Thursday, April 30, 2020

Helen and the Horns etc.

Newly available on Bandcamp for a short time only- I normally sell this only at gigs.
Download version has 21 tracks, CD version has 24.
Buy from Bandcamp tomorrow if you can- they are waiving their slice of revenue!

https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/album/helen-and-the-horns-etc


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Her Indoors

I have contributed to this album, which is raising funds for domestic violence victims. Today, Bandcamp is waiving its fees so more money goes to the charities.

Raintime Thinktime

Here we are, all rainy: the first proper rain since lockdown. The birds are yelling with glee, and the plants in the back yard are displaying specially happy shades of green.
The inept splodge is back at work and I won't be able to watch news broadcasts again until he's gone. In between emails from very stressed students, I'll be trying to finish my book in the next couple of weeks.
The more research I've done the more horrified I've become at the layers and complexity of the structures in society that push women downwards.
At a certain point in my life, I think I am simply going to burst.
Anyone like me would do so.
There are so many of us!
Smiling when you're being insulted because to admit what is happening would break you.
Putting up with toxic relationships, because of your fear (note the 's' there: it hasn't just been the one). Knowing that in the workplace you have to work five times as hard just to stick where you are, and not slip into the pit.
The entire framework of society is set up to make us feel worthless unless we are (a) breeding or (b) caring. These two energy sapping activities, if we are embedded deeply enough in them, will prevent us from thinking or doing anything that might enable others of our gender, and ourselves, to dig ourselves out of our prisons.
It would be amazing not to be a feminist writer.
Just imagine!
I could write about the music I love just because I love the music, like male writers can!
I wouldn't have to think about the imbalances that go on behind the scenes, the sexist lyrics, the women who take their clothes off to sell their music because they know that's what men like.
I wouldn't have to have an opinion about Madonna!
I could be a song writer and producer without ever having to think of it as a battle!



Monday, April 27, 2020

Homework

About 150,000 words worth of student work is going to be handed in this week. I sat and wrote for two hours to try to get a grip on the book, before I start marking it.
I do wish the book would be finished. I'm waiting for an e-book from Bloomsbury Press to be delivered to our library at the University of the East o I can check out some page numbers, and I've had a think around some other citation problems.
I have managed to finish an article for Popular Music History on punk women bass players and reggae. It's been around for years, but because of bereavement (amongst other things) it's taken till now to finish it.
I've got to do the Oh Bondage! Up Yours article before September too.
No more writing after this! I did get asked to contribute a chapter on 1970s women pub rockers which would have been huge fun to do, but managing my teaching workload with all this writing and making the film has been really tiring. Gigs and recording and general music making in real life is so energising! I do love solitude, but those bursts of music activity make life worth living.
Foraging in the loft might have been fun. I've foraged in a cupboard, but there has been too much to do and I'm almost 100% certain that I won't be able to take any leave this year because of the virus, even though that's exactly what we all will need!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Julia

I feel that I can write a bit about Julia now. It was profoundly shocking to hear that she had died because she'd posted on Facebook that she was getting better, and she was so vibrant and full of life that it's almost impossible to imagine that she is not here any more.
Julia was the studio manager at The Premises studio in Hackney. Even if she hadn't been great fun and a fantastic organiser, mediator and deviser of projects, she would have been great just for being so good at her job.We first met almost ten years ago, when a small group of people got together to devise an MA in Songwriting, which would have been run in a specially constructed suite at the studio, and which would have been validated by the University I was working in at the time. Alas, that university badly let us down, delaying the project by two years before deciding not to validate it, because they were validating a similar MA at another small college.
Always positive, the group approached me and with massive amount of input form Julia, ran the first of five weekend songwriting courses at The Premises, which aspiring song writers came along to to devise a song, learn how to market it, and then arrange and record it with guest musicians. They were all so different in terms of numbers (the first one had sixteen song writers, the last one, five), personalities, and time management but Julia steered us all through each of them, and was an absolute bedrock of support. Instinctively, she knew when to give advice and when to ask for it: one of our very best masterclasses was with Green from Scritti Politti, and I asked for him to return to another one. Piney Gir was another really good guest songwriter. Those sessions spawned all sorts of musical collaborations, notably that of Feral Five, who have done really well since then.
Maybe closest to Julia's heart as a practising Buddhist was a different songwriting project with Hackney Carers. This one ran across four Thursdays and involved sixteen people again, all of whom had responsibility for a relative or partner who could not manage on their own.
I can't write much about it, except to say that as a community songwriter (where I started after being in bands), it was the most moving and inspiring project I've ever worked on. Carers live in an odd, magical and sometimes very dark world of their own, where their goodness and kindness is sometimes overshadowed by exasperation and exhaustion. Rather than writing about this in their songs, almost all of them chose to write about love in a move to escape the prison of their caring responsibilities. Julia trusted the group and me to just get on with it, and even the sometimes recalcitrant engineer worked through his lunch breaks to make the project happen. We had some ace session musicians from Julia's address book, one of whom had to deputise as a conductor ,which stressed his drumming skills to the max. In the end, almost everyone got to write and sing not just their own song, but other people's too.
Every so often, I still listen to the CD  and it moves me to tears.
Julia had much more than just a business head necessary to run the studio and its educational arm; she had  an ethical heart and a sense of detail (she never forgot to invite us all to the Premises parties) that was quite extraordinary.
Oh, and she was also one of the most glamorous people on the planet.
I don't know if anyone who knew Julia reads this blog, but I'm pretty sure that everyone who knew her has the same sense of appreciation and love for her. I had to write this for myself, as much as anything else. There are a lot of awful people that we are forced to share this planet with: Julia was a good, good person and I am eternally thankful that I was lucky enough to know her.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Night Work If You Can Get It, High Barnet

