Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Next Gig

This is my next gig, at Monkey Chews in Camden on Wednesday the 7th January. I'm doing a sort of mini-tour of London in January and this is the first one. These promoters choose interesting music so it should be a good one.
I was given a box of Rose and Violet Creams, which I have just polished off. Being a punk rocker, of course, I call them Rows and Violent Crimes.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Photo of Me and Paul by Brother Tobias

Birthday Party 2008

The day dawned with a call from McMum and McDad; I was touched to hear McDad say 'Many Happy Returns', as he has grown frail and sometimes it is hard for him to speak at the moment, so that really meant a lot to me.
The cat's birthday present, on the other hand, was a pool of iridescent vomit on the hall floor that necessitated the use of half a roll of festive kitchen roll (2 multipacks for the price of one). How horrible. Remind me not to tell her anything about it next year.
I had home-made gingerbread people and a zebra cake courtesy of my offspring, and a massive pan of veggie chili. The guests were family members, honorary family members or regulars, and included two cousins who didn't realise they were cousins, and my foster-cousin Ted, providing an interesting question about relatives, first-cousin-ness, removedness and all that.
We all squashed into the back room on cushions and scrambled chairs for the music bit.
Kirsty played and sang beautifully, Rowen blew us away with the strength and power of her songs and voice, Alex played some exerpts from Metallica, Charlotte played some lovely baroque flute music, and me and Paul played some songs too, including Autumn Love, for Nick and Sue who were actually there to hear it.. The highlight was Big Bruv who played for the first time ever, singing a song about Nutty the Squirrel, but by far the funniest, a song about Daleks living in bungalows with a chorus that went 'Exterminate! Exterminate!'. The words were so funny I cried with laughter. He has a studio session pending which we clubbed together and got him for his birthday but he works seven days a week and hasn't had time. We are going to MAKE him go in there and record them!
I couldn't get the idea of Daleks with crinoline-lady toilet roll holders in their bungalows out of my head all evening.
I did try to take pictures of the others but I was sitting on the floor and they all came out blurred.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Someone Else's Funny Story

Richard, who is co-writing a biography of Martin Stephenson, wrote to me and told me he'd just bought Vaultage 79 and told me how much he liked the song Bloody by the Golinski Brothers.
I met Darris, their singer, at a party a couple of years ago in Goldtop Studios in Chalk Farm, which is run by Paul Laventhol from King Kurt, and Neil Brockbank, who used to do their live sound.
Darris has been an SDP candidate amongst other things. He said that he has a teenage son whom he is always scolding for muttering and not a-r-t-i-c-u-a-t-i-n-g properly. The teenage son wanted to go to the cinema and phoned the automated Odeon-line to try to find out what was being shown at his local one. He was prompted by the auto-lady to say where it was.
'Uffblingh' he muttered.
'I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again', intoned the auto-lady.
'I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again',
And so on.
And so on.

Djay Buddha wrote to tell me he has a good live version of Love on the Wind recorded in Glasgow- can't wait to hear it!

Finally, a New Year wish which I give to you as a present for any poet you may know:

May all your poems rhyne
In two thousand and nine.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I don't know about you but I find the visit of Father Christmas has more than one benefit, for as well as delivering a sackload of presents, he cleans our sooty chimney magnificently with his fat tummy on the way down, catching the soot conveniently in his ample beard, thereby necessitating the minimum clean-up afterwards.


The sun's out! I'm going for a walk!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ennui, Noel

They're watching Wallace and Gromit downstairs so I have escaped- I can't stand Wallace's voice, which sounds like Alan Titchmarsh being strangled.
Once I recorded a whole gardening programme with Alan Titchmarsh speaking; I was going to orchestrate it and make it into a musical. I've still got it somewhere. Something along the lines of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady playing the little xylophone to get Eliza Doolittle to speak in posh cadences. That's one film I do love, partly because Audrey Hepburn is the most beautiful woman ever born, and partly because of the fabulous costumes which I want to wear in my dreams.
I lost a box of crackers and bought a fancy box at the last minute in case I never found them (eaten by Blogger my dog?). We had the posh ones but they had dull jokes and boringly useful cracker gifts and I found the common box and we pulled those as well. They had really rubbish toys which were what you are supposed to have, and much better jokes. It meant we had to wear two hats each. Every year I am the person who forgets to take their paper hat off for the longest; I catch sight of myself in the mirror at teatime and feel like an idiot.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Airship Song

Speaking of Rochefort en Accords, here's a Youtube of me, Martin, B J Cole and the Rochefort fiddle player doing the Airship Song by Charlie Poole live at the festival:

Where's the end of the sellotape?

Good Review Woohoo!

