Thursday, December 31, 2009


Yesterday my friend Joan came round for a visit, forging through the freezing drizzle in her new Christmas hat.
She's an animator and she has animator anecdotes that are in a different genre to my musical ones. That's one of the interesting things about Christmas socialising: picking up little stories in your shopping basket. For instance, at Gina's the other day I was told by one of her neighbours about a Marc Jacobs Coca Cola bottle that someone didn't know what to do with.
Put it on eBay? Take it to Oxfam?
'Drink it', I suggested.
 Joan had set up an experiment with pinhole cameras and monochrome photographic paper, with her neighbours. They had all made pictures of the slow trajectory of the sun across the sky and then shown them at Christmas drinks parties. Will Self, the writer, had been at one of them, and had got very upset at the thought of Joan using Photoshop to bring out the best qualities in the prints she'd made from the photographs.
After mulled berry juice in the warm gloom of the kitchen, we went on a tour of the best charity shops in Barnet, foraging and browsing for hours.
Joan was going to a masked ball last night and she bought a lovely midnight-blue dress and two vintage beaded handbags. One of them was dripping with strands of tiny green beads and looked as though it had been dredged up from a coral reef. I bought a sheath dress covered in a print of wisteria (good! I never manage to grow the bloody stuff!) and a tiny silver pill box with a dog's head on it.
I saw other people doing the same as us; there was a woman in a fluffy jacket with beige dogs printed on it who appeared in the same shops, sometimes before us and sometimes after us, buying different sorts of things.
Joan's students are having a competition to see who has the most revolting Christmas-present jumper and we found a humdinger for Joan to wear, potentially: but it was just too ghastly.
Afterwards we returned home with our spoils to show the Offsprogs, as though they were our mums, and scoffed mince pies.
How very different to the fierce and greedy scrum of the sales!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Last night the Offprogs and myself went to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane to see Oliver!
We were in the cheap seats at the top (the 'Gods'), where you are almost sitting flat against the wall and you feel that if you lean forward you will topple into the stalls, but once I'd got over that, I realised that it was quite a good place to be because the choreography looks really great from up there and the actors let you know they are aware that there's a whole theatre there and not just the people who have paid a hundred quid for their seat at the front stalls downstairs.
Last time I saw Oliver! (fave musical- what songs!!!) I enjoyed it but it was a bit of a 'going through the motions' sort of a performance.
This production was superb- it had a really fresh and bouncy feel to it and the whole show, in spite of having cast it's main character Oliver and Nancy from a BBC programme and having Gryff Rhys Jones as it's Fagin, really seemed to be there to showcase the way the songs told the story.
The Offsprogs noticed that you didn't get to know Oliver's character at all: he was there as a foil, an 'everyboy'. They also liked the fact that the children weren't 'stage-schoolish'. The guy playing Oliver had the perfect voice for the part: not too sweet, not too harsh, and able to reach all of the notes in the songs clearly and with good unfussy diction.
The Nancy, too, was really good. She had great stage presence and actually acted, so when the mean Bill Sykes (very scary) beat her up, you really felt for her, and you really wanted to beg her not to be so deluded about him.
Gryff Rhys Jones was fine as Fagin. You could almost smell him. He's not a singer unfortunately, although he made a valiant attempt to do justice to the songs. A deeper and more mournful voice would have suited Lionel Bart's melodies better, and we did think it would have been nice to have seen Omid Djilali in the part. But he managed to transmit the sinister dealings of the manipulative fence very well, and at times made you wonder if the character was a paedophile. The fact that he didn't act like the star of the show was a tribute to his professionalism.
The shallowness (thst's the wrong word, because it didn't matter) of the characterisation meant that when they had to swap Artful Dodgers in the interval, it didn't matter that much.

This was a fabulous production, vibrant, jolly, and affecting at the same time. Hats off to the orchestra, for not being smooth and syrupy, but for feeling the emotion in the songs and knowing when to be rough when needed (that's you, fiddle player).
Offsprog One felt a bit let down by the arrangement of Who Will Buy, and said she wished she could have heard more of the full song. But the song that blew me away was Where Is Love.
I actually tried to think my way into Lionel Bart's head. How on earth did he manage to create such a divine melody that explores all the notes on the scale from every emotional perspective?
You know, a piano has black notes and white notes, all organised in a neat and tidy line, and that guy picked out combinations of chords from that stern-looking piece of clumsy technology that make you want to weep with their fluidity and beauty.
What a genius!
I am going to get hold of a piano score and leave it lying next to the piano in the hope that Offsprog Two learns to play it. Yann Tiersen's Amelie score is wearing a little thin and I should like 2010 to be the year of Lionel Bart.
What better recommendation that we decided to try to go to the theatre once a month from now on?
It is expensive, but what do you call ladies who sit in the Gods?
You call them Goddesses, that's what, and I am more than happy to start 2010 defined that way!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Joke 4 U

What do you call Santa's Scottish football team?
Glasgow Reindeers.

