Saturday, March 29, 2008


What a nightmare journey- trouble on the Northern Line, I went to King's Cross instead of Euston, but Glasgow was there in all its rainy glory with the toughies walking the streets and that was just the dogs!
The Tron was a groovy kinda place- a bar next to a theatre, full of 'miniature thespians' as the promoter described them- hordes of exctied little actor-children with painted faces running upstairs eating pizza after their show.
The audience for Martin was perfect- on three sides of the little stage, there was a different flavour in each of the three sections- the rowdy clappers on the right, the concentrators in front and the loving couples to the left. It was a great gig to play because the sound was perfect- you could hear what you were doing with the utmost clarity and the audience were a listening crowd and I felt that I did a close-to-best gig.
Boy, I've been having a crap time at home and music has been saving my soul. To get to do a decent gig in a nice venue with people listening and clapping and liking what I do, it's utter bliss. I really enjoyed it; the crowd was so warm and friendly, they could have melted the coldest heart and I'm an earnest music-loving warm-hearted performer and it was pure joy to do it.
Martin played a great set too, I wish I could remember what it was he said but he quipped a fabulous quip that made me laugh through a whole song and almost miss it. He sussed the three-sided audience perfectly. I watch him, you know, because he has such a good way with an audience, and I try to learn. Obviously I have an entirely different personality but I think his confidence is infectious. I can feel absolutely lousy and be doing a support for him and I feel that it's a breeze.
It was one of those nights when you just feel that you have the best job in the world.
The bar staff were great too- they were respectful and supportive and listened and didn't clatter glasses and ping tills.

Afterwards, there was a verbal tussle for the minicab. A drunk lady tried to hijack the cab the venue had booked to take us artists to the hotel, on behalf of a sober lady, who was using her drunken friend's chutzpah to try to muscle in on the cab to get her home.
The cab driver went bananas, and cancelled the cab the sober lady had booked from the same company just to spite her, because he'd had such a nasty night. He ranted all the way back to the hotel, furiously and Glaswegianly. I wondered if he could have powered his cab on his fury and saved a fortune on petrol.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


On Tuesday I went to visit two of my students from the University of the East who are doing work placements; one was at the British Library listening to the applications for the unsigned stage at Glastonbury 2007; the other was working for a little label called Gronland. It was interesting, and I've got more people to visit. Today, I went to Denmark Street with a student from the University of the West who wants to buy an acoustic guitar for a hundred pounds. We listened to a few rude men lying and I explained to her that nearly all of the men who work in those shops are rude to their customers, male or female, but often ruder to the female ones. It's interesting to inspect them as they arrogantly dismiss you as a feeble twat and then do a bit of complicated picking to annoy them. She tried out a few guitars and she liked one best and I liked another best; I realised that I like varnished necks because I play my chords all over the place and it helps me get about; she, however, was listening out for a particular bright tone.
She's sleeping on it and might go again tomorrow.
I talked to Pretend Robson Green (I'm sure I shouldn't use people's real names, Tom)this morning about his songs; both Martin and myself are mentoring him and it's going to be really exciting to see what he comes up with: he's an animator and story-writer and we're being his song-writing angels until July.
Tomorrow I'm catching the train to Glasgow to support the Daintees at the Tron. I have a song, Glasgow Train, that I'm dying to play but it gives me cramp in my fingers because it's so pickety-lickety. Let's see how it goes, shall we? Perhaps a double dose of cod liver oil could help.

On the tube

A lady was drawing me in a little book on the tube. She didn't think I could see, but she had a pencil and was sketching away in my peripheral vision. She stopped every time I looked at her.
So I got out my little book and wrote
'A lady is drawing me on the tube...'