I woke this morning as a copy of Mojo whacked on to the floor through the letterbox. There was a free Tamla Motown CD which boded well (there's been rather a lot of nerdy Indie music recently) but I hardly dared to open it and look. The page fell open at the CD reviews section and there it was! Yee ha! A review by Lucy O'Brien and four stars!!! It's worth it!!! When I first started up again I didn't know why on earth I was doing it, there was just an urge to get up and play and have music adventures, and really that is what it's all about. But this was such a bonus, and it has been fantastic to have positive reviews from such funky mags- Nude Magazine, Wearsthetrousers, Esquire in Thailand and Collected Sounds. This one caps it all perfectly and I am smiling.
It has been a good year for McCookerymusic, with some fave gigs being Rochefort en Accords and Whitstable, and of course the Christmas ones. I've loved recording in London with Tom, in Scotland with Pete and at Embleton with DJay Buddha and the lads. There have been some crappy lows this year but some wonderful highs as well.
I've also done some brill things- starting with the weekend at Chollerford, then the Writing about Schools project in Northumberland, then mentoring Tom's songwriting (I LOVED that!), then the Songwriting Weekend with Martin and Scott in the Lake District, and the Song Club.
To cap it all, I pulled the curtain this morning and there was the new bin on the path, looking full of itself. I'd thought I'd have to wait till next week with black bags al over the place and rats nesting in the Christmas wrapping paper. To crown it all further I got an email from someone at Barnet Council (they'd been alerted by Google to my predicament), offering to try to locate the missing one. Alas, I'd already forked out for the new one and the old manky one is probably servicing some horrid burglar somewhere by now, looting someone's Christmas presents.
I do hope not.
Now all I have to do is fix the clothes dryer, which is leaking all over the floor. Might just pack it away to deal with after Christmas.

Merry Christmas to anyone who reads this blog! I do know it's a complete jumble sale of rubbish and jewels depending on whatever it is that interests whoever. I look at the blogs of the people who leave comments and they are all much more focused and interesting than mine which is mostly therapy-rambling. But it is nice to know that people read it and I'm not just talking to myself!
That was something that made me laugh out loud once. I was all by myself in a bedsit in a huge dark house in Willeseden listening to the John Peel show. Everyone was out and it was totally silent outside.
'I don't think anyone's listening', said John Peel. 'I know I'm just sitting here talking to myself'.
I really felt that I was the only person in the world at that point and that I was his only listener, and it was the funniest thing!
The man was a genius.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Misread in Doctor's Waiting Room

I picked up one of those glossy cheapo showbizzy mags full of trashy photographs of minor celebs.
'Pick of the Crap', said the headline, or at least I thought it did until I realised my brain had substituted an 'a' for an 'o'.


While I was away playing music, someone stole my wheelie bin. It's gonna cost me £50 to get a new one from the council.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I went into Accessorize while I was waiting at Euston for the train to Glasgow, as I was quite bored.
I was looking for hats to try on but I did not like their hats much until I spied a superb little black hat on a peg very high up, with an interesting ruched ribbon detail and a cool retro style; funky for Accessorize. I decided to try it on and I asked the shop assistant to get it down for me, because I had my guitar on my back and couldn't leap up to grab it.
She got a bamboo pole and gently hooked the hat down. There was something weird about it; I realised it had already been worn and had no price tag or manufacturer's label, and I turned it round to find that it had an official-looking enamel badge on it.
It was a St John's Ambulance lady's hat.
How did it get there?

2 Good Gigs

Accies was the first one; it had been a dreadful journey, courtesy of Richard Branson's Virgin Trains, a man whose face looms in the leaden sky like a ghastly god when the train's late as always and the toilets don't work as always. But Fin and Martin were at Glasgow station to pick me up, and we got to the gig in time for a quick soundcheck. The Moonshiners kicked off the evening, with a very talented young fiddle player, Kirsty, who augmented their gentle bluegrass music. Accies has a great audience who listen and smile, and although I was tired I really enjoyed playing because the sound was crystal clear.
The Daintees were great- they played just with Fin on percussion and did everything from a whisper to a loud rock-out and were as tight as anything and you could hear just how good their arrangements are.
Even the Drunken Nuisance clambering about looking for his coat backstage throughout the set didn't put them off their stride. I had to guard Martin's coat because the soundman tried to give it to the Drunken Nuisance no less than four times!
When Anth struck up the beginning of 24 Hours I was out there again, singing along just like in the old days but with a different band! The Djay Buddha was there behind his mobile desk, recording the music and swaying along; the best song was Boat to Bolivia but absolutely everything sounded fresh and clear, as thought the songs had just been written. The crowd loved it and became a sea of smiles amongst the tealights on the tables.
When everyone had gone home, the sound guy found the Drunken Nuisance's coat right over at other end of the venue, nowhere near where he had been rummaging and tripping over.

