Monday, October 15, 2018

CoHousing in Barnet

There is nothing like a large group of people moving simultaneously into a small neighbourhood to make you realise just how insignificant your feelings are in the greater scheme of things.
When this group of people chose this street to move into, their clever strategies worked out just how much collateral and social damage the project would do.
With natural wastage, the people who lived around the monstrous building would gradually disappear and the incoming culture would be able to settle indefinitely, aided by a battery of press officers and international interest in their social experiment. Those who remained would gradually come to accept the newcomers, one of the neighbours was told rathe patronisingly, because psychologists had worked this out in previous cases. Gradually, people in the small terraces have indeed sold up and gone away. This started during the hellish building works, six days a week and once even on a Sunday because they were 'behind schedule'.
The builders were rude, and involved in dangerous practices, despite their badges saying how fantastic they are (how very 2000s: the century of the fake). They regularly drove diggers the wrong way down this one-way street, often without a lookout. The lookout appeared after I'd witnessed an almost-accident and tweeted as much in exasperation; the response was to tweet that I am a 'scaremonger' (cheers!) and then to block me on Twitter. And the dangerous practices continued. Huge lorries parked on the pavement so that people with pushchairs and wheelchairs were forced to walk on the road, which is often unfortunately used as a rat-run. Of course, individuals with pushchairs and disabled people in wheelchairs don't count, because they are not part of a large community who feel their needs are more important than anyone else's.
As a person who lives opposite the gigantic windows, the scale of the architecture (while looking inoffensive from the street) appears from inside my house as though the development is actually about to march straight into my home, into my front bedroom. So I've stopped using that room.
Lastly: the architects built an entrance arch into the development that is too low for ambulances, fire engines and delivery vehicles. The former is a desperately important safety issue, and the latter, too, but for a different reason. Grocery delivery vehicles are unable to enter the settlement, so they park on the pavement of the houses opposite, often leaving their engines running. This street is too narrow to have vehicles parked on both sides, which is why they park on the pavements. But many of us have doors that open straight on to the street. So as well as pedestrians being unable to pass and sometimes almost being knocked over, as happened last week, it's sometimes impossible to get out of the house because a van is parked so close to the front door.
Is it pleasant having the exhaust from these vehicles pumping into the living room? No.
Is it pleasant hearing people's reactions after almost being knocked over? No.

It's early in the morning, and I'm sure this posting is full of mistakes. I'm on my way to work.
But there is a massive publicity push about this scheme today. This is the only avenue that I have to say how I feel about it- nobody ever considers the fact that there might be people shoved out and made to feel uncomfortable long-term by 'innovative' ideas like this.
I have also noticed that the street view of the estate never appears on the media, probably because it looks like Feltham Young Offender's Institution from our perspective. We don't get the balconies and the nasturtiums: we get the flat beige bricks, the corporate ironwork and the eff-off light-blocking height. Lucky us.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


I was telling a bloke at work about how the T K Maxx House of Horrors Facebook postings make me laugh out loud on public transport, much to my great embarrassment, and he showed me a fading scar on his wrist, a T K Maxx injury from trying on an anorak with a zip that viciously injured him (but he didn't need to go to hospital).
Little bits of conversation in passing: these things brighten up the day.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Problem-Solving Comics

This evening the Postgraduate students made comics to solve each other's problems. There is nothing quite like the quiet swish of pencils on cartridge paper and the feeling of concentration in a room.
I had to pilfer the table from next door, and they sat around it with crayons and pencils scattered about. At the end, they passed each other's comics on to each other; they were beautifully drawn and really well-conceived. The solutions were funny- and practical.
We folded up the table and went home.
That was a really nice way to spend an evening.

Low Self-Esteem

I have found that low self-esteem can be a blessing as much as a curse.
If you feel that you are completely at the bottom of the bed of a sea of uselessness, you can become completely fearless because you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Friday, October 05, 2018


Funny day, and  it has been an intense week of beginning teaching at various places, reading the obligatory crap detective novel-per-week, an uplifting read, The Hidden Life of Trees (tube journey book, which is absolutely amazing), and also No Irish-No Blacks-No Dogs by John Lydon, which has fixed me to the chair for the whole afternoon.
I thought I had lost the copy I had and so I re-ordered it; the new copy turned up halfway through the day. Still, you can never have enough copies, I guess.
Reliving punk's violence has given me nightmares, but it's important that people remember that it wasn't a musical style all on it's own that people were just playing at.
Music was our defence weapon against attack by everybody, not just the Teds and Skinheads, the Casuals and the Straights. The newspapers hated the punks, people in shops hated the punks, people on the bus hated us, people in the pub. It was no fun, but there was no alternative that any of us could see.
I am mostly writing about London but it could be about anywhere. So much is made of today's violent youth, but if young people don't feel cared about, respected or valued, then they become outlaws who make their own rules and run their lives according to those.
If people don't listen to you, you shout; and around the creative people clustered drug dealers, creeps, people who were just into violence for the sake of it and of course, the extreme politicos who wanted pet punks to deliver their messages for them.
Well, that's got that off my chest.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Cuttings Conversation

