Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Punch and Judy

It has become all too exciting of late to be an employee of the University of the East, what with the pronouncements of our grizzled colleague about stringing up bankers and so on.
The trouble is, it turns social occasions into discussion forums. I don't think about him at all really; he reminds me so much of the sillarchists- the silly 'anarchists' who tried in vain to persuade the punks to sign bits of paper and Be One Of Them, missing the point that to be a true anarchist you don't sign pieces of paper and belong to organisations, because that is what you are against.
This is not to say I am a fan of the bankers, many of whom should substitute a 'w' for the 'b' at the beginning of their label. Nor am I against my grizzled colleague; I don't think he really intended that his words should encourage people to go off and commit murder. All that wearies me is the predictability of the print media, in desperate need of stories and scandals to boost their circulation, who are magnifying little stories to hide the big ones, and predicting riots and hellfire so they have a story to tell over the next few days.
The University of the East is closing down for two days, much to the distress of many of the academics who want to teach their students.
There used to be a brilliant postcard on sale in the shop where I worked for a couple of years. i wish I still had one! It depicted a small bungalow with a red roof and cream walls; visible at the windows were a suburban couple, peering out worriedly, and quite understandably, for their bungalow was swirling about underwater in a deep green sea, patrolled by nasty looking hungry sharks. "STAY AT HOME" commanded the postcard.
We are all being told it is far too scary to go outside, especially if that means collecting together with other people to protest about something. STAY AT HOME with a TV dinner and watch it on the news! Let other people voice opinions for you, and if you disagree with them, you can be cross as you STAY AT HOME and switch channels to something that doesn't make you as cross.
What am I doing tomorrow? Will I STAY AT HOME? No, actually, I am going ice skating with Gina. I am too afraid of the police to go on marches any more. They are supposed to be a Police Service here in the UK but turn into a Police Force at whim, and I don't want to be whacked on the head with a truncheon and turned into a character from a Punch and Judy Show.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Raincoats, Saturday Night

The night I'd been looking forward to for weeks didn't disappoint!
I met Caroline at the caff in the Tate Modern and she yanked me into a taxi as it started to pour with rain, so we arrived in style. The film took a while to behave, appearing without sound twice before settling down and running. The first impression was the true-to-the-feel-of-the-times element. Having spent the punk experience in Brighton, I rarely went to London, but I could see that there was the same power nationally in the music and the subculture.
The earliest footage shows the Raincoats almost looking like the New York Dolls- tall, some in high heels, brightly coloured and quite glam. Later, their style evolved to a more personal one. What was most striking was Palmolive- she was a fantastic drummer- fast, imaginative and fun- you see her grinning at the audience and generally having a whale of a time. Additionally, the band were very tight and well-rehearsed, something Ari said about the Slits. Just because the music was different to the ears and broke the rules doesn't mean to say the players didn't know what they were doing with sound. There was also some great footage of the group in the studio- a very young Geoff Travis is there, and the girls look intense and focused, and very very close to each other.
There was a lot of talking-head material in the film too- Jane Mo-Dette, there in the audience, looking splendidly extraordinary, the most stylish woman of the noughties without a doubt, Vivien Goldman being perceptive and funny, a bit too much David Thomas but one very funny sequence with Ana and Gina off-camera, Lucy O'Brien, Viv Albertine, Scritti Politti's dreadlocked drummer Tom (who told a funny anecdote about the Raincoat's live sound guy hating them so much he was listening to AC/DC on his headphones during their soundcheck), lots of others. Gina has done a great job; it bears her stamp of being intelligent, political and humorous in combination.
Afterwards we watched a live set, starting off with No One's Little Girl which featured Gina's daughters sitting with dangling legs at the front of the stage playing percussion, Shouting Out Loud with two false starts that added to the informality, One in a Million, Don't Be Mean and then a hilarious instrument-swapping episode in which the leads all got tangled up. 'We always make it look so effortless, don't we?', laughed Gina, and they launched into Babydog, a Hangovers song. Touchingly, Ana dedicated the next song, Step by Step, to the medical staff who have been treating Shirley's illness.
They finished with a rip-roaring version of Lola. Earlier, Gina had quoted Ray Davies' comments about their version of his song: 'making a single sound like an album track instead of an album track sound like a single'.
Well, this sounded more sexy, lively and exciting than the Kink's insouciant version, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr Ray Davies who promises to come and talk to songwriting students and then lets them down at the last minute!
The Raincoats fully deserved their standing ovation. After all this time you can see what a bona fide art rock band they were and are. Just because they are female, people said they couldn't play. But this film shows a rule-breaking band who played very tightly and with such energy, making a rock spectacle at the same time, that would put many of today's male rock bands to shame!
Pics show the band singing Lola, and Caroline, me, Lucy and Rhoda Dakar having a larf backstage.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yellow Paper

