Friday, April 29, 2011

News and Curses

Has anyone else noticed the trail of stinky news being waved along in the wake of Billy and Kathy's wedding?
£7 billion on an aircraft carrier. 'It would have been such a big help to have this now, to use off Libya', an official intoned earnestly.
More than two hundred pounds on our tax bill for the aircraft carrier 'improvements', and God know what extra for Billy and Kathy's wedding.
I would like this put into my bank account, please, becauses pacifists and republicans have big bills to pay and an ever-dwindling income to pay them from.

Who's that at the back of the Abbey?
For the first time in their lives they are standing hand-in-hand; they are dressed in rustling skirts made from the carapaces of hundreds of hornets and they have bonnets fashioned from rotting cowhide, each one crowned with a single horn. They bear wands made out of bent bicycle spokes torn from Boris-bikes and they have left a green and slimy trail behind them.
On their feet they are sporting loafers designed by Wayne Hemingway with soles recycled from old pink nylon bath sponges recovered from a huge fly-ridden rubbish dump just outside St Albans.
It's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the two Bad Fairies newly arrived to wreak havoc at the wedding, their affront at not being invited having stored up a seething torrent of fiendish curses.
I wonder what they will be?

Thursday, April 28, 2011


It's Offsprog Two's 18th today. I made her a spotty cake with pastel-coloured candles and I got her an Autoharp. We have been walking past and pringggg-ing it, pretending to be children's TV programme soundtracks and pretentious 1960s psychedelic poets, depending on our mood at the time.
It took a while to tune it but even that was fun.
Whoever picks it up looks like a character straight from Arcadia, wistful and dreamy.
In a slightly more down-to-earth note (pringggg!) it is living on the kitchen table at the moment in a sea of birthday cake crumbs and discarded candles, but that does mean you can have a little pringggg! as you walk past it and disappear through the round window... or was it the square one?
Move over, Humpty...


Today, I'm writing a lecture for the Advertising students at the University of the East; it's about the music press, and is going to be based on the home-recording aspects of it, with a smidgin of imagery of women in hip hop. It is very much a condensed version of the paper I did at the Art of Record Production conference in Leeds last winter.
Condensed... well it keeps growing and I have to prune it back to a manageable size again. What a huge subject!
Its clarity is further muddied by an article in May's Word magazine, by Mark Ellen, on the wives and girlfriends of rock stars.
Caroline Coon drew my attention to it by sending a teaser, a quotation by a famous producer, asking me to guess who it was that had said such patently stupid things. It was Joe Boyd, old enough to know better or perhaps old enough not to care.
Ellen's tone throughout is a combination of prurience and revulsion; his journalism collapses and flounders.
You see, it's impossible to justify the morals associated with stardom. Warhol's 15 minutes of fame theory has resulted in a proliferation of men who justify the sneering abuse of women as a package wrapped up with musical skills, drug consumption and songwriting talent.
Thankfully, not all are like that. All I can say is that this particular article was pointless and formless and felt like a dustbin into which the experiences of a handful of women have been handed round like dirty postcards at the dregs of a party.
To calm down (and by jove, I need to!) I am listening to Ally Macleod's lovely songs. Martin has just finished recording her first album with her, and she has a lovely, deep and resonant voice.
I particularly like Rock Da Boat
Listen here at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Cleaners' Voice

