Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Photos From The Weekend

From Sheffield: Duncan Parsons sings about the Green Cross Code Man at the Lantern Theatre; pic of me before playing, by Heiner Michaelis; pics of my set by June Whitfield; stairs to climb up on very hot day with heavy guitar and luggage in Edinburgh; playing at The Leith Depot by Trash; with Neil Cooper from The Herald by Liz Tainsh.
Lovely to see everyone, Mick, June, Laura, Bambos, Jane, Joe Buzfuz and Polly, Trash and friends, Maria, Neil, and everyone else- and big thanks to Duncan and to Liz Tainsh for being great promoters.
£330 for Refugee Charities raised last night, and two separate people came up and said I play like Chet Atkins.
I don't, but the beer must have been good!










Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Marching to Show Displeasure at the Racist, Homophobic and Misogynistic Liar

Somehow it felt better. This was quite a spontaneous gathering, I think: mostly young people.
Bizarre to be handed a card from a casting agency, nanocentimetres from where I fell and broke my elbow on the NHS march last year.
Sorry Offsprog Two, but really you shouldn't be reading Mummy's blog!




Liars

On the day a proven liar moves into 10 Downing Street, this is my song about liars (not fibbers, people being untruthful, or people being economical with the truth: liars).

Chameleon

I wonder if the Blond Ambition Man got the idea for constant reinvention from David Bowie?

This

The problem is that narcissists like bad-boy publicity as much as (or even more than) good boy publicity.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Rehearsing for This

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/sheffield/the-lantern-theatre/helen-mccookerybook/e-lvbqzl

I'm hoping to play some new songs, if I can learn the words in time.




Breathing Space

The daydream was to go to Cuba and listen to music, music, music all day long: maybe to drive around in a beaten up 1950s American hire car.
No.
Then my close friend from long ago invited me to Lake Balaton for a holiday.
No.
Why?
Because all of August will be spent correcting the manuscript of a book that needs to be completed; I'll be sitting in the heat staring at the little screen, shifting text around, slash'n'burning.
There are four more academic articles in the pipeline, with expected (though welcome) editorial thrashings to come.
After that, that's it.
No more academic writing.
I want to be a songwriter, to collaborate in making music. I have already started doing this, and it's fun and lovely.
My small kitchen is going to become a studio. No more steamy cooking! The Roland JV1080 is going to emerge from its plastic cocoon, hook up to a computer and then let's see what happens.

Until then, I have two days 'off'.
I have been working two part-time jobs as well as writing, performing and taking the She-Punks film about the place; I have resigned from one of them to have more time for research.
That means much less money but much more time.
This morning I pretended that I was on holiday in another country, with nothing to do but drink coffee and read. Because it's hot, even the sounds are 'foreign'. The back garden reverb has abated, the crows are asleep, and the people who swear loudly as they walk past the front window have melted into muttering piles of sweaty grumbling.
More coffee Madame?
Yes plz!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Interview in Exposed Magazine, Sheffield

https://www.exposedmagazine.co.uk/music/an-interview-with-helen-mccookerybook/

BBC Radio Sheffield Interview

I've just done an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield before Thursday's gig at The Lantern. What was my favourite ever gig? Undoubtedly, Black Sabbath at the O2 Arena in 2016.
I told the story of this song while they were playing it- about how I was such a fan of Donna Summer and had no idea that I Feel Love was played on electronic instruments. This song used to half kill me when I played it live.
We took the newly pressed single to the Moonlight Club where the DJ, who had become a friend of ours, was a big fan of The Chefs.
He put it on the turntable and said 'Oh no! That sounds just like Donna Summer!'
VICTORYYYY!!!!!!