So Many Beautiful Things, So Little Time*

Into London to buy some late presents for my nephews from Urban Outfitters: they make great men's clothes and I'm always tempted to kit myself out at sale-time but I exercised restraint and focused on the nephews. Two t-shirts later, I was bustling through the crowds feeling relieved that I didn't want to buy anything.
Afterwards, I went over to Gina's for tea. They had made lovely curries and the children were making pictures on the floor of snakes and people out of coins. I'd bought them tattoo sleeves to make their arms look as though they had tigers tattooed on them, but they were a little bit baggy so they may have to be worn on their legs instead! We sat round the table and talked about films and comedians and music; the company was good.
In the New Year, Gina is going to make a documentary about women instrumentalists and I am going to help her. It is going to be an exciting year, I think. I will sort out the Chefs and Helen and the Horns compilations, hassle Ashgate to get the Lost Women published in paperback, record the next album, and finish off the rockabilly recordings with Martin, Joe and Cav.
Roll on 2010!
It's my birthday tomorrow, so I might not get round to doing a posting. There's no room in my house for a party, but I will definitely have one next year.

*The slogan is one of Selfridges' ghastly exhortations that hangs above the shoppers who push and shove their way to the designer counters, after being filtered through the doors by grumpy security guards. What a nasty way to buy things!

Avoiding Hamlet

I seem to have spent much of today avoiding Hamlet, the televised play whose drama extended for hours; I rushed in to grab a chocolate, head bowed to avoid the dark emotions, and rushed back out again as fast as I could before they caught me and pulled me off cloud nine.
I've had a lovely Christmas, peaceful and lazy and without stress, and so I have been trying to extend it for as long as possible. put it all off till tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that... any time, but just not now.
I have eaten an entire chocolate reindeer and an entire chocolate orange, plus a few chocolate coins and some very nice chocolate buttons that June and Laura gave me (thank you!), and me and my greedy and inflated tummy are feeling very satisfied and we are going to bed to sleep it all off.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cluny x 2

Just got back from magnificent Newcastle, with its stylish Christmas decorations and polite men who hold doors open for you and shop assistants who can be bothered to go downstairs to get you a different pair of leggings when you brought 'small' to the till instead of 'medium'.
Mission: support to Daintees 80 and The Daintees at the Cluny, and to do a bit more recording with Martin, Joe Guillan and John Cavener.
All accomplished, with photos to follow tomorrow perhaps.

The first Cluny night was pretty packed with a listening audience, and the band, augmented with John Steel on lead guitar (two leaders, both being very gracious and taking turns, most of the time) and Kate Stephenson on drums, played a fantastic set, with Martin in really good voice and a really wide selection of songs.
Fin McCardle  provided perfect percussion and the Dunn brothers completed the line-up, with a guest appearance from Gypsy Dave, who played the Skifflecat Dobro guitar that got made by accident.
The support act was Daintees 80, with Chris Mordey bouncing out those bass lines like nobody's business, and Anth Dunn on guitar.
The support to the support was me. Chris, Martin, Fin and Kate had joined in at the end of my set for Loverman, 24 Hours (by The Chefs, of course) and Freight Train (by Helen and the Horns, double-of course).
I think I've finally got the knack of singing 24 Hours without playing it. As any guitarist or bassist who sings will tell you, it feels very naked standing there without a guitar between you and the audience, so I simply wore mine like a heavy pistachio green necklace and felt fine.
The crowd bobbed along, and all was good, especially when a bloke came up afterwards and told me that he had assumed up till then that I had a bass track playing along with me, then realised that I was actually playing the bass parts too. It's hard to work out what the songs sound like when you are the person that plays them, so this was a very interesting thing to hear.

The second night, the Cluny was full to bursting and it was a party crowd.
I resorted to asking them all to introduce themselves one by one to quieten things down, and they didn't of course (introduce themselves or quieten down). It was fun, though, and the two lots of Daintees absolutely starred again, with Martin's daughter Phoebe taking to the stage for Crocodile Cryer playing a red Skifflecat, that of course she designed the little cat logo for.
She was blown away by seeing her design on a real guitar and she's going to photograph it cos she's got interviews for art college coming up. While she was playing I showed her boyfriend the faces of the audience, and told him how they had all grown up and done their romancing to the Daintees, and how much the band and their songs meant to them: I don't think he'd thought of it like that before. But you can see the individual members of the audience being taken back to all sorts of places in their memories, and it's rather touching.
At one point, there were two bass players, three guitarists, a percussionist and a drummer on stage: the audience absolutely loved it and sang along in blissful Christmasness.

And of course in the afternoon we'd hopped on to the Metro and recorded in Wallsend, in a blonde-floorboarded flat with a TEAC 8-track and lots of vintage amps. The floor was coverd in decommissioned boxes to keep the melted ice and salt off the wood, and there were scribbled lyrics in places amongst the tangle of leads.
Joe engineered it, and we finished off Rockin'Girl and Can't Fool Love. Our rockin' band is myself, Martin, John Cavener and Joe Guillan and we think we should be on Jools Holland because we sound so authentic.
John and Joe wear perfect 50s gear and we get the sound to go with it. We'll do more at the end of January, because we have an albumsworth of rockabilly songs that are fun to play and full of energy.
well, that's it for today: I'm off to sing carols and eat yet another wedge of Chocolate Orange.

