Friday, June 28, 2019

The Bay Hotel, Gourock

Thanks to Roddy Mackenzie for posting this ticket to Facebook. What a place it was! Passing bands got paid a minimal amount to play a gig to a bunch of teenagers bussed up from Greenock to The Bay Hotel, a golfer's paradise in Gourock, by its philanthropic owner. There was an ice making machine in the upstairs lobby that plopped quietly and relentlessly, and shoe-polishing machine.
We did this gig with Helen and the Horns, playing to a bunch of cavorting teenagers who certainly looked drunk, although they couldn't possibly have been (ask Roddy: he was there).
Bands got to eat as much as they wanted, and drink as much as they wanted.
After the teenagers were bussed home at bedtime, we sat up all night at the bar. Chris, our trumpet player, pulled the concertina-like plastic plant watering tubes out of the tubs of ferns, and serenaded up all with farty trumpet noises. We all talked nonsense, endlessly, before me and my then partner went up to the Honeymoon Suite where we'd been billeted, drank a bottle of champagne and got into the jacuzzi. I believe I may have thrown up in the jacuzzi, but that might just be a rumour.
Oh dear: rock'n'roll times and rock'n'roll stories!

Saturday She-Punks, As Cool As A Cucumber In Glasgow

Come! It's our last Doc'n'Roll screening! Huge thanks to Vanessa Lobon in particular, for being so supportive, funny and helpful. (There's another screening in Lincoln next week at the University)
Here is the ticket link: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/docnrollfilmfestival/265734
It's much more than just a screening; there will be conversation afterwards, and an opportunity to ask questions.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sweaty And Squashed On Friday Night

This is going to be bloody brilliant. It's the best night in town. Sometimes I'm sitting at home bored and I remember that it's a Scaledown night and hare down there as quickly as possible.
There is always something challenging mixed in with the glorious discoveries but that makes it all the better. It is also the friendliest place you could possible go to. A couple for years ago I found myself up sh*t creek without a paddle, isolated and miserable, and I was blown away by the friendliness of the Scaledown crowd. They seem have a lot of birthdays, rather like Her Majesty, but they are all better than the one before. It gets hot, sweaty and slightly off-kilter as the presenters Sean and Mark get gradually more sloshed on red wine, while Jude remains clear headed and calm. I've seen some of the funniest things ever at this place as well as some of the most annoying, and indeed some of the most impossible to describe.
Nothing lasts more than 15 minutes, which is just about perfect for a Friday night.
Yippee- and I get to play too!

Thinking About Community Matters

It's almost two weeks since the Community Matters night at The Tabernacle in West London, but it's still in my mind as a really wonderful evening. I was set up as part of the Grenfell tragedy commemoration to celebrate women' roles in the community and it featured female-led music of great variety and calibre. One of the nicest things was getting to meet some of the performers in advance of the gig, which was a really bonding experience and made the whole evening such more relaxed when it happened.
I had been invited to play by Woinkpa Cassiopeia, and I was really looking forward to hearing her songs, which she performed under the name of Kinetic Minds. Woinkpa has a deep, powerful voice and sang over the accompanist André's almost gospel- sounding soundscapes; her songs were spiritual and very moving, semi-improvised in places, and I'm really looking forward to hearing her music again. She is a charismatic and very natural performer with a great rapport with audiences.
Desta Hailé also has a male accompanist, but this time a jazz guitarist; apparently they had only just got together but their performance was seamless. The songs reminded me of Corinne Bailey Rae but there was a bit of Carole King in there too, and the guitarist very kindly showed me the Carole King chord in the dressing room (an 11th, I think). Desta was playing bass alongside her guitarist and the sound was minimal but lyrical: absolutely lovely. After my set, Ishani played Indian-music rooted trip hop which has already had success in an unusual format: as part of a comic book that highlights the dangers of rape. Her performance was sparkling and got a great reception from the audience. Judi's Rhythm of Jazz were up next, and played a swinging and relaxed set of standards with confidence and aplomb, by this time with a huge amount of appreciation from the crowd. Finally the Grime Violinist took to the stage and wowed us all with the classically-based integration of violin and grime music, which is a really unusual combination that works unexpectedly well.
At the very end, almost after everyone had gone, we listened to a woman who took to the stage to sing over recorded backing tracks, her isolation and sadness a poignant reminder of what had happened.
Woinkpa, Tom and Jane did a grand job of organising the evening. Thank you for inviting me to take part.
Photos: Kinetic Minds, Judi, and the Grime Violinist.




