Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Poly Styrene

This evening I'm heading into town to film an interview for Zoe Howe and Paul Sng's documentary about Poly Styrene. I envisage the footage being snugly curled up on the cutting-room floor at some later date, but I always think with these things that you are giving the project a positive boost just by going along and doing it. I hope I remember to sing the first song Poly wrote- all one line of it- when she was at primary school. It was a protest song, directed at the dinner lady for making the children eat meat. She taught it to her classmates in the playground.
Knowing how many people were influenced by her, and who also felt enormous affection for her, and knowing what happened in her life, I think of Vincent Van Gogh and what we do to artists and musicians. I was talking to a researcher yesterday who is working on a project about Scottish women songwriters, and thinking about how we actually fan the flames of people's narcissism to the point where they are completely dislocated from reality. I don't think narcissism is particularly rare: the potential seems to be there for anybody, regardless of their gender or occupation.
All that's needed is a crew of sycophantic people to shield them from responsibility and to massage their sense of specialness: these can be friends or even family members. I don't think Poly was a narcissistic person by any means, but I do think that people around her deliberately detatched her from reality. She deserves a lot of respect for rejecting it all and looking for spirituality in life instead, trying to seek out genuine friendships, rather than people who massaged her ego.
One of her friends asked me to go to the funeral as her representative because she was too upset to go herself. It was the most beautiful funeral that I have ever been to; I must have written about it here at the time. Lots of the London fishes were out of water (yes, I felt that too even though I don't feel like a London fish) and the day belonged to people who loved her properly: her mum, her daughter, her husband, and the proper friends that she made after being a pop star. Punk threw her into a position where her bravery and resilience were tested to breaking point and beyond. There's no-one else like her.
This was her first release (as Mari Elliott):


Monday, August 14, 2017

Dreaming of Narcissus

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lexington Times


The beer, and the sticky floor when the moshing stopped.

French Footsteps At My Door

From The Helen and the Horns Archive


The orange poster must be from one of our first ever gigs. Dave had the key to the Jazz Room at Imperial College and we used to rehearse there every week. This may have been the one where the bar was hosting a delegation of Dutch miners who did a noisy conga in front of us while we were playing. I booted each one up the bum as they went past. By the last couple of chaps they realised what was going on and escaped before I got 'em.
The article is from Smash Hits- unbelievable that we got in there! I was/am such a pop-head that I was thrilled to bits, because they print the lyrics and I love that. I still had that shirt until just a few months ago.
The Newcastle gig was a hoot. The microphone was giving off electric shocks and McMum was there at soundcheck time with her friend from church. The first thing that I said through the P.A. was 'F*CK!' as it zapped me through my upper lip. Then later there was a showing-off competition between Cleo 'Hot Lips' Silver and Little Bruv, who was totally pissed and became the star of the dressing room ('Tomato sandwiches? Why is it always tomato sandwiches? Don't they know I hate tomato sandwiches?). Cleo 'Hot Lips' had swanned in expecting to be the centre of attention but was no match for Little Bruv, who progressed to throwing slices of tomato around the place. Oh, happy days.
The stickers? Well, we obviously used them!
The Simonics poster must have been a bit later as well, when we had our own label. Maybe? The band was formed out of three Nicks and Two Simons, who recorded at Elephant Studios in Wapping, with a Simon and a Nick engineering.
Finally, that's the original Helen and the Horns logo which was later tidied up by or first record label, Thin Sliced Records.
OK, back to the box......



Friday, August 11, 2017

Barnet Turns Into Betaville

Oh dear. After a pleasant chat with Ben Wilson the chewing gum painter, who was brandishing a tube of filler, I wandered round to the Antiques Emporium. All shut up, all voided. To be made into flats, no doubt.
The car park has been tarmac'd to destroy the market (three stalls left, most of the time) so we can only shop in the supermarket, and a humungous H&M is doubling the height of the shopping centre, itself a mutated church (replace spirituality with capitalism, etc.etc.).
In the square in the centre (all mature trees uprooted and thrown away to make more retail space), customers sit and drink coffee with piped music in the background: Rhodes piano, major sevenths and syrupy male vocals stroking their ears.
What did it remind me of?
Why the Sims, of course!
The Offsprogs used to have the game. Simulated computer people with stereotyped personality traits occupied themselves with service jobs that were just the right shape for them, all to the tune of muzak; their language, Simlish, took all the rough edges even off anger, because there were no words and hence no poetry.
Barnet is turning into Betaville, very rapidly.