While racing through a three-hour knitting marathon last night, I tuned in to Jazz 625 and watched the Dave Brubeck Quartet, all suits and seriousness, groove their way through a few jazz toons. What struck me most was the sound quality- the audio tape was slipping in a perfect reproduction of the tapes I used to make from the radio/tape combo I had on the table at home. I used to sit there drawing into the wee small hours, listening first to John Peel (right from the days of Pete Atkin) then to Jazz Club, taping bits of whatever sounded good. Everything had the first bit missing because I only had about three cassettes and so couldn't tape whole shows. I'd wait until a song began and then if I liked it, press 'record'. I had to tape over everything and my tapes got worn out and fuzzy and slipped. The slippy audio track last night took me right back to my wobbly recordings of Peel shows and rare Jazz Club tracks. There was one that I really liked and tried to keep- Michael Garrick's Galilee which had Norma Winstone on vocals. I became a total fan of her voice and got into Ian Carr's Nucleus for a while (RIP Ian). Unforchly, that track was never released and remains buried under numerous other recordings-over, merely a memory in magnetic particles. When I am a scientist I will devise a way to retrieve lost tracks hidden under tapings-over, just as they find lost images under famous paintings!
... and all that led me to remember that McDad's best friend Charles used to work in the X-Ray Department at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne. X-Ray film at that time came wrapped between slices of folded yellowy-orange paper, and Charles used to save it in massive cardboard boxes, bung it in his car ind bring it over every so often on a Sunday afternoon for me to draw on. Imagine that! For a child who likes drawing, that is the equivalent of regularly being given a thousand pounds to spend. I would spread it all on the table and draw deep into the night.. John Peel, Jazz Club, and Radio Luxemburg, or even occasionally, Radio North Sea...

Stimorol Gum
Stimorol Gum
Stimorol Chewing Gum
Stimorol Gum
Stimorol Gum
Stimorol Chewing Gum
Stimorol Chewing Gum, Stimorol Chewing Gum

Ah- the jingles worked!

Friday, March 27, 2009


Jamie from the Irrepressibles came in to talk to the songwriting students at the University of the West yesterday. I found it fascinating; I have taught Jamie and known him for about eight years- but how often do we find out how people we know tick? He was marvellously open with the students and sang to them live, which they found totally engaging.
On the way in, I met Shirley, the Raincoats manager, who was buzzing with excitement about the Raincoats documentary which is going to be shown tomorrow night at the NFT. It's been sold out for weeks. I am going with Caroline, which will be fab as we haven't seen each other for ages, and the whole thing is a luscious plum of an evening to look forward to! Gina has been working like mad, editing, incorporating rare footage from personal archives, and I can't wait!
Meanwhile, my evenings are spent frantically knitting a jumper for my oldest offsprog, who is at Art College. It's a mass of enthusiastic dropped stitches and uneven tension but it's a lovely colour and even if it doesn't fit it's victim, then maybe it could be stuffed as a friendly cushion with its arms extended for a cuddle. Or something.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Live Music

That's another thing. There is a very interesting academic article about Cher that links her cosmetic surgery to her vocoder-treated vocals. So much pop music features vocals that are treated in the same way as an airbrushed photograph in OK Magazine. Everything sexually appealing is enhanced, and everything to do with individuality and imperfection is removed in order to create an impossible ideal.
There is a constant imposition of power by producers on to pop and rock music. It's like a tug-of-war. At the end of the 1970s, those big mega-bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer built themselves up with layers and layers of technological mystique: four keyboards for Rick (even one behind him! What was he going to play that with? His bum?), an electronic relationship with classical music for ELP, massive lighting rigs. The pub rockers and the punks slipped under the pomp-fences and stole the power back.
There was a device called an Aural Exciter in the late 1980s that picked out and magnified to top-end of a vocal performance, creating an artificial clarity and intimacy in the voice. If you knew about it, it was all you could hear when you listened to recorded music- and live, for that matter. I went to see a chap I knew called Spike play double bass in the musical Buddy, which of course was about Buddy Holly. They had one on their mixing desk, and the quantity of Aural Exciter that the sound engineer loaded on to the vocals removed all the wax from my ears, the dandruff from my hair, the pigment from my skin and the plaque from my teeth. These physical benefits were a marvel, but I had gone out to be entertained and the physical makeover was a bit of a shock!
One student is writing about Autotune, a device which is being hotly debated at the moment by producers. Almost all the big
stars' recordings feature Autotune, which tempers the pitch of singing to make it bang-in-tune. It's fun to use in the studio, but hard to subtract once you have heard a dodgy vocal being put in its place.
I helped to organise a conference about music technology about ten years ago, and there was a man from the University of Oslo showing a prototype; his guinea pig was a vocal performance by a guy who had walked into an auto-recording-booth and sung an operatic aria completely off key and with a ghastly timbre, much in the style of a male Florence Foster Jenkins. The academic twitched and twiddled the voice until it was a 'perfect' tenor rendition, and I suppose this research must have found its way into Protools, the professional studio recording software.
Meanwhile, on the singer-songwriter circuit. the London standard tends towards the cautious, careful and self-Autotuned. Outside London, in general people merrily sing their songs and make mistakes, because in a sense, that's what live music is all about. Why stifle your expression and communication by trying to sound as though your voice has been processed by a machine?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Wrote a Song About Foxes and Hens But I'm Not Going To Tell You About That

I knew a student at Art College, who gave themselves suspected food poisoning after a meal of organic mince made into bolognaise sauce. The next week, they came down with the sickness again. What had happened? They had put the remainder of the bolognaise sauce into the freezer and eaten it again the next week!