A flock of steamrollers, a murmuration of lorries, and a gang of men in hi-vis. It's resurfacing time in the High Street! We may be all locked down, but these guys are bright eyed and bushy-tailed, and working away like beavers to make sure they complete the council contract for their bosses (apart from phone box man), in case the money gets spent on care homes.
Quick, quick!!!



Thursday, April 23, 2020

Lockdown Friends

I've bene watching far too much TV.
These are my new lockdown friends: Constipation Lady and Bad Art Man.
They are both weirder than anyone I've ever met, which I find quite reassuring in a  funny sort of way.



Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Women Composer's Collective Compilation

Jude Cowan has put together this compilation to raise awareness of domestic abuse. I am honoured to have a track included on it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Sunday 19th Covid 19 Online Gig

Chefs Posters

I have something else to write, later on or tomorrow, but I need to think about it for a bit.
I found a pile of Chefs posters last eek- they won't scan properly because they are not A4. But here are the backs of a couple of them- a takeaway order for us and Midnight and the Lemon Boys (we must have been doing  gig together), and a scribbled set list.
It was such an odd time- wild. I was in my very early twenties, and had almost no contact with my family apart from my brother, who joined the band because Carl walked of stage and left me on my own with the drummer at a gig at the Alhambra.
Me and Rod just carried on anyway, to the end of the set.
Captain Sensible was there for some reason, and he later told me it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen.
So here are the backs of the posters. We lived on cheap takeaways and booze.
It was even worse when we moved to London; I lived on Weetabix with squirty cheese out of a tube spread on top of it, and Cup-a-Soups.
And booze.





Saturday, April 18, 2020

Tomorrow's Online Gig

Tomorrow's online gig is on all day, and is run by the artist and general scamp Calum Kerr.
My slot is 4.30 and I'll be trying something a little different! I will also be dredging up a blast from the past that I've only played twice due to it's fumbling finger difficulty, and will probably play a new song too.
Right- back to the peas (eight shoots coming up in soggy toilet roll cardboard), the courgette (one out of twelve vintage seeds doing very nicely), and the tomato (bought at the supermarket). I'm going to look at them encouragingly rather than speak to them, which is a bit out there really, isn't it?

Link here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2622932461287099/

Friday, April 17, 2020

Duck Pond Delights

The Egyptian geese have seven goslings that sleep together in a breathing pile. One of the ducks has three ducklings that bomb across the pond so quickly it's impossible to take photos, and Mr and Mrs Moorhen have eight black fluffy chicks that they tenderly feed with crumbs.
Oh nature!
Yet for some reason, today people have climbed back into their cars and are roaring around making the town stink with their exhaust fumes and drowning out the sounds of cheeping and quacking that have become such wonderful therapy during this weird time. Their car stereos are playing full blast, and they are driving around far too fast, as though they can outwit the virus by sheer nastiness and offensive speed levels.
Geese, go puncture those tyres with your sharp spiny beaks!

Monotony

I've invented a new game, Monotony. It's the same as Monopoly, except the board is blank and there are no pieces, money or properties.
D'you think it will catch on? It's free!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Monday, April 13, 2020

