*cks and f*cking. Ever the genius, Spheeris asks these crowing prats, during a section where they boast about poncing clothes, food and money off various groupies, whether they are in fact prostitutes.
That passes them by.
Part Three made me cry; it was the stories of abuse by families and by the police. Americans can be just as horrible to their offspring as anyone else and a lot of global physicians need to heal themselves (here as well, of course). The young people in this documentary reminded me so much of the Brighton punks that I knew, and I found it terribly sad to realise that as humans we learn so little as time passes.
I've head two days of immersing myself in films; deep treatment, deep treatment.
I think it's time I made some music of my own.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Gig at The Lexington

Martin Stephenson and The Daintees at The Lexington on Wednesday 16th December.

Santa Claus and Spheeris

Well what a funny day.

I rose early, and by 7.15 I was hot-footing it through Camden Town. At the usual traffic lights I stopped.
In the moody pre-dawn sodium lighting, the cars, lorries and motorbikes were lined up for the green-light dash.
Who should be in the front row of the thrusting bikes, so tense with hair-trigger reflexes, but Santa Claus, his curly white moustache, beard and eyebrows twinkling in the gloaming and his red coat and trews with fake-fur trim and pom-pom buttons picked out against the throbbing buses.
All that was missing was his hat, because of course he was wearing a crash helmet.
The lights changed, and off he roared into the distance.
Was I the only person who noticed him?

The University of the East wasn't even open when I got there. The chap on the desk looked at the clock with one eye. To minutes to eight. He let me through to wait for Mr Keys to work his way down from the top floor to open the lecture theatre.
Down-time in the lecture theatres is the only opportunity I have to watch the Penelope Spheeris films- I've got three-and-a-bit to watch and review.
I sat with a coffee and a chewy pretzel, and thoroughly enjoyed the first one, The Decline of Western Civilisation (1).
I noticed all sorts of little details, like the fact that most of the LA punks had perfect teeth, and very expensive amplification equipment. You could identify those who had dreams of big bucks, and those for whom it was a desperate attempt to have some sort of value in their lives.
In this respect it was very similar to UK punk, I suppose.

And then there was a music team meeting, and then there was Mike Holdsworth who came to deliver a fascinating talk to the students about music marketing in the indie sector, followed by a Finnish academic, Leena Louhivuori, who talked to them about Baltic music and film festivals.

I wish every day was like today, perhaps with a slightly later start; and maybe not with the fact that the chilli I made yesterday is going to be my evening meal until at least Saturday, because I made too much of it.

Pip pip!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Helen McCookerybook's Christmas Assortment on Bandcamp

In 2007 I recorded four Christmas songs, one of which featured a scratch choir, the He-mails and She-mails, recruited from my email contacts.
I've put the tracks up on Bandcamp for the princely sum of £2.00.
Link here:

Musical Meanderings

First to Drax, where the thrilling power-station loomed out of the rainy darkness, spewing orange steam from the top of the cooling towers, and festively decorated below with functionally white, white lights.
We were on our way to Laura's birthday party; Laura sparkled like a princess and would have been sparkly even without her sparkly clothes; she had a wonderful evening and so did we.
And so did Mr Blobby.
Sunday night's music event was in Croxley's Coco Cafe, situated in a tidy suburb on north London, where the Rrrants crew were saying goodbye (temporarily, I think and hope). The little cafe was packed, and Poet Terry was on hand to deliver his smutty offerings, accidentally starting the same poem twice; Hannah did a great poem about shedding snakeskin which had great resonance in our quarter (and I'll have to find out the names of the other poets and get back to you later).
Towards the end, and after a version of Freight Train featuring Steve Joy on trumpet, the Antipoet were joined by Martin Stephenson, Lester Square and yours truly, launching into Jet Set Junta which I managed to play by sticking closely to E minor and not budging.
On to last night when my Champagne Friend joined me at The Forge in Camden to see Jamie McDermot play a minimal set. It's wonderful to hear a singer who you know that you can trust never to hurt your ears, and who you know will hit every note perfectly.
And the songs!
The guy next to us was weeping openly and feeding his tears with regular swigs from a glass of water. Jamie, I'm so proud to have had the pleasure of teaching you, and so delighted that your dreams are coming true.
Pics below: Laura and friend; The Antipoet; Martin and Lester; Jamie and some Irrepressibles

Monday, December 07, 2015

A Weekend And A Dream

On Saturday morning I had the opportunity not to get up at 6.30 for a change. Wonderful!
Unfortunately, I was woken by a forensically-detailed nightmare about today, in which everything went wrong: everything.
I rushed around my imagination trying to solve all the humungous problems thrown up by the dream and finally woke exhausted as though I'd lived through the whole day.
Then I had a whole day to live through, but not the day I'd dreamed about, which was today.
Saturday (once I'd recovered) was fine, and so was Sunday, but more of those days tomorrow (confused?).
Today was amazingly OK. What was scary about it? I had to organise 81 student presentations across six rooms with six staff, who should have been seven. That's 81 named mark sheets (can't afford not to, in case one or two go missing), 81 time-slots, six tea breaks and strategies to deal with no-shows.
We all met at 9.30, got started at 10, a camera showed up at 11 to replace the missing lecturer and in the end, most of the assessors were quite pleased by the quality of the students' research.
Me? After a satisfying evening repast of a left-over chocolate biscuit and a bowl of original Doritos, it's iPlayer and a cup of decaf tea for the rest of the evening, which I hope will not lead to another horrid dream.

Saturday, December 05, 2015


A busker's digital piano gave me a headache within nanoseconds when I walked past it in the tube station the other day. Or it could have been that plus the fluorescent lights, perhaps.
Groucho, who was a live reggae mixer and who cut Freight Train at CTS in Wembley all those years ago, told us that digital sound exhausted the brain in the same way as fluorescent lighting: all those on/off processes are registered one by one and they cause fatigue.
I asked executive from Phillips, who were the main CD manufacturers at the time if this was true, when I happened to sit next to him at a wedding. 'Yes', he said, 'We are trying to work round that all the time'.
Brains are supposed to enjoy distortion, which is part of analogue sound, and this might be why sometimes when you're working with music and elderly people, they put their hands over their ears if the digital piano is too loud. For them, that actually is noise; we've got used to it. Or not.
I was intrigued by the bad reviews of this artist, Sophie, as well as being delighted to have such a clearly articulated piece of music to write about in my forthcoming research.
I'm posting it here not for that reason, but because I wondered if the little drop sections in this track were enough for the brain to catch up with itself, rather like a native American Indian waiting on a train platform for their spirit to catch up after a railway journey.
On listening again, I don't think they do, but I'm posting it anyway.
Music by Autotune, lyrics by Autotext, perhaps.
(apologies to Navin for reposting my comment on Facebook)

Friday, December 04, 2015


I was probably five or six, and McMum's best friend Pam was whisking the porridge in a pan on the stove while me and Bruv were staying with her for a while. This song came on the radio, and Pam burst into song, whisking along in time with the music, thus sowing the seeds for Helen and the Horns almost twenty years later.