A pile of press cuttings from the 1970s slithers around as I look for information for the chapter that I am writing. Have just emerged from a three-hour research zone and I'm shaking the dust out of my feathers.
It's so depressing to be reminded of the horrible things that the journalists wrote about bands back then. I'm only looking at stuff on X Ray Spex, The Slits, The Au Pairs,The Raincoats, The Mo-Dettes; but the sheer oldfashionedness of the times has come back and whupped me on the head like a baseball bat.
These guys didn't want anyone to succeed. The descriptions of the music are patronising, negative and apparently entirely aimed at showcasing the vocabularies of the writers. It's a miracle that any female bands managed to even get up on stage and play, let alone make albums and tour.
And there is a lot of stuff about female guitarists saying they don't need feminism because everything is equal now, and stuff like that.
I can remember feeling not that exactly, but that feminism seemed to be another set of rules (it was not uncommon for members of women's groups to tell you what you should/shouldn't be wearing or should/shouldn't be singing about back then in the dark ages).
I did think things needed to change: having a brother 18 months younger who seemed to have an entirely different set of expectations out of life, and wishing I could be a boy instead of me... a difficult one for a heterosexual woman to work out, and I still haven't got there.
Or rather, we still haven't got there. How naive to think that in my lifetime things might become equal! Prejudice has just become easier to hide, and feminism has become more glamorous and less didactic.
Revisiting punk is peculiar.
I am glad it is over; having been one has left a scar, or a tattoo, depending daily on whether it feels like a bad thing, or a good thing. I feel grateful to have been able to write about it, film it and talk about it, but I feel even more grateful for the life I've had after punk. It was a cruel subculture.

Hello Blog

Hello Blog, I like you best. You are not complicated.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Up With The Lark

I have another academic article to write and I was up with the lark this morning.
This one is for the Oxford Anthology of Punk, and is mostly about violence and music. It's still at the groundwork stage, and I'm plodding through books which are piled up in unruly heaps about the place, open at unspecified pages.
This is the only way that I can do this part of my job. Yesterday was spent on academic planning, with the sunshine thumbing it's nose at me through the window; normally Saturdays are rest days, with not even emails disturbing the blend of crappy crime novels, reading the paper and then watching Come Dine With Me.
A half written song is sitting on the settee, but it's designed itself so that it can be written on the train. It's called The Ginger Line, which is what we call the orange overground line that crosses London from left to right. It has an annoying melody that won't get out of my head, and the words write themselves on my way to work when I'm actually travelling, so I'm looking forward to the journey tomorrow.
Oh well: back to big thick books with my big thick head.....

Saturday, September 29, 2018

In Which Scaledown Sings Along

They were much more boisterous before filming happened! Filmed by Shaun Hendry last night, conducted by Mark Braby.

Saturday Afternoon Track

Featuring the fantastic guitar playing and samplery of Lester Square, backing vocals from Dan Whitehouse and cello from Natasha, recorded by Tom Greenwood all those years ago. Much water has flowed under the bridge since those days but I still play this song.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Hope and Social at the Borderline

I thought I'd made loads of notes at this gig but actually I spent most of the time simply enjoying the music- and isn't that exactly how it should be?
This was the ten year anniversary of Hope & Social, and The Borderline was packed with what seemed like half of Leeds (was Leeds empty on Thursday evening?). The crowd was excited, loyal, and delighted to sing along whenever they were invited to, and sometimes even when they weren't. There was a running joke about Steve Lamacq, who was there for the first band and who had played a track 19 years ago, inspiring Simon to tell his father that he was bound to get a major deal, and even as the words left his mouth he realised what an arsehole he sounded. Pecan cookies were shared around the audience, and the songs flowed out of the band, many of them punctuated by richly-arranged harmonies that made you realise that they'd work just as well without the instruments, and that's the sign of a really good song. They were augmented by Megan on the trombone, who fitted in perfectly with the trumpet and sax that they normally have; her imagined iPad instructions were to just move about a bit whenever she wasn't playing. There were cheesy jokes aplenty: the song about the end of the word was described as an apocalypso by Rich (audience groaned, I laughed). A new song was presented with characteristic self-deprecation ('it might alienate the fan'), and the entire audience was offered a travel-paid excursion to Leeds to see the band in March, because that made it cheaper than the band coming to London.
Halfway through, they left the stage; the bass player picked up a euphonium, Gary (who drums for them but who is also a talented singer songwriter in his own right) wore a portable kit and a bunch of ukuleles appeared as if by magic. They turned into a New Orleans marching band, occasionally offered a sip of beer or wine by audience members, and they sang and played in a crocodile through the delighted crowd.
They all appear to be multi-instrumentalists; you blink and one of them is playing something completely different apparently just as well as their first instrument.
Such energy! The audience were wildly enthusiastic, cheering all through the self-declared 'fake last song' for a well-deserved encore.
What a bunch of characters, and what a great evening. This is the second time I've seen them, and they have to be one of the most entertaining bands on the circuit.
They made me feel happy. Thank you.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


I suppose if your violet hair rinse only cost you 50 pence, it's not surprising that it doesn't work.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

First She-Punks Screening, November 10th in London!