The Cluny was the exact opposite in terms of audience- it was a real 'out-for-a-Christmas-gig-gonna-have-a-good-time' gig. It was sold out and packed to the gunwhales (no, it's not a boat, that's just a clever dick term for very full indeed). The audience had a lot of things to say to each other in very loud voices. The Parish Music Box played first- their singer has a very distinctive, very powerful vocal style. The crowd still had a lot of things to say to each other in very loud voices. but they were like that last year, and the year before, so I decided I was going to enjoy singing anyway and so I did. I planted myself on the stage as solidly as an elephant and did my utter best. A lot of people were listening, I could see, and that made the battle against the very loud voices ( I called them the Clunatics) not seem so bad. Martin and Fin came and joined in on Heaven Avenue and Loverman to rock it up a bit. I liked it just as much as the Glasgow gigs- big mobby audiences don't bother me, for verily, I am a punk rocker who used to take bottle tops off with her teeth.
The talkers didn't give up when the Daintees came on, but Martin knows how to deal with them and wove them into his between-song wit. The set was very different from the one in Glasgow- the band was rockier with a drummer as well as Fin's percussion and the show was really energetic and full-on. I liked the version of Indian Summer they did- it had a different rhythm to the version on their CD, straighter, but it gave the song a poignance, partly because Martin altered the words and made them more autobiographical.
When he came on solo to play Rain, the audience became lambs and sang along, as well-behaved as a church congregation, sounding like a big mass Geordie tamed roar. The band finally left the stage to shouts of 'Encore' that went on for about ten minutes afterwards.
There were lots of familiar faces there- Robson and his family, and Joe Guillan and Cav came along and we're planning another Embleton session. I was chuffed to bits afterwards cos Shippy, the promoter, came up and said it was the best he'd ever heard me play. Whatever, They were two gigs that rounded off the year perfectly: good band, good crowds, good company.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gardens, Birds, Off!

My only contact with Bill Oddie has been being shoved out of the way by him in St Martin's Lane as I walked past him one day, but now I do appear to be developing an interest in birds. There was a Redwing after the apples two days ago and this morning a Jay is shyly sitting in a tree, watching the Magpies gobbling up last year's Christmas nuts that were still in the cupboard.
I wonder what the cluster of clementines in a redundant hanging basket will bring?
I'm off to Glasgow this morning!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Slow-motion, I'm getting ready for Accies in Glasgow tomorrow. Everything is packed and ready. I'm looking forward to seeing the Daintees again. I did a drawing for their t-shirt of a cat.
I can't decide what to wear, and may have to unpack and re-pack. Do I dare to eat a peach? Shall I wear my trousers rolled?*Is it cold in Glasgow? If it's not cold in Glasgow, will it be cold in Edinburgh? Or Newcastle?
I have tidied my room a bit today, exposing mega-dustballs the size of footballs. Getting the hoover up the stairs seems like an effort (still not feeling good) so I'm contemplating festooning them with fairy-lights and pretending they are the latest in funky Christmas decorations. I have found a lot of pens, many of which don't work. I haven't found several important phone numbers on slips of paper, though I have found lots of lyrics, also on slips of paper. I take this as a positive omen!
*TS Eliot, of course

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Oh, I am missing the Irrepressibles! It is going to be such a lovely gig. But I'm in bed poorly.
And I have noticed that my Myspace counter has started subtracting; it's going backwards in a very Vivienne Westwood/World's Endish way.
Time for some shuteye.

More and More Blackbirds

There are eight blackbirds there this morning, all arguing and yakking. If they argued less and ate more...
The rosy pigeons are roosting in a tree like benign grandmothers, arms folded, waiting for the racket to die down.
Meanwhile, Joby has asked me if he can recycle the music I wrote for him, for a film project he's working on about Xurbia, the Daily-Mail-type living hell he inhabits in Sussex where affronted people are routinely scandalised by everything that is not them or theirs.
I will christen the track 'Ode to Joby' in honour of our everlasting punk-induced friendship.
Joby's ranting mailouts do my anger for me in a much more articulate way than I ever could, and their total anarchic bias shreds any lingering fears I have about becoming a suburban stick of rock with nasty thoughts running through me in pink sugar writing.
A toast to you Joby, on this chilly winter's morning!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I've been reading a really good review of Joanna McGregor's Messaien concert.
I knew her many years ago when we both worked on a programme called Pictures of Women, which was one of the very first Channel Four series ever to be broadcast, I think.
At one of the many Sarf London parties I attended, we all sat round and talked about a TV series, and the taskes were shared out. 'I'll be the director, you can be the producer, you can do graphics, and Helen, you can write some music', said someone.
'OK', I said, assuming it was a bit like one of those games you played as a child, Cowboys and Indians, you be a Cowboy and I'll be an Indian.
It actually came to pass; I wrote fourteen jingles and some incidental music and Joanna came in to play some classical-sounding piano music. That's when I learned about mixing desks and all sorts of other technical stuff that people don't exoect when they see me out shopping at the supermarket with the kids.
She was lovely, and told me about an occasion when she wrote a trumpet part that was too high for the trumpet player to play, and he was scared to tell her because she was the composer. She hadn't realised it was out of his range, and couldn't work out what the problem was.
We all went to see her play some Rachmaninov pieces at the Purcell Room on the South Bank; she was wearing a beautiful sparkling coffee-coloured Zandra Rhodes dress and she charged at the piano with fantastic energy, flinging her long curly hair over her head, visually thrashing the keyboard, but sounding delicate and precise at the same time. I have loved Rachmaninov ever since.
Later, when she had become quite well-known, she invited me to visit her at her flat in Bayswater. I was too embarrassed to go; by then I had become a leggings-mum, having hit a trough of relative poverty, and I was ashamed of my non-existent musical career and hopeless outlook. I know now that that was silly; in every interview with her, I see that she has not changed a bit and she is still self-effacing and completely absorbed with interest in all kinds of different music and musicians.