This Boy Cover

The Sainsbury's Checkout Dream

Dream fodder is thin on the ground at the moment and this post is very boring.
Last night I dreamt that I was at the checkout at the supermarket, trying to pay for my shopping. The checkout was more like a stainless steel chute that a flat normal checkout, and you had to wait until the person in front of you had paid before you could shove your shopping down the slide.
Someone walked up and added a banana to my pile of provisions, and everyone had to explain that he shouldn't do that.
I think the person before me had mostly onions.
It got to my turn and the woman at the checkout (who looked remarkably like someone who has been annoying in real life), strolled over and told me the checkout was closing now, and she couldn't understand why anyone used the checkouts with assistants, when the self-checkouts were so easy and just over there. I started the usual pious speech about keeping people's jobs by making sure I paid at manned checkouts but I could see she wasn't listening, and gave up after the first sentence.
There was someone at every single self-service checkout. Whenever anyone was finished there, the checkout they had been at went out of service.
I waited, and waited, and waited.
Finally, I managed to find an available one. I piled up my bananas and raspberries ready to scan. There was a complex log-in process and I did that, then searched for the code for bananas on the electronic price list.
As soon as I found them, I typed it in and then got taken back to the log-in page. Over and over again.
I looked at the raspberries. They were soggy and mouldy and had bits in that could have been dead insects.
I looked at the bananas.
They were squashed and soft and under-ripe at the same time.
I gave up, left them there in the supermarket dripping rancid juice all over the checkout, and went for the bus.
There were no buses. I wasn't where I thought I was.
All I could do was wake up.

Life is a Minestrone

A Beatles cover today from Life is a Minestrone; I'm playing at 3 p.m. embedded in lots of other good music (all Beatles!):

https://www.facebook.com/events/215119559707792/permalink/223817568837991/

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This Boy

The 'B' side of the very first single I was ever given when I was a little girl- I Want To Hold Your Hand. They were very good songwriters, weren't they.

Music

I was feeling miserable about cancelling so many dates at so many lovely places and with so many lovely people. But music is so adaptable. I have sold a few records and downloads (I'd been relying on the tour for selling those), and 'gigs' are still happening- one on Wednesday evening, one next Sunday and one in May.
Today I'm recording a Beatles cover (This Boy) for Life is a Minestrone, who have been releasing a Beatles cover on Youtube every hour. I've just got to get those chords into my hands before nightfall.
Tomorrow I'll record the song I wrote for Linear Obsessional's domestic violence compilation, and Kath has finished the first part of the Taking a Song for a Walk chain song we are writing. I'll also do more work on the song with Michel tomorrow.
I am also drawing a bit too. The pressure's off a bit: the TV, dishwasher and bathroom extractor fan all broke within a few days of each other. The TV is fixed, the bathroom extractor miraculously fixed itself, and the dishwasher is classed as a non-essential worker and will just have to wait.
The day lies ahead. Coffee, then a search for a thermometer and soup- I've realise that there's only a few days provisions in stock because I haven't been panic buying. Not that I'm panicking, but perhaps I should do some buying, just in case.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Two Strings To Your Bow

Thinking

What is the point of complaining? There is the fear of becoming ill, but we all share that.
There is the bereavement, circling closer all the time.
I have cried for people already. We all have that, too: or we will.
I could not clap for Boris Johnson, a man who deliberately shook hands with people who had a deadly virus, and passed it on to the mother of his unborn child. No.
To the virus, we are insignificant hosts. It has already won 'the battle'.
All we can do is get used to it and adapt, which is what living creatures do.

The music creatures write songs, and we are doing that, and it lifts my spirits.
A couple of days ago, Jude, Kath and me had an online chat and it was heartwarming. Jude's beloved dog had had to be put down in the middle of all this: what a last straw. Wisps of normality, the life experiences that hurt so badly in another lifetime, pass by our windows like feathery clouds in the distant sky.
It's so hard.

In January I wrote a song that sort of predicted all this, and I can't sing it at the moment because we don't know where we are going until we have been there, and can look back. I have written another for a compilation that Jude is making for Richard Sanderson's label, and will try to record it this weekend (it involves recording the Spanish guitar acoustically, and being able to do that depends on my neighbour not using the angle grinder all day in the tiny back yard that abuts mine).
I am co-writing remotely with Robert, sporadically. He has the keys to the magic chord cupboard, as Kevin Hewick once put it. Working with him is like Christmas morning as a child: you don't know what's going to be in that Christmas stocking! I'm writing a song with Michel Wallace, slowly, because we haven't worked together before. And I have a plan to write with Vinnie Wainwright.
I'm saying these things so that they happen.
For two weeks, doing anything has been really difficult.

How do you make people you are responsible for feel OK when you're not feeling OK yourself? People who should be able to lead us out of chaos, from our political leaders downwards, are exposed as weak people who can only function when things are going well. The people that these 'strong' people despised turn out to be stronger by far; those who have had a hard lot in life, like cleaners and carers, have survival skills that would shame Scott of the Antarctic and Major Whatsisname and all those derring-do heroes that our politicians learned about at public school, and that they feel they have a direct timeline connection to.
History will not be kind to them.
I think some people thought it was silly to go on those NHS marches. It really bloody wasn't.

