Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Business of Live Music

This has been an interesting and intense day, the first day of this conference in Edinburgh has been fascinating in it's variety of approach. The first paper, the dreaded daybreak slot, was presented by Barbara Bradby, who I have always wanted to meet. It was a fascinating paper that travelled from Sammy Davis Junior to The Beatles, talking about 'the tension between atmosphere and rapport', and the importance of the talking between songs at live gigs; she showed us a film clip that demonstrated Beatles fans stopping screaming as Paul McCartney approached the microphone to speak. I discovered that she used to be a fiddle player with an old-timey banjo picker called Molly. If I play in Dublin again, I shall invite her to join me to play Memento Mori. Later, we heard a paper from John Williamson, Belle and Sebastian's manager, about LA promoters (nuff said). Another very interesting paper was delivered by Robert Kronenburg, an architect who studies music venues and who introduced David Byrne's concept of musicians 'tuning' their shows to the venue environment in the same way as animals adapt to their natural habitat. Another interesting paper in the morning session was Lucy Bennett's; she has studied the phenomenon of fans tweeting from live concerts to communities of stay-at-home fans, who post comments about setlists of their imagined version of the gig on to fan forums. Extraordinary! Twitter territorialization!
In the afternoon, John Street presented a paper that raised the question of freedom of speech and moral responsibility in entertainment, which he regards as a form of speech. He asked us to question the moral right of a rapper whose gigs are seen by the police as dangerous because people might appear with guns: should he be allowed to rap his aggressive lyrics, or not? I found this very intersting as I have been itching to write about something that happened twenty years ago, the perpetrator of which has recently written a damning article in The Guardian about the controversial teacher, Katharine Birbalsingh.
Anyway, I digress.
Dave Laing (who supervised my PHD) presented a paper about the fluctuations in income from live music in different locations across the globe, raising a roar of laughter with his final line 'Maybe we're all doomed!'.
Last paper of the day, the twilight slot, came from Michael Murphy; his paper was entertaining (as an A&R man he had been responsible for advising an Irish band to change their name from the Cranberry Saw Us). As the 12th paper, this was a welcome relief; he concentrated on coincidence an serendipity, showing us just how shaky the foundations of the record industry are, and talking about The Hope Collective.
As I sat on the bus back to McMum's, my head was buzzing with thoughts of capitalism destroying itself by eating it's own babies...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On This Night

On this night exactly twenty-one years ago, I was stuffing my face with chocolate, as the next day I was due to have my first baby induced at Guy's Hospital, London Bridge.
I was frightened, because I had never had a baby before, and imagined a horror-film scenario with rolling trolleys down endless corridors, screaming (me), panic and blood.
It was actually the exact opposite, and my beautiful Offsprog One was born at about seven the following evening; she is still beautiful, and it's her twenty-first birthday tomorrow!


Edinburgh Conference

There's a really good conference coming up on Thursday in Edinburgh called The Business of Live Music; I am going to at least a day of it. It will be packed with interesting people talking about music scenes all over the world, some from a business point of view and others from a cultural point of view.
It is organised by Professor Simon Frith, whose books are so engaging that I always ask my students to read them as a first point of call in academic writing about rock music.
He is also a Cristina fan (famous for her tracks Disco Clone and the controversial Is That All There Is? which was banned because of its negative lyrics), as I discovered at The Art of Record Production conference a few years ago, and so am I.
We are few and far between, as her thin and airy disco tracks don't appeal to the more 'cool' disco fans. But there's a certain cool about being anti-cool, although nothing in this world would make me listen to Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, the Thermos flasks of pop.


Does anyone have photographs of the following bands that I could use in my book?

The Mistakes
The Bodysnatchers
The Gymslips
The Dollymixture
The Objeks
The Delta 5
The Nips

I have already contacted people from these bands, and I am aware of Philippe Carly's site: really, I am looking for informal but reproducible pictures, preferable with the women playing or holding their instruments.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Adventures of Sara Lund's Jumpers

A while back there was a watercooler-moment commotion when Sara Lund's famous jumper auto-reparied after being torn in a scrap. In the penultimate episode I think I spotted a continuity error, unless my eyes were deceiving me in the Danish telegloom. Was she not wearing a white-pattern-on-brown jumper when she got put in a cell, and a brown-pattern-on-white one when she was released? I can't be bothered to watch it again just to check!
What am I going to do without it? There are so very few good TV series with believable female protagonists; I hope it influences the way the Brits make TV for evermore!