Garage Chez Moi

Working life currently feels akin to trying to drive a car forward that is permanently stuck in reverse gear.
I'd burst into tears but I'm a mechanic, so I fix the car.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Old Smokey

Linda Lewis made London seem so magical and sparkly, telling the story of her family in the East End.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Monochrome Set: Jet Set Junta

At Coco's Cafe in Croxley on Sunday, a whole bunch of us will be playing the last Rrrants charity night at the venue. Lester Square, The Antipoet, Martin Stephenson and myself plus others will all be there musicking, and we will have mastered this song so we can all play it together (I hope) plus Freight Train. Entrance is by donation to put poetry books in schools- so do come along and support the event if you can. Faded superstars rule!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Weekendly Roundup

It's been rather hectic since Thursday evening; on Friday I had to go to Maplins to buy a memory card for the camera that I borrowed to shoot The Dollymixture; I thought that I needed a USB lead as well but the guys in the shop managed to find the lead cunningly tucked into the handle of the camera that I'd missed when hunting for it on the camera body.
I then had to download a manual and do some test shooting, but I was so worried about whether I could manage to do it that I cleared all the documentary film from the iPad that I took to North Carolina and uploaded it to Youtube so that I had some backup. In the end, I had such a cumbersome load that I left the iPad behind.
I never knew tripods were so bloody heavy; when I was in Brighton on Saturday, the wind just blew me in whichever direction it felt like. I did try to go down to the seafront, but decided against it as I didn't fancy being blown out to sea with only a collapsible tripod for a boat.

Thursday evening was spent at the Panic: what happened to social mobility in the arts? event at The Guardian. The panel was chaired by Jude Rogers, who is a music journalist for The Guardian (and other papers) and teaches at a very similar University to me. Stuart Maconie was another member and we were given his article for The New Statesman to read:
Ray Oudkerk (the deputy head of The Brit School), Pauline Black (yes, from the Selector and wearing such a fab pair of shoes I wanted to eat them for my tea) and James Young from Dark Star made up the rest of the members. The duo Dark Star sampled Huddersfield teenagers talking about their lives on their latest album Foam Island (listen here: ).
Pauline was about to play at The Albert Hall with Jools Holland and came out with the most poetic comment of the evening, actually in the Green Room before we even began: she compared music on the internet as being similar to a murmuration of starlings flowing around all over the sky. Lovely.
Jude was a great host; she was very even-handed and I don't think any of us dominated the panel. There was a lot of truth spoken with a lot of passion and I was able to say how angry I feel at the way young people are being treated by society (Yes, all society, not just the Government, because I don't see anyone sticking up for them, do you? It's no good going 'innit awful' and waiting for somebody else to sort it out. We have to do it).

It was a panel strong on content and committed talk. Stuart Maconie used to be an FE lecturer and has done a fair bit of research on this issue; James was a beneficiary of the New Deal on Music and both Pauline and myself started off in the punk era (which wasn't anywhere near as glorious as some people make out).
The bottom line is that lecturers don't think students should be paying so much either- and we work extra hard to be worth the money. Which is why I sometimes get up at 5 a.m. to plan sessions, catch up with admin and write lectures.
Toughens you up, I suppose.

The Chefs

Thanks to Richard Cundall for posting this from Michael White's book Popkiss: the life and afterlife of Sarah Records. Vain, inneye?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Herb Alpert

McDad had two elpees that I was interested in: Melanie, and Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass (that's what I thought they were called).
I loved the bustling brass of Herb's arrangements and the clarity of the trumpet: deeply uncool I know. But I still adore the sound of it: it just sound so shiny and happy.
What a terrible pity that the only sound I can get out of my own trumpet is an awful, sad, farting sound.
I can't even toot it and imagine that it sounds good, because the effort required to blow it makes me see stars and also dribble.
The final disillusionment, though, was years before when my manager Claudine tried to get Alpert's label A&M to sign me.
'We've got a woman artist already', they told her.
I was hardly going to tread on Joan Armatrading's toes, was I?
Toot, toot.


I'll post about last night's Create event at The Guardian later today, but at the moment I'm preparing to go hunting for cables and memory disks so I can film The Dollymixtures' interview tomorrow. I'm also clearing space on my iPad to make a backup copy so there will be some footage of the North Carolina trip up on Youtube soon.
The rest of the day will be spent reading thesis drafts. At least it is raining and I won't be longing to spring out into the sunshine.
I spent five minutes yesterday singing a Barbara Windsor publicity leaflet to a student who was queuing up at the equipment store at the University. He was kneeling on the floor filling out a form and he asked my advice.
I think that was something that would have looked rather peculiar to a passer-by, perhaps.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Three Cheers For Portsmouth Jobcentre

Three cheers!
Portsmouth Jobcentre takes the prize for destroying a young person's confidence and making them give up voluntary work that included mentoring in an arts centre. Why? Because by working there they rendered themselves unable to take a non-existent job.
Thank you for making a young person cry, and making them so miserable that they trembled when they went for the job interview that they found (not the Jobcentre), for a zero hours job (actually, four hours a week, but that's pretty close to zero. Oh, wasn't that what it meant?).
Jobcentre woman, were you jealous and resentful of a beautiful and graceful young woman? What made you think you were entitled to 'put her in her place'? Is it your life's mission to embody the spite and unkindness of our cruel Government?
If so I would love to read your job description.
Anyway: calling these places Jobcentres is surely poetic licence- or maybe a violation of the Trades Description Act. They don't find people jobs; they don't even try. There is no advice on CVs, no courses, no direction to further training or education.
Rant over, but hurt and anger still simmering!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Slowest Selling Album Of All Time

Nine years ago, I made my own record label in order to release a bunch of self-penned songs that I had recorded at Tom Greenwood's student flat, mostly in three-hour sessions in the mornings on my way to work. I was not even sure if they sounded like proper songs, and I enlisted ten friends to listen to the songs and pick the ones they liked the best.
I asked the chewing-gum painter Ben Wilson to paint a picture of a lawnmower for its cover, on a patch of gum in a street in High Barnet (it's still there, though almost worn away), and asked my friend Mike Slocombe to take a photograph for the back of it and his partner Em to design the graphics.
It cost almost the same to press up a thousand as it did to press up five hundred, and at that time I lived in a big house with plenty of space to store boxes of records.
This was the time of Myspace (remember that?) and the first few hundred flew off pretty quickly. I was enthusiastic and I suppose I 'marketed' them quite efficiently before running out of marketing energy and starting to write more songs.
Why write about this now? Well, I have just discovered that I've only got fifty left.
This CD meant so much to me because I hadn't written any songs or performed with my guitar for more than 25 years, and it began a whole new phase of life during which I found a lost self that had been wandering around in a suburban desert for a very long time.
I found other women who had done the same, and who had been much more famous than me back in the day- Gina Birch, Viv Albertine and Pauline Murray, for instance, all of whom are now out there playing new songs. I found a world of open mic nights at small venues where you could play the three songs that you knew best, with and to a bunch of people who appeared not to have any problems with gender or indeed, age.
The album has crawled out there at the pace of a snail, but it has carried on doing so consistently; I still play lots of the songs at the live gigs because I like singing them just as much as I did when I first wrote them.
Two boxes left... should I press up some more? Who knows.