At 6.30 this morning the body and brain were protesting.
'We like having a rest and getting up late!', they moaned.
But it's Offsprog Two's first 'A' Level today and she had to be up early too. Dazed, we motored through the kitchen on different tracks.
The sunshine outside the front door soon jerked me awake and the journey to the University of the East was positively a glide rather than a crawl as it usually is.
I was the first one there and had a solo sing until Ana, who is filming the process, arrived closely followed by two of the men cleaners, and then two women. Luis arrived with the juice and the bananas, and off we went. During the session we gained another woman and another (very shy) man. It's funny that every week different people turn up; it's not a problem because we are still developing the song, it's Easter and many people are on holiday and the whole project feels very positive anyway. Even just getting organised by Unison has got the cleaners a paid day off on Friday, which they would not have had without the Union's pressure.
Luis has called the song writing project 'The Cleaners' Voice', because through their song they will be able to express the way they feel and be listened to by the people who make decisions about their pay and conditions.
We taught the song to the new arrivals and Luis wrote out the lyrics for them. One verse is enough; I learned this the hard way earlier this week by trying to learn the Spanish translation and realising just how hard it is to sing a new song in an entirely new language. 
I think I am picking up little bits of Spanish, but not much; I do listen very carefully when Luis translates to the group and can begin to understand some of what he is saying. So we have decided to have little individual cameos within the framework of the song, which makes it even more personally relevant to the singers, and they will still get their message across. There are some Portugese people in the group too and we will translate some of the song into Portugese so that everyone is included.
Just like last week, it was a good feeling to end the session with smiles and a relaxed and happy group. It is a lot to ask of people at the end of a cleaning shift to come along, stretch and sing just when their bodies are requesting a bit of time out; these sessions are actually fun, I think, and of course it has the ultimate purpose of empowerment and getting the cleaners a better deal.
Luis, Ana and myself went to see the building where the first performance will be; it has a great reverb due to its industrial chic blend of glass and steel, and a perfect little walkway for the group to stand on and sing. It's light and airy and I think they will feel good while they are performing their song.
Sometimes, this reminds me of those school assemblies, singing hymns at the tops of our voices in unison early in the morning. Group singing is a fabulous way to start the day and this group of cleaners have strong and melodic voices- can't wait for next week, and the first performance!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Up Yours!

I remember when I first started researching the PHD that was to turn into my book; I went to the British Library, and there on the shelves were piles of Music Week magazines, the business publication for the British music industry.
Coincidentally, they were all dated around 1976, and I could browse to my heart's content.
What was in them? Well, hysteria about home taping, the illegal recording of pop and rock tracks that was going to destroy the music industry, alongside an oil crisis that was making vinyl too expensive to manufacture records out of. Two familiar panics (apart from the vinyl, but you know what I mean about the oil).
I was struck by the advertisements for singles and albums released by female artists; Clodagh Rodgers, Twiggy, Mary Hopkin, all of the floaty and submissive kind. Their hair was uniformly blonde, soft and wavy, and they wore loose white blouses gathered in at the waist to show their milkmaidy femininity.
Sonja Kristina was there too, the singer form Curved Air (who wouldn't befriend me on Myspace: what a disappointment! I used to be such a fan!). Her role was the sexy stereotype.
It is so easy to forget the sterile world that punk strode into with its Doc Martins and noise, and to forget the  thrill of the barking and sneering yells that the female vocalists pierced complacency with!
I played Oh Bondage Up Yours! to a large group of students a few years ago, and they were horrified by its wild and harsh sound; next to Poly, Marilyn Manson sounds as tame and fake as a stuffed teddy-bear.
Some parts of my life have been sh*t, especially some things that happened back then that both Poly and Ari would have been familiar with (an an uncomfortably large proportion of the women I spoke to about the hazards of being in a band), but I wouldn't for the world have chosen to be born at any other time than the late 1950s, to have grown up through punk and it's hilarity and energy and madness.

Poly Styrene's First Song

I did a telephone interview with Poly Styrene last year; alas, there was so much electronic interference between the iPhone and my dictaphone that it's almost unbearable to listen to.
She sang part of the first song I believe she ever wrote, which was a protest song about one of the dinner ladies at her school.
Poly, being a vegetarian, didn't like her because she was told she had to eat meat. She took her meat home hidden in a handkerchief and wrote the song to teach to the other children:
'Old Mother Johnson, wagging her finger, who does she think she is!'


Bless you Poly, what a loss you are.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Check out this e-mag that my friend Daniel Coston edits; it has just been re-started and as a sample, here's his account of meeting and photographing the wonderful Billy Preston

