Saturday, April 27, 2019

Catching Up With Trash

Thank you for coming along and giving us such a warm reception last night at at the Cameo in Edinburgh. The film sold out and we had a really interesting panel afterwards, chaired by the documentary film maker Paul Sng, with Hilary from Fast Records giving the Scottish perspective on punk music making. Shouts to Anne Woods' Mum and to Neil Cooper, and also to Morven who did such a brilliant job of organising it.
Today, we caught up with Trash before heading back to London. You wouldn't believe she's a grandmother, would you? Baby Punk Grandmother, I think!


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Bristol, Sunday


100 Steps

A song thrush started carolling at six this morning; it sounded so beautiful. There was no question of trying to go back to sleep.
I got up and wrote a lecture.
Afterwards, I remembered this game. Anyone can play it. It's a drawing game, but it's not about art: it's about noticing things.
You can play it on your own, or in a pair, or even 1000 people could play it.
You need a sketch pad and a pencil.
You walk 100 steps, stop, look around, and draw what you see.
You have 60 seconds to draw, then you move on, another 100 steps, and repeat until exhausted.
It's amazing what you see when you look. So much of the time, we have to blank things out in order to function.
Also, here is the new design for a badge (and more), drawn by yours truly, and designed by Ian Button. The album is almost ready to send off. I am so excited (and pleased with it!).




Monday, April 22, 2019

Next Gig, Bristol Next Sunday

Last night was spent tour managing- booking trains, hotels and so on, and wondering how much of it I can manage by car.
The next gig is in Bristol, one of a series of Pop! Not Hate gigs arranged by Tim Rippington, who has put his heart and soul into organising these. Hats off to him, because it has to all fit around his life and there's a whole week of music in Bristol, then the Pop! Not Hate gig in London at the Lexington on May 26th.
I will be in Bristol on Sunday afternoon https://www.reverbnation.com/show/24237225?utm_campaign=HTML5_ShowSchedule_Widget_Details&utm_content=show_details_link&utm_medium=widget which is a free gig although you'll be able to support the event by buying badges and t-shirts (that originally came out as t-shorts, which is quite a good abbreviation for a summer outfit!)
Meanwhile the album has been mastered and needs the next things to be done- sleeve design and so on.
Looking at the last album now, I can see how empty and blank I felt at the time. All the drawings in the lyrics book look like skeletons waiting to be brought to life. I don't feel like that about the music: the music was a rescue package for a shipwrecked person, as well as a call out for compassion for other human beings. I wish I could write better protest songs. I will be singing this one next Sunday, for sure.





Sunday, April 21, 2019

Club Integral Last Night

It was such a balmy evening that it was impossible to stay at home, so I headed down to Iklectik in Waterloo bursting with curiosity. I never knew Simon King, the guitarist who passed away last year, but has heard great things about his band, the Kenny Process Team. After great sets by The Happy Couple and Howie Reeves, the audience became visibly excited as the band (with Rhodri Marsden playing Simon's parts) plugged in and got started.
What exciting music! It sounds as though surf guitar music has been snipped up and put back together again in a different order, almost Beefheartish but a bit too slick for that. Two guitars- a Stratocaster and a Jaguar, twanging and zinging, a bass and a jazz kit with a sideways baby drum. Short tracks (hooray!). They had false starts (hooray!). How the hell did they manage to play like this?



Blimey, this has been a musical weekend. And this afternoon a jazz band suddenly started playing in the pub in Shoreditch where I went for lunch!
I have been hoping to go out tonight too, but instead I've stayed in and tour managed the next few weeks, hotels, trains all that lark. Someone had to do it, and that someone is me.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Flaneuse

Wandering around on the South Bank was always going to be a better bet than staying at home and inhaling swathes of pollen from the yellow cough-fields.
It would have been good to have been able to join the Extinction Rebellion protest on Waterloo Bridge but the police were instructed to arrest anyone who walked past them so that wasn't possible today.
I understand that The Trojans are playing at Marble Arch this afternoon! That's going to be a great event.
So I wandered along the the Royal Festival Hall and saw this wonderful brass band playing. It's so tempting to do more Helen and the Horns writing and playing, after seeing these. I'll try to upload a bit tomorrow. Little children were having a field day, running, dancing, lying on their backs with their hands behind their heads watching in fascination. Nobody was dancing though... whyever not?
Then outside, this chap sold me a CD. He was determined not to smile for the photo, but he owed me a smile in exchange. It's hip-hop and says 'Parental Advisory', so I hope I haven't bought anything that's going to be offensive. Probably have.
London has been full of music this afternoon: the drummer on the Embankment footbridge, two fiddle payers outside the tube station, and a roaring choir of school kids singing in unison in the distance on another platform. Today, it feels joyous to live in this city full of music, with its multicultural population defiant, protesting, attending events and simply existing in harmony!