Hooray, Hooray, It's A Research Day

After weeks spent unravelling admin hiccups and writing lectures, I have given myself a research day.
The old computer, shiny-face, had been tucked away behind the rocking horse and it came downstairs to be rebooted, minus the internet which crashes it instantly.
I had to check an interview which seemed to end in mid-air; fast-forwarding through an interesting gabble and then rewinding, I realised that some words work the same backwards as they do forwards.
I'm now editing the interview.
I have been massively helped in this project by Sarah, who has done most of the transcriptions, but also a bit by her sister Maria and the Offsprogs.
This is interview 16 of 25; it needs to be tidied up and that's a heavy concentration job.
I'm taking a coffee break.
I had been worried about whether these interviews were interesting enough, but they bloody are; I have spoken or written to 27 female pop music producers/engineers over the past five years, nearly all of whom produce/engineer for other people rather than being self-producers (which is where people often reach a bit of a gender dead end). They have fantastic stories to tell.
I have missed out on some interview opportunities, and some people simply haven't responded to my requests; but why should they? This is a private job that is less about stars than creativity and skill, especially, I think, for women.
I have also written a supporting essay which I'm trying to edit down from 30,000 words, which covers all sorts of issues to do with the way the oral histories relate to some more theoretical issues. This has been a complete labour of love, undertaken with very little funding. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is a labour of politics, because that is what has driven it all; and maybe also a labour of sound, because of course it has a bearing on what we listen to.
I need four days to finish it all off; there is a pile of media cuttings on the kitchen floor which need to be integrated, and a pile of computer files, same thing.
When will I get four days? Christmas, of course. Goodbye social life, hello numb legs from sitting at the table writing for hours. But I am so close to the finishing-post that it is really exciting.
After presenting the research at various conferences, I have started to publish small parts and to do interviews about it, so I will post those here as they appear.
Coffee drunk: back to work.

Rosetta Tharpe: Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pure Escapism For A Rainy Tuesday

Forgive Me For A Sinister Thought

We have a generation of young people who are being, and have been, completely ignored by the current Government; they might as well be invisible.
They are lost in a fog of zero-hours jobs, semi-dependence on their parents, fabricated Jobcentre disgrace (how can they be guilty of the lack of provision of jobs?), and chronic low-level stress illnesses caused by lack of self-esteem and, dammit, boredom.
Next to this, put a Government plummeting downwards in terms of coherent policy about anything, caught tightly in the clutches of bankers and other industry moguls who conduct their business with their trouser leg rolled up, mouthing inane stuff about 'All in it together!' for the Daily Mail readers who voted for them.
Suddenly, upon the horizon, appears a solution to the Government's problems: a traditional one to boot, that always guarantees to raise the spirits and standing of Governments the world over.
For a country that produces so many armaments, it's a no-brainer.
Promise those young people food, and a purpose!
They have been learning how to shoot at targets since they were babes in arms (sic). Simply swap the computer games for real weapons, tap into the depression and nihilism that has been festering within them (and that you have cultivated by turning a blind eye to them), and hey presto! The perfect ingredients for war.
Just don't tell them that death will happen to them, too.

Something For Thursday At The Guardian: Stuart Maconie, Pauline Black And More (And Me)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Orange Tree Last Night

The pub was cosy, and a warm refuge from the big chill outside. Foolish Girl was already there- that's enthusiasm for you! Stephen and Katy had just set up the PA and chairs when we got there; it was lovely to see them both again.
The bouncer was a new boy, all smart and smiles in his huge navy coat. We hoped we wouldn't cause any trouble.
After the sound checks, Stephen took to the stage; he was full of beans and treated us to a song he'd written for the primary school children he supply-teaches, called Put A Name On It. This was a simple introduction to perhaps copyright law for children who produce beautiful work, dated and titled, but without their name at the top. We sang along obediently, remembering all the times we hadn't put our names on our work.
The memories!
Much of Stephen's repertoire is sharply articulated political comment, served up on a bed of mad jazz-inflected punk. Somebody needs to be bloody doing it, and I made a mental note to try extra hard to write my political feelings into my songs- it is just so difficult to do without sounding trite. Stephen is a master at avoiding this. He has just released an album on a USB drive in matchbox which I will be reviewing in due course. Tonight he did a genius thing- he mimed to one of his own songs pretending that he was on Top of the Pops....
The waggling leg!
The finger-pointing at the sky!
The low bass note that almost ended in a dribble!
The lurch towards the PA on the table to adjust the volume!
The grab for the fiddle and the frantic effort to keep up with the pre-recorded string section!
We all roared with laughter; this was a cathartic moment, especially for those of us who live in the Smoke and have been expecting to be blown up all week.
Oh Stephen, thank you for a welcome release of tension.
I had the difficult task of following him, but I can only be myself, and thankfully the audience seemed perfectly happy to listen to my songs, and laugh at the inter-song quips. It's great to play the Telecaster again; it feels like a long-lost pal that has come back again, and it plays itself while I sing. Stephen came up to play fabulous fiddle on Sugarhill, and Martin played great guitar on Heaven Avenue.
Finally, Martin strapped on his guitar and took the audience on journey through humour, sadness and poignant observation, mixing some rare live performances of songs alongside his more regular repertoire. The audience and the artist were as one, as always at Martin's gigs. It was lovely to hear I Can See and Synergy, punctuated by ragtime and some Daintees classics including Boat to Bolivia. The cream of the crop, however, was Left Us To Burn which was met with a roar of approval. If even Essex man and woman hate the Tories, what are we doing letting them rip our future to shreds?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gig Tonight in Chelmsford

It's Martin , me and Stephen Foster-Pilkington tonight, advance tickets only because of licensing issues. So if you live in Essex and want a respite from..... yes, if you haven't opened your curtains yet, snow, come along to this:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

And Something for Sunday.....

Here I go, organising your social life for you! Offsprog One has a stall at this DIY fair in Dalston, London on Sunday where she and her friend will be selling art, zines and all sorts of other stuff.