Following in the Footsteps of the Coelocanth

On a nature programme on TV years ago, divers searched for the rare fish, the Coelocanth, in the Indian Ocean. Fishermen told them tales of spotting them very occasionally in their nets.
After a lot of searching, deep deep down in the murky waters, they finally found one, and filmed it with an underwater camera.
Surprised and frightened, the Coelocanth didn't know what to do, so it stood on it's head.

Over the past couple of weeks I have felt under attack for various reasons. Apart from being very wearing, it is also extremely stressful to be embroiled in situations where I am powerless to act, especially when previous bullying behaviour has reared its ugly head again. Scotland was a very welcome break from all of this, but I came back to worse.
So I bought some hideous pink, magenta and baby blue cowboy boots from T K Maxx, and some violet hair dye to match.
If I'm going to be a cowering wreck, let me be at least a colourful cowering wreck. Standing on my head to follow, inspired by the Coelocanth.

Photo: Ikan-Purba

Monday, September 24, 2018

Oh Deer

Home Again

It took 12 hours to get back yesterday, which was less that it was meant to. A train from Edinburgh was cancelled and the one before it left late; luckily I managed to rush on to it just before it left. Big squash, reading the world's worst crime novel, so bad that I read the whole book wondering if it was a pastiche of an awful crime novel before noticing that it was a Sunday Times Number One best-seller.

It feels as though I've been away for a million years.
Big thanks to Anne and her family, and to Sot for organising the gig. I really, really enjoyed it.
Back in the deep end today- and how! I am just reflecting on things.

We photographed each other. Thank you, Scotland, too. I miss you.

Friday, September 21, 2018


It's a morning in the library, starting work on an academic article. At the moment the writing feels like a plane with no wings, huffing along the tarmac not wanting to take off.
Before hitting the keyboard, the whole thing seemed impossible, but I'm used to that now.
You have to choose the right moment to feel motivated to start (fear of the deadline is not something that works for me). Sometimes it's a little gleam of an original take on the subject, others it's anger, and sometimes it's sheer practicality: nobody has said this yet in this way, and this will be the first time.
I've done a thousand words, which is a milestone on the way to six thousand. The plane has wings but  it's a long way from take-off.
The subject? Danger, Anger and Noise in Punk (women, of course). I'm glad to be writing about other things now because it's better when life moves forwards rather than backwards, but I can see that this collection of essays is going to be of interest to a great many people, just like our film.
News on the first screening of the final version will be coming very soon indeed!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sidling Up To the Royal Train

Newcastle had positively sunbathing weather. Catching up with old friends, sometimes unexpectedly, made me leave the toon with a big grin on my face; likewise Glasgow, although yesterday morning came in with the lamb and went out with a pack of howling hyenas.
There were no trains going anywhere, so Kenji and Till came to the rescue and drove into town. So many people were stranded, including a poor woman with a toddler and a baby in a pram. 'Make other arrangements', they said. That's OK for rich people, but not everyone can afford a hotel room. I wonder how she managed?

The flat was leaking like a sieve, but Till made lovely food and we talked our heads off. This morning the lamb was back, and the train north passed the Royal Train at Blair Atholl.

This time last year we were scattering Mum's ashes at Tummelbridge, and wandering through the streets of Pitlochry marvelling at the Christmas decorations. It seems like a hundred years ago.

Taking Off In Storm Ali

Through storms so strong my guitar flew off but didn't take me with it: was hoping for a Mary Poppins moment. Ullapool on Saturday with the mighty Shrew!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

At The Alhambra

Recording at Tom's, 2007

Bitter Springs at the Water Rats

Great evening. I was very sorry to miss The Oldfield Youth Club, but enjoyed Idiot Son a lot (really good songs, and a trumpet melts my heart every time I hear one).
Bitter Springs were completely on form and played some songs from their new (tenth) album to a rapturous reception from the audience.
Vic tells me his new album is coming out soon, too.
Cheered up both me and Champagne Friend. We both needed it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Punk Women Party

This photo was on an old hard drive, and was taken in 2007 at the launch party for The Lost Women of Rock Music. There must have been more photographs: I wonder who took them?

Lucy O'Brien, Jennie Bellestar, Rhoda Dakar, Caroline Coon, me.

