Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Irrepressibles (and a bit of McCookerybook)

Off down to Offline at the Albert. to sing a few songs for Em's birthday do.
For the first time, rather than the punters talking ever-louder as my set progressed, they actually listened (a lot of them) and some even made a special effort to come over to take a look. As Mike told me last night, I'm probably the quietest act he's ever put on at the Albert, and I felt that I more than survived the experience. The night at the Albert was in full swing but I had an appointment elsewhere, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. It's been ages since I've seen Jamie and double-ages since I've seen the Irrepressibles play, so I was really looking forward to this.
In spite of the sound-man's attempts to ruin the sound from time to time, the band is just so good they could rise above anything. They are well-rehearsed, dedicated (they all believe in the vision), very good musicians and fascinating to watch. They really care about what they are doing but not so much that they are pompous and silly (yes, flute-player, I saw you giggling; but you are a true professional and managed to giggle only with the side of your face that was facing the band, not the audience: howudothat?).
Jamie has a world-class, powerful and emotive voice, bang on key wherever he is in his range, which weaves and swerves and meanders through the luscious orchestration (double bass, cello, viola, violin, flute, soprano sax, keyboards and kit), holding it all together like a silken rope. He's funny too. 'Thank you for coming' he said. A few of us got the joke. Another time, he adjusted the mic; the audience anticipated great words. He coughed into it.
The songs themselves are like subversive Bond themes- huge songs that hit you with waves of dynamic sound. My favourite last night was 'Boy in the Lake', the best Jamie-song, which has a new arrangement that is playful and oblique, but it doesn't mask the mesmerising beauty of the song.
I'd prefer to see them in their raggedy old jumpers and trainers than all dressed up in false eyelashes and slap; but I know this puts them into an art-rock category that they need in order to be successful. He used to be my student, you know. Boy am I proud of him!

On the way there, I saw a woman who inspired me to make myself a t-shirt saying 'CUTS OWN HAIR'. It was her fringe that did it. I'm one of those as well, unforchly.


Mike's put a pic of the Railway gig at
Review of Irrepressibles at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to come later.....

Friday, May 30, 2008


I went round to see Gina this morning and saw the film she made about the trip to Uganda that people from her Church made to build houses for children orphaned by AIDS and the war. It's a fabulous film- that part of Uganda is full of colour: bright green vegetation, trees and plants, bright blue sky and bright red mud roads, plus hand painted signage everywhere the camera pointed. Especially funny was a beautician's sign that advertised all sorts of treatments, plus a miracle from God to make the woman beautiful. Twenty Brits went, from the age of 68 down to 5, and the film is full of singing and mud. There are the teenagers, trying to sulk until they discover drawing on their legs in scarlet clay; the youngest children, Honey and Lei Lei, splodge mortar on to the bricks as they carefully position them on to a wall that proper builders corner and finish. The bricks are made one by one with a manual brick-making machine, painstakingly piled in the sun to dry for three days. There is a lot of music; Gina composed a song for the helpers to sing to the African builders. A baboon shiftily gobbles up a banana, looking from left to right constantly, like a gangster. Teachers describe the school; toddlers topple off paths as they make their way home to the completed houses. The orphaned children talk a little bit about their past lives and how happy they are to be loved and looked after
It's a film full of beauty, love and optimism, the last things you'd normally associate with Africa. I was bowled over.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Mike just texted me to say they were playing a Helen and the Horns track on BBC Radio 6- it was 'Footsteps At My Door' and I think it was Ian from Nude magazine who requested it. He will be getting a special preview copy of 'Poetry and Rhyme' for that!
It was really exciting hearing it- reminded me of the old days when I used to feel embarrassed when John Peel played '24 Hours'. He played it loads and I was convinced it was because he felt sorry for me. It was only ages afterwards that I realised he genuinely liked it; he was actually really fussy about what he played and never played anything he didn't like.

Young Maaan!

Assumptions, assumptions!
I've just had a hilarious loyal customer call from Mojo mag, asking for Dr Reddington.
They had a special offer- Q, Arena or Empire for a quid for three months.
The young man on the phone was utterly confused.
'Sorry, I thought it Was Dr Reddington who was the subscriber...'
Oops, young man, oops!
'It's just that I thought with Mojo being a music magazine...'
Oops, oops, young man, oops, oops!

I was very nice, considering.