Merry Christmas all, I hope your stockings are stuffed with delightful things (legs, perhaps?) and you have a calm and slothful Christmas Day!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow and Rage

'Mick': how sweet, you signed your name in the snow on my car windscreen this morning, before you scraped a handful off the bonnet to make a snowball.

And I went down to Katy's, and Nadya came along too, and we had an end-of-year Ramble My Rose songwriting meeting. Most of it was drinking tea, but we did each manage a song each as well as talking through what we've written over the past twelve months- quite a lot, so it has 'worked', making all of us write regularly, and take ourselves off in different musical directions.
Afterwards, Offsprog Two met me and we went to get her some shoes- a miracle- the first pair fitted and she liked them, so I smiled and came home. Offsprog One was there with her friend, and had discovered a new charity shop where they had bought dresses, and they were really excited.
I offered the friend a lift home because it was snowing, big slushy dangerous flakes actually, as we discovered when the car slid down the hill and skidded towards somebody's very red, very shiny, very posh car. Luckily I managed to twist the steering wheel in the opposite direction seconds before we smashed into it and slid out of the slush back on to the road. The snow was tumbling down and we found ourselves skidding in jolts through semi-stationary traffic, with an irritating FedEx van behind us that kept trying to overtake (dumb and dangerous), flashing its headlights to try to make me hurry (dumb and dangerous) when its driver could see quite plainly that there was another van in front of me. Poor friend had to get out and walk as we were moving so slowly so we lent her an umbrella that someone had left in the car.
We almost got squashed by a box van that made an unwise decision to try to drive up the next hill and slithered sideways and painfully slowly upwards, with its wheels whizzing in a futile attempt to get a purchase on the ice. I worked out that if I turned the steering wheel rapidly from side to side as I drove forwards, I didn't skid, and after about an hour we got home (less than a mile), and ten minutes later the snow stopped.
I've had some vintage dresses in the car boot to kill the moth larvae (sub-zero temperatures do the trick!) so I brought those in, and scoffed the Chocolate Orange that Offsprog One bought me so she could have some.
Now I have to pack: up at six tomorrow to attempt to get to Newcastle for the Christmas gigs. I hope the trains are running!

Hmm... Rage Against the Machine... £65,000 isn't a lot of money to give to charity, given the massive sales their publicity stunt will achieve. I feel so glad not to be part of the machine that they are raging against and that they are part of too. 
Why were the BBC so surprised when they f*cking swore? The Sex Pistols did all this twenty years ago! 
This little rantlet is called 'Rage Against Rage Against the Machine' and is not sponsored by Sony or Simon Cowell, but originated from my own brain about 5 minutes ago!
Rage over and out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Magic Moments

Luckily Offsprog Two and her friends alerted me to the men's tackle lovingly fashioned from two snowballs and a snow-sausage that lay on our doorstep, nanoseconds before an Essex Lady in a fur coat driving a Chelsea Tractor turned up to remove the pew which she'd bought from us on eBay.
This is parenting teenagers, I suppose, and the culprit was possibly a chap enamoured of aforesaid Offsprog.
Later, perhaps, I will visit Diana at the jumble sale she's got a stall at, and the possibly go down to Mike and Em's Christmas Tea in Brixton. At the moment, I am too lazy to do anything. I have worked hard for months and it's nice just  Sitting and taking stock, even if the air is polluted by thumpyscreechy music upstairs and non-stop TV downstairs.
I watched part of the Unthanks TV programme the other night on BBC 4. I don't like that sort of Folk Music and I find the girls themselves terrifyingly wholesome in look and sound, but there was one beautiful acapella song written by Rachel's dad about the Allendale Tar Barrel Ceremony at New Year that was, dare I say it, awesome. There was a fascinating chord in it that must have made Papa Unthank smile with glee when he found it; each time it passed by, the singers looked relieved when they got it right.
That's what music should have: little surprises and flashes of magic planted here and there to perk up our ears when we hear it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Which I Am Assigned To The Scrapheap By Rough Trade

I sort of had a spare day to day because I was expecting to be travelling back from Glasgae, but of course I was still here.
I made the Offsprogs a brunch of smoked salmon on brown bread and we decorated the Christmas tree, which had to thaw out in the kitchen for an hour first. There is a very sad-looking little lemon tree in the yard that is not going to survive this winter- I used to be able to put plants like that in an outside alcove with the radiator in the kitchen on the other side of the wall, but nothing like that exists here.
As usual, half the fairy lights had stopped working since last year (what do they do? Have a group meeting in July and decide their lives are not wort living any more and just give up?) but there were enough to drape and sparkle and I'm sitting here is magical semi-darkness feeling very festive.
I went to Brick Lane and inhaled the lovely food smells and marvelled at the odd blend of uber-trendy youngish white people and the Asian community of all ages. There's almost a line halfway down Brick Lane where the restaurants give way to trendy shops and bars and the population crosses the boundary each way with their own version of the social landscape imprinted firmly in their heads.
I was in search of a leather satchel for Offsprog One, but while I was there I decided to re-stock Rough Trade with Suburban Pastoral, as they are the only people apart fro me to sell it.
I check the website and if it's out of stock, beetle down there with a few for them.
The guy was just taking them from me to put in the warehouse when a woman behind the counter sidled over to him and muttered in his ear- very rude and humiliating, actually, as the matter clearly concerned his transaction with me.
He looked embarrassed, and told me that they couldn't stock them any more as it was too out of date. They usually take some, as people still want to buy them, but I wasn't going to argue because I felt like a prat.
I got the money from the ones they'd already sold, and left swiftly without spending the money on new music, which is what I normally do.