Gina Birch's Show

I have watched these large paintings grow over the past few months, which has been fascinating (I am even in one of them). Gina's kitchen has been full of canvases, paint, an easel and uncomprehending cats; we have been upstairs mixing the tracks that will be playing in the gallery. Gina's art and music are politically committed beyond their aesthetic impact which makes them all the more powerful.
The show includes new songs from Gina that I've been co -mixing (is that a word?); it is a great experience to mix music that's in a different genre from one's own, and I think both of us have learned a lot from each other during the mixing process. You start to live inside the music and it makes a completely different sense to you. It's our last day of mixing today, then the show starts on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It's an Academical Life

Ahhh.... just finished marking eighty abstracts plus attached bibliographies.
I will still have to go through them and check that autocorrect hasn't made complete nonsense of my comments, which it frequently does and which completely negates the point of autocorrect as it corrects things that I've spelled correctly, and that it doesn't recognise. Who invented it anyway?
You know, this time around I noticed something that I always notice, but forget each time in perhaps the same merciful way that I forgot about the pain of childbirth- the fact that the last few seem to take so much longer to mark that the first ones.
This is the academic equivalent of Murphy's Law, or something like that. Markers Law, perhaps. Every time I logged on to the system, it seemed as though there were still those last few to mark. Eight... then it got down to two... and I still can't quite believe that I've done them, that I can relax and watch TV tonight instead of anxiously poring over scripts for hours and hours and hours..
Oh don't!
I should not relive the agony.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Gig on Saturday in Chelmsford

Advance tickets only for this one, due to licensing restrictions. It will be a good one- not only Martin Stephenson, but the hilarious Stephen Foster-Pilkington who is a genius of English quirkiness.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Travelling Trousers

I always have loads of ideas in the car. I've written a song about kestrels, and I had all these ideas as well. The problem is, I can't tell what they were now and I can't remember why I wrote them down.
Maybe when I wash the jeans, the ideas will float off into the water and I'll be able to decipher them again.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Back at Work

I'm back in the swing of work again, catching up, making up for lost time. Luckily, I have great students at both the University of the East and the University of the West. It's all go! I am bristling with registers, student group lists, post-it notes, newspaper cuttings and crumpled napkins from coffee shops.
How wonderful to have a normal brain again rather than a spaghetti junction of dread and confusion.

Boy in the Lake by the Irrepressibles

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Styler Boy by The Wild Bunch (the first ones)

Produced by The Mad Professor. Heavenly vocal.

New Website: Enid Williams from Girlschool

Enid has a new website up and is just beginning a tour with Girlschool, supporting Motorhead (remember them on Top of the Pops?) I'm chuffed to bits that Enid has quoted from The Lost Women of Rock Music and also from Mavis Bayton's book, Frock Rock. The more histories of women bands and musicians, the better; we all have different things to say.
Shout it all out from the rooftops!

I loved this.

Katy Carr: Sharksville

Thank you for your great talk on Thursday, Katy, and good luck with the album launch on Wednesday next week. Polonia got a four star review from Robin Denselow in the Guardian this week.
This track is from a much earlier album and I'm posting it because I think it should have been a hit!
Review of Polonia to follow at some point after I've marked 120 pieces of work.
Oh yes, I'm an academic.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Ghost Town

Left Us To Burn by The Daintees, (and an Unintended Morning Rant)

She certainly did. Don't buy her vile clothing, V&A! She introduced entrance charges, didn't she? People who were on the dole couldn't go to museums any more. I don't like people reminiscing about that great time in the 1970s when people on the dole could sit at home and make music. We couldn't afford to eat, even. That's why The Slits wrote Shoplifting.
And the seeds of what we have today, the collapsed National Health Service and the
lack of national self-esteem, were all sown back then; the call-centre mentality, and zero-hours for all (re-branded in the last decade from 'McDonaldisation' after that wonderful shop where we buy shitburgers, who gave/give their staff two hours here, two hours there, just enough to stop them from being able to work anywhere else and make enough to live on). Thatcher made water, in this rainy country, into a saleable commodity (even the Tory taxi drivers didn't like that one; how long till we buy the air we breathe?).
All of the things we had clubbed together to buy as a society (there is no such thing as) suddenly belonged to the Conservatives to sell to their rich mates with a little bit at the edges sold to the wealthier members of the general public, who were bought off with the idea of shares portfolios; they thought they had bought into being posh
Osborne's fiscal head sprouts firmly from the trunk of Thatcher's tree, and his moral fibre from his older brother, The Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (spotted the resemblance?).
I don't care if Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable (although as it has been pointed out, he was elected as leader of his party in a more democratic process than any other MP has been before). He is a national treasure- he is a moral compass. It's completely wrong to trash the poor. I don't resent a single penny of the taxes I pay going to pay benefits to people who can't get a job. I don't even care if some of them have 50 children. Why shouldn't they? Those of us who work are supported by those who don't; it's a nasty trade-off of capitalism.
I have to stop ranting now before I talk myself into a dark mood. Here is some lovely music that sums up so much of what went on back then.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


Katy Carr is coming to talk to the students t the University of the East tomorrow.
She is one of the most successful of the students that I've taught over the years and her new album's going to be out on Friday.
here's the video which has just been posted on The Guardian website:
There are lots of other interesting things in the pipeline: watch this space!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Music Entrepreneurship

Some of my most recent research appears in a chapter on audio production in this book, which will be out on 17th December (I thought it wasn't going to be published until August 2016).
It's meant for students on music courses that have a business element; while writing the chapter I got a whole different perspective on approaches to the recording industry.
It's also probably of interest to anyone who wants to go it alone as a music entrepreneur; the ideas are very current:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Baby Joke

Once upon a time there was a Baby. The Baby was very happy, living with its Mummy and Daddy.
As the Baby started growing older, however, it's Mummy and Daddy began to get rather worried, because the Baby didn't appear to be learning to speak.
But the Baby was so happy, they thought; but still, they were worried.
The Baby got to the age of three, and still hadn't learned how to talk.
One morning, the Baby was sitting in its high chair, and Mummy and Daddy made some porridge as usual and started feeding the child.
'Oh my God!!! This porridge is absolutely disgusting! What's wrong with it? I've never tasted anything so horrible! Take it away at once!', shouted the Baby at the top of it's voice.
Mummy and Daddy were astonished.
'We didn't know you could speak!' they exclaimed.
'Well, everything's been fine up till now', replied the Baby.

Playing Lucie's Lounge on Saturday Evening

Follow the link, I'll be travelling back for this:

Suzi Quatro

Thanks to Mark Percival for the heads-up about this track which features a bass solo extraordinaire from Ms Quatro. All the best music conferences lead to unusual snippets of information for the academic shopping bag!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mixing at Gina's

Watch this space for news of Gina's forthcoming installation of paintings and music. We have been mixing this afternoon, and the track we are working on is beginning to sound mighty fine.
It's so interesting moving sounds around and making them speak to each other; that probably sounds mad, but it's true. If you change the volume of one thing, everything else sounds different; we have been making space today.
An added benefit to the afternoon was Gina's youngest daughter's cinnamon pinwheel cookie, fresh from the oven.
Yum yum!