Morning Thoughts

Alas, eBay bidders were not impressed by my sewing machine that sews by itself* (no bids) my teasmade (£5.00) or my King Kurt t-shirt (£2.40), so I shan't be moving to L.A. as planned.
Instead, I shall be playing at Offline this Friday for Em's birthday (on at 9.00) before, I hope, whizzing up the road to see the Irrepressibles play at the Vauxhall Tavern. And then on Saturday, it's the Troubador in Earl's Court with Daniel Takes a Train.
Meanwhile I have had to wash every single bit of clothing I own, after a couple of moths guiltily fluttered out from the jeans pile. They are on the line now, fluttering in the drizzle (moths or clothes? You choose). There's a Help-the-Aged donation bag downstairs, giving me encouraging looks. I suppose... no clothes, no moths, right? I'll give it a thought.
That's it for now. The day awaits, and I am going to do a bit o' singing and playing today.

*it's terrifying. I left it alone once for a mere 5 minutes and when I came back with my cup of tea I could hear it buzzing away all on it's own. I was too frightened to go into the room at first.
Later, I was told that it had probably overheated and short-circuited. This may be true , as there was a strong aroma of burnt electrics, but it's worked since. Perhaps it was operated by a passing ghost?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Funnily Enough

I pootled down to the Price Albert in Coldharbour Lane to catch a bit of Offline's new acoustic and comedy night.
Funnily enough, as I walked up to talk to Mike, he was talking about me to the proprietor of the Railway in Tulse Hill (that's Tulse Hill, not Gipsy Hill, btw) who had done a Google and found my review of the gig the other night. He said he didn't mind the Oxfam-shop analogy, so that was OK.
Vic Lambrusco (Santa's evil nephew) was hosting with his usual cross humour- he always reminds me of a man with an annoying fly buzzing around his head. He was mirror-mirrored by Joe Cairo (top), who outMitchelled Phil and Grant and who was even angrier and more aggressive than Vic, but just as funny. I liked his 'poem' (more of a Cavalry charge) about the dream in which he was discussing all sorts of flowers with Alan Titchmarsh in his garden shed, before dispatching him with a spade. There was quite a lot of testosterone-fuelled poetry last night, and poor Oscar Wilde must be turning in his violet-strewn grave. I can foresee a time when wars will be won and lost through aggro-poetry, with each country pitting their most Alpha poet against each other to see who cries first and loses. The baying crowd won't be able to resist throwing in rhyming couplets to encourage their champion. Ha ha!
I was really pleased to be able to see most of Salt and Blue's set before rushing for the last tube. They are a woman hurdy-gurdy player and a male cellist, whose material is traditional French, English and American folk, both instrumentals and songs. The hurdy-gurdy is a fascinating instrument to listen to- I first heard one played by the seven-piece man-band Admiral's Hard a couple of years ago. The singer of Salt and Blue has a real folksinger's voice, pure, but it's not grating and it blends in beautifully with the sound of the hurdy-gurdy and the cello, which is played in amore experimental than traditional way. I thought it was lovely and the whole evening was well worth the long trip down from the far north; Mike's nights are always good- he cares so much about the different acts he puts on and you can go along by yourself and feel entirely at home, which I like.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Eurovision 2008

I wonder if this is the first review of Eurovision 2008? It's just that I can't be bothered to wait for the bit where everybody votes for each other's best friend no matter how crappy the song is.
I actually found it really absorbing this year, helped by the fact that the British song wasn't too bad and the fact that Andy Abrahams looked like a genuine performer instead of trying to send it up, which the British entry often tries to do, all alone in it's arrogant little bubble while everyone else is streets ahead and stopped sending it up years ago. It's a fierce competition nowadays, and this was the year of the mini-drama, all feathers, fire and shiny fringing.
Denmark's song was the poppiest and it had a sort of Donovan vibe; the one that I liked best was France's, which was weird in a nice way. El Chiki Chiki by Spain- well Jonathan King, I know you're in there somewhere. Did you lose a bit of weight in jail? Turkey's was fronted by the devil himself (mmm, scary!), Russia had an ice skater to distract us from their song, 'I believe in shoe', Sweden's was horrid with the best example of unfeasibly high heels and unfeasibly hairless armpits (de rigeur for many countries) of the evening. The winner should be Norway, who had a good song, a good singer, and whose show looked good in an elegant way.
So may of them had had lessons in how to look at the camera, how to hold the mic, how to smile and sing at the same time, how to move: they were trained, trained, trained.
Wogan was a hoot as usual. To the guys in the Green Room, running towards the camera with their big microphones and silly smiles, the wacky ones, he advised, 'That's it, shout as loud as you can! It's FUN!!!"

Looking for Primrose Hill

I had always wondered where it was so I went to find it.
It took ages; I drove through an area with the most amazing posh red-brick victorian villas, so posh they even had their own atmosphere; they had turrets, some of them, and stained glass windows, and they were so immense and secret that I was breathless with awe. I got to the end of the street, and there was a tube station with, apparently, no name. Aha, I thought, they even have their own private secret tube station that nobody knows about.
Turns out it was Swiss Cottage, or Swiss Poshage as I shall call it from now on.

