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; we witnessed Dave'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 doing 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 Countdown, 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 manager 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


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?
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


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.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

DJ-ing and Flat Tyres

I really enjoyed last night's DJ-ing stint, apart from when I put the CDs back in the wrong cases and lined up the wrong tune (only did that once then managed to restore the CDs to their rightful cases), and Delta 5's Mind Your Own Business skipping like an eight year old on E numbers, just when a bunch of Lads came in who were ready to mock a lady DJ. I managed to regain my composure and began to learn which tracks get people up and dancing, that I want to learn more about beat matching, and that I need to alternate vocal timbres and moods more. I've been invited to do another (thank you Neil, I'd love to). Unfortunately my car had a flat tyre and I had to get up early this morning to have it fixed, otherwise I think I would have made a night of it, although I did have a good old dance to Jimmy Mack before I left and negotiated Camden, that London town where every mad person in the universe congregates on a Friday night.
I'm off to a wedding today (not mine) and I'll leave you with the hit of the night; what a song!

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Bonkers Drama Queen Of A Track

Chuck Jackson and Yvonne Fair give it more than all they've got:

Martha and The Vandellas

Alas, not room in the CD bag for this one. But what lovely chord changes.

Iron-a-longa Northern Soul

It's so hot I can barely move. We need to have a rain dance tonight, I think.
Alas, the ironing has piled up and perhaps rather stupidly, I've got the ironing board out and the steam iron is puffing away like an old train.
The air pressure is building up; perhaps a thunderstorm is on the way to clear the oppressive atmosphere. The pavements are streaming with storm ants.
People are behaving like angry bulls; one of the people in the supermarket was so rude yesterday I practically bopped them on the nose. They had had air conditioning all day and I'd been slogging between campuses, five miles in the hot sun.
The research conference was incredible though- listening to psychologists who make interventions so the communities don't blow their tops. I realise just how important it is for people to know who to pass emergency situations on to (and when), and not to go it alone. There was much food for thought.

Tonight at the Fiddler's Elbow and Stuff About Writing

I have a late DJ-ing slot tonight at The Fiddler's Elbow in Camden. Most of the music will be Northern Soul, but there will be a fairly hefty sprinkling of indie and other music in there too.
I have got really behind with listening to new stuff; there's a whole pile of CDs on the kitchen table waiting to be listened to. I don't have so many gigs in the next couple of months because I will be writing book, so in between writing sessions I'll be listening. We will also be starting to work on the film again soon, after a health sabbatical.
The last article that I wrote got turned down, which was a big disappointment, but you have to take these things on the chin. There was an uncomfortable truth at the heart of it that eventually took over the whole thing, so next time, it will be the whole thing, and it will be there in the book. To start off with I will be completing the editing of six interviews (I did 30 altogether).
Before that, early last year, I spent three months writing a chapter for a book which is only just going for its final edit. I estimate that chapter (8000 words) took fifty hours to write; it's not a light profession, being an academic. That is why it is such a joy to have a life outside it; it can seem like a cult religion at times and definitely swallows you up if you work at it full time. Writing, recording and playing my songs saves my soul.
There is an interview with Gina and me in the latest Art and Music magazine, where we talk about being bass players and making our film. Many thanks to David Sheppard (of Ellis Island Sound) for inviting us to do the interview. Yes: 'Shards of broken glass in the ice-cream'.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Blast From The Past

Next Friday In Camden....

There are only two gigs in July- Brighton with Vic Godard on 22nd July and Ullapool with the choir Three Sheets to the Wind on 29th July. But I am DJ-ing in Camden next Friday night. I haven't done this for ten years, and I've only done it once with CDs rather than vinyl. I'll be playing a lot of Northern Soul and some indie stuff, and I've taken note of the time when I played a 40-minute Rockabilly set and neglected to realise that most Rockabilly songs come in at just under, or just over, two minutes long. I'd finished the whole playlist by 20 minutes in, and had to play the b-list as well.
A lot of Northern Soul songs are short, so I have a week of listening to do.
One compilation is 100% crap tracks and I've managed to discard that one, and also to get over the fact that although I'm over-familiar with some of the songs ('oh no, not this one again'), that's because they are really good, I've listened to them a lot, and other people might not know them.

Saturday, July 01, 2017


Oh, I love pelicans so much! These birds synchronised themselves and swam and upended themselves in unison.
And a black swan.

Scaledown Last Night

It was packed, hot, friendly, funny and nutty as always. Words later or tomorrow; today I'm struggling with a maxi dress trying to look elegant, but looking more like a woman about to trip over her hem.
Oh but... I did marry either a papier maché cowboy or his grandfather who played a cardboard piano. I'm not sure which, but I've got a cardboard ear on a string to prove it (one of a misheard thirteen years).