Mended Module

Hooray! A summer of pop music awaits; a transformer ordered from The Netherlands has done the trick.
The shop assistant said 'It's ruined, you'll never be able to use it again'. No it isn't, shop assistant! (the same one who said 'What sort does he want?' when I went in to buy guitar strings one day).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Understanding Not Understanding Maths

Hello! It's an hour later, you know....

When I was a wee nipper at primary school, I didn't understand multiplication and it's relationship to adding, because no-one told me.
Our teacher, Mrs Llewellyn, started talking about something called 'Times Tables'. I thought this was interesting and wondered if they were special pieces of furniture that you did your sums on, or something like that, as she talked about these tables in the maths lesson.
I sat at the back of the class, while everyone started chanting a very long chant:' One-six-is-six, two-sixes-are-twelve, three-sixes-are-eighteen, four-sixes-are-twenty-four': on and on it went, till in a triumphant flourish, my classmates chanted, 'TWELVE-SIXES-ARE-SEVENTY-TWO!'
I was mystified as to how they had learned this long rhythmic chant and how they remembered it.
Mrs Llewellyn didn't understand the way I put this question to her and looked at me, baffled.
As the days went on, I used to sit and blub at the back of the room, excluded from the hidden meaning and mechanism behind the eleven long multiplication chants that everyone understood apart from me.

About four or five years later, I finally worked out that in order to join in, you simply had to add, very quickly, the starting number firstly to itself, and then to the combined total, twelve times.
I thought about this quietly for days.

This is what is called 'being a slow learner'. I am still like this in many ways. I do not understand visual puns in advertisements and frequently misread sentences and misunderstand their meanings.
It is also why I cannot read music, as its logic escapes me, though, of course, I understand Logic Audio and many other computer music programmes that are to do with organising sound.

I think slow learners are frustrating to be around and can sometimes be annoying in a group; as a teacher I have learned to say things several ways to a group of students, until all of them tell me that they understand.
It takes me ages to get angry, because I can't work out the mechanics of the provocation and trace it back to its source, and by the time I have, the moment has passed. I have had to learn to be patient with my own 'stupidity' and therefore sometimes people think I am unnaturally patient with what they perceive to be their own.

Sometimes I long to scream and stamp my feet with rage, but by the time I have summoned up the energy, I can't remember what it was that made me feel like that in the first place.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Wishful Thought

A duvet that sheds its cover as a snake sheds its skin, presenting me with a fresh one every week, with no effort at all on my part.

Definition of Wishful Thinking

A child-size motorcycle on the tiny 5th floor balcony of a tower block at East India Dock.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Surprisingly good, for a Tuesday: a proposal that excited my imagination from a colleague, a visit from my Champagne Friend who sat with me watching the planes taking off and landing, and who trawled the T K Maxx at Gallion's Reach for cardigans and kitchen things, and a student who, against the odds and much to my great pride, found himself a work placement.
There are pages and pages of lists of undone things, still a hangover from the Autumn when I was working double my normal quota of hours, but at least I'm not doing that any more. I have a new drawing on the go, and ideas for new songs teeming in my head.
What can I remember from the weekend? Not much, although I have fresh chords in the arsenal and an idea of tuning a twenty-quid guitar from the Cancer Care shop permanently to a happy Hawaiian tuning and playing it with a bottleneck, which Offsprog Two will find annoying.
I am reading a little Everyman Classic version of Trollope's The Vicar of Bullhampton which will probably replace Foucault's tangled anarchy in a lecture I am doing in a month or so about Hip Hop Honeys. It's a jolly good read because Trollope is particularly good at come-uppances and subtle unsettlings.
That, and an unmitigated diet of detective shows, makes life quite enjoyable.
Been watching The Killing? I am an iPlayer catcher-upper and it's intriguing to sympathise with an incompetent police force; you get so used to expecting the detectives to get it right, or at least, to be in control. The script is almost like a Patricia Highsmith story with its slipping morals and mistakes that make the whole story change tack. What will happen next?

