Sunday, November 30, 2008


I've just got back from the vintage fair, a chaotic affair for me as my teeny technology let me down , and since there were stalls all over the stage this time I had to station myself in the corridor leading to the Gents, much to the embarrassment of the gents-in-need who had to sidle past me.
My babiest amp, the one that I was going to put the microphone through, had a case of suddenly dead battery, and the multi-adaptor I'd brought just in case was so multi-pronged it wouldn't fit into the socket. Oh well, I thought, I'll sing unplugged.
At least the micro-cube guitar amp was working, although it's power switch had displayed an appalling design fault as it had switched itself on in the box and drained a full set of batteries.
But I'd forgotten my guitar strap in a case of hasty packing, and adapted to that by resting my foot on a chair, only to find that the battery of my guitar tuner had packed up too.
Those Luddites had something, you know.
However, there was a good reverb in the stairwell and I serenaded Monty, my niece and nephew, assorted children and babies, embarrassed gents, the person on the door taking the money and the stylish Ma'ams who had nipped out the front door for a quick fag from time to time. I played some of the more rockin' songs and had a good old bellow.
It was ok, you know.
And tonight I'm off to Daniel Takes a Train's single launch.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I've cobbled together a duo of teeny amps for tomorrow's Vintage Clothing Fair gig. They are so small they will probably have the opposite effect to amplification, and will actually make my guitar and voice quieter than they really are instead of amplifying them. This should be an interesting scientific phenomenon and I will take a photo of it if it proves to be true.
I think I will play at about 12.30. I'll put the dinner on first, then hoof it up to the church hall with a big bag with the little amps in it. My nephew and niece have been staying- I taught him how to make spaghetti bolognaise this evening- and if he wakes up in time tomorrow I will teach him some chords and he can strum along on his left-handed guitar. He also plays trumpet but he hasn't brought that, more's the pity. That would make those cool vintage shoppers leap out of their Betty Barclays! (pardon the vintage-shopper in-joke).
We drove round all afternoon trying to ice-skate. The queue at Alexandra Palace was massive and it was bitterly cold, so we went to Parliament Hill Fields because it said on the Internet that their open-air rink was there today, but there was no ice to be seen, so we went back to Alexandra Palace, only to find they had no skates left in our sizes. I had been entertaining them with stories about me falling over backwards and learning to prevent that by skating with my chest and bum poking out so I look like a stupid duck, so this was a disappointment for all.
They are comfortably seated at the Odeon now with a bag of toffee popcorn, watching the new James Bond, while I wait in trepidation for 25 school kids to turn up to celebrate a birthday here. Don't ask- it's complicated! My ban on Singstar has been over-ruled, and I'm just hoping the journey back from Pizza Express takes them as far as the eleven o'clock curfew when the carriages appear to take them home where they will turn back into mice, pumpkins, &c
Where's my guitar? I feel the blues a-comin' on.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reprise of Christmas Joke, Just 4 U

The children at Song Club loved this joke so much it stopped them from being able to think of any others to tell me in return.
The burly Viking Rudolf the Red was looking out of the window at the falling snow.
"Ahhh", he said to his ever-loving wife, "Look at the rain!"
'You are very much mistaken, darling', said his wife, "That is snow!"
He turned to her, pityingly.
"Rudolf the Red knows rain, dear".

Pootling, and the Strange World of Music Shops

I woke up with a sore throat and realised that perhaps it WAS a good idea to get a microphone for Sunday's show at the Barnet Vintage Fair. I had changed my mind about getting one after experiencing Digital Village's rude staff yet again.
So I checked in on my University of the East students, who are recording their songs, and then hopped on the DLR to Denmark Street in the West End to see what I could see.
I had called yesterday and discovered I could get an SM58 for £79.00 (a lot of money, yes, but actually very reasonable for such a robust and useful microphone), and I went into the shop I thought I'd phoned.
After much umming and ahing, dramatic peering at the computer screen (which may or may not have been on) and tapping away at a calculator with a clickety clackety flourish, the guy informed me in a sorrowful tone that the cost was £89.00, and that I would find this to be true wherever I went, because that's how much they cost these days. I explained about my phone call and he said, 'Well, perhaps you mean the shop downstairs, but we are part of the same company and I know they won't sell you one any cheaper'.
Worth a try anyway, I thought, and lo and behold, downstairs the microphone cost £79.00.
Do you think they added a tenner for every flight of stairs you ascended? Just imagine how much it would cost by the time you'd got to the tenth floor!