Life rushes past us, but we must not forget what happened that night two years ago. It was completely unnecessary for people to lose their lives, and the sheer distance between the interests of our politicians and the interests of the human beings they govern has never been so stark. There has been stalling, dishonestly, avoidance, disrespect: somewhere deep down, society wants to forget that it ever happened. It's all the more important that events like this happen, where people can congregate and draw strength from their determination not to forget, and to make powerful people accountable for what they do.
I am beginning to feel more and more strongly that the cultural things that I do should intersect with political action more than they have done previously. In itself, education is politics: it can't help but be part of it all. But I've been shocked this year by the sheer quantity of gaslighting and manipulation that happens institutionally across the board.
There are more things too, but Offsprog One says I mustn't say. I have been very angry this week.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Sun

I went into W H Smith's on Saturday to buy some mailing envelopes, and the staff offered me a free copy of The Sun.
I think the look of disgust on my face said it all, but they did ask why not. By the time I got to the third reason, they told me that lots of people had turned down the offer. They thought it was funny just how unpopular the newspaper is- and that's in the right wing Borough of Barnet.
I am looking for reasons to feel heartened but alas, this time I think one of the main reasons behind not wanting the paper might be sheer snobbery: it's just not seen as a middle class paper.
The Daily Mail would do a lot better; it matches the suspicious nastiness of so many suburban Tories. Is that hate speech? I feel desperate at the awful political climate of the moment. Seeing the encampment of homeless people next to the Stratford Centre was mind-numbing.
What I really, really can't understand is that surely the generation who are being so selfish and running down the NHS and welfare system have grandchildren who will potentially need these services during their lifetimes.
Do they really think that the florid inheritances that they hope to pass of to them will survive the economic chaos that is about to ensue?
And frankly, being so short-sighted: do they really think young generation that they have bled dry will be prepared to look after them in their dotage?
When all the kindly people from other parts of the world who populate the care system are sent 'home', would you want someone who you have shown utter contempt for in your forward planning to be responsible for your wellbeing?
I don't normally rant to such an extent but having heard of of my daughter's friends' brothers treated brutally by the police this weekend for the crime of being Black, having heard my close European friend's story of being told to go back to her own country when she was overlooked for promotion, and having heard a European musician's account of having dog poo put through his doors by British neighbours, I can't not directly say what I think.
What do I think? I am European, and always will be.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Pauline Murray at the Betsey Trotwood

The commuters were swarming home from Farringdon station; swimming against the tide has always been hard, but the Betsey Trotwood is a welcoming watering-hole for people who don't tread the beaten path of normality.
Pauline arrived for the sound check with her daughter, and her own chair: they had had adventures on the way down from Newcastle, having to get off one train and on to another after missing a connection, and being told that they couldn't take furniture on the train. Thankfully the Guard was compassionate and everyone arrived safely in London. Pauline describes this chair as her pet: it travels with her everywhere that she plays, and makes the venue her own.
The Betsey Trotwood has a tiny stage, but there was enough room for everything we needed.
There's a great sound in that tiny room, and Joao the sound engineer got both of us a really good mix. People started arriving very early: this gig sold out in three days, and because the official capacity is only 40 people, I knew it was going to be crammed, and it was. There was a massive Geordie contingent; one guy described stopping his car in the middle of Dartmoor to order tickets: people had travelled up from Devon, from Liverpool and of course travelled down from Newcastle, plus apparently all the London expats too. The place was bristling with Geordie accents, all the more so because the manager Richard is from Gateshead (big thanks for all your help, Richard). At the door with Offsprog Two who was helping out, I heard a lot of hilarious anecdotes and there was a fair bit of trading of awful stories from the old days in Newcastle going on, which is always good value for money.
There is no dressing room at The Betsey, and Pauline had to sit on the stairs to tune her guitar with her iPad because the room was so noisy. When she took to the stage there was a huge roar of appreciation which was completely heartwarming. The atmosphere was a bit like a giant house concert, and you could hear a pin drop at the start of the set. She sang the song When We Are Young that really struck a chord with me (quite literally- it has lovely chords) but as soon she she got to Just Drifting from the latest Penetration album she had a chorus of Geordies singing along in big-bloke voices, huge smiles on their faces and huge pints in their hands (well, normal pints: but they are huge). They were tuneful though, with a nod in the direction of football chants; it was the affection in their voices and the protective looks on their faces that was so touching. Pauline was nervous, but it brought out the best in her; her voice has that echo of the 1960s girl singers and must be a dream to record. After All was a song originally written in two parts, and was another really memorable solo song. By the time we got to the acoustic version of Don't Dictate, however, the choir was back in full flow. The heat generated by the crowd overloaded the air conditioning, which started raining just before Pauline played her well-deserved encore.
I have seen Penetration live and been gobsmacked at Pauline's power and energy in the band, but solo she is something else altogether. She brings that authenticity and life experience into her singing and her songs that is really rare, and boy can she belt it out when she needs to. In common with Robert Rotifer (night before), the way she feels about what she is singing brings a passion to her live performance that makes you realise just how special live shows are, and makes you bloody glad to be there. This tiny audience was very lucky to see this gig: last night Penetration played at the Royal Albert Hall with Buzzcocks, but something in me felt that the Betsey Trotwood was just a great place to be on Thursday evening. Bonus of the night was Pauline's daughter Grace meeting one of her heroines: Debsey from The Dollymixture. I'm not sure which of them was more delighted, but it was more cause for celebration, and near the front of the room also sat Gina Birch, Lucy O'Brien and Gaye Black lending a bit more punk power from the female perspective.
There was a great atmosphere: this was Geordies at their very best on a Thursday night in Farringdon, with a smattering of Makkems in the audience too. Three cheers for live music, three cheers for The Betsey Trotwood, but most of all, three cheers for Pauline!