Helen and the Horns in Weybridge 2008

Helen and the Horns at the Lexington in 2013

Studio Day

Unbelievable: 11.54 a.m. and I normally get up at six-thirty!
Yesterday afternoon was spent at Dave Morgan and Ruth Tidmarsh's studio, recording a new song, Saturday Night With The London Set. It will be the first one for the next album, which I am hoping at the moment to do with a guest guitarist on each track.
Yesterday's guest (who introduced me to Dave and Ruth in the first place) was Vic Godard. We had already played a version of the song at the Asbo Derek album launch in Brighton a few weeks ago so it wasn't new territory.
It was written after a night out at a Monochrome Set gig at The Lexington. It's funny embarking into a community of people who lived through London punk, having done all that stuff somewhere completely different; and the 25-year sabbatical I'd had from making music when I was a Mum and Wife and a Lecturer and music making was something other people did and talked about, but not me.
But everywhere you go, people bond because of shared histories. If you move around a lot you slip into and slip out of other people's worlds, sometimes becoming immersed and sometimes just watching from the sidelines. I think it's often the combination of being there and somehow not being there at the same time that makes people write songs: you are somehow trying to link yourself to other people and be part of their narrative, while at the same time living your own life story. I don't know.
This is probably all blethers.
I was writing about the recording session.
We recorded guitar and drums first with a guide vocal, no click track which is unusual for me.  Fuelled by coffee, we got the track down in time for Vic who arrived fresh from his round, in his postman's uniform. Dave and Ruth have a Firebird (that's a make of guitar) and it sounds absolutely lush; some of Vic's parts sounded like Eddie Rabbit and some sounded like (believe it or not) Carlos Santana (or maybe that's because of listening to a CD of Caravanserai on Wednesday). There were some lovely things going on between the ride cymbal and the hi-hats and between the different guitar parts, whose sounds came to the forefront in different parts of the track (mine was Brazilian-sounding arpeggios and Vic played around and over that). Then I put a rudimentary bass line down which was challenging.
After all that it was difficult to get a great lead vocal, but I did a harmony that may or may not materialise. A coffee'n'sound migraine started to announce it's presence and we did a rough mix, and the rest of the day was Vic's to mix his album.
Last night's listening, all I could hear was wrong things. That is completely normal for listening on the recording day, when you have called into play a sort of micro-listening so you can hear the way instruments rub up against and interconnect with each other sonically.
I've just listened this morning, and that's why I'm writing this instead of just burying it in the week's other doings. It sounds amazing! Dave's drums sound great, the guitars sound fabulous and I even like the vocals. There is a pile of songs that didn't get on the The Sea and I was going to record those ones as a new album, but I think after this that I'll work on some new ideas instead.
In 2005 I made a bid for freedom , by starting to write songs again. I am so bloody glad that I did. It's like exploring outer space, except it can all be done in the comfort of your own brain. Sort of (wrote the person who has travelled 3000 miles, and counting, to play gigs on her own this summer).

Alas, ordinary tasks like 'washing the kitchen floor' and 'cleaning the windows' and 'starting to work on next year's student module guides' will be taking up the rest of today, but at least yesterday was 100% creative.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Dispossession

Paul Sng, the director of this documentary, made the film Invisible Britain which followed Sleaford Mods around Nottingham's gigs and pubs, and documented them talking about their music and their political beliefs. He advised me and Gina about our funding our fledgling documentary (still parked up in a lay-by temporarily), and in a strange way I was worried about this film, in case it didn't deliver the goods, despite reading some great reviews in one of the weekend newspapers.
There was no need for anxiety. From the start, the documentary has the self-assured focus of truth, and what a f*cking relief. There is no pussyfooting, no euphemism, no delicacy: but there is no brutality either. Where there is anger, it's completely justified and more often articulated through the poetry of ordinary (yet extraordinary) people's reminiscences and their hopes for the future.
The film interrogates the local and national policies of powerful politicians of all political persuasions as they cleanse city centres of people earning below certain income levels- certain high income levels. These people have/had been living in high density, sometimes high rise, council properties on land whose value has apparently become higher than the value of the lives of those people whose homes are built upon it. Under the guise of regeneration (an architect from Architects for Social Housing debunks the idea of regeneration, which is a slow process, and prefers the term 'clearance'), whole mini-populations are persuaded to leave their homes, which have been allowed to deteriorate over decades, and promised lovely new dwellings. In reality, once these new dwellings are built, there are simply not enough of them for the evacuated residents, and compensation paid to leaseholders who were conned into buying their council properties by Thatcher's government is nowhere near enough for them to live in the 'affordable' properties that replace their original homes.
Naturally, very few of those people responsible for these policies consented to be interviewed, and  Savills, the property developers, have somehow managed to become advisers to government and councils without any sort of checks and balances- shame on you Sadiq Khan for being involved in this!
Parts of the film hit the emotions hard. It was the resident of a high-rise who talked about moving into his flat after being homeless, and watching the fog from his windows, that made me cry. As he spoke, his words were akin to a loving poem to the view from his window; it was a beautiful and touching moment. Later a Glaswegian man stood in a rubbish-strewn street in a part of Glasgow whose private landlords have allowed it to become a slum with piles of rubbish and rats (I think this may be in Nicola Sturgeon's constituency). Incredulous, he imagines the journey of a refugee form a war-torn country arriving in Glasgow for sanctuary and ending up in a sh*tty street like this, where the situation is almost as hideous. I thought of the man from Glasgow whom Emily Maitlis had interviewed and who reduced her to tears by his generosity in donating blood to victims of the Manchester bombing, and whose response was to answer hate with love.
All over the UK, the story is the same, whether Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, London...
we learned about the process of artwashing, where arts projects (even graffiti artists) form part of the first stage of social cleansing by making areas look funky and desirable. Interestingly, after the screening a resident of one of the estates in Southwark remarked that the film, in being shown at a Picturehouse Cinema in central London, was actually taking part in this process too. This was a sharp observation- but it allowed some interesting responses: the staff at the cinema who are undertaking industrial action because of their low pay were asked how they felt about the film being shown there and they gave the screening their blessing. In addition, Paul told the audience that once the screenings are done, the film will be sent out to any residents association who wanted it free of charge, so that they can use it to support their campaigns against being ousted from their own homes as the end-product of a 'managed decline'.
In the Q&A, the views expressed were frank. This is all part of the financialisation of even our imaginations; and this removal of poor people, facilitated by the myth of sink estates, is known as 'value uplift'. Ugh, ugh, ugh! How horrible!
You must see this film. The residents are articulate, funny, charming and strong: they give the message of the film such heart. The graphics are clear and the research is thorough and convincing. It belongs in the same area of truth-telling as I, Daniel Blake, although that is fictionalised truth. Despite making you feel furious at the injustice and hypocrisy of the politicians, construction industry and financiers, there is a sense of relief in the film's honesty. This is information we need. A decent life for the many is superseded by an aspirational life for the few: we can't let this continue.
See here for more screenings: https://www.dispossessionfilm.com