Music shops have always had their own logic, which often involves their salesmen being contemptuous of their customers, particularly the female ones. I mentioned this in my book. But it works the other way, too; the guy in Sound Control in Oxford Street (sadly no longer in existence) was so easy to talk to and so accepting of the fact that I am a guitarist who knows about guitars, that I bought my lovely green Gretsch from him without a murmur, on interest-free credit sure enough, but I expect that he probably did a lot of business with girl guitarists by being the way he was.
It was such a relief not to have to climb the mountain of someone else's prejudices before being able to get on with what I wanted to do!
Denmark Street is fun, though, even with the comedy shop assistants, and the journey lifted my spirits so much that I didn't even mind getting on the wrong branch of the DLR to get back, and the train breaking down for ten minutes. I watched a man in an orange fluorescent jacket looking down a huge hole while I was waitng for the train to start working again. I wonder what he was looking for?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


First of all, this blog was for bigging-up my gigs and other musical activities; it then turned into a diary-cum-autobiography with a bit of early-morning positive therapy thrown in from time to time.
Once, I had the idea of the negative-personal blog, Helancholy McMelancholy's Miserablog.
Parallel to this one, there are a series of ranting drafts, where I have vented my spleen and then not seen the point of publishing the results! They are saved as a cautionary series but will never see the light of computer screen.
I can be a meanie and a moanie, as my bitter 500-word non-posting about the sexist smirking staff in High Barnet's Digital Village music shop would have attested to, should you have read it.
As it is, feel at liberty to create a negative mirror image of every positive posting here, along with a positive mirror image for all the negative ones!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Things

I had been unreasonably upset by Gordon Ramsey's (alleged) affair, not because I know or like him, but... well, everybody's at it, ain't they?
Anyway, yesterday evening changed the icy headwind. First of all, I'd booked Jo Thomas to come to talk to the M.A. Audio students at the University of the West. She is a composer in sound who uses processed vocal signals to create music, and her talk was technically fascinating and really absorbing.
Unforchly I had to leave halfway through to head down to Balham (I only got lost twice) where one of the undergraduate songwriters I taught last year, Alex Lipinsky, was a finalist in a songwriting competition organised by the Musician's Benevolent Fund, The Peter Whittingham Award. I'd never been to the Bedford before- it's much smaller than I'd thought, but the better for it. The finalists were a mixed bunch; no black performers, which was a shame, and one pretty dirgey pianist, but the winners, a band from Liverpool with a very charming singer, deserved to win.
What thrilled me to bits, though, was that Alex got a special award to research and develop his songs. He'd submitted what I thought were fairly standard sounding songs, but the performance of his second one was amazing. Last year he composed a whole bunch of songs featuring the ukelele, and managed the coup of not sounding like George Formby at all, but sounding like what he is, a young and talented singer-songwriter. So I know he deserves the money and he's shortly to go off to the States, where I think his sunny nature and positive songs will go down very well.
Richard Lobb was there (he is a songwriter friend of Lucy Silvas, one of the judges along with Nick Heyward and Joan Armatrading) and we swapped venue reviews. He plays with a band that is financed by Damian Hearst and who have been recently supporting Oasis. But I can't remember what he said they were called!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don Juan Who?

