Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Premises Studio

Charged and out on bail: the main offender and his sidekick, a young girl.
They are not allowed anywhere near Offsprog 2, who is out again tonight.
Thank you for wishing us well.

I had an interesting day today; I had a meeting at The Premises studio in Hackney, and was shown around afterwards.
It has a great little cafe downstairs, and upstairs there are rehearsal studios and a recording studio on the top floor that is solar powered.
The Puppini Sisters were in there, recording their Christmas album in the sweltering heat.
There was tinsel wrapped around the mic stands and some rather flabby-looking pink balloons attached to music stands and the piano, so they could get into that wintry groove.
A very old and distinguished-looking double bass lay sideways on the floor, and an old sunburst Gibson semi-acoustic perched on a guitar stand ready for action.
They have a remix room stuffed with vintage effects units and a reconditioned Trident desk, massive and imposing like something from the Starship Enterprise, buttons and faders galore.
The engineer's chunky reindeer cardigan hung from a peg, waiting for winter.
Someone was shooting a video behind a closed door; glistening dry-cleaning bags were draped over the banisters, their wire hangers tumbling to the floor.
The studio tabby cat lay flattened by heat exhaustion beside a large amplifier in a corridor.
'Watch out, she'll scratch you!', said Viv, who was showing me round. But she was too knackered: she flattened herself even more and stretched herself out for more.
I cam away bearing a CD of jazz singers who had been doing a course taught by Ian Shaw, so I'll listen to that tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making a Video in Vintage and Rare Guitars

So it was a warm and humid day; all thoughts of glamour went out of the window as I had to try without success to unblock the drain in the yard.
Finally, I gave up, and splodged some make-up on my face before heading down to Denmark Street to my fave shop, Vintage and Rare Guitars, who had very kindly given permission for Gina Birch to make a video of my songs, The Song of the Unsung Heroine.
Gina did some shots of my feet dancing as we chatted to an ex-film student from the University of Westminster, who played us a couple of country songs, and who could yodel.
'I'm sixty-two, you know', she told us.
Customers drifted in and tried out guitars; from time to time we switched the fan off and filmed the song all the way through.
A young American lad came in with his father and tried out a 1930s Martin; he left again. Someone came in and tried out a Dobro; most people ignored what was going on completely, most appropriately considering the subject matter of the song, observed Gina.
A snotty chap in a pin-striped shirt and coloured trendy spectacles came in and ostentatiously put his hand over the light Gina had brought, looking at the guitars beyond. He glared at us from time to time before settling on the settee with a Strat.
The young American lad came in again, and had another play of the Martin, this time for more than half an hour.
We went to the 12-Bar for a coffee and a break, where we met a band from Hartlepool, The Dirty Water Blues Band, who knew Martin and who were down for the day to look at guitars.
As we went back to the shop to finish filming, they came in, looking for a guitar that cost £1100 on the internet, and £1500 not. 'Just ask them to take the money off', I said.
Had the young American lad bought the Martin?
No; 'Slow sale', remarked the shop guy, laconically.

Back home, Offsprog 2 wasn't back.
When she came in, she said the mugger, who had already come up to her in the street last week and called her by her name, had been outside her school.
She had gone to the police station and reported seeing him, and been asked to go out in a car with an officer to look for him. Frightened, she said she didn't want to be recognised.
'Don't worry', said the police officer, who promptly jumped out of the car to arrest him as soon as she saw him.
Of course, both he and his large bunch of mates saw Offsprog 2; some of his friends got their mobiles out to film her, she thought.
He is in custody, and we don't know if they are going to charge him.
I am frightened; she is not. She is angry, and has gone out with her sister.
I have persuaded her to let me pick them up later on from the station.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Friar's Carse Songwriting Weekend

