Monday, January 31, 2011

Closing Down TV

So it looks like the Silent Witness pathology lab will be closing down, due to impending privatisation, and then cuts.
Waterloo Road School will have to close soon: they can't afford the repairs.
The cast will be made redundant.
Both the Queen Vic (Eastenders) and The Rover's Return (Coronation Street) will go bankrupt, because people won't be able to go out for a drink under the new tax and VAT regimes. So both soaps will disappear from our screens.
Holby City hospital will close, as all it's funding will be ring-fenced for local G.P.s surgery treatment centres, so both Casualty and Holby City will be axed.
Taggart will vanish from our screens as the cuts in the police force start to bite. Causton Police Station will also close and poor old Bergerac (sorry, Tom Barnaby) will be put out to grass. Those Midsomer Murders will carry on rampantly, undetected.
The beleaguered parents in Outnumbered will no longer be able to afford their mortgage: after their house is repossessed, they will have to move in with their non-telegenic parents-in-law.

What will replace these family favourites? Why, reality shows about bankers, of course! A Day in the Life of Eton! Business Studies advice shows! Makeovers in which British National Party yobs are dressed up in Savile Row suits, weep as they see themselves in the mirror, and go off to jobs at Merrill Lynch! Lots more Nigella, doing what women should do: sexy flirting and cooking in an apron with lots of licking fingers and cooing seductively! Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and other posh chefs telling people how to cook things using ingredients that they cannot possibly afford!
And that cuddly, twinkly-eyed George Osborne will make a childrens' programme (the only one) all about putting your pocket money in a piggy-bank so that when you grow up, you can be a millionaire like him.

Former Students

It is odd how ashamed musicians appear to be about having been through Higher Education.
The music industry has always had more than its fair share of nepotism, and the man who started up the first pop music course that I taught on deliberately intended to flood record companies and publishing houses with graduates who would then favour ex-students who followed the music production route as songwriters and artistes.
I am certain that this happens from the specialist music schools like the Brit School in Croydon, that teaches both business and production pathways, all the way through to University level.
Year ago, I taught Jamie Woon at the University of the West; I remember him as a talented and very nice student whose exceptional feature was his voice, which was reliably sweet across a very wide range.
I am proud to see that he is becoming very successful, but disappointed that he rarely mentions his three years at the University, where he met people who were involved in all sorts of different music to his own folk-influenced repertoire, and also learned a good deal about the way the business side of the industry works.

I suppose when I was a punk rocker back in the day, I was embarrassed to be teased by other punks about being a student- mostly, I have to say, the lead singer of my band Joby and the Hooligans! Steve, who played guitar in the band, seemed to be more annoyed about it than I did, but both of us used to have to take a lot of ribbing on the chin (or chinning on the ribs?).
I regarded switching to playing music as being a refuge from the finishing-school atmosphere of Brighton Art College at the time; any of us with regional accents were set apart by the other students so it was a huge relief to be embraced by the punk community, who were all outcasts of one sort or another.

One thing I am sure of is that I would not have got on to any of the music courses I teach on, which is a strange fact. So I suppose any of the students who are ashamed to have passed through the University music courses could always switch tracks and become punky artists instead!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Burns Day

'We all go a bit pink on the sun, but only Robert Burns', or something along those lines, we sang at the last song-writing weekend.
Today, we hied over to McSis's for a tartan clad afternoon to celebrate Burns night, in the daytime and five days late.
I wore McDad's McCallum tartan shirt and a tired face; Offsprog One wore a McCallum tartan shirt with badly-inserted sleeves and deerhorn buttons that I made a few years ago and couldn't wear because I was so cross that I'd made it so badly.
McSis wore a red tartan dress from Edinburgh; little Bruv wore his McCallum tartan tie.
He had wanted to address the 'Great Chieftain of the pudden race', but declined the duty and Paul-the-sax-player-with-Helen-and-the-Horns, who also happens to be my brother in law, remembered it from the year before (Uncle James had taught it to him years ago, without shouting: see below) and did the honours.
The table, too, wore tartan, and we ate the haggis, with bashed neeps, and mashed tatties, reminiscing about McDad's ancient bags of crisps that he saved till they were stale and then served up to his guests in little silver bowls, and the multiple giant bottles of ginger beer with dying fizz that were served up at mealtimes.
And the time when normally mild-mannered Uncle James, used to working with difficult teenagers as Head of an Inner-City Comprehensive, shouted at us all in furious frustration as we failed to understand his complex instructions on how to dance The Duke Of Perth, with a CD of Jimmy Shand And His Band merrily playing away on the stereo in the background.
McSis's youngest son was delighted that I like the Super Mario Brothers soundtrack. The adults talked about all sorts of subjects you're not supposed to talk about at table, with the teenagers at the other end of the table straining to hear what the adults were yakking on about.
How did I know Offsprog Two went to bed at three-thirty? Well, being mother, I could not rest till she was home (2.45) and then lay in bed trying to identify the strange noises that her and her friends were making downstairs. What was that rattling on tin? Too delicate for money, too loud for cereal... I tossed and turned.
This morning, an empty saucepan told the tale of a late-night pasta extravaganza.
P.S. Sarah, I did like the necklace you were wearing!