Monday, March 24, 2008

Chinese Comic Art and Pizza

Just got back from the South Bank, where I met up with McSis and Little Bruv for a pizza. Who should be at the restaurant but Paul Gravett, who used to publish Escape Magazine. He hasn't changed a bit, and he recognised me so I am optimistic that perhaps I am not looking as ghastly as all that. Escape was a really funky little comic book with a very unusual outlook. I suppose it isn't around any more. It was nice to see that Paul's still about.
He has been organising an exhibition of Chinese comic art- rather unfortunate given the Chinese Government's appalling behaviour in Tibet. I am not sure whether to go along to it or not. I'm certain it's nothing to do with the Chinese artists; but I've found it hard to understand the amount of organisations prepared to do business with China after Tianenman Square. It's one of those mixed moral dilemmas. Art, science, sport, medicine all shouldn't have boundaries, should they? But it was the sporting boycott that broke South Africa in the end, I believe. I think I will probably go to take a look, but do something positive to support Tibet at the same time.
Somebody told me that the Dalai Lama used to go and stay at Bid's house in Tooting (him from the Monochrome Set) with his mum and dad,. I wonder if that's true?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Love on the Wind

It's funny, I spent ages yesterday trying to work out how to edit a dvd I got sent by the Bar Latina- I wanted to try to put just one song on Youtube, but I gave up in the end because I couldn't work out how to import it into the iLife edit suite for choppage. So you won't be able to see what I look and sound like unless you come to a gig.
Actually, the Newcastle gig was filmed and I'm just about to sned them some old Chefs/Helen and the Horns pix to put on the film too.
I've left that spelling mistake because the computer keeps putting red wiggly lines under what I write and I have decided to feature mis-spellings on purpose now just to get on it's wick. Wouldn't it be funny if Bill Gates got a little nip a bit like a flea bite every time one of his programmes annoyed someone? He'd be hopping about constantly, yelping and twitching. That'd teach him, the world-dominating horror!

I'm practising a new song for Glasgow Tron on Friday- I wrote it on the way up there last time, on the train. Guess what?
It's called the The Glasgow Train.
It kills my fingers though because it's all fast fingerpicking. I'll see how it goes. If the audience looks at me funny, I won't play it!
The blog's been suffering- firstly because I've been to tired from doing extra work to go out much (I missed Katy and Circulus on Thursday and Hamilton Yarns on Friday, although I did try to get to that one but was entirely scuppered by complex Tube peccadilloes and gave up two hours into my journey to Deptford). But also, when I had my phone nicked, I lost my neat little camera; however, I bought a second hand digital camera on Friday which is absolutely wizzo. I have photographed the entire contents of my room: McMum's teddy, Growler Bear, looks fabulous. I have photographed one of the cats because he was meowing and annoying me, but he wouldn't stand still so I have lots of photos of his tail as he disappears out of the frame. I have photographed a painting of some swans wings because I am going to make a collage of a mythical beast for the cover of Polyhymnia, with my face, although I look ugly at the moment from stress and lack of sleep so I'm gonna have to wait a few days to see if I magically transform into a photogenic person. But soon lovely photos will be appearing here again. Until then, here's the little Bonzo illustration from the Myspace version of 'Love on the Wind'.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Moderately disgusting

When I was about 21, I bought a length of cosy grey and pink tartan from a shop in Brighton.
The bedsit I lived in in Willesden was freezing, and I resorted to using my tartan as sheets on my bed, which worked a treat.
A couple of months later, I put on a variety show with Lester Square and I needed a costume. I took up my tartan sheets and made a skirt with bustle, matching jacket and beret with pom-pom. Needless to say, the necessity of washing the material first escaped me.
Perhaps not as bad as Big Bruv's fashion-girlfriend, who was the most glamorous woman in the whole art college. She confessed to me that she used to just climb into the bath with her clothes on when they were dirty, a two-in-one combo of washing herself and her clothing at the same time.
Incidentally, even the thoroughly gay Stuart Morgan (who sadly died a while ago) couldn't help fancying her. I remember him marvelling wide-eyed at the effect of her as she '...just peeled off her coat revealing those magnificent breasts...'.
She was also endearingly clumsy. We'd had a terrible night out at a dismal gig, and there were no parties that Saturday night. 'At least we have a bottle of wine', said Big Bruv, eyeing the bottle that his fashion-girlfriend was clutching. In that instant, she let go her grip, and the bottle crashed to the pavement, shattering into smithereens.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Well, one of the schools was finding it hard calling me McCookerybook; but I didn't want them to call me Reddington, as I'm ex-Reddington now. Nor should I be McCallum, my childhood name.
I remember writing music for a very serious feminist documentary once and the documentary makers begging me not to be McCookerybook on the end credits.