There it was again, tranquil, Scots baronial and stone-pink in the assorted greenery on its corner of the River Nith: the Friar's Carse Hotel, waiting for its influx of song writers and its famous song writing competition, the result always fiddled (according to the losers).
It was warm and sunny when we rolled up, and the guys turned up one by one, plonking themselves on the cast iron chairs on the lawn with a cold beer and catching up with each other.
Martin and myself had picked up my nephew Alex on the way, who plays guitar but hasn't really written songs before. He was mildly worried but was welcomed as the baby of the group (teenage one) and soon settled in.
We had a gentle concert in the evening after dinner (with the by-now traditional profiteroles, if you know what I mean), before retiring to bed to gee-up for the next day.
Next morning, Martin taught the early risers the five Tibetans, which we did on the lawn with the sky already clear and blue above us.
That was where I ran my first two workshops, getting the groups to write songs about the town and the country and play them to each other- in half an hour! The grass was podgy with moss and the area was fringed with foxgloves and pines: what bliss to be singing in the great outdoors!
In the afternoon, the serious and competitive work began: my group hid round the front of the hotel in the shade of a dark pine tree, writing a sure-fire hit for Britain's next entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, entitled 'Nul Points'.
We decided to bounce, and unfortunately my sunglasses seem to have bounced out of my pocket! (second pair lost in a week). After much confusion and many sheets of paper, we settled on a structure that we could all follow, and stopped for tea.
In the evening, I got the Las Vegas rope lights out of the boot of the car, and we set off.
Martin's group had written a blues that showed off the great guitar playing of its members. Scott MacDonald's group, who won, had written a song about the song writing weekend with just the right amount of comedy and harmony.
We had heard them rehearsing relentlessly; Scott was a hard task master, but he needed his win this year.
Word was, there had been a bribe involved.....
Then it was us, with our silly Euro-song, which we played perfectly, apart from the fact I caught Martin's eye halfway through and bust out laughing. I guess we won't make it to Europe, as prophetically our song scored nul points.
But we still thought it was the best one.
Of Course.
The last day came round very quickly. We sat in a circle, playing a sequence of chords one after the other and taking it in turns to sit in the middle, eyes closed, and listen. Some French guests were intrigued and we invited them in to experience it for themselves. They loved it.
It was sad to leave- it had been a lovely weekend, sunny and positive, almost not like work at all. All the people who came along were really up for everything. It's always like that, which makes it a really special event.
Why did I get home so quickly? There were no cars on the road at all. I didn't realise till I got to the services on the M6 Toll (which I needn't have bothered with) and saw them all watching the match on a giant screen.
I'm glad I missed it.
Knackered, I went to bed early, waking in a panic at 4.45 wondering how Offsprog 2 was going to get home.
I knew she was still alive, as my one text a day was responded to: 'no battery' (just in case I cramped her style by phoning, I think).
Fifteen minutes later, she slumped in, smelly and tired and very happy.
Good weekend, all round. Thanks to Andrew Bailey for organising it, and thanks to Martin for being a fantastic host.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Misery and Not Misery

I am driving almost 500 miles tomorrow; luckily I have a gadget to plug the iPod into the cassette deck in  my car so I'll be singing along to the blues, tacky 1980s disco, hillbilly and rockabilly, girl groups, the Daintees, Phoenix, you name it.
I very rarely fast forward but when I do it's usually the Shanghai Lounge Divas or Ivor Cutler, both of whom are OK is some settings, but akin to torture in a hot car in a traffic jam.
I meant to clear the rubbish out of the car: it resembles the council tip and I'm always expecting a knock on the door from an official telling me that the council has copyright on such squalor.
I get huge pleasure from mindlessly daydreaming about tidying it up, usually while waiting in the aforesaid traffic jams.
I did roll up the miles of luminous green garden twine today; it had wound itself round a lot of the other debris, and it was excitingly virtuous-feeling unwinding it from assorted items and putting it in a plastic bag.
Do I really need an empty screen-wash bottle?
I bet I don't, but I bet I do need miles of luminous green garden twine now I have removed it from the car.
I am taking my song-scribbling book in case I have ideas. Most of my ideas recently have been thoroughly miserable ones, which is odd because I am not thoroughly miserable.
Maybe they are a kind of insurance policy, to keep my misery muscles flexed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Frank Sidebottom

Poor Frank has died. He was part of the 1980s alternative scene and had got quite a profile again recently; his big pink papier-mache head will be much missed. As of course will be the mysterious man inside, Chris.

