Friday, July 29, 2016

Thatch and Chat

Yesterday was a busy day; I spent a few hours round at Gina's, while we constructed the Kickstarter site. There is still more to do and we are finishing it on Tuesday ready to go to them for approval- so it may go live at the end of next week, fingers crossed.
Afterwards I went home for a 10-minute power nap (who can do anything in this muggy weather?) and then I drove up to Cambridge Community Radio for an interview with the charming Dave Hammond, whose show Dave Hammond's Smelly Flowerpot will be broadcast on Monday- details to follow here http://cambridge105.fm/shows/flowerpot/
We talked about The Chefs, Helen and the Horns, punk, Stories from the She-Punks (of course) and he played The Raincoats, The Slits, The Mo-Dettes, and The Adverts. Because The Dolly Mixture started up in Cambridge, we talked a lot about them. I played some songs live, including making a humungous mistake in one of them, which I had to segue into a completely different song as I forgot the words. It was boiling in there- they had all their servers on at full tilt in order to broadcast live from the Cambridge Folk Festival. It was a really enjoyable evening.
There is a wonderful thatched cottage on the main road into Cambridge from the A1; it lives next to a rather drab row of shops but it struts its stuff with great panache. I stopped to take a photo on the way home; irresistible.
This afternoon, I finished pre-mastering the new album with Jono. It's sounding good, but its time for an ears rest now, till the end of August. I'm off to Indietracks tomorrow, playing there on Sunday afternoon!



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Strange Times

Strange times in the big wide world, and strange times in the tiny personal one too. I got a lot done in the studio yesterday, but also had a very tearful moment at the end of one of the songs I was recording and had to take a sadness break.
When I got home I was so exhausted I slept for twelve hours; I'd been planning on doing a lot of academic writing this morning but ended up going for a long walk to wake myself up, which culminated in possibly the worst curry and chips that has ever graced a plate.
Or rather, disgraced a plate.
Afterwards, I did manage to finish the piece of writing (but had to miss out a fave price of research, which just didn't seem to fit in anywhere), and also do a bit of rehearsing for the Indietracks festival this weekend, where I'm due to do an unplugged set which means getting to grips with the difficult guitar that fights back when I try to play it. Trains and music- what could be better?
Gradually, I'm realising that I have to start to build up my own musical world again.
On another musical note, I was mortified to be too late to get tickets for The Zombies at The Water Rats. How come I didn't know about it?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Writing About Gender In Recording

I have just spent two hours working on an academic article about gender in recording studios. As usual, I've gone over the beginning time and time again, but now have to move on from that into the middle part and most importantly, the end. Deadline, this weekend!
It is so very difficult to try to maintain any sort of objectivity when you're writing something like this. It needs to be readable by everyone, and I'm only human. As I write, angry steam comes out of my ears (luckily, not any other orifice) and neutral words must flow onto the page. It's important that a person who has been inside the music industry writes an article like this, but it's difficult to be scientific when all sorts of what-ifs, and memories of being frustrated by the lack of say in what I've recorded, come knocking at the door.
Despite the obvious empowerment of artists like Grimes, there's still a trail of people (actually, both male and female) who walk into a studio with their own vision and walk out having been buried under someone else's. That's the story of so many musicians' lives.
Two hours is a long time to be staring at a computer. I need to stop and have some headspace; I'll start again early tomorrow morning.
All that being said, I'm looking forward to going into the studio this afternoon to re-record some vocals and a guitar part that could be better. I feel so comfortable in recording studios: there is a feeling of continuity in there. Life has been fractured so many times, but somehow writing songs and recording them has provided a reassuring thread that seems to make sense of it all. 
See you later, crocodiles.

Monday, July 25, 2016

I Haven't Posted Something Boring

You're so lucky- I almost posted something incredibly boring just then, but didn't.
Here is something interesting for you: the new issue of Making Waves Zine will be available from the 1st of August.
I wrote an obituary for the lovely Vi Subversa for them. Keep an eye on this link to see when it's ready to download:
http://mwzine.tumblr.com

O Students....