Monday, March 21, 2011

More About the Guitar Weekend

It was a humdinger of a weekend; the Friar's Carse was a quirky and welcoming as ever, and there was the usual bunch of puzzled guests as twelve middle-aged men, an enthusiastic sixteen-year-old and myself settled into the Chesterfields with guitars, soup, pints of lager or coffee, depending on what time of day it was.
Martin took us through voicings of chords up the neck; Brian got us to tune our guitars to different tunings and play them with bottlenecks (Hawaii the lads!) and Paul, a new tutor, made sense of the theory side of things and showed us some unusual capos that automatically created a dropped D, amongst other things.

In the evening, in spite of shredded fingers, we managed a concert. The three tutors played first, and then we followed one by one or in groups, slumping into audience mode afterwards. At the end, Brian played Falling in Love Again, the song made famous by the great Marlene Dietrich, and I sang it in German. I had forgotten that I knew it but Brian started picking out the chords earlier in the day and it all came back to me in its entirety.

As usual there were a lot of funny moments and a lot of poignant ones too. Martin mimed along with a brass bedpan to Brian's banjo playing at one point (bedpanjo?) and there were the usual crappy jokes, banter and quips. I wish I could remember them but I left them in Carlisle as I crept home exhausted and happy!

The guitars had a nice time too, and many new friendships were forged between them.
The Songwriting Weekend is between 17th-19th June, when Galloway is spectacularly beautiful. I work on that one, but it's still huge fun; I will put more details here closer to the time. I think there are still places left on it.

Walking in the Woods

At Auldgarth on the Guitar Weekend, wearing my Smiths gabardine mac, bought from the North London Hospice charity shop.
Every time before I put it on, I think how happy I am.
Then I button it up and think "Heaven Knows, I'm Miserable Now".

I am clutching a bunch of daffodils out of the picture, a small miracle as the West of Scotland is a month behind England and still decorated with snowdrops.
The river Nith is full of tiny brownish-grey fish that flash silver from time to time when the sun catches them; the trees are full of birdsong and there are hundreds of rabbits rummaging around in the sphagnum moss. It is a very beautiful place.
Photo by Martin.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guitar Weekend

Been in Dumfries at the Guitar Weekend, completely knackered, played guitar for almost seven hours yesterday, what a great bunch of people!
Tell you about it tomorrow.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The new version of the book is also going to have Caroline Coon's wonderful photograph of Tessa Pollitt on its cover.
Apart from being a lovely photo of Tessa, it is also symbolic to show (a) a bass-player, traditionally not at the forefront of a band and (b) a female demonstrating that she can play her instrument and (c) the shy person out of the band and lastly (d) a person playing the instrument that I played!
Bass-playing in punk bands could be a PHD in itself- so much innovation and character, and such a distinctive contribution to the sound of each band.
I must write something about it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Smiley Culture

The reggae man Smiley Culture died today; he was a real proper Londoner in the mid-1980s meaning of the word.
I remember during the time when I worked at the Peckham Settlement running a Sunday morning music workshop, I took some reggae musicians (one was called Philip Leo: I wonder what happened to him? great voice, great songwriter) to the recording of a TV programme that Smiley hosted. I can't remember the name of the show, but it was an incongruous evening with Smiley, very unaffected, presenting artists like Cleveland Watkiss to a TV studio audience that was being bossed around unceremoniously by some very rude stage managers who commanded us to GET UP AND DANCE and then SIT DOWN AGAIN.
They were rude to Cleveland Watkiss as well, who I think was just starting out. He has a fantastic voice and each time he sang they treated him as though he was a vinyl record: DO IT AGAIN! without a please or thank-you. He was remarkably patient amongst such churlishness.
I think Smiley became a bit of a bad lad, which is a pity, because back then he had a lot of cheeky charm and he was like an ambassador for all those young guys on the Sarf London estates; he definitely laid a bit of a pathway for Dizzy Rascal, Tiny Tempah and Tinchy Stryder even though there was a massive gap in time between them all. Perhaps you could say he was a man before his time.