The Arts Café in Pictures

Nicked Richard Sanderson's photo to put one of me in. Words tomozza.









A Memory

Back in the day, I had a full-time job as an academic and two children under five. It took and hour and a half to get to work and the same back again; because South London was so volatile, there would be fights on the bus (usually someone unable to pay their fare), people would refuse to get off, and the conductor or driver would make all of the passengers disembark while they called the police. You'd have to wait for the next bus, and everyone would try to stuff themselves on to that, another fight would ensue, and so on. I used to be so tired that often I fell asleep standing up on the platform at Kennington tube station staying away from the edge so that if I fell over I wouldn't end up on the tracks.
We lived in a housing association maisonette with a family upstairs who didn't look after their kids. Their little boys would climb on to the roof while the parents were otherwise engaged, and throw knives and forks, their toys, and once a bowlful of dirty washing-up water into the garden below. It was very dangerous- I don't think there was a parapet. When we spoke to the parents, they would tell off the boys, not themselves, and that was difficult to listen to from downstairs. They were so rowdy that when they slammed their front door, things used to jump off our walls- including my old Hofner bass guitar which ended up with a smashed-in jack socket and had to be repaired.
I got back from work one day to find my father-in-law and the housing officer in the street. The child- minder had taken the Offsprogs to her house because the family upstairs had left a bath tap running and gone out for the day, which meant that our maisonette below had completely flooded. Filthy water was pouring into the kitchen from the ceiling and from there down through the kitchen floor into the Offsprogs' bedroom and on to their toys, books, beds and clothes. The central heating had come on to compensate and the cat was running around pleading for someone to stop it from raining inside. It was an absolute downpour of reddish-brown, stinky water: it looked like hell and it was a terrible shock to come back from work and see that home wasn't home any more.
We could only spend one night away because there were so many burglaries in that neighbourhood we knew that if we left the house for any longer, people would just break in and strip out the rest of our belongings that hadn't been ruined by the flood from above. It is the worst thing for a child to have their safe place, their bedroom, destroyed; the children were distraught. The loss adjusters took almost everything away to dry it out (we found it hard to get some of the stuff back from them) and a lot of things were so badly soaked that they just had to be thrown away.
In a day, a flood can do an incredible amount of damage.
We moved back into the wet mess and lived there while the ceilings were re-plastered and the lino replaced on the kitchen floor. Our lives were dusty, gritty and damp for weeks afterwards. Our lovely childminder and her husband repainted the Offsprogs' room for them. There was a huge pile of damaged belongings in the front garden, and each day we tripped around the rescued things drying out in the house.
The people upstairs never apologised or even acknowledged the destruction they had caused.
Funny to think of this now; I'm listening to some old music from back then and it has called the whole experience back into existence.
Now it needs to go back into the cupboard and be covered up by a better memory.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Fleas4U Says Goodbye

Somehow Fleas4U guessed that Offsprog One was heading off to a flat share and he bounced in early to say goodbye, which was quite touching. He has worked out that he can jump on to the concrete head of Helen of Troy, an ancient statue next to the fence, to get in and out of the garden. He followed Offsprog One to the forbidden upstairs and back, and even marched across the draining board while we were having a tea break in the back yard.
I had to wash the grapes again.

Lyrics

On post-it notes, scribbled on the edges of the daily newspaper, in a hard-backed notebook, in the 'notes' section of my phone; on train tickets, receipts, advertising leaflets: they are everywhere. And in my head, melodies, and in my fingers, riffs. How could I ever had stopped doing this?


Friday, August 04, 2017

The Green Goddess Goes To The Park

The Green Goddess and I have booking on Sunday afternoon in the Arts Café in Manor Park. It's a mere sneeze away from Hither Green station, and the venue has a sort of retro art room feel to it. It's informal, and perfect for a weekend outing after a lazy brunch and a scan through the newspapers.
The host is Richard Sanderson, he of many talents: Morris Dancing, melodeon playing and most importantly, surviving being brought up in the north-east (he's a Darlington man).
He and Mark Baby will be providing the inter-song songs.
Right now: I'm learning a cover of the Wedding Present's Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah to play at the Edge Of The Sea Festival (every artist/act does a cover of one of their songs).
I find it hard to learn words, but I thought the chorus of that one would be OK 😉

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eric Ravilious At The Towner Gallery, Eastbourne