I've been mulling this over for a few days. I rarely go to the theatre; if I do, it's to the pantomime, which I love more than anyone else, especially if it is small, regional, and the leading lady is getting rather long in the tooth. Generally, I avoid it like the plague, and I particularly dislike musicals and especially the awful cheesy version of Grease that I went to see in the West End a few years ago. I almost forgot- there was a really good play called A Play What I Wrote; that was brilliant, especially as on the day we went, the guest actor was Miranda Richardson, who played the Queen in Blackadder. It made me weep with laughter, and a chronically ill member of our party guffawed all the way through.
Anyway... Sara, who used to play percussion and sing in No Man's Band, a pre-punk all-female Brighton band, invited me to make up a group of people to go to see this play at the Riverside Theatre in Hammersmith; her sister had devised it, directed it and was also acting in it. Sara's such fun, I couldn't say no ( A New Day was written about her), even though I had misgivings, and wasn't sure I could sit through an hour and forty minutes without fidgeting or falling asleep and snoring.
Well, I did neither of those things. It was a very funny play, is a kind of sly way sometimes, and a boisterous way at others. It had been devised on the internet by British and Slovenian actors. It was very feminist without telling anybody- the nudity (lots of it) was male and at at one point, when I thought 'Oh no, they are going to show the tits now', a woman's body was revealed to show flesh-coloured binding on her chest and a hilarious fake willy-and-balls set made of beige nylon.
There was one pillow fight (looked like a hundred pillows) in which the women buried the men, and a later one where the men buried the women. Sometimes there seemed to be too much writhing, but then there were some very funny 'to camera' type confessions, a dual text with words projected n the backcloth (often mocking the storyline), and constant translation into Slovenian which sometimes turned the English words into a joke, just by clever use of facial expression.
What did I think? It was very well done, and I found the actors' faces fascinating. I didn't feel enlightened, but I did feel amused, and the wry cynicism poked fun at both men and women, highlighting cliche without resorting to it. I didn't fall asleep, snore, burp, fart or doodle; it was interesting all the way through, so I didn't look at my watch; there was something very up-to-the-minute about it, as though all the ideas were hot off the press, and it was really energetic. So for a rare foray to the theatre, it was definitely worth it, and all the better for catching up with Sara too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weather Vanes

When my cats stamp on my head with their sharp and spiteful little feet in the mornings as they try to 'persuade' me to get up and feed them, I can tell by the temperature of their paws what sort of day it is outside. Warm and dry? Gonna be a sunny day. Cold and dry? Sunny but chilly.
Cold and wet?
Get lost, you little brutes, I've got mud all over my face and now I'm gonna have to wash the pillowcase!

Friday, November 21, 2008


When you are a teenager, everything seems wrong with you, physically and mentally.
I had long brown wavy hair, which was wrong, so I decided it needed to be curly.
I wetted it and plaited it in lots of little plaits tied up with string; next morning, I untangled it.
'You look like a sheep', said McDad.
Because it was wrong for my hair to be curly, I decided it needed to be straight.
I got the ironing board and spent an evening ironing it with McMum's iron, which involved excruciating bodily twistings and stretchings and pulling my hair so hard it hurt.
It still didn't look any better.
I n the end, I cut it all off.
That taught it a lesson!


Well, life is a many-splendoured thing indeed, featuring today in my case a morning lecture on how to write about the music technology used in pop and rock, through a depressing staff meeting, through an 18-mile rush round the North Circular, to the final day of Song Club in which the children blew the roof off their computer suite with their lovely singing, then choc chip cookies all round. Hats off to their singing teacher for holding the fort unexpectedly yeaterday.
I can't believe that the end of the week has come.
The DJay Buddha has sent some rough mix tracks through from last weekend's amazing sessions and I'll put one up on Myspace this weekend; the low point of the week was the shenanigans surrounding the Chefs album, which got so close and then fell away again; when I've recovered a bit I will try a different approach, perhaps, but disappointment takes it out of you.
Some nice gigs have accumulated for next year; I was hoping for a review of Poetry and Rhyme in Mojo (I know Lucy O'Brien did one) but it's not there; instead I have a review of the book in Popular Music!
Tonight it's time to relax. I will cook something that involves lazily chucking items into a pan at ten minute intervals, listen to the Zombies compilation that Daniel Coston sent me, look at my clothes (I like that, after a week of grabbing what comes first when I open the cupboard door; it's fun to find the clothes that have been hiding all week), drink tea, drink more tea, watch a small amount of crappy TV and wander round the house from room to room experiencing the different flavours of silence.
My luxury, which now replaces chocolate and ice cream, will be phone conversations with a couple of friends about nothing in particular. There is nothing like the sound of a friend's voice on a Friday night to soothe the prickly problems accumulated over the week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Treading Water