Gets me every time... a gentle, urgent, cultured voice tells me about astrasion.
 'What the flick is that?' I ask myself.
Then I realise it's that dentist advert, the one with the searingly bright white screen and a beige dentist selling enamel-strengthening toothpaste to remedy acid erosion.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Let's Make Up

About two weeks ago Martin asked me to record some songs on his new hard-drive mini-recorder, and he did it as a small spoof radio interview. One of those songs was my cover version of The Chefs' Let's Make Up, and I have posted that song plus a small section of the interview up on Myspace:
or Reverbnation, if you prefer:
Newsflash: The Peel sessions arrived this morning!

Friday, January 28, 2011


Gasp! I'm up for breath for a day, catching up with designing a CD cover for Martin, and I may even go out for a walk to get some fresh air. I did six hours of data-inputting yesterday after being summoned into work: and all without my spectacles, which were lazing about in bed, the sods.
I have more work to do tomorrow. Sitting down so much is making gravity pull all loose parts of my body downwards, and I now have the bodily profile of a fir tree, more mass at the bottom and less at the top.
The Chefs tracks have arrived from Attrix in Brighton, but the guy at the BBC sent the Peel sessions to the wrong address. I keep thinking I will be able to make a start, and then not: but things are a bit more optimistic along those lines than they were six months ago!

Soon, I will have to look for photographs for the new edition of the book. I have an idea of what I want, but not the energy to proceed just yet. My body says 'No!', and unlike me, it has a loud and forceful voice.

Nat has asked me if I would like to participate in an evening of Madonna covers. It's not a quandary that I would normally make public but hey-ho, that's the mood of today!
Can't stand her... but what about doing a cover of her nastiest song, Hanky Panky, and adding a verse that criticises her? It would be fun to learn the chords but I might choke on the words and then I'd also be listening to everyone else's covers of her songs during the evening.
I won't rant any more than that, apart from to say that she deserves the Devil's Prize for Self-Misogyny (if there's such a concept); a generation of young and not-so-young girls now equate empowerment with taking their clothes off and displaying their bodies with minimal lacy coverments. UGH!!!

I think I've made my decision! He has lots of other interesting artists' work in the pipeline, including The Specials and Jacques Brel.....




Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tesco Queen in Fantasy Myspace Visit Horror

Just noticed that I've had a visitor to my Myspace profile from Tel Aviv.
I wonder if it was the fiendish Dame Shirley Porter (wife of Tesco magnate thingummybob Cohen), who is hiding out there to avoid being taken to court for mismanagement (i.e. disappearance) of funds while she was head of Westminster Council back in the dark ages of Thatcher.
I wonder which track she listened to?
Maybe I should write a special song and lie in wait with it on my Myspace until she visits again!

Two More Interviews

Last two interviews (except a possible telephone conversation) organised and ready.
Registered package to pick up at Post Office- I hope it's The Chefs tracks!
More drawing for Martin which he likes, he says.
Another tough day at work trying to cross a ravine on a bridge being constructed as I pick my way over, out of chicken bones and matchsticks!
Smiles from the tea stall ladies, enough to warm my day.
Lazy evening: tea, toast, crisps, pistachios and Poirot.
Seen them all before, of course: that's the point.
My eyes are red from staring at the screen. I have had another Mars.
I have got 'goodwill burnout'.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Work: Hard