More Blackbirds

There was a fifth blackbird there this morning. Stuff the crunch! I'm taking this as a very good omen. In fact, the garden is buzzing with birds- a bullfinch, a collared dove, a wren, two huge fat pinkish pigeons (two more pies), a crow, a magpie, a mistle thrush and assorted weeny flutterers that come and raid the seed-tube.

The Song Club did their stuff at the Festive Christmas Show down at the school this morning. What a pity it's closing down! Barbara, from the Hyde Foundation (who fund the songwriting project) and myself were mourning its demise to the Deputy Mayor who looked mildly embarrassed and kept trying to change the subject to recycling, as it's the Worshipful Mayor himself who is shutting the school down. I am glad I did not put any money in the collecting box he was rattling outside the shops last Saturday. Other charities can have it instead.
The school is right on the estate, and that means that vulnerable children have a little loving school on their doorstep and don't have to walk a mile to the big school, where they will disappear into the masses of children from all over the place. For children from difficult homes, or refugee children, that has been really important. There has always been a lovely air of calm and respect inside it's doors and I was very happy for my children to go there and rub shoulders with others from different countries and different backgrounds; many schools in this borough have an exclusive air to them that seems to be more about keeping the oiks out than education!
Anyway, the Song Club group were great, and even sang the harmony part perfectly. There have been 14 of them this time, a lot compared to other projects I've done there, and their choir teacher had to help out because one of my potential employees forgot all about it and didn't turn up, and the other pulled out after one session, saying she could not work on a winter festival song that did not mention Jesus. Next time, I have invited Martin to work on it, as he won't let me down; there is going to be one final Song Club at the school before it goes.
There's a picture of Dan Whitehouse (who used to do these projects) and myself on the wall, with another Mayor and a bunch of children dressed in newspaper outfits from our previous Rubbish Rockers project, and I have asked for it in the summer when the school gets demolished. I remember going to the recycling centre with the children on public transport in the freezing rain (the school was too poor at that time to have its own bus) soaked to the skin with sopping wet trousers and squidgy feet, looking at piles of old paint cans, shoes, printer cartridges... the recycling men lent us an array of gigantic broken coloured umbrellas that people had thrown away. We were a dripping, yelling, bedraggled and colourful tribe, following the earnest man in his fluorescent jacket all round the site, his infectious pride in his job lifting our collected spirits.
On the day we performed our song at assembly, two children refused to wear the newspaper jackets I'm made for them, until one child tried one on, and then suddenly I had to make one for everyone!

The man outside fixing a wall has a radio which is playing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer; I am as excited as I used to get when I was little!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nursery Rhyme

There were at least four assorted blackbirds pecking away at windfall apples in the garden this morning, young and sleek, old and grey; I got the pastry rolled out and lined the dish, ready for when the other twenty turned up.
Yesterday was a busy day. Katy came over and we went up to the Vintage Fair, setting ourselves up on the stage and taking turns to sing; i sang my normal songs and Katy sang vintage, and then we did a selection of Christmassy ones together before sitting on the wooden floor and noshing mince pies and fruit tea. Katy bought a lovely bright green glass necklace and a forties-style dress. I had my eye on a quaint maroon mackintosh with a hood and interesting buttons, but it went and I was secretly glad as it was a little bit scary. Katy is great company and she liked the shambolic vibe and the little slice of village life.
Later on, I went down to the World's End to play a few songs. There was an artist called Kerry Andrew who did a lot of interesting layering with vocal effects, and a songwriter called Nya Shelley whose songs I really liked, and I particularly liked her unaffected and genuine persona. It was rather a musicians-watching-musicians evening: interesting, impressive and with an undercurrent of competitiveness which kept us all on our toes.
That's four gigs in four days, almost on-tour. The Christmas cards will have to wait another day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Rainy Night in Weybridge