Trying To Learn Lyrics

I'm trying to learn lyrics so I have a different repertoire for the gigs later this week- it's a slow process that makes me wish I wrote simpler songs!
I'm probably trying to learn too many new ones at the same time but it's quite good to have a challenge.
I need to remember that the words go in when I'm looking the other way.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Thursday: Sheffield; Friday: Edinburgh

Thursday's gig is at The Lantern Theatre in Sheffield; Friday's is the Refugee Benefit at Leith Depot (I'm on at 10.15) and more to come on that later in the week.
Sheffield ticket link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/sheffield/the-lantern-theatre/helen-mccookerybook/2019-07-25/19:30/t-rgxnen


50/50

Waking at 6 on a Sunday?
Rubbish.
Getting up straight away and finishing the outstanding marking for the re-sit work by my students?
Rubbish.
Sitting in the sunshine in the back yard, eating cherries and reading the Sunday papers?
Bliss.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Monster in the Chemist's Shop

My heart leapt in fear. Down the far end of the chemist's shop, a shaggy grey monster in big shiny sunglasses and a hidden body was looking at products on a revolving stand. 
Well, this was Bristol, I suppose. Maybe that was a normal sight?

The woman with plentiful grey hair and sunglasses perched on top of her head looked up, and I felt really stupid.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Loud Women Unplugged

The past ten days has been a whirlwind (it might even be more than ten days, but the whirlwind has swirled them around like autumn leaves so it's impossible to pin them down).
I realised that I hadn't written about the Loud Women Unplugged night, so here goes. It's going to be brief, but what a group of songwriters!
Starting from the first act: Born Again Virgin was actually a solo artist, Anna Roenigk, who hails from Austin, Texas. I would describe her songs as solo swamp rock; her voice has a little country grit in it, and her songs have a little weariness too. She played one of the best songs of the night- I was sitting next to Samantha Whates, and we just looked at each other with that songwriters awe and nodded. I tried to video a bit of it but failed miserably (my phone storage is full). It just did all the things that a song is supposed to do, in all the right places. Wow.
Next up were Naz and Ella, a duo who have beautiful voices and a clarity of delivery that showcases their (often) political lyrics. Their harmonies actually reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel more than any female duos before or since, which I hope they would take as a compliment. They are very much of the moment and I can imagine them becoming extremely successful: keep your nerve! Don't divert! Songs with meaning matter.
Beth Munroe sang through a wall of heartbreak and delivered a fantastic set of powerful songs. A fog of despair threatened to suffocate her message, but she had the strength to blast through it and her set was mesmerising. She is  a producer and electronica artist too and well worth watching out for.
I was trying to find a way to describe Jelly Cleaver's music. She definitely has the key to the magic chord cupboard, and her songs drift through ideas: lovely ones. The song about Yarl's Wood, Freedom Will Come, had the line 'You can't stop our love from breaking in'. What a fantastic inversion of ideas. She is an abstract artist: she is a poet whose words land like flocks of birds on branches of music. I thought her set was beautiful.
Samantha Whates was the final act, last but definitely not least. We first met more than ten years ago when we both started out (her at the beginning, me first time as a solo artist), in a venue in Camden run by a mutual friend. I remember that night very clearly, because she sang a song that I really liked- and I recognised it again second time around. Samantha is just finishing an album recorded in waiting rooms (including a prison cell and a ferry terminal). The stand out song was Guilty, which looked at things from different perspectives, and was totally absorbing.
Three cheers for Cassie Fox for setting up and running Loud Women, and for putting this night on, and having faith in female musicianship of all stripes!
That's it for now- here are some of my photos of Cassie, Anna, Nat and Ella, Beth, Jelly and Samantha. Photo of H McC by James Hammick.










Monday, July 15, 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019

Pop! Not Hate in Newport Tonight!


The Catenary Wires, Arrest! Charlie Tipper and The Lovely Basement at Bristol Thunderbolt

I have been wandering round Bristol, trying to find Bristol.
I queued up at the ice cream van: the ice cream man was grappling with non-frozen ice cream because he had been so busy.
'Have you got an ice cream disaster?' asked another customer.
Heat-drugged, I though that was the name of an ice cream, until I realised that it was a conversational comment.