Primrose Hill materialised just as I convinced myself I was lost and should go home. I parked and walked up to the top of it. the view was perfect- all of London, the wheel, the Telecomms tower, everything, all lit up in weird hues at dusk. there was a group of young people sitting playing Beatles songs on toy guitars and a mandolin, singing in harmony. A Goth girl shared her fags with a tall Rasta on a bike. Three teenage girls sat beside me on the bench drinking alcopops. A jogger adjusted his shoelaces.
It was peaceful and restorative, and I walked back when I'd had enough.
Next stop was the all-night Tescos at the North Circular. The aisles were clogged with trolleys as dazed staff stacked shelves; me and the East-Europeans yawned and got in each others way, our faces peeled by fluorescent lighting. I bought twelve tins of chopped tomatoes and failed to buy catfood (sorry Charlie). The cashier was unnaturally friendly for that time of night- I couldn't cope.
Back in my car I chewed on an elastic croissant, and crawled back home thinking about the view from the top of Primrose Hill.

Imagine Elton John

I was sitting in the car at the traffic lights, listening to what I thought was a track by Elton booming out of the next-door car.
Oh no it wasn't!
It was John Lennon's 'Imagine'
I realised that Elton's made a whole career out of developing Lennon's womb-chord piano style and his whiny singing, following it this way and that like the branches of a piano tree.
Lucky old him.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Peter's Party

On Tuesday I drove all the way to Brighton for Peter's 50th birthday do. It was a sunny, beautiful evening and I caught a brief spell looking at the sea from the beach in Hove; the sea was the most incredible shade of greeny blue, or bluey green, and looked like liquid jade.
It was a Hawaiian themed party, to which I turned up in my 1960s drip-dry red and green tartan dress. Aw shucks, just call it style and look the other way. Peter was buzzing; he'd been given a ukelele and some more extraordinary gifts, including a pottery mug that looked like it had Easter Island heads on it. People had fake leis festooned around their necks and the bar was decorated in true Tiki style- a bit like the Beat Route in Soho used to be, though probably more fireproof! Blow me if Nick Pearson wasn't there, he of the 'Frighteners' that featured in Shingles magazine back in 1979, little poems you could order from him to send to a friend, anonymously. There was a rockabilly band, rockabillying away and looking painfully stylish, and lots of excited chatter, partly from me, I have to say. Alas, fearing the coach turning into a pumpkin on the strike of twelve, I sped back home just as the joint started jumping, a bushel of loud shirts screaming at each other as I left. Worth the journey? Well worth it. Happy Birthday Peter, many happy returns!

Silly Helen gets lost, but a good evening anyway

I suffered for my idiocy.
It took three hours to get to Gipsy Hill, during which time I got stuck on a box junction after driving through an amber light (I'm waiting for the fine as we speak) and then driving into the congestion zone by accident after being confused by all the diversions (thus necessitating a phone call to pay by card when I got to the gig). My car was all the time making alarming creaking noises, telling me at was going to shortly cost thousands of pounds in repair bills.
After rushing up and down Gipsy Hill and asking in every pub I came to, I realised that the gig was, in fact, at Tulse Hill, and I had to employ guesswork and Mc-nav to get myself there and not shout (you know how it is when you make a humungously stupid mistake and only have yourself to blame, how you wish so much that it was someone else's fault so you could target your explosion at them!)
Ah for the calm! The Railway at Tulse Hill has something of the Oxfam-shop about it so I felt instantly at ease. Ingrid Andrew was setting up, with Leon, her soundman; musicians were arriving and chatting peacefully in different corners of a room that seemed to have more corners than most. People strummed bits of songs without interfering with each other's zone. A brief check, and we were off. Johan had come all the way from Sweden to see me play, and I hoped the evening wouldn't disappoint him.
Ingrid played a song to begin, and then the first guest took to the stage, a woman with a powerful and impressive voice that resonated around the whole room; she was mesmerising and set a high standard for the evening. She was followed by Cath Tait (above), a comedienne and musician whom I've played with before at the Bar Latina in Tottenham. She was on form tonight, balancing casual cynicism with sensitivity of style, so her material had a subtlety that kept it engaging. Sometimes relentless comedy makes me shut down, but her approach was relaxed and varied, and her presentation style was confident but laid back enough to allow people to listen; she's wise enough not to be the party bore, but to pull people into her very funny songs instead. Excellent, and very entertaining.
Me? I took my watch off. I guessed Joan Armatrading was a lesbian when I saw her perform on TV with her watch on; it showed a comtempt for style that singled her out as a 'different' artist. I don't care whether people think I'm a lesbian or not, but taking my watch off is a symbol of how much I care about my songs. This new start to my playing career means a hell of a lot to me. The only problem was, I left the bloody tocker at the gig and didn't realise till I looked at my blank wrist on the way home!
Anyway, I played four songs- Bad Day, Love on the Wind (made a mistake, grrr!), London (best I've ever played it- it's such a hard song to play but I have been practicing it like mad), and Memento Mori. It was a listening audience and I was mindful of the fact that Johan had come such a long way. I hope it was worth it. Johan!
Ingrid recited a poem and sang a song again- she has her own individual style, there is no-one like her. She's full of bonhomie and good vibes. I had a yak with Mike and Emerald- Mike was just off to DJ at the Windmill in Brixton.
Then it was home-time; I missed the rest because I was so anxious about getting back, although it looked like it was going to be a really stimulating night.
The traffic lights were on my side, the endorphins were doing their job, and I even remembered to eat when I got home so I didn't wake up in the night starving.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gipsy Hill

