Thursday, September 29, 2011


'Extraordinary!', I thought, but decided not to mention to the new student that I had a duvet cover in exactly the same fabric print as his shirt.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I have just had my nylon-strung guitar set up by the guys at LA Strings in Whetstone; they are really good luthiers and they are full of stories.
Today they said that Ivor Cutler had heard them talking on Classic fm, and had called up and asked them if he could visit them to soak up the atmosphere of their workshop. While he was there, he wrote a poem and gave it to them.
McMum and McDad raised us all on Cutler's subtle digs at genteel Glaswegian society and its manners and customs, and I used to see him cycling round South London when I lived there. They said that he arrived on his bicycle with cotton buds sticking out of his ears to cut out the noises of the world as he rode through it.
He was an eccentric but very observant man!
LA Strings' website is
and Ivor Cutler is here
(I think McDad rather admired Cutler's sartorial style!)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Downgrade: moan-a-minute

Now, how has this happened?
I updated my iPhone with what I thought would be 'up' graded software only to find that the photos I take are now so low-res that I can't use them on my blog.
How useless is that? I used to be able to take a pic, email it to myself, and post it without faffing about with the iPhoto software.
I am not amused, Apple.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Steve Beresford Squeaks and Bonks

From the launch at the Jazz Servant's Quarters earlier this month.


I have just spent the most relaxing afternoon in months painting one of the living room walls white.
I can't do them all at once because there is too much furniture, but just doing one was amazing.
I am still in the zone; the smell of emulsion is a bit irritating but it will have gone by tomorrow and the room seems 50% lighter.
Roller for big sweeps, paintbrush for top and bottom, artist's brush for corners, lots of newspaper and old rags for wiping up the mess and a bar of chocolate afterwards!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Energy, Lack Thereof

Had a great morning with the Songwriting and Production students at the University of the East: what a lively and interesting group! After doing two songwriting workshops and a lot of troubleshooting (some troubles still to shoot after an afternoon's work, but my computer won't let me open the files with their email addresses in it), I am well and truly whacked out.
It would be nice to be out in that cool evening sunshine- what a beautiful day! Instead, I am nursing a very welcome cup of tea and looking forward to an evening of TV watching.
Years ago in Brighton, our drummer Rod and his friend Robert (who later went on to play bass guitar for King Kurt) got over their lack of spondulicks by sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea and going through a New Musical Express, gig by gig, saying things like, 'We could go to see The Fall at Manchester Free Trades Hall tonight, but we haven't got any money and we're not in Manchester'.
They could keep going for a whole evening like that.
For your information, I could have gone to the 12 Bar on Tuesday but I didn't. I could have gone out last night, but I didn't; I could go out tonight, but I'm not going to. A couple of weeks ago I went through a spontaneous going-out-to-gigs phase, but now it is resty-time and time to answer the emails I didn't answer back then, play a few chords and of course, drink multiple cups of tea.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Joy of Old Boxes

At work, I have just found a box of cassettes: old Helen and the Horns songs I'd forgotten about in demo form, my ex-husband's sister's band Igor's Night Off, multiple portastudio demos of songs I wrote for a children's musical 20 years ago (anyone got a portastudio?).
What I'm wondering is whether one of the blank ones has the recording of Debbie Harry rapping an Edith Sitwell poem, part of a (possibly aborted?) brilliant project by Alannah Curry to get rappers to do Sitwell's poetry over Alannah's backing tracks. I did one but I'm more of a crapper than a rapper unforchly: I just don't have it in me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Song Doesn't Have To Be Long

When I work with people who are writing songs I find that it is common for them to write long, long songs whose impact disappears as they get deeper and deeper into the song; by about verse 27 they have lost the listener altogether. I asked Offsprog One to make a little pop video of the shortest song in the world and I nipped down to Brighton today to do it with her. She is going to make an edited version of it for me to use in the studio, which I will post here when it is done. Meanwhile, here is the raw material, just for a laugh.
I took her for lunch at a snazzy place called Bill's and I ate so much that I am having to bend backwards to be comfortable, then we went and sat on the stones on the beach and watched the sea for a while. The sky was as blue as... well, the sky, and the sea was a lovely translucent turquoise colour. It was hard to come back; Barnet's OK, but even on a sunny day it's rather grey-looking.
I noticed that the Nazi dress shop has closed. Good riddance. But Brighton is still chock full of nutty shops- there is a shop that sells everyday groceries, and Hip-Hop clothing. Bless.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Gideon Coe played I'll Go Too by The Chefs this evening on his chow on BBC6.
I have sent him You're So Nice, which was never released but which will be on The Chefs compilation.