'It's 12 o'clock', lied the clock tower at Eastbourne station. Time was standing still; rain was falling. What better day to visit an art gallery, what better gallery to visit than the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and what better exhibition to see than Eric Ravilious and Friends?
The 'and Friends' bit made my heart sink because of the sloppy exhibitions at Tate Modern with awful 'influenced by...' and 'was an influence on...' paintings, but the accompanying artists' work here (a combination of pupils and fellow-artists) was absolutely top quality and showed that here was a community of artists, all striving for the same goals.
You could focus on so many different things: the graphics, the design, the paintings, the ideas. There was so much to see and so much of the process was revealed: memory books by Peggy Angus and Helen Binyon depicted scenes such as a chimney sweep racing a bus in his horse and cart and other rEast-end scenes. Wood blocks and stencils, all as beautiful as the actual prints themselves, demonstrated the painstaking craft that went into the illustrations and book-covers that were displayed next to them. There was a lovely photograph from East Sussex records office of Helen Binyon sitting at a table, concentrating on cutting into a block of wood. She and her sister Margaret made children's books together and toured with a puppet show that they created.
Tirzah Garwood's work was brilliant. She was in a relationship with Ravilious but out of all of the friends here, her work was least influenced by his. I particularly liked a series of unpublished prints of her relatives: a crocodile of schoolgirls walking past a wall, a sinister uncle in a belted mac standing in a garden full of fallen leaves, her sister in law at a dog show, womanhandling an unruly terrier. There was work by Barnett Freedman (absolutely exquisite), Edward Bawden, Paul and John Nash and many more.
The intense blacks of the printing ink makes the prints remarkably striking and powerful to look at.
Ravilious was taken to the Alpha Cement Works by a friend and so liked it that they managed to persuade the owners to leave the arc lights on at night so that he could paint there. The colours of all of these paintings are the colours of dreams; there, almost there, but not quite there. Corporal Stediford's pigeon loft, painted in 1942, is almost comical in its rustling detail. There was a particular landscape of a Norwegian ship in water that showed his absolute genius as a painter. From a distance, it looks almost photographic but close-up there was exactly the same relationship between pattern and representation as there is in the black-and-white woodcuts. With politics thrown into the mix (for this group of people supported refugees, and cared deeply about their country and the suffering that war brought about), there is a whole added layer of emotional meaning to it all.
The joy in their creativity! Halfway through a drawing an artist would change their mind; positives would become negatives and negatives would become positives. 'Ha! I'll change my mind about a colour field halfway through a drawing!': but then it looks as though the change happened because of something inherent in the paper, because further on the colours change back again. The lettering and the decorative prints are extraordinary in their variety of lines, patterns and ideas. Sometimes the lettering looks almost embroidered, then sometimes it looks like unravelled metal tape sprawled across the page. I wanted to eat it all!
This is a wonderful exhibition.They were permitted to be war artists, and kept out of the army because the powers-that-be didn't want a whole generation of artists to be killed. Ironically, on an artist's mission out of Iceland, the plane that Ravilious was travelling in disappeared. Oh, the complete and absolute futility of war! When you see the beauty and joy of an artist like this, so unusual and so inspiring, simply obliterated in an instant because humans are too f*cking stupid to be able to live peacefully together, it makes you weep with frustration.
I left the exhibition feeling completely inspired, full of pride in British culture, but full of shame for British warmongering, past, present and future. It is a must-see show, for its beauty, for its historical value and for the underlying messages that it transmits about the necessity for us to nurture art and artists, always.

Magical Mystery Day

The wicker hamper is packed, the horses are snorting at the bit. It's a day off!

Monday, July 31, 2017

An Announcement From The Death Metal Zebra

Title courtesy Offsprog One, who has been talking in That Voice all night.

Disorientation

It's disorientating being home. I have drunk far too much tea, watched too much Columbo and washed too many clothes. The place is festooned with post-it notes, half of which are covered in scribbled-out instructions. Barnet is still weird. A Chap was wandering around yesterday, and so were two Japanese Buddhists who came to the door like Jehova's Witnesses and tried to invite me to become a Buddhist. The Post Office had to close this morning because the network computer broke down, and Fleas4U was in sitting on the sofa with Offsprog One a couple of days ago: while the cat's away, the cats will play.
A spell in the Highland mountains has put a whole lot of things into perspective: giant problems have turned into little shrivelled worms, and London itself seems like an overblown rose. I said 'tapadh liebh' to BBC Radio nan Gaidheal for playing Summer Days.
McDad tried and tried to learn Gaelic, but couldn't get his head around it. This is such a lovely song, which he had a recording of, and which was John Smith's favourite song (leader of the Labour Party in the 1990s). It is interesting to see that it originated in Ullapool; I didn't know that.