Desperadoes Sing in Jude's Garden

This was taken yesterday afternoon in Jude's garden, just as we were about to play. The sun shone, children sat at the front and listened, Jude very kindly provided food and drink, and it was lovely.
I'd been to an open day at the Cockpit Arts workshops in Deptford beforehand to visit Debbie Little who makes clothes out of old parachute material. What a lovely day out!
L to R McCookerybook, Jude Cowan and Kath Tait.
I have uploaded a Helen and the Horns video to

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Computers and Rock Stars

Quite a long time ago I helped to organise a conference in Harrogate for music software designers. 
It was fascinating. 
There was a man from Sweden who was in the process of designing, effectively, Autotune. He demonstrated the work-in-progress very humorously, turning a hideously out -of-tune and out-of-tone male tenor into a Pavarotti. 
My involvement was to try to bridge the programmers' skills with possible human needs: the human interface. 
I got the conference to invite the author David Toop (who specialises in writing about sound art) and Scanner, who made music from fragments of mobile phone conversations. 
Instead of doodling when they were bored, the delegates would sit with their laptops and design programs. 
At least one of them had been a military programmer before they became involved in music- one of them told me he had programmed tank missile software; at that end of science there appears to be no moral code, but plenty of computer code.
Some of them were rather dismissive of Scanner. They could not see beyond the technical aspects of his work, and did not value the ideas he had and the experimentation he did. 
Although they were there to acquire funding to develop ways of communicating with end users, many of them were classically trained musicians and wanted the money to compose their own music!
Being there was an education; I could see some of them needed help with communication. The bar was silent in the evening, with solo drinkers or groups of two and three sitting in near silence.
Rather like reading a newspaper with the opposite political views to myself, or reading a lad-mag, I got an insight into a totally different way of thinking and being.
One of the delegates, from the University of York, made a brilliant TV programme about a year ago; he was helping Indian people in call-centres to sound like British nationals by educating them about the cadences of British speech. He talked about Hitler's declamatory style and how he used the musicality of his voice to control people.
Bit like what some rock stars do.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Little Bit of Senseless Information

I was walking along an underground passage at Bank tube station and a set of businessmen were walking towards me. One of them, close to the edge near the wall, seemed to be accompanied by a small grey mouse keeping pace with him.
As he got closer, I saw that it was a big ball of fluff and hair, rolling along parallel to his left foot, presumably being carried along by his back-draught.
It kept pace with him, tumbling cheerfully and obediently, until he walked past me.
'How odd', I thought, until I saw another businessman being followed by a large, flat dustball, hovering about two feet behind him and about three inches above the ground.
Now that one was positively sinister.
I've just washed my laptop. Don't do this at home!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

News Book

I have been collecting photos for the new CD cover and they are all packaged up to send to Em.
She did the cover for Poetry and Rhyme and I thought it looked pretty classy. Gina is going to make a video too, a week on Tuesday.
Martin has started a Reverbnation for Barbaraville, his label that a nice collection of oddballs belong to
I have started up my own one too, and have some music and a video up there.
Most of today was spent wandering around Spitalfields: down Fournier Street (was that Gilbert'n'George I spotted disappearing round the corner in a whisk of grey suiting?, up Hanway Street (lazy old Duke of Uke still wasn't open at 12.15!).
I bought some moth-eaten knitwear and a moth-eaten hat. I have washed them and I'm going to pack the knitwear into the freezer next to the lasagne to kill the moth grubs.
The hat will just have to suffer.
I met my friend Denise and talked to her about the all-women bands who have been so disappointing, playing sub-Raincoats and sub-Slits music note-perfectly with glum faces, having made a new restrictive canon, new rules from what was created from experimentation. Denise always looks at things in a different way.
'They have inherited it', she said, 'And they will develop it on from there'.
Yes, yes, that could well be true.
Photo by Offsprog One


I didn't post yesterday because Offsprog 2 got mugged by seven teenagers the day before; her bag was stolen and she was 'shaken up', as they say.
She had just been sitting talking to a friend on a park bench when she saw two guys approaching. She joked to her friend that they looked like muggers and put her new phone up her sleeve.
Her friend had the presence of mind to tell them that his parents had confiscated his phone because he got bad exam results, but that didn't stop them from knocking him to the ground and kicking him. Offsprog 2 got jostled , and because she fought back and shouted, some girls came running over.
She thought they might be going to help her, but they were the ones that took her bag (they cut the straps) while one of the guys put his hand over her mouth to stop her shouting.
Twenty people watched, and not one of them called the police.
She called them herself and they drove her round to see if they could find the gang, but they couldn't.
She lost all her birthday gift vouchers and her money and her keys; but later on, a little man came round with a bag. He had found her French Art Trip papers and her pencil case in the street, and brought them round for her. Bless him.
So I decided to go to look for her bag. They had thrown it over the hoardings into the market area: I could see it through the gates.
I came home and wrote a note to the stallholders and sellotaped it to the gate lock and got up at the crack of dawn yesterday to go round for it. In it was a new bottle of perfume a friend had got for her, and some of her make-up, but she was well pleased with that.
Most of yesterday morning I was trying and failing to put a new lock on the door; I could get it all set up and then I couldn't pull the key out. After two solid hours, I called the locksmiths, and they did it in 5 minutes (£75). In my next life I think I will be a locksmith!