I knew a child whose Grandfather died and who took to the piano like a demon, playing at breakfast time, teatime and night-time, making sadness into beautiful and dynamic music all day long.

Meanwhile, the cat has lost its collar and looks oddly naked in spite of its fur

I have too may ideas written on bits of paper and I'm trying to throw the paper away and keep the ideas. Could I store them in the air? Only if I make them into songs!
I was talking to a student yesterday about MP3s and how they have almost made music into air again, which is what it was in the first place: vibrations donging against our ear drums. As soon as recording started, so did the selling of music because it became a product with accessories galore, all of which became more and more necessary until poor music topped under the weight of its essential add-ons. And home recording? Well, didn't people used to have a piano in their living rooms to make music on? It's the same thing, only just the twenty-first century version.
Hickety pickety hoo.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Three Maple Men

Well, I looked up those antibiotics on the web the other day and it said amongst the side-effects 'depression and thoughts of suicide'.
Luckily, I have halved the dose and now feel only mildly miserable, and rather than my head being on a different planet entirely, it's orbiting my body at a comfortable distance, close enough to be able to summon up the odd thought if necessary.

Today was the Song Circle, and I took along the song written about a memento. This song fought the chords I was trying to force it into and dictated that it should be written as words first and then accompanied later. It is written about three maple sugar men in suits that I got in Vermont when I was 14 and I still have.

Three maple men
A trio
Of sugar frost
To freeze
One summer day

From serried trees it weeps
The sugared sap that bleeds after the snow

The humming bird
Is silent
It's honey beak
Is prying
Back through my years

O silver birch and maple leaf,
O sweet and sour and sour and sweet
The taste of time

A shaky bridge across the sea
From New England
To a fourteen year old me

A sunny day
After the snow
Back through my years
The taste of my tears

Three maple men
Three maple men
Three maple men

I love hearing everyone's stories at the Song Circle. Best one was one member's story of buying 14 bags of chocolate coins for a singing group that the member was chucked out of by text, as she was on her way to their Christmas do.
She dumped them all in a solo busker's case, much to his amazement.
I play that one over and over in my head!

Then this evening I went to hear Joan Ashworth's very funny and interesting professorial talk at the Royal College of Art. She played lots of really interesting animation clips which I will tell you about tomorrow, and also some of her own stuff which is really groundbreaking.

Then I came home and wrote this.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

TV Guide, Misread

8.35 Casualty
9.25 Liver at the Apollo

Eyre Chapel, Chesterfield

So I'm not allowed to be out in the sun with these tablets either...
So here's a little review of the gig at the perfect little Eyre Chapel, in Chesterfield, the town with the twisty-spired cathedral.

Tucked behind one of Chesterfield's many splendrous pubs, and across a dark car-park, there is a little oblong stone chapel with a wooden door; this is where David Lelievre decided to put on his first ever gig. I had picked Martin up at Luton and we drove up, bumping into Andrew 'guitar weekends' Bailey in the car park and Mike (of Mike-and-June, I hope June's better soon).
The chairs were out in neat rows and people were arriving already, looking excited. We did a quick soundcheck. The chapel is beautiful inside; it has plain whitewashed walls with shield-shaped wooden memorials attached at intervals, and big unvarnished wooden beams holding up its ceiling. Under the old altar there are lumps of statue, or at least, decorative masonry, and there's a tiny kitchen at the back. The back wall is hung with a giant patchwork tapestry, multicoloured and almost American-looking.
The audience was small and attentive, looking like a huge nest of beady-eyed animals, smiling in the cosy gloom; there was none of the rattling, mobile phonery, crackling, clinking or muttering that you get in pubs. This had a 'night out' feel, with the implication of treasured time, babysitters and for Martin's set, memories of student youth and happy gigs back in time. They received my set very warmly, which I really appreciated as it's still hard to play after McDad's passing.
Martin joined in on the Telecaster for Poetry and Rhyme, Autumn Love, Hamilton Square and Loverman. When he took to the stage it was great to be able to hear the words of his songs so clearly; he sang Crocodile Cryer as though he had only just written it.
He told stories and the audience members conversed with him happily. He did a lot of older songs, some that I had never heard before, as well as Rain and Home, and at several people's request, Nancy.
I thought it was the perfect gig- well-organised, sold out, and full of friendly people who wanted to listen. What more could anyone want?

Here to Hear: The Chefs, Helen and the Horns, & Jacques Brel

Here to Hear: The Chefs, Helen and the Horns, & Jacques Brel

Friday, March 20, 2009

Odd Day

I am taking tablets that have the side effect of plunging me into a deep depression between one and three p.m. (seriously!)
So yesterday, when my lunch date stood me up ('I forgot', she texted from South London) and the next person I bumped into told me they had forgotten to pass an important message to someone as they had promised, it was necessary to depression-surf. The University of the West's Gibson Firebird was nowhere to be seen, so I let myself into a studio with a lovely grand piano in it, and started to write a dramatic song about being forgotten, all descending doomy chords and wailing.
After about 40 minutes of that, it was time to teach, but an MA Audio student intercepted me in the corridor and diverted me into a studio where I spent five minutes recording a spoof advert for dirt, a new toy for children ('You can mix it with water and it turns into... mud! And when it dries, it turns back to dirt again!')