The thing is, I was enjoying the afternoon anyway so I wasn't going to drop into a miserable sulk even though I do think they are silly and ungracious.
So I went to Covent Garden and got a present for Offsprog Two, resisting the penchant I have of  'one for them, one for me' greedybuying (sorry funky tartan dress, someone else will have to buy you).

When I got home, Whippersnapper cat (who is oblivious to music, CDs and grumpy record shops) told me he was HUNGRY and COLD and NEEDED A CUDDLE and lots of other things that he might get if he meowed really LOUDLY for half an hour. The Offsprogs NEEDED THINGS TOO and will continue to do so, but at present they can't find me as I'm sitting in a corner lit only by candles and fairy lights: they whizz about far too fast and furiously to see me.

I can live with being abolished. I will rise like a phoenix again from the ashes of a career which, rather like charcoal in an annoying cheapo supermarket barbecue in a tinfoil container, never seems to burn out completely.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas to anyone who reads the blog, whether you are visible or invisible.
I haven't even started writing out Christmas cards to send and I might be too late for some people: please don't be Bad Fairies at my Christening, but forgive me, I have not forgotten you!
And Wilky- I can't find the Chefs badges at the moment but as soon as I do I will send you one.
And for anyone expecting me to be supporting the Daintees at Accies in Glasgae tonight- alas! There have been no flights out of Luton today and I had to turn round and come home, missing not only one of the best gigs of the year but also an afternoon knocking round Glasgae with Martin and the Brothers Dunn.
Boo hoo!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Acton Bell's Variety Spectacular

We assembled around 7-ish for our sound-checks; Katy Carr arrived resplendent in a polka-dot suit and cloche hat just as I was singing 'Hot buttered toast and chipmunks to roast' (was I subconsciously thinking about the extraordinary phenomenon of the chipmunks on the beach at Fuerteventura, I wonder?). Thankfully, I got it right later on.

Katy's ukelele dates from 1915 and it's a sweet little instrument, in looks and sound. She told me she's bought seven ukes in the last six weeks and has also acquired a grand piano. Instruments are collecting around her as though she is a musical magnet.
She loved the venue and was bowled over by Acton Bell. 'Isn't she sweet!' she whispered.

Acton Belle was excited: the tables had little bowls in the middle filled with those gingerish German biscuits, and there was a lucky dip. I donated a Suburban Pastoral album and spent the evening worrying in case I won it back (all the performers were given raffle tickets, or dip tickets, I suppose they were)

Alex Dunachie was the M.C. and he sang a folksong with three puppets on sticks, and then I was on.
Lovely! The audience was ready to sing along right from the start and as Acton Bell joined me for Waltzing Away from Winter, they all bellowed along merrily. I would have had an encore but decided that there wasn't time. Why? asked the audience. My other song is 40 minutes long, I replied, and settled back to watch Trees and the Slipway, a line of three men on guitar, bass and big tinky-tonk keyboard with inbuilt Abba rhythms (Katy is ace at spotting these things).

They were great, all singing together and clearly enjoying their brew of Doors/Underground/T-Rexish (plus the aforementioned Abba) pop music. 'Hmm yes we must write some more songs', said Steve, the guitarist after they'd finished the three songs they knew. Crashpad Winter (wooo! sang the audience along with them) was my favourite song, obviously cunningly adapted lyrics-wise for the evening's theme.

Jacob got up to do a couple of songs, a slick fingerpicker, and then Acton Bell performed Herman's Hermits' the ay ay ay ay ay song- what's it called? the audience loved it and joined in all the way through, and Mud's Gonna Be Lonely This Christmas (which Katy and myself helped out with on vocals and late uke solo) the Bolton way: beautifully sung and simply and directly played on guitar.
After the prize draw, which was quite exciting as these things always are, Katy played a set of 1940s songs on the ukelele, managing to sound like a vintage recording (how does she do that with her voice? She's a genius) and then played Violetta and Turpin on another tinky-tonk keyboard whose keys fell off sporadically. She went down a storm.