I am still reading Desmond Coy's autobiography, which is a lively and sometimes rather rude account of his life between the UK and Jamaica. He has a really good way with words: his visual descriptions are amazing and I am imagining the Jamaican mountains and 1960s Carnaby Street with equal colour and vitality. I am hoping to find a publisher for it.
Speaking of which, the paperback edition The Lost Women of Rock Music has been delayed until next year. If you were thinking of buying it, please could you order it? This would stop it from slipping to the back of the queue. Ironically, I had just agreed to do a reading in Letchworth in a bookshop after being asked on Friday at the Daintees gig, and was arranging to put a little piece about it in the cover artwork for The Chefs CD.
Work at the Universities is about to start again; we are rolling up our sleeves, spitting on our palms and rubbing our hands together.
I even did the ironing last night.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ignite Music

I have been invited to speak at an Ignite Music night, on the history of women in punk.
Speakers talk for 5 minutes with a projection changing every 15 seconds behind them- should be adrenaline-fuelled fun!

Under Pizza East
56 Shoreditch High Street
E1 6JJ London
United Kingdom 

Monday, October 10, 2011 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM (GMT)

Register here:

Degas Song

This song didn't make it on to the CD Take One (and nor did Summer Days which may possibly appear on  The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses that Martin and myself are doing together). I dug it out last night and played about with some harmonies, largely because there's a Degas exhibition on at the moment and I love his work: it's stunningly beautiful, even if the artist himself was a bit of a prat.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some Film of The Daintees (sorry about distortion)

Thanks to Peter Chrisp for the photo below; we were having a lovely time and I enjoyed it so much that I added an extra verse to Footsteps at my Door, which was rather a surprise for The Horns.
After spending about an hour trying to extract some video footage of Martin and the Daintees at the Jazz Cafe from my iPhone, I am ready to chuck it in the lavvy! I have had to go to my old knackered computer whose software is mercifully out of date and have finally managed to download my footage of a couple of Martin's songs, via a program in this computer. I have bent poor Martin's ear as he heads for his gig in Rothesay tonight and filled the living room with angry steam and expletives.
However, it was a brilliant gig- so energetic! Martin's fans are so loyal; they were singing along and bouncing and afterwards we sold loads of CDs for him. I will let you enjoy these songs as they are. The venue was packed to the gills at the atmosphere was electric.

As for us, we had a great time (I have some audio which I will try to post somehow but the PC upstairs, PC Plod, says there's nothing on the memory card: I will send it back to you Wilky if you could send your address and maybe you could take a look on your recording device?) and we are seriously considering doing more gigs in future. Thanks to Martin's crowd for being so warm and welcoming; and shouts to Ali and Donald for their short but very sweet set!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Last Saturday

Last Saturday I picked Martin up at Luton and took him to Norwich, for his gig at Olive's Cafe.
Olive's is weeny and was packed and very hot and humid; the audience was aged from 17 to 70 and all definitely up for it. Treacle and Mark came and it was lovely to see them; we sat at the back and clapped and laughed along. Martin did a great show and his little parlour guitar absolutely sang out; he played songs I've never heard him play before out of his huge repertoire, and did a brilliant version of my favourite, The Lilac Tree. I made a little film which I will post here along with one of Steve Beresford and Peter Blegvad. Next week, sometime.
And he is on his way south for the Jazz Cafe gig tomorrow night which is going to be a corker. Ali Macleod and her partner Donald are heading down from Inverness to play a short set (get there 7.30 if you want to hear them), Helen and the Horns are on at 8.10 and then The Daintees are on at 9.10.

