Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Old Year

Who ever happies the old year?
Poor old year, all used up, been a bad boy as usual, never recycled, always thrown in the bin with the crumpled Christmas paper.
Well, old year, I forgive you your badnesses, praise you for your goodnesses, feel happy for the passage of time, the loyalty of good old friends and the excitement of good new ones.
You weren't such a bad old stick.
Happy Old Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007


The miserable Morrissey has always reminded me of John Major, wearing his underpants on the outside.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

With the Daintees at The Clunie

Up the M1 with a flask of coffee in true nerd style, I went up to play at the Clunie in Byker, supporting the Daintees at their annual Christmas show.
It was packed out, just like last year; it's very strange to play the same venue exactly a year later, after all the changes a year brings to your life. I was much more confident, this time around for a start. As a venue, it has a weird acoustic and onstage you can sometimes hear the audience more loudly than you can hear yourself. But I had the excellent Finn McCardle on percussion with me this time around, looking very smart in a black suit and tie, and Martin Stephenson came and joined me for the last three songs, so it was almost like playing with a mini-band. And then I got to watch the Daintees, a pared-down version this year with no Andrea on backing vox, no John Steel on keyboards and no Kate on drums, but Anth and Gary on bass and guitar, and Shayne Fonteyn on drums: the rock Daintees rather than the festival Daintees, punchy and tight rather than rambling and relaxed. Martin's daughter Phoebe, who is 16, got up to play two songs; she had been really nervous but I was watching from the wings and she looked great once she got out there and she played really well; the nerves seemed to disappear and she just got on withit like a pro. The crowd seemed hard to warm up, but about halfway through, something clicked and the joint was a-rockin'. They played 24 Hours for me to sing- this time I forgot some of the words and Anth forgot some of the changes but I don't think the audience minded.
The Daintees have great songs and the audience was roaring along with them, putting the delicate London Jazz-Cafe singalong audience to shame. It's those beer-fuelled Geordie lungs, that's what it is!
Mike and June were there, Martin's most loyal fans, and Daisy was there in her top-hat, selling CDs like hot cakes. I met Joe Guillan, the red-hot rockabilly guitarist and we bored his wife to tears talking about Gretsch guitars.
What a gig to play- perfect at this time of year!

Then I drove back yesterday for my birthday, just family this year as it's been a tough year in a lot of ways, but we still managed to play- Rowen played a song, and Paul and McSis, and we yakked and ate. My friend Joan stayed the night on the settee, reading and drinking bourbon and hanging out with me today.

Roll on 2008 and the New Year revolutions!

Monday, December 24, 2007


Merry Christmas to all those who read this blog!
Both of you!

Finch and Mince

I do believe Santa has brought me an eye infection for Christmas. Hey-ho for the salt-water eye baths.
On a happier note, I had a wonderful realisation this morning as I went to the Post Office Special Deliveries place unfeasibly early to pick up a parcel.
I really wanted to photograph the lady there, who has pinned felt santa badges and tinsel and holly decals all over her navy blue uniform jacket, but I was far to sleepy.
What I realised is that when my hair grows grey, I can fulfil my dream of looking like a zebra finch. I had one when I was 23, which I gave to Paul McGann and his girlfriend (I know I wrote about it ages ago, Mrs Finch kept having babies and eating them).
My finch, Peter Finch, had a squeaky, cackly chirrup that sounded like Bo Diddley or something- 'Diddly-daddly, diddly daddly'.
It was grey, with brown wings with white spots, a black and white striped tail and a red beak.
I always wanted to go the whole way, and dye my hair grey, brown with white spots at the sides and black and white stripes at the back, with a red fringe to set it off.
Soon there will be no need to dye my hair grey!
I can do it!

By the way, the best mince pies come from the Co-Op.
Take one letter away, and it's mice pies.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I've just got back from Mike and Em's Christmas Party, where they had made wassail (a mixture of beer, spices and apples which polarised drinkers' opinions) and mulled wine (nice).
They live in the Barrier Block in Brixton, a forbidding place from the outside but it has fantastic views over Sarf London and it's great inside. The party was full of new parents and their anxieties, and also quite a few Actionettes eating gingerbread. Em had a lovely tacky plastic light-up 'Merry Christmas' sign from Brixton Market. I went through it on the way there and saw loads of light-up Jesus-Joseph-Mary pictures too, amongst the piles of dried fish and cool hats. The hats were very tempting, but not today, thank you.
Mike supports Cardiff and told me they always lose to Barnet, which is very clever of them, because Barnet are normally the losers, so I was quite impressed.