Driven by the mist and then by the sun, I came to work this morning to show a student round the music studios. He realised that he'd already been here, however, so instead we sat and talked about art and music and what it means to be an artist and musician, and whether or not is is better to be an amateur or a professional.
I told him of my relief at abandoning the Art World when I was at art college.
I had been doing well (but I didn't tell him this); I had had an etching in the Stowell's Trophy Exhibition at the Royal Academy, which I'd sold, and I sold a print or two at the Thumb Gallery in Soho, and did an illustration for The Observer Magazine. I was making and selling comics that featured other peoples artwork as well as my own.
The problem was that I found it impossible to put a value on the time and commitment that I spent on work. I made an embroidered butcher's shop with a sinister eyeless butcher that one of my lecturers wanted to buy from me. I think he thought that it would be cheap, but it took me months to make and he was furious when I quoted a price that reflected the time I'd spent. I ended up just giving it to McMum and McDad and it now hangs on McMum's kitchen wall, where the sinister butcher oversees cooking activities with a malicious expression on his face.
So when punk came along, it wasn't dear to my heart the way that making prints and drawings had been (although it became so later). It was so physical, so uncerebral, all about doing, and expressing how you felt straight away rather than storing it up an processing it. It was such a liberation to instantly empty out reactions and feelings, to make a noise before your self-critical monitoring system kicked in and said 'You are a quiet girl from a tiny village in the north-east, shut up!'
Everyone was noisier than each other and it was fantastic being part of a glorious rabble, uncensored and united by difference and non-conformity. Sometimes it was frightening, but now I realise what an essential experience it was to a whole generation of misfits.

So I sat in my charity-shop mackintosh with writing on the back of my hand as usual, and gravely advised a young man about his future. I know that many young people are wondering what the point is of Higher Education; whatever happens in our sector, I do know that the people I work with as lecturers are committed and energetic, and willing to share their knowledge and experience to enable students to get the best out of their lives and enrich the lives of people they come into contact with by sharing ideas and by being imaginative. I believe that the imagination is what will save society in the long run!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Listening to Martin's Tracks

Martin has been sending me some of the songs he recorded with Kenny Brady (used to play fiddle with The Fall) who has a cajun style; they have a traditional old-timey structure but a real sparkly contemporary sound. They recorded for two days, so there's more uppy music to come. Just right for spring!

Book Finished

Bit by bit, I attached it to an email, swung the bottle of champagne against the side of the ship and set her off with not exactly a whimper, but not a bang, either. The book has gone off!
Now begins the process of copy-editing, looking for photographs, negotiating; a different sort of work. I have just been talking to McMum about the number of different things you have to learn to do, in order to become a published author. You are one of many, and you have to keep the project alive and running, even though such a large part of it is finished.
Hours of extra interviews, transcribed over days, then just a few paragraphs edited and blended into what was already there, sidling them into a book that insisted it was complete and polished! That was tough, and it took a series of six-a.m. fumblings through the fog, into my car and waking up the sleepy computer at seven for a solid two-hour slog before the University got busy and buzzy.
The footnotes wouldn't open up on my Mac so I had to work in my office and I got to know the early-morning cleaners, and to skate across the glassily-mopped linoleum at the foot of the stairs.
I could peer down from my internal window at stretching-time and watch the sandwiches being delivered to the student cafe then beat a retreat home, daily task finished, to drink a cup of coffee at ten o'clock.
It was a strange routine, and now I have another, that of catching up with emails from months ago.
I have a timetable: 10 o'clock, phone this person, email that person; 11 o'clock, email that person, phone this person. There are two actual letters to write, but they will have to wait till last.
I'm not even halfway through today's plan, but there are some satisfying crossings-off, doodled around in dying biro. My reward is to be able to do a bit of reading- Marcel Mauss The Gift- and a bit of drawing, and a bit of music making too.
But best and laziest of all, watching telly!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Zebra or Clanger?

Vintage Shopping

There is a new regular vintage fair at Cecil Sharpe House, Primrose Hill; it's small and perfectly formed, and there is a cafe downstairs that serves lovely coffee.

Church Bells

Friends are coming for brunch. I am nervous, as I rarely socialise at home, but I have decided it's healthy to see people. I got up early and opened the door to the mild weather, drizzle, and church bells cheerfully pealing from the local church.