Yesterday evening she went for a walk with her girl friends. I thoroughly approve of her reclaiming the streets for herself, although I do not approve of her smoking which is why she was sitting on the park bench with her friend and probably why she went out for a walk too.
What is life?
Sweet and sour.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trolley Ballet

Just been to the garden centre to get a gro-bag for the courgettes I have grown from  seed.
They are heavy and I got a trolley to put it on.
All good on the level floor of the garden centre but once I got outside, the trolley took charge, and it started swinging me about in a rattling jive, twirling me helplessly around the car park until I managed to grab the front of it and drag it, protesting, towards the safety of my car.
I hope nobody saw me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

National Anthems

I am overhearing the Italy/Paraguay game.
I love the tooters.
I also double-love the national anthem bit, and I resolve to watch this part of as many games as possible.
The Italians sang with gusto, all out of tune with each other and all out of tune with the band, the heads of a couple of them jutting forward and pulling backwards like cockerels. Serious, serious!
And the Paraguayans sang theirs too, most of them mildly resentfully, apart from one who sang as though he had just won the lottery.
The game itself? Poo. It's all showbiz'n'fouls.
 I prefer live football by little clubs in in little grounds, but the national anthem bit will be compulsory viewing from now on!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oh Dear

I have spent the evening worrying about work, and consequently missed something I had really been looking forward to- a showing of Val Phoenix's films. I feel utterly stupid! I am going to start knitting again because it stops me from fretting. A jumper with a guitar skeleton on it, I think, into which I will stitch all irritations, annoyances and worries; the ensuing endorphins will carry me through the summer on a wave of bonhomie.

John Cooper Clarke, Don Letts and Me

One of the many best things about John Cooper Clarke is the fact that he laughs at his own jokes. I find this hugely endearing, because I do too and I always thought it was wrong, but now I know it is right, because John Cooper Clarke does it.