In bounced Dave and Tony, smiling, trombone case and trumpet case in hands.
The P.A. was set up; we stood in line, and started playing. Unbelievable! It sounded and felt just like it did twenty years ago; we just had time to run through the five songs we'd decided to play, and tried to push it too far by attempting Footsteps at My Door, which got so far, and then disintegrated. It was miraculous, though, that we managed to sound so together.
Daniel takes a Train did their check- a proper band, and a 1980s soundcheck, as I remember them. 'Just turn the bass down a little', 'I can't hear myself in the monitors', band members one by one standing out front, listening.
Tony leaned over to remark, 'Last time we played together, mobile phones weren't invented'.
Because we were finished first we were sent over to collect the fish'n'chips.
The guy in the shop was stressed, much to the amusement of the girl in the shop. 'Fourteen cod', he snarled to nobody in particular from time to time. They packed it in a cardboard box and Dave carried it back to the church hall, where the smell of hot vinegar soon pervaded the room and the sounds of rustling and snaffling replaced that of amplified band.
Ian turned up, all ready to listen and to film the proceedings, at which point my DV camera stubbornly insisted that the lens cap was on, even though it wasn't, and just wouldn't work at all. Stressed as the fishandchipsman, I spilled pomegranate juice down my dress, which luckily was red and kindly absorbed the accident.
We went on first, and in the gloom I could see people smiling, some even singing along. They knew the words better than me! It was such fun, honestly, and the guys played brilliantly. It was better than the old days, as we are all older, gentler and better players. What thrilled me to bits was that both Dave and Tony said they'd like to do more Horns gigs and I'm sure Paul will too.
I messed up a line or two, there was the occasional brassy mistake ('You're still making mistakes in the same places', wrily observed Sally, who used to be our live sound engineer, to Tony). It was fun: I smiled, I smiled.
Then of course, Paul joined Daniel Takes a Train, where he exhibits his versatility, playing lounge-bar urban soft rock. Everyone was rosy, smiling, eating Pauls sax-decorated cake. McSis was radiant, and cousins appeared left right and centre.
Earlier, I'd bought a pack of wine gums.
I ate only the red and black ones and left the rest. The night could not have been more perfect.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cheese Raws

'Make me a cup of tea', I asked my cat persuasively as I loafed about this morning.
She smiled and told me with her eyes that although she'd love to, a small creature with paws instead of hands could not even begin such a task. It also involved the use of water, a bit of a no-no for all but the swimming cat.
The kitchen is a mess of disconnected clothes drier and shopping yet to be put away, but I still managed to make a mega-load of cheese straws for Paul's birthday party tonight. It's gonna be good, it's gonna be good.
Daniel Takes a Train are playing as well as Helen and the Horns; Gareth, who is a classical pianist (he played on Christmas Queen) will be playing and some others too. I'm going over a bit early to help McSis shove things about in the church hall, with my party clothes in plastic bags. I'm even attempting heels tonight- gold ones!
I ended up making my own cup of tea; thing is, the cat probably would have put the wrong amount of milk in, anyway.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ears, but Could Be Hands

Boy, I'm tired.
I enjoyed last night's gig. Paul the Girl came, and I'm glad. She is very funny. She said my day of seeing 40 students one by one for ten minutes each was a bit like speed dating. Not quite as entertaining, perhaps.
I liked the first band, Olympic Countdown. They were 'mature' but as enthusiastic as teenagers, with a very competent drummer and a bass player whose fluffed lines only added to the charm. 'A', shouted the singer/guitarist. So the bass player played A, but by that time the music had headed off somewhere else. They had good songs, though, in spite of the ramshackle delivery. Personally, I prefer my music thus, ramshackle, enthusiastic and utterly natural.
I wasn't so keen on a bill with so many poets, but that's just me, probably. I know Ingrid is a poet too and I like her stuff, but I felt like listening to songs and having my spirits lifted last night. I did enjoy singing though and I played the Christmas Queen for the first time ever and possibly the last, as I will never ever be able to learn that many words.

This morning I was up with the lark,
Up in the dark
I heard a dog bark
Across in the park
I had work to mark.
Poetry, nix, nix.

Down to the University of the East I drove, filling up on screen wash for the second time in as many weeks, being as I put the last lot in the engine cooling water but it said on the internet that it doesn't matter (not in a Peugeot, anyway, although I haven't got one of those).
I met many jerky drivers on the road- whizz, screech, whizz, screech: slam-braking with a jerk as they tried to force the people in front of them to drive faster. Jerk in practice, jerk by nature. Don't they notice how many accidents there are on that road? Here's a hint, tailgaters- if you're in a hurry, don't use that road. It is slow and full of speed cameras. Stay at home and think of something else to do, like chasing your cat up the stairs.