Today, I'm thinking about Margot's family.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Egyptian Geese

The Egyptian Geese have become a feature of the Lockdown Walk.
They started off with nine goslings, and currently have seven. They are wonderful parents; they bark frantically whenever a dog appears on the horizon, and became apoplectic when a woman with a dog on a leash walked up to take shots of them (as you can see, they are remarkably photogenic).
They rushed splashing straight into the pond with their brood, and swam away as fast as possible.
On a night walk under the glow of an enormous moon, Father Goose stood on guard, his neck erect and alert and his eyes beady in the moonshine.
Mother Goose crouched nearby as she sheltered the goslings under her flattened feather breast; they have now grown quite big.
'Bark bark bark BARK BARK!', honked Father Goose.
'Bark BARK', honked Mother Goose back to him.
What was going on?
There were no dogs about, only lone people drifting around in the half darkness, keeping their distance like magnets repelling opposite poles.
Suddenly, a young rusty fox made a mad dash from patch of spent daffodils, horse chestnut seedlings and torn grass. Across the road he pelted, narrowly avoiding an oncoming Range Rover that was bossing its way down the road at maximum speed, even though there were no other motorists around to bully.

So still seven goslings... there's enough food for the young foxes in our rubbish bags.
Eat that instead, Reynard!


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Plumber's Grip

This is a photo of the plumber's bag I bought to carry Offsprog One around in, when I was expecting her and was trying to imagine what it might be like to be a mother. I was such a tomboy. I remember wanting to take my Doctor Marten's boots off and throw them at the looped video of the breastfeeding mother on a floral couch cooing with her baby that was being shown at Guy's Hospital when I went for my appointments.
Everyone expected a pregnant woman to be so gooey and motherly and I didn't feel like that at all. I felt like me, but with a heavy thing in my stomach.
I just kept throwing up, feeling sick all the time (which is worse) and eventually felt like a gigantic elephant, even though I can't have been that big because a myopic chap chatted me up at a cartoon event about a week before I gave birth!
So I bought this to carry the baby around in- seemed ideal- and had an idea of wrapping it in paper towels because babies grow so quickly and I couldn't see how we could afford the clothes (kind relatives passed things on to us in the end). McMum thought this was a terrible idea, but I just thought I was much more practical than anyone else had ever been.
I though I'd lost this, but I found it today dug deep in a cupboard. I'm going to give it to Offsprog One for her birthday.
It does look a bit like a Moses basket though, doesn't it? Especially through half-closed eyes.



Sunday, April 05, 2020

Stanley Unwin Gives Advice To Bill Wyman

Lockdown

Funny how the voluntary solitude of an introvert turns into passive fury at fate when that solitude is imposed on you. And of course it turns inwards instead of outwards.
However, this afternoon I got hold of the guitar and did a bit of writing; not the forced kind, but a nice gentle flow of ideas that aren't set in stone, but that were really therapeutic as they materialised.
Adapting to working from home has been very difficult; we had to change things quickly, and make sure that they were appropriate for everybody.
The most difficult bit has been not checking work emails constantly, and reminding myself that I work part time, and not 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
On social media, people are making up rules for each other, amplifying untruths, and generally stirring panic and paranoia. Meanwhile in Bookface HQ, Twitter Towers and Instagram Megaplex, economic psychologists and populist sociologists are working hard to monetise reactions to the pandemic as quickly as they possibly can. Oh blah to the lot of them!
I got annoyed by the 'solidarity-r-us' poster in Boots the Chemists window today, given that they have been avoiding tax for years. If they had paid up like everyone else, we might have a better funded NHS; it's as simple as that. How can you pat yourself on the back for being supportive of the community when you are secretly salting away money that should be paid in tax?
I wasn't going to write all that but I did. Humph.

The songs I'm writing are not the most joyful pieces of music. Lockdown has concentrated my memory somewhat. I'm usually too busy to think about the past, but this strange state of suspension has crystallised out a a lot of things in great detail. It's cathartic to do this, I suppose.

Meanwhile, the detective novels are still on a conveyor belt as reading material. I've read some good ones recently, but they are upstairs and I'm downstairs, and that's miles away innit.

Oh yes- me and my house guest thoroughly enjoyed Asbo Derek's online high jinks last night. Unco-ordinated, colourful, chaotic and occasionally rather musical. Very funny! I miss them , and my other pals, musical, arty and everything else under the sun.
Roll on freedom!







Daisies

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Hare


From Pea Soup, from here: www.mccookerybook.com/shop


Throwing Myself Into The Skip

That's what I call the morning clumsy skip that I do in the back yard between the plant pots each day.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Cristina

💔

Dream

I dreamt that I was writing a book called Exploreen With Maureen, about walking around the very thrilling High Barnet during lockdown.
On awakening, I realised it should really be called Boring Exploring with Mauring, under the circumstances.

New! Online Shop

Avoids those great big Bandcamp charges, to you and to me!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRxYDrPU6cc