Tough week; the Chefs album has been shelved, due to copyright issues. What a disappointment!
I've also ended up running Song Club on my own after being let down by both of the students who should have been involved. I can't believe it, but I realise my mistake was to employ students and not ex-students as I used to. The children are great though and adore silent head-and-shoulders (the knees and toes one, not the shampoo). You should try it sometime, it rocks, especially when you start taking bits away.
I spent early morning doing a rapid Garageband emergency recording of their song, with harmonies, so their music teacher can take over tomorrow.
I found a good review of The Lost Women of Rock Music in a pop music academic journal that's just come out more than a year after the book came out, but better late than never. It's particularly interesting because the Typical Girls discussion group is absolutely bubbling with stuff about the Slits, some of which made me so fed up I almost unsubscribed: people were making wish-lists of different line-ups, completely ignoring the fact that Anna and Dr No (who I know) and Adele have done a fantastic job of being as Ari says, 'new blood' and have helped to get the band going again. However, the discussion calmed down and became more interesting, talking about the idea of not being able to play and what the band actually sounded like way back then, and how they evolved musically. Meanwhile it seems their management or publicists or whoever are so rubbish that the gig they had planned in London has been cancelled because nobody knew about it and nobody bought tickets. It must be damnably frustrating to be in such a band, wanting to play and wanting to record, and having those things made impossible for you to go forward with.
Meanwhile the DJay Buddha has done a great mix of Rockin' Girl. Should be interesting to hear Joe's mix too! I'm still running on energy from that weekend, actually.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It's possible that there's going to be a historic five-oh birthday for Paul 'sax' Davey, who is putting together not only Daniel Takes a Train but also Helen and the Horns, with Dave Jago and Tony Hepworth (bless!) for his birthday do. It's all being planned but I do hope we can film it.
Meanwhile, Song Club has started up again this week; we're writing a Wintertime song, me and a clutch of 14 red-sweatshirted children, words, singing and end-of-day energy.
And I've just been down to LA Strings' new premises in North Finchley to get the Gretsch looked at (nothing wrong with the electrics; I think I'm a conductor), where I tried out a tempting guitar with a quilted maple finish, and watched some Youtubes of a couple of their clients doing fantastic things with their guitars. It was nice to see them again, as they are total enthusiasts.
Time for lunch, if I can get sushi into my mouth before the cats hijack it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Embleton Sessions Part Two

I thought I'd post a pic of the evening gig the second night. Lots of people came, and drank lots of wine. They got noisy very quickly, during my acoustic set, but I didn't care because I was still fired up from the daytime, and apparently the chef really liked it! Martin came and played Heaven Avenue with me, the best he's ever played it, it was absolutely beautiful. he did a short set but even more wine had been drunk by then so the guys got up to join him and launched into a full-scale Sun-sessions rockabilly set, then songs from Sweet Misdemeanour, a CD that Martin and Joe released a while back. Do you know, I got up and played guitar while they were doing this and I could play almost everything once I knew what the beginning chord was. And the audience leapt to their feet and started jiving. The atmosphere was fantastic, i just couldn't stop playing and I thought my fingers were going to bleed. The young 'un was playing along really confidently, doing a brilliant version of Tequila, the double bass was thwacking, Martin and Joe were singing, it was brilliant. I only stopped when Martin had broken four strings and I lent him my guitar because I honestly think my fingers would have worn thru to the bone if I'd carried on. But then of course, you just try sitting still with music like that going on; you have to dance until your legs drop off!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Embleton Sessions

I'm going to see how far I can get with this as I'm so knackered I can hardly push down the letters on my keyboard.
I've just had a blast of a time in a remote town in Northumberland that feels the way Christmas did when I was a small child, recording in a village hall with some of he best musicians I've ever played with.