Oh Blogger, I'm tired. It has been a stressful day. I did not even have time to eat the other half of my sandwich, though I did manage a Mars on the way up the stairs!
The day has had some unexpected gentle highlights: the IT guy who brought me a new computer, and did a gentle riff on how work used to have some fun in it, a long time ago; the red, yellow and blue pencils I bought so the tutors I work with could enjoy double-marking; them- they are nice, smart, gracious and conscientious and the students are lucky to have 'em; my room-mate (I hope she has a fantastic few days off in Glastonbury!); a relaxed chat with a colleague in the music department when it was too late to panic; and lastly, my drive home on the M25 through the drizzle, and the simple thoughts that I navigated it with ('BIG', I thought, as I drove past a gigantic lorry; 'WET', I thought as I switched the wipers on).
In half an hour I will have an argument about what we watch on TV with Offsprog Two.
I will let her win, tonight.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sound Check Time

Through the grimy windows you can see people silhouetted against the yellow lights of the top decks of London buses as they swoosh by. It's  only 8 o'clock but the place is already buzzing and heaving and I've already spotted a famous middle-aged actress from some cop show or other.
This doesn't fit my plan of hesitant warbling to one man and his dog!  
Shall I run away? A fire engine hisses past, its siren moaning under  
a blue flashing light. 
Bloody January, and here, it seems sit almost all London's post-30  
songwriting talent, ambition leaking from our pores and thwarted  
dreams choking our voices .
We drink soft drinks through straws because we are driving. People  
with colds avoid kissing their friends after striding in purposefully, radiating a chill from outside, bag straps slung casually across their chests.
I am the only person here not surrounded by pals. This is probably  
strange but I have always enjoyed going out alone, watching as much as I want to and going home when I've had enough.

Actually, I didn't play that badly even though the entire Beefheart song left my head as soon as I hit the stage. I played 'Temptation' and 'Daisies' afterwards and really enjoyed that- the P.A. system is very good at the Boogaloo and the audience is a listening one, an absolute blessing to a solo artist. I enjoyed the other acts I saw, particularly the Goodbye Horses who were satisfyingly weird, inhabiting an alternative universe not that far from Maidstone. Nat the Hammer kicked off the proceedings with a jolly set, and Rose Hotel feature a star sax player who outshone even the shivery lap steel player.
I did leave before the end; I am frightened of tomorrow at work. I'm beginning to feel bullied: is this actually what is happening? Anyway just before I left a chap came up and bought a CD, which I raced out to the car for. I am not very commercially minded and I forget to take them with me, but I remembered there was one in the boot from ages ago. I hope he likes it.
I can thoroughly recommend Nat''s 'Under the Influence' nights. They happen monthly, featuring covers of a different artist each month, He chooses very left-field acts to play and cares a lot about the sound and the general vibe. The Boogaloo is a welcoming venue: shabby but not too sticky, rock'n'roll and cosy at the same time (odd, that!). Pics show a band sound-checking, and an upside down drum (they die if they are left on their backs too long, you know) making an interesting shadow poke out of Captain Beefheart's hat.

The Boogaloo Bar, Tonight. Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

I am playing some songs at Nat the Hammer's night at the Boogaloo Bar in Highgate tonight from about 8 p.m..
He has hit on a really good idea: he invites artists to play a set that includes a cover version by a different  artist each time. I was supposed to do Billy Bragg but had to pull out as I was constantly losing my voice last term because of the amount of extra teaching I was doing (grrr).
So it's Veteran's Day Poppy by Captain Beefheart for me! I thought the Captain was going to win but I seem to have conquered some way of doing it within the last five minutes. I will be playing a new song tonight too, and an old one, and then just sitting back and listening.
The joy of these nights is the different acts you get to see.

Barbaraville Llama Logo for Martin

Sunday, January 23, 2011

24 Hours

A big thank you! to Shippy for uploading the Christmas 2010 version of 24 Hours featuring Martin Stephenson on guitar, Anth Dunn on bass and Kate Stephenson on drums. It's rough and ready but completely spontaneous, so not bad considering!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Piano Toes

Viv's Album

Viv Albertine is mixing her album and if you would like to pledge money to help her to do it please click on this link:

London Life

Sitting in a curry house in Enfield with Martin the other day, we listened to the staff banter and discussions about local news from a paper they were consulting.
A man had been approached by a street robber, who stole his chips. The victim pulled out a knife and stabbed the mugger.
So Tottenham.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Sweet Gig

The man at Costa Coffee sent me the wrong direction down Westminster Bridge Road, then the security guard at the building sent me up to the third floor instead of the first floor after taking ages to open the front door anyway, but all was well in the end.
Acton Bell was sitting in a room full of coats and we ran through the Herman's Hermit's song that she'd asked me to do backing vocals on, and when she found out that I'd had a crush on Freddy Garrity from Freddy and the Dreamers when I was about six, we learned You Were Made For Me.
I told her that he seemed like the ideal adult, to a child: just like a child (all silly), but grown up.

