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 https://www.facebook.com/Nicky-Murray-201361226722860/timeline/ supporting. The following weekend, Danielle Howle https://www.facebook.com/daniellehowle?fref=ts 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 http://daintees.co.uk
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: https://soundcloud.com/mccookerybook/blues-song

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: https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Roberts-Bleeding-London/). 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ulyjo92dm8
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!

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Sometimes I sit down, start writing and the next time I look at the clock, several hours have passed. I have at last reached the slash and burn stage of my large written research project; it's time to stop and complete. I think the writing is interesting, which is a change from three weeks ago when I was concerned that it was boring and ranty. I think I might be finished in three weeks time. What an odd feeling, after five years! Gradually, the pile of books will filter through to the bookcase at work and my house will look like a house once more, rather than a second hand bookshop.
Yesterday I was at Gina's doing more planning for the documentary and we also spent a couple of hours mixing. It was an intense process but rather like gardening, when you emerge form the tunnel of concentration, the results are there and I think we can do a great job with her music. I can be a pig of a producer because I normally work mostly on my own stuff; this collaborative way of working involves a lot of learning and is extremely healthy for a person who spends so much of her time teaching!
This evening I'll be playing at the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton. It's an early gig, starting at 6.30 and ending at 9, and I'm supporting Hannah Golightly. It will be unplugged, which would have been daunting if I hadn't been spending the summer playing unplugged gigs.
And now, it's admin time. Head down, time to concentrate!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Boring Post

If you don't like boring posts, look away now.
After drying the TV remote control carefully on the radiator in the kitchen once the water had drained out of it, I tested it yesterday and it didn't work.
I imagined developing unsurpassed levels of fitness as I and the Offsprogs had to get up and press the buttons on the side of the telly every time we wanted to change channels.
Hoo-diddly-ray! I've just picked it up and successfully changed the TV channel as though nothing had ever gone wrong with the thing!
Perhaps it is sad to celebrate evenings of laziness ahead, pointing the device at the other device all night long throughout the autumn.
Sad, sad.
So be it.

Monday, September 14, 2015


I had been searching my inner dictionary for a word to describe a book that I'm reading at the moment. I am persevering with it because I need to be 100% sure about what I feel.
Suddenly, the Scottish word 'blethers' flew into my head.
It's a fantastic word, almost an onomatopoeia; rubbishy burblings, burbled with authority and pomposity, absolute ess aitch one tee.
I can't tell you who wrote it, can I?
But quite possibly reading Pete Waterman's autobiography yesterday, I Wish I Was Me, has reactivated a bullpoo detector in my brain that is ringing loud and clear; Waterman's book is gleeful, direct and at times, painfully honest. The bits he wants to avoid (dumping two wives unceremoniously as he pursued the ambitions of his musical career) shout just as loudly as his successes and failures in the music industry that he did so much to shake up. He tried to shake up The Chefs but failed because I was loyal and wouldn't do what he said. His experiences as a DJ made him trust his instincts about what would and wouldn't work for the audiences for the songs he wrote and promoted. What an entertaining read it was!
I can't believe I've even written a blog posting about the other one- it is a seriously awful book.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Playing on Thursday

I am missing playing regularly and I have an unplugged last-minute gig supporting the young grunge-based artist Hannah Golightly at the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton on Thursday. The caff was set up by Russell Brand to support the New Era Estate residents in their campaign not to be socially cleansed out of their homes and it should be an interesting gig. There are other people playing as well. It starts early: 6.30, and finishes early: 9.00.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

At the ICA Today

Why did I wake at five? Jet lag is the most peculiar of afflictions.
As soon as possible, I headed down to the zine fair at the ICA to visit Offsprog One. Her new zine is ready, and it features an interview with Barnet Mark of the 12 Bar, amongst others. The atmosphere was good; sellers were setting out their wares and chatting amongst themselves and there were some punters there already at opening time.
Everything fell silent at 11.30 as the results of the Labour Leadership contest came in. A monitor was fixed to the wall and all eyes and ears were on it, although only the most dedicated clustered around it. This was a very happy room when it became apparent that first Tom Watson, and then Jeremy Corbyn had been successful. These results make an enormous difference to the disenfranchised 20-30 year old generation who have had all their hopes take away from them by the complete disregard of their employment prospects by the current government. They are more cruel even than Thatcher, who at least allowed those (like these small publishers) who had some sort of entrepreneurial bent to feel that they were appreciated, and were to be encouraged.
The room started buzzing. I bought some zines before sloping off home to make and consume a gigantic stew. I've spent a few hours inserting bits of interview into my research chapter; it has now shrunk by 3000 words thankfully; there are another 2000 to edit out before I think it is concise enough to finish off and out into the house style of the journal that I'm going to try to publish it in.
The interview sections have given it an added boost of energy and I think I"m thoroughly justified now in taking a break in order to watch Come Dine With Me.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Chain of Disasters