Academic Stuff

Last night, I planned to go for a run this morning.
Luckily, I had forgotten by the time I woke up.
I have spent the morning checking the copy-editor's queries for two more book chapters; just the bibliography and appendix to go. I have ordered some books from the library so I can double-check some references, and then I have to chase up the photographs.
I must say I like the type face that has been chosen for the book; it's a bit less 'serious' and more elegant than the Ashgate one although I do stand by the hardback version; it's all about research, isn't it?
On Wednesday 18th May I am presenting a paper at the University of East London's Centre for Cultural Research Conference on Music and Politics. It is free but you have to register to attend and I will put details here some time later this week.
I am veering between two different ideas at the moment. Between now and then I am giving a lecture to some Advertising students about music technology magazines and hip hop honeys (yes, the two do overlap!) which I haven't formally written yet although the ideas are marching through my brain like a rhythmical hip hop track (plus graffiti).
It's all so big and angrifying!
Caroline warned me about getting too absorbed by just hip hop and its sexism, reminding me about heavy metal and progressive music. She is right. Depressingly, it seems that some young men (predominantly men) will latch on to any genre of music that disrespects women no matter what the couching style soundscape is. And their female friends and girlfriends have to listen too in order to be allowed into the friendship circle, the gang, the group or whatever.
This is what was so good about some of the female punk groups- they actually invented their sound and methods from scratch and circumvented the rules the guys made.
So that is what my paper is going to be about.
Please don't nick my idea!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gig Tomorrow Night

Gran Plays Banjo

This is my Gran, who was born and raised in Vermont, in New England.
She was stylish and really good fun, and she carried on making friends even into her eighties.
Her husband played the banjolele, and he was a surgeon who cured King George V1. When the King was recuperating in bed, he called Grandpappy in to thank him. 'Kneel down', he said, and pulled his sword out from under the bedcovers and knighted him.
It's true!

Restaurant Critic

Hello, it's Ray Jayner here, writing on Helen's blog while she's watering the peas.

As you know, I am a fan of anything offal- any part of an animal can be fried up, dished up, in a splendidly delicious manner and as a restaurant reviewer I like to be the first to introduce my readers to a new flavour and a new experience. I am always the last person at the table, mopping up the gravy with a large slab of crusty bread and licking the juices from my chin.
Tomas Wurkfeld ( formerly of St Johns in Clerkenwell and L'Abbatoir, Paris) has developed what must be by far the most progressive and exciting eaterie this side of Mars; The Zoo is tucked away in a back street in Hoxton (now almost passe as an area to find such a restaurant) and, providing you don't mind paying over-the-odds for a bottle of wine from the impressive list, it's just about the only place I have ever eaten that I have been able to award full marks to.
My dining companion, Heather, is a vegetarian (I've never understood the people!) and I have to say she left soon after the starter but this was a unique feasting experience and I have vowed to go back again as soon as I can find an accomplice to go with.
One is led into a dimly lit room, issued with a spoon, and carefully inserted into a freshly-slaughtered elephant that has been marinaded in chilli, garlic and Sauternes and grilled on an enormous charcoal-fired grill in front of a crowd of screaming school children, which chef Tomas insists improves the flavour immeasurably.
After that, the dining experience is fairly basic which is what makes this such an excellent idea: you simply dig yourself out of the elephant, eating as you go, emerging some hours later blinking into the candlelight with a happy and satisfied grin, suit dripping with gorgeous fat, sated and looking forward to the other house speciality, an Irish coffee prepared by Tomas' German wife Heidi.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Day Off

Largely, sitting in the yarden, reading the paper and drinking coffee.
I flicked some bright orange slugs off the pea shoots but I think they have destroyed them already; read a bit of Nils Stevenson's diaries (so sad, to read about someone's youth and know they are no longer here), and lugged three heavy boxes and a fishtank from storage.
So here's a big bag of Duplo (fantastic stuff!); all the Chefs and Helen and the Horns master tapes (forgot all about them!); and original Biba 'newspaper' from their High Street Kensington store; an odd Leo Baxendale story called Thrrrrp; invites from the Breakfast Club for cartoonists that James Sillavan used to run in various cafes in South London (wonder what happened to him?); a collection of Offsprog Two's school books; a dolls' tea-set, upside-down rag doll and a toy video camera that really works.
What a nuisance it all is, but so interesting!
As I write, next door's garden resounds with the strains of 'Happy Birthday'. Bless! Their baby is two today, and I plucked up the courage to ask them what their names are; they told me when I moved in a year and a half ago but I was so stressed at the time I instantly forgot!
Here we go again... a whole sheaf of Songbird posters that I drew for the club I used to run with Diana Mavroleon; posters for gigs I'd forgotten about; an Oilily catalogue that I kept because I loved the colours; a Bus Stop carrier bag (remember that boutique?) stuffed to the gills with letters from Norwegian teenagers I met at an international camp in Bellingham, Northumberland in the 1980s. What fun it was! The Norwegians were very naughty and fed the Belgians laxative chocolate and stood outside the loos laughing. We went on day trips, played stupid games, and swam in a pool that became stinkier and stinkier until it was unbearable to use any more. I have found my collection of garish packets- a purple foil Playtex ad from a tube that they used the sell the bras in (I used to be a skip hound and plundered the skips behind the shop I used to work in in Brighton. I had a full size wicker dummy, beautifully made, and piles of lipstick samples in every shade from scarlet to black). Eastern European iron boxes, flattened toy wrappings, it's all there to be thrown away (or kept).
There's not much left there in the storage unit now: four or five boxes of mint-condition vinyl Helen and the Horns albums, some boxes of LPs and videos and a small wooden trunk that belonged to a grand-relative that will go into the loft.
You wouldn't believe how much stuff I gave away, threw away and sold when I moved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Congratulations to Martin for getting the rights to his songs back!
This is one of the most important things that can happen for a musician and it's a fantastic day for him.