Playing tonight at the Railway pub in Gipsy Hill, right next to the train station. It's a night of poets, songwriters and so on and costs £3 to get in, money goes to charity.
Come along if you can.
I will write about Peter's party tomorrow when I've got my Tiki-hat on!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Getting My House in Order

Well, nobody wants to buy the house, but that doesn't mean I can't get it in order. I've raided the loft and put a Teasmade,a sewing machine and a King Kurt t-shirt on Ebay. I have cleaned it and preened it, and gardened the little bit outside the front door, wielding the shears like a superbeing, after being shamed by the sight of a tiny neat old lady down the road sculpting her hedge with a power-device.
It all looks spick and span.
I have masses of comics to sell, obscure titles like Neil the Horse, but that involves lots of taking photos and I'm still rolling through 108 songs. I listened to 54 yesterday and might do more today but I feel I need an Ears Rest.
The clothes and books go to the charity shops; all I have to learn now is not to exit with as much as I enter with!

There's a song writing thing down at the South Bank tomorrow but it looks a bit rapper-ish and I'm tired of all that male arrogance and bravado. There seems no subtlety and I find it sinister that morals and attitudes are being controlled so much by lyrics. I have talked to some teenage girls about it and they seem to have that attitude that it's other girls that are the slags and sluts and bitches and hos referred to in the songs. Well, girls, you may feel like that but the guy's don't and they are the ones in control!

Mike called yesterday full of plans, plans, plans and it was nice to talk to him. He has a new night starting on Tuesday next week at the Prince Albert in Brixton that sounds worth a shot.
Meanwhile, Carl, if you read this, please get in touch as it is time we sorted this Chefs compilation out for once and for all. Let's get on with it, it won't take long and we can release it in September.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Girl Guides

Someone from Senegal two weeks ago, someone from India today: Myspace does the backpackers trip I couldn't afford to go on, but didn't want to anyway because I was screeching and thudding away in a punk band.
Something reminded me... I used to work as a volunteer for the Girl Guides. Once, a woman was standing outside the church hall in the dark with a miniature horse. It was bring-your-pet week.
It was delightfully unsound. One week, bats came, with their handlers. There'd just been a massive scare about rabies and bats, but Mr and Mrs Guide leader didn't care a hoot (or should that be a radar-twitter?) about a silly old thing like safety. I made cranachan once, which disappeared almost before it was made.
We had a mad trip to Trent Park, where we lit about six bonfires amongst the dead leaves under the trees, and cooked bacon and fried bread.The bacon didn't cook properly and a lot of it fell into the leaf mould to be scooped up and returned to the pan, but even the delicate little vegan guides greedily scoffed it all as the open air hit them. Mrs Guide leader just vaguely twinkled her glasses in the dusk and let everyone get on with it.
The highlight, I think, was Carol Singing in the Retirement Home. I took my guitar and happily improvised around high-speed versions of carols sung mainly out of tune and off-key, and the Guides held sheaves of photocopied carols in one hand and fast-burning candles in the other, which dripped hot wax all over their fingers at the same time as setting the carol sheets on fire. The elders loved it; the Guides wrinkled up their noses and complained of a smell of wee, but I'm sure they learned something from it.
I did. There was a poor old lady with Alzheimer's, thinking the bus was coming along any minute to take her home. I learned that there are lots of things more important than shopping, exams, getting there on time and hierarchies of all descriptions. Sometimes the moment is perfect; little things in life are a blessing while we have our faculties to appreciate them with. We all abide by rules which are made up often to spoil our lives by distracting us from the best things in life, which of course are free.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


You've no idea what it means to me at my time of life
To hold a young baby in these arms of mine
My pacemaker's ticking my heart to the grave
But new life's reminding an old man that he can smile

The roll-up's a part of my smoke-pickled face
My flat cap's askew and my specs need a clean
I don't like anyone who wasn't born in my street
But here is your baby
So small and so sweet

New life, new life
New life, new life
The baby and the old, old man

He died on my doorstep that dull Christmas Eve
A man full of hatred, a man full of love
A baby cut through to the human inside
His eyes filled with tears at the thought of new life

New life, new life
New life, new life
The baby and the old, old man

Friday, May 16, 2008

Watch out!