You know, I read through this page of postings and I felt embarrassed by my writing style. I am not trying to be a writer, just writing things down every so often to explain them to myself. I don't keep a diary, and this was supposed to be just to write about forthcoming gigs, until I got carried away and now I can't stop.
The cats love it, because they can sit on me for ten minutes every morning and sometimes I even stroke them.
I can't stop.
Is that not a sign of addiction?

With The Band of Holy Joy at the 12 Bar

Out through the freezing fog, wrapped in layers of tartan and kapok, down to the 12 Bar to meet up with cousins, brother, brother-in-law and cousin's partner. We sat in the chilly coffee bar before going in to watch the Society of Imaginary Friends. They are a band that I'll definitely go to see again; they are very funny but very dark at the same time, and they have this air of knowing exactly what they are doing in their own weird world. Their singer, Louise, has a beautiful voice which she uses without being posey or annoying, just blending into the music and sometimes soaring out of it. It's also a really unusual line-up, singer, accordion and violin, with samples that never intrude unless they're meant to. I loved it.

I really enjoyed playing myself, despite messing up some chords in the first song- I'd taken the Hofner acoustic out of it's case so I could carry the Gretsch in it easily on the tube through the crowds, and couldn't resist a play, and of course it plays entirely differently to the Gretsch and it stuck in my muscle-memory. Just one song, though, and then I was away in fantasy land living the songs as they were written, and that's the best sort of gig to have. Actually, it was really good fun, one of those gigs you just feel bloody amazing to be able to do. Gina had a gig last night too and I was thinking how lucky it is to be able to go out and play gigs when you are ancient and have commitments that threaten to strangle you at every step!

The Band of Holy Joy were brilliant- I'd forgotten what good songs they had and Johny is a charming performer. I think the same thing has happened to them as happened to the Horns when we got back to play together- in the intervening time everyone has become much better musicians, and learned to play their instruments; the band were really tight and very exuberant. They are definitely carrying something on from punk but in a much more funny and sophisticated way; the audience was grinning from ear to ear (they were satisfyingly nerdy, bit like The Chefs' audience who really did wear anoraks!). The stage at the 12 Bar is tiny and the band were crammed into all its crevices and spilling off it into the audience, which all helped to give it a great atmosphere.
I have some of their music on vinyl and I will excavate it and play it immediately. I had to leave early to catch the tube but it's another band I'm going to go to see again soon, because it was very difficult to tear myself away. I wanted to keep on grinning and my bodily dancing mechanisms were straining at the leash.
Like the photo?

P.S. Eddie Tenpole was there. I'm sure he's got smaller- maybe it's something to do with his hair not sticking up any more. I always thought he was the best of the swashbucklers.
P.P.S. I have twice seen a green woodpecker pulling up worms on the lawn. I would give it some bread, but the rats would come, wouldn't they? It's a very fancy-dressed bird and it's an honour to have it drilling for food through the frosty grass.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Tube

I was thinking about Muriel Gray when I drove down to Kwik-Fit (should be re-named Slo-Fit) to wait for two hours for them to look at my car and then send me away for an hour-and-a-half while they fixed it.
I met her when we auditioned for the Tube in Newcastle- her and a bloke called Nick who had a hit with a song called Northern Town which really annoyed me because it was a moany song and I thought he had a cheek, being a Southerner; and a younger girl too. All of the others got the job, but I didn't, which I really didn't mind because at the time I was very shy and absolutely could not have walked backwards holding a microphone interviewing someone famous.
Part of the audition was to interview Jools Holland, which I enjoyed. I did notice they nicked loads of people's ideas- I told them about Tony Fletcher and his fanzine Jamming and that was one of their first features, alonside a piece about air-guitar competitions which they'd nicked off a young woman who came to the first heat of the interviews.
Anyway, Muriel was great fun and I really liked her a lot. Later, she turned up at a Helen and the Horns gig in Edinburgh and stood her round afterwards- we sat about for ages with the other band drinking vodkas and oranges, and had a right laugh. We met again when the Horns did a Saturday Live broadcast one Saturday afternoon at Radio One, and she was just as much fun and just as friendly.
I don't know why I told you this, I just did. It's probably because when you are very busy with a band, a lot of the people you come into contact with are temporarily nice, because they think they can get something from you in some way. Like the receptionist at RCA Records who was all smiley and lovely until suddenly she became totally offhand, and I realised it was time for me to get out.
Muriel was just always nice, and that was so rare that I raise my imaginary glass to her this Christmas to salute her!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Upping the Ante