Paean to Pork

Monday, October 26, 2015

British Black Music

Mykaell Riley came to talk to the students at the University of the West this morning. Mykaell is the driving force behind the Black Music History project which documents and promotes the history of UK-based black music. He is a fount of knowledge about sound systems, the cross-Atlantic making of reggae and reggae-influenced music, and the way that British pop artists use and used reggae influences in their music. It was great to hear U-Roy (I used to have one of his albums many years ago) and to listen to the influence of James Brown's vocal explosives on Dave and Ansell Collins' Double Barrel.

I have known Mykaell for years- not while he was the percussionist for Steel Pulse, but after that when he was in a band called Bumble and the Beez. He thought Helen and the Horns was a crazy band, with a vocalist/guitarist and three horn players; but Bumble and the Beez had two guitarists, a violin player, a bass player and Mykaell on vocals, cowbell and bass drum.
The 1980s was the age of the oddball band.
I used to record soundtracks at Mykaell's home studio, and now occasionally I watch him singing with Dub Colossus, the reggae/African fusion big band run by Dubulah (who was in Bumble and the Beez). In between, Mykaell had a band called The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, who had a hit with Minnie the Moocher.

We are planning on doing something- some sort of event- in the future, that uses the research both of us have been doing, because there are common areas that are very unusual

Saturday, October 24, 2015


I became a bass player by accident because the guys in the band chose the roles that got the most attention- two guitarists and a lead singer (no drummer yet). I didn't mind. I was just in the same room as them when they told me I'd be playing bass guitar.
To start off with, I borrowed one from Bella Donna who played bass with Poison Girls. She was one of twins, and she had such long hair that it almost reached her behind. The bass was a deep red semi-acoustic that had belonged to one of the Buzzcocks (she came from Manchester).
As soon as we had played one gig as Joby and the Hooligans, we got offered more, and that's when I realised that I was going to be a bass player.
I'd been saving up for a BSA Bantam and instead I spent the money on a tattered, scuffed, torn bass cabinet with one huge speaker in it, a cheap transistor amp top and a cream coloured Jedsen bass with a white scratchplate. I strung it with flatwound strings that were covered in black plastic sheathing, and across the top was a strip of masking tape with our song titles written on it in black felt tip pen.
For an quiet and insignificant girl, the power of the bass was a complete revelation.
While everyone else was showing off at the front, I discovered that I had the power, aided by the bass drum. Boom.
From the strings of my magical, cheap, shiny instrument, through the curly, crackly lead (the wires always broke up inside those curly leads) into the amp and through the speaker, I could shake the very ground that people in the audience stood on, while simultaneously whacking them in the chest with a hefty dose of sound waves. The Jedsen didn't so much boom as thud (it was extremely cheaply made) but the power was there and even when I was too shy to look up at the audience, I knew what it was doing- or what I was doing.
I had never imagined that I would possess or play such an instrument; owning a guitar was and remains a fantastic privilege. The potential of those switches and knobs to make and change sound!
Then there was learning. One of the guitarists had told me that the bass played what the vocalist sang but I knew that wasn't true. Without knowing, I had been listening out for those low tones in every record I'd ever heard, and I knew exactly what to play. I knew nothing about root notes, but I knew what sounded good and I loved low and deep sounds. I headed for the lowest and deepest (this was before The Chefs when I had to learn to play busy lines so we could carry on playing, just the drummer and me, when the guitarist walked off stage in strop).
The next revelation was doing a cover version of Dennis Brown's How Can I Leave. Punk bands like ours weren't restricted by style (we also played Roller Coaster by Jonathan Richman amongst our own noisy and sometime deliberately offensive contributions). But How Can I Leave has a bass groove like no other and what's more, it was simple to play. In my head I imagined a stoned bass player moving his hands to the most convenient places on the fretboard that sounded good, over, back, up, down the neck, moving with the hips, you don't have to look because it's all played in a pattern that repeats and repeats as a satisfying hand exercise as much as it sounds like a great groove. So clever, and yet so revealing to me about how little I knew. Feet and chest, I knew, but hips- that was the new thing and that meant that the bass controlled the whole body.

I don't play bass much any more, although every song I write has a bass line at its heart, a thread that runs through it that the whole song could be sung even if the guitarist in my head walks off stage. I am still a sucker for a sexy bass line in a song, preferably played on a Fender bass rather than a keyboard so that I can imagine my fingers cantering over the strings as I listen.
What brought this to mind?
Talking to Gina the other day just before we filmed our latest musician for the documentary. I will bring news soon of the screening date and place. We are still applying for funding- not crowd funding (yet) as this is being done under the umbrella of the University of the East at the moment. The longer we wait before injecting other people's cash, the more we get to make the film we want to make.
It is very, very important that these stories about women punk musicians are told by women and filmed and presented by women, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Anita O'Day

Anita O'Day, a trained drummer, was a survivor. Although this is rather an arch performance she has a wonderful voice. The song, of course, is deeply peculiar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Bobbettes

Thank you to Barbara Bradby for introducing me to The Bobbettes, a girl group who had a hit with their self-penned song, Mr Lee, written about their school teacher who they detested. Atlantic records insisted that they changed the lyrics to make it a crush-on-the-teacher song and it got to number one in the USA in 1957.
So they followed it up with I Shot Mr Lee at which Atlantic promptly dropped them. They released it on the Triple X label anyway. What naughty girls.

More here:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Green Door Store Last Night, and the Book Launch