O studnets, when you submit your work to be marked, please put your student numbers on it. It takes me twice as long to do if I have to mark it, and then go searching for your numbers so I can input the marks into the data system. You may be sunbathing, but I am not.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Indietracks Next Weekend

Next weekend I'm heading up to glorious Derbyshire to play at Indietracks. I have a new track on their compilation album, available here:
http://indietracks.bandcamp.com

The Smartees at The Vault in Brighton

I pinched this from DJ Gremlin just now. I had completely forgotten that The Smartees had played in the Vault. He reckons this was 1978 and already we had stopped looking punky; by later on that year we'd split up. I remember wondering what to do with myself, then Carl came round and asked me to be in a band with him. I was shocked that anyone thought I was good enough on bass to want to be in a band with. He had already set one of my poems to music- Food. That's commitment!
Left to right: me and my Jedsen bass that I spent my BSA Bantam money on, Steve and his matching Jedsen guitar (both cream with white scratch plate), Carl with his red plastic guitar, and Tracy.
Joby (vocals) and Ricky (drums) are both missing. We always used to have loads of people come on stage and sing the songs with us.

The Mischievous Woman At The Party

''I've never eaten mussels before", remarked the Perfectly Nice Man at the party to the Mischievous Woman.
"Ah, they're very like jacket potatoes" she advised.
"First you eat the insides, and then you eat the shell".

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Blackbird

I think if someone told me this, I might not believe them, but it's completely true and I've just come in from the back yard to write it down.
I was feeling a bit down and hemmed in by the barbecues, the barking dogs, the lawn mowers: so I decided to take my acoustic guitar outside and make some of my own noise to mark out my own territory.
As I was pickin' away I heard a thump on the wooden fence just beside me and it was a blackbird landing; it peered at me from side to side with its little beady eyes as I was playing.
I carried on because I thought that it might fly off if I stopped and I segued a few tunes into each other so it could see that I wasn't a threat- and then it started singing along! Not normal blackbird territory song, but funny little chirrups, looking at me all the time as though it was trying to size me up, and listening to the guitar.
We sat there side by side making music for about fifteen minutes, until it hopped down in front of me and went to look for worms in one of the plant pots.
What a lovely way to spend Friday evening. It kind of reminded me of years ago when I had a neat little orange canary that used to sing beautifully when I did the vacuuming- except that wasn't quite so flattering!
I'm going out there tomorrow evening: same time, same place, to sit on the bench and see if it comes back to join me again. Me on guitar, blackbird on vocals.

Hope

You might have to look quite carefully, but here is some hope, springing eternal.

Dom Flemons' Music Workshop at Cecil Sharp House

First break of the morning and it's coffee time. I'm catching up on She-Punks admin this morning and the kettle is on.

What a treat last night- I'd discovered that Dom, who was one third of the amazing North Carolina jug band The Carolina Chocolate Drops, was playing a gig at Cecil Sharp House and I logged on to buy a ticket- then saw the workshop and decided to do that instead. I run lots of workshops and barely attend any, apart for the guitar workshops that Martin runs, and I thought it would be a great experience to go along especially because of the promise to teach us how to play bones.

It was a sweltering evening but Dom was a genial and gracious host; he talked about his way of playing and how it links into a good performance; he showed us some licks on both guitar and banjo, recommended books to read and music to listen to, and then finally distributed sets of bones, made in Vermont, and taught us all how to clickety clack in unison in a response to him.
I wasn't the worst (that's my way of saying that I was almost the worst), but it was really good fun and I reckon at least five people are going to take it up seriously after last night.
After a bit of prompting, Dom set off on a real bit of showmanship, showing us many different ways of creating rhythms with one hand, two hands.. could it be three?
With the speed of a juggler, he played 20s jazz rhythms, proto-spoons rhythms, all sorts of different styles and techniques. He told us about a chauffeur he'd met who had taken up the bones after seeing the Chocolate Drops and who had a set tucked into the top pocket of his uniform and did an impromptu demo for him in the street. Dom said that playing bones taught him an entirely different approach to playing guitar and banjo. It's a great sound: when it's done properly it sounds like tap-dancing.
I should have taken a photograph, shouldn't I? But it wasn't that sort of evening.
At the end, we had the opportunity to buy a set of bones and/or a CD and I didn't have enough money for both- although I did have an Anarchy Skiffle CD for him. He offered a CD swap, so I now have a set of bones and my poor neighbour will have to listen to a very strange clicking coming through the wall.
Good luck with the rest of the tour Dom, and thanks for a great evening!
https://theamericansongster.com/tour/

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1-2-3 (Not Angela Though)

Drawing again, after a really long break from it. I could not concentrate, but also was writing songs.




MOT Pass!