Women of the World

Yes, that is us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


I have thousands of lyrics... no, that doesn't sound quite right.
How do you quantify lyrics?
Herds? Heards? Flocks? Shocks? Bushels? Buckets? Reams? Streams?
Half of them are funny, comedic lyrics and the others are about narcissists and psychopaths.
I don't want to write funny songs at the moment but nor to I want to write songs about narcissists and psychopaths, not even to unblock the things I do want to sing about.
So I am waiting.
Meanwhile if anyone wants any of my spare words, I am selling them at a fiver a ton.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Posting Catch-Up

This is Gina Birch, with her painting of the Pussy Riot gang; this is on exhibition in Tufnell Park at the moment ,alongside another of her large canvases. She is just about to start at art college, so there will be many more of these strong and powerful paintings to come. Oddly, even in forward thinking north London, this painting provoked some outraged comments at the private view!

What's Next: Ullapool

What Was: Bom Banes

I am now totally in love with Bom-Banes.
The rail replacement bus service does its best to ruin trips to Brighton at weekends, but after a calming plate of root vegetable curry and a lovely chat with Jane about music, art and our Offsprogs, everything felt okay and I went for a walk along the pebbles and gazed at the pale green sea, which for some reason last night was the colour of an Alpine stream.
A cormorant flew along the sunset skyline, the first one I've ever seen in Brighton.

People eat upstairs before climbing down the spiral staircase into a bijou room with a teensy bar at the end and car seats masquerading as sofas. It felt like playing at a house concert, but with a bit more fizzy excitement about it.
It takes quiet genius to think through a venue like this, to guide people gently downstairs after their dinner and get them seated on chairs with multi-coloured cushions, and to make everyone feel so effortlessly relaxed, including the person playing. Actually, I can't put into words how it felt last night. I really, really appreciated seeing friends from when we were nineteen, twenty; and also a couple of people who I had been worried about but who are OK, and that is such a relief. There were a lot of really good singers in the audience, some of whom like Pete and Lisa perform there too (and Jane and Eliza, of course).

The rail replacement bus on the way back was a red double decker that roared along the A23 at a terrifying speed, rocking from side to side alarmingly: but I was somewhere else in my head, with an unaccountable lump in my throat.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Friday, September 07, 2018

Billy Childish at Koko

Ian Damaged must be very proud: Koko was sold out last night and packed with pop stars old and new. I met up with Shanne and unfortunately we didn't see much of the first band but we did catch Johnny Moped's high-powered set. Funny, because punks looked so different from everyone else back in the day that when they get older they look just as normal (or abnormal) as ever.
Johnny's band were mega-energetic and whipped the crowd up into a party mood.
Next, Nurse Julie strode on to the stage and strapped on a big, bad, red Gretsch bass; the drummer settled himself at the kit and Billy appeared in his First Word War finery, enormous moustache trembling in the heat radiated from the massed crowds, many bussed in from Chatham to watch their Kentish comrade strut his stuff. They weren't disappointed and roared for an encore, which featured more false starts for a song that I've ever seen in my life. This was a really great gig for Billy, and of course for Damaged Goods: selling out Koko is a great endorsement for a little record label that has weathered all sorts of storms and still managed to survive.

Billy is a scorching guitar player. Years ago he came in to speak to the students at the University of the West and declared, 'I'm going to show you how to play guitar really badly, really well', which he then proceeded to do. I think some of the students had thought they were the clever ones before that; some of them didn't understand what he was about, but the rest of them were mesmerised for the rest of the session.
Last night however, there was no playing badly really well; there was only playing extremely well and it was extremely inspiring to see and hear a guitar being thrashed in such a spirited way.
So who was there? Gaye Black, Dec Hickey who ran a record label at the University of the West, Kevin Younger, Zoe Howe (somewhere in the crowd!), numerous musos from the past and present, and Robert from King Kurt who told me that they have re-formed and have been playing all round Europe. You could have knocked me down with a feather; it was nice to see him again after all these years and we had a good yak.
Today, the world is back to normal, or rock'n'roll normal anyway. Gina and me are going to meet Doc'n'Roll to discuss screening Stories from the She-Punks in November. Fingers crossed....

Thursday, September 06, 2018


Somehow at this point in life I seem to have become like a tree with lots of branches. On every branch a bird sits, just like in winter when the leaves have fallen and the trees look as though they are bearing bird-fruit. Sometimes the birds feel heavy, but simultaneously I like them, because each one is an idea that has finally come to fruition.

I think it's happened because I broke my elbow. It was so horrible sitting at home for two months, not able to do anything except watch the bruises change colour.
Going to work was a humungous effort, and simple things like washing my hair or putting on a pair of socks took an hour. I wore the same jumper for ten days because it was the only thing that I could put on with one hand and that would go over the bandages.
If I took the painkillers that I was prescribed, I was away with the fairies, and if I didn't I was awake all night in agony.
For three or four days I had to prop my arm up in the air because it my hand swelled up like a shiny purple boxing glove.
Ugh, sorry.
The silliest thing was getting a knife stuck in an onion.
You need two hands to get a knife out of an onion, I've discovered.
I tried wedging it in the cooker and yanking it but it was completely stuck.
Eventually, by flicking the knife sharply (sorry) in mid-air, the onion loosened enough for me to drag it along the side of the chopping board and dislodge it.