That's funny. The boiler timer has just made the phones bleep.
Years ago, our fridge motor timer used to set off the strange octagonal musical toy the girls had sent to them, from friends in the USA. 
In the middle of the night it would run through its electronic scales and start singing 'Incy Wincy spider ran down the spout, down came the rain and washed poor Incy out...' in a scary cooing electro-voice, all by itself in the living room. 
Strange but true.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chris the Photographer

A lot of people find this blog when they are searching for Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.
I wish I could find a guy called Christopher Reed (or Reid?) who toured with them and who came from Brighton. He was a fantastic photographer who took some brilliant pictures not only of them, but also of lots of bands who played in the Vault in Brighton, actually in the Vault itself.
He was around in about 1977 and managed to make everyone look seriously interesting and glamorous; then he disappeared off with the Heartbreakers leaving no trace of either himself or the photographs.

Kaye Blegvad

Peter Chrisp kindly directed me to Kaye's website:


Don't retreat into the world of ideas unless you are a genius.


Wishes. Have you noticed that people who need to seem Extremely Busy have stopped adding the 'wishes' as they sign off their emails?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Swimming and Feminising

I swam, and became knackered in an unfeasibly short time: but, I told myself, it's the thought that counts.
Later, I took a trip to the Feminist Library.
What does one wear for a trip to the Feminist Library?
It has been my most exciting outing this week. I went via the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, which was a real trip down memory lane. I used to pass through there twice a day, taking the girls to and from Charlotte Sharman School, West Square (headmistress Mrs West, followed by headmistress Mrs Sharman, strange but true).
Offsprog Two had her baby photos taken there and I used to hanker after a giant balsa-wood dragon with a broken wing in a shop called World Window that has long since closed down.
There are still lots of African shops, but the second hand bookshop has gone and there are loads of Latin American shops and Cafes and it is still as vibrant as ever. It was strange as anything to go back; at that time in my life the West End shops were a dream away.
I suppose we were the feral underclass, living as we did on the Camberwell New Road in a Housing Association maisonette and spending a while receiving milk tokens when the Offsprogs were babies. The cupboard was bare more often than not, and our garden was full of flies because the man next door, who used to clean his air rifle at the window (clicking it menacingly as I was tending to the courgettes), kept a pit-bull that he never cleared up after and never seemed to feed or water. He used to shoot the rats from his window, and once left his dog without water for so long that my ex-husband lowered a bowl of water to it, over the fence.
Upstairs lived a couple who were Buddhists; while they chanted, their little boys used to throw things out of the window into the garden, and once appeared on the roof four stories up while the man was watching Eastenders. Eventually, they went out and left a bath tap running all day, completely destroying our house as the water ran through our ceilings and walls. We were out at work and the central heating panicked: we returned to a rainforest climate and a very frightened cat.
Watching that man swaggering down the street afterwards was hearbreaking. There was no apology, and it took us months to clear it all up and years to get over it. I can't say I shuddered as I walked through the Elephant and Castle, but I almost did...
What a digression! I was on the way to the Feminist Library, a charming and friendly establishment that has a full complement of copies of Spare Rib, unlike the British Library. I was looking for stuff to use in a paper I am writing about the sounds of female punk music and I drew a blank, but I did read a lot of interesting stuff and had a lovely chat with Gail, who I last met on the station platform in Newcastle upon Tyne. We talked about zines and posters and all sorts of things, and I'll go back as I research the next thing.
Sorry about the rambling post! I have a pile of post-it notes beside my computer laced with little spidery instructions... but one more thing! I was sent the index for the book yesterday, and it has been done very well (thank you Merl Storr!). It will make the book much more accessible because it's more than just a list of names and page numbers: it has been constructed so that fans can find the things they are most interested in, as well as the searches that academics are likely to need it for.


According to my latest spam email, my erection will become huge. This is thrilling news, especially as I have nothing to erect. Perhaps Yahoo Mail knows something I don't?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Look at these poor efforts. They have been growing all summer long and this is all they could manage! Humph!
Meanwhile the peas, though rarely watered, are still valiantly pea-ing on grizzled stems: and the raspberries are joyfully producing mega-fruits as if they are thriving in the Garden of Eden.
No carrots next year but yes potatoes, courgettes, peas, tomatoes and all the jolly herbs that have been pepping up my cooking all summer.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Drunk Swedish Elk Found in Tree

Bless its little cotton hooves!