Good old car, you get a reprieve: the thing that makes you stall at roundabouts is going to be fixed, you get taxed for another six months and you get to take the Offsprogs to Scotland via Geordieland in September.
One less thing to worry about; I can't handle trying to buy a new car at the moment.
I started drawing an eagle last night, which was a relief because I haven't been able to draw anything for a long time. It was the feathers and flight that did it, and finding some nice paper and more importantly, a cool pen.
Even before 7 a.m. it's hot. The plants are panting (planting?) and gasping, and looking pleadingly with their little beady eyes.
'Waarter! Waarter!', they moan.
Ok, ok, guys let me drink tea, tea and then I will water, water you, you thirsty blighters!
Lazily, I'd hoped for a thunderstorm last night to do the job for me but God wasn't playing, and so it's up to me again to soak the soil.
Pity I can't bribe the flies or the snails to do the job for me: now why don't scientists spend a bit of time working on that instead of making nuclear weapons or rocketing to Mars?
Just imagine: plant-watering plagues of locusts to rehydrate the desert, or snails carrying organic fertiliser in their shells to do as much good as they do damage. Mosquitos that inject anti-malaria vaccine. Flies that carry anti-bovine-TB serum.
See where we get when we're having a cuppa at 6.30 a.m.?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dog Tag

I found this this afternoon- it's too hot to carry on working so I've been excavating tins of jingly things that I haven't looked in for years. This was made by either Milly, Mandy or Vicky: the three girls worked in a pet shop in Brighton and we used to call them The Pet Shop Girls (well before... you know). They were sixteen, and used to come to as many gigs by The Chefs as they could.
I suppose you could call this a case of reverse-merch. Alan (hello Alan!) later made a Helen and the Horns t-shirt under the same principle.

Working, not Shirking

The car is at the car doctors, and the holiday plan has now shrunk to somewhere in Wales, or Whitby because of that. I will pack my bucket and spade- if I can get there. I do love fish and chips, and Mr Whippy ice cream. And sandy beaches, so all is not lost.
Meanwhile I've been writing since 8.30 and I've sent off the article to my research mentor, Tim Lawrence, writer of the book Love Saves the Day, for feedback. I had not imagined a summer like this, with so much work to give my brain a workout. Tomorrow I'm meeting Gina to continue the process of setting up a Kickstarter campaign for our film; Offsprog One is planning the social media side of things, and on Saturday we are going to speak to Jude Cowan about the film on her Resonancefm show, The News Agents https://www.resonancefm.com/programmes
The rest of today, I'm working on the creative strand of this new MA course, which will be starting in October. I will carry on working at the University of the East, but will run the module for this as well.
http://lccm.org.uk/courses/ma-creative-entrepreneurship/

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hot Weather Song: Summer Days

This is a rough demo for a song for my forthcoming album, which will come forth when I've finished it. Thanks to Martin Stephenson for additional guitar on this track. The photo is of me and granny in New England when I was fourteen. Granny was just perfect.
https://soundcloud.com/mccookerybook/summer-days-demo

Twiddling Fingers

I had a recording session cancelled today. But I have done a lot of stuff, including finding a song that I wrote in America about starlings, and writing a melodica solo for one of my songs. Poor engineer; I am already a challenging client!

Will My Car.....

.... will my car get me anywhere? Is it breathing its last gasps?
I'm taking it for an early MOT tomorrow to decide whether it needs to go to the scrapyard or whether it's fit to get me to the Indietracks Festival at the end of the month. The tension is excruciating.

Competing Noise

I'm simultaneously logging the interview we did with Lesley Woods of the Au Pairs and batting off the sonic bullying of an angle-grinder that has been grinding on the building site nearby since 8 a.m.
Possibly, this is multi-tasking; if it is, it's way to hard for me to do.

The Unholiday

I dreamt of San Francisco, then realised how much it would cost.
I scaled down my dreams to Madeira, then realised how much to would cost.
It looks like it's going to be Whitby or Wales.
Dammit, a holiday's just about getting away from it all, isn't it?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Aggressive Pushchairing

I've just been aggressive-pushchaired in the shopping centre: actually aimed at. What was all that about?

Recording Today

I'm looking forward to a bit of studio time today. I shall be taking along a lamp, because fluorescent lights aren't good for vocals, and vocals are the heart of a song, ain't they? I just can't seem to get the feel right for some of the songs, although part of it is to do with protracted sadness. I will absorb as much of the sun as I can on the way there.