The last band- I can't remember their name but I will find out and tell you- was two blokes, one on guitar and one on bass. They were excellent musicians and I coveted the guitarist's curly white lead. The sound man told me it was a Vox one so I'm going lead-hunting after Christmas.
Their songs were so funny the bass player was laughing his head off all the way through; luckily, he was laughing in time with the music and didn't miss a note.
One was about white leather trousers, and then they did Wall by Pink Floyd, which was a pet hate of mine at the time (ghastly fake Cockney accents) and remains so to this day, so I opted out of the singalong without bearing a lifelong grudge against the band.
I loved their song about magpies, especially the confusion: 'How many magpies can you see from your nest, human? I mean... how many humans can you see from your nest, magpie?'
It was home time, but they hadn't been asked for the encore which they were determined to play, and they plugged in the tinky-tonk Casio keyboard and sang...'On the first day of Christmas my magpie gave to me, one egg in an egg tree', and so on.
By this time the bass player was laughing so much his teeth almost fell out, and I must say I am a sucker for people who laugh at their own jokes as this is a fault I share, sometimes laughing so much at the thought of the punchline that I become incapable of finishing the joke and getting there. So this of course was riveting, and it was a very humorous end to the evening.
Finally a bunch of us stood on stage and sang Silent Night, which the guys from the last band sang in a jolly and competitive spirit. the guitarist from the last band had won Suburban Pastoral which was a big relief.

It had been a wonderful evening, merry and Christmassy from the start, the Perseverance decorated not only by fat rolls of red tinsel but also by our our smiles.
I look forward to more shows there in the New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Juniper Tree

Sorry to hear about your cat Phil.
I went and bought a miniature juniper tree today, to plant in a pot to commemorate Old Lady Cat; when Offsprog One returns from college for Christmas we'll have a little planting ceremony.
Our old Grumpy Tabby who popped off years ago has a little tree of her own, and the Carrotfish had a geranium, but that didn't last, unfortunately.
I suppose it's a bit morbid, all this with the risk of an eventual small forest of potted trees following me round the country!

Last Minute Gig, Perseverance Tomorrow

What a dilemma! Should I address christmas cards or mark 20 essays?
Wait till tomorrow, I slept badly last night after going to see the new Michael Caine film, Harry Brown, which is horrible and made me dream of people being hung in wooden coffins upside down.
I'm not good at watching violent films, having had enough of the reality of that type of thing.

So, Acton Bell had a few pull-outs tomorrow evening at the Perseverance, so in strides that trusty ex-Girl Guide Helen McCookerybook closely followed by her pal Katy Carr.
It is a 11 Shroton Street, North Marylebone form 8 p.m. onwards; there are lots of people playing and it's £5/£3 and we will make you smile for Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunny, with the odd cloud

Sunny and cold- perfect winter weather! Poor Martin was travelling from Inverness this morning where the fog stopped play, and he had to rush to Aberdeen with a couple of passengers that he kindly offered a lift to, and he's now on the way even further south to play a surprise gig for someone.

I wandered out to the antique market, a small but perfectly formed patchwork of things you want and things you wouldn't let over your doorstep in a trillion years (used to be a million, before inflation); I was lucky and spotted a 1940s dress, exactly what I'd been looking for, not too stinky and not too torn. Upstairs, a large blue and gold pot marked 'Leeches' tempted my dark side, while a knackered piano stool tempted my practical side, but I decided to go away and think about it, and I was glad I did because I phoned the vets to arrange to pick up Old Lady Cat's ashes (I miss her) and to ask how much my bill was.
Every penny I've earned from the University of the West since October, that's how much.
What can I say? Thank God we have a National Health Service for humans, that's what, and don't forget the Tories were all set to dismantle it and sell it off before the change of government, and that's exactly what they will do when they get in, because of course they are all rich enough to pay to jump the queue, aren't they?
That was the one major thing that politicised me, back then, because we have a system that is the envy of the world even though we criticise it, and without it we'll become a feudal society again.
It's sometimes inefficient partly because of it's own success- all those premature babies that it saves, and all those people with previously-incurable cancers- well that type of care costs an absolute fortune and we have come to want and expect it- and it sometimes happens at the expense of more basic things.
I used to work at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, just when scanners were invented by EMI which meant that brain investigations, previously done by pumping coloured gas into the skull, could be done painlessly and quickly. We used to marvel at the horribleness of it. Now, almost every hospital has a scanner.
It's not a perfect system but it has quite possibly saved my life- and quite definitely saved me years of pain and discomfort. I still take a box of chocolates to the Accident and Emergency Department each Christmas, because I'm not sure anybody thinks to thank those at the front line, and I'll never forget how kind they were to me once upon a time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Songs

I have put my Christmas songs up on Myspace, some still awaiting pictures because my camera battery is flat

An Exciting Night Out

These are The Gluts, Gina Birch, Hayley Newman and Kaffe Matthews, who are performing Cafe Carbon in various cafes around Copenhagen during the climate change conference. I was lucky enough to be at their rehearsal the other night and it was a privilege to see their frightening and charming antics at close quarters. 
They have a menu of exciting dishes, and once you've made your selection, they line up and sing through the three songs you've chosen, which are all on ecological themes. The girls are like a compact swarm of crackling and rustling insects, with padded bumps, black pockets and antennae, 
Victorian and mediaeval at the same time, they perform a sly burlesque with lots of quirky details- sometimes singing through megaphones, sometimes through microphones with clumsy red leads plugged into an amplifier in a black nylon shopping trolley, referencing Bananarama in a dark way that makes a negative mirror image of the three scruffy pop girls while making the audience think about what they eat and where it comes from. 
The music is electronica with a nod in the direction of Kurt Weill, but also provides the three with ample opportunities for playful vocal percussion and harmonies. It is huge fun, and their three distinctive personalities come over really well. 
The whole evening was exciting- from Hayley making us cups of tea in full costume, through the little bowls of bombay mix, the giant wall heater in the warehouse that bathed us all in a hellish red glow as it concertina-ed out of the high wall, and the high spirits as the trio lost things, found them, didn't find them, asked us questions, laughed and had more and more ideas as they went through two full meals of songs.
I love this sort of thing- watching a nearly-finished show buzzing before it becomes slick and polished.
They will be brilliant in Copenhagen, and brilliant when they come back!
Above: Gina and Hayley- I took loads of photos of Kaffe too but she moves so quickly she escaped from the frame every time!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On The Way To An Exciting Night Out