Hill of Fools From 2005

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Bicycle after My Own Heart

Travels

Travel light, said McMum, and she was right. Who wants to be weaving in and out between wheelie suitcases of station platforms with bobbly bits on the concrete to stop people from slipping? Not I, said the fly, especially with the Green Goddess on my back.
Serendipitous timing meant that I was travelling to Inverness First Class, which was luxury apart from listening in to conversations between some seriously snobby people; I thought that I would sleep but the view from the window was so fabulous that there was no way that was going to happen.
The East Coast Line (can't bear to mention that horrible man's brand) takes in one view after the other, from the southern flatlands, through Yorkshire, past Durham City with its cathedral and castle and deep well of red brick terraces; crossing the Tyne over the bridge with the view of more bridges to dear old Newcastle Central Station (there used to be a recording booth on the concourse where you could record a vinyl flexi-disk for five shillings). Then the train glided up to Berwick, past Alnmouth and Holy Island in the distance, over the Tweed where you can spot swans as little specks of white, far down below. It is still a beautiful stone-built town clasping the cliffs and looking eastwards towards the North Sea and it twinkled in the afternoon sunshine. Suddenly, we stopped and the burnt smell of emergency brakes filled the carriage.
Four young ginger cows with blunt juicy noses watched us from their field. A train had broken down ahead, and we had to go backwards to a part of the rails where the points could be changed so we could overtake it. The cows watched, not even chewing; the train reversed, and then moved forwards again. The cows were entranced. Reality agri-TV had finally arrived in the borders, and they were the first to enjoy it.
We slid into Edinburgh Waverley and I remembered the many times we'd disembarked there with the Offsprogs, first as babbies, then as toddlers, then eventually teenagers, to visit McMum and McDad. It's so peculiar no longer to have that base in Scotland; at one point we all knew Edinburgh as well as we knew London. The train headed north, and further north, through Pitlochry where McMum and McDad used to come and pick us up (often sloshed), off the train with the empty Thermos that had been filled with Gluhwein. Up through the mountains, where the glaciers have carved the landscape into drama after drama, the sky providing the lights and the reflections in the lakes, the footlights; rainbows, half rainbows, tumbling, surly clouds. Spotlit mountain tops and dark valleys provided camouflage for deer and electricity pylons defiantly carried cables across the most hostile-looking landscapes (the fallen pylon is particularly evocative of some industrial metal animal skeleton that has been left to rot in nature's time).

The train was an hour late into Inverness but luckily the hostel was close by.
As I was getting ready to sleep, a young male French cyclist came into the room and I suddenly realised that I was sharing with three blokes! You see, I've never had the luxury of being a backpacker; I never had a job where you could save up for anything when I was younger, so punk rock had to do that stuff for me. I stopped breathing for an hour, especially when the last one in came in with his infra-red head-lamp and started shining it around the room. Suddenly the night turned into a horror movie as the red spotlight silently travelled across the walls and ceiling. Luckily I was sleeping with the Green Goddess and I held on to her neck tightly for protection.  Next morning though, we got chatting and they told me that they were terrified of midgies; one of the Offsprogs used to attract them like, well, flies: and on the Isle of Skye her ears filled up with them until we remembered McDad saying that Bog Myrtle would repel them. So I told the French cyclists. 'Boj Myrtle', one of them typed into his phone.
The bus journey from Inverness to Ullapool went through more gorgeous mountain terrain. I have driven that journey many times but you don't see as much with your eyes on the road. The sick bag detail on the bus was a comical touch.
In the main street, a little wispy Nordic-looking girl was busking with a fiddle. She looked as though she was going to be blown away by the wind and indeed she disappeared for a while, only to reappear in an alleyway somewhere else ten minutes later. A convoy of six brand-new tractors roared past, bound for the ferry terminal. Ullapool harbour is industrial-vehicle heaven.
Anne Wood had offered a room to stay, and later Sot Otter (who organised the gig), came by and we headed for the rehearsal of the choir she has set up, Three Sheets to the Wind. It's impossible to describe the wonderful feeling of listening to a choir rehearsal where everybody wants to be there, everyone wants to sing their best and everyone trusts the choir leader. Being immersed in that lovely sound of human voices interacting with each other, it's a luscious experience. It's a large group (yet not everyone was there) but they are also disciplined and so committed yet so relaxed at the same time. They are pitch-perfect and hold their harmonies simultaneously as solidly as rock, but as lightly as feathers. I think that experience has been one of the highlights of the year!

So we went round to the Argyll Hotel, and after a quick sound check, the choir sang their four numbers, finishing with a really rousing version of Oh Happy Day that gave the western winds a run for their money. They got a massive round of applause and I reckon they will have a bunch of new people joining them after that performance, including the barman!
Sot had taught them the backing vocals of Women of the World, and from their seats they sang the choruses (I'm sorry I played it a bit too fast!) and also the 'She's a Femme Fatale' bits of Femme Fatale which Karen led from the sofa after making a long journey, I hope the first of many adventures for her. They also joined in singing The Sea, and made it a very special night. Thank you so much to Sot, and to the choir who deserve to be heard far beyond the walls of the Argyll Hotel. What a complete privilege!

It was great to see Robbie there, where he's working on the campsite, and also great on the way back to catch up with a few people over coffee, here and there.
I reckon I've travelled around 3000 miles so far on this tour by car, bus and train and of course on foot. Big thanks to everyone who came to the gig, massive thanks to Sot, and I am happy to say that all the Femme Fatale CDs were sold, which means more money for Refugee Action. It can still be downloaded from here, or bought from either me or the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy at gigs:
https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/album/femme-fatale



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Asbo Derek Ulysses Twin Album Review

I’m waiting for the postman, because I’ve ordered a hat off the internet to keep dry when I go to Ullapool tomorrow, so let’s listen together (you mean you haven’t bought it yet?).