Where to start? I was so scared I didn't sleep a wink the night before and practically cried as I went through the London rush hour to catch the train to Newcastle with my guitar on my back- people were literally shoving me out of the way in their hurry to get to work (mad!). A scary stop at the Beef Jerky place off the A1, a mile's drive across cold, quiet, flat fields to get plates of beans on toast, could have turned into a Deliverance experience and it was good to get going again. When we got to Embleton, an hour later than we meant to, everything was set up but waiting for a funeral in the next-door church to finish. There was the DJ Buddha, calm, sitting by the tea-hatch with his portable studio; the kit was set up in the corner, three amazing Gibson amps, like a little cream-coloured family, waited for their sound, and an array of fabulous guitars leaned casually up against the walls. A beautiful blonde double-bass reclined on the floor.
The hall was a throwback to the past- those thin flowery curtains you can't get any more, evidence of Brownies and Guides on noticeboards along one wall, a chilly kitchen with masses of cups, old fashioned chairs stacked up. It was the perfect place to do what we were about to do.

The cast was ace guitarist Joe Guillan and his friend from school years ago, Cav, on double bass, both impeccably attired in 50s style; Keith, of Deacon Jones and the Sinners, was to sit behind the kit. Martin and myself were on guitars and vocals, DJ Buddha was at the desk, and last but not least, Cav's 14-year-old son had brought his sax along and was to be the only one-take wonder of the whole weekend.
So we got to work- Rockin' Girl took about 2 hours to knock into shape but we became almost a band by the time it was ready to record. I can't believe I played bar chords for nearly three hours on Friday afternoon without a murmur of cramp from my fingers. Now I will call their bluff and call them spoiled bastards if they ever complain again! The thing is if you are totally into what you are doing you don't even notice anything like that. It was amazing- the guys picked it up so quickly, and we recorded a really energetic track. Joe is a fantastic guitarist- he works out the chords then works out really good voicings, and then weeds out anything he doesn't need, and you end up with some searingly powerful playing.
We braved the cold winds of Seahouses to get fish'n'chips (goodbye cholesterol-free diet) then went up to the hotel to do the evening gig, which was low-key, four visitors and the guy from behind the bar, but mostly it was fun to sit and talk. Cav played us a lovely song he had written, before we retired to sleep in rooms that had been undressed for the off-season, naked pillows and duvets, bald mattresses, but warm and comfortable.
So next day, we started with a vengeance; ten o'clock saw us recording Martin's song Walking Cowboy, with Cav's son on sax; I got to play Joe's tenor guitar, a squarish-shaped dark green Guild De-Armand, which I played with a pick; Martin yodelled and crooned like a Gene Autry, and I sang on it too. Joe wrote out a sax part for Cav's son to play and he did it first take. Next up was Cav's song; Cav has a lovely high tenor and it's a sweet song with a really catchy melody- I've been singing it all day.
Then I played them Freight Train and they liked that so we did a rip-roaring version of that, getting tighter playing together all the time. I think the best one was probably Martin's You Can't Fool Love, a song that's going to be on Hamilton Square, but which we really rocked up, and Keith in particular did a brilliant job on. We finished with Loverman, a proper Sun-sessions type version, and then headed up the hill to the hotel again for the evening gig.
I'll have to tell you about that tomorrow, when I upload the photos!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just got back from...

... a nice gig at Viva Viva; one of the other acts was great, a guy called Ivor Game. He played daftly happy songs with a very easy but deceptively complicated style; they were all short and sweet, and put a smile on everyone's faces.
Little Alison came with her beau, Les Curtis, who is a rockabilly drummer and knows Joe Guillan, which is a coincidence because I'm off up to Newcastle to record with Joe tomorrow! Another coincidence was that another drummer, Karen Yarnell (Gymslips and Renees) came with some friends too; and she liked my songs, which made me chuffed. Monty was there, happy because I played London for him.
I had a nice day at work because two students, both quite shy girls, sat down at the piano with the poetry of one and the chords of the other and started writing a really beautiful song together, greater than the sum of its parts. I just liked the way they were doing it, each one quietly encouraging the other, concentrating really hard, running through it bit by bit and smiling when they'd cracked a section of it.
Bless. That's what its all abaht!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I found this photo of Tom that I took on my phone when we were recording Autumn Love. My phone keeps crashing and they are sending another one so I've had to delete everything in case someone steals my identity: my contacts, my friends, my songs (can't be bothered to delete them, as I'd have to do it one by one and bluetoothing them on to my computer from my kaput phone took an hour yesterday).
Wonder how he's getting on? I've had to learn Garageband because Tom's not here any more, which I suppose is good, except I finish songs before they are ready; all the harmonies, all the bits and pieces that I used to savour doing at the very very end, are now there from the beginning except not sounding polished and clear. I hope I don't end up like Brian Eno, creating complex mush with too many layers and no tune, a foggy day for the ears. That's why I love dub reggae, because you can hear all the parts as well as the whole. Tom became sh*t hot after a spell working on hip-hop; those guys gave him a really hard time and blamed him if they made a mistake. But their demands showed him how to be a really good soundsmith and I felt the benefit of that when he recorded and mixed my tracks.