As I went to the computer to check my emails, it struck me once again how the Internet has replaced religion and has become a capitalist God, an all-seeing, all-controlling force that drives human life. We worship its wisdom and are afraid of its power, depending on it to advise us on how to behave and to give us value as human beings.
The Internet spies on us, categorises us, punishes us: we confess to it and seek its approval; it's an unacknowledged prop, an addiction for some.
Ask the Internet, and it will be our doctor, plumber, spiritual advisor or anything you care to mention. Chameleon-like, it is happy to encourage us to spend, spend, spend without leaving our comfy seats, or save, save, save seconds later.
In our capitalist prayers, we seek information to trade so that we accrue self-esteem, a very rare commodity.
We trade this information for our idea of freedom (or for Viagra, always somebody else's idea of freedom).
It has it's own built-in Devil, pornography, so those who wish to can dabble in the darkness which feels like virtual darkness because it happens at home, rather than real-life violent abuse which happens somewhere else to a real person before travelling as a series of electrical impulses through tangles of cables to be served up with a nice cuppa in someones seedy bedroom.

And yet we look askance at those who traipse to church, mosque, temple and synagogue, pointing fingers of ridicule at the divisions between the God-fearing communities. Superior, we see ourselves as mastering technology rather than being ruled and controlled by it.

From now on, I am going to have at least one Internet-free day a week, and that day shall be Wednesday. Who knows, it might become more, and I might get my life back!

Who would have thought that a simple exercise like making blueberry muffins would trigger such soul-searching?

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Of course, News 24 is on almost all the time. What a frightening and destructive thing to happen to the people of northern Japan, utterly horrible. I feel so sorry about what has happened to them, and for what will continue to happen to the survivors over the next weeks, months and years.
Whose idea was it to build nuclear plants on seismic fault lines? Should that not be internationally illegal?

In My Head

In my head, I am rather clever at making things out of papier mache. My fingers nimbly tear newspaper into tiny narrow strips, drip them with glue and drape them expertly around the wire frame of the zebra's head that I made last weekend.
Of course, I have not made anything out of papier mache for forty years, and that was a Frank Sidebottom-style head that was made by simply plastering a balloon with the torn strips'n'glue, waiting for it to dry, and popping the balloon, leaving a hard shell to paint with features in poster paints.
This was a small and complicated exercise, and as fast as I stuck paper on to the frame, almost-dry but very sticky strips attached themselves to my fingers and unpeeled themselves again. I ended up like Struwelpeter, with elongated paper fingernails and rolls of greying glue all over my hands.
I have left it to dry for a few hours, and will begin again when it's less adhesive.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Relaxing Friday Evening

Finished the ironing (once-seasonal activity). Bag of vegetable chips and the BBC4 Blues documentary.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stephenson's Rocketts

Martin is releasing the Stephenson's Rocketts CD that we recorded in the church hall in Embleton and in Howard's flat in Wallsend a couple of years ago.
It is only available via his Facebook site, and features Joe Guillan (Sureshots) on guitar, John Cavener (Band of Holy Joy) on bass, Keith Shepherd (Deacon Jones and the Sinners) on drums, and of course Martin and myself. There is a version of Freight Train on there (H and H, not Nancy Whiskey) and lots of uppy stuff with some brilliant playing from the guys.
You can have a listen at