The room was small and cosy, with a cake and wine stall and couples sitting around at tables ready to be entertained. She went on first, followed by Kat, who has a lovely voice and who sang a song by Paul Weller infinitely better than he does it (not keen on his aggressive pained vocals).
The Kitchenette Four, a three-woman Barbershop trio, were great too, especially their first number, the Suffragette song from Mary Poppins. I liked their casual style; Barbershop can be scarily tight-arsed but they carried off their harmonies with relaxed aplomb.
I sang Let's Make Up, that old Chefs chestnut, plus a selection of oldies including Temptation, and a newie, a song that is quite rocky for me.
Two of the acts had pulled out (shame!) so Acton Bell went on and did another Merseybeat set. Her guitar skills have improved noticeably and she told me she's been going to a local working Mens' Club in Tottenham on Saturday afternoon for lessons.
The collection box looked satisfyingly full. We went into the library to have our picture taken, one by one, and to answer the questions 'Why is music important to women'.
Luckily, I found my way out of the building and back to the tube station OK.

The picture shows Acton Bell. Kat had a label tied to the headstock of her guitar. I didn't ask her what was on it: it wasn't a set list, anyway.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can't believe it. They have sent Helen and the Horns, not The Chefs.

Benefit for the Feminist Library Tonight

At The Feminist Library, number 5 Westminster Bridge Road, moments from Lambeth North tube station (Bakerloo Line). The gig is unplugged so if you want to eat crisps and undo your velcro bag, not a good one to come to!
I will be playing a couple of Chefs songs in memory of Dick Damage, who died a couple of days ago. Of all the Brighton punks, he was one of the gentlest, funniest and most amiable. see for details and a tribute page.
I think it's about 3 quid to get in, proceeds to the library, the night is organised by Acton and the times/line-up are as follows:

7.30 Doors Open
8.00 Acton Bell
8.25 Portia Winters 
8.40 Kat Austen
9.05 Interval
9.20 Helen McCookerybook
9.45 Elizabeth Carola
10.00 End
11.00 Doors Close


The masters of the John Peels sessions by The Chefs! Wahey!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two Shows in a Day

Yesterday, I became exhausted through being sung at!
My friend Carol came down from Newcastle and we met at Stratford Circus for a cup of tea before going to see Red Riding Hood at the Theatre Royal. Her son's girlfriend, Chloe Allen, was playing the title role, and when we got into the auditorium the Three Little Pigs were already busy, using up the energy of about 500 primary-school children who smelled of pencils and school sweatshirts and who snapped, crackled and popped like a bowl of Rice Crispies, busy little mini-people with plaits, braids, crew cuts, curls, ponytails, and predominantly red jumpers.
The curtain rose, and the full-on production started, introducing us to a fabulous Big Bad Wolf (I'm, very, very, very, very VERY bad!) with a deep and booming wolf-voice, a bouncing and delightful Red Riding Hood, her sister Big Blue (very streetwise), their rockabillyish mother (fantastic swearing- bleepin' this and bleepin' that!) and my favourite, the tranny granny, a very glamorous Afro-Caribbean pantomime dame who made new-best-friends with Mrs Amos, a teacher in the front row, and pretended to text her all the way through the show, which was a very effective running gag.  There was a Woodman who was rather Shoreditch, if you know what I mean, but this is London and all London was there in this show.
I wanted to adopt the granny and take her home because she had just the right blend of irreverence and authority, and actually I found her rather similar to my own Gran! I loved the bit where she put courgette slices over her eyes instead of cucumber: 'Recline, apply, relax!' she advised us. We roared with laughter.
The children loved her and her quips. 'So gorgeous, I frighten myself', she purred at her reflection in the imaginary mirror (actually she was looking at the Big Bad Wolf mimicking her). And inside the Wolf's stomach, she told us all 'What goes in, must come out', to the delighted squeals of the mini-audience.
She was the only person in the show to get a song that was in the right key for her to sing, and who had the voice to overcome the far-too-loud music. sHe had a very impressive singing voice, actually, and
what a surreal moment- a lover's rock song sung from inside the belly of a wolf by an Afro-Caribbean cross-dresser! This is why I love pantomime!
But there were far too many songs in the second half. You began to think, 'Not another bloody song!' The Stomach Acid sang an acid house song (how do primary school children know how to dance to rave music?), which we didn't really need, but there were still some funny bits- the way the cast all jumped at once as the wolf got hiccups, for instance. And the Woodsman's song about his axe where he rhymed along the lines of 'Even though I've only got a tiny chopper, I can do much more with it than if I had a whopper'. Fnurr, fnurr!
The energy level was high all the way through, and it was an exceedingly good-natured production with fantastic engagement with the audience of tinies, who loved every second of it.
Chloe was great- energetic and with a good strong voice. I just wish the sound technician had allowed us to hear more of the other singers!