It was Quiet Persons Day, and the Quiet People came along and sang some beautiful lyrics to songs they have been working on more slowly than the Loud People, but having taken time to struggle it is obvious it will have been worthwhile for them by the time they have finished.
I played them examples: songs without lyrics (the Cocteau Twins, of course); short and perfectly formed (Bart Simpson sings Lisa it's your Birthday); controlled and clever madness (Ivor Cutler, and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band singing I'm an Urban Spaceman); Greg Kurstin at his best (A Bird and a Bee); I had Bone Thugs'n'Harmony, to play some sung rap but the person I wanted to play that to wasn't there. A young student asked to look at the next CD. "My Dad's on that', she said, and we played a song by Alton Ellis, some truly lovely Lover's Rock, that vastly underrated light reggae that was born in Jamaica and grew up in England.
I never got round to Emma Bunton (clumsy but successful lyric-writing) or the American Song-Poem Anthology (send us yer words, we do the rest). And the DVD of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg wouldn't come up on the screen, so that will have to wait till next week.

I don't know if it's the sunshine, but these students are a pleasure to associate with. It is hard doing two jobs; a lot of academics do it, alighting on different campuses with different rules and different flavours of students. What is good is seeing people suddenly get a grasp of new ideas and starting to buzz, just like the giant bumble bees that whizz past us with a purpose these sunny spring days.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For Sale

The house is still for sale and people have started coming out of hibernation like sleepy squirrels to look around it, leaving their manners in their burrows.
One lot marched around as though they already lived here, striding into the waterlogged garden and then straight up the stairs, leaving mud prints all the way. Another lot seemed to be visiting the decor; yet another family has been back three times, and includes a cupboard-opening father who chats away in Greek to his wife, making comments about things that I can't understand.
The house is brutally clean and tidy and feels like a place for everyone else except me.
I reclaim it when they have gone by walking through all the rooms and then singing and filling it with sound.

I have been rehearsing some of the older songs for the Eyre Chapel gig tomorrow night, a gig that I'm really looking forward to.
I noticed that in every song there is something I am scared of, which is stupidly silly, since I wrote the things in the first place.
In Heaven Avenue, it's the first vocal line.
In Temptation, it's the frilly guitar bit in the middle
In Loverman, its the guitar bits in between the singing, which give me cramp in my fingers
In Autumn Love, it's the chorus
Each song has it's quirk, apart from Little England, which just seems to flow along whatever is happening in the world, probably because it began as a therapeutic doodle in the first place. I have a new one that does the same, Three Maple Men which I haven't recorded yout but I might play tomorrow if a music stand doesn't look out of place.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jack Vettriano

For some unfathomable reason I woke this morning thinking about Jack Vettriano's paintings.
Is a great artist one who develops and progresses?
Is that why he is not regarded as a great artist, even though millions of people are reputed to buy his paintings on greetings cards and as prints?
Maybe he has secretly progressed and we should see a large exhibition of his, to show us that he deserves the same attention in the art history books as Picasso*
(Maybe, but I don't think I'll go to it!)
*an artist greatly wronged by a critic who once claimed he can't draw. After seeing the fabulously small and perefectly-formed Picasso collection in Barcelona, I am absolutely stunned by his drawing skills.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Daleks look like kitchen bins designed by Sir Terence Conran; would they cut the mustard as baddies with today's young people if their parents were not so pathologically terrified of them?

Monday, March 16, 2009


I have put a new track on Myspace, the Apple Tree song which is one of the tracks from Hamilton Square.
Mark Broad, who runs Second Sunday, has put a couple of live tracks on their Myspace, Poetry and Rhyme (with Martin playing too) and Love on the Wind- the url is www.myspace.com/songsintheroom
I've been listening to his CD, DrBoKarma, Don't Be Ridiculous, which is a cheery start to the Spring right from its first track, Real Ride.
Some of the tracks are Sesame Street sounding (remember that? Wasn't the music fab!) in particular Dancing Closer with its interplay between the vocals and sax, and Rats and Ladies which has a bass-driven groove and a 1920s effect on the vocals. There's also a definite upbeat Syd Barrett feel to some of the later tracks. Enjoyable, playable, what more can a listener want?
I've got the cd by A Smile and a Ribbon to listen to now...