Voices change over years. I was listening to the songs I recorded eleven years ago for Suburban Pastoral, and I sang really differently back then. I remember that being a struggle too, and I am in better physical shape than I was back then, because about 50% of my diet was red wine. Although juries deliberate on whether a glass of wine a day is good for you or not, I don't think anyone has ever recommended a diet like that!
On the positive side, it's only three out of ten songs that are troublesome; some of it's to do with the vocal effects too and it's a case of listening to them without the backing tracks to see if they work that way.
Then later, another good thing- shooting an interview with Karen, the drummer from The Gymslips. I would say 'onwards and upwards' but that's one of the most facetious clichés in The Bumper Book of Annoying Sayings, so I won't.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Once More Into The Writing Fray

It's not so exciting
When you start writing.

Excuse the little poem. I have been academic writing for four hours today, partly putting in changes according to house style (they are all different: author's names always come first but after that the order of information is different), and mostly disagreeing with myself on purpose. You have to write with a view to being criticised, but if you're not careful you can criticise yourself so much that you decimate your confidence.

I am also mindful of my eyesight. So for that reason I am taking a break for an hour and I'm going to listen to some music and dance about in the kitchen, despite being remarkably stiff-limbed after a mad dash to Gina's yesterday to participate in a Skype call with Molly at Kickstarter. The bus had stopped at every red light and every pedestrian crossing all the way down from Barnet, plus at every stop a million school kids and a hundred pushchairs got on, so it's not surprising it took a long time.

In between all the excitingness, there are long interludes of simply having to earn a living and mind my academic reputation. I do try to win the lottery every week and had a couple of exciting weeks when I won another lottery ticket for the following week. I was certain that the jackpot was going to come up next, but it didn't.
Anyway, my jackpot is, and always has been since I had them, my daughters.

Club Artyfartle Goes Into Hibernation

I am closing Club Artyfartle temporarily because it looks as though the film is going to be keeping us very busy over the coming months. I will still be playing live myself, and I will soon be releasing a new album, but extra things like the club will have to wait for a while...

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Day Of Three Halves

Half One
Half one was the screening and panel at The Roundhouse in the Sackler Space. It looked to me like it was a sellout which wasn't bad for 12.00 on a muggy Sunday morning. There was a great feeling in the room and although the more I see the film the more I see what needs to be done to finish it, it does pack a pacy punch. Again, the stories came over as warm and funny. The entire band of The Dollymixtures came, plus lots of other people that I haven't seen for ages, and to have the support from mates from long ago and far afield was a great feeling. There were people there from Australia and from the US too, and the whole audience was not just supportive of the film but also of the panellists- Gina, Shanne and Jess Allanic from the band Mystified. There was an interesting cross-generational discussion, because Jess, who plays guitar, was inspired by hearing The Raincoats and The Slits played by her parents (and she told me afterwards her Dad liked The Chefs too). The one smarmy questioner was dealt with in seconds by Gina (was he a plant?) and I hope that lots of people left with a feeling that they could document music themselves to avoid a one-track version of history and put some lost women back in there again. Below: Mystified

Half Two
Half two was a song writing workshop. The last one I put on only had one person turn up so I was expecting a similar turnout, but ten people came along and we soon dived into creativity. It was all-ages, but because everyone was so open and willing to participate we ended up with a great song called Quietly Loud about suppression and revolution. Big luv to those people for sharing their ideas and their energy and passion.
Half Three
Armed with a bag of sandwiches and fruit thoughtfully provided by Rachel at The Roundhouse, Offsprog One and myself bombed down to Hither Green, leaving a trail of crumbs and plastic containers in bins along the way. From a distance we could hear The Trombone Poet in the Manor Park Arts Cafe, a funky little building whose tin roof was being scraped by tree branches tossing in the breeze. Shuffling words, meanings and trombone comments around, Paul made the audience snort with laughter. Steve Beresford and Mandira De Saram followed; Steve is always great and this was a fantastic pairing that veered in and out of anger. I always feel that high calibre musicians reach a degree of skill beyond which the next step is explosion: BANG! Steve's fingers thrashed the piano keys, while an electronic caterpillar attempted a futile escape from a wine glass. Mandira sliced her violin strings with the bow, and they begged for mercy.
It was my turn next; I did another sitsy-downsy gig (the next one will have to be rock'n'roll stand-up) but it was a great end to the day to be able to perform my own stuff and I was chuffed that Paul, Karen, Anna and family, Offsprog One, and Karina were there to metaphorically hold me up and send a bit of positive energy across the room. On the way out of the park, we passed a toddler with squeakers in her shoes; hilarious. She really should have been part of Steve and Mandira's performance.

What a day- it ended on a 263 bus because the tubes weren't running on the Northern Line. Fortified by bananas and Doritos and mindless TV, the song faded out and I slept, only to be woken by next door's alarm going off at 6.45 this morning.