Yay Yay! It's Music Day!

At last! I have been bombing from one University to the other, East to West, West to East, getting the students writing songs, lecturing, sitting drawing fishbirds and pigbabies when I should be paying attention at meetings; and now at last I have at least half a day to myself, which is brilliant because on Friday I'm going up to record some rockabilly tracks with a genuine rockabilly band in Newcastle. I've been writing another bit for Rock'n'Romance and I hope to make a proper recording of the Rockin' Girl song as well with a guitar solo instead of a vacancy. I have two unfinished songs which I might try to finish on the train up to Newcastle, which is where I'm headin'.
I have a gig at Viva Viva in Hornsey tomorrow too and I'll have a chance to run through the songs before then.
This is what it's all about, music, when everything else to do with earning a living jostles and shouts for attention.
And Joby, if you are reading this, I am playing at a pub in Sussex in February that has motorised Jobyvehicle access. I hope you can come- could you get a lift there from yours?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Chefs Compilation

I have become totally dispirited with this. The tracks are all selected, and I was feeling really positive. then it came to contracts and lawyers, and then who was allowed to make money out of it. One of the reasons I pulled back from it a while ago was that so many people wanted to get their oar in- often in a very well-meaning way, but these songs are precious, not because of money, or even what they mean to anybody else, but because if what they mean to me (and to the others, I assume).
being in bands saved me from the brink of being totally self-destructive and suicidal. I have never seemed like that sort of person because I smile and make jokes, but in some ways that is worse because it is so hard to get those feelings out of your system if everybody thinks you're happy. writing songs was my way of taking part in a world that looked as though it only made sense for other people and not for me. It allowed me to feel different because I was in a band, instead of feeling different because I could not see where in the world I fitted in, and it allowed me to say things in songs at arms length instead of thoughts curling out of my mouth like wisps of cigarette smoke and poisoning me.
We took a huge amount of pride in making our music exactly right- our harmonies, the structure, all of those things that people have lessons in these days. All we had was our instincts and belief in our songs*. We used to argue all the time, but the music was more important than that. It's hard to believe now, but we were completely dedicated to it all, even moving to London en masse to find different audiences, and rehearsing all day, more days in the week than there actually are. I think we ground ourselves down in the end, drinking too much and losing faith in one another. We had crap business sense, signing a publishing deal with the Piranha's manager and Pete Waterman for a pound, because that's what we thought people did. We were misadvised, but not intentionally; we were all totally green and innocent.
I am hugely grateful to John Peel for playing our music and believing in us. I will never forget the experience of turning Radio 1 on at ten o'clock and hearing my hero playing a record that I had written and played on. That was really something!

*Actually, I had two rusty parrot cages too.

Orange Gaffa Tape

Diana had orange gaffa tape the other night.
Where did she get it from? She wouldn't say. It was excruciatingly funky. I want some.

Last night at the Green Note was a sweet gig. People had braved the elements and we sat cosily secluded in the back room, paying a fortune for our drinks (£1.85 for half a coke?) and made some lovely music. Paul Davey came along and succumbed to Martin's charm, weaving through to the back of the room with his clarinet and blowing himself to the land of bliss in an improvisation that was well beyond anything he'd done before. We did a duo (London) and a trio (Autumn Love), and Martin was on form, having discovered the bar person was from Barcelona and could do deadly high-fives; she got the joke and joined in gleefully from the other end of the room. I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday evening, actually.