The day started in a very sweet way.
At 7.30 on the tube as I headed to Brighton the train was almost deserted. A chap got on and started chatting to me, asking if I was travelling back from a late gig. I explained that I was travelling to a gig, and he talked about his sister, who is a singer songwriter in Northern Ireland. He had fallen asleep on the way to work and missed his stop. We were both weary and a bit disorientated, but somehow it was a great way to start the day.
Dave's book launch (or re-launch) had a similar gentle vibe. Academic communities are national and indeed global subcultures; we read each other's work, we examine each other's students, and then we meet at conferences and smile at each other in the distance. Our world of concentrated investigation of the details of in this case musical phenomenae, audiences, and everything in and around pop, is deeply fascinating.
Dave told us about the genesis and development of his book One Chord Wonders in a witty and self-deprecating way that succeeded in being both informative and entertaining. In fact later, Simon Frith identified the fact that Dave's writing is entertaining as well as being rigorously watertight academically, as being a marked feature of his work.
I would say that this applied to everyone who spoke yesterday, actually- most of whom had been mentored or influenced by Dave in some significant way. Others had served on boards of some quite peculiar magazines that, for instance, blended the study of Marxism and culture in an optimistic projection of a utopian future.
We all spoke about different aspects of punk, that ever-giving subject, and naturally there was much side-discussion apart from the formal papers; the questions after the papers were challenging and led to some excitingly lively discussion. Simon Frith, Sarah Hill, Nick Crossly, Barbara Bradby (a 3-minute presentation on the dynamics in a Louvin Brothers song) all presented papers and the day was rounded off by a very moving tribute from Sara Cohen.
Barbara Bradby, whose work I greatly admire, gave me a couple of tips which I am eternally grateful for. People's minds are treasure-houses of information which is why these events are so stimulating. And one of the nicest thing that happened was Dave's wife Sally giving me a pot of jam made with berries from their allotment. I was so overcome I almost cried.
Hats off to Martin Cloonan for organising the day with efficiency and grace.
This was the first proper outing I'd had since I became ill and I did get very tired towards the end. Bearing in mind the fact that I had a gig later on, I didn't repair to the pub which is a shame because there was so much more to talk about and listen to.
After a contemplative cup of tea, I headed up to the Green Door Store where the Piranhas Four were sound checking. Afterwards I had a really nice chat with the band, and gave Bob some photos from the days of the Vault when the Piranhas all used to dress in identical police uniforms. People started showing up: Steph, the Saturday Girl from the Gallery 57 picture shop where we used to work in the 1970s; Sara, one of the very first women I saw in an all-woman band called No Man's Band (with the exception of guitarist Ian, who had long hair and a beard and who wore a mini-dress, many years before Conchita Wurst); my brother James and his wife Jenny; Peter Chrisp (I think the most loyal Chefs fan ever) and his illustrator partner Lisa; Sue Bradley from The Reward System and Pookiesnackenburger; Offsprog One with an ET shirt that I wore on stage; Jerry Thackray, who had also been at the conference and who co-horned with me (in other words, we shared The Horns: he was The Legend And His Horns); Johnny Piranha; and a substantial number of other people who had come to Chefs and Helen and the Horns gigs many years ago.
I was so knackered that I could barely stand up on stage but there was such a great atmosphere that I couldn't not give it 150%. Something about feeling so ill, maybe, meant that I felt every song to my bones; it was like talking to a friend about different aspects of life rather than singing from a stage to an audience. The Rickenbacker helped me out by being easy to play and sounding great. I played 24 Hours and Let's Make Up (someone knew the words and was singing along) from The Chefs repertoire (mmm fancy!) and Snakebite and Freight Train from Helen and the Horns.
I had to leave almost straight away to get the train home.
I almost made it before I threw up big time on Kentish Town station platform (yes it was me! Sorry, sorry!), and all over my brothelcreepers.
But it was bloody worth it.
That was the best day I've had for a long time, reconnecting with family and old friends, meeting new ones, talking, listening, singing. For the first time for three weeks I felt glad to be alive.
Finally, here is Jerry's review of the evening. It was great to see you again Jerry. Times change and life throws a lot of stuff at us but there's a lot to be said for being a survivor.
Note to self: must get hold of Marcus O'Dair's book on Robert Wyatt....

Friday, October 16, 2015

30 Years of One Chord Wonders

I will be presenting some research at this one-day symposium that celebrates the launch of Dave's wonderful book tomorrow at the art college in Brighton.
There will be signed copies of his book (if you have that, Caroline Coon's and Jon Savage's and... we'll... mine, you sort of have punk covered, I think) and some very interesting speakers.
My paper will be on the way that the female punk bands picked out parts of reggae (often roots reggae) to learn from, but managed to ignore the elements of the Rastafarian message that could be seen to be against what they believed.
There are some tickets left here


I have just done an interview with Marie from a Czech Radio Station called Wave.
I remembered the first time I recorded a soundtrack for a video; I had no musical equipment at all so I went out and bought a stopwatch from Argos and then drew piano keys on a piece of paper which I put on the kitchen table, and wrote all the keyboard parts like that.
When I got into the studio, I knew exactly what I was doing because I had rehearsed so much on the ghost piano.
I used to do soundtracks for Shelter videos and thing like that, which were made by a company called Smith Bundy Video that had been set up by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.
I've just found a box of cassettes of the sound track music that I did- The London Boroughs Disability Resource Team, a series called Sexuality for Channel 4 when it just started up, and also some musicals that I wrote, one for the Inner London Education Authority.
I used to have plastic carrier bags by the door, one for each job, with all the music, cassettes, scripts and so on, and grab the relevant one before I went out. It was all bits, bits, bits: what is now called portfolio working. Sometimes you'd be working on five things at once and then you'd have six months with no work at all and feel like giving up. I learned to do so many different things and I learned to say yes to everything and do a bit of lightning learning before the event.
Although it was completely insecure, it was incredibly stimulating and a complete adventure.
Long live freelance work!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Playing in Brighton, Saturday, at The Green Door Store

This will be a fantastic night. It starts really early, at 7, and I will be playing at 7.40. It also ends early- at 10.30. I was so disappointed not to be able to play at The Hope and Ruin last week, but I will definitely be playing this. Tickets here:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New Book Company Looking for Writers

I shared my Helen and the Horns horn section with Everett True- have a look at the link to see if you want to be involved in this:

Everett True Announces Formation of Rejected Unknown, A Book Company For “Rejects & Misfits”

Brighton, U.K. – October 9, 2015 – English music “journalist” Everett True, one of the U.K.’s most controversial music critics – well-known for covering the 
emergence of the Seattle grunge scene the late 80s and early 90s – has announced plans to start a new book company.

True initially shared his idea for the project on social media on October 2, 2015, 

“I am starting a book company for the rejects and the misfits of this world. Please see my Facebook feed for more details. We’re moving fast.”

By October 9, 2015, there was a team assembled, including writers, artists, musicians, illustrators, academics and scholars, lawyers, marketing professionals – you name it. Nearly 200 people immediately signed up to help launch the book company and its first publication. In true grassroots style, the ambitious group plans to release Rejected Unknown’s maiden book project, “101 Albums You Should Die Before You Hear,” within six weeks of the 
company’s creation. "We have two inviolate rules at Rejected Unknown: 1) All contributors are paid, and, 2) Equal gender representation."

Find out more at


I've resumed my diet of cop shows and my taste is as awful as ever; I met the thesis tutees that I'm supervising today, and I've even been editing some interviews. But after half a day at work, I was ready for beddy byes. Normality is round the corner though, and it looks like I will be doing my talk in Brighton in the daytime on Saturday, and playing the Spinningchilli gig at the Green Door Store in the evening, supporting The Piranhas Four. Ticket details and times (early!) tomorrow.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Oh No

Thanks to a horrible illness, I have managed to miss all the rest of the support gigs for The Daintees tour. I am feeling very sorry for myself!
The medics have said that it will take time before I get back to normal. I feel as though I left my head somewhere about two weeks ago and I don't know where it is. I have also become very scared of germs and have taken to washing my hands so hard the skin almost falls off.
I'm going back to work next week; I'm not sure whether that's the right decision but as with a lot of teaching situations, if you don't do the job your colleagues, who are already overworked, end up doing it instead.
However, I did get to play at the wonderful Sage in Gateshead. I love it there. Here is Juan's photo of Martin joining me on stage for Heaven Avenue, which I would love to record with him some time that we are in the same place at the same time.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Hello! You found me!
However, you lost me before you even started building. It was the project manager, blocking the street on a rainy day with his huge brand-emblazoned umbrella, having a conversation with two cronies in a very loud voice.
One of the cronies noticed me trying to get past, and drew his attention to it.
Instead of apologising, he harangued me for not saying 'Excuse me' (I had) and very ungraciously let me pass.
You haven't got much to build on, really (excuse the pun).