So all that frustration and fury came out in deciding to f*cking do stuff because not being physically or mentally able to do anything is absolute sh*t!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ugly Voice

Arrgh! I have never had such a hardworking year, but if you do that, things happen.
I'm taking a break from sorting out the song copyrights for Stories from the She-Punks.
Things are moving fast and there will be news on that front very soon.

Meanwhile, we were sent a recording of Helen and the Horns playing at The Calton Studios in Edinburgh in 1984. That was one of our favourite gigs- 'Ho-runs! Ho-runs!'
The band 'So You Think You're A Cowboy' had played Dunfermline with us the night before and they turned up, and so did Muriel Gray so we had a good ole booze up afterwards together as well.
My singing sounds really gruff. I remembered, though, that I didn't care what I sounded like back then.
The Chefs had insisted that I had singing lessons but they didn't make any difference, although the ritual of going to them and talking to the singing teacher's Maine Coon cat was amazing, and the songs we chose between us (Mr Pleeth and me) to sing were all from musicals, and inspired a lot of the Helen and the Horns songs.
It was all about the excitement of travelling around and gigging, not trying to be an Aretha or a Siouxsie. I suppose I gave up; the thing is, writing songs and recording them has always been more fun than playing them out, up till very recently.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Song Demo


I started recording in the kitchen (Green Gretsch: cheeky, reliable, happy-sounding) and twin domestic problems interrupted: one, the washing machine squelching in the background, so no vocals till it's finished, and two, it started chucking it down with rain while I had the headphones on and the clothes already on the line got soaked again before I noticed what was happening and rushed out to collect them.
I'm waiting.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Foreign Language Lessons: 1. High Barnet

This is intended to be a helpful guide for those wanting to blend seamlessly into a different culture.
Keep practicing, and people will think you are a native speaker!

This is the only phrase you'll need in High Barnet:

Monday, August 20, 2018


There was a butterfly in Carluccio's the other day. It seemed quite happy: maybe it thought it was in Italy.
Rather more darkly, an article in the Observer yesterday pointed out that there has been an upsurge in the population of bedbugs, and they are particularly prevalent in the upholstery on the Central Line of London Underground.
Wouldn't'cha know it, but I was heading over to Queen Mary University that very morning, having been a guinea pig in the testing of some new guitar tech created by researchers over there, and the Central Line was the only way to get there.
'Don't sit on the seats', advised the writer.
But I did.
On the way back, a wasp in the carriage made us 50 degrees of scared. It settled on my bag and I got up to go to the doors to hoy it oot, but it flew off somewhere less harmful.
How strange to be expecting one sort of insect, but to receive a visit from another!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Going, Going, Gone!

I have made these downloadable, and tomorrow I delete. Little sound tracks composed on a Roland JV1080 in my lunch hours at the University of the West (who made all their visiting lecturers redundant in one fell swoop in September).
If I can find the cassettes again, I might make an album release, but for today they are free to download, and tomorrow they will be gone. I know one of them is there twice- I can't seem to delete it.

Ed Sheeran is Sh*t

Swearing is one of the few things that children learn to be expert at without even being taught. I don't understand why they don't embed it in, say, the teaching of mathematics.
Nine f*cking nines is eighty-one!
Bingo- the times tables taught in f*cking seconds!

Ed Sheeran is Shit is a book by Everett True, or as I know him, Jerry Thackray. I have his previous book, The Electrical Storm, on the shelves, and I knew he had written another because Facebook told me, in between trying to sell me baggy dresses and hats and persuading me to join groups like Rubbish Art Works From Charity Shops.
I have more or less given up reviewing books and recordings due to lack of time (although i still like writing about live gigs), but the fact is that I read this book all in one go, due to the unusual circumstances of acquiring it at the At The Edge of the Sea festival last weekend, and then getting lost on the train in the south London suburbs, which meant that I had four hours of public transport journeys to make with only Jerry's book for a companion.

Because of the swearyness (no Eminem with his f*ckery chez moi), I flipped the book open with trepidation but was soon transfixed by its pace and poetry. It might help that I share a similar opinion about not only the hapless but wildly popular Ed, but also Bono. Not so many years ago a student group did a presentation that mapped Bono's high-profile pronouncements about ecology, peace, love and whatever else, to the release dates of U2 albums. I'd always thought of them as OK up until then.
Oh deary me: or as Jerry would say it: sh*t.
There is much else here besides hotly-expressed disappointment in pop stars who are not what they seem (and even what they seem is not nice). There are detailed descriptions of gig goings, or rather, what it feels like to be a gig-goer, which not many people write about. There are sections on music making in Brisbane, and there is a section about a gig that I did in Brighton a few years ago.
Jerry likes what he likes, and despairs of the rest.