The problem is, I was as good a singer as Tom's old microphone was a microphone. Now he has a new mic, which is better at being a microphone than I am at being a singer: all my flaws are there for the ear to feast on and it's gonna be Hard Work upping the ante and getting to the next level. Roll on the new year, when I hope to finish the vocals. I have decided to do the cover photo in the piano warehouse in Tottenham, if they'll let me, wearing one of Debbi Little's new recycled tablecloth dresses which she's already said she'll lend me.
Last night's gig was a weirdo- in the Bar Latina, perilously difficult to get to; it's a great place though with super staff; the barman came over and gave me 50p after I'd made a fuss about paying 2 quid for a glass of coke. I think he must have thought about it for a while and then decided he agreed it was too expensive- he came over 15 minutes later with a smile.
The acts were different to the normal- I might review them tomorrow but the potatoes are boiling over and I'd better go and tell them off.
Sorry, that should have been turn them off.

Monday, December 17, 2007


An exercise bicycle attached to a computer, to power the computer while the user is exercising while they are using it.

Traffic Jam

I was behind a mobility bus which was festooned inside with utterly trashy Christmas decorations. Bless!
Then I tried to get back from a conference at Stratford (the wonderful Chris Bannerman was speaking, a man who could make any clod love dance). How the biggery boggery buggery did I end up in Epping Forest?

Rock Buns

On Saturday night I drove down through the frost'n'motorways to Brother Tobias's 3-in-1 cottages, where his partner cooked a wonderful supper for a motley bunch of us, with a particularly delicious apple pie. She's a very good cook and it was a really nice evening, sitting along a table with candles and very funny conversation that melted the ice outside around the cottages for at least six metres.
That day, I'd had a culinary disaster. I'd been reminiscing in my head about my art-college lunches of a massive plate of cottage pie and cabbage, followed by a huge rock bun and a cup of tea, every day, rain or shine.
So I decided to make rock buns, but I had the wrong sort of flour and no lemon zest. I thought optimism would make up for the lack of ingredients, but alas, what came out of the oven was flat and smooth and spongey, not craggy and mountainous as I had hoped.
They did taste nice, however, with that reassuring hint of onion that every cook knows who doesn't clean their chopping-board properly.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


All the McCookerybook clan were raised in the Northumbrian countryside. We were fed rough cider with our Sunday lunch every week after Church (Jesmond Presbyterian), had an argument with McMum and McDad, and got sent round the allotments with the dog every Sunday afternoon to calm down.
McDad decided when I was about twelve that there must be other ways to wear down our adolescent energy and hit upon the idea of going beagling. Beagling is when a group of people follow a pack of hounds on foot, behind a little red-faced man in a green jacket and white jodphurs with a tootly brass horn.
It was sort of nice being out in the cold January air, stamping across the frozen furrows hidden under the snow, puffing steam out of our mouths and yelling.
What it really was about, though, was the hounds chasing a hare to exhaustion and then tearing it to pieces in front of your eyes.
Lots of times, groups of us had stood silently and let the hare run past us, watching the pack of yelping beagles far away at the end of another field, chasing nothing.
The day I was handed a bloody dead hare's paw in a plastic bag, I realised what I had really been doing, and refused to go ever again.