She-Punks, Edinburgh, Friday

Do come and join us! Both Gina and me will be at the Q and A for this one:
https://www.facebook.com/events/549412588901018/

Friday, April 19, 2019

Guitarspotters Anonymous


Early Morning Writing

There're lots of ways of being creative, and often it's a therapeutic act. I can never work out when I'm writing songs how much of it is therapy, and how much of it is communication.

The unfamiliar territory that I walk through is academic writing, and it's only now that I am realising just how important it has been to have an imaginary reader. Because Dave Laing supervised my thesis and edited my book, in my mind's eye he has always been there as a person to communicate to, and to understand what the hell I'm going on about. He was such a good writer; he could mix jokes and heavy duty philosophy with statistics, all contextualised in a world that could be imagined perfectly easily, and all delivered in steady academic prose.
Oh dear, I do miss him so. He was like an older brainy cousin who you could turn to for advice.

There's a pile of books and articles here on the table and I'm revisiting the Poly Styrene Oh Bondage! article. It feels really good to be writing this and yes, I'm procrastinating; but today I have to put in a couple of hours because the visit to New York to talk about it is really going to happen, so it has to be conjured into existence and completion.
I nearly went to see Ut playing last night but I have still got terrible hay fever, and in a week's time I'm going to be singing in Bristol. I have to do this today, at least a couple of hours, then listen to the mastered album again to make sure it's OK.

Outside, the birds are singing their hearts out, blended with the occasional siren as ambulances deliver the spring heart attacks to Barnet Hospital.
Sorry to be so dark: three funerals of significant people this year, and a fairly dramatic personal health scare a month ago, make the signs of spring all the more heartfelt.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Leicester Musician Gig With BOHJ Etc.


The Wurlitzer at The Troxy

Happy birthday Karina, what a great call! The sound of theatre organist Phil Kelsall playing a 180-degree monster, carolling, trilling, grunting and making the most joyously extraordinary music you could possibly hear on a Tuesday evening in the company of silver tops from East London, and a small band of renegades with The Knowledge!
http://www.troxy-wurlitzer.org


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Joby and the Hooligans' Very First Gig

Pinched from DJ Gremlins' Facebook page, I think this may have been the very first Joby and the Hooligans gig, the very first time I played bass on stage.
This was Joby Jackson, Steve Beardsley, Nick Dwyer and me. We borrowed Punktuation's drummer, who was 14 at the time, and I borrowed a bass guitar from Bella Donna, Poison Girls' bass player, that had belonged to The Buzzcocks. She was Mancunian, and they were friends.
We had written a set in three days, mostly using tabloid newspaper stories, in order to shame The Molesters who had bottled out of the gig. I was told I could play bass in the band, because I was in the room at the time.
Much to our astonishment, we got asked to play another gig after this one. And another... and another.... und so weiter!

Interview by Rona

https://www.advertizer.co.uk/insight/helen-mccookerybook-interview/


'F' is for 'f-hole'; how could I have forgotten?


Coda

The rumblings of a few postings earlier this week are because a shop assistant in a local shop said that the Mayor of London should be taken out and shot, within earshot (ha) of one of my daughters.
I have complained about this to their head office and received a reply, but the reply wasn't sincere enough to make me ever go there again. The shop? Rymans.
People seem to have turned themselves inside out to show what is inside them, and what is inside some people at the moment is very dark and grim.
It's not new. I've even been told that I shouldn't be entitled to a Housing Association flat in London because I come from Newcastle. This sort of hatred is so disturbing because it seems to run through people's veins, bypassing their brains. At the moment, it's torturing me constantly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Design


The Fight for Survival

We were sitting on Primrose Hill in the cold sunshine on Saturday afternoon, looking at the panorama of London spread out in front of us.
Cranes, cranes, cranes, and tall shiny silver buildings aggressively poking their fingers and thumbs at the sky, seeing how high they could go to pierce the atmosphere with their sharp capitalist harshness.
Hunkered down amongst them was St Paul's, a beautiful and spiritual building, and completely hidden away behind the invasion of glittering stalagmites was Southwark Cathedral, dwarfed by the monstrous and ferocious Shard which has been thrown up so close by.