The journey down to Hereford would have been gruesome if I hadn't been looking forward to the gig so much.
I got stuck behind every farm vehicle from every farm from the Cotswolds to Herefordshire, and it was muggy; but when I got there the hotel, the Green Dragon, was mercifully easy to find, and mercifully still stuck in the 1980s as far as decor was concerned. The promoter, Richard Page, who runs the Wild Hare Club, was there with his partner; both were in high spirits so I couldn't sulk.
We wandered round the corner to the Blue Rooms where I did a sound check, and I went off the the Pizza Express to be ignored for more than 15 minutes before I was served, yet it took less than a second to have the money I put down to pay the bill whipped away by an eagle-eyed waiter!
Richard had done loads of publicity; there were posters everywhere.
The Blue Rooms is a big, low-ceilinged club that also has a bit of a 1980s feel to it, but that seemed to suit this billing down to the ground, and the audience too. His iPod mix of 1970s alternative and punk music summed the evening up perfectly.
They were a good crowd in general, and there was a great atmosphere sweeping on to the stage from them: they reminded me of the Scottish audience way back who had come out to have a good time, and you found yourself playing to a sea of smiles.
There were some fellow customers from the pizza restaurant and they told me the wine had been off, too!
I played for about 40 minutes, my summer set, the happy songs which seemed to go down well ( I am not used to playing encores because of time-pressures at the normal clubs I play but I think I could have done one here) and then I went into the dressing room, and there was John, looking exactly the same as he had more than 20 years ago when Helen and the Horns played Ronnie Scott's with him. He is a lovely bloke; the only sign of weathering (you see, he was well-weathered even back then) is a trio of snazzy gold teeth which make him look more piratical than Johnny Depp.
I walked in on him opening my Gretsch case for a peek (why is my Gretsch always the star of the show? if I was a lesser person I would be jealous!) and we had a good yak about Lover's Rock, which he is a big fan of too. He sang this song to me which is a real gem and I wish I could remember who he said it was by but I don't suppose I'll find out now.
Then it was stage time and he strode out with his white plastic supermarket bag full of poems. Within seconds, the audience was his.
"I have always wondered how deep the sea would be if there weren't any sponges down there".
So many of the things seems so obvious: but then that's his genius, isn't it? He mingled in the surreal too.
"Anyone here from the Isle of Man? Got your passport here?", as he picked up the mike stand and offered to stamp it with its three-pronged feet. "No man is an island, but that one is!"
He got the audience to say "Knock, knock".
"Who's there?", he asked.
It is so nice to laugh!
Sometimes I forget this, as most of my life seems serious and difficult in spite of the joy of doing gigs. I stood there and laughed myself stupid, in unison with the audience. It was like being a child again.
The man who drank too many Martinis after work: "Home honey, I'm high".
There was a very funny riff on Mark E. Smith (whose name I am often tempted to preface with 'What's the point of...') saying "Helen Mirren".
But maybe you had to be there to get that one!
Just before the end, the long journey kicked in and I retreated to the dressing room and listened to the speech-rhythms of the rest of the performance with Phil, his manager, who was talking along with him in places.
I asked if he knew the routine off by heart. "Yes", he said, but he hadn't heard the Isle of Man jokes. He struck me as a very good manager; everything seemed to happen with the minimum of fuss.
Actually, the same about the promoter, Richard. He was the exact opposite of some promoters who gush about how fantastic you are for ten minutes and then spend the rest of the night trying to put you down. He was respectful and if there were any panics, he hid them very well.
If you get the chance to see John Cooper Clarke on this tour, you must go and see him.
He will restore your faith in humanity, poetry, rock'n'roll and a good deal else besides.
He has influenced so many people, and it's too easy to forget that.
He also just has a sort of open charm that puts so many of the clever-dick type comedians to shame.
He is the real deal.
Then Don Letts appeared in the green room; I was chuffed that he had seen me play and liked my set. He is a very quiet and unpretentious man and it was really nice to meet him.
The drummer from The Pretenders came in (they originated in Hereford, apart, obviously, from Chrissie) and backstage rockchat ensued.
John remembered playing with Martin a few years ago and sent him a big kiss; he stood in the green-room gloom in his Chelsea boots on a pile of poems, forbidden cigarette between forefingers and a drink in his hand.
The Don got his CDs out and went out to play. It was impossible not to dance. I danced with a girl called Becky who books actors for medical students to practice their bedside manner upon.
The floor was full; we danced to Toots and the Maytals and a track where someone sang over Al Capone by Dave and Ansel Collins, and loads more great stuff. I witnessed the most gentle stage-ejection I have ever seen, where an over-enthusiastic young woman jumped on stage and started dancing inches from Don's nose. He kept his head down, concentrating, and the sound guy walked over, put out both hands, and helped the over-enthusiastic young woman back on the the dance floor, where she continued dancing, free from being a nuisance.
Eventually, I had to retreat. the whole experience more than lived up to expectations and I hope to be invited back; Richard mentioned booking Martin there at some point and it's the sort of gig he'd go down a storm at.
On the way home, I mused about the oddity of three quite urban-based artists popping up in Hereford, such a rural town; as a night is really worked, though.
On the way back I noticed the vertical meadows by the sides of the motorways where they slice through hills in cuttings, and where poppies, grasses and ox-eye daisies have decided to seed themselves regardless of the traffic and tarmac, and blossom in joyous spring display.
And the shooting school (gift vouchers available). Just try transplanting that to Peckham!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Snaps from the Other Night

I will do a review tomorrow: it was brilliant. The top pic shows John Cooper Clarke standing on his poems while chatting to the chap who is chatting to Don in the bottom pic- he's the Pretenders' drummer. How rock'n'roll is that?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Photograph