I've always rather liked having interchangeable names; or rather, I did until the bank refused to let me sign the name McCookerybook even though I had a bank card with that name on it for my bank account.

Would the publishers have taken my book proposal seriously if I had been called Helen McCookerybook?
I definitely didn't want to be a Reddington who made music; that wouldn't have joined up with the past of the woman who made music with The Chefs, would it?

Hum drum tickety-gum, what's in a name? They are just labels with links that people use to categorise each other.
I think it's brill to have a few, and I'm sure Joby Jackson/Visigoth aka Philip Cripps would agree.
And Johnny Rotten, Dick Damage, Palmolive, Poly Styrene, Lulu, Ringo Starr, Banksy and Elizabeth Windsor would too, to name just a few.

Busyness up North

What a knackering three days, but what fun! I have been a visiting songwriter in four schools in the north-east, at Prudhoe, Wylam, Ovingham and Stocksfield, writing a song with the Year Fours in each school. The other songwriter was Martin Stephenson, and we worked with the children and the teachers to write songs about dinner-ladies, teachers, football teams and best friends. They were fantastic children, so bouncy and such good singers, and we managed to complete the songs in each school, toiling over huge sheets of paper, writing phrases and lyrics, sticking them up on the wall and blasting away. I kept thinking I was going to lose my voice (and sometimes my temper) but it didn't happen. It was great doing it with Martin there, twice as many ideas and twice as much energy.
Rapid-response songwriting, it should be called.
Today has to be a Day of Rest, especially after that miserable train journey home on an unheated antique train (what's got into you, National Express? bring back GNER!) with loads of monstrous people bullying each other and the ghost of Tony Benn patrolling the aisles.
I have fallen back in love with Northumberland; I walked by the river Tyne where I used to be banished with the dog as a child for cheeking the McParents, saw where I used to go to Brownies in Ovingham, drank coffee in Prudhoe where we used to go swimming and go to the prefab library, and didn't recognise Stocksfield at all (perhaps there are two of them?)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Later that day

It's later this day actually, but that's not a common phrase.
I was walking about today thinking about walking about yesterday, and thinking about being a flaneur
I think the idea is that flaneurs are men, so I decided that perhaps I'm a flanette (Dale Spender is probably turning in her not-grave!)
Then I thought one better: I am a flanellette! Just like the cosy sheets!
Yee ha!


I've had two days of meetings, which although it's not my favourite activity, weren't too bad. Yesterday's was with some people from Channel 4 who are organising a debate about the arts in schools and I am going to take part because I Have Opinions.
Today is a day off in which I can catch up with things. One thing I'll start to do is to design the cover for the CD. Voiceprint are going to bring it out; I picked up more mixes from Tom last night which I'll listen to with a fine tooth comb (believe you me, it can be done, as John Noakes would say). It's going to be a collage, because I want it to be bright and positive and fun. There are not so many droopy tracks on this one because generally I am much happier, having made some life-changing decisions, but they have not all come into operation yet, so it is happier with a shade of grey looming in the background.
I did a great thing yesterday- I walked from Oxford Circus, down Carnaby Street and then through Old Compton Street (the gay men weren't out yet, although one or two were sleepily perusing the windows of Clone Zone), through Chinatown (it made me HUNGRY), through Covent Garden and on to Charing Cross with a cup of coffee to keep me warm; after the meeting I walked over the pedestrian bridge across the Thames to Waterloo. London can seem as though it belongs to you if you do a morning walk like this: there are not many people around and those who are make eye contact and actually look like people rather than elements of a crowd. You can also think; it's not too noisy now because the congestion charge has de-trafficked the streets to some extent. There is just so much to see. Everyone seems to be putting things together for the day, vans delivering, men shouting to each other and thumping brown cardboard boxes about shutters rattling up, pairs of smart young women in uncomfortable shoes in a hurry, colours, colours, colours; you can float through it and explore it without leaving a trace behind you. When you're done, it feels as though time has stopped briefly and you are refreshed and excited about things again.

So now I'm wondering; I could do a little tour of the UK round about August. I wold love to play some festivals. I think if Carl and myself sorted out the Chefs CD and artwork we could do that too so we should meet up and get rolling. There are other bulbs blooming in my head; I was sent the DVD of the show I played at the Bar Latina (what a fabby venue) and some of it is not bad so perhaps I should chop some of it out and put on Youtube.