Yesterday I bumped into Hammy Lee in the pub; Hammy is a brilliant drummer who used to be in a band called Furniture, and the The Flavel Bambi Septet, before forming Transglobal Underground and forging a fusion of dance music and music from around the world that has become hugely successful.
Back in the 1980s, Hammy played in several pickup bands that accompanied the musical theatre antics of a group called Count of Three. They started off with The Beggar's Opera (a new musical version) with new songs written by trombonist Dave Jago and yours truly, and directed by Nicky Triscott who now runs The Arts Catalyst (an agency that engages scientists with artists and vice versa).
It was chaotic but fun; how on earth did we manage to organise it?
The cast (every one of whom nodded a sartorial nod to punk in their attire) was huge and so was the band, but I don't think anyone missed a rehearsal. We performed it to large audiences (and how did we do that?) at The Chelsea Centre Theatre, The Hoxton Hall (with the band on the rickety balcony that was condemned shortly afterwards) and The London Musician's Collective, of all places.
Soon after, we did a horro-panto musical version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which we took the the Edinburgh Fringe and played to nuns (they laughed) at midnight. The stars of that one were Titus himself who flung himself energetically into every song, and a tea-auctioneer who had a very loud voice and stole the show whenever he sang (I think he was Lavinia's uncle and I gave him a sixties-style rhumba to sing). Hammy was busy and didn't play for that one (I'm not sure I blame him) but the Flavel Bambi Septet came in their entirety to play for Dr Calamari's Music Hall of the Macabre, MC'd by Lester Square of The Monochrome Set,  and featuring a real live smoke machine hidden behind a curtain that it was my job to set off.
There were nine members of The Flavel Bambi Septet, and at least twenty-one other cast members.
I was Hoarse Sue, and I tap-danced around the room singing a song called She's a Girl Who Likes To HAve A Horse Between Her Legs and wearing a strap-on wooden horse costume; there were Snuffy and Puffy, the Smith twins, who wore huge cartwheel hats with glass swans and lilies, and massive paper crinolines. They sang Spanish songs and played accordion and sax to accompany themselves. There was Dada poetry, a Carmen Miranda Act, a comedian called Phil Fowler who sawed audience members in half and removed kidneys and an apple from them ('I'm all right, I'm all right!' they would frantically assure him as he looked, distraught, at the audience). There were three very saucy girl singers, and Olrod and Eddy who performed an entire play about a marine biologist in ten minutes; there was a fresh-faced lady who set up a camp table and showed us all how to wash our faces in the outdoors before singing Red Sails in the Sunset rather beautifully; there were comedians (Stephen Marchant the cartoonist and his mad Scottish friend)....
The Flavel Bambi Septet were due to stay in Lester Square's sister's flat, which had burned down the week before. There was nowhere else for them to stay, so they took their sleeping bags into the blackened living room and slept there each night. Hammy told me that Lester turned up every morning with a tray of tea, because there was no water or electricity there. The twins camped at a site just outside Edinburgh, and I slept on a sun-lounger in McMum and McDad's garden shed.
That show only managed to pull about five people a night because it was in the gay area of Edinburgh and there had been a murder in the street that our venue was in a couple of days beforehand. There were so many of us that we filled the theatre just with us and by the end there were so many in-jokes that the show hardly made sense. Lester Square threw a toy octopus at the Dada poets and the Flavel Bambi Septet threw stuffed chickens at the trio of clarinettists (Mary, Paul and Carla); everyone rolled up one trouser leg, since it was a Freemasons' Hall. And one night at 5 a.m. I gave Nick Smith a haircut under a streetlight just outside the Fringe Club (I do believe I have posted about this before).
I actually auditioned Eddie Tenpole, but he was busy and couldn't do it; I think he would have loved it.
Hammy has some photos- I'm going to write and ask him to send them!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Finished Book

Incidentally, I finished adding the new interviews to the book yesterday morning, after another 7.30 a.m. start. I was ready to celebrate, but a steady stream of students started flowing at 9.30 just as I typed the final words, and didn't stop till 4.30.
I will have a little dance later on today, to another of my guilty pleasures The Crusaders, whose album version of Streetlife is pure bliss!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Womens' Day at the TUC

Signal failure at High Barnet? I squashed on to the bus with everyone else and headed a few stations down the line, arriving a little late at the TUC building in Great Russell Street, but in time to do a sound check.
I played to a room full of animated women who were drinking wine and chatting (some listened!), and it was a privilege to be part of the event. It was introduced by Frances O'Grady, and a succession of speakers talked about the lot of women in Nepal (where mass redundancies in the Middle East are having a severe effect on Nepalese migrant workers, many of whom are women), Columbia (where membership of a Trade Union will cause you to be thrown in jail: one woman has been incarcerated for more than a year), Ireland, and the UK.
Mary Turner of the GMB reminded us that cuddly Anne Widdecombe (her of the pussy cats and Strictly Come Dancing) was the same politician who had proposed that women prisoners in labour should be chained to their beds: the room gave her a rousing cheer for this.
The best speaker was Yvette Cooper, who made a succinct and pointed speech without notes and without flannel, and who stuck around for a while afterwards to listen to the other speakers (unlike some politicians I have come across, for instance that Geoff Hoon who was monstrously rude once, when I had a job that involved taking MPs from emerging democracies to the Houses of Parliament to look round).
The evening finished with the Colombian band Clumbe; I was interested to hear their music because a student of mine a few years ago wrote a thesis on Shakira and said that she had been famous in Colombia for making traditional Colombian music before her hips started not lying, which her original audience found rather disconcerting!
I also bumped into a former student, Sylvia, who now sings at a lot of political events, and it was really heartening to hear that she is performing a lot. It was an interesting evening, and inspiring.
Thank you to Gemma, for making me so welcome.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bonking Bass

So who thought of that bonk-bonk-bonk bassline first?
Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads for Psycho Killer or the Saturday Night Fever Crew for You Should Be Dancing?
And did Trevor Horn pay royalties for nicking it for Relax?