By the way, someone gave me one of those nice guitar tuners that clip on to the headstock of your guitar. I had it in the zip-up pocket on the ouiside of my gig-bag, on my back, and I was travelling in the rush hour. By the time I got home, some one had been in there and filched it.

Wandrin' Friday

Toora-loora, down to Tottenham Court Road and into Rare and Vintage Guitars to ask if it's OK to do some photos there next week. I was delighted that Flea knows me anyway so that's all sorted- it's such a funky shop, all oldfashioned and non-hi-tech, just the job.
I wandered through Covent Garden in to the Diesel shop to see if they had those olive green overalls, but they didn't. There was a remarkable headless sales assistant lounging on a seat that I discovered was a shop dummy, but I'd been impressed for a second or two until I realised.
I looked in Paul Smith Women- too posh and lady like for me, and the Tintin shop, aimed at chaps and not tomboys (verily, we are two different breeds) and the Camper shoe shop (too little-girly, I'm afraid). I passed Stanford Maps and thought what fun it would be to use their stuffed world-map globes as cushions on my non-existent sofa.
So the next scheduled stop was meeting my friend and mentor Dave Laing in a tapas restaurant. I had never had tapas before, but I have now and it's nice. Dave is always full of news about mutual friends, usually academic ones, and he is also a writer (who is working on a book about Elton John at the moment). He's the person who wrote possibly the best book on punk, One Chord Wonders, which I hope will be re-printed in the near future. He is a very good writer who manages to write about some quite complex academic theories while at the same time being very entertaining. His section in the book on tartanry- the style of singing that Johnny Rotten ( I am an anarchiste-AH!) shares with vintage Scottish singer Harry Lauder (roamin'-ah in the gloamin'-ah!) had me laughing my boots off.
Which reminds me, I must polish up my Andy Stewart sings Edith Piaf routine: ah, that wink and the kilt-flicking leg!
Here I am back home, lounging, having employed a cleaner for the first time in my life. I used to be one, you see, and it's hard to have someone do it in your own house. But she's better than me and those 8-hour cleaning stints were killing me on top of working.
What shall I have for tea? Stuffed world-map globes, doncha know, with aioli dressing (whatever the f*ck that is), yum yum!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Well it's funny...

Yes- Paul Davey's other band from the 1980s, Daniel Takes a Train, have had a revival as part of Virgin Radio's 'Where are they now' feature. They have got into the last three of a competition to be the wherest were they nowest, and have to record a couple of jingles, which they did at Tom's yesterday evening, a version of Wild Thing and a version of Valerie, to be judged by The Zutons next Wednesday. What's so weird is that I mentioned them here a week or so ago, because it was their lead singer who went to see Mon Fio in Stoke Newington after hearing their soundcheck. Daniel Takes a Train are doing a gig in Earl's Court on the 31st of this month, and they have asked me to play too- and they asked Mon Fio, but they are busy, which is a pity.

Joby, I hope you have recovered after your fall from your wheelvehicle. At least these disasters give us material to write about in our blogs. Sometimes, I wonder what came first, the incident or the blog?

I was going to tell you about the frying Guides in the woods but I'll leave that till another time.


Ah Jimlad, I've just managed to wangle some glorious privacy in this house of hysteria!
I've uploaded a new song, Little England, which was recorded in Ross-shire in the studio in the house in the middle of the field.
This nano-oasis of peace has saved the day. I got lost in Stratford this morning, suburb of Hell- I bumped into a friend later in Docklands and was musing on whether it was the grey drizzle that did it, but he said he'd been there on a lovely sunny day and I was still horrible. Two old fellers, residents, advised me to hang on to my bag as they gave me directions to the station. As I walked through the nasty mall, I was followed by two teenage girls who were moaning endlessly about the way people walked. I thought they were talking about me but their complaints became far too elaborate for a simple trotter like me; when they overtook, one of them walked diagonally in front of me, bashing me with her bag, and slowed down- almost exactly the pedo-style she'd been grumping about.
I'm not going there for me hols, that's for sure.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cedar Hearts

After being at the studio in Wood Green, I went over to London Metropolitan University at Arsenal to talk about my book.
I got there early and popped into the ironmonger's because I saw some cedar hearts in the window and the house is full of moths. I was chatting to the shop man about music because I had my guitar on my back,and he asked me what I played. I told him I was a song writer, and we chatted about Jules Holland (he'd been a customer in his father's shop in Blackheath). Eventually, I got one of my CDs out of my bag to give to him as a present. He asked to pay for it- so he sold me a packet of cedar hearts and I sold him a CD!