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Wake up everybody! Thatcherism was a religion, and the hymns were Pet Shop Boys songs.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quiet People's Day

Yesterday afternoon was a gentle one; Katy Carr came to talk to the songwriters at the University of the West and played some of her songs live, then played recorded versions, which they found intriguing.
Afterward, I played them some tracks to show them that you don't have to be a Singer in order to make music work. I played them:
Linton Kwesi Johnson- Inglan is a Bitch
A song from Facade by Edith Sitwell and William Walton
Albert and the Lion by Stanley Holloway
The Slits- Typical Girls
Laurie Anderson- O Superman
Phil Harris- Woodman Spare That Tree
Something by Soweto Kinch
I also played them Mackie Messer sung by Lotte Lenya, and a track from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
I should have played some William Shatner and Rex Harrison's Talk to the Animals
One of the students had what the others called 'an old guitar'. He opened a battered case and took out a vintage Hofner acoustic, almost identical to the one I bought with the proceeds of my Viz Comic sale. Abracadabra!
And then we listened to their songs. Some people have not started yet and I think next week I will have a Quiet People's Day, dedicated to the people who don't speak very much.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Drawing by Felix and a Nice Gig

Hmm... sorry if anyone went to the wrong place last night!
The Queen Boadicea is a funky little pub in St John Street, Clerkenwell and this night is run by Jess, who is a really good promoter as she is quite obviously a total music fan. The atmosphere is perfectly relaxed and greatly enhanced by a group of young artists who sit at tables and sketch the acts, just for fun, while listening (I was intrigued because I often do this when I go to experimental music gigs). The audience listens and the other acts are interesting and varied- I particularly liked The Boy, The Girl and All the World who reminded me a little of A Smile and a Ribbon. They are a boy and a girl, and all the world seems to be a glockenspiel which the girl almost forgot to play, but the songs were fresh and sparkly and very well-rehearsed.
I hadn't known what to expect, and was a bit below par; this was the first outing since McDad died but you do have to get out and do it. People seemed to like my songs, though, and Jess stood at the side smiling and listening, as she did with everyone, which I found hugely encouraging.
Karen Gymslip came along, and so did Lester Square, who at one point had been toying with the idea of entering the live music fray again, and my Champagne Friend. I swapped a CD for this drawing by Felix. I had to leave before the end, unforchly, because one of the offspring has been poorly, but apparently there is a jam session at the end of every gig too.
It is on the first Tuesday of every month and well worth going to or playing at, depending on whether you are a punter or an act- or an artist for that matter!
By the way, the loos are beautiful. Take note, 12-Bar!

About a Comment a Few Postings Ago

About a comment a few postings ago: that was actually my one and only solo gig, not a Helen and the Horns one (and Helen and the Horns never got to play the Moonlight Club; that was the Chefs. Brilliant venue!)
After that gig, Alan McGee asked me to sign to Creation, which he had just started up. I said no, because I had always been in bands and didn't want to be a Joni-Mitchell-a-like, as I thought she was soppy. Don't forget, I was an ex-punk rocka and dreamy ladies behind big guitars were not my scene, which now is rather ironic, ha ha!
Looking back, it was a great vote of confidence from him, and he was surprised and a bit grumpy that I said no. I hope he has forgiven me now! Wouldn't it have been funny t have shared a label with Oasis, those subtle and sensitive purveyors of Dadrock?
I wrote songs especially for that gig and I still have them somewhere; I never recorded them or transferred them to another group. Six months later, Helen and the Horns were on their way and I was very happy with that.
The Nightingales were fantastic that night, by the way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Drugs and the Myersons

The unfortunate truth about teenagers is that they bring themselves up, choosing whether or not to prioritise what their parents, their teachers, or their peers tell them.
I have been reading about the Myersons, and their experience closely resembles that of at least two of my friends or relatives.
I also, unfortunately, can see that many of my students quite obviously use skunk. It makes them abusive, arrogant and unable to listen or learn. The users sit with a grey cloud over their heads, red-eyed and with a yellowish cast over their skin.
The next day, they can be normal and charming.
The problem with all drugs, including alcohol and tobacco (and I am not a stranger to them) is that they group the users together as a romantic clan. We have all seen films of the heart-wrenching troubles of the alcoholic, or know of the poets' struggles with opium. The user does not realise that they are boring, destructive and delusional (again, I include myself in this definition). There is something in the nature of humans to experiment to excess with chemicals, believing that they will solve all sorts of issues and help one to escape to a better place.
In a peer-group of users, even one as apparently simple as the lunchtime smokers outside an office block, the us-against-them feelings are reinforced, and all the inadequacies and failed expectations are rolled up into a ball of idealised otherness that makes one feel special for one's dependency.
Not using substances takes one away from comforting rituals and often social circles and friendships, where there is an agreement about what normal is. Most substances seem to have a built-in evangelism facility. I mentioned this once to a singer I knew, because smack is particularly bad in this respect. All addicts I have met have tried to tempt me into using it, waxing lyrical about how fantastic it is. He agreed with me. 'Mind you', he said, I have used it a few times and it's absoultely amazing. You've really got to try it'.
Myerson's father writes that he is an aspiring songwriter. If they're lucky, the family will get away with a set of seething songs describing their painful family relationships (no doubt a record deal is being negotiated). If they are not so lucky, young Myerson is negotiating as we speak with Max or a Max-a-like to write a totally poisonous book about his parents, and this will very probably focus his mind on his writing skills, justify his addiction (to himself) and if the family are fortunate, distract him from his utterly distressing and destructive behaviour.

Monday, March 09, 2009


I say tortoyze, though others lead me to believe that it is actually a tortuss.