The tracks on this album are the perfect length- mostly less than two minutes, or ballad length (less that three). I'll pick out my faves although I've listened to the lot:
Investors in People: a song that ridicules workplace insincerity by reducing it to essential items of clothing. Work is quite literally, pants. Many people will feel this song deeply in their souls, but with a bit of blue sky thinking, we will get through it together, I'm sure.
‘My name is Lydia, and I am in media’ the first line of  Bus Passes (for the middle classes) starts the song as it means to go on. This is my favourite track; Alan and Fran in the samba band. Ouch! How to get rid of your smug friends in one fell swoop; it made me laugh out loud at 10.46 a.m. just as I did at 9.47 p.m. on Saturday when they played it live. Bus stop!
Lotus Birth: Oh, horrible! This song pinpoints the disgustingness of hippy childbirth. I have been to look for the placenta that they chucked off the pier bobbing about in the English Channel, but I couldn’t see it. It must have sunk. 
Latte: This one reveals a stark hatred of the ‘Can I get…’ culture, with as many offensive phrases as possible crammed into one song, none of which are as offensive as ‘Can I get a latte’, sung in a suitably irritated tone through gritted teeth. Brilliant.
Canary Wharf: ‘I’ll wear an Edinburgh Woollen Mills Scarf’; I wonder if they could flog this to the company as an advertising jingle? Possibly not, as so many potential customers are instructed to fuck off back to where they came from. Has Jem not heard of upward mobility? Essential listening on the DLR at maximum volume with a ghettoblaster, please.
Oh, yes.
Larry Hagman: ‘Didn’t speak on Sundays’, says the guitar, because Larry Hagman didn’t speak on Sundays. Sounds like a good idea to me.
Pickles: ‘Eric Pickles: what a twat’. Quite agree. Why has nobody said this before? And they take the Mickey out of Boris too (see what I did just there?). This should be sent to the Houses of Parliament immediately for their edification. Lester Square used to send all his songs to The Queen at Buckingham Palace (the female one), so why not?
Crook of the Elbow has an insouciant rhythm and homes in on that Beckham thing of, well, hanging the bag on the crook of the elbow. In London you can tell who reads Hello magazine because they walk through the most uncool streets with their fake Gucci bags hanging down, except in this song it’s a supermarket bag with a jar of onion gravy in it. Delish!
Shining Light: Aww, SuBo, aww.

The production is fab (if you notice things like that, and even if you don't, you do). I love the grumpy bass sound, rasping guitar sound (there is a particularly good guitar riff in Backstairs Billy), crisp drum sound, and of course the icing on the cake: Jem's powerful and authoritative voice singing complete nonsense.


Crimp it, baby!


Buy it here: https://asboderek.bandcamp.com/releases

(the postman never came)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Helen And the Horns, Katy Carr and Honey Birch At The Lexington Ist October

Here is the ticket link.

Blank It Out, The Asbo Derek Gig And More


Apologies for this review being a bit fragmented- I started it, added to it and then whizzed off to do something else. The video above was made by Tracey Holloway, of the first song that Vic and me did, Blank It Out. Lee McFadden is  playing acoustic guitar, because the song was originally performed by his band The Long Decline.

Our set list:
Blank It Out
Saturday Night With The London Set
Stamp Of A Vamp
Femme Fatale
Temptation
Brother Can You Spare A Dime
Autumn Rendezvous
Back Street Luv

The next photo (below) is of Asbo Derek singing, with Vic on stage with them. I have been roaring with laughter describing their songs to Offsprog One: the song about the middle classes and their bus passes, a couple of songs too rude to mention, and the reason for the name of the album which is possibly too disgusting to mention, but which I may over-ride my sense of decorum to write about. Maybe. Their guitarist is brilliant. And their drummer is called SuBo because of his resemblance to Susan Boyle, I believe; it's a very chantable nickname. The inter-song bantz was hilarious, and although I had been led to believe that the audience would consist of fat old men (I had asked a neutral observer what to expect), there were a lot of very glamorous women there, across the age spectrum, and plenty of skinny young men. The one thing that everyone had in common was extremely loud voices and extreme determination to have fun. Hats off to Steve behind the sound desk, too. It's always a good gig when he's there and he deserves a medal for remaining good natured when challenged by extreme noise, fumbling musicians, and an eccentric approach to what a gig actually consists of.




First photo by Tonje Cecilie Tainsh. We're playing the first song Blank It Out, written by Lee McFadden,which is why he's there. Apparently I was playing the wrong chords. I blame Vic.
Second photo by Peter Tainsh.
Then Jane Barnes' photo of us tuning Lee's guitar (see guitar tuners posting a few days ago for a description of the general rigmarole around these annoying contraptions). Then one of Bongo Pete's photographs. I'm not sure what we were laughing at; possibly an act of extreme musical incompetence, possibly not.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Larfing at Dream Themes