Back to the poetry: this book is a journey, and reading it in one sitting allows you to enjoy the little clusters of sentences at the end of chapters where St*rbucks and McD*nalds serve disappointing coffee, something we all know because we've all dropped in before or after a gig, even if we have sworn never to go there again, and drank bitter brown liquid and eaten pappy indiscriminate things wrapped loosely in greaseproof paper.
But it's not just that: detailed descriptions of venues, stairs, humidity and music are punctuated by explosions of fury, a page full of sh*ts, before we jump back into prose and gig and music stuff.
Devoid of artifice, the writing backs away from writerly critic-dom, cursing as it goes, and maps an oddysey of searching, fulfilment and disappointment. Bad music hurts, good music elevates the soul to toppling heights: Jerry knows this, and tells us. Emotion runs though this book.
Shit, I enjoyed it!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Aretha Franklin

It is always voices.
This is why, although the death of Bowie was the end of an era, and the death of Prince was unexpected and grim, the death of Aretha is something else entirely.
Her music was music to feel feelings to; whatever fashion or excitement was happening in the charts or outside the charts, Aretha's voice was the one to go to when you needed to remember what real emotion feels like, and to hear that expressed for you by a voice that was the pinnacle of human emotion translated into wonderful singing: a voice that actually transcended the descriptive word 'singing'.
Aretha channelled life itself; she was connected to an energy force, a mediator between the sublime and mere humanity. She could connect a room full of listeners to each other, whether on a turntable in a little grubby urban club, or on a huge stage making a political statement by even existing before the performance began.
When the opening bars of Say a Little Prayer shuffled into the room, everyone looked at each other: 'It's our song!' Everyone has a favourite Aretha song, and it's more of a favourite even than the favourite song they always have.
Bless you Aretha in all of your fabulousness, for you truly were a fabulous woman.

Red and the Rabbits

The Little Red Dog came to visit with her owners, and we went for a walk on the common.
Magically, as we walked over the grassy Big Bit, where people play cricket and don't fly kites (why not?), we could see about fifteen rabbits nibbling the grass next to the gorse bushes.
What a gift for The Little Red Dog! She is not a hunter, and not even really a chaser, but she galloped gleefully into the crowd, scattering them left, right and centre: there was a sea of bobbing white tails, then they all completely disappeared from sight.
The Little Red Dog looked baffled; was it a dream?

Friday, August 17, 2018


Last night I went to the relaunch of Lucy O'Brien's book, Madonna: like an icon. Lucy's talk was really interesting, and I have bought a copy which I very much look forward to reading. There isn't a single track of Madonna's music that I like, but what Lucy said about her and her life was so interesting that although nothing will convert me into being a fan, I want to know more about the way she works out of sheer curiosity. One of the best things about Lucy's writing is her attention to detail and (oh, that's two best things), the obvious rapport she has with the people she interviews.
The launch was held in Gay's the Word and was packed with Lucy's friends and family as well as performers and academics. Cazz was there, and so was Paula Wolfe. Gina and Mike came along, and so did Rhoda Dakar.
One book to finish reading first: Trilby, an unexpected pleasure despite being riddled with the sexism and racism of the time, the mid-1800s. Every so often a word or phrase leaps out and punches you in the gut, but I wan't expecting the narrative to be so funny and well-observed. The story is a tragedy but it is written with such poetry and has such parallels with human behaviour right now that I haven't been able to put it down.
Oh yes, and Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll's ears much have been burning last night. We were talking about City Fun, the Manchester zine that they published back in the day, and the chap who did a presentation about ti at KISMIF in Porto, and who couldn't stop laughing. I think our favourite was Pam Ponders the unhelpful agony aunt.
The world can be crap sometimes; my health is not good, and just look at the political arena. What the f*ck is going on? All sort of psychopathic Nazis seem to have got themselves into positions of power and are annihilating anyone who disagrees with them...
This has been a week full of friendship and positive conversation. I think we can survive, you know.

Photo: Cazz and Paula talk about Salford

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

At The Edge Of The Sea, Saturday

It got quite late in the day before I realised just how many women there were in the bands that David Gedge invited to play at this year's festival. As well as Amelia Coburn, who plays ukulele, there were all the women in Cinerama (two guitarists, a bass player and a keyboard player), Terry De Castro (guitar), Salad's keyboard playing vocalist Marijne van der Vlugt, Amelia Fletcher on Melodica and a woman keyboard player in The Catenary Wires, Mary the drummer in Oliver Elf Army, and Jetstream Pony, led by Beth Arzy and featuring a woman bass player, Kerry Boettcher, and a shit-hot female drummer, Sara Boyle. Half of Young Romance, I've just been reminded, are also female. Oh yes, and Helen and the Horns with a female guitarist.
Cinerama, David Gedge's other band, played a really energetic set in the afternoon and I enjoyed them even more than last year. At the end of the set, the band carried on and David came through to the audience to watch them, which was quite surreal.

Jetstream Pony were a revelation: such energy and loudness, and such good songs!