The second show was A Taste of Saturday Night, where Carol's son Nik Alevroyiannis, who is a talented percussionist, was playing drums in the house band. The theatre was above a pub called The Gatehouse in Highgate, and the seating was arranged so that the audience sat in rows facing each other with the performance taking place in the middle.
It was a completely different sort of show from the panto, consisting of pastiches (very good ones) of Sixties favourites, and a lame storyline based on a group of teenage boys and a group of teenage girls attempting to get sex from each other, or not, as the Saturday evening at the club progresses.
The musicians and singers were tremendously talented: there were lovely harmonies and flawless vocal performances with not a trace of that awful 'show' timbre, and they were extremely well-rehearsed.
The problem was the subject matter. After about four songs about bonking, you got fed up of it, and you knew there was a whole night of it to come. It became really tedious, because there wasn't really a story apart from that and you didn't get to know or sympathise with any of the characters. I felt that this particular show was wasting the considerable talents of the actors and musicians on a really cruddy and lazy script.
However, a lot of the audience would have disagreed with me, because they were clapping and laughing all the way through. But a good band like this, and good singers... well, I felt that they could have been given a much better show to do. Hats off to all of them for being 100% committed to it, anyway.

Monday, January 17, 2011

17th January

Today was Ari's birthday. She was a Capricorn, 'Old Souls', she told me.
I remember her and salute her memory, as she is always alive in my thoughts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Comedown Time

What a comedown!
Back from holiday...
Martin took me to Barcelona for three days as a birthday present (I was a Christmas baby and spoiled McMum's party diary for several years, apparently). We had a lovely time pottering around, eating ice cream and drinking coffee; it was warmer than it usually is at this time of year.
We stayed on the 18th floor of a brand new hotel, and once I'd got over the vertigo, it was a bit like being in a James Bond movie, apart from Martin not being James Bond (phew, that's a relief!), and me not being a Bond Girl.
The views over Barcelona, daytime when you could see the Gaudi cathedral and the blue, blue sky, and night-time when you could see the city lights and the sparse traffic inching along the grids of roads, up, down, left, right, depending on the moods of the traffic lights, were fabulous.
We soon learned the tube system and bought Te Dia cards (Geordie for today- how weird!), whizzing about here and there in between wanderings.
Then back to Blighty and the regular Kalamazoo Club gig in Crouch End. This year, John and Kate came over and boosted the sound. It was packed to the gills and full of hearty singing voices and happy people. But Martin's up in Hyde tonight, and I'm down in London, with the washing up, the rubbish telly, the mountain of work to contemplate for Monday and the grumpy teenager. Living at opposite ends of the country isn't much fun.
I'm learning a new song to play on Thursday at the benefit gig for the Feminist Library: it's AT the Feminist Library from 8 p.m. onwards and is organised by Acton Bell. I will learn the backing vocals for a Herman's Hermits song she is going to do. And I also have to learn the Captain Beefheart song for the gig at the Boogaloo in Highgate a week on Monday.

But at the moment all I want to do is think about Barcelona and all those funny little mediaeval streets with a surprise around every corner.

An Observation About Winter Compost Heaps

Even my tiny square has a compost heap, which has remained resolutely rock-hard with ice for months, and which has finally started to thaw (and smell).
It has resembled a Bird's Eye Frozen Vegetable Medley for 50, looking quite appetising until I put the dead flowers on it; even then, the onion slices twinkled pinkly from underneath their stalks in a coy suggestion of Mediterranean Salad, if only I would rescue them and arrange them on a plate for consumption.
Rot away, me hearties! The 'heap' is actually in a rather useful big plant pot which I want for the tomatoes this year. I might even plant the seeds in time for them to ripen this time around.
I have been here for over a year now; still, a big pile of stuff is in storage and costing a fortune monthly.
I have to bite the bullet and either get rid of it all or find somewhere to stash it here. There is room in the loft, but the access aperture is too small to get some of the things up there.
I kind of wish it would all rot away to something useful, like the compost heap does.