That little bass there is a Jedson, Phil, and it's the one I had before I bought the Hofner I used in The Chefs.
It had a short scale neck which made it easy to play and Steve had a matching guitar- cream with a while scratchplate. I used to write the set list out on a strip of masking tape and stick it along the top of the bass where no-one could see it. And yes, it's at The Buccanneer and must have been taken quite late in the band's short life as I got that boiler suit later on. I wish I still had it!
I have been trying to guess which song I was playing.
Here's another pic taken at Martin's a few weeks ago.
Even though I am wearing a dress with flowers on it I imagine I would be quite pleased back then at the thought of starting playing gigs again after having kids, although would not have believed I was going to go on to be a professional musician for seven years after being a punk- I was not at all ambitious, which has probably been my downfall in life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Playing Bass in Joby and the Hooligans (photo by Dave)


When McMum was a baby she had a little birthmark in the middle of her forehead. She lived in America at the time and was taken to the Mayo Clinic, who burned it off using radium.
She met a doctor this week who was an expert in radioactivity and medicine, and asked him if this could have been the cause of the thyroid cancer that necessitated the removal of her thyroid gland about 20 years ago, and her subsequent dependency on medication ever since.
'Absolutely definitely', said the doctor.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Spice Girls

Someone has nicked my little box of plastic Spice Girls with big heads and little bodies from my office at the University of the East.
I wonder if it was one of the cleaners and they thought I wouldn't notice?
They are the first things I look at when I get to work; I admire their little Spice-personalities, Sporty kicking, Scary scaring...
Their heads are so huge they fall over if you get them out of the box, perilously close to what actually happens in real life.

Friday 11th June at the Blue Rooms in Hereford

This is going to be possibly one of the most exciting gigs I have played for a long time- supporting John Cooper Clarke and Don Letts at the Wild Hare Club's night.
Years ago (for I am a funky-ancient, am I not?) my band Helen and the Horns supported John at Ronnie Scott's; it was a wild night. Molly Parkin was there, in her cups, and took an obvious interest in John.
And Don Letts? What can I say. I thought my bones had given up on dancing until I went to see The Slits play their first reunion gig underneath Selfridges a few years ago and could not stop dancing for a second. He also Deejayed at the We Love '77 art exhibition. I have a compilation that he made; he just has fantastic taste in music.
I have been rehearsing this morning, battling through hayfever, and I'll do the same after work this afternoon.

As an aside: my fury at being dumped by the University of the West is beginning to grow. I have worked there for more than 15 years. And they weren't going to even tell me! Grrr.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


A few bunches of wilted magenta Sweet Williams at the supermarket till reminded me of Harvest Festival at church; we sat in the car on the way there, holding bunches of flowers picked from McDad's garden.
Woe betide the bearer of Sweet Williams!
Earwigs would tumble out of the dark green beards that ringed the florets, scuttling up sleeves, down socks and into crevices in the car seat; shuddering, we'd scream and jump about. McDad would have to slow the car and threaten to drop us at the side of the road.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Charlotte's Kittens

Charlotte's Kittens were sweet and fluffy.
They liked to sit on my tatty wicker shopping basket (which was very Ladybird Book) on top of my collection of vinyl singles, which slotted inside it perfectly.
Months later, I realised that they had been tucking their little paws into the picture sleeves to keep them warm and their tiny, spiny claws had scratched myriad crackles and jumps into the songs.
By then, of course, they had left home to go to University, beyond punishment or retribution.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Adventures in Gigland

I went to Ayr for two days to do some work at the University of Scotland; the guys up there are really nice but the work was hard and the weather was hot and the wheelie suitcase (tripper-up for the frail and vulnerable) lost its charm as I got buffeted by backpacks and tripped-up in turn. I'd spent the train journey transcribing part of Viv Albertine's interview, which is fascinating, and reading Matthew Bannister's book, White Boys, White Noise.
I had my guitar, too, and was relieved to get to my friend Carol's in Seaton Delaval and sleep.