It's a restless time, finishing a CD. Yesterday I called Carol and asked her to do a photo- I want to do it in Rare and Vintage Guitars in Denmark Street so I'll have to call them. Carol is one of only three people who I don't mind taking pix of me- Mike Slocombe and Martin Stephenson are the others. Everybody else wants to steal my soul, I know it, and they must keep away.
Today's task is to go into the studio and finalise the master copy.
Oh, it will be a nuisance. I want to edit one song to make it shorter, remix another again and crucially, change the order of songs. I want to put one of the strange ones first. I had been listening and listening and couldn't work out what was wrong, and I realise that although the best song was first, it may well not be the best version of it that I can ever possibly manage. So I moved tracks around and re-listened and re-listened.....
So what's going first is a song that was a reject from the first CD that I have worked on to make it have a lovely atmosphere. And the track starts with a bang.

After that, I'm getting the bus to London Metropolitan University where I'm doing a talk about the book to some students. It's funny, as soon as I had finished the book it seemed as though it was someone else's and not mine, probably because I have never thought of myself as a writer but also possibly because it is a tribute to so many other people. So it feels like I'm going to talk about someone else's project and how they did it!
I've also been distance-mentoring a songwriter from the north east (hi Robson!) and his first song is nearly finished. I've just written the chords out and I'm posting them to him today; then tomorrow I pick up 108 songs written by the students at the University of the West to listen to and give written feedback.

Meanwhile, outside it's birds, birds, birds. I keep wanting to phone people and say 'Listen to the blackbird!'. They are such good tunesmiths- I've written before about how a blackbird wrote most of the solo for 'Freight Train' that I did with Helen and the Horns. Oh, you tar-feathered tunesmen and tunesladies, you are clever buggers and you make me smile, because you just can't stop and such joie-de-vivre is totally infectious.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I fell into the Oxfam shop at opening time to buy a cotton dress that looked cool as a cucumber; we'd had to knock hard on the door, the day's volunteer and I, to get the attention of the vaguely pottering chap inside.
Then I hopped on the tube and headed south.
I hadn't seen Jackie for almost 17 years, although I'd had family news about what she was doing, sometimes wildly exaggerated, as happens in extended families.
She has just published a book about her life with her mum in South East London, Pilgrim State; I hadn't known anything much about this life because when Jackie and I first met, she must have been about 13 and I was a couple of years younger. When you are little, your relatives appear to be arranged around you in a pattern that exists just for you; when they go away after visiting you, it's almost as though someone has removed their batteries and put them in a cupboard until next time. It takes a long while to grow out of this illusion, and it is fascinating eventually to get to know and understand them as real people with real life trajectories.
Jackie is one of three of my foster-cousins (see! I'm possessing them already!); my remarkable Auntie Clare fostered them as well as raising her own three children in a big house in Blackheath. We are all part of a rambling family that seems to sprout another flower wherever you look.
We had a lot to catch up on and we sat in the sun and ate raspberries and drank tea, discovering that we have much in common, especially by both becoming accidental authors at this time in our lives.
I will write more about her book when I have read it, this summer.
Later, I travelled to Custom House to visit a student from the University of the East, who has created drama and music clubs in a big primary school as part of her work experience. It was fiendishly hot and humid by then, and I stayed long enough to see that she is confident and authoritative and the children like her, before heading home and deflating in the heat like a punctured ball.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Raunds Music Festival