In Praise of the Down to Earth

You see I do just keep forgetting what this blog was supposed to be for.
I am playing in Islington tomorrow night (that's Tuesday):

03-10-2009 20:30 at The Queen Boadicea
292-294 Clerkenwell Road, Clerkenwell, London and South East EC1V 4PA

Cost: Free

Angel Tube
8 – 8.30: Little Steve Long (www. myspace. com/littlestevelong) 8.40 – 9.10: Helen McCookerybook 9.20 – 9.50: The Boy The Girl and All The World (www. myspace. com/theboythegirlandalltheworld) 10 – 10.30: Jack Harris (www. myspace. com/jackharrismusic)

I also neglected to mention that Robert Lloyd wrote me to ask if I would like to open the night for a little tour by a couple of fantastic New York women, Christy and Emily, who play guitar and wurlitzer and who are absolutely brilliant. Gina is going to be the main support act, and this will be an amazing set of gigs. I do love playing gigs with Gina, and I cannot wait to see Christy amd Emily in action (they have a Myspace, well worth checking out). Their influences include Erik Satie and Jonathan Richman, and you can hear it in their music, which is a bit like listening in on a secret conversation between musical instruments while everyone is out somewhere and not expected back till midnight.
I was thinking about the Nightingales, Robert's band, this morning, and laughing, just as I always used to when John Peel played their tracks. The very first time that he announced their name, I was expecting something like the Marine Girls and was all primed for delicate vocals and thin and thrashy guitars, and out came Rob singing about being a baker, needing the dough, trying to make a bit of bread, in his big bad cynical Black Country voice. It got me every time! I've got lots of their music on vinyl; they are one of those bands that are secretly very clever, playing badly very well, as BIlly Childish once put it.
The bottom line, though, is that the Nightingales have fabulously memorable songs. I went to see them a while ago and was amazed at how many of them I recognised (I reviewed the gig here but I can't remember when).
They are hugely energetic live and have that completely unpretentious openness that a lot of the fringe-punk bands had, so refreshing. No business plan, hurrah!!!!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sugar Lumps

Ah, what colourful tomatoes. You may just be able to see the spelling of asparagus- apagus.
The most complex market-stall spelling I ever saw was in East Street Market in Walworth: essperegess.
The legs remind me of an art installation I once saw called Pervy Men, which had a row of trousered men's legs under brown mackintoshes that lifted one by one in sequence; it was exceptionally pervy and very disturbing.
My favourite stall was the one that sold silver plated sugar tongs, rows and rows of which were slotted over string suspended between the poles of the stall. It looked undignified; sugar tongs are like gentlefolk, polite, reserved, unfussily fussy, and should indicate the presence of sugar lumps piled in a silver sugar dish. To amass them in rows without their Victorian owners' permission seems rude and far too Warholian for such delicately-wrought fancies.
Even British Rail's bright orange tea used to come with two sugar lumps wrapped neatly in red tissue with 'Tate and Lyle' printed on it. McDad used to bring them home every week from London after his train trip and we used to crunch them greedily like little horses. McMum used to give us vitamin drops on a sugar lump every day, and the polio vaccine (I think it was that one) came as drops on a sugar lump too.
Bloody hell. Blogs cause one to ramble on about anything, especially on a Sunday evening!

Saturday, March 07, 2009


I was going to take you on a trip in photographs down Portobello Road; I might upload some tomorrow, perhaps.
I went round to visit Gina; she's busy editing lots of footage for the Raincoats film that's going to be shown at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival later this month. I haven't seen her for ages and she'd called two weeks ago to see if I wanted to go ice-skating (we used to do that together for a while), but it was McDad's funeral that day.
We drank coffee and had a micro-chat, and her daughter, who is nine, played guitar for us. I showed her daughter a new chord, A minor seventh, and then how to play the Three Little Fishes song, which she has always absolutely loved. That meant another new chord, B seventh. And then I showed her how to finger-pick using just her thumb and index finger, and she picked (ha ha) it up quite quickly.
Time to head off down posh Westbourne Grove, where women have flawless skin and Diptyque candles in their homes.
Portobello was packed with tourists- it was the sun wot brought them out- and I photographed the stacks, rows and piles of everything for sale. It was fun to browse; there was nothing I particularly wanted to buy, although there was a workwear stall that had a lot of interesting navy blue clothes and some very old-fashioned 1940s-looking vests in thick cream coloured cotton. I bought a huge shiny yellow pepper, a thick bunch of celery and a net with gigantic bulbs of garlic in it after waiting in a queue at a vegetable stall behind a man who bought ten pounds of onions which bounced all over the street when the stallholder wasn't paying attentione .
A songwriting student from a couple of years ago was standing on the corner, upset after being sacked from her job; she had been saving up to go to New York to do work experience with a soundtrack composer.
Some ladies in the park had consoled her, and she showed me pictures on her phone of a video she has been making to go with one of her songs. What an enterprising girl! We wandered up to the tube station and she told me all about her plans. Somehow, I believe she will be all right and will have a very interesting life. Apparently, Basement Jaxx had been in the University looking for new vocalists and her tutor, who had arranged the visit, hadn't told her about it. She was upset about that as well, but I suggested she should contact them, tell them what happened, and see if they will audition her anyway. I hope she does!
As I meandered along, I heard a taxi parp its horn. It was Martin, the taxi driver friend who kindly read my book to tell me if it was readable or not (you know they have big hippocampuses, cab drivers!). We said a London Hello (65 seconds) before he drove off to take tourists to Tower Bridge or whatever.
It has been a nice day with random social happenings. I bought some ink at the art shop when I got home and spent the evening drawing a poster for Martin Stephenson's night on the Little Boat in Hartlepool. I've not done any serious drawing since I stopped doing posters for Songbird, and I'd almost forgotten the joys of dipping the paintbrush into my tea by accident and (artists secret!) holding the picture up in front of the mirror so I can look at it as though someone else has drawn it.