On Monday, I'm starting work on four songs with three Primary Schools in Northumberland (including Wylam School, which is the one I went to and got the sh*t shaken out on me by Mrs Herdman, along with 39 other tiny frightened children). It's going to be hard work but I am certain it's going to be fun.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Creativity through Chaos

I met up with Daniel Coston, the photographer, and his partner Sandra, who were over from Charlotte to have a typical English Holiday. So they got the March rain and March wind before going off Queen-spotting (not that sort, silly). We sat and talked about the Zombies, who they'd seen twice at the weekend. Apparently they played one of my all-time fave tracks, Say You Don't Mind, with the original string arrangement; I would love to have been there.
Later, I went over to visit Rachel Davies. She makes great films and has just finished an installation based on Manchester Girls' Choir; she was a member years ago and had found lots of other ex-members to create the music with. It was an open choir, who were so dedicated that they even won the Eistedfodd in Wales one year. Our lives are chaotic at the moment, but we still managed to whizz up some frothy exciting ideas. She is a film-maker who makes films like songs, and I am a songwriter who writes songs like films, so there's an in-between bit to what we do that we think we will make something with. I always leave her with my head buzzing like a spring bee.
Last night, I had an absorbing evening looking at the storyboards and short stories of a potential songwriter that I will be mentoring over the next few months. It will be fascinating and I realiase it's going to be an experience that teaches me a lot too.
And this morning? After a surprisingly painful but brief hospital experience, I plundered TK Maxx and came away with all sorts of unsuitable clothing which I will terrify my family with over the coming weeks.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Side Cafe

I really enjoyed last night's gig at the Side. Beforehand Shippy did n interview which was filmed for a promo, but what I said was really silly I think. I was too much fun.
The world's most courteous barman works there- what a change from the Rude Restaurant Manager at Viva Viva who marches across the sightline clanking plates, stomping his feet and jangling the keys in his back pocket! This guy squeezed fresh orange juice and showed us into a quiet room before the gig.
The crowd was small but friendly and listeny- seems like the tummy bug got a few people but Robson Green (the pretend one who is better than the real one) turned up with his parents and friend, and they were a very merry crew indeed. The audience laughed at my jokes, which was a relief because I always laugh at them selfishly myself and it disguised the fact I was doing that. Because it was being filmed, I made a mistake in every song (I have a video of me and Paul playing Horns songs in Berlin, and one of us completely messes up each song in turn, so I can't use it for anything). I really enjoyed it though; I wore my party clothes and got into my gig in a big way (that's what it's called- Rag, our tour manager in the Horns, bought himself cowboy gear to 'get into his gig' as our roadie). Gemma who runs the night played beforehand and she has a lovely cool clear voice, and I want to help her get some gigs about the place.
What else? Martin Stephenson, on his way to Hartlepool today, joined me for the last three songs (I will have to show him how to play more of them). It was a jolly night all round. I am knackered cos I drove back today.
Oh yes, and I had a Mark Toney ice cream in the Grainger Market. Perfect Bliss, since you ask.
Megane has done a remix of The Word is Goodbye:

Friday, March 07, 2008


I'm waiting for the car to come back from the menders so I can go to Newcastle. I'm having meetings about a schools song writing project (Prudhoe, Stocksfield, Ovingham and Wylam, where I went to school) and also playing at the Side Gallery tomorrow evening. I think it's going to be fun.
So no postings for a couple of days, then a very busy Monday planting creative seeds about the place (don't that sound pretentious! but what else can I say when I'm in secretive mode?)

Thursday, March 06, 2008


I got in exhausted from work and made myself a lovely big cup of tea and put it on the floor next to me to cool down a bit.
The cat came over, sat down, and looked at it for a while.
'Atchoo!' he sneezed.
'The cat's sneezed into your tea', said everybody.
I made myself another cup of tea.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

McDad and the Pips

Every morning, McDad lathered his face to sticky whiteness with shaving cream, his mouth picked out bright red, before he slid the razor across his face and scraped thick pink tracks through the snow.