Spring Fever

In between sporadic bouts of (ugh) housework, I am listening to Saturday Night Fever.
In fits of nostalgia, I remember the soundtrack being used for the circus in Brighton that my house-mates all found temporary work at: when they all came home at night exhausted and smelling of camel dung.
Just months later they all got bit-parts in Quadrophenia and stuck their fake scars on to the toothpaste tubes, to look as though they were oozing out of them.
I remember the flush of excitement that would hit me sometimes; I was just out of my teens and I would experience almost animal-like rushes that made the world and everything in it seem like a magical place. Normal things would seem hyper-real; everything seemed full of untold secrets, and everywhere seemed to contain layers and layers of explorable material.
Music was everywhere, a sound-track of assorted jumble as I walked along the Western Road to the Art College in the morning, whistled by workmen as they loaded and unloaded their vans at lunchtime; in my head as I walked back home; on my turntable as I loaded it up with vinyl and danced around before I went out at night, with my small green budgie balanced on my head, gripping my hair with its spiny little claws and shrieking with birdy glee.
Every night, bands, bands and more bands: sometimes me, sometimes others, trying to get to grips with organising noise into melody and rhythm, wondering who had the hidden formula of the perfect song.

It must be the sun. At last, there is warmth in the pale rays to thaw out our winter bones.
Spring will be the antidote to recession depression.
The energy returns!

This Evening

Tonight at Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell St, City of London WC1B 3LS
An evening to support International Women's Day (tomorrow)
Speakers include Yvette Cooper and representatives of the Colombian, Nepalese and Irish communities.
Admission free
I will play a short set between 6-6.30 and Colombian band Cumbe will play traditional Colombian music from 7.10.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Just made Women of the World a bit less brash and a free download

Skeleton of a Horsy

I made this last night out of jeweller's wire; it is going to have skin made of papier mache, when I can remember how to make it, and then it is going to be painted with black and white stripes and given some ears, at which point it will become a zebra.
It is about three-and-a-half inches high and it's going to be part of my hat for the Offsprogs' joint 21st and 18th fancy dress party later this year.
I have rather fallen for it in its skeletal form, which is why I took a photo. I had to add an extra bit to its nose, without which it would have been rather a snub-nosed creature.
I loved tinkering about with the tiny pliers under the Anglepoise, and felt a bit like one of Norman Rockwell's subjects, all light and shade and concentration.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Song for International Womens' Day

I have written a song to celebrate International Womens' Day which I will sing on Monday evening.
There is a rough version of it on Reverbnation but I will remix it tomorrow because the choir bit is too loud.
Martin's going to do some guitar on it.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Two Exhibitions: Long Posting. Make a Cup of Tea.

This week I have visited two entirely contrasting exhibitions: the Norman Rockwell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and the exhibition of Edwyn Collins' drawings at the Idea Generation Gallery, Redchurch Street, E2.

Getting off the train at North Dulwich station on a sunny day in late winter is exactly like walking into the pages of a Ladybird Book; there's not a scrap of rubbish on the ground, the fences are neatly painted in white and there is nothing broken or out of place. There is hardly any traffic, and life seems to flow at a very slow pace indeed.
It is a ten minute walk to the Gallery, and once I got there I abandoned hope of a cup of tea, because the Gallery Cafe is not a caff, it's a restaurant packed with ladies-who-lunch, lunching in their expensive cardigans and looking rather immoveable. Straight to the exhibition then!
I have a weakness for Norman Rockwell after visiting the USA with my gran when I was 14 and seeing a Saturday Evening Post at an elderly couple's house. This is a nice exhibition: it is not too large, and the information beside the paintings is interesting and well-written.
Lots of his pictures concentrate on the relationship between two people, or one person concentrating intently on an object (such as a needle that they are peering at and trying to thread). He recycles poses and characters and this gives his work a sense of continuity; he is materialistic, using props and possessions to speak about the characters of his subjects. In this he reminds me of the Ancient Egyptians, who buried meaningful objects with the Pharoahs in a somewhat capitalist bid for a place in the afterlife.
Rockwell is a patriot, unquestioning of the status quo, but he's happy to be realistic about painting plain or even ugly faces, and for this reason I would not agree with some critics that he's sentimental even though he clearly loves Santa Claus! His playfulness is evident in this exhibition, with a painting from above of a Bridge game whose card hands we can see, that obviously means something to those 'in the know' about the game.
He loved ciaroscuro, and his unpublished painting The Young Valedictorian (1922) is a beautiful example of this, with touches of duck-egg blue even in the deepest shadows. Other paintings that I particularly liked were The Voluntary Fireman (1931) where he followed his hero Maxwell Parrish's ideas about dynamic symmetry and worked on a grid system, and Shuffleton's Barbershop (1950) a lovely almost monochrome silvery-touched painting, a little snapshot of history: off-duty barbers can be seen through an open door, playing fiddles and carousing in the evening after work.
The funniest painting is Lunch Break With Knight (1962) in which a museum attendant perches on the pedestal of a very grand armoured knight on a horse, pouring coffee, with a slice of cake about to slip from the napkin on his lap. The horse rolls a baleful eye at the sacrilege of the hungry chap, and reminded me of Jake and Dinos Chapman's clown horses in their controversial re-workings of the Goya etchings.