...which I won't write about till later when I can post some photographs.
But getting there was just so beautiful.
I'd spent the day looking at people's wan winter daylight faces in the watery, hostile late-December sun, knowing their dead-beat look was reflecting my own.
Later as I drove down Holloway Road the lovely winter night-time came into its own.
There was a spectacular vista of trees spreading into the distance down each side of the street, every one lit up with a mass of pale blue pin-lights that picked out the shape of their branches and twigs and sparkled as the breeze riffled through their leafless skeletons.
Then there was the cinema sign, semi-broken with missing 'O's: _DE_N, it hinted.
All down the road, the red'n'green traffic lights joined the symphony of colour: stop, go, stop, go, stop go, changing and moving the light landscape.
The piercing white headlight eyes of approaching cars joined in, drawing traces of places been and illuminating places to go, and finally the garish flashing yellow of the gritter lorry hidden round a corner made more music and filled my heart with happiness.
What an experience- just there by accident, not by design.

Thank God It's Friday!!!

Oh no, it's not!
It's Thursday.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Eighties Style and Helen and the Horns

I was particularly proud of the fact that we didn't look fashionable: I didn't order the Horns out of a 'we look cool' catalogue and as a band we were liberated by this.
The pop star Marilyn reviewed Freight Train on Round Table, the weekly BBC Radio One round-up of new releases. He was disparaging, sneering after the other reviewer remarked what a lovely happy sound it was,'I'm just wondering how much her mother paid for her singing lessons!'.
Ouch! That hurt!
The Chefs had told me that I sang out of tune all the time and told me I should go and have lessons.
I found a lovely old man to teach me but could often not afford to pay, and I'd sometimes go without eating to make sure I didn't miss a session. He twigged soon enough and started giving me free lessons, with the occasional resting of his hand on my thigh in exchange. Naturally, I could not bear this and went back to paying and starving.
So Marilyn, you were wrong. And when your 'people' phoned to book the Horns for a Top of the Pops appearance, I refused to let you have them. I was not going to let you mock and scorn them because they weren't dressed in the latest fashions like you, and because their sound was more important to them than their looks.
I still feel a pang of guilt that maybe I prevented them from appearing on the iconic TV programme but I do feel in my heart of hearts that I saved them from a scathing rejection by a sarcastic style icon.
Later, we ended up where we belonged- Pebble Mill at One!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Having a lock-up is expensive, but wonderful.
I'd associated it with stress, because I'd had to make the arrangements before work one morning just before moving, and then the heroic removal men dropped off a load of stuff there first before coming to the house (sweet- they were triumphant that it all fitted in and couldn't stifle a couple of ruffty-tuffty grins).
Yesterday I went down there to see if there was room for my vinyl albums, the ones I didn't take to the Oxfam shop, and there was.
It was rather exciting- the place was full of people doing mysteriously different things: there were stacks of boxes destined for T.K. Maxx with 'Farhi' written on the side, young people fitting furniture into boots of cars (just), piles of empty flattened cartons, families dropping off collective family overspill and people locking up and unlocking and trundling trolleys up and down the aisles.
It was a hive of quiet activity, and not the dreaded gloomy experience I'd expected.

Songlab Showcase at Stratford Circus

It was a success!
In spite of the fact that I was well on my way when a panic-stricken phone call from Offsprog 2 made me turn round and head home again (it's rained for a  month and the front door has absorbed the lot of it and swollen up so sometimes it won't open, but she managed to get in and I did a u-turn).
The crew at Stratford Circus were incredibly easy-going about everything which meant our ten minute bursts of R'n'B, hip-hop, experimental, neo-classical, folk and singer-songwriter, not forgetting the soprano sax, was all within their capabilities. We had big round tables and I had brought my Las Vegas rope lights, and the atmosphere was there, and the playing was good, from beginner to expert, and there will be more!
Star of the night was Phoebe Osborne, whose song writing skills have really developed over the last three years and she is one to watch!

Monday, December 07, 2009

UEL-tide Greetings

Tonight at Stratford Circus, Theatre Square, Stratford E15 1BX
A free informal evening of song writing by UEL staff and students (staff Yumi Hara Cawkwell, Jo Thomas, Andrew Blake and me)
Starts 8 p.m.