And of course we loved our bit.
Thanks so much for inviting us, David. We don't play very often but this was a great opportunity for us. From the stage, puzzled looks in the audience turned into big smiles and by the time we played our Wedding Present cover, Yeah Yeah Yeah, people were singing along. Just as last year, the audience was amazingly friendly. I love the way they move from one room to the other and support whoever it is who's playing: so open minded.
It was great to see the Augsburg Contingent, the London Contingent, the Bristol Contingent (all one of him) and The Spinningchilli Contingent from Brighton. Dave (trombone) and Paul (sax) were looking forward to seeing Everett True who they went to University with, but they didn't see him, even though he was standing right in front of them when they were playing.
That's what happens when you wear sunglasses on stage.
I had to leave early because I could not be in such a crowd because of health problems after fracturing my elbow earlier this year (very blah, blah, tedious).
I do know, however, from the reports of my spies that the evening went on to higher levels of fabulousness. Once again this was a really heartwarming day: there is no other way to describe it, really.

Kenji and Till; Rocker, Kim and Simon Rivers. H and H photo by Beth Arzy.

Yellow Duster Washing Day

Heaven Avenue

Trying To Draw Billy Childish

I am pottering. I recharged an old phone, and found lots of half written songs on it. One, called Mr Bluster, is funny and I know I have some lyrics somewhere for the whole thing, but I might have to just start again, because there are piles of little books with stuff in them. It's about bullying and applies to every bully in the entire universe.
Some of the notebooks are almost diaries, and some of the things written in those are stomach-turningly sad. I will have to have a small bonfire when the Grim Reaper turns up.
One book has these drawings. I think it was from a talk he did at the ICA, where he demonstrated making Risograph prints, but that could be wrong. I am a crap portraitist.

The Final Chapter

I have just sent the final chapter of the book off to the Editor, Dave Laing. I can't quite believe it.
Going to take a break then write about Saturday's gig. Blimey. Weight off mind etc etc etc.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Singing Tonight, Words Tomorrow

Photo by Nick Linazasoro

Heading to At The Edge of the Sea

Some solo songs arranged for the Horns, some John Peel era songs, and a Wedding Present Cover: all packed up in my head and fingers.
Off we go!

The Hairy Pig

The hairy pig (can't write his name, why add to his self-glory?) who cleverly made a racist statement in the Daily Telegraph while appearing to support liberalism, should also support banning white men from wearing sunglasses in public, because it makes them look like international jewel thieves and arms dealers.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Big Plant Upgrades Itself

Hello, I'm Big Plant.
I have been reporting my progress on other social media platforms, and I'm just visiting my slave, Helen's, blog so I can have a little boast.
Well, a big boast, actually.
I have upgraded my status to Enormous Plant, so please refer to me as that in future.
Thank you, fans.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

A Walk On The Common

Extra teaching turned up this week, but that's a good thing because it means that the students will do better in their degrees, and that's a great outcome if you're a lecturer. I saw Emmy the Great in the British Library where I was doing tutorials, and she wrote down her email but I can't find where she wrote it. Somewhere in the scribbles it's hiding.

After a hectic day yesterday of correcting galley proofs for the IASPM article that seems to have taken such a long time, there wasn't enough day left to start finishing the last book chapter, Chapter Eleven that will be Chapter Ten when I've worked out (or the editor has) how to condense two chapterlets into one. Writing to strict academic conventions has a positive side effect- there are bunches of lyrics all over the place just waiting for their music to come along.
Something inside me has started dancing manically: after years of having half-finished projects wafting around like morose ghosts, everything is being finished and moving to the next stage- its especially exciting to have finished the documentary.

I made a raspberry cake, and Offsprog One and Katy came, and we ate it almost to the last crumb. Then me and Katy went for a walk in the evening sunshine, across the common and along to the Other Bit, then back home for more talking. Talking has become a real luxury. Katy is about to start recording another album and her choice of producer is rather exciting: watch this space (it's not me BTW).


Never pay people with power: they misuse that even more than they misuse money.


There have been moths everywhere. I hit on a plan.
As they expired, I collected them and added a bit of salt.
Spread on toast, they taste just like anchovy paste.

Not really.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Thinking About Punk