I thought about this today because I went to see Joan's film about the girl and the hare. I last saw it about two months ago, and she has done more to it since then. It is so interesting being able to see someone develop a film over a period of time. It reminds me of Albrecht Durer prints in it's high-definition detail; bits of it, bobble-ended weeds on delicate stalks, remind me of Seurat paintings, a sort of shimmering impressionism. There is every sort of green in the film, trembling trees, all sorts of grass, sharp slanting blades all over the screen, and tiny little cow-parsley blossoms on their umbrella stalks jiggle about in the shade. It's a really sexy film and I can't wait to see the next incarnation of it!

It's been a lovely day, which I spent wandering round the West End, Christmas shopping; I went to strange places like Ray's Jazz Shop upstairs at Foyles, where you can listen to CDs before you buy them while nerdy people drink coffee. I bought a decoration for the Christmas tree, a fragile glass puppy in a stocking from Paperchase.

Best bit of the day was crossing Waterloo Bridge on the 176 bus and looking at the pale blue and white winter version of the River Thames, a view which was utterly lovely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The UEL Carafe Set

Here for your admiration and enjoyment is a picture of the UEL Carafe Set. It looks pretty expensive when you see the workmanship. I expect Senior Management use them for their dry sherries (dry, not sweet- sweet is for softies).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In which a six-year-old hears a very big choir for the first time

If you live in the north-east of England, your closest 'abroad' country is not France or Belgium; it is Norway, and that is the first foreign country I ever visited. Shops in Newcastle used to have 'We speak Norwegian' in their windows (something like 'Norsk Sprakken', I think).
You have to get an overnight ferry to Bergen, and my family set off for the port all ready to travel and all excited.
However, we were kept waiting for hours on the quayside with hundreds of other passengers. Eventually, a section of the travellers started singing 'Why Are We Waiting' (to the melody of 'O Come All Ye Faithful'), and gradually, the whole massive shipload of people joined in, all in very good spirits, standing there next to the ship with their luggage in the sunshine, singing for what seemed like hours:

'Why are we waiting?
Why-ee are we waiting?
Why are we way-ay-ayting?
Why? Why? Why?'

(I never did find out why we were waiting, but we did get to Norway, and I loved it)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Story of the 'I Am A Wanker' T-shirts

I lived in a house for a while that belonged to a feisty female mature student at Sussex University. She had two chums who shared her dislike for the young student whippersnappers who also attended the University, so they hatched a plan; she bought a consignment of white t-shirts, printed the words 'I Am A Wanker' on them, and they rented a stall at the weekly market held in the Mandela Hall, rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of all those silly students buying their shirts and walking round in them.
Unfortunately, the students were not silly enough and they returned home with the full consignment of printed shirts, having sold none.
For the next several months, she and her chums wore the shirts around the house, and also as jogging apparel in the mornings, puffing through the streets of Brighton.
I refused the offer of a free shirt.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Soundcheck at St John's Church

We Have So Much To Learn From The Natural World

Once, I went to the Derby at Epsom.
My betting-partner and I were trying to decide which horse to bet on; we knew nothing at all about racing. A honey-brown earwig walked across the programme we were looking at; it was excreting a yellowish fluid. So we bet on the brown'n'yellow jockey, and our horse won.

On another (very very gossipy) note, I was standing outside the post-office today, ready to post the CDs to the people who'd ordered them; there was a huge queue, and the lady behind me was talking in a very loud voice. She was the sister-in-law of the Canoe Man (been watching the news?). She was telling her friend all about it- how her husband said her didn't blame his brother, it must be the wife's fault, how she'd told her husband 'It takes two to tango'; how the Police had thought the guy was hiding behind their front door because they keep loads of shoes in the hallway and the front door wouldn't open properly when they came round, all sorts of stuff.
'At least we know where to send the Christmas card', she said.