Southwark Cathedral is where Chaucer's fictitious pilgrims started their journey in The Canterbury Tales, and it's where the Crisis carol service happens every year, and countless other community and worship activities happen. It was built for music and voices to sound good in, and for people to find peace in their hearts.

It's unbearable to even think about what has happened to Notre Dame Cathedral; all of that delicate architecture eaten by flames yesterday.

Are the bad people going to win?

Monday, April 15, 2019

John Howard

The Limitations of Words

Sometimes such bleak signals are transmitted, by chance or design, that there is no way to pin down your reactions to them in words.
You know that your feelings are shared by other people, but those feelings seem incredibly frail, and life seems to be running a steamroller over them, flattening them and turning them into dust and ash.
Reaction doesn't help, stillness doesn't help, reflection doesn't help...
At these times, the idea of leaving the house and experiencing the harshness of the outside world seems inconceivable.
I feel that I live in a town full of racists, in a country full of racists.

The Aftermath Of The Weekend Overlaps With The Beginning Of The Week

Kenji and Till came to stay; eating food out, mucho walking, waking too early after bedtimes too late (3 a.m.), so much socialising.
Off they sailed in a minicab this morning, and the house seems very empty without them.
The Offsprogs were at Parliament Square at an Extinction Rebellion protest, and so was I; then we all went to the Hilliard exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery which was awesomely beautiful. Elizabethan painters painted people who looked just like us, just with different clothes.
Oh how inspiring it was! And there was a painting of Elizabeth the First playing a lute or something, which apparently she did in order to impress diplomats from abroad.
Alas, the hay fever has reached fever pitch, and I had to come home and eat ice cream, although the 12 string Eko guitar that landed here after a foray into a local charity shop has now been set up and is sitting waiting for me next door.
Those Hilliard miniatures in their titchy little gold frames are still with me though.
Ideas!



Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sociable Times

Assembling cymbals with Karina at work, Till and Kenji dahn Regent's Canal yesterday afternoon in the sunshine, and John Howard at The Lexington last night, one of the best gigs I've been to in a million years.
My voice isn't just hoarse, it's a whole posse of horses: from late nights, hay fever and talking the hind legs off a donkey (yet another quadruped).
Recovering now, wrapped in a blanket.



Friday, April 12, 2019

Hay Fever in High Barnet

Yes, we have collective hay fever.
We all sneeze differently, but have the same cough.
I thought I'd coughed, but realised that it was a lady across the aisle in the supermarket.
It's those fields of yellow flowers out in Hertfordshire.
Country troubles.

Listening to Masters

The mastered songs arrived yesterday and that was really exciting!
I think they sound great.
I need to listen again today.
Last night I did a radio interview for BBC Coventry about the Leamington spa screening and the Coventry gig, which was very short but sweet.
This morning Gina and me are going to meet Neil Cooper, a Scottish journalist, to talk about the film.
The morning and afternoon swapped over, so that I'll have to listen to the songs again this afternoon instead.
I am very happy with this album.

Later on, Kenji and Till are coming to stay.
I washed the bedspread but the washing machine said 'no' and I literally had to fight the bloody thing to get it on to the washing line to dry. It was like wrestling a giant anaconda.
I swear it's alive!
It fell on the path and I had to wipe the earth off it, which completely destroyed the point of washing it in the first place. When I was fighting it on to the washing line, it headed off in the opposite direction to the one I was pulling it in.
It seemed to have grown at least four extra corners, none of which would fold neatly down to look like a homely picture of a bedspread on a washing line. And a wet bedspread is so effing heavy! I had to used all my extra future strength from in two weeks time to lift it up, and then the line looked as though it was going to snap. It looks all innocent this morning, and it still isn't dry.
The beast!!!