Friday night's gig was at the Gosforth Hotel. We set up the P.A. and said hello to Mike and June (they gave me a lovely BSA badge to go with my motorbike, thank you!) and they set up the CDs.
Giovanni's disco arrived and set up- they have the most fantastic rare vinyls of 1950s and 1960s soul and rhythm'n'blue. All the singles were in neat white card sleeves and once they got going, the evening started with a bang. There was a real air of excitement and anticipation!
Here come the Kentucky Cow-Tippers (, and here come double-bassist John Cavener and his family of musicians: his son is 15 and plays a mean sax solo (he earned the title 'One-Take Johnny' when we did some recording in Embleton village hall a while back) and his daughter, who is a bit younger, plays trumpet.
It was boiling hot and the windows didn't open, and as people started arriving it got hotter still. Taff (from Hurrah!) and his partner Sylvia were there to cheer on their son Rupert, who mandolins/vocalises/harmonicas for the Cow-Tippers. I had met them in Shipley two years ago and really enjoyed their band (
I played a set to begin with (snapped by Juan: I'm worried because I look like an elderly fish when I sing) and then the Cow-Tippers did a fantastic almost acoustic set.
Their line up is double-bass, banjo (nimble-fingered lad with long tumbling curls), guitar (nimble fingered lad with long silky-straight hair, because he's worth it), Hannah on vocals and fiddle (she's a brilliant musician) and Rupert who holds them all together with charm and vitality (later, when he and Martin were standing next to each other singing, I though that he must be very like Martin when he was young). They went down a storm, playing everything from straight bluegrass to a beautiful rendition of The Willow Tree.
Bit more disco, then Martin and Fin McCardle got up and played a couple of songs before adding to the duo bit by bit; double bass, electric guitar and then horns, joined by a grown-up on sax too (sorry, I don't know anyone's names, it was a mad night). There was a moment when the horn section and the double bass were conferring on something that seemed to sum up the whole night: they were close, father, son and daughter, swaying in time with each other, in that little magic land of total lack of self-consciousness that musicians have sometimes. Beautiful.
The Skifflecats stormed through the evening, joined by all the others in turn.
I went up and did Sweet Saviour with Martin; I'd brought the horn parts for Freight Train as well but we were a guitar lead short. And I did Loverman with the double bass and electric guitar, Fin percussing behind me, and I really enjoyed that.
All of the Kentucky Cow-Tippers went up for a couple of songs and they did a walkabout for Will the Circle be Unbroken until the miserable manageress sent them back upstairs again.
It was a hoot, a scream and a roaring success, bringing out even 'Round-eyes' Ray who used to sing with Martin years ago, and the manager of The Band of Holy Joy (, whose flat in Wallsend we'd recorded in with Joe Guillan earlier this year (it was his son Nick playing the electric guitar tonight).
Mike and June dropped us off at out hotel before heading back to Goole. They are Martin-fans extraordinaire and I was glad they were there at such a good night!

Next Night

Of course, I was knackered when I got home but I'd promised to go to see Gina Birch play at a night called Girls Girls Girls at the Old Blue Last in Great Eastern Street. Earlier in the morning she'd called to ask if I would play guitar with her, and surfing the energy of the night before I hoiked the Telecaster out from under the bed where it had been buried in the year's future birthday presents (I'm fearing poverty and have started stockpiling) and drove down there, arriving just in time to see the end of a very good all-female support band playing.
I can't remember how to play the songs we played at the Stella Vine exhibition in Oxford, but she wrote out some chords for me and although the projector was playing up, I reckon she held it all together really well.
It was boiling but it was still fun and I loved playing in a different style and shouting 'I WILL NEVER WEAR STILETTOS' at the top of my voice with her!
I'm Glad I'm Me Today is my favourite Gina song and she did a really moving version of that and we actually managed to do quite a slick version of the last song with duo guitars.
There were lots of Raincoats fans there and they all came up and told her how much they had enjoyed it.
I am going to learn the guitar parts for her set properly; in the morning I'd thought of learning to play snare'n'brushes to accompany her and maybe even play some rockabilly but I honestly haven't got a spare centimetre in  my house for any more musical instruments so that's a no-no.
Gina had a really good gig, in spite of the heat and humidity. As I left, the skies opened and I splashed through the absolute downpour back to my car, feeling bloody glad I'd gone and done it.

Today? Achey body from dragging the wheelie-case through Glasgow from Glasgow Central to Queen Street and back again (a common mistake, I believe); happy heart though!
Great few days.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Photo Love

I knew a girl who used to be in those photo love stories in girls' comics, you know: 'Don't you love me any more, Alan?' in a speech bubble pasted on to a black and white photo of a girl with her mouth open looking as though she is talking, her face looking sad and her hands outspread in a gesture of despair.

Her revelation was that she actually had to say the scripted words when they were taking the photographs!
I bet she felt silly.

