Monday, October 31, 2011

For England

I have been writing a lecture and making a playlist today, which has taken me almost all day. By mid-afternoon I started flagging and watched a bit of Margaret Rutherford and James Robertson Justice hamming it up in a Miss Marple film.
It has been one of those days lived in limbo, where things have happened, but not with my active involvement. I have noticed that I don't look as overwhelmingly knackered as I did a week ago so maybe limbo-days have a purpose!
The weekend before last I was frantically filling in a funding application to run something for the students at the University of the East, and last weekend I was drawing illustrations for hours: I love that feeling of being 'in the zone'.  For days afterwards I can remember exactly what I was watching on TV (or rather, listening to) when I look at the drawings. Louis Theroux featured heavily last weekend, with his horror at the baboon's lurid backside and the exceedingly odd big cat sanctuary owners flooding into my mind at every scrawl and scribble.
Mercifully, I have been unable to do any housework as the painter Higgins is upstairs, sticking the ancient rickety windows back together with a coat of paint and half a ton of filler. This means I have been sitting dutifully researching and writing, with a cup of tea ferried upstairs every hour or so. I have been unable to go to the supermarket and buy a gigantic bar of chocolate, a daily habit that has not helped me to get into my winter trouserwear. There aren't even any carrots, so I can't have soup; just reheated stuff from sad little plastic boxes in the freezer.
You see? I can bore for England when I try!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Studio Dreams

I have more than stretched the feminist muscles in the past couple of weeks; thank God that's not the only think my life consists of. I am furious that I have to be one, but there is no alternative!
It's very strange at this time of year, because this is when most of my lecturing and tutoring happens. It is easy to forget that I'm a musician and artist. I have not played any 'proper' (i.e. full length set) gigs in London for a long time and I am beginning to feel like doing that again.
However, I am completely out of the promoter and venue loop. All suggestions gratefully received!
In about a month I am going to start recording again. The pressure-cooker of work has had the usual effect of making me write lots of songs in the tiny gaps between writing lectures and delivering them.
At night. my imagination takes me into the studio and as I sing and play a raft of ghostly musicians floats through, landing as softly as gossamer on pale wooden floorboards, blowing life into gleaming brass, sawing away at feather-light fiddles or strumming silently on cedar-scented guitars before fading away again.
In reality, I scrub the bathroom sink and rise at six to head into the Eastern sunrise through the chill of dawn, running through my lectures in my head and wondering at the textures of the skin of russet apples and the colours of autumn leaves as I travel.
When I get to Bank Station, the labourers' fluorescent jackets, dusty boots and copies of The Sun give way to cross pink faces and navy blue coats as the City workers push me out of the way on their journeys to Nastywork.
I don't know what they do, but it makes them money/doesn't make them happy simultaneously.
Then I gaze out of the window on the Docklands Light Railway at the cormorants drying their wings in the pale, weak sunshine.
So beautiful!
Life, life... what is the meaning of it all? I don't know, but I can tolerate it all so long as the cormorants can.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Visit To Westfield, Stratford

After work today I met my Champagne Friend in Stratford to investigate the spanking new shopping centre in Stratford.
She is very funny and told me about her ex-childminder, who has now appeared on the front pages of the right-wing press, having been involved in the Dale Farm siege.
As for the spanking new shopping centre in Stratford? A very fancy casing for a mega-branch of Greggs!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Song


Saturday Night in Pop-Up Portobello

Last night I braved the tortuous Saturday night Underground system with all its weekend cancellations to go to the pop-up cinema at Portobello Road.
Don Letts was showing films, as a tribute to Ari. I went with Gina, her partner Mike and their two children.
Christine Robertson, a film-maker who managed The Slits for some time, had been invited to show her film of the Slits on holiday. She was a very interesting person to talk to for the book and it was lovely to see her again. And I also met Desmond Coy for the first time, though very briefly- he is Don Letts's brother, and I am reading the manuscript of his book at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it: it's one of those books that conjures up pictures in your head.
The first film was a sort of fan-homage to Don and his son, who Don told us are rebuilding their relationship after he left the family when his son was three. His son makes Dubstep music and the film followed the setting up and running of a gig in East London. I thought his music was great- I have never really listened to much dubstep- or not consciously- and thought it was worth listening to more. There was snippets of fascinating stuff: Don recording a programme for Radio 4 called The Story of the Bass; the bits about Don's father, who ran a sound system in the basement of the church after the morning service where people came with bibles under their arms (there was a photograph of his father standing next to his painted speakers, Duke Letts with his Superstonic Sound). And there were some baby Slits, Palmolive and Viv fascinated and concentrating intently as Chrissie Hynde showed them some chords. Then Don talked about the riot at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival. I can see how that acted as a catalyst for punk.
Next, there was some awful footage of Ari at a fashion show, displaying 'pum-pum power' as Don (and she) called it. Since she died I have heard stuff that made this seem all the worse.
Nuff about that.
Christine's film was delicate and very moving: in black and white, Ari, Viv and Tessa rolled in the sand on a faraway beach, and waded into the sea one by one, splashing and playing in the waves and walking back on to dry land hand in hand. I know they all fell out (and later in again) with each other, but this showed three girls who were friends, young, unadorned and free, free, free. In colour, they had dressed up and were fooling around, shuffling in slippers on the rocks in shrouded headgear and decorating a huge cactus with hats, scarves and socks. It was so different to the tough punky time they had in England and it was oddly sweet and innocent. Last of all, Viv introduced a series of short films that Don had made of the group to go with tracks from the Cut album. There was footage of them at a dub club, just about the only females and definitely the only white people there, the sheer front of the activity rendering them perfectly safe amongst the clouds of ganja. My friend Kim used to do this too: the love of the music took her to places where it should have been dangerous to be a white girl, but everyone left her alone as she danced the night away. My favourite of these films was the one shot at the bandstand (where weeks later an IRA bomb blew up a young guardsman on his horse). Grinning frantically, Budgie slicks and clips away at the drums; Ari swoops about like a large bird, Tessa plays bass in her own private bass-world and Viv hits her guitar chords with sharp precision. Each girl wears a red item of clothing and the moving patterns of thes jump across the screen. A nun quietly settles on the grass to watch them.
There had been nothing like this at all in the world before, and there has been nothing like it since.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Bit About the Dolly Mixture

There is an interesting interview with Debsey from the Dolly Mixture in the fanzine Making Waves, available for download here
They were one of my favourite bands of that time: we played