I played at Raunds Music Festival last night, invited by Martin Stephenson to support him. It's a lovely little town, and the gig was in a sort of mega-village-hall; the stage was decorated with lots of painted and decorated Doc Marten's, to celebrate the fact that one of the very early protest marches, even before the Jarrow march, set off from Raunds. The audience was lovely- they weren't expecting me, I wasn't on the bill, but it was a listening night and they were all sitting at tables smiling with their beer. Some even had teenagers doing their GCSE homework with them. It was one of those nights when you get into the zone as a singer; I wanted to be good because Martin had invited me to play and I didn't want to let him down so I tried to sing my absolute best and play as well as I could.
I watched Martin's set- he played a song I hadn't heard before, about Margaret Thatcher, almost a funky rhythm, and finished with Boat to Bolivia, which he doesn't play much solo but it was brilliant. It was a really friendly night and I am so glad to have played there: it was a proper community venue with everyone out and smiling on a warm day.
Martin told me a very funny story about this guy who was an older musician, Freddie Fingers Lee, I think he was called. He did a gig with The Cure supporting him and he absolutely detested them, especially the one with lipstick all over his face, so when they were on stage he went and got his pea-shooter from his car and some aluminium pellets, and stood there backstage taking pot-shots at them all the way through their show, laughing with glee as Robert Smith looked round to see what had stung him on the back of his neck!
Ho-dark-ho, I couldn't help laughing.
I'd like to go and see The Band of Holy Joy tonight, and Dialect, the Geordie rappers, are supporting them, too, but it's so blooming hot and what if I got there and it was sold out and I just had to go home again. Know what I mean?
So instead I'll sit in my room and write a song to sing to people in the audience whose mobile phones go off while you're playing.
Or to those ones who talk all the way through perhaps.
Revenge songs.
Someone go an buy me a Magnum Classic, pleeeaaasse!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Are you OK, Rose?

I've been working away from Barnet and not in the toon much doing me shopping, but I haven't seen Rose, the Big Issue seller, for ages.
I know you read this sometimes, Rose.
Are you OK?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


The writings of Theodor Adorno are all the rage in universities, more so than any other cleverguy, and the other day I realised why.
I bought a book all about Philosophers and Thinkers, turned to the first page, and there he was, number one!
Just like the Abacus School of Driving in the Yellow Pages, the first driving school everyone calls because it's alphabetically advantaged!
Do you think that's why Abba became so mega-famous?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


There was this particularly annoying teenage bloke on the tube the other day, braying with all the confidence of one whose mummy washes their clothes for them. He was verbally overpowering his young female friend, mostly volume-wise, as she tried to assert a little female respect.
'AHA', he trumpeted triumphantly,
I don't suppose anyone had told him about Adam and Eve-olution, had they?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Planet Viva Viva

I hadn't wanted to go, but every time I play there there are loads of stories to tell so I went anyway.
The restaurant was entirely bank-holiday empty: just me, a guitarist from Brazil and a guitarist from Israel. The cook was looking mournful and the waiter was doubling as a soundman. But Montague Montgomery turned up and we decided to play just for him, and for each other. I volunteered to go first and sang my heart out, to the sky, to the street, to Australia,to Mars. As I was singing, who should walk in the door but Sean Mitchell, whom I haven't seen for years. He's a gospel singer who used to be a student at the University of the West; when I'd finished we listened to the Israeli singer, whose songs were dark and unusual. He told us he used to be in a punk band and his songs had that punk feel, but they were also melodically very interesting. And then the Brazilian guy got up, and treated us to some Beatles (nothing works for me since the Youtube Korean Baby singing 'Hey Jude'), but brilliantly, 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees, which he did a very funny rendition of, and then some Elvis and a couple of his own songs. He took off when a couple of Portugese men walked in, singing them a lovely song in Portugese, absolutely beautiful.
So there we were, in the deserted restuarant, a little group of people entertaining each other. It was odd, but lovely too. The chef came out to listen; the sound guy, Monty and the Israeli guy liked my songs; Sean and me liked the Israeli guy's songs; the chef, me and the Israeli guy liked the Brazilian guy's songs, and then I lent Sean my guitar and we all liked his songs. He hadn't been expecting to play but he sang and played really well.
Afterwards we all swopped Myspace addresses. the Israeli guy's one is Goy-something and he explained that Goy is a way of insulting non-Jews. So I sang 'Sing if you're glad to be Goy'.
We had all bonded on a muggy bank-holiday night in Hornsey. It was worth going after all.

Today, I've been walking in Lauderdale Park with Diana and her dogs. We haven't seen each other since January, because she's been away in India. She was filming the spring blossoms to send to India, and we lay on the grass and talked about life for a while in the sunshine.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Oh! I forgot to say! I'm playing tonight at Viva Viva!


The window was open and it was dawn; the birds started singing at the tops of their different voices, like a rainfall of individual conversations, a musical dew.
I lay and marvelled at the depth of sound, and the way you could hear the whole soundscape or pick out one individual bird, each with an important message to other birds of its feather. In the sound-sodden air was all the joy of being alive and the celebration of the animal spirit.
I thought about humans and speaking and singing and how we are all doing the same thing, identifying ourselves and each other with our voices and sounds.
Aha, said the other me, what about groany old Leonard Cohen?
Just a different sort of a bird, said the first me, and you can pick him out in the dawn chorus just like all the other birds.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Resolutions d'Ete

Ah, what a good idea: summer resolutions! I think I'll start my new year at the end of May, and this is what I'll do:
1. Learn to play piano- and possibly, accordion
2. Set up a tour for the autumn to promote Polyhymnia, and a fantastic launch party. I wonder where I could do that?
3. Make an embroidery which I will animate and put music to (I have it planned, you just wait and see!)
4. Go to Brighton and see my friends there
5. Spend a weekend in Barcelona to see what it's like
6. Go to Scotland as often as possible
7. Read those big fat philosophy books I bought on Thursday so I feel as clever as everybody else
8. Be outside every day to get a rosy complexion
9. Draw (almost forgotten how)
10. Go out (ditto)

I would like to go to play in New York too, but I'm not sure how I'll manage that.
Ask the tooth fairy, perhaps.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Who am I to argue?