Monday, December 10, 2007


I was thrilled to have received some orders for the Christmas EP- please note that there is some swearing on one of the tracks so don't buy it for babies or the impressionable!
On another note, all is doom and gloom in the charity shops in Barnet.
Oxfam, take a look at who you are employing. One of your volunteers is a foul racist who ought to be ashamed of herself and definitely should not be working for any sort of charity with views like hers. She was only outdone by the views of a male customer conversing with her- between them they dissed Poles, Somalis, you name it. I almost dropped my Christmas cards and rushed out of the shop in disgust but I always buy them in there as it's the best charity at Christmas, and I shut my ears and exchanged glances with another customer there who could also not believe her ears.
On to the North London Hospice, where one of the volunteers was telling another (very patient) volunteer as he riffled through the racks of clothing that he hoped he died soon because the world was in such a terrible state it will all be over in 40 years!
That might be an interesting Christmas audio project- a tour round the Charity Shops recording snippets of moaning to hang on the virtual Christmas tree.
I thought I'd been a bit of a miseryguts recently till I heard that lot!
Tirade over, I'm looking forward to Jamie coming round tomorrow to brush up my singing so I can finish the album. I've been racking my brains about a photo but I might ask Jacob, Jamie's boyfriend who did the photo on the Myspace page, to do a studio one, and try to look glamorous, perhaps folding a few wrinkles round the back of my head and securing them with sellotape like Joan Crawford did.
I've also really enjoyed writing a lecture I'm doing at the University of the West tomorrow, on women and pop; I've downloaded a lovely picture of the Daisy Rock guitar to lighten up some wonderfully perceptive feminist theory, and now I'm going to find some ace tracks, from Poly Styrene to baby Spice and beyond, to play alongside the serious stuff.
Before that, however, I have some blueberries to scoff to counteract the effects of the two walnut whips I demolished a while ago.
O the joy of being a greedy piggie!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

St John's Church in Farncombe

It started off as a day of stress, a layer-cake of problems with oblique solutions, talking to angry students, getting angry myself because I could see their point of view, then driving round the M25 to Surrey; I picked up Martin Stephenson on the way, and we rolled up at Farncombe to find ourselves in a unique place- they had food ready for us, and the PA all set up for the soundchecks. The gig is in a church which has the most beautiful natural reverb, a cool and clear sound that puts Barnet Church to shame; you could tell at the soundcheck that it was going to be a real pleasure to play there.
Then the audience drifted in- a real mixture of people from Daintees fans to local residents in their old red coats; there was the occasional baby but I'd actually put the average age at 60! The all settled in their pews and looked as though they were ready to enjoy themselves immediately- there wasn't going to be any London-type snooty evaluation going on- this was Friday night, in a special place, and they trusted the promoter, Julian Lewry, to provide them with something they would like.
Honestly, the difference between this and the sort of places I play in London, battling against drunk people yakking (often other songwriters on the same bill, I'm sorry to say) was completely amazing. Little old ladies rocked in their seats, they laughed at my crap jokes and clapped at the end. What more could a singersongwriter want?
The sound was crystal clear and I felt so relaxed i really enjoyed playing, even tho' I cut the set a little short because I still have a cold and it started to kick in a few songs down the line.
They absolutely loved Martin and by the end they were sprawled in the pews roaring with laughter at his quirky sense of humour and some of them (I could spot the hobby-guitarists) were watching his flying fingerpicking like hawks.
We did a couple of songs together- Hamilton Square and Loverman- before Martin finished his set and they all went home for cocoa.
The sound engineer made a recording of the night; we had a bit of a listen and it sounded really good, so maybe we will do something with it. He was great. Probably one of my favourite places I've ever played, I think.

Friday, December 07, 2007


I was telling Joby about my friend Alan who went to sea in a pram in Seaham Harbour (he sank, of course) and Joby bigged me up in his e-blog- so here's his site for you to look at:
You will see, whereas I have many stories, he has many adventures through the legal system and delightful suburban neighbours to wind up by simply Not Being Like Them.
At some point, Joby will write his memoirs; as soon as he does, I shall write mine, as he seems to be vaguely threatened by my yarning abilities, and it will be fun to wind you up Joby!!
Off to Farncombe tonight for a gig in a Church.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Extra extra readallaboutit

Well, if you would like a CD version of Helen McCookerybook's Christmas Assortment, send a cheque or postal order for £7.50 made out to Helen and the Horns, PO box 3427, Barnet, EN5 9EX and I will post it and pack it and also send you a Suburban Pastoral badge to boot.