Friday, June 21, 2019

I Bet You That Lady's Wearing A Cardigan

Proper Pauline review later this weekend, but this made me laugh out loud.
Everyone was in their cups last night in the best possible way, and a man came up to us at the door and said that his girlfriend hadn't wanted to see me play.
'I bet you that lady's wearing a cardigan', she had said.
He had persuaded her to come along early enough to see my set, and she had liked it after all.
It's the funniest weird compliment that I've ever had, especially because it was delivered so seriously.

God bless Geordies everywhere!

(I wasn't wearing a cardigan: lovely little review here: https://loudwomen.org/2019/06/21/helen-mccookerybook-live-and-almost-unplugged-the-betsey-trotwood-20-6-19/?fbclid=IwAR1PYeCR5CumjnqM3T4wv-8HN4iIJLyNO6bJUL7gYx7IN3mxh0Pu4c2NgGk ).

Thursday, June 20, 2019

From the Servant Jazz Quarters Last Night

This is Emma Deerful, me and Robert Rotifer. What lovely songs; Emma makes chip-tune sounding music out of an obsolete programming language and sings the most beautiful melodies into the resulting soundscapes. It's a complete delight to hear properly crafted songs with such an unusual sonic signature.
Listen here: https://deerful.bandcamp.com
Robert sings about now in the most heartbreaking way. Standing next to some very dear friends from Europe, I could not help crying. He also has the key to the secret chord cupboard, which I am going to borrow when he is looking the other way. Listen here: https://robertrotifer.bandcamp.com
Thank you for coming, friends, and thank you to Ian Button for inviting us all to play.
I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to hear so much amazing music in such a short space of time before. I will try to write more about last weekend's gigs when there's a bit of time off this weekend.
Thanks for the photograph to Mandy Prowse.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Next Gig: Servant Jazz Quarters, Dalston, Wednesday

I'll be playing first and will have copies of the album, badges and things. Here's the ticket link:
https://www.wegottickets.com/event/472560

New Album Out Today!

Out today! Big thanks to Ian Button, Karina Townsend, Gill Wood, Vic Godard, Ruth Tidmarsh, Dave Morgan, Anne Wood, Isobel Reddington and Jane North for their work on this.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

New! Limited Edition Badges and Patches

CD will be available on Monday!
https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/merch



Upcoming London Gigs: West, South, East (No North)

West
On Saturday evening I'll be playing a set of woman-centred songs with five other female artists to commemorate the Grenfell Tragedy at The Tabernacle in west London. the event starts at 7.30 and ends at 9.30. The other artists are The Grime Violinist, Desta Hailé, Kinetic Minds, Ishani and Judi's Rhythm on Jazz. Free






















South
On Sunday afternoon, I'll be playing the deep south, with Portia Winters, Lara Jones, and the Pandang Food Tigers at Linear Obsessional's regular gig in the Arts Café in Manor Park, five minutes from Hither Green station. The event runs from 4-6 p.m. This is an informal gig, with children welcome, and I'll be playing songs from my upcoming album Green, plus one or two quirky whatsits. Suggested donation £5























East
On Wednesday evening I'll be supporting Deerful and Robert Rotifer at The Servant Jazz Quarters in east London, just next to Dalston Kingsland overground station on the ginger line. I'll be playing songs from the new album and also will have copies for sale, plus badges and (shock horror) iron on patches. £6 in advance. This is a beautiful venue!