You want to know about last night. Well, The Thunderbolt is a fab venue with good sound engineers and friendly staff. I have always loved playing there myself and it was great to go there and be an audience member for a change. Tim had said to get there early because The Lovely Basement are good, and he was right. There are two singers, a he (Kevin Bache) and a she: the she, Katie Scaife, has the most fabulous green guitar which made the Green Goddess shudder with jealousy back home in Barnet. They swap lead and rhythm roles, and their music has shades of The Velvet Underground but also the occasional country music reference, probably because of the blend of vocals (the drummer sings too). Actually I've just checked their Facebook page to try to find out their names and that's exactly what they say they want to sound like, and they absolutely do. A 'sound' means nothing without good songs, and they really do have good songs. I really enjoyed their set.
Arrest! Charlie Tipper are musical family to me. We have done a lot of stuff together: the Femme Fatale cover from 2016 and the video, and quite a few gigs including the Pop! Not Hate ones. Last night their set was tight and punchy, politically driven and probably the best I've ever seen them. The last song they played was brilliant, and reminded me of early Pink Floyd. Bloody hell, organising a seven-piece band deserves a medal- and so does organising all those Pop! Not Hate gigs which I understand made well over £1000. Great band + great politics: what is not to love? I am looking forward to playing with them tonight in Newport at Le Pub (that's a plug, BTW!).
The Catenary Wires played a set of songs mostly from their new album, and again, I think this was the best I've ever seen them. The acoustic shape of the Thunderbolt scrunched up all the arrangements, vocals, guitars, keyboards, harmonium, drums, and made perfect sense of the way those arrangements speak to each other in their music. Before, I've seen them outside and in churches, where the airiness of the environments added to the mood, but this was a different experience altogether. What lovely songs they write, and what lovely orchestrations: the band they have playing with them, Ian Button, Andy Lewis and Fay Hallam are brilliant.
They are playing in Oxford tonight. Go to see them if you can.
I took photos but they are rubbish. I looked into the screens of everybody else's cameras and they were taking much better ones. I hope these words are enough.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Joke

What do you call a donkey that carries a load of painkillers on its back?
A paracetamule.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Useful Dream, Useless Reality

I dreamt that I sewed the torn sleeves back on to my shirt, and I was delighted.
I woke up to find that it wasn't true.
Damn.

Circle

Well, that was a nice round-trip to nowhere. Half the signals were broken on the Northern Line tube, so I had a half-possibility of meeting an agent who was interested in providing placements for my students. I live in hope, so I boarded the train. By the time we got two stops down the line, the train stopped and the driver gave increasingly pessimistic forecasts of us ever getting anywhere. I crossed the platform to get the train back, only to find that the problems had increased, and that driver was telling us exactly the same thing.
So here I am at home with coffee after a long bus journey, wondering if I'll be able to get to the Equality and Diversity meeting this afternoon.
I've been reading Owen Jones's book The Establishment over the past few days and although it's out of date already, it's providing an interesting and depressing underpinning of the demolition of British democracy that has been undertaken in the last 40 years. Everything I think at the moment is coloured by what I'm reading. I've just handed in my notice at one of my jobs and I was thinking what I could do to supplement my income; 'life coach' sprang to mind, and then sprang back out again. Life coaching is social work for privileged people, who are the people in our society who least need this service. Wouldn't it be great to divert all the life coaches (it's sounding like cockroaches now!) to helping people in more need? One obvious one: debriefing General Practitioners who have no support at all to help them to cope with the array of terrible physical and mental problems they come across as part of their daily routine. Or perhaps they could start up Youth Clubs to replace the ones the Tories have destroyed, which has led to (surprise!!!) gang warfare and gun crime on urban streets.
And then the environmental thing: that whole mantra that we as consumers should change our habits to save the world. Actually, it's the multinational corporations that should change their habits- and crucially, their shareholders. Do they really, truly think that they will be able to leave the planet and set up somewhere else?
I am so ranty this morning! This is what a change of plan does to a person: your brain uses its energy to push to the forefront things that have been hidden by other responsibilities. I try not to bore my friends with my anger, but you should hear me and my Offsprogs when we get going!