Monday, January 10, 2011


This Hyacinth-and-a-half was a bulb in a pot at Christmas. I believe it came from Adrian's allotment in Stockport. It smells delicious and I can't wait for the ones in the yard to flower. They are just poking their noses out of the earth to check whether it's warm enough to come out yet.
Hyacinths, it's not. Wait a bit longer as I suspect there is some trick cold weather round the corner.
I would like to have planted snowdrops too but they are sold in mega-packs to seed a whole woodland, not in twos and threes for a micro-garden like mine.
There are some other things emerging from the soil and I think they might be miniature daffodils; and I've got two Hellebores in pots that don't give a damn about coldest winters on record. They are constructing their escape from hibernation with folding papery fresh new shoots.
The rest looks pretty dead at the moment but I plan to grow a lot more vegetables this year, and even a Peony Bowl-of-Beauty if I can fit one in. And perhaps even a Birch tree in a pot.
There might be room for me too, if I'm lucky.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Well, I'll be jiggered: there I was, all motivated, roaring through the typos and corrections, when I realised that the footnotes were all missing! I've had to stop as the pages will all change again. I have written to the scanner chap in emergency-style and must now wait to see how they can be retrieved.
There also appear to be spelling errors which are not in the book: I saw from his email that he had made alterations.. I am not too happy about this. Monster task made monsterer as I will have to re-check everything.


I am trying to distract myself from starting work on the book Mk II.
Firstly, there are lots of errors to correct and that's what I will start with this afternoon.
I have artyplans that are very exciting. Martin has sent some mixes of tracks for our next album. One of the songs, The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses, is beautiful, and it has some of Martin's best ever guitar playing on it.
We also have another project in hand inspired by the week we spent in Northumberland last summer, but more of that when it's a bit further down the line. I have just sent off two new songs to Paul Eccentric, as I will be playing them and some other new material at the Camden Eye in February at the next Rrrants Collective night, backed by the house band! And another fledgling project is hatching and drying off its tiny wings in the winter sunlight....
I am expecting the Chefs material from the BBC imminently, and I have also discovered a small stash of Helen and the Horns etc CDs: please write to me at if you want one (they are £10.00). They are hard to come by although the guy who released them probably has about 500 in his garage, but no amount of pleading stirs him into action. Rough Trade ask for more, but I don't have any to supply them with.
Oh bosh. Nothing to do but start the book!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Radio 4's Any Questions