Meanwhile, my cat posts my postings before I intend to.
She's just trying to get attention by walking all over the keyboard, but she seems to imagine she's some sort of feline editor.
The other one has learned how to open a packet of crisps.
All is surreal in the suburbs, you know.


I learned to play guitar aged 14 from Hold Down a Chord, books one and two.
I played The Grand Old Duke of York (G and D7, followed by C and back again) for almost a year (dum-ching, dum-ching) before progressing to book two, which I only managed to get halfway through because it was so difficult, although I loved the names of the people- Reverend Gary Davis and Big Bill Broonzy. McMum and McDad had asked me what I'd like for my birthday and I'd said either a guitar or a violin, and I think they had a think about what our cat and dog might think of the latter.
The guitar was three-quarter-size and made in China; it was of pale wood with varnish that came off in drifts of snowy dandruff if you ran your fingernail across it, which of course you had to do once you realised what fun it was to scratch it. Its sound was tinny and cheap, but I loved it straight away; I loved the way the body vibrated when you played and the strings changed pitch when you turned the tuning pegs. Hold Down a Chord book one became my friend and I started to invent new chords (or so I thought) and wrote them in blue school fountain pen in the margins so I wouldn't forget them.
My first song was Haunted Castle, a psychedelic teenage angst song, which thank fully I can only remember the melody of; I played it in Music at school and the music teacher refused to believe I had written it, which I found completely distressing. I was a quiet girl and I was trying to express emotions I felt, and had been accused of being a fraud.
It's amazing what you can do with two or three chords. I hated the cold and discovered that if I had a 'guitar group' at school we could sit in the Geography Block and play our three chords all winter lunchtime while it blustered outside.
Later, when I was seventeen, I hung out with a group of lads in the village. I don't know why they tolerated me and nobody else female; I think it might have been because I was a total tomboy and obviously not girlfriend material. I used to sit with them while they played electric guitars; there was one guy, from Liverpool whom they all admired. I don't know why, it might have been his provenance; but he played endless, endless guitar solos with his eyes half closed and their pupils skywards, mouth open, lank dark hair quivering with emotion.
Never once did any of them ask if I might like to play; I don't think I learned anything from them, either, apart from how groups of teenage lads operate. They were nice, and they were latching on to music to help them pass the time until they left home and became free.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Green Note in Camden

Paul Davey (clarinet) and myself will be joining Martin Stephenson for a couple of numbers at the Green Note, Camden, tonight. It's a lovely little vegetarian restaurant not far from Camden Toob along the Parkway.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Desert Music School

This is a poster for a benefit gig tomorrow night (Saturday) organised by Diana Mavroleon in order to raise funds for the Desert Music School in India.
It's in Tufnell Park, close to the tube.
Put on your best clothes and come along!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

More Sixties

It's such a tiring time of year... it has always been that most of my lecturing happens between October and Christmas. I found myself saying goodbye to a woman on TV who was saying goodbye yesterday. It's hard to resist saying thank you to the bank machine.Nice things happen amongst all the work though; I met Caroline Coon today at the National Gallery (after annoying the staff in Jigsaw, who cannot conceal their hatred of clothes-unfolders, but I do need to see the sleeves, shop-assistants!). we turned right, and wandered through rooms of Impressionists, Van Gogh (there was a lovely grey-toned portrait of a man that we both loved). My fave painting, Seurat's 'Bathers at Asinieres' was there, so big and beautiful and funny and inspiring. There were a few paintings by Degas, a lovely painting of South Norwood by Pissaro, and lots of little gems in between. There is nothing like real live paintings with glistening brush-strokes and dabs of bright colour to take your mind off gloomy damp autumnal London, and galleries are free and big and exciting. Caroline was on good form and an excellent companion as she knows loads about artists lives. Because she is a painter, it was interesting to see which paintings she liked best: an early Degas, unfinished, of the Spartans preparing for a wrestling match, intrigued both of us. She paints constantly, paintings of the local scene in Notting Hill, and she should be a lot more respected as an artist than she is.
Funnily enough, Joe Boyd mentions her in his book, and we talked a bit about the 1960s, in particular because of Obama's presidency, which is the culmination of seeds of change planted in that decade.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No Beach Boys either