Thank you Richard Sanderson, for inviting me along. And thank you Roundhouse too.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Sunday 10th July

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day; at 12.00 we'll be showing the film-in-progress at The Roundhouse, followed by a panel with Gina Birch, Shanne Bradley and Jess from the band Mystified.
After that, I'm running a song writing workshop before heading down to Manor Park in Hither Green for a gig in the park cafe- Steve Beresford will be playing and I hope I get there in time to see him.
After that, I'm going home and going to sleep.

Friday, July 08, 2016

On London Live at Lunchtime

Well here we are: telly girls, plugging the film showing at The Roundhouse. We had four minutes in which to strut our stuff with Anthony, our interviewer, who is now an honorary female punk.
Thanks to quick-witted Karina for the screenshot.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

A Frightening Bar Of Chocolate

As part of a goodie-bag at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, I received a beautifully packaged bar of chocolate from a very posh manufacturer. This was enormously exciting.
Unfortunately it is so powerful in its authentic flavour that I could barely keep a square of it in my mouth. It is worse than Fisherman's Friends, which regular readers will remember form a large part of the recording studio diet at the moment, and which used to be part of a school competition to see who could keep one in their mouth the longest.
The chocolate is on the shelf in the fridge, under the eggs, in case it jumps out to bite me. An Offsprog will come back late from the pub one night foraging for food and will be too plastered to notice its ferocious strength.
That being said, I'm off out for a cheap bar and a bag of Doritos.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Sculpted Into A Political Icon

I went to get my hair cut, after receiving a letter offering me 50% off.
The hair stylist is a French chap, and we launched into an enthusiastic talk about the European Union. He told me how difficult it was to shear some clients' fleeces given their peculiar views about it all. We became more enthusiastic by the second and I think his scissors were a little over-animated.
I now have a very short fringe and a blunt bob; I look suspiciously like Joan of Arc.
Oh well.
Afterwards, I went to record some harmonies. Icing the musical cake is becoming ever more enjoyable, now that I can sing again. We ate lots of Fishermen's Friends. That helped.
I think the album will be called Sailing on the Sound Waves.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Recording and Copying

I wasn't happy with he vocals that I recorded on new songs a couple of weeks ago and I spent this afternoon fixing a couple of them. After an afternoon in the park yesterday, I was in much better voice and I'm going back tomorrow to re-record some more. Then it was off to Gina's to meet Jane Woodgate of the Mo-Dettes, who had brought round the dub mix that Dennis Bovell did of their song, the one that she talks about in the documentary, to be digitised from the cassette version. It's really fab and it's a great privilege to be able to use it. We yakked about all sorts of things and ate cheese scones that Gina had made.
I like being busy like this; it keeps my mind off the miseries, although last night I confess I went to bed at 8.30 and slept until 7.30 this morning. Now I am healthy, wealthy and wise, so expect a change next time you see me.


Saturday, July 02, 2016

Pro-Europe Marching

Twitter is bristling with disgust at the pro-European marchers, with 'suck it up' being the main focus of the comments, and some more measured comments noting that a democratic vote has decided that we should leave. I feel very strongly that we should stay, and that many of the Leave campaigners were influenced, or at least informed by, outright lies told by people who were acting out an Eton pie-fight in the dorms and have now fled to hide behind nanny's skirts.
So that's my hate-filled rant over.
Overhead, helicopters zipped about like flies round a lightbulb; it took an hour for people to assemble because there were a lot of us. Periodically, a naked woman appeared on a balcony of the Hilton Hotel to massive cheering from the crowd.
People handed out badges, and two young women were offering to paint EU flags on people's faces; I watched as they painted a woman dressed in a hijab, who had come along on her own. Very brave, I thought, as was the young man with a hipster-coiffed moustache and beard, who was on crutches. I gave him my badge and realised later that the bottle of water might have been more practical.
It took three hours to walk from Park Lane to Parliament Square, so it was more of a meander than a march. There were loads of young people, and people with young babies.
I don't think marching changes much but this one seemed as much about making people feel better as anything else. I love being European, and I was delighted when my European passport turned up today. Yes, I know big business has had its nose in the trough but lots of survival laws have been passed that help people like me and my kids: and I like foreigners. What's wrong with that?
Photos: badges; EU Bull Terrier has a snack; stylish banner; DIY banners; Novo Castrian banner; wind-up pro-Brexit merchant. Victim rescued: 'It's SATIRE mate! Don't make a fool of yourself'.