This year's pigeon, last year's bee. It is a huge fur-coated bumble bee, thudding into the window angrily then stopping for an indignant rest. If I let it out it will die of cold so I'm keeping it.
The cat is intrigued but it's too big for her to fight and I think she remembers getting a Fat Lip a couple of years ago, then a Fat Paw, from trying to eat and play with bumblers. It's an amazing creature and it's quite good company.
Akiko Hada once tried to hire a bee for the video opera, The Fall Of The Queen, and was quoted £1000. She ended up using a toy one, but I'm wondering.. could this be my way out of the recession?

Friday, March 06, 2009


Today, I've done quite a bit of yesterday's tomorrowings; and some of today's tasks, I will do tomorrow.
I used to try to do everything that appeared on the horizon as soon as it appeared, but it's not always the right day to do things. Tomorrowing works quite well. Some tasks just disappear and others mature into simpler ones by the next day.
Others pile up into dull heaps of tangled hassle and are best dealt with as side- issues of more pleasant exercises.
A tedious visit to the Post Office is better seen as a walk in the Spring sunshine than 'destination foetid queue' and a dreaded visit to the Bank Machine can be fun after a tootle round the clothes shops that reveals that all fashions this year are unwearable bags and there is nothing to desire on that front and the old clothes stuffed into the bottom of the wardrobe will do for another year!
Of course there are some tasks that remain resolutely gruesome, but this is a positive blog and I will shout them into a bucket and put them out with the bins.

The Spring Pigeon

The Spring Pigeon is here.
'You stiooopid bugga....... you stiooopid bugga....... you stioopid bugga......... you stioopid bugga', it coos incessantly, and my waking brain clocks in and chants along with it until I remember that I'm a human and not a stioopid bugga, and get up to embrace the day.
It has its own time signature and if I was an artier sort of musician I would write a 'piece' based on its rhythm. And that of the gaps between telephone burrs as you wait for someone to answer, and of course windscreen wipers: tub.. thump, tub.. thump, tub.. thump.

Here is the first joke of spring:
What do you call a cat who is unnaturally attracted to its mother?
Oedi Puss

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

From Odile et Pierre Hamelin

Odile and Pierre have sent this lovely photo of the concert in the garden at Rochefort last year.


Ah, projects, the spice of life!

The University of the East has given me a little development grant to develop a proposal for later this year. I will have to get organised. I will go to buy some coloured card files (I like those) this avo, and then fill them up with papers covered in scrawled ideas and dreams.

The Chefs CD- just you try getting in touch with the BBC! They take ages to get through to on the blower, and then put you through to the wrong department that sends you the wrong form addressed to the wrong person. Very Gormenghast, actually, and freaktastic fun in a dark and negative way.

In the summer, I will put a little web shop here on the blog as I have tons of pantings, drawings, etchings and so on that I should sell- in two fat, bursting black leather-look portfolios concealed behind the curtains. Some of the stuff goes back to when I was 15 and I was a better artist than I am now.

Flowers- I shall spend as much as I can afford on spring flowers to celebrate life and regeneration!

Songs: well, I am writing away as always; the song writing group starts up again next Monday after Katy's exciting visit to Memphis. I write lots of songs, all the time, but only want to put the best on my next album. Hamilton Square is still in the pipeline. we even have artwork for that almost complete. It needs one last burst of energy and it will be finished. Both Martin and myself have had tough winters, but we'll get there.

Looks like I need to take more Suburban Pastoral CDs down to Rough Trade sometime soon as well.

I need to buy ink. I need to draw. I need to fill all the gaps in life with drawing and music!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

William's 78

William (from 2 postings ago) invited me for tea when he lived in London.
He had an old 78 country record, and he put it on the gramophone.
'Oh a woman is a ..., and a woman is a ...' (I can't remember the exact words)
A whiney man's country voice complained for three minutes and fifty-five seconds, blaming all the ills of the world on 'a woman'.
At the end of the record, the man said, 'Now turn this record over to find out what the woman has to say'.
William turned the record over, and to the same melody, a woman's voice complained; 'Oh a man is a ... and a man is a ...'.
And of course, at the end of the song, the woman advised us, 'Now turn this record over to find out what the man has to say'.
I thought about that record for ages afterwards.
What if you never stopped playing it?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Helen and the Horns

There will be a Helen and the Horns gig at the Borderline on Charing Cross Road on the 18th of September.
The Daintees have very kindly asked us to support them that night.