At seven, Radio 4 broadcast The Pips
Aaaah! sang McDad
Aaaaah! sang McDad, an octave lower
Aaaaah! he sang a note a third above, with his mouth wide open and a serious expression on his face.
Aaaah! he chose a random pitch this time, sung earnestly to the steamy mirror.
Aaaaah! he practised his falsetto, fruitily
Aaaah! rich baritone, warmed up by now
Aaaaaaaaaaah! he emitted a final powerful and dramatic sigh

That's how I knew it was time to get up.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The Blue Peter tortoise is waking up and kicking at its cardboard box with its blunt scaly tootsies, and the world starts to force its eyes open and stretch and shiver after winter.
Always excited by small things, the fact that 'Love on the Wind' has been played 92 times in the couple of days since I put it on Myspace is thrilling me to bits.
The Chefs cd is going to happen; other exciting things are around in the air. It might snow; it might not. Faladay!
I realise I had understimated the Importance of Me. Joby called again yesterday and was talking again about how I was the first ever female best man in Chelsea Registry Office, and how it was mentioned in Vogue. What a lifetime's achievement for Me!!!
I must make Myself a t-shirt and wear it on all occasions when I feel threatened by my complete lack of gravitas.
Ah Me!

Monday, March 03, 2008


Apparently, someone asked Gina, while Mick Jones was singing, if that was the Vicar.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are playing in Maidstone tonight. I had been going to brave the drive and rope in Brother Tobias and his Family. But I'm too knackered. Do go if you live in Maidstone, and tell me what they are like live. I was given their CD when I was in North Carolina and I think they are great. I would love to see them play.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

An Afternoon in Church

What fun it was this afternoon! St Peter's Church was thronging with peeps; it was a benefit organised to raise funds to build an orphanage in Ghana for the children whose parents have died of Aids.
As soon as I got there, I was on; Three Little Fishies in the Itty Bitty Pool. Gina's oldest girl, who is about 8, got up with her own pint-sized microphone and sang along. I went through the tiny repertoire to the audience of tiny children who sang through their mouthfuls of chocolate muffin. Then Gina did a couple of Gina-songs, the second of which was 'I'm Glad I'm Me Today', a song I really love; she had films too, projected on a fabric screen stretched across the nave. I sat behind the screen and pressed 'play', and watched and listened to the show from behind.
Next up was the Hampton Gurney School Choir, with a great song about monsters that I wish I'd written; then there was a band with a bodhran and a fiddle who were good, but I'd spotted my mate Rachel Davies in the crowd, and I hadn't seen her for five years, and she had a lovely partner and also a baby boy, and it was just so great to see her again.
She made one of the films for Voxpop Puella, and finished a film about Manchester Girls' Choir a while ago. I used to do music for some of her films; her best one, though was one from after then called 'Gold', about girl gymnasts, and it is one of the most perfectly observed documentaries I have ever seen- the pleasure of little things like the spirals of dust lit by a sunbeam, rising from the container that the girls dip their hands into to help their grip on the ropes; and the way they look at each other out of the corners of their eyes, something that all teenage girls do, but you didn't notice it till Rachel filmed it.
So that was it.. chatting, until the Dirty Curtains appeared, a three-piece rock band of 13 year old boys, whose mums were there cramping their style like nobody's business. They started with a Johnny Cash cover, catching the beat-bounce in all the wrong places but rescuing themselves just in time for the next verse. Their own songs were much better, helped by the fact that they'd got the pose right before they even started.
'Turn it up!' shouted one to the sound man.
'It's up as high as it goes', lied the sound man.
'I don't think they are angry enough', said Rachel. I imagined their middle class cupboards stuffed with Coco-Pops and their freezers stuffed with rainy-day chilli. I don't think they'd starved for their guitars.
Suddenly, Mick Jones got up on stage and started to sing 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Fifty delighted daddies got out their mobiles and started filming.
I wonder if Mick Jones could have imagined this thirty years ago, standing on stage backed by a 13-year-old rock outfit, singing to a churchful of babies?

On the way back, an ostentatious silver car sped down the street, its hazard lights flashing. It was Simon Cowell.
I have news for you Simon: I do not regard you as a hazard, merely a sad squelch whose trousers do nothing to flatter you.