Yesterday evening I went to the recording of Any Questions at the Hinde Street Methodist Chapel in central London. It's a lovely peaceful chapel that throws off the ugly and bossy sounds of traffic that grunts and roars outside its walls, and was thronging with Shires-types even though I got there an hour early. I'd been hoping to take Offsprog Two, who is doing Politics 'A' Level, but we had a row as I managed to crash her computer with all her 'A' Level work on it (fingers crossed, it is being repaired as we speak), so I gave away my spare ticket and settled down next to a snotty banker type in pinstripes and elbows, who kicked his smart leather attache case into my footspace, fidgeted and elbowed me all the way through, interspersing all this with regular grunts from alcohol-infused breath. He didn't manage to spoil the experience though! Left to right on the podium on front of us were Ken Livingstone, Vivienne Westwood, Jonathan Dimbleby, the producer (balance? four men and one woman isn't balance, missus!), Michael Portillo and Matthew Parris.
It was much more enlightening that Question Time, because the panel were not so tied to party politics. Portillo in particular was pleasantly surprising, condemning the bankers for greedily helping themselves to our tax money in bonuses, and the Government for letting them.
We liked that!
As a single mum on a part-time wage (and no more pay rises, and no possibility of promotion or working more paid hours due to Government cuts) living in London, I bitterly resent rewarding the beasts who got us into this recession getting bonus payments for doing so. What sort of upside down world do we live in?
Portillo also berated the red-tops for bugging people.
Livingstone was similarly independent minded, and the audience thoroughly agreed with his condemnation of the Iraq War (as did the other panellists).
Parris was wise about the Eastenders storyline (the cot death/baby swap one) saying that if it had appeared in a Dickens novel, it would have been accepted, and that TV had a right and a responsiblity to create drama that explored issues such as this. Where I differed with Parris was his nasty mocking of Vivienne Westwood, which of course will not be visible to listeners of the programme.
Westwood is not an experienced broadcaster and is not able to be concise enough when she speaks. If she is interrupted or laughed at before she finishes making her point, she comes across as a batty old Dame. She is not this at all; she spoke slowly and almost timidly but made pertinent points, and often witty ones; her quip about Ken Livingstone's sartorial style being an inspiration for Ralph Lauren's coutryside-inspired 'look' was very funny.
Whenever it was her turn to speak, Parrish rolled his eyes and chortled, becoming quite flushed with self-satisfied delight whenever Dimbleby tried to hurry her along. By doing this, he betrayed his suave manner and revealed that underneath his articulate presentation is a misogynistic public schoolboy who seems to believe that his public voice entitles him to mock those who are not in his exalted position as a social and political commentator in the pay of Rupert Murdoch.
I don't like Vivienne Westwood's fashion designs any more but I do admire her a lot. She is a climate-change activist now, and she was clearly participating in this programme to raise awareness about this rather than for any other reason.
All in all, it was a really interesting experience, which made me wish that Michael Portillo had not left party politics, made me glad that Matthew Parris is not a politician, made me hope that Ken Livingstone becomes mayor again (although I would have preferred Oona King), and made me respect Vivienne Westwood again- and admire her physical beauty. I had not realised what a beautiful woman she is in the flesh, having only seen her in posed photographs before. Must be all that cycling round London!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

I've Got Another Gig Before This, But Here's This Anyway

I will be playing a cover version of Veteran's Day Poppy.
Plus two brand new songs of my own.

Eadweard Muybridge at Tate Britain

In search of distraction form looming work, I tubed down to Tate Britain to have a look at Muybridge's photographs. What an excellent exhibition of work by a very weird and eccentric gentleman!
His real name was Edward Muggeridge, and although he worked mainly in the USA, he was born (and died) in the UK.
He was a technical photographer to start off with, travelling around with a tent and bottles of chemicals photographing the Yosemite National Park, and even documenting the aftermath of a war in the north western United States between Native American Indians and white men, as the Indians tried to reclaim land that had been stolen from them by the whites. He was prone to cheating- posing Indians from another tribe, when he couldn't get the real thing.
He made a lot of money early in his career and found a patron in San Francisco tycoon Leland Stanford, who commissioned him to photograph his race horses, in order to see if their four feet left the ground as they galloped. Using a set of triggered cameras and tripwires, Muybridge took his famous sequential photographs and proved this to be true. Eventually, he projected these from rotating glass discs like big LPs in order to animate them; the zoopraxiscope he invented to do this was so accurate that Stanford could actually recognise the gait of one of his horses, which had been wrongly identified in the documentation.
What I found interesting were not the lateral photographic sequences, but those that showed the subject through a 360 degree angle, foreshortening them, and apparently inspiring the film The Matrix.
Some of the pictures were funny- the naked male acrobat with flying penis, and the bucket of water being thrown, for instance. He started using grids to measure the pace of movement and there were some rather nasty photographs of disabled people crawling and limping.
I liked the photograph of Muybridge himself, heavily bearded and wielding a pickaxe.
Later in his life, he influenced the narrative by setting off explosions to frighten chickens into flying (the flying cockatoo was a particularly beautiful set of images). He also murdered his wife's lover, and got off scot free; evidently, a horrible man as well as an inventive one.
It's on till the 16th of January- get there quickly: it's fascinating and probably will be a rare collection of so many of his photographs in one place. Definitely worth seeing!

I got back and excitedly plugged in my JV1080, which has been on vacation in the loft. It hummed disgruntledly for a while before exploding. What a dramatic end to the day!
Anyone know a studio equipment mender in North London?

Women are Inferior to Men

Gina called, infuriated. She was marking a music student's work, and the student had declared 'Dr Helen Reddington says that women are inferior to men'; the accompanying illustrations were of Madonna and Lad Gaga in their undies. Or similar.
Well, Dr Helen Reddington has never said anything like that, ever, even ironically (although watch this space, and she will do, in 30 seconds).
It is easy to despair and to decide not to bother with this type of education, the type that encourages young people to question the world around them, a world of attitudes and 'facts' that are ladled into them through magazines such as Heat and OK, and newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail.
For of course, lap-dancing is empowering!