Clothes'n'things; an odd segue

When I was a little girl I bought Many Eccentric Things from jumble sales in the Institute in Wylam, where I was brought up. For sixpence I could buy a stack of used 7-inch vinyl singles (I've still got some of them). This was like acquiring a mysterious radio programme- somebody else's taste, worn and crackly. I suppose these days, I would've been 'diggin', except I was the wrong gender and the wrong location for that because you're supposed to be a young urban male. I also acquired strange books: 'Scouting For Boys' (yes Mr B-P, that's you, sir, in all your weirdness) which had fantastic concepts- the bucket up a tree with holes in it and a little boy pouring what must have been cold water on to another little boy beneath to make a makeshift shower. I know I have blogged about it before. Unforchly, McMum had a massive clearout when I left home and that, and my copy of 'Thoroughly Modern Millie', which McMum thoroughly modernly disapproved of, went probably back to another village jumble sale, along with 'Gert and Daisy's Wartime Cookery Book'. In a fit o nostalgia several months ago I put out a search on eBay, and hole and below, as my French manager Claudine used to say, it turned up and I now have a very soft and worn copy of the book with its sad recipes for wartime Britain, and the stylish black and white cartoon Gerts and Daisys, with their huge heads and tiny bodies, discussing things with sly smiles and crisp pinnies over their frugal clothing, at the beginning of each chapter.
Once, I bought a huge and beautiful pale green ankle-length coat with bell sleeves and a lovely slippery satin lining. I drifted hither and thither up and down the village with my head in the clouds until my friend Debbie, who was very down to earth and practical, refused to go anywhere with me until I abandoned the pale green coat.
So that one went back to the jumble sale, to be replaced by a matted black jumper that was solid with being washed too much, and a hairstyle made by plaiting my hair while it was wet and unplaiting it when it was dry. 'You look like a sheep', said McDad. So I started ironing my hair on the ironing board to make it straight (I'd seen Barbra Streisand say she had her hair ironed in some film or other).
I made a blouse out of the kitchen curtains that McMum was throwing away (red and white checked cotton). Big Bruv grew bigger than me and I inherited his Levis, and wore them with my shirt and a pair of Stars and Stripes clogs that I bought mail-order from Sounds. I know I looked ridiculous because I was painfully thin in spite of eating half a loaf of bread a day, but I did not care. Clothes were part of getting out of the village and having adventures and even at the age of thirteen, when I bought my first ever lipstick (Rimmel, gold), I didn't care a fig for what everybody else thought you were supposed to do. I didn't like being different, but people had made fun of me even when I wore ordinary things like them. In doing that, people liberate you from even trying to blend into the herd, which is both a blessing and a curse. It forces you to go off and have adventures, to find other people like you; I found them at Sunderland Polytechnic, where I did my Art Foundation course. Dennis, from Jarrow, who could buy tabs of LSD for sixpence as a child and who told us the natural fluoride in the water in Jarrow meant you never had to brush your teeth if you came from there. He broke his tooth on a chip one lunchtime.
There was William, with his loud voice. 'William strode into the canteen: everyone looked round', he would bellow as he strode into the canteen and everyone looked round.
There was Tom, brother of one of the Kane Gang (B-B-Byker... GROVE!), who collected the clay ginger-beer stoppers that you found on the beach at Ryhope (they had been dumped into the river Wear when the factory closed down) and made a mysterious game that not even he could play.
There was Sheena, who had a laugh like Muttley, and who once dropped a ping-pong ball on the top step of the lecture theatre which bounced loudly down each step in slow motion during an excruciatingly intense and boring lecture.
There was Fiona, who wore boy's clothes and shoes, Trevor who liked rainbows, Owen who had been a gas man but changed his mind and decided to be an artist instead. Susan who, in a state of cold fear, hoovered up spiders every day with her mother's vacuum cleaner.
Our teacher Brian had been at Newcastle University with Brian Ferry. Imagine that!
And that's just half of 'em. Three cheers for art colleges! Brilliant places where madness is nurtured and cherished, where vulnerable people collide with extraordinary people, where you can be fat, thin or in-between and where you are barricaded from the rest of the world with a mountain of weird projects and activities invented by senior, madder versions of yourself.

Gordon the Gopher

Remember Gordon? He used to have his own little slot on children's TV with Andy somethingorother and he used to squeak annoyingly and once really wound Des Lynam up by appearing in a hinged toupee, flicking to one side with a flourish and challenging Des to do the same!
I was writing songs for a theatre group, Count of Three, and we had a drummer in the little band who lived in Stamford Hill.
He was riding along on his bicycle one morning and he found a package at the side of the road. It was Gordon the Gopher's Olympic costume, all wrapped up ready to be tried on. He phoned the BBC and they were deeply grateful and relieved to have such a valuable asset returned to them; it had fallen off the back of the despatch bike as it was hurried along to Television Centre for the evening's show.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


One broken car in London, to be driven to Newcastle on Saturday; 5 minutes out of the garage, an almighty clanging ensued, and I had to take it back to be fixed again. Meanwhile, my own car in Newcastle had broken down, and had to be fixed. The London-broken-down car broke down again this morning, but was fixed again this afternoon.
I have returned from a breeze of a drive back in my mended car, only disturbed on the journey by watching flocks of starlings through the windscreen scribbling on the milky clouds, and listening to Toots and the Maytals.
I have learned to articulate my philosophy.
Tomorrow, it will be tomorrow, and it won't be today any more.