I Repeat: 4th Plumber

Thank goodness it's summer, 'cos here comes the plumber; 
The boiler is leaking, so no central heaking.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Under the Influence: Blondie

As the top half of the French Stick snapped off and bounced on to the pavement, I resolved to celebrate the glass being one quarter full.
French Stick? well, the plumber who turned up this morning took two hours to admit that he hadn't got a gas 'sniffer' with him, and so couldn't work out where the leak was. He went off without charging me anything, accidentally leaving his torch behind in penance.
I'm waiting for plumber number three and will take huge delight in 'outing' plumber number one when the time comes, as the boiler was working perfectly and safely until he came to service it, and this is the second time he has left me with a potentially dangerous boiler.
Humph. So the French Stick is because I can't cook with no gas (or bathe, but that's nothing to do with bread). At least the Blondie night was a success- just like the Beefheart one there was a lovely atmosphere in the Boogaloo, and Acton Bell was there to start the evening. She played two of her own songs as well as Fade Away and Radiate. I love her style and I"m looking forward to playing in Milton Keynes with her next month.
The evening danced on; Anna Page dedicated Denis to her bassist's brother, who has the same name.
'He's called DENNIS', grunted the bassist loudly and spoil-sportingly.
It was very funny, especially in Anna's set which was full of detailed exposes of former boyfriends' behaviour.
At the end of Denis, she was running up to yet another keychange which backfired somewhat.
'Maybe not!', she said.
It was a particularly good-humoured and charming set.
I enjoyed playing too and didn't mess up Heart of Glass though I did mess up one of my own, tangling it into a hedge of thorns that I only just escaped from. It didn't seem to matter that much and Daisies rescued things!
My Mate George (that's his name) was also funny and endearing, and so were The Title Sequence, a duo with Vox piano and Roland Drumatix (I used to have one and sold it, along with nearly all my other instruments, to pay my divorce lawyer). Good choice of instruments and good vocalist! Nat himself, who organises the night, put in a relaxed and jolly set; could it be because Blondie wrote such good songs that everyone seemed to be really comfortable with the material? The audience regarded everyone's mistakes and fluffs as an added bonus.
Imperial Leisure finished the evening, with a trumpet player and a chap on the old Joannner. They seemed to manage to forget the lyrics to all of their songs as well as starting a song too slowly, but by then the crowd were in their cups in a very mellow sort of way, and the band rode over their problem with enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre.
Well, it was a good evening; I sold a drawing to Wilky, and Dickon Edwards was in subtle attendance in the gloaming.
Roll on the next one!
You can see more at

Monday, April 18, 2011

Irony, or Life's a Gas

'Once I had love, and it was a gas', I shall be singing tonight, a cover of Blondie's Heart of Glass (with the words!).
The boiler has been eavesdropping and what-ho, it started leaking-alonga-music and I have had to call out the emergency gas engineers who have turned off the gas at the meter.
No cooking or hot water till (I hope) tomorrow.
Did the chap who came to service it three weeks ago leave me with a leak?
If so, he shall be expecting a bill from me to cover the costs of fixing it!