1. Perch coffee safely on chair next to me as I work.
2. Move.
3. Coffee spills (entire cup) on  to chair, rug covering chair, white linen shirt worn to enhance gravitas plus all other clothes, beige chair cushion.
4. Coffee spills all over floor in trail to washing machine as rug has not absorbed it.
5. Shower unintentionally taken when trying to fill bucket to soak rug (fully clothed in clean clothes, see 3 above) because Offsprog Two has been using the high level shower attachment and has not swung lever to bath setting.
6. TV remote control given a thorough two-hour soaking in bucket with rug in attempt to remove coffee stains from rug.

Did I get up too early this morning?

Support The Slits Documentary


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Thinking About James Taylor

When I was a moody teenager I used to weepalonga James Taylor. It helped that I thought he was rather nice looking; yes, I felt his pain, although some of what he sang sounded a mite alien.
Spurred by a photo in Daniel Coston's book about North Carolina musicians, I have revisited his music in my mind and reassessed what I thought.
North Carolina is a huge state of great extremes. There is poverty here, and a recognisable working class, as well as a comfortable middle class that sometimes teeters on the edge; and of course, like just about everywhere, there are the mega rich who are completely oblivious to everybody else.
Here, there are huge skies that speak with charged emotions; daytime pale blue and endless, throbbing red and deep yellow and streaked with cloud in the humid evenings, hosting murmurations of starlings that paint shifting pointillist shadows across its canvas, and strings of traffic lights suspended across the highway. There are miles of lush, green woodlands, often draped with spooky, drooping vines that make monstrous shapes out of hidden trees. Mysterious webs hold dark, scary cargo (Giant spiders? Bats? Moths?).
Through all this, thick stripes of roads and railroads carry mega-trucks and pickups, and Harleys roar past ridden by tattooed bikers with mean faces.
Music is in the air here, and you can imagine the young James Taylor, hemmed in by the rules of religion and perhaps a love/hate relationship with his family, articulating his depression through the power of song and learning to play by developing the old timey guitar pickin' music of the Deep South. He sang about Carolina and there is something magic in the air here. It's not a tourist destination; it's a Real Place, and all the better for it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


Strange to work on one of the Highest-of-Fi music courses in London, yet to have just almost completed the Lowest-of-Fi lo-budget short tours of Southern USA.
 We did a fundraiser in Stalybridge just over a week ago, a gig of witty repartee and goodwill, before a very long travel via Philadelphia ( a seven hour wait for the connecting flight) into Charlotte, where we have been welcomed by some lovely people (more details later) and played in some unusual places. Jim, Jimmy and Martin have been excellent company, the travel humour has reached unplumbed depths and many waffles have been eaten. Long journey back tomorrow to chilly Blighty.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Spruce Gum

When I was fourteen I went to Vermont with my grandmother who had been born there. You could buy little boxes of spruce gum, grey blobs of chewing gum that tasted so strongly of pine that you could only keep it in your mouth for a maximum of five minutes before spitting it out and trying again later.
Gran told me that as a child, they had picked the gum from the spruce trees themselves to chew. Wild children of New England!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


When I were just a lad (something wrong there, Ed.) we had a prank at primary school in Reading Time when we were supposed to take turns reading to each other in pairs from our respective books. I had 'Heidi' and my friend had 'Oliver Twist' and we were both bored. So we took turns reading a sentence each out of our books, which was both entertaining and subversive at the same time. I like to think that by doing this we were the precursors of sampling, and perhaps contributed in our own small way to the development many years later of hip hop.
Correct me if I'm wrong.