Nights Out

On Thursday I went to the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street, Covent Garden, for the Survivor's Poetry night.
These nights are the epitome of Outsider poetry and music, with some acts being brilliant and some, valiant beginnings by older or vulnerable people. I have always found them hugely supportive of my own stuff, and what drew me to go out on Thursday was the reappearance of Kath Tait, after a long spell of looking  after an old lady in Highgate, which is really quite a Kath Tait occupation, I think.
Next to Kath, best act of the night was a poet called Natasha, a young woman who patiently listened to everything before hitting us with some truly beautiful wordsmithery, proper poetry without trying to be comical; she tried to define childhood feelings through visual description and managed, by avoiding cliche, to evoke that childhood sense of wonder and puzzlement that is experienced in a framework of practicality put in place by the adult generation.
There was a lot of good stuff; even the odder acts were charming in their outsidery way, and then Kath was a joy to listen to, as always. She is gently humorous, and the audience, sweltering in the basement humidity (it was packed), sang along softly in the background, chortling under their collective breath as they recognised themselves and their dodgy motivation in Kath's lyrics.
Last night, my friend Joan The Animator took me to see Peter Blegvad at Cafe Oto. I had wondered where I recognised his name from and he used to be in Slapp Happy, a group my brother is very fond of.
Peter had a very interesting band; Chris Cutler on drums was amazing to watch, spidery in the same way that Russell who played with The Chefs was. Chris was also exceptionally laid back: before the end of one song, he reached over for a drink, setting the glass neatly back on the monitor before the final drum roll.
Blegvad is a genial performer, with some great lyrical ideas (like the man who swallowed light to become luminous). It was Peter's 60th birthday, and at the end, the very affectionate audience sang Happy Birthday to him. Joan bought his book for me, which I will investigate later.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Lofty Thoughts

Up the wooden ladder I went, looking for an old fan heater of my Grandpappy's to recondition after looking for vintage ones on eBay and then wondering why, when I had one already. It clanks and whirrs and sends showers of sparks out alongside its gusts of warm air, but I am sure an electrician will be able to sort it out.
Summer shoes up, winter jumpers down... and there was an uninvestigated box from two years ago with some rare Freight Train smoky-vinyl singles which I shall take to the Jazz Caff.
The loft is amazingly empty, because I am frightened of putting too much stuff up there and making the house fall down! That may sound very silly, but a friend was told by a surveyor who had come round to investigate mysterious cracks, that he had too may books stacked up on shelves on the first floor of his house.
This autumn, I shall have yet another purge of Stuff and when I have halved everything, the remains will be piled up the wooden ladder into the loft, and floor space downstairs will double.
Yesterday I went to the Watch Me Move exhibition at the Barbican. This is an exhibition of animation (finishes on Sunday) and I found it absorbing. I liked the vintage stuff the best, closely followed by the Modernist abstract animation, especially Viking Eggeling's Symphonie Diagonale:

I am a real sucker for Georges Melies as well and I loved this, Le Melomane:

Modern films were well represented and my faves were Zou Xiaohu's The Gooey Gentleman and Zbigniew Rybczynski's Tango.
And of course, there was a Merrie Melodies section, which reminded me of the fantastic subtle colourwork of analogue animation.
Animators fascinate me, for of course, their world is silent for a very long time as they prepare their visuals before the sound track is added.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Beautiful Carved Guitar

This is a photograph of a German guitar with a bit of a cuckoo-clock middle that I saw on eBay; the carving is lovely. I have never seen anything like this before.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Good Rehearsal

That was the shortest and most productive rehearsal I have ever had with any band. We were joined by Steve Joy on trumpet and he had learned the parts, and it was all done and dusted, including a cup of tea made by Dave Jago (trombone) in about an hour and a half. I dropped Paul Davey (sax) off at Old Street and came home for a slice of tea and a cup of toast. Or something like that...
The Jazz Caff gig is going to be a wizard wheeze.