So last night I went to see Edwyn's show. A few years ago he came to talk to my song-writing students and they were thrilled that he actually played his songs to them. This was pre- his double aneurysm, since when he has learned to draw with his left hand using pencil and Caran D'Ache crayons.
His subjects are wild animals and birds; many of them fight with a fierceness which probably reflects the way he feels about what has happened to him. Gangling herons scrap, a mass of crackling feathers; the cold anger of a herring-gull's eyes look piercingly out of the paper, animal wildness at the mercy of nature's personality. I loved the fighting hares, the neck of one of them pulled back in fury.
He is developing an interesting technique, building up fur and feathers with strong crayon strokes, subtle colour drifting through his drawings like passing clouds. In spite of the turbulence in some of his drawings, there is also a great delicacy and attention to detail: he is a fine draughtsman.
He seems to have been able to enter the psyche of his wild subjects, even capturing that look of mild annoyance that many wild animals and birds seem to display when they are caught unawares. I get the feeling that he is just at the beginning of  a very interesting artistic journey and he is definitely an artist to watch.

Back out into the cold of Shoreditch, where stylishly street-dressed Sons of Surrey mingle with besuited businessmen dabbling in 'hip' for a quick snifter on their way home to a Waitrose lasagne (discard outer sleeve: pierce film lid before heating); a social soup that refuses to emulsify.

Funny how Rivington Street is so long when you walk down it from west to east, and so short when you walk from east to west!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


There are two new sweet shops in Barnet lined with multicoloured bottles, laced with liquorice of all stripes, and piled with packets of every hue imaginable: there are boiled sweets, chewy sweets, juicy sweets, soft sweets, hard sweets, minty, fruity, sour, sherbety, everything, everything.
How do the local dentists feel?
Hypocritically delighted or hippocratically horrified?


For the second time the other day as I smeared moisturiser on to my groggy morning face, I realised too late (alerted by the strong aroma of peppermint) that I had grabbed the tube of Dr Scholl's foot cream instead of the Nivea.
Two all-day-sticky faces later, I have put the identical white tubes of goo at opposite ends of the table.


Why do I feel that I deserve a medal (and to be honest, so does everyone else who has managed a feat like this?)
Because I have managed not only to get my grumpy teenage daughter out of bed this morning,
but also because she had to get up to go to the dentist!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Covers

Snowdrops and Other Gardening

Thank you for the snowdrop bulbs Adrian- I am almost looking forward to next winter!
This year I have lots of blue hyacinths and blue irises, just coming into flower.
A long time ago I had some weird greenish veined irises from the Botanic Gardens shop in Edinburgh, but the slugs gobbled them up; I couldn't find any this year so I thought I would have a blue spring garden, and I am hoping the gentians will flower too. And of course there are the little brown tartan fritillaries.
I have seed potatoes and sort of canvas vegetable pots to plant them in; carrots, which I will grow in pots, and hanging basket tomatoes, at Anne's suggestion. The courgettes I grew in a gro-bag last year were brilliant so I got more seeds this year too.
Muddy hands, muddy feet, muddy face: here's to tiny-dark-courtyard gardening!