The Business Pause

I have started to watch TV again. I wept when Nadiya won The Great British Bake-off.
I became ever more irritated by The Business Pause.
Whether in national or local government, police management or high-level NHS administration, the English language has become riddled with examples of The Business Pause.
Everything, says the talking head, usually with his hands held aloft in a chopping motion emphasising syllables, is a matter of This (pause...), That (pause...) and The Other (pause...).
One (pause...) two (pause...) three (pause...).
Just like that. Such gravitas! Watching, the TV viewer counts along with The Man In The Suit.
There are three things in the slogan, always, separated by a pause between each to make sure The Man In The Suit owns plenty of time.
How serious he is! How carefully he (and his scriptwriters) have considered the meaning of the words between the pauses!
How meaningless those words are! But we have listened, for they are carefully counted out for us and separated by The Business Pause.
"These buildings are being erected here to emphasise the insincerity (pause...), artifice (pause...) and contempt (pause....) that underline our company policy towards the housing problem."
I would much prefer to hear the pauses only, without the words in between.
Thank you, good night.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Giraffe Legs

I went to the shop today- what a victory. My legs are like new-born giraffe legs; they have been screwed on in the wrong direction. The shopping bag felt really heavy and I had to forget the four tins of beans for 90 pence (or whatever).
Luckily I seem to have missed most of the Tory conference coverage on TV. I have seen the occasional glimpse of their navy-blue fantasy on a silent screen, and the occasional smug white well-fed face mouthing nonsense like a goldfish with its earnest no-message.
One blessing is to forbid myself from writing any more post-it notes with instructions about what to to when I'm better. That wasn't helping, and when it reduced me to tears I decided to stop.
God bless lifeline phone calls from my daughters and Martin. Normal reassuring voices cut through the cacophony, shut down the sirens and piped in the outside world, which has managed to survive suspiciously well without me.
I told myself a dark short story, in which the billionaires of the world did away with us all to make life easier for themselves. But being psychopaths, they eventually did away with each other (what to do with all those guns!). The end.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Sofa Stone

I am a sofa stone, a lump of cloth-covered limbs bundled up in a ball. I move once an hour. I look at things in the room I'm in, that belong to a person who normally dashes around like a bagatelle ball colliding with people and ideas at a furious rate.
Even water tastes disgusting; and what's happened to it's texture? Gloopy and viscous, how can this stuff quench my thirst?
Outside the window, people make detailed and complicated noises, speaking at a rapid and breakneck speed. The hiss of falling rain duets with my tinnitus and pushes out the noise of the 1950s racing cars, red and yellow, that are whining and roaring round their track inside my head.
Unbelievably though, I think I may be getting better.

Monday, October 05, 2015


It appears that I'm one of the lucky few to have picked up an infection from the local hospital. There is nothing to be done but sit and wait for it to go away. Ho hum.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Almost Post-Poorly Posting

The ague has rattled my bones for the past five days and still has not completely left me. What a nightmare. I've experienced the full crapness of the 111 service, which although manned by perfectly nice call-centre personnel, I can imagine could leave an elderly or desperately-ill person to die in their home. Having to call three times to go through push button options every time is not a joke.
The idea is that the more you contact them, the higher need you are assumed to be in. The system doesn't take into account the fact that if you feel worse and worse, you might eventually become so incapacitated that you won't be able to phone them at all, in which case you are abandoned and left to your fate. Luckily Offsprog One came up from Brighton to come to the hospital with me; I'd taken a turn for the worse after Offsprog Two left her part of the relay. Today I ate for the first time since Wednesday last week; what a relief. I am so looking forward to feeling like a normal human being again. The chemical weapons are beginning to work.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Fish Fingers

I have been thinking about grilling two fish fingers since roughly 10 a.m. this morning. Somehow, I think that's not going to happen; it's now 4.10.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mixing Gina's Music

During the summer, we started mixing Gina Birch's music for an installation that she will be working on in November. Most of her album was finished but I co-wrote some songs with her to complete the album, and it seemed to make sense to mix it ourselves. We have spent a few hours on one of the first tracks, To Please Is To Forget Yourself and I've just listened to the mp3 of it.
Oddly, it's a bit like gardening. You put loads of graft in and don't have time to inspect what you've done. The perhaps the next day you go out there and think 'That's really made a difference!'.
For us, it's all about listening rather than being technical exercise. Or rather, it is a technical exercise in service of what we want to hear.
It is intriguing for me to work on music that is so different in genre from that which I record myself; with your usual stuff you default to particular sounds and techniques, but with this it's a big experiment and that is exactly the way Gina likes it. It's liberating for me, as it takes me away from old habits and puts playfulness back on the agenda, and Gina is a natural collaborator so it benefits her too. I am really looking forward to our next mixing session.

Alfie Stephenson

Sending love and condolences to Martin, his sister, daughters and the rest of the family. I am very sorry for your loss; he has so much to be proud of in those he has left behind X

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Daintees at The Sage, Gateshead (And Me)

The Sage has probably got the friendliest staff of any venue that I've ever been to, which is miraculous given the thronging activity backstage. Last night, there were an orchestra, a wedding and us; there were boxes of tagged instruments, full catering for millions (the orchestra), an ever-ready coffee machine and dressing rooms aplenty. A bagpiper wailed away somewhere in the distance and at one point when I came off stage with my electric guitar, I hit a crossroads that consisted of streams of women and men in severe, formal black and white garb, heading towards the other auditorium for their concert after their three-minute warning. Cultures crossed but didn't merge; we all had our own destinations, our own dressing rooms and out own sound, lighting and stage management people.
The sound on stage was crystal clear and that always helps; my set was short and I hope, sweet, but it was a story-song set and the Rickenbacker sounded great. It is so easy to play that it almost plays itself, as well as looking rather snazzy. I have the same thing happening that used to happen with the Gretsch, the Green Goddess. People talk to the guitar instead of me, and once someone insisted on photographing the Green Goddess in her case after a gig. Humph.
Thank you Gateshead audience from the bottom of my heart for getting to your seats at 8 o'clock to watch my set. For a support artist, this is true support!
I found my friend Carol after saying hello to Rupert from El Cid, and we sat and watched a great set from The Daintees. I had heard tell that the Glasgow Oran Mor gig was riotous, with a Hen Party conga-ing and all sorts of stuff like that. In contrast, this was a seated venue, but the warmth was still there; every time Martin mentioned a village, the crew from that village piped up. They shouted for Louis' Cafe in Sunderland in particular; even I remember that place, which was a welcome slice of the warm 1950s in grim 1970s Sunderland by the bus station. The vibe coming from the band on stage was tremendous. The band was augmented by Fin McCardle on percussion, Kate and John's cowboy shirts smiled in the lights and Chris was positively dancing as he played bass. They played a lot of old favourites and a very lovely version of Rain, before Rupert and Niles were invited on stage to play Hobo Train. Shouts to Tim Donkin's brothers and to Christine, all from the Songwriting Weekends.
The tour continues this week, with Danielle Howle supporting; information from:
Photo by Andrew Bailey