Portobello Radio Link to Saturday's Event

https://m.mixcloud.com/Portobello_Radio/portobello-radio-radio-show-ep-191-with-piers-thompson-greg-weir-wellbeing-special/?fbclid=IwAR3wFMghoFSmzzvZSoHbZf5hfnJY4AD4Uv1e_Q81kocy-jg2EO8AXNZNh1A

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The New Album, Green

The box of CDs arrived yesterday, and today I've spent most of the time uploading the tracks to Bandcamp. This takes a really long time because they are AIFFs and not mp3s.
There are more lyrics to write out and upload, and there are also some extra things to add (some merch) before I release it on Monday.
I so hope people like it! I don't know whether to be jealous of my own last album or not. Are these songs as good? I've been playing a few of them out live for about a year but some of them are brand new, and one is an old one resurrected from the past. Because some of them are politically relevant, I have been bursting to release them before now, but it's best to wait until I'm more calm and collected and Monday seems like a good day to release something new. Or maybe Sunday is? Or Saturday? Or Wednesday, when I take copies to the Servant Jazz Quarters?
What should I do?

The cover looks really good though, thanks to Offsprog One's design skills.

McWarhol


Monday, June 10, 2019

My Kinda Pop! Northwich

Kevin and Linda's gig are not just unmissable if you're a punter- they also are if you are one of the bands or artists who are invited to play on one of their charity bills.
This one was in aid of The Samaritans who probably saved my life a while ago.

The New York plane landed at 6.45 and Manchester was shockingly cold and rainy. I put on my hat and imagined that it covered my whole body- this was severely sartorially challenging weather.
Luckily the pub where I was staying allowed me to check in early and the room was warm enough to get two hours sleep (thank you The Hollybush!).

The Salty Dog was fizzing with anticipation and sold out. The BMX Bandits were stranded in Austria, but the show went on anyway, staring with Soda Fountain Rag, a Scandinavian four piece who played a great set of short, punchy songs fronted by a woman on drums and vocals. Fabulous! They were totally refreshing and completely woke me up which was bloody lucky, because I was on next.
It seem like sacrilege to play a Rickenbacker sitting down but I was practically hallucinating, which was rather nice, actually. I don't drink or do drugs so it was pleasant to feel high on tiredness.
My arms got shorter and longer, the guitar grew and shrank, the songs drowned me and then saved me, but in the time zone I was in (probably still the tempo and key of New York City) I had a really lovely and strangely synaesthetic time, almost tasting the songs as they came out of my mouth. I could see people that I knew out of all four corners of my eyes and all was well with the world.
The sound engineer was really excellent which was a massive help, and so was the friendly audience (even if half of them disappeared when I asked them to join in with the Bathing Pond song: What cowardly custards! Huge ruffty-tuffty punk blokes in black leather jackets are much braver!). Somehow, my fingers remembered what to do even after a week off.
Well well.
I saw part of Pete Dale's neat and sharp set (he of Milky Wimpshake) before the swaying got to me and I had to leave. What a pity- I had been looking forward to the rest of it! I played in Hull last year with Nervous Twitch and really enjoyed their songs, Jetstream Pony are brilliant, and so are The Popguns. With any luck I'll be able to do gigs with them all again some time, and I look forward to that.

Soda Fountain Rag; Linda, Julie Sunbather and partner, and Kevin; The Salty Dog from inside out (great venue with brilliant lights and sound); Pete Dale singing; door stop and feet (it's all in the detail); dressing room (ditto).






New York In A Nutshell

 Random photographs: a pigeon nicks the grain meant for the horse in Central Park; Christmas decorations still on patrol in Williamsburg; lovely bronze sculpture in the Subway; massively pervy-looking dog carrying backpack device on the Subway; sunset view across Central Park from the YMCA; school bus outside the YMCA; policewoman eating oysters in Chelsea Market; huge paper mâché Easter Egg in Chelsea Market; tiny enormous diver sculpture thing in Mexican Restaurant at Lincoln Centre; cinnamon rolls for breakfast; small checks + large checks = style.