Lighter thoughts

Well, today, life turned itself around a bit; I've been in the studio, doing a bit of editing, backing vocals and guitar a la Merseybeat sound on my album; meanwhile, Martin Stephenson has been recording a guitar part in Scotland for one of the songs and that's being posted down to me later this week, o modern technology you dear of dears; Paul Davey's going to come and put the sax parts on to a couple of songs on Monday, and I just have to do the vocals, which I'll do when this cold has cleared up.
I might even treat myself to a singing lesson with Jamie McDermott, who I haven't seen for centuries.
Although I am infinitely happier than I was yesterday, I have just eaten a truly disgusting blueberry muffin from Waitrose that had a nasty surprise in the middle- a round blob of cold wobbly flavourless blueberry jam that you could not negotiate your way around. I had to eat a banana afterwards to take the flavour away, which was not the idea at all; I wanted a one-item snack experience and instead had a mini-picnic. Terribly disappointing.

I have some CDs of the Christmas song that I got from the USA; I don't know if anyone would like to buy one. Monty said he did so I'll decide how much they should be and post that information this weekend.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Dark Thought

Sorry about this, as I so rarely let a dark thought through the glory-gates of blogdom, but it slipped through.
McDad has posted this year's advent calendar, in a mongrel envelope and with a second-class stamp (no sense of urgency, these Seniors).
Idly musing on life, I invented a sort of cardboard calendar with little daily paper doors for those awaiting the Decree Absolut, with episodes of descending ghastliness as the big day approaches.
I don't know why this sprung to mind, but were I still an Artist, I would create such an object.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I Didn't

No, I didn't go to the knitting party, which looked like a long walk on the A-Z; instead, I went to Covent Garden, did a little vintage browsing (that's both me and the clothes, since you ask); I saw a lovely giraffe dress, wished I'd bought it too late. Radar directed me to Topshop as usual, which was a complete scrum; I can't remember if I mentioned my invention that I invented on my one and only ever trip to Primark. I approached the till with my bargains- everything was only six quid, as cheap as a charity shop- took one look at the huge queues and dumped the lot on the nearest table. It was obvious that hundreds of people had done exactly the same thing. So I invented the Roving Till, assistants with debit card terminals on a holster-type thing, with a bag slung across their shoulders filled with carrier bags, so people could pick up clothes on a whim, pay for them on a whim, and Primark doubled their takings.
Primark thought this was such a good idea that they paid me 25% of the increased takings, making me a millionaire overnight and allowing me to purchase a rambling castle in Scotland, thus solving all my accommodation problems in one fell swoop (one swell foop? Can't remember which way round it is) and I lived happily ever after.

Meanwhile, back in reality, I've made an almond cake, stopped the cat from eating the top of it (he scalped a lovely quiche once, which wasn't funny at all), and I have a lecture to write on the 1960s for Tuesday evening at the University of the West. I've become obsessed with Telstar, a track I hate, and which I've left at the University of the East after a lecture on record production I did there. Shall I download it from iTunes? Shall I buy a cheesey 60s compilation tomorrow? I do need it....
I can tell you for a fact that Anthony Newley is vastly over-rated. I'm listening to him now and will replace him with Antony and the Johnsons in a minute and see if he is too, now the fuss has died down.
Alternatively. it could be a Lover's Rock and almond cake moment, washed down with a cup of fresh coffee.
Oh yes.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What bursting palette of activities are at my disposal today? Well, a trip to the massomarket, without doubt; there is no catfood left and I've been scraping the tin convincingly for 24 hours and pretending that the old dried up lumps in the bowl are new, but the little fur fellas won't fall for that any longer; I also have to buy a million tins of plum tomatoes, the foundation of the cheapo Western diet. They hold our cupboards up.
I could go to the East End- there, a party is happening in a knitting shop to celebrate a competition that has involved knitting walking-stick covers. It's very tempting, because the woman who organises it organises things like taking over carriages on the Circle Line and knitting all day. Problem is that I don't know where the heck my wool is, nor the knitting needles that Eddie found in a drawer when he worked in the Auction Rooms in Brighton- all different colours of Bakelite, beautiful, but where?
There are all sorts of funky parties at the moment: a Ukelele one next week, Songbird with the Band of Holy Joy, animation at the Royal College of Art. Should I attend them, or just imagine them?