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.