Helen and the Horns Vinyl

We are playing at the Jazz Cafe on the 16th of this month, supporting Martin Stephenson and the Daintees who will be playing their album Gladsome Humour and Blue in full that night.
Can't wait- first rehearsal tonight!
Message to Foolish Girl- please could you email me

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Derek Bailey: Milwaukee Recordings CD Launch

My music pal Steve Beresford invited me along to the launch afternoon of a live Derek Bailey CD on Incus Records this afternoon.
He and saxophonist John Butcher played a short and very entertaining set of what Steve calls 'squeaky bonk' music at a very neat venue called the Jazz Servants Quarters in Dalston; there is something about it that reminds me of the paintings of the Dutch Masters: the lighting, perhaps, or maybe the size of the venue.
Steve had a tableful of toys, and created all manner of unexpected sounds using a fan on a stretched guitar string, an amplified fork scrape, or a small tin bowl bowed with a childrens' violin bow; he looked like a scientist frantically excavating his lab for the secrets of music lost in time but captured in his collection of toys and mini-electronica. The crowd, frozen in concentration and living for the sound-moment, rustled with pleasure as Steve answered the crash of a glass falling on the floor in the bar upstairs with a swift clank of the little tin bowl. Perfect.
Meanwhile, John fanned the air next to the sax mouthpiece, spat and pecked, looking as though the sax itself was pulling his face into a series of intense frowns, and sometimes appearing to eat it with a hunger to produce new tones and timbres; the changing of mouthpieces added to the dramatic effect of his performance. Bathed as they were in pink light, there was magic in the air.
This was a perfect way to spend Sunday afternoon after a hearty lunch of cheese and coleslaw sandwich and a cup of strong tea from the Kingfisher Cafe on Dalston Road. There was a sense of worshipping Sunday with experimental music; between them they stopped the rain. The sun came out and I left them in the Dutch interior, drinking coffee and European lagers and eating little Eastern pastries frosted with poppy-seeds.
Photographs: the audience; Karen from Incus introduces the afternoon; Steve and John.

Being a Mother, and Cars

I have spent the morning cooking things and putting them into little plastic boxes for Offsprog Two to take back to college with her. They will probably still be on the table when I get back but they will be perfectly useful in my fridge if so.

Almost a month ago I sent Barnet Council a cheque for a parking permit (the price of which understandably is sending residents bonkers, a rise for £40 to £100 for a year, so we subsidise those residents lucky enough to have a garage or a driveway, i.e. the rich ones).
In doing this I was following an option on their reminder; but no permit has arrived, and although I have put a notice in my car window explaining the situation, I now have earned two parking tickets, which I have to appeal. Because this is so stressful I have resorted to parking on a country road fifteen minutes walk away, which is... stressful. Last time they did this, it took three months to get the permit, and God know how many parking tickets to appeal.
They want everyone to pay online and print out their own permit; but I don't trust them, and if I printed out my own permit I know that one foggy day it will slide off my windscreen, 'not be on display', and I will get a parking ticket (£70 fine last time this happened at the University of the East with a faulty windscreen sticker).
Our council leader is the horrible Brian Coleman, who hates everyone and everything and regularly appears on local TV shows in his capacity of London Council member, snarling and spitting, and in the local paper, spewing vitriol. He simply does not care one iota about the residents of the council he presides over, which is a horrible feeling in a time of recession.
In my head, I rebirth him as a Traffic Warden and send him on patrol in an aggressive district of London, populated by visiting gangsters, compelled to ticket every car, because every car is illegally parked.
O for such a thing to come to pass!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Friday, September 02, 2011

Otherwise known as the Frog on the Blog


Studiously avoiding a rather heavy weight of troubles that have landed on my doorstep, I am dwelling on this rather attractive toad that made me yelp as it plopped out of the little juniper tree when I watered it this morning.
I though I had killed the little creature by furiously pelleting the onslaught of Giant Orange Slugs, but it's still there, striped and indignant, gulping in exactly the same way that my old headmistress used to, when she was annoyed beyond endurance by hundreds of nasty teenage girls.
Oh, toad, you are a welcome sight in the yard! The only missing person now is the blackbird, that I have also worried about poisoning, after a deceased slug that was drying on the concrete suddenly disappeared.
Blackbird... where are you?

Thursday, September 01, 2011


It's that time of year again.. the spiders decide they are cold and come clattering inside, posing silently in odd places until you notice them, screech, and look for something to put over and under them so you can chuck them outside again.
Unless, of course, they are Sweet Teensy Spider, a little feller who has taken residence on the sink tap in my bathroom, practicing spins and slidy-upsy-downsy-web (spider, not technology) games whenever the tap is not in use.
What an odd place to live! I was avoiding using the tap until I realised that I could not allow an archnid to dictate my hygiene practice.
How long will he last?