You drive jerkular
Round the North Circular

I fanned my guilt for a while at work- there's a major thing I haven't done but I'm putting off worrying about it until I have some spare worrying capacity. I came home late morning to find a Christmas Tree had been thrown over the fence. Well, hootly hoo, I had thought it was going to be respectfully delivered this afternoon, but maybe that's just me again.
It was seven feet high and I had to hack away at the trunk with a rusty saw to force it into its red tin stand. We decorated it, even with the lights that don't work just in case they change their mind. Then I sat back and smiled at it for ages, as they make me ecstatically happy; the smell, the look, the ridiculousness of dragging a massive tree through the house in its white net foreskin thing and scaring the living daylights out of the cats in the process. It was very heavy.
Now I am listening to the beautiful voice of Colin Blunstone. How I wish I could sing like that! Bending and soaring, his voice slides with ease across the octaves, through different timbres, breezing out of his nose, his mouth, his body.
The DVD camera is charging so Ian can film Helen and the Horns tomorrow. Dunno how I'm going to get it on to Youtube though, because my camera is ancient, but I'll have a go. I am really looking forward to it- there were moments when we were rehearsing on Monday when all the excitement came back. I have been singing and playing this afternoon, but we did so many gigs the songs are physically part of me, like my ears.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Voices of Experience, Thursday Night

I'm playing at Voices of Experience tomorrow night. It's a charity evening with lots of interesting artists organised by Ingrid Andrew, who is an illustrator as well as a performer. Her nights are always good- she is a good promoter and it's always nice to play her nights because the other performers are so interesting.
I will be playing a special Christmas set.

Woolielegs 2

Martin's just sent me this photo of Woolilegs, which captured her very well.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rehearsal, Horns

Well it was very nice to see Tony Trumpet again, I must say. He is as genial as ever.
The Christmas traffic almost stopped play, and we had only 45 minutes in the end, but we ran through Two Strings to your Bow, Freight Train, Lonesome Country Boy, Snakebite and My Black Rose. We had to abandon Footsteps at my Door because we have too many versions of it to find our way around. Pity, as it's one of my faves to play and sing. Funny to have been in such different bands, such different flavas, man. It was nice to play the old stuff: second time around, the sax and trumpet started to gel and I remembered what it had been like when Helen and the Horns was in full flow with everything all neat and tidy and punchy. You get such a buzz out of knowing your band is good. I always thought The Chefs made great records but weren't so good live- we were always drunk and I sang out of tune, as I couldn't compete with how loud the band played. On the other hand I thought Helen and the Horns were best live- our recordings sounded good sometimes but there was a real joy to the sound that came over really well when we had an audience geeing us up. I remember people standing in the front row with set lists requesting songs from us, and people pogoing at Warwick University one week then playing the Cafe Royale in Regent Street, and people in full evening dress waltzing around in front of us the next.

Nother Review

Just had another review, this time from Wearsthetrousers e-zine, I'm chuffed to bits!!!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rockin' Zebra

I spent yesterday evening copying discs for the Song Club, fifteen in all, while simultaneously trying to practice exotic fingerpicking. I would praise my own multi-tasking, but in reality, both activities took just as long as they would have done if I had not been doing the other.
This morning, I took the bag of CDs down to the school, each one named in case of Fighting. And each sibling had one, too, in case of Fighting.
I can remember the first line of Christmas Queen but not any of the others. This is not because I'm hopeless at remembering lyrics, which I am, but because before I do that gig I have to do one-to-one tutorials with more than 40 students and then record at least three sets of students' songs at the Songlab, which is shortly to be abolished, much to my distress. That's going to be what's known as a 'busy day' but I will be a good listener in those tutorials because if I speak too much I won't be able to sing in the evening.
Note to self: Friar's Balsam in bag for emergency snorting if necessary.
Yesterday evening I also did a drawing for Martin, possibly for The Daintees to use as a poster. I liked that, as I hardly get to draw at all these days apart from doodles at meetings at work.
I hope you like the pics- the rocking zebra from Asprey's (I want one, I want one!) and the nice notice from Foyle's bookshop, an indicator of the predilections of its more nerdy customers.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Book Roundup of 2008

Here are some of the books I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this year.
I thought I would share these with you, as I know you want to be just like me.
Travel Scrabble by Margaret Drabble
Elementary Bowling by J.K. Rowling
Put Some Sauce On by Nigella Lawson
Bully Off! by Evelyn Waugh (I know, I know)
A Sojourn in Boston by Jane Austen
Ranulph the Otter by Beatrix Potter
Five Leave the Light On by Enid Blyton
My Brother Ate My Squirrel by Gerald Durrell
Victorian Chickens by Charles Dickens
Why I Hates Beer by William Shakespeare
The Vicar's Snarl by Roald Dahl
Bond Saves a Lemming by Ian Fleming