I can see five pairs of shoes from here, and it's not the Shoe Room, it's the Living Room.
One of the pairs doesn't even belong to a member of the family.
Waiting for the M&S straighteners to heat up.
Takes about half an hour.


I went to a brilliant conference on Punk Rock in Wolverhampton about ten years ago, all the more brilliant because I had thought it was going to be so crap.
Conference on punk rock? Bah! I thought.
It consisted of every misfit academic in the Universe, and I went with Lucy O'Brien (author of She-Bop) who is good fun.
It was there I met Caroline Coon for the first time, and one of the speakers was Gary Valentine. The Prefects were playing each night, and I have written about the adventures of the seedy hotel we were in way back on the blog somewhere in the distant electronosphere.
'What's all this about?',  I hear you ask.
Curly hair, actually.
One of the speakers talked about film-maker Julien Temple, and about this debate they used to have about him. Was he a proper punk rocker? He had curly hair!
This was my 'problem' back in the day and I used to either plait my hair with fuse wire to make bendy plaits, or eventually I just lopped it all off with a razor blade.

I am sitting looking at a fluffy fringe in the mirror. I often sneak into Offsprog Two's room while she is at school and used her GDHs to flatten my fringe but she's (a) on holiday and (b) got a cold so she's not out gallivanting when she should be revising for her exams. 
I have some ultra cheap Marks and Sparks travel straighteners that manage to get hotter on the outside than they do on the inside and it looks like that's what I shall be using today.
I just wanted to share that with you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

All Nature's Creatures

P.S. The Offsprogs and their friends and cousins looked great too, but this isn't Facebook. I haven't asked them if I can post pictures of their faces and they are not in the public sphere, so I won't.

Party 1

No pics yet (apart from below. self-inflicted) as I'm trying unsuccessfully to learn Heart of Glass; I will have to have the words there tomorrow. Great party though! The Offsprogs had a bake-off and a Johnny Depp cake vied with a portrait of Offsprog One by Offsprog Two.
Minnie Mouse met a chicken, a tiger, a sheep, a peacock, two zebras, a ladybird, a caterpillar, a bee, a panda, a lion, two donkeys, a budgie and Michael Jackson.
The budgie was terrifying and hilarious at the same time. It was the build-up that did it; the older of my two younger brothers, Big Bruv, was cooking chicken tikka and kept talking about his budgie costume. Gradually, I began to be convinced that he was fibbing and had made no attempt to make one, hoping that by the time everyone had got drunk everyone would have forgotten and it wouldn't matter.
I had already given him ten-out-of-ten for a good spiel when he disappeared, only to return in the most monstrously pervy creation you could possibly imagine; dripping with strands of bright green ostrich feathers, a zebra-skin neck cowl, yellow cloth wings, a green feather hat, sunglasses and a huge pale blue beak on a strand of elastic.
The nephews-once-removed (four and seven months) opened their mouths in cartoon amazement; McSis snorted with laughter as he explained the ease with which a human could transform himself into a budgie in a matter on minutes. We photographed him in the bushes in his natural habitat.
I laughed so much I cried.
He had ordered six St Patricks Day ostrich feather boas on eBay to create his costume and a zebra print boob-tube to customise for the neck. I can imagine him chortling to himself over the computer as he made his plan, and obviously he could not slave over a hot stove with feather boas fluffing about all over the place.
Wherever he went he left a trail of lime green feathers; they nestled in the grass in the garden and drifted about on the kitchen floor in a vain attempt to find St Patrick.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The oven is full of sizzling sausages to be pronged on sticks for the Offsprogs' joint 18th and 21st party tomorrow.
I am fascinated by sausages, which I very rarely eat. They are a Beano and Dandy joke food studded in a huge pile of mash to be consumed by Deperate Dan .
I can't remember what else I said I'd make. Cheese straws, perhaps.
Now they are altogether nicer things.

Fresh from the oven and in volume, the sausages came out rustling, whirring and chirruping like a little jungle full of birds and small invertebrates, a perfect foley folly. 
I rushed for my phone to record them but by the time I got back, they had reverted to sizzling.
Next time!