Monday, July 08, 2019

Gig on Wednesday, North London

I'm playing here on Wednesday- songs from the new album. This will be my last London gig for a while.
Here's the ticket link, and information about the other artists: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/loud-women-unplugged-tickets-63540301753?aff=ebdshpsearchautocomplete

Crows

Every morning for the past week the crows have woken me at 5.30 a.m. with their harsh yaarping and clanking. The sound reverberates around the backs of the houses; each squawk happens at random intervals and all the other birds, including the mellifluous song thrush that stands on top of the pollarded tree as though it's a pulpit, shut up to make space. Once I'm fully awake, the crows also shut up and the song thrush resumes. By that time, I can't go back to sleep.
Are they singing gorgeous songs in crowspeak? Are they 'humming to themselves' as they potter around the trees in the neighbours gardens? Are they tutting grumpily? Are they chatting amicably to their fledgelings?
All I know is that even earplugs don't work and I can't tune them out and return to dreamland. I have even thought of pasting a request to the window to politely invite them to stay asleep just an hour longer so I can catch up on much needed zeds. That's how sleepless I am.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Weird Song

I remember hearing this on pirate radio.

Carroll Thompson and Janet Kay: The Queens of Lovers Rock Under The Bridge

There was a lot on in London last night and there was a strong competitor against this particular show, but I'm so glad that I made the decision to go. Janet Kay is performing with the Reggae Choir at the Shaw Theatre later this month and I'd just discovered that it has sold out, which might have swayed the decision.
Under the Bridge is a swanky venue attached to Chelsea Football Ground but it also a very audience-friendly place. The security guards have a light touch and are welcoming (I hope to God they are not on zero hours and get sacked before their workers rights kick in! What astonishingly cruel practices these agencies get away with!), and for an underground venue it has an amazingly spacious and airy feel to it.
Nat Augustin introduced the first artist, Hannah, who sang two songs. The first was the truest to the Lovers Rock spirit; the second was a cover of It's a Man's World which seemed like an odd choice probably made by her label. I would have liked to hear more, especially some more laid-back singing that I felt that she would have really had more affinity with. But who am I to talk? The whole evening made me feel like a complete imposter for even opening my mouth to squawk!
Nat sang one song (again, it would be nice to have heard more) before introducing Janet and Carroll. Boy do they look good! They must be the same age as me and they both look and sound as fresh as daisies. They took turns singing three songs each throughout the evening after singing a song together. It took a while to get used to the glitzy revue style of the show, but actually the warmth emanating from the stage and the really natural presentation of the two singers overrode any glittery fakery.
What a joy! Carrol's first song was Yesterday, my absolute favourite. Yes, I know all the words and so did the rest of the audience. Carroll is a producer and song writer, and any hurt she might feel at not having had a number one like Janet should be pushed to one side by the fact that almost everyone knew all the words to all of her songs and they roared along good naturedly, with her voice soaring above them; think Diana Ross, but more grounded.
Janet treated us to the most wonderful spirited sets. What was interesting was the way that the band was really responsive to the different styles of the two women. Carroll's songs are soulful whereas Janet is much more pop-orientated, and the band bounced during her set.
That voice!!!
I gave up trying to compare them and just settled into listening (and singing).
The only part that wasn't so engaging was the covers section because I know between them they have so much material, but I do understand that they both have albums to promote. It was great to hear Billy Stewart re-worked by Janet and yes, we all knew the words to those songs too.
At several points I almost burst into tears even though this was a very happy concert. I travelled with Pete Astor part of the train journey to Glasgow the other weekend and he was talking about the years after the age of 40 (or was it 50?) where you suddenly realise that you have lived most of your life, so everything you do takes on a deeper significance. I suppose it was partly that, but it was also remembering having seen these two singers and Nat Augustin, at the Albany Empire in Deptford in the mid 1980s. I have always adored Lover's Rock and even used to work with a band making this music at The Peckham Settlement back then; they were men, but their songs and their voices were absolutely of the genre. Philip Leo, Patrick.... I wonder what they are doing now?
The emotions that I felt last night came partly from reconnecting with my own past- so much of which has seems to have fallen into holes and disappeared. I realised I'm doing what I used to do in my early 20s- going to gigs on my own and just completely absorbing the music and songs and atmosphere. I have no idea if this is weird or not and I simply don't care: it must be the way I'm made.
The other side of it, though, was feeling the true affection from the audience for their singers. This was really similar to Pauline's gig the other week where the men were singing along too. Last night those male voices were part of the impromptu choir, from stringy tentative tenors to a real deep-throated baritone emanating from a chap I walked past who seemed to have come on his own and who was totally fixated on the music. People simply couldn't resit singing along, and this was remarkably touching to see and hear.
I left for the tube after Janet sang Silly Games. She could really give Minnie Ripperton a run for the money: Minnie is acrobatic, but Janet has the spirit and obvious headroom to sing higher if she needs to. What was amazing was that we all sang along and hit the high note too- or thought we did.
I travelled home squeaking gently to myself, wondering if it had just been an illusion.
Sorry, fellow tube-travellers!
(alas, no video: I accidentally left my phone at home, which was a blessing in disguise. But do look on Youtube. These women are fantastic and British Lover's Rock has got to be the most under-rated music genre of either the 20th or the 21st centuries).