I went into work to print out the work so far on the book that I am writing, so that I can have something to read on the long journey to Inverness next week, en route to Ullapool. For once, the printer at work was fully-functioning, which was absolutely extraordinary (I'd factored in frustration time). The machine hummed and the paper glided into a stack with a slightly facetious air of efficiency. So how come in times of maximum stress with ten minutes to go before a three hour lecture with 50 students, the machine says no?
Karina was in, and we got the train to Caledonian Road and walked down to Granary Square through the slightly muggy, slightly polluted London air, past all its multicultural and soon-to-be-gentrified splendour: shops selling this, shops selling that, the occasional 'artisanal coffee shop'. London can be a fabulous gem, under the grime.
I ordered a very expensive crisp sandwich, bits of which blew away in the urban breeze. We tried to locate Shanne, and then went to the supermarket to stock up on either tea, booze or baklava, depending on what we wanted and needed.
Members of Dream Themes were wandering around in their logo'd navy boiler suits; they drifted on to the stage and the bass player, the man with the slightly terrifying eyes and the Merrythought-Teddy hair, introduced their soundcheck. They charged into their first theme, charged into the second, third, fourth; themes came thick and fast. They patted themselves on the back in frequent announcements over the PA; 'Well done us!'. We witnessed Dickie's dance through the crowd (by this time they had stripped to red t-shirts and shorts), of which all I could see was the occasional pink arm and bearded head bobbing up and down. The Good Life sounded like a horse falling downstairs. Me and Karina hooted our way through Star Trek. The 'Winking or Blinking' quiz show promised a prize of tickets to their pantomime, only available at the end of the show, so the poor winner had to stay the course. Thunderbirds was oddly moving. Large sections of the audience revealed themselves to be watchers of children's TV shows (after all, Tellytubbies' main audience was students, I believe). Finally, after they had finished their set, they exhorted us to join in a dance with them as the DJ equipment was moved back on the the stage. They stood in a line, saluted-along-to-the-instructions, and gradually, one by one, we felt compelled to join in.
'Stick your arms out! Stick your arms out, thumbs up! Stick your arms out, thumbs up, shoulders up! Stick your arms out, thumbs up, shoulders up, head back! Stick your arms out, thumbs up, shoulders up, head back, tail out!'.
No, no, no, nothing was going to make me poke my bum out in Granary Square, but almost everybody else did.
I laughed so much I almost threw up; it was impossible to keep a straight face, even though a steady stream of po-faced bearded cyclists constantly pushed past trying to get to the Regents Canal towpath to mow down a few pedestrians.
Halfway through, Vic phoned to ask what the last chord of the second chorus of one of the songs we're doing tonight was. It was rather difficult to change gear mentally. I left the crowd briefly and twisted my fingers into a chord shape, but alas, my mind was still singing along to the sting from News At Ten, a track so short that it ends before the iTunes preview does. Thankfully, he guessed from my vague ramblings what it was. I think.
See you in Brighton, folks!
I got it a bit wrong, but do feel free to dance along if bored:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Going Into Reverse

I have been trying so hard to learn all of the lyrics and chords for tomorrow's gig with Vic Godard for the Asbo Derek launch of their album Ulysses Twin, that my brain has gone into reverse and not only can I not remember the new things I've learned this week, but I've also forgotten the things that I already knew, apart from when I'm just dropping off to sleep and the whole lot comes thundering into my brain at maximum volume.
How did I ever manage to pass exams at school?
Actually I can remember that. I used to sleep with my exercise book under the pillow the night before the exam.
I'll try that, with the written-out lyrics and chords.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

This Rough Magic by David Devant and his Spirit Wife

Gah. Guitar Tuners.

What's that rattling sound? That's the sound of my feet wading through hundreds of broken guitar tuners, scattered through the house like giant cockroaches, peering up at me through lit-up faces that make it seem as though they are working: but they're not.
You only have to look at them a bit funny and they stop; their dials freeze, their lights wink, they invent new tones that mankind has never heard before- the sounds of the Universe- and attune to those but completely ignore your guitar. They snap in half and pretend to be fixed, only to sulk as soon as you clip them on the the headstock of the guitar. They yearn for a new battery, weeping, crying, begging: you replace the battery. 'Hah hah! Fooled you!', they taunt. They were broken anyway.
They come in all colours, shapes and sizes. Inventors have invented the perfect tuner. It works perfectly until it doesn't work any more, just when you most need it to.
You might think 'tuning fork', and laugh at the poor grasp of music that us electric guitarists have. But have you ever tried to tune a guitar to a fork in noisy venue? Not only do you look like a complete prat but you can't hear the bloody thing anyway.
So off I go to the music shop, to try to find a brand that I haven't bought yet so I can hope that it won't break after being used three times. I'll bring the little Spork, Crunk, or Flibbetigibbet home with me, fumble it out of it's fiddly box that probably cost more than the tuner itself, and prepare to be disappointed yet again.
And you thought it was so easy being a musician.

Fleas4U Makes A Fleeting Appearance

What a humdinger of a storm. Offpsprog One went into the yard with her camera, and I hung out of the bedroom window to watch the lightning.
A furry, shadowy shape slithered along the top of the new fence and down into next door's garden. I head a 'meep' and the door opened. You lazy, greedy thing, Fleas4U. Can't be bothered with us because we don't feed him. It's only a little jump!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bristol


A London Night Out

Last night I went to see the documentary Love Story at The Regent Street Cinema, which is part of the University of Westminster. The cinema had always been there, but has recently been refurbed and made into a niche screening venue.The film about The Dollymixture was screened there, and Mykaell Riley's British Black Music History research project was launched there too.
The documentary was touching, funny, irritating (it was a bit too long) but an authentic record of (parts of) being in a band in LA in the 1960s and 1970s. The big problem was that Arthur Lee wouldn't leave LA and tour, unlike the Doors, who worked their asses off touring the USA. But there was another problem: they were a mixed race band and a lot of Americans couldn't stand that concept, especially at that time. I would have liked to heard more about The Butterfield Blues Band, who as fellow label mates at Elektra, probably had the same problems; and, of course, Sly and the Family Stone.
Somehow though, the slightly claustrophobic nature of the doc worked, especially the parts where Arthur strode around the massive castle that he bought for the band, and professed amazement at the completely blingy makeover the castle had had. He described rollerskating through the enormous rooms. It was heartwarming to see him performing later in his career, with a new troupe of young musicians, still with that wonderful voice and obvious charisma.