The Hamster with Poisonous Fur

How amusing!
 This year's dangerous Christmas present is a toy hamster with poisonous fur. Never normally one for one-upmanship, I break my resolve to tell you that my own version of this resides in the fridge: as we were lunching yesterday, Offsprog Two casually pointed out that the butter had an attractive skimming of green fur on it, and had done so for several days.
'I've just been scraping it off and digging underneath', she explained.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Whippersnapper's Toy Mousie


How exciting! After weeks of waking at 5.30, a habit that I developed before moving due to having to get up to pack boxes before work, I overslept this morning and I've had a fantastically relaxed day.
I went to Portobello Road Market by a roundabout route after reading the Saturday papers, and wandered round the stalls looking for Christmas presents. I noticed a couple of stalls with Japanese designers who had made lovely neat little tweed dresses and coats out of different colours and designs of tweed. I tried a dress on but almost got stuck in it, so gave it a miss. There were some lovely vintage Nordic sweaters (quite literally perhaps: they are often rather stinky), and lots of checky shirts (they must be in fashion). I could have spent a fortune on junky jewellery and foetid but exciting shoes. There were lots of nice smells floating about  making an aromatic cocktail- mulled wine and Thai noodles! And music- reggae from one stall fused into jazz from another, a stall where a Rasta kept time with percussion as a saxophone melody snaked through the crowds.
It's the best market in town, partly because it quite obviously hasn't changed that much since the Sixties: some stallholders perched on their stools looked as though they hadn't moved since then, merely getting older gradually and still wearing their Sixties finery and make-up. Their particular stalls sell Indian smocks, perhaps, or Tibetan jewellery, or perhaps vintage handbags from the Sixties that have sat there with them all this time.

On the way back I was struck by this jolly rockabilly Santa whose costume didn't even bother to try to look like a disguise! Perfect for a silly Saturday afternoon.
(Zoot, I hope your cat is OK)


It's on at home, and I'm up late, pootling around sites and overposting on my blog.
I did want to tell you this though.
I drove into the car park at work this morning and turned the corner to be met by a huge line of black-suited backs stretched across the road. I couldn't work out what was happening until I realised that a large delegation of Chinese businessmen were having their photograph taken and there were so many of them that the only place they could do this was in the cold wet car park.
At first they didn't know I was there and I fumbled for my camera to take a 'behind the Chinese delegation' photo.
But just then one man turned round and saw me and they all dispersed apologetically. I wouldn't have minded waiting because I thought it was sweet- they were all clearly in very good spirits. Once I'd passed, they reassembled, did their photo smiles, had a good laugh and went off to catch their coach.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Love on the Wind, Half Moon, Putney

I hear it's going to stop being a music venue and turn into a gastropub
What a shame!
Not forgetting Julia's PHD which she finished this year too!

Anallergies and Friday Doggerel

At the University of the East, there is never a good day.
There are shades of badness; we are not making Ugly Ducklings into Swans (many of the students are physically beautiful), but a lot of the time we are making Fireworks into Swans, which is less of a natural progression and more of a challenge.
This isn't everyone, of course, but enough people to cause bouts of physical dread before each teaching day. For this reason I am glad I live far away, driving round the dreamy grey industrial North Circular each morning into a different world of  misunderstanding and agression, and back each night to my safe little box, through London's grimy and anonymous underpinnings and into my own anonymous suburb.

I have learned patience and to become a sponge for people's anger and frustration. This unrolls itself in music and lyrics and thankfully the kitchen of the new house is sorted-out enough to sit at the table with my guitar and recycle my own anger and frustration as it seeps out of the daily sponge into songs and songs and songs, with Whippersnapper clumping about on the piano keys next door as a feline accompaniment.
Sometimes he frightens himself into an exhilarated state, going crosseyed and yowling like a banshee.

I am just about to go into the studios to listen to some students' recordings. I like this, to be able to help them to make good music and learn how to be confident with technology. I can understand why they want to reject book-learning and just do things.
The problem is that there are lots of people doing things, and the world of music is in a constant state of saturation until fashions move on and leave tiny chinks of opportunity. So I try to explain the power of knowledge, and why it is wise to stockpile ideas so you can think ahead of the obstacles that the various gatekeepers set up to prevent new blood from having access to their precious facilities and money. I'm not sure whether the students understand this until they leave.
That's the only reason I work in education- to give people power. Otherwise I would work in the industry and be rich and cynical, taking power from the creative people and converting it into numbers in my ever-swelling bank account!

I won't be able to have a mega-house concert birthday party this year but next year I think I will arrange a gig that night instead. This year will be about family (an music of course, as we all do something noisy, even Little Bruv who can squeeze a mean tune out of a metal teapot, having learned to play trumpet as a young chap).
This year has been a year of learning: from my kids, my ex-husband, students and friends, and will be celebrated as such.
Some touching things have happened- for Treacle (it's wonderful!), for Gina (at last stepping into the recognition she deserves, not only with The Raincoats but with other ventures too), for Claire and Nadya (two very exciting PHDs which I cannot wait to read!) and for lots of other people I know.

Friday Doggerel

Let's not whine
Bout two thousand and nine
A brand new year
Will soon be here.

Banish blues
And welcome yellows
And we'll all
Be cheerful fellows!


Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Power of Yellow

It's tomorrow, and thank you for your kind messages.
Thank Anish Kapoor too, for I went to his exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts on Tuesday and was bowled over by it.
It was full of adults laughing like children at the cupped and shaped mirrored sculptures, the blood-red wax train and cannon, and the sculpture (I thought it was a painting at first) on the wall that was the yellowest thing I've ever seen, and that made me happy just to gaze at it.
It has been a long time since a visual thing has changed my emotions, but this was just the most happy and beautiful intense yellow that I don't think anyone could feel miserable in front of it. As you passed it, you realised that the intriguing paintwork was actually an illusion, and the deeper yellow centre was actually a hole that went right into the wall.
There was another sculpture I particularly liked, made of huge twisting resin tubes the colour of old dress patterns, marked with little figures and lines in graphite-grey as though it had been made on a small scale with pencil marks and then grown: it had impertinent smooth carmine-red glitter lips pouting out of the top of it, as hard and shiny as the resin tubes were rough-textured.
Like a lot of Anish Kapoor's work, there was a mysterious dark hole which led from the lips into the pipework. It was a sexy French Horn, or a harlot's intestines minus her body, I don't know what it was. But it was funny and beautiful at the same time.
More beautiful things, more beautiful things...
I though of a Christmas concert I went to at the Fridge in Brixton that featured one of my favourite ever bands, The Happy End (Sara Jane Morris era). I even auditioned for them once and failed- I can see why: the band needs a big voice at its helm.
This night, the Fridge stage was decorated with stretched white sheeting, punctuated by miniature Christmas trees all lit up; the band sat amongst them, brass instruments twinkling, all their different personalities radiating from the stage as they tumbled and swung their way through their set, smiling, concentrating, reminding me of a set of toppling plates that never quite falls over. What a huge engine of sound- just anarchic enough, but with fantastic brass arrangements, not only in sound but also visually- pockets of things to watch popped up this side, that side, all over the place; you couldn't stop watching. And over the lot, Sara Jane Morris's deliciously thick and powerful vocal, the Captain of the Ship (yes, I know it was you really, Mat Fox, but she was the one with the hand on the tiller), bouncing on and curling round those fabulously lush sax, trumpet and trombone sections. They also chose their material really well- not many people play Hanns Eisler and get away with it.
Come back at once!

Gina is going to Copenhagen with Hayley Newman by train to busk in cafes at the Climate Change conference.What a good idea!
She told me Akiko had given Hayley a copy of my Suburban Pastoral album and this made me feel important and appreciated.

What else? I am thinking about starting up a 'new songs' club in the New Year. A lot of artists get stuck in the rut of old material, even famous ones, and I though it might be nice to create a small and informal night for trying out new stuff. So that's in the pipeline.

On Monday my students (and me) are doing an informal songwriting showcase at Stratford Circus, starting at 8 p.m.
Entry is free but you have to email me if you want to come. Expect a mix of hip hop, electronica and guitar-based music. Something for everybody, I hope, rather than nothing for nobody!

Ah, Old Lady Cat, we'll plant a little juniper tree for you and think about your clear blue gaze.
Aren't humans funny? We have 'house babies' to dote on and we are so upset when they die. We have to remember to love the living too. I have been giving tissues to crying strangers and cup of tea money to people who looked like they needed it this week, after finding it impossible to walk round with the usual hard shell you need to function in a big city like London.
I wish I could be like this all the time.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Poor Old Lady Cat; as she had her operation on Tuesday the vet discovered a raging pancreatic cancer and phoned me to ask permission not to wake her up.
So we have all been in tears, and disbelief at how quickly she became ill. Whippersnapper cat started howling the night before she died, and I guessed that we would not see her again.
Years ago, I kept canaries and finches (and a mad budgie with a posh voice), and found their lifespan and vulnerability difficult. I moved to cats because they last a little longer, but it's still hard especially when they've been around for more than 12 years attempting to rule the household with their furry rules.
This is the last miserypost I'm going to do. If I can't think of anything happy, I'll take a sabbatical till January.
Still, I'm an optimist.
See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sunday Lunch

Gina and the girls came (after getting severely lost and having the patience to get on the right road again) and so did Diana. It made home seem like Home and we stuffed our faces on blueberries, raspberries and halva.
It counteracted the feeling I have that we Brits spent too much time laughing at the former East European countries' lack of efficiency. The phone isn't working (again) after they forgot to give me my old number back and it took an extra week to do that, and so I couldn't set up the internet, and so on and so on.
It worked for a while, just to show me it could (what a tease!) and is now as silent as a tomb.

I now speak to telephone helplines in a stupidly slow voice, enunciating each word so carefully that my kitchen is full of spittle, and making the operator repeat everything back to me (they have always misheard at least one word, and that's before the mistakes in their keystrokes) so the whole thing sounds like an early Edison recording, complete with hisses and pops (that's the steam escaping from my ears and my blood vessels bursting with frustration).

At least there is now a guitar propped up in the living room, waiting expectantly for some songs to land in it.

I hear from Martin that their debut Skifflecat day in the north west was a roaring success: their guitars sound great and everyone was fascinated by their tea chest basses. Brilliant!