Complaints Choir

It was the second session today; three of last week's participants were away, but there were two new different people. It always happens like that: an ebb and flow of people engaging and disengaging.
I fel as though I knew them a bit better today as it's my second week and when Luis went to print out the lyrics, I was able to carry on even though only two of them speak fluent English. Everyone seems to be really into it though, and when they see how much I struggle with Spanish, which is a new language for me, we will be equal.
This morning we were able to slow the song down and work on pronunciation; I hope the lyrics contain useful words that are worth learning outside the sphere of the song writing project.
We breathed (aspiro?), we stretched, even danced a bit and everyone left smiling again, which I said to Luis was possibly the best thing one human can do to another: make them smile.
Possibly the lyrics are too wordy. I was in a rush to write the song yesterday because the first performance might be on May 2nd but we can unpick it: it's not set in stone.
What are songs but rushes of air and sound, articulated and started and stopped by the tongue, teeth and lips? All their meaning comes from the feeling of the singers, and this group has heaps of that!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Letter from Prince Edward's Equerry

In the 1980s, I used to write songs and music for theatre groups. Lester Square and myself took a strange variety show to the Edinburgh Fringe called Dr Calamari's Music Hall of the Macabre.
At that time, Prince Edward appeared to be hovering around the fringes of the theatrical world, so I wrote and invited him to take part.
Rather kindly, I got a reply.

Recipe Tip

I usually avoid this, due to my name (Great Aunt McCookerybook will be turning in  her gravy).
Here is a recipe:

Make scones
Leave out the salt
Add a bit of sugar
Add at least a tablespoon (or more) of cinnamon to the dry mixture before adding the milk.

I can't remember exactly how much cinnamon I added to the bowl, but I kept going until I could smell its fragrance, and this made a great flavour after I had cooked them.

I also made a pear cake to use up the pears that have lasted since the gig in Gateshead in February! That was nice too but it needed a few more pears.

Back to writing the cleaners song....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Baggage Reclaim

I have just done a questionnaire for Richard Sanderson's Baggage Reclaim site here:

Cook's Joke

Does the devil's baker use hell-raisin' flour?


Did McDad invent the word 'flipe' for turning something inside out?

I went to visit a student in Stratford at their work placement; all was well, and I spent £12 in a shop called Tiger in the mall on all sorts of tacky stuff- a pink and green washing up brush, wooden spatula things for writing plant names on to stick in plant pots (so I can tell what my pot-grown vegetables are), a book with a map of Sweden on it, and so on.

Tomorrow was going to be picture research day but today turned itself inside out, and I spent part of this afternoon doing just that insetad. Everything is flying about in the air above my head and from time to time I catch a fragment and make some progress. I think I have today, but I'm not sure. A picture that I thought was by a photographer called Joe Stevens wasn't by him even though it was credited to him, and I did find another at an agency from the same session but it will be too expensive.
Do I want this or do I want that?
There are so many I can't use 'cos I don't know who took them....
I am doing more interviews next week, but not for the book: I will be doing a talk at a conference at the University of the East in May which I will write about when I am absolutely certain I have decided what I will be talking about.

The Chefs CD is going round in circles at the moment (quite liderally), and will I have to convert my persona from a rabbit to a bull to make any progress, I think.
The main problem is not the music, sleeve-notes or anything else: it's the nuts and bolts of it all. So far I have written to three people this week who have answered a question at an oblique angle to the one I asked. I am used to being direct, but I am having to re-word things in a mega-mega-focused way. I can't bear the term steep learning curve, because once you have curved your way up somewhere the next level is way down there and requires a new start at the bottom of another learning curve.
Endless, endless, endless.
But wouldn't it be great if I could get the book and the CD out at the same time?

Another of tomorrow's tasks has appeared today, and I have copied out the lyrics to Heart of Glass to sing on Monday. I seemed to be the only artists at the Beefheart night to sing from the paper and I think I might have to do this on Monday as well (shame) because tomorrow I will be writing the verse of the cleaners' song and learning it so I can teach it to them on Friday morning at the crack of dawn.
Not today.
Not today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Somewhere in this house, there must be some brown felt to make a nose for the zebra... an old brown sock, perhaps? It needs a velvety nose like a horse
I used to have bags'n'bags of scraps, regrettably thrown out when I moved a couple of years ago.
The eyes are a sequin and a bead.
Then I just need to do the inside of the ears and sort out the mane.
And work out how to fix it on to my head!