I should be getting ready. Why am I writing this? because I am delighted to have made some music, to have nearly completed another album. I have gigs coming up, and I feel like a human being for the first time for three years.
And the sun is shining.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Procrastination

There are so many things on my to-do list that I need to not do anything.
What can I not do?
I'm waiting for Bargain Hunt on BBC1 so I'll write the sleeve notes for my new album that there won't be room for on the sleeve, because it's a CD and will have a very simple format for budgetary reasons.

Here are the notes about the songs (but they might not be in this order):

A Rainbow of the Colour Green

This is a hymn to the city of Porto, where I would love to live if I could. The Crystal Palace Gardens are perfect scruffy beauty and are populated by peacocks, peahens that lose their chicks in the heather, and eccentric bantams who club together in matching sets. And the view over the river is breathtaking. If there is such a thing as rebirth, then it happened to me last July in that beautiful city.
But I can't live there, for various reasons.

These Streets

I recorded this as the 'B' side to the vinyl single of Saturday Night with the London Set but wanted to put a version on this CD. It's about mismatched memories.

New York

This was a surprise. It was so frightening going to New York on my own, but it felt like such a comfortable place to be and there was so much to explore, hardly any of it recommended by anyone. I went to Queens to record with Tom and visit Lisa and their baby Elizabeth, went to the Fire Museum because I love fire engines and wanted to be a firefighter when I was six, went to the Native American Museum because Granny used to work with Native Americans, and just generally wandered around. I visited Jane and her baby in Brooklyn, went to the Village Vanguard Big Band show in Greenwich Village, and travelled up the coast to see my dear friend Laura in New Hampshire. I stayed at the YMCA (well, wouldn't you, if you were a Village People fan?) which was right next to Central Park, and had a view right across the park. You had to fight to get in the showers in the morning. Facilities were 'simple' to say the least!
Why did I do this? Because I broke my elbow very badly in February last year and was shocked not even to be able to get dressed for a week, and to feel such pain that I didn't sleep for three months.
I had to see what I could do, so I went to New York on my own and realised that I could do that.

21st Century Blues

Lying is the dark art of the 21st Century. What does everyone do it? Truthful people are more rare and valuable than the Dodo, it seems. Honesty takes bravery; the world is full of cowards.

A Good Life With A Bad Apple

This song isn't about anyone in particular, which makes it all the more fun to sing it. Lots of younger women at the gigs I play really seem to like this song. I wonder why? Features Gill Wood on cello.

So Long Elon (So Long Branson)

A pet hate is the excitement about space travel, when there are people starving on our streets. There's something wrong with the end of the telescope we are looking through. I hope they do all go to Mars, and then maybe the human race will stand a chance of survival. Grrrrr! Gill Wood on cello.

Where is Home

I wrote this before Grenfell, and after seeing Paul Sng's film Dispossession, which is a wonderful, evocative and ultimately very sad film. I know the song sounds a bit 'Disney' but that's just the way it came out. Features Karina Townsend on Tenor Sax and Ian Button on Mellotron Accordion Sample.

Danse Macabre

This is a love song to my tutor Stuart Morgan. He used to get annoyed with me for knitting in class but it helped me to concentrate on all the amazing things he told us. He had a brilliant imagination and was also kind and flawed in equal measure, which made him huge fun to be around. He loved my baldy-baby daughter and she loved him too, grabbing his mouth with her fat fist in delight when she met him. I used to bump into him regularly with his selection of different boyfriends, and I do know that he really enjoyed his life, even though it ended far too soon.

Soldier Joe

War in the field or war in the streets, it doesn't bloody matter where. There's always a charismatic leader invading people's souls and selling them evil under the guise of camaraderie. I have been a pacifist ever since I watched a soldier on TV training a flamethrower on to an 'enemy' soldier.
No, not your enemy: a person just like you. Life is sacred, mate.

Quic Fitte

This was originally recorded for Richard Sanderson's 'two minutes project'. I'll put a link to the first version later on when I'm more organised. It's about speed dating, which I've never done, although I have done real dating, which is probably much worse.

Bathing Pond

Hampstead Ladies Bathing Pond: what a great place! Offsprog One told me about the kingfishers, that's her story. But when I went with Katy, that's when we saw this man, and that part of the story is real-life, unfortunately. Karina Townsend on Tenor Sax again, making noises too.