I've been doing the housework and I've had to take a break; one of those plants called Mother-in-laws-tongue stabbed me in the eye with its sharp leaf, and my eye hurt and started watering. The cactuses were laughing at my accident (spiteful things) and so I'm sitting down musing.
I ate some raspberries (Moonintroll's favourite) and that reminded me of once, when I was a little girl, McMum tried to force me to eat stewed figs. Why should I want to eat those greeny-yellow slimy things full of little gritty seeds? I clenched my teeth hard and she tried to prise them apart with the spoon. In the end, I sat there all afternoon until I ate them. Except I didn't; McMum had to just give up.
I feel the same way about eggs- not scrambled or omletted, but the separate white-yolk combo. They make me gag- the mouth just says no, and who am I to argue?

A Secret Brother

Betcha didn't know that a famous old blues guitarist had a vertically challenged brother, Buddy Short-arse

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mon Fio (pic shows creative vapours emanating from band), and The Burning Leaves (pic shows drum)

The Soho Arts Club is a funny little place. It's a bit like a front room in some ways, except a bit grubbier and boozier, but it's a very audience-friendly venue. You even have to almost walk across the stage to attend the Ladies and Gents, and thereby experience 15 seconds of fame.
The crowd last night was peculiar- Mungo Jerry chic seemed to be the order of the day.
I first went to see Mon Fio in Stoke Newington about two years ago. I met someone I knew there- Paul from a band called Daniel Takes a Train, who were around at the same time as Helen and the Horns, and who shared a sax player with us. Paul had heard their sound-check from the street and liked the music so much he'd come in for the gig. So Mon Fio, you do a good sound check!
They started with "I'm in Love with You', which is a song you can sing along to straight away, and which finishes with one of those chords that reminds you of the Beatles. I'm crap at identifying chords as anyone who has ever worked with me will testify, but I'd swear it's the beginning chord of 'Hard Day's Night'.
What a happy band they are! Their lead singer, John, sings about his failed conquests in humorous detail. He has an solemn delivery that is almost spooky when sung over the cocktail pop they play. I'm certain they belong in a parallel universe and have somehow broken through by accident. Last time I saw them I danced so much I threw up, so this time I just sat down to watch, but a little me was still dancing inside.
'Mon Fio', says John, 'We're a band... just like you'. He muses on various things for a while before realising '...we could be playing songs while I'm talking- time is tight!'. Off they go again, hurtling through 'Feeling's Mutual', in which Camberwick Green meets Supertramp. Their songs are like earnest instructions from the Mon Fio Music Book for Grown-Ups, or perhaps something Monsieur Hulot would hum on one of his holidays. The arrangements are actually really sophisticated, and it's lovely to hear a band with vibes. James is a great drummer and Karen ( I think that's what she's called) plays the best sort of bass lines, the sort I would play if I was still a bass player. I do love the band and if I was a millionaire, I'd hire them to play on one of my lawns, perhaps to greet me as I landed my helicopter in the sunshine.
I bought their miniature single. It's in the bottom of my bag and it's dark in there, but I'll find it, play it and tell you what it's like this weekend.

The Burning Leaves were utterly different to Mon Fio. My friend preferred them but I'm such a Fio-fan I couldn't forsake them, although I did really like listening to them. They are not an in-yer-face type of band so you have to listen in to them. Their songs are perfect. The singer has a lovely voice, and the guitarist is really really good- he plays his guitar like a little orchestra, augmented by a tom on the floor with a bass-drum pedal and a tambourine that he does with his feet (the tom has an amazing landscape painted on it, looked like by Poussin- maybe they summoned him up specially). They look like Goths and their songs are ethereal with one foot in the grave and another in a classical pastoral painting, like one by ole pal Poussin, perhaps.
What they did so well was to know exactly how much harmonising to do and how much not to- I was dreading them drifting into Simon-and-Garfunkel type stodge but they deftly avoided it and made an original and fresh sound. They were utterly gracious about the truly dreadful London audience who talked all the way through, although sometimes the music was just so beautiful they had to shut up and listen.