1960s Playlist

I'm doing a lecture on the 1960s Cultural Revolution at the University of the West tonight.
It's taken me ages to write the lecture, and I have decided to hinge it all around music; there's no Dylan, Pink Floyd or Stones here, but quite a lot of revolution between the lines:
Rod McKuen: Eros (gay male!)
Shirelles: Will You Love Me Tomorrow (first all-female rock group number one in Billboard chart)
Chubby Checker: The Twist
The Tornadoes: Telstar
Ruby and the Romantics: Our Day Will Come (well, I'm a DJ and I just like this one!)
Pirate Radio Jingle: London My Home Town
Goldie and the Gingerbreads: Chew Chew Fee Fi Fum
Rolling STones: I Can't Get No Satisfaction (we will just imagine this one, as i can't stand the Stones)
David Bowie: London Boys
The Kinks: Dedicated Follower of Fashion (the Carnaby Street tracks)
The Beatles: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
The Velvet Underground and Nico: All Tomorrows Parties (two different drug-fuelled tracks)
Soft Machine: Hope for Happiness
Sly and the Family Stone: Dance to the Music
Food Glorious Food from 'Oliver!' (the allegory of the rise of the working class: see later postings for a riff on the Oliver! characters in British pop music!)
Jimi Hendrix: The Star Spangled BAnner (from the Woodstock recording)
Marvin Gaye: What's Goin' On

I have to recommend a book called White Bicycles by Joe Boyd. Apart from producing some of the best folk and rock artists of the decade, he set up the blues tour in 1964 that brought Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Gary Davis and Sonny Terry to these shores, where the young white musicians could see and hear them in the flesh. It's a brilliant read!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Return to Ross-shire

I flew to Inverness and then travelled further north still, passing the oil rigs, so massively huge and all lit up, in for repair at Invergordon. What a spectacular sight! Further down towards the sea, another one sparkled on the horizon.
Earlier, I was taken to Strathpeffer for a proper hot chocolate, breaking my stern no-cholesterol diet for a gorgeous silky, delicous cupful of luxury.
A notice rather meanly forbade people from photographing the highly photogenic chef in her tall paper hat, her sweet little face earnestly frowning as she prepared chocolates in the kitchen.
Strathpeffer is a little Victorian town that has a bandstand and a famous pavilion where the Beatles played even after they had become mega, honouring their earlier commitments, the gentlemen.
In the evening, we visited Henry the woodsman and sat in the Logtogon, his wooden house in the trees strong enough to have an open fire in an old car-wheel. The Logtogon is on its way to being a recording venue, I think; it is wildly dramatic, standing in the middle of the woods like a Native American Indian dwelling, and accessed by a ladder in the dark. I hope I get to record there one day because is the most amazing place and I imagine all that wood makes a superbly resonant environment, particularly for singing.
Friday was studio-day; the studio is in a modern house in the middle of fields, fields, fields; Pete is the engineer and his mum, who is 91 and a painter, lives there too. You sing in a living room, looking out of the windows at little birds foraging in the hedges in the cold sunshine.
I was there to do the vocal on Glasgow Train, the last track of the album to be finished. Martin had craftily taken it from my control-freak hands and Joe-Meeked it into a joyously mad track with drums, vibes, guitars and bass, that bowls along and makes you grin from ear to ear, so it was a cinch to sing over. That left time to record another track too, using a Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Nocaster, clanging and twanging and singing and songing.
Then it was all-the-way-back, part driving through glorious Highland dawn, and part training it, reading Joe Boyd's riveting account of the 1960s, White Bicycles.. What a weekend to remember!
Photos: Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion (Roy Orbison played there too!), oil rig at Invergordon (it was me that was lopsided, not the rig!), Martin Stephenson plays Pete's little inlaid bossa-nova guitar, sunrise in Ross-shire.