Cazz Blaise has published her final stimulating piece about women in punk music:

And the talented artist, Caroline Coon, continues to write interesting and challenging responses to the force-fed attitudes of mass culture in her blog, here:

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Goodbye Christmas Tree

Slanted in the garden, the poor tree awaits collection by the Council on Monday.
As every year, I have packed the decorations up and put them into the loft.
As every year, I have forgotten to pack some of them and will have to go up into the loft again tomorrow.

Afterthought About Christmas

The only thing I don't like about Christmas is the mice pies.

Billy Elliot

On New Years' Day Eve, I went to see Billy Elliot with Martin and his youngest daughter.
Something in  my brain always chimes 'Silly Idiot'. Got to get over that!

I loved the film and was looking forward to this as my Champagne Friend said it was brilliant.

I felt that it took a while to get going: I had a lot of trouble with the Geordie accents which made the dialogue impossible to understand as the cast seemed to have mouthfuls of turf on occasion (surely there are enough good Geordie performers to have the genuine article in this show- it seemed incredibly lazy to cast Irish, Scottish and Home Counties actors and dancers!).
I didn't much like the dancing police and miners either, particularly after the violence of the 2010 Student Demonstrations: it seemed trite because these demonstrations, whether miners, printers, students, anti-war or countryside alliance, are serious and mean a lot to people.
However once the plot got going, the show acquired an exciting momentum: the little girl ballet dancers were great. Each one had their own 'dancer-personality', which was a good detail (but I felt sorry for the 'fat' one. What a horrible role to play!), and they were very well choreographed. Billy's gay and cross-dressing (or at least, confused) friend was a power-pack of showbiz energy and I can imagine him going far professionally. The brother and dad were convincing and their roles built up throughout the show.
By far the best part was the duet danced between the young Billy (who by this time has shown us that he was an extremely talented young dancer) and the older Billy, a 'proper' ballet dancer. It was oddly touching to see a grown man dance a duet with a boy child; it was not a sexual thing, it was just extremely tender and beautiful, and showed off the dancers' talents to a tee. What a rare thing to see, just  a beautifully worked out passage of dance between two males, that matched the challenges of the choreography to the considerable skills of the dancers.
Overall, I could see why it was so popular. The subject-matter does have a certain currency and the cast are really talented, especially as dancers of not only show-dancing but ballet and tap as well.
However, some of the dialogue was lazy: it wasn't necessary to be 'non-PC' to evoke the early eighties, for instance. There was a lot of swearing, which I didn't mind, but as a package with other aspects of the script, I thought it could have done with a bit of sharp editing.
Finally, there wasn't one memorable song. This was partly uninspired song writing (and I do understand how difficult it is to create music that can be danced to and sung), but also the fact that some of the songs were clearly out of the range of the people singing them, and did not allow them to belt them out or put emotion into them. I think this is really important! A musical that has such an interesting subject at its heart should have longevity, and that comes about through great songs that people can't resist singing, covering, you name it.
There was not one song like that in this show.

Verdict: Well, Martin's daughter absolutely loved it. She had been in a school production, and of course, she comes from the North East and it has a lot of resonance for her. She loves theatre and performs as well as going to see a lot of stuff. So my feeling is that I am too damn fussy about what I expect from a musical! People in front of us were crying unconsolably at the sad bits; I think my disappointment with the music affected what I thought of the whole thing.
Ultimately, I have never seen such good child dancers before: hats off to the Billy, the 'Billy's friend', and the little girls in tutus. Their dancing was perfect and beautiful to watch. I can recommend going to see this show on that basis alone, whether or not you have seen the film.

Monday, January 03, 2011


I keep putting it off... I made a list... tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
The strong arms of 2011 are dragging me forward, but my heels are dug into the ground, ploughing obstinate furrows behind me.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
I thought I'd be picking small tasks off the list each day, but I haven't.
Instead, I have eaten vast quantities of chocolate (although this Christmas has been so stressful that it's the first one in personal history that I have actually lost weight!)
I have written a song (first one for three months, and I had to get really angry to do it: it sounds like a Velvet Underground song).
I have re-met (?) friends from years ago, and really valued them.
I have done a lot of driving, but for good reasons.

The face looking at me in the mirror says 'More rest, please'.