Double-Decka Day

I rose at six and sailed round the North Circular, silently in my mended car. My guitar was on board, plus a thermos cup of coffee to kick-start the day.
Where was I going?
I am helping the Cleaners Complaints Choir at the University of the East to write a song describing their terrible working conditions to the Higher  Echelons who could easily make them University employees instead of victims of a company that pays them late, docks wages for no reason and doubles their workload for no extra pay. Many of the cleaners are African and Colombian and don't speak English; my colleague Luis, who invited me to help out, has already done a workshop with them and patiently translated Spanish to English, English to Spanish at this morning's session.
We ended up with a chant that had animated itself into a chorus, and a circle of smiling faces: now I have to get to work to make the skeleton of a song for Friday. It was fun!

Later, I set off to meet Caroline Coon at the Nancy Spiro exhibition at the Serpentine. I caught an old-fashioned Routemaster number 9 bus with a dinging wire to pull when you get to your stop, and a bus conductor.
Caroline and myself haven't seen each other for a while and had lots to say to each other as we perused the inspiring drawings and prints- so much so that a visitor to the exhibition asked us to shut up. We talked about pornography, art, life, the drawings, art history, the 1960s, the 1970s, spilling out to the cafe at the side of the Serpentine to drink coffee and eat salad (and chips!). Thank you for a lovely inspiring afternoon Caroline; I look forward to our next gallery visit and also to the very interesting email transcripts that will inform a lecture I will be doing to Advertising students at the University of the East.

Now I think The Lost Women of Rock Music will be coming out in September. I need to get my ass into gear to sort out the photographs!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Songwriting weekend 17th-19th June

Roll up, roll up! Once again at the beautiful Friar's Carse Hotel just outside Dumfries, Martin, Scott and Helen invite you to a weekend for beginners or more experienced songwriters; see the new website

More Punky Stuff: Long Link, Lots Money!


Amazing... I have found my diaries from the punk years. I was not a sophisticated girl.
Monday August 22nd 1977
Got the band a gig ho ho ho (that was The Molesters, who rehearsed constantly in the basement of our squat)
Got stopped by the police on the back of the bike (a Honda 90) for singing Robin Hood. I asked if it was against the law for singing on the back of a bike.
Wednesday August 24th 1977
BASEMENT BAND WON"T DO FRIDAY!! 7 they've been practising 2 years. We decided to have our own band, me and BBC Phil, Steve and Nick. They came round in the evening- we had 5 songs after 3 hours! Exhausted ourselves by practicing.
Thursday 25th August 1977
Went for a bath (we had to use the public baths as there was not bath or hot water in our house)
Came back. Practiced our songs on Poison Girls' equipment. People were coming and tapping their feet.
Got Phil V to do my job for me (washing up in a restaurant)- he said I had 'flu.
Had fish + chips then practised until about 10 o'clock- had abouit 5 songs. I am on bass, got a wart and  a blister on my finger.
Friday 26th August 1977
Well, had to do Jolande's. Every single room. (I worked as a cleaner in a bed and breakfast) Was so excited, kept saying1234 etc and singing.
...ran up to ~resource Centre. An old age pensioner came in and would not stop talking-he chased us off in the end. Did more practising. were nervous. I dashed home and did a JOBY AND THE HOOLIGANS t-shirt, tried to eat a beefburger. Got a bit drunk. The audience loved us- they asked for a song in encore again. A big slob kept knocking me microphone and I was shouting at him and telling him to f**k off.
Wednesday 31st August 1977
Got thrown out of a pub for being punks.

And so on, and so on.

If I Write It Down It Won't Seem So Hard

Two student assignments out of the way, and it's time for some sunshine. I've worked out that if I haul my stuff out of storage, I can save enough money to pay the council tax. My car is about to conk out so I'll collect a bit of stuff today and take the offending vehicle to the garage tomorrow (that's me, roaring down the road at max volume with the exhaust pipe trembling with exhaustion!).
It's an uphill struggle sorting out The Chefs compilation, but it's getting there. It has been mastered and I have to make a call about tune-codes tomorrow, and chase up the sleeve notes. In my mind, I have a beautiful package but it's taking time....
I have also sent off some photographs to the publishers. I do so want to draw a line under the book, which is now expected to be published in January.
Multi-tasking, juggling balls up in the air: I am struggling for my academic life.
There is a very exciting music project happening, not for me but for an unusual group of people. I will write about it on Tuesday, when for me it stops being talk and starts being active!
I am also about to start writing a paper for a conference and a script for a proposed documentary, that I think should complement each other.
Best of all, Martin and myself will soon be putting the finishing touches to our next co-album, The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses.