After the screening, I left and walked into the magical half-light of the centre of the metropolis. In spite of its terrible dangers and horrible tragedies London can still sweep you off your feet, sometimes.



Friday, July 14, 2017

Want Some Boring News?

In-between-touring news?
Hmm.
Well.
The new garden fence is beyond Fleas4U's laziness horizon.
Although he is sweet and affectionate, he is also a flea-transporter and a back-end sprayer: a mixed blessing or a mixed curse, wherever your perspective takes you. I sort of miss him, and I know Offsprog One does; he can manage to get on to the shed roof next door so he could definitely scale the new fence if he tried.
I think he's just too darn lazy to jump in his big fur coat.

I have been playing 'art college' with Gina again today- it's brilliant, and doing the same at home with Offsprog One as well means that life is very arty. The house is draped with her hand-printed material with a women wrestler print, there's a sewing machine on the table, there's tracing paper floating about like flat clouds. There are pots of dried-up black paint on the side in the kitchen.
My bit is guitars, black felt pens and photocopies of posters and illustrations. I come back from Gina's with half-finished drawings, having had long conversations about lines and contrast and paint. Her paintings are looking very strong and powerful.

It's also about ten days until the gig with Vic Godard at the Asbo Derek Ulysses Twin album launch at The Prince Albert in Brighton. I discovered through a Facebook posting that we are called the Temperance Two (we are both teetotallers). So far, we have had mostly 'unplugged' rehearsals but we're going for a proper one on Monday, at which we might discover that we have been playing in utterly different keys from each other. We will be playing a mixture of cover versions and our own songs; we've had to dump a couple on the way, but unbelievably we have a set of 8 songs. This means an intensive lyric-learning weekend as far as I'm concerned; the music is always fine but the words take a long time to go in. It's nice to be playing with another guitarist again; Vic's style is very different to Martin's but it goes without saying that playing along with someone else is very different to playing solo. Maybe my next album should feature a different co-guitarist on every track....

And I think next week I'll start doing some more kitchen videos. I did an interim one a couple of days ago but it was a repeat of a song I'd already recorded. Over and over again, I failed to get a decent version of a new song and in the end decided to go for something easier. There are so many to do, and some new ones. It's a case of being in the right mood for the right song!

OK, time to knock some sense into this silly little house. It needs to be washed behind it's ears, so that's what I'm going to do. Toodle-pip.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Thatcher's Statue

A very perceptive article in the paper today pointed out that there's no need for a statue of Margaret Thatcher; such a statue already exists. It is the burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower, a paean to deregulation, the power of the construction industry, contempt for poor people and people from ethnic minorities, corruption and penny-pinching by councils, the prioritising of money over human beings, and the complete disregard for the communities that make up our society.
It is a shocking sight to see in reality; I've driven past it a couple of times and it almost hurts physically to see it. God only knows the pain that the people who lived there must be feeling. They must not be forgotten by the media and they must not be forgotten by us.

Coming Up In August


Friday's Playlist

Popcorn Charlie: Charles Spurling
I Get The Sweetest Feeling: Jackie Wilson
Low Rider: War
Suspicion: The Originals
Launderette: Vivien Goldman
Sharkesville: Katy Carr
Gonna Get Along Without You Now: Viola Wills
Too Much Too Young: The Specials
Trouble Over The Weekend: Betty Everett
My Fair Lady: The Bird And The Bee
Please Don't Go: Yvonne Carroll
Fairytale At The Supermarket: The Raincoats
I Ain't Goin' Nowhere: Junior Walker
The Magic Number: De La Soul
Getting Mighty Crowded: Betty Everett
That Other Place: Wade Flemons
For The Love Of Mike: Patrice Holloway
Mind Your Own Business: Delta 5
Sweet Thing: The Spinners
Someone Else's Guy: Jocelyn Brown
So Tough: The Slits
Rudi's In Love: Locomotive
If It Feels Good: Della Reese
Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag: Pigbag

.... all the best songs are short songs!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Scientist

An entomologist (or bugger, perhaps).

The Tame Fly At The Wedding

Some weddings have a Bad Fairy (or was that Christenings?). This one had a tame fly, which was apt in some ways, because this was an extraordinary wedding.
Congratulations to Donna and Paul; after thirteen years together they are now wife and man, or woman and husband perhaps. It was a friendly, funny day, facilitated by the two characters in top hats who ad-libbed their way through thick and thin. The speeches were hilarious and there were a lot of surreal moments, the main one being the tame fly that we all fell in love with at table six. As the fly was passed round, it exhibited a series of clever tricks.
Enthralled, we called it to the attention of the Best Man.
'It's just a fly', he told us sternly.
Later, the fly was spotted feet up on the tablecloth.
(neither me nor the chap sitting next to me handled the fly, both of us having read a story in that morning's newspaper about a poisonous ladybird).
There was much sartorial elegance in evidence, and it was an added bonus to see not just one but two members of Helen and the Horns in the wedding band.
Thank you for inviting me you two. It was a privilege to be there with you and your lovely friends.