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Cold

I have stopped working. My body has turned into a duvet and I have swallowed a hedgehog.
I am conserving energy for the gig at The Sage tomorrow supporting The Daintees.
I can still sing, thankfully. It just hurts.

Annoying Book

I've been reading that annoying book again.
It made me so cross that I ended up typing my notes in CAPITAL LETTERS and almost stomped off to get some chips.
However, I've managed to get the notes done, and found the most annoying page that I needed to look at, and that I couldn't find before even when I tried to sift through it.
The chips can wait- there's a less annoying book to take notes from first.
Hey ho, let's go!


I awoke thinking about philosophy and the way it is used in academic writing.
Philosophy is like physical exercise, stretching the mind into new shapes and increasing the possibilities of thought.
As an academic writer, you should be more like a dancer who takes pleasure from using the potential of these ideas and applying them to forms of writing that are relevant to contemporary and historical culture.
This is not exactly entertainment, more of a bridge between deep philosophy and popular media.
End of thought for the day.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I'm not posting much at the moment because I'm focus, focus, focusing on work-related things although I did manage to travel for two hours by train and tube, walk for two miles and then give up on the idea of visiting an analogue studio yesterday afternoon, when I was practically outside their door.
I suddenly realised that it had been recommended by some musicians who live in Kingston, and for them Sudbury is just along the road. For me, it's a huge hike and I just turned around and came home. The result is a very sore throat from walking along Lower Sudbury Road. All those bloody Volkswagens churning out diesel particulates! Even the ice cream that I scoffed at Hampton Court station didn't resolve the sandpapery feeling and today I'm well and truly poorly.
I still managed to plan the lecturing for next week, and tomorrow I have a reading and riting day (no rithmetic) to try to iron out the creases in my research on female engineers and producers. After that it's a matter of going through the articles that I've collected and then finishing the editing of the interviews. I have been busting a gut to finish it because I need to start something else soon.
The shiny bit in the grey cloud of Sudbury exhaust was reading Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter on the numerous train and tube journeys home.
What a beautiful book it is! It's prose written with the pen of a poet, a magic realist story with a very human core. Reader, I confess to shedding a discreet tear or two. It's an inspiring book in many ways- not just for anyone who has lost a loved one (for any reason, not only death), but also in terms of written language that conjures up wonderful pictures in the imagination.
It made me feel free, in spite of being trapped in a tube of steel and glass with a lot of hot and tired commuters. I will now become a book-evangelist and bore people silly by talking about it all the time. It belongs with My Family and Other Animals and Lost in Music as a book that I will lend to people, yearn for, and have to buy again because they never give books back, do they?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Sage Next Saturday

I will be supporting The Daintees at The Sage in Gateshead on Saturday. What an honour! Their tour starts in Edinburgh on Thursday, and Glasgow on Friday, both with Nicky Murray supporting. The following weekend, Danielle Howle will be supporting them in Sheffield, Leeds, Bury and Liverpool, and then I'll be doing the last three dates: Birmingham, Brighton and Canterbury. Details are here
Meanwhile, the Universities are back, and I'm also writing like crazy. Well not today, because I've started editing Blue's Song for Joan to make a one-minute cut of her film to. In order to do that, I had to finish downloading Logic and then work out the ways it has changed (it's completely different to the version that I have on my old computer which has given up the ghost). I managed to find what I needed and was fiddling about with different edit points when I realised that the end part of the song lasts almost exactly a minute if I fade it out properly.
So I saved it and left it for the morning when I have fresh ears. Here's the long version if you missed it the first time around:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Trew Era Cafe Gig

I love gigs like this. The cafe was packed and the gig had already started when I got there at about 6.30. There was a duo singing, two guys, one on bass and one on guitar, singing mellow early evening songs. Next up, the cafe chef Michele read out the correspondence between her in the US and her cousin in Liverpool, who was four years younger than her, from the 1970s. The letters were hilarious, centring on music and coolness (the Bay City Rollers versus the Sex Pistols and the Clash), puberty and one-upmanship (or one-upgirlship). I talked to her afterwards and apparently they are still really close, and so are their kids, in spite of some misconceptions about each others' culture. This was a really good start to the evening; next came Maria Emilia, who played a selection of songs that she had written (I particularly liked Pillow Man) and who gave out red roses at the end of her set. There followed a duo who played quirky, angry songs: Rhiannon and the Nightmare, and then I played an unplugged set, which seemed like the right thing to do because it was a cafe and that's what we did in Mount Holly! I had been writing about electronic mediation yesterday afternoon and something made me just want to set aside the microphone and the amplifier and be really direct and informal in the singing. Bravely, I did it without a hat; I had paid a rare visit to the hairdressers and she cut far too much off, making me look like a triangle on a stalk. Never again, never again! The hat went on again for the journey home.
Mike Roberts was there, who did the Bleeding London photography project that I recorded London for, and he spoke about it to everyone. I was delighted that he had achieved his £1000 target and I played London and Heaven Avenue for him (his page is here: Nice to see Lester Square from the Monochrome Set and Jo too (apparently he lives down the road).
Hannah headlined, and I really enjoyed her feisty songs. She has a strong voice and isn't afraid to use it to good effect on songs that deal with looking at love from all angles- including being beaten up. Take a leaf out of her book, Rihanna, and stop pretending that it's an OK and normal part of relationships! I filmed her set and you can see one of her songs here:
Hats off to Hannah for organising a great event! This is a great cafe in an amazing part of London. Please pop in their if you can and support the people who have lived in the area for years, and whom the authorities have tried to socially cleanse to make way for bankers, foreign investors with big bank accounts and no consciences, and their ilk.
I sang the Daisies song for her because she likes daisies, but also The Song of the Unsung Heroine, because that's about doing all this stuff for other reasons than becoming famous; when roughly 60% of British exports are weapons designed to destroy beautiful things and people, anyone who comes down on the side of creativity and peaceful protest is pretty much OK in my book. Here goes:
My next gig is supporting The Daintees next Saturday at The Sage. I love gigs like that too!