Sleeping Trucks in Central Park

A starling was having a bath in a puddle just in front of these guys.

Not Going To see Bikini Kill

My finger hovered over the 'buy' button on Twickets. But I simply haven't got the energy; the gig is something I'll have to experience vicariously, and I'm looking forward to reading the reviews.
Lethargy is the downside of hyperactivity. All I am doing today is Sitting. The 'no sitting, no peanuts' sandwich board man at Oxford Circus would have a field day if he was still around!

A Week in New York

It's pouring down with rain and it's cold. There is time to reflect on last week before I leap back into work again...
Thanks to United Airlines food, I spent the first 24 hours either asleep or throwing up into the bin in my room at the YMCA. No sinks, no water vending machine. I hd to ferry cups of water back from the shared bathrooms, which at least weren't too busy this time. I was too sick even to go out to buy painkillers, but thankfully it passed and I was able to start exploring.

First proper day, I got the Subway to the Bronx but it was a desert of sadness like many other deprived parts of US cities. The flip side is always thus. I can see how it is beyond any politician's imagination to make any of this better, but making it worse? That's perverse.

I went back into town and spent the evening in Central Park watching the dog walkers, the birds and the joggers. Park life is universal, and somehow timeless. Change the century, change the location, change the clothes people wear; it's not surprising people find them to be peaceful places.
Central Park is such a huge and beautiful park and it smells heavenly after the rain, which most days happened before dawn.

On Tuesday I met Tom Greenwood for a coffee; we recorded two and a half albums and an EP together back in the day, as well as the Saturday Night With The London Set single last year. Tom's a remix and library music producer now, and also a Dad. He's a good pal and it was great to catch up with him and I'm looking forward to seeing him and his family when they move back to Yorkshire.

One of the things I have come to love about New York is it's wanderability. To my shame (perhaps) I haven't been in a single art gallery there. It's the streets that I love: hopping on the Subway and emerging at random places. That's what I did last year on the first visit and although I had much less time this year, it still felt like the best thing to do. I accidentally ended up at the High Line again and walked it for a while before the mid-day heat became overpowering, and I slipped down into the shady streets.

One day, I decided to go to Harlem to check out The Apollo Theatre, but didn't stay there long.
I walked past a group of men and one of them said 'I like that bitch!'.
That's a great way of getting rid of a bitch!
Next time I'll go there with someone else instead of on my own.

I went to Chelsea Market and bought some socks with Sumo Wresters on them.

My friend Jane Abernethy invited me to sit in on a meeting of women A&R people from both major and independent labels. It was fascinating, and a real privilege to be there; I loved the universal sigh at the '...but my friends say...' response to the artists mixes of songs! We had a good yak afterwards in an Italian restaurant and it was a great spontaneous meet-up. Next time too, please!

Thursday was the work day: a gathering at Fordham University of academics and journalists who have written articles on our favourite tracks. More about it all another time, but what a blast to sit around a table with the chap who started the Hanson fan club, amongst others! It was intense, fun, informative and oddly bonding. We all went out for dinner afterwards and shared rock'n'roll stories, political horror stories and a lot of bonhomie.

Friday, I went back to SoHo and wandered around watching the world go by. It felt too early to be going home but the My Kinda Pop! gig was the next day. Newark International Airport: ugh.
Lifts not working, travelators not working, toilets out of order. But at least there were some rogue sparrows darting about to relieve the tedium.

Both on the way there and on the way back, I sat next to in-plane chatterboxes. This was massively entertaining, but it meant I only got one hour's sleep one the way there, and one hour's sleep on the way back. I am now living proof that you can survive for days on stupidly tiny amounts of sleep, but I think it's sensible to avoid doing anything too important today. I have already made one slip-up, but Work will have to wait until tomorrow, when my soul has caught up with my body.

It's still somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, floating around happily on a burnished cloud.

Saturday, Etc.

This is on Saturday; it has been arranged to commemorate the Grenfell tragedy, and each act will be playing 20 minutes of gentle music to support the role of women in the aftermath of what happened. It is an honour to have been invited to support this night. Thank you Woinkpa X

Sunday, June 09, 2019