Fun for a Friday

Off to Ayr with a suitcase full of books to read on the train.
Look out for the gig in Newcastle on Friday. Gosforth rather, the Gosforth Hotel.
The Kentucky Cowtippers, Skifflecats (Martin and everyone), and I am playing too.
It's Martin's club, Club Tornado, and you can get tickets from his Myspace site,
It's going to be FUN!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Cowboy Cowgirl Song

Martin has made some changes to my art website, including putting up a song he produced for me while I was there two weeks ago, which is going to go on his Scullyville album, due out later this year


Punk was the best thing in the world and the worst thing in the world at the same time.
It was totally exciting, completely absorbing, started the second you woke up and was with you in your dreams too.

It was about making plans and really doing what you said, and feeling that you were worth something and that you could affect your world, like suddenly being given a screwdriver to lever off the top of a can of paint you hadn't been able to open before, so you could paint everything a new colour.
It was about volume- lots of new friends and acquaintances all talking at once, a University of Life if ever there was one.
No Future meant lots of Now: everything in technicolour, senses heightened, fizzy blood going round your veins, running, shouting, taking part.

But it was also about violence and darkness; the police were our enemies and if something went wrong it was tried in a punk court with a punk punishment.
Girls had their faces kicked in; people slit their wrists in public. Some people stole from the rich to give to the poor: themselves. There was rivalry between bands that became vicious at times. You felt vulnerable at the same time as being empowered.
My most vulnerable moment was almost funny in a horrible way: standing at the top of the stairs in a pair of old men's pyjamas as a knife-wielding drug-addled Geordie called Padger whacked the downstairs door of a girl who lived there, and who was sheltering his girlfriend within, with a clawhammer. He wanted to beat her up yet again.

What a thing to live through!
I couldn't talk about it for years and eventually had little bits of information prised out of me by curious students as they noticed that I was studying for the PHD.
Gradually, the good parts of it came to the forefront and the violence, some of which I experienced myself, stopped strangling the memories I had of the mad joy of playing in a band for the first time, something I never in a million years expected to do.
It's impossible to explain what it was really like unless you lived it, which is why it's so fantastic interviewing people again, and especially people who are not used to giving interviews.
They get a sort of curious and shocked expression as they start to remember the extraordinary lifestyle they used to lead, (often accidentally) offending the public just by existing.

I would never want to go through it again, but I am glad to have been through it nevertheless.

Thank You

Thank you for the comments and emails, that's a big help!
The next stage will be to actually read my book. I am making a train journey later this week and I'll take it with me along with Matthew Bannister's White Boys, White Noise which will probably be a very interesting bit of reading alongside it. This sort of book needs to have a framework to hold it in.

I am mourning the end of my lovely Songbook module which has been written out of the course at the University of the West.
It nurtured Jamie McDermott of the Irrepressibles, Emmy the Great, and Rob Diament of Temposhark (who used some of the songs he wrote for their first album) amongst others, and gave the University a runner-up in the Peter Whittingham Song Writing Competition two years ago (Alex Lipinsky); this year The University of West won with Sherika Sherrard who had won an internal competition run by yours truly.
I think there was always a problem in that the course it ran within had a focus on people making money within the music business system, whereas my sole concern was that everybody who did the module wrote the best songs they possibly could, no matter how weird that was.
It embraced students with aspirations to write musicals, electronica artists, rappers, producers, folkies, soul, R'n'B, gospel, comedy and even poetry.
I am hugely proud of the guests that I invited to talk to them over the years: Pete Waterman, Billy Bragg, Linton Kwesi Johnson, JC001, Martin Stephenson, John Hegley, Billy Childish (three times), Michelle Escoffery, Enid Williams (Girlschool), Carroll Thompson, Edwyn Collins, Gina Birch, Paul Laventhol (King Kurt), Dubulah and Neil Sparkes from Temple of Sound, Katy Carr, Jamie McDermott, Bid (Monochrome Set), Pete Sinfield who writes hits for Celine Dion. And lots of industry types too.
I am sure I will think of more in the middle of the night!

Speaking of the Monochrome Set, I gather they are re-forming for a tour of Japan in the Autumn. They are just so absolutely brilliant (volume, tone, brilliance, they got the lot) that you must go to see them if you can. Lester Square put me on the guest list for the Cherry Red Records 40th birthday party and I saw them play a couple of years ago. I danced like a demented flea and came away feeling 18 again!