Change the DJ

The tour manager Willie offered to change the dismal weather at his mixing desk when I was on tour with The Daintees. This song started life ages ago, and makes it's début now.
Hello Willie, wherever you are!

Saturday Night With The London Set

This has Vic Godard on guitar, Ruth Tidmarsh on bass and Dave Morgan on drums, and has been mixed by Ian Button. It was recorded by Dave Morgan. It's about the London Set, still out there in the back boxes loving music and playing it too, regardless of their comrades falling like skittles.
What else is there in life?

All songs vocals, guitar, bass, melodica, H McC produced/arranged.
Album recorded and mixed by Ian Button. Thank you Ian.





Course and Coughs

I had stuck in to a wonderful written romp through a training course that I did yesterday, and then realised that I'd probably get the trainer into trouble. Oh but he was clever! He seamlessly blended a devastating critique of senior management into a talk about carrying boxes correctly (including demo with willing but rather foolish volunteer) and fire instructions.
Ho ho!
That's the sort of training I like!
Today I'm trying to sort out the running order for the songs on the new album- mainly by playing them as a set. I still have a cough- it's that bloody pollen from the fields of yellow flars that stretch the length and breadth of Hertfordshire, so I coughed my way through the second part of it. Time for antihistamines, then another go. I think they are sounding really good. It has been great working with Ian.
It looks like New York is going to happen too. Effing Hell. I will get my fares paid, and two days accommodation, to go and talk about Oh Bondage! Up Yours. I'm still only halfway through writing it. All I really want to say is 'I like this record, and Poly was a genius', but that's not 6000 words, is it?
I should write more now, but I'm busy....

Also: why don't I ever take the advice I give myself in my own songs?


Monday, April 08, 2019

2019 Tour Dates


Claudine

Oh Claudine what a laugh you were! Your irreverence (Depeche Mode were called Depressed Mood, and Kissing the Pink, Piss in the Sink). Your love of animals: so many cats, tortoises, turtles, a little scrawny dog).
Your advice. 'When you have a child, don't change anything. You child will see you as normal, and everyone else as different'. How brilliant!
Your compassion. I collapsed in a physical and mental heap after The Chefs split up. I couldn't eat and became a mess of skin and bones. You gave me a kitten, and I had to go out to buy food for it (and myself at the same time). I had something to love and care for and talk about.
You fed all of us starving bandlings with huge and disgusting Pot-a-Feux, and greasy meals from the caff.
You were a demanding boss: 'Is it coffee time?' (it always was), smoked like a chimney, were as chic as hell. You believed in, and practised, love.
You overcame the most horrendous childhood, and those horrors revisited you to devastating effect.
What a funny and amazing and loved person you were.
Always, in my head: 'Hélène, can you tell zat I am Frenshe?'.

Claudine on the left. Photo from Gaylene (on the right)


Saturday, April 06, 2019

Mum's Revenge: Vic Godard

I've written about the songs already, but here is the record and big thanks to Vic for inviting me to sing with him on this! It's a good record- and it's made of vinyl!!! Vic sent the Pellethead record too so I have plenty to listen to (Sorry for nicking your photo again Kenji).






Bird

The man over the back fence has severely pollarded the tree where all the birds used to play about in the mornings. Undeterred, the singiest bird is there every morning, standing on its pulpit and singing its little feathered heart out.
It half-woke me this morning, and I lay there lazing in the sound of its song.
This is a day off.
So much has happened in the last week that it's felt as though I haven't landed on solid ground for days. Thank you for coming to the screening last night in Brighton. Jerry Thackray did a great job of hosting the panel (just me at this one: is that a panel? Maybe just a pan). There were lots of helpful suggestions.
Vanessa from Doc'n'Roll noticed that a lot of them were 'Why don't YOU....' type suggestions. Ha ha!
Being involved in making this has been totally outside my comfort zone; Gina is an experienced film maker and I have learned loads from her, and also rather a lot of horrible things about what taking on the role of being the producer is (why would anyone want to do that?).
The dynamic! Watching the film on a screen for the umpteenth time with a constantly critical eye, editing it still mentally, feeling anxiety about whether people will like it or not and relief when they do, the things people talk about afterwards and ask questions about.

That's enough musing, for now and forever.
I have a day!

Monday, April 01, 2019