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Exciting, Dangerous and Expensive Reason for Not Learning Lyrics

The clothes drier has just caught fire. I thought the toast was burning, then I realised that nobody was making toast.The kitchen was full of smoke and I couldn't work out where it was coming from.
It stings the eyes and I've had to open a window really wide even though it's cold, because the smoke is thick. I have unplugged the drier and put it in the middle of the kitchen to cool down.
Poo wot a pong.
I guess everybody in my house will be giving each other one clothes drier between all of us for Christmas, or more likely we will all walk around in damp clothes smelling faintly of wet dog. Or alternatively we could send our clothes to charity shops when they're dirty and buy a new lot while we're in there, hoping that no-one else has been up to the same mucky tricks as us!

Long-Winded Posting to Avoid Learning Lyrics

There is another review of Poetry and Rhyme in Collected Sounds, an American blog dedicated to female music, by Amy Lotsberg.
It's a really interesting publication, as Amy reviews everything she is sent and actually listens to them all.

Meanwhile, i am trying to learn the words of Christmas Queen for my gigs this week. I just haven't had the time to get the he-mails and she-mails choir together, which is a real pity. I have a darker Christmas song to sing as well, based on a true incident that happened a few years ago.

I can't believe it, but Helen and the Horns will be playing on Paul Davey's birthday in our original form. Tony has come out of hiding, and Dave Jago, who was ill, is going to be better in time. I will have to blow the dust off the horn parts, which are buried in the oak-pannelled archives of this crumbling mansion, along with a Blue Peter time capsule and a set of false teeth for the future.
I hope I can persuade someone to video it! I can remember the songs as clearly as daylight; I suppose we must have played them all hundreds of times. I'll spend Saturday morning making a thousand plates of cheese straws before M25ing it to McSis's side to help set up the hall. It's gonna be a weird weekend as the next day I'm busking the Christmas Vintage Fair and then playing at the World's End in Finsbury Park in the evening. Luckily my vocal cords are made of a combination of thrice-tanned leather and tough sisal gardener's string. I will be selling the leftover cheese straws for charity at the vintage fair, and for my own greedy self in the evening.
If you believe that, you'll believe anything, mate.
Oh God, that's just reminded me of the time Tony, a very heavy smoker at the time, cleaned out his trumpet in the dressing room, for the first time ever after years of playing.
It was SO disgusting... green, grey, yellow, wobblyjelly slimy grobblies... UGH UGH UGH!
It says a lot about how much we liked Tony that we were Still His Friend after that episode.
Tomorrow, my home factory gets into production, to make CDs for the Barnet Hill Song Club Winter Festival Song Choir. It's just one song, and I was going send off for CDs for the whole school but then I realsed it would be better to run another songwriting project there in the summer as the dear little school is closing down forever. I have run songwriting projects there for about thirteen years, first in class and then after school, so it will be the last ever Song Club. I see some of the children walking round town as adults now, and even the not-very-nice ones with fags hanging out of their mouths kicking the bus shelter stop what they are doing and say hello. It's amazing that they're not embarrassed actually!

I do need to find a new studio to work in; that will have to be the January project. I can get so far on Garageband, but it's actually the excursion to the studio that I like. No cats walking across the computer keyboard, no automated phonecalls ('Do you realise that customers all over the UK...'), no baby next door with loud voice having tantrum, no upsetting emails from work, no housework begging to be done with sad eyes! Just pure, clear, concentration time and a feeling of making progress.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Second-hand Christmas Songs

In case you missed out last year, I have four cheesey Christmas songs available on iTunes or Klicktrack. If you search under Helen McCookerybook, they will appear and cheer you throughout the festive season.
When I'm bored, I do searches for Poetry and Rhyme to see what different permutations of the album name and my name that I can find.
Pottery in Rome by Nelly MacBook, perhaps.


The students at the University of the East are doing presentations today, which means I've been trudging about the place bristling with camera tripods, the camera, my computer, my packed lunch and my bones to hold them all together. The job-lot is very heavy and I have been employing a certain degree of momentum to propel myself to my various destinations; I can travel about 3 metres forward after descending the stairs, using no energy at all; the down-elevator gives me about 2 metres if I store the propulsion. Going upstairs is the physical equivalent of a big, sad, sigh and at the moment I'm sitting in my office recharging my batteries through rapid consumption of Marks and Spencer's Red-and-Blacks, soup (that which has not spilled on my dress), coffee, and, in a minute, a banana. I have to time it so that I don't get the dry equivalent of swimmer's cramp, which means sitting still for a while and not swinging on the revolving chair, which under normal conditions is a fun lunchtime pastime.
I dressed appropriately for the gravitas of the situation in greys and blacks, with an unfortunate 'fetching pineapple' hairdo that appeared as a result of getting ready in the dawn twilight. At least I got my lipstick on my lips and not all over my face, which occasionally happens when it's applied at the red traffic lights.