Splashes of rain! Cold! Wet!
It's still too muggy to sleep so I am thinking about punk.
We had the sort of parents who didn't allow you to do anything. They were like a steamroller: if you had an idea they flattened it as soon as it popped up.
Protestant parents....
So when punk came along, it seemed three dimensional. All that energy and spikiness- and honesty.
It was almost as though everyone was turned inside out, and you could see the horrible bits as well as the nice bits.
I liked that!
I am such a crap judge of character, but during that time nobody bothered to hide anything, and the sly people who tried to manoeuvre their way in and manipulate people stuck out like a sore thumb.
If someone said or did something you didn't like, you told them and they did the same with you.
Punks gave short shrift to hypocrites and narcissists; it was almost as if those people were invisible to the punk eye. Their blather fell in a cascade of nonsense on to the pavement in front of them with a splat before it even got into anyone's ears.
Sometimes the honesty hurt, and sometimes the directness came as a shock; we were young, and young people aren't always very nice to each other. But it made reading people very easy and what I liked about that was that you knew who to avoid.
Being turned inside out by punk meant that you couldn't be shy, even if God made you that way. It also meant that if you were painfully thin like I was when I was a teenager, you fitted in perfectly because everyone was a different shape or size and nobody commented on it because it wasn't any of their business.
Coming from a bullyschool, this was bliss. At school, I felt so small and insignificant that I rarely spoke; being in a punk band not only allowed me to have a voice, it allowed me to have a loud one, and to rumble people's chests with the sound of the big bad bass. This was a completely astonishing reversal of power and at times I almost felt as though I had learned to fly.
It didn't last long, that moment in time. It was uncomfortable as well as thrilling and I can still feel it inside me like a virus that won't go away. It burned some people out really quickly, and some people are still trying to chase that thrill by looking in the wrong places for it.
The whole point is that it came from inside each of us, we saw it because we were inside out, and we recognised each other.
That's what it was all about.

Helen and the Horns

We had a really good rehearsal last night for Saturday's gig at Concorde 2 in Brighton. The guys are in full-on super horn blend mode and there was some very lovely playing, even though we were all the worse for wear for the heat- until we found the air conditioning unit. The girl, whose gender is famous for being crap at technology, noticed it and suggested that we use it.
Our sax player Paul Davey's other band, Daniel Takes a Train, are undergoing a revival at the moment and have just signed their back catalogue to a German record label. Dave Jago, the trombone player, has spent four weeks in India with The Bollywood Brass Band, and Steve Joy's band Stanley Dee, who do Steely Dan covers, is also doing very well; it gets more and more difficult to arrange gigs and rehearsals, which is why we play so rarely. It's much easier for me to be a solo artist and I do really enjoy the worry-free adventures that I have, but this makes it all the more fun when we do get together and play as Helen and the Horns. Everything just flows and it's a good feeling to be immersed in the sound of a band for a change.
Afterwards we went to the pub and Dave said that years ago when we used to MD shows with the Count of Three theatre group, our house band introduced Hamid Mantu (nee Hammy Lee) and Dubulah (Nick Page) , who then went on to form Transglobal Underground. Well I never.
We will be playing this one on Saturday. When you sing a song that you write ages ago, the lyrics become mechanical, just a part in the whole. I was singing it this morning and I remembered that this was actually the love song of a rock'n'roll widow. I had started going out with another musician who was constantly on tour, and I missed him. We ended up being together for 25 years, which isn't bad for two musicians because the music industry is a turbulent one that thrives on gossip and infidelity.
We broke up some years ago, but the song reminded me of how things felt at the time.

I also want to say that I was very sorry to hear about Ken. He was an ace songwriter and arranger and we all used to knock round together in our bands, full of hope, energy and ambition, playing on the same stages often to the same people. Rest in peace, Ken, X.

Monday, August 06, 2018

New 7" Single Under Way

The files have just gone off; I have ordered five test pressings after hearing scare stories from people about audio awfulness. So let's see... Next thing will be to organise a tour. It's going to cool down later in the week and I hope that I'll be able to think by then.
Also the toad has been being tormented by Fleas4U again. I made it a pond out of a flat tray and we sprinkled water on the cat to make him run away so the toad could escape. O things, things.
And I sent off my book, apart from the last chapter which is behaving like a heavy sack of coal.
Ice cream time.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Castle's Corner: Stix's Open Mic

By a roundabout route, I was invited along to Castle' Corner at The Castle Pub in North Acton. It's just across the road from North Acton tube, which was handy because it was so boiling hot last night that even moving 100 yards was exhausting.
I know Stix because she graduated from the University of East London last year, and she started running this night back then. In these few months, she has built the night up to an extraordinarily friendly and supportive night for performers and audience alike.
With George, her co-producer, she invites a combination of poets, bands and singer songwriters at every stage of their career to get up and have a go; the audience listens, supports and claps along, and often gives the performers a big hug when they get off stage. Last night kicked off with the band (Stix on drums and two guitarists), followed by a chap with a big bear's voice singing bluesy songs and playing a few nifty licks on his guitar. Some people played covers (a great version of Billy Bragg's New England). The night carries on till midnight, when I believe there is a mass jam session, but alas, I had to leave because at midnight I turn into a pumpkin. As I was leaving, a guy started singing a gorgeous version of Ain't No Sunshine, and people started dancing and swaying along as he sang.
You know what- the stupid, stupid brewing company Fullers is going to sell this pub and build flats on the site instead. More anonymous people-boxes in North Acton: already it looks like a giant Clark's Shoes stockroom. How incredibly silly. I don't think I've ever been in such a friendly pub: all ages, all cultures, all genders, and everyone talking to each other and enjoying the music.
If you have a bunch of songs you'd like to try out in front of a positive audience, this is the place to do it. They have a Facebook page so you can contact them and leave a message for Stix:
And not a hipster in sight!