Friday, April 08, 2011


An entire (very posh) shop on Unter Den Linden devoted to selling only Nivea; fleece blankets draped on the chairs set up outside bars and restaurants for customers to wrap themselves in against the chill wind.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Jamie's Dream School

Disturbing to see Robert Winston's science lesson in Jamie's Dream School last week.
Jamie Oliver, erstwhile campaigner for the improvement of child nutrition, employed Winston to teach science to the unruly 20-year-olds, boys and girls, at his Dream School for vulnerable and 'unteachable' young people.
Was it Winston's idea or a 'clever' TV executive's to send young men into a room with a copy of Hustler to collect sperm for a 'live' science lesson?
This legitimisation of pornography was despicable, and all the more so because the young men were being taught alongside vulnerable young women, just the type of vulnerable young woman who is drawn into becoming the subject of pornography in the Real World.
This was a classic example of objectification of women's bodies in an educational setting, the place where young women should be safe from the exploitative behaviour of sex-capitalists.
Jamie is a father of daughters. If he knew how close any teenage girl comes to crossing the line-from-which-there-is-no-return, he would not have allowed Winston to indulge in this creepy caper.


Life is whizzing at the moment: faced by a reduction in yearly income, I am improvising.
Martin is taking us to Berlin to celebrate the artwork that I have done for the latest CD releases, and when we get back I'll start eBaying (sounds like something eHounds do) and also selling some of my artwork, especially the prints that are languishing in the cupboard under the stairs.
I have been applying for various grants and getting some, but not others (photos for my book and indexing, yes; help for Chefs CD, no). I am going to hand in notice at the storage place where my LPs live and they are coming home, to stuff the gizzards of my living room and be danced to on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. The Duplo is going in the loft (I want it for when I am an old lady) and 50 Helen and the Horns albums will live under the kitchen table until i can sell them.
Singing songs at posh children's parties beckons!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Blogging from my Phone

I have been mobile- blogging, hence the strange sentences and mis-spellings. Mobileness has. Resulted in the inadvertent annihilation of several important emails, the loss of sn email account due to my inability to change the password in time, and a three-day buildup of attachments to download when I get home. The u pside has been the bliss of ignoring a substantial amount of my daily work responsibilities, drinking tea and chatting with rellies in the gloaming.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Nicola Benedetti at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh

We went to see Nicola Benedetti last night at the Usher Hall last night. There was a brief talk beforehand, in which she neatly dodged questions aimed at getting her to cite various other violinists as an influence on her. It was impressive that she is still taking lessons- notably two weeks in Vienna.
The orchestra rocked their way through Zemlinsky's Sinfonietta Op23, a piece of music that U absolutely loved. It had echoes of Kurt Weill without being quite so abrasive.
There was a noticeable increase in tension (or attention perhaps) as Benedetti joined tha orchestra, clad in a beautiful liquid silk dress in the palest of greys. She has a lovely aura, and she attacked her violin with relish, seizing the music for herself and almost dancing with pleasure at some points. Around her, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra treasured her playing. I was reminded of a child's hands cupped around a feather; the players were obviously aware of being in the presence of a great talent.
I am not used to going to orchestral concerts and found this an overwhelming experience for the senses: should I watch the conductor (fascinating), worry about whether Benedetti's hair was going to get stuck in her violin bow, listen to the orchestration (fabulous), enjoy the synasthetic experience of visualizing the sound without thinking about it, watch the music being made physically by the players...
What was best was the way Benedetti abandoned herself to the music, allowing the almost gypsyish passages to influence the dynamics of her style. I couldn't use the word rough, because that would imply that she did not have control over her playing, and the exquisite detail in places showed just what a shining instrumentalist she is. However, it's lovely to see a young classical musician with the confidence to explore the edges of playing style within a piece without losing track of the main route through it. Brilliant!
There was a rather dull Beethoven symphony afterwards, a comedown in a way although it did showcase the flautist and the bassoon player to great effect.