I've been reading the draft of Lucy O'Brien's first novel and really enjoying it. I was only going to read chapter one, but I had to print off two and three because I needed to know what was going to happen next. I think that is a pretty good sign.
Yesterday Martin emailed me the mixes of our album, Hamilton Square. It is almost ready, and then we will have to find a company to release it unless we just do it privately.
I haven't totally given up on The Chefs. Once I've picked myself up and dusted myself off (ha ha) I will start all over again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

R.I.P. Woolielegs

Woolielegs was a round ball of black and white fur who lived wild at the bottom of Jimmy and Martin's garden in Barbaraville.
She ate birds (left the wings), bacon and other bits she could scrounge from Jimmy and Martin, sunbathed like tame cats do, and had that odd self-possessed air (some call it arrogance) that is a feature of feline creatures.
She survived outdoors most winters but had recently moved in to Jimmy's house, I hear, where she actually played around like a domesticated cat.
She survived some horrible injuries (possibly being attacked by a seagull, or maybe being hit by a passing car) but could not survive her own illness.
She was like a little guardian of the cottages, wandering around doing her cat-chores, following the cat map, running through wild animal routines and communicating with humans when necessary in a squeaky little voice.
Poor Woolielegs, I will miss you, and the idea of you too.

DJ Sonny's Review

DJ Sonny sent me this lovely review from Bangkok, and says its OK to put his translation up here. It is from Thailand's Esquire magazine; what a perfect place to be reviewed!

> Helen McCookerybook
> "Poetry & Rhyme"
> [Barbaraville]
> For those who were willing to part with their hard-earned
> to own a legal
> copy of Helen McCookerybook's last CD "Suburban
> Pastoral" from the strength
> of our review, would not believe how lucky they are - as
> they have been
> rewarded with one of the most sublime and beloved music
> albums. The same
> group of people will definitely be delighted to learn that
> Helen is now
> releasing her new album, "Poetry & Rhyme".
> This latest one shines brighter
> than other recent releases. Much credits are due from
> Martin Stephenson,
> Elle Osbourne and Gina Birch, but Helen's precious
> voice and
> wildflower-scented melodies remain highlights. Gina's
> bass in "Screaming"
> distills a lover's rock feel over Helen's folky
> guitar licks. "January In
> Paris" reminds us somehow of a lost scarf once owned
> by The Style Council
> circa "Cafe Bleu" sessions. "A New Day"
> promises a shining hope, thanks to
> Martin which contributes his guitar magic to this catchy
> song. Title track
> mid-album is full of grace, something similar to angels
> singing during one
> of lover's London afternoons. Closer
> "Silkworm", just Helen and her
> keyboards, could well be a lost, much-heralded balearic
> track for this
> winter. Like loving and caring as poetry and rhyme.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Winter Melody: Song Club hits the studio

I spent the morning wrestling with the click-track of Garageband, trying to make a backing track to take into the studio in the afternoon; not being a strummer, my timing was drifting hither and thither, with the blip blip blip of the metronome nagging me at the centre of my skull.
Then I did a perfect version minus a verse; then a version where I lost my place in the chorus and couldn't remember if I'd already played a bit of it or not; then I realised that I was recording it through the computer microphone and not the line-in.
Exasperated, I made a giant cupatea and the ears-rest did me good.
The next version was fine and I burned off a CD and stuck an MP4 on to my USB drive as a back-up.
I'd forgotten Chuck Warner was going to call from the States, but we had a nice chat about all things female-musical 1970s/1980s, and I know we will talk again soon. He's going to send me some music and I'm looking forward to that.

It was time to go down to the school and collect the children. They were all there, loud and with their packed lunches, and Sejal was there to help. We made a shouting crocodile and shouted up the road in the bitter cold (why didn't their voices scare the frost away?), crunching to a shouting halt at the kerbside, folding together like an accordion before expanding again as we crossed. They stumped down the narrow stairs to the studio and into the live room, and subsided on to the floor where they rummaged in their Tesco bags for their peperamis and crisps. Lee had set up a couple of microphones and we did coats-off (no velcro, zips or rustling anorak material to spoil the singing), and launched straight into it. The song came together second-take, and we managed to do a harmony too before they trooped into the control room for a fidgety listen. It's more of a boisterous shout than a song, in places, but I felt proud of them because they are so young and they got into their gig like a bunch of mini-pros. In less than an hour, the lyrics were de-blutacked from the wall and we were off back down to the school, much too fast because it was downhill on the way back and childrens' legs are set to auto-run on downward gradients, pre-fall. Every so often I had to slow them down as the angle between their heads and their feet became dangerously acute.
We had a listen when we got back. It was great. I had had a nice day, and so had they.