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Thinking

I always loved that Welsh saying 'I could sleep on a chicken's lip'.
My motor has been running non-stop since January. I am acutely aware that life has lows as well as highs, and I could do without quite so many reminders of this fact- but then that is part of the general human condition!
This weekend was going to be a period of complete rest, but the fact that Carroll Thompson and Janet Kay are doing a concert tonight proved utterly irresistible; even if I have to have a McSiesta this afternoon (=eating crisps in bed, a foul trait), then I'll do that to get there.
This week, Gideon Coe at BBC6 music has played two of my tracks (Saturday Night with the London Set from Green, and The Mad Bicycle Song from The Sea), and Gary Crowley has played my music on Radio London (A Good Life with a Bad Apple from Green). Robert Rotifer, Dave Hammond, Book of Lies and Colin's Cuts have also played songs from the new album on their shows. Every musician grafts at their career, but having had 25 years out of the business I have a huge amount of gratitude for their support and interest. I could never have imagined this happening (actually I could say that about almost everything, including becoming a mother).
This is the girl in the Sixth Form who was so quiet that most people though she was a French Exchange student.
I am still a quiet and peaceful person living on borrowed loudness in public.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Punk Scholars Network Screening

Big thanks to Laura and Frances for inviting me to show the film in Lincoln at the Punk Scholars Network Symposium.
Here are some photos of the screening- the papers that I heard beforehand were really stimulating and I know the symposium carried on today. The conversations before and after the screening were stimulating too. It was a stroke of genius to screen it in the gaming bar: what a perfect venue for a DIY film!
I walked through Newark from Newark Castle station to Newark Northgate straight through a grim and volatile boozers fight in a pub car park, that spilled on to the pavement and the road. I didn't want a konk on the nose so I slipped into Morrisons to get away, and bought a totally disgusting sandwich, but at least I didn't have to eat the entire tin of Fisherman's Friends, which had been the original plan. I found the chip shop just too late, unforchly.
I sat waiting for the train in blissful peace, admiring the twilight: the train platform lights vying for attention with the dusky sunset, and a cackling magpie in the bushes behind me.
Boy was I tired on the way home.





Airplay Yesterday: Gideon Coe

Funny, I was just coming home from Lincoln on the train and thinking about stuff like this, and someone tweeted me. Lincoln was great - the hosts were incredibly hospitable and the  documentary was screened in a tiny Gaming bar in the middle of Lincoln, played via a Playstation. Nice to see Pete Dale again in his capacity as an academic this time!


This track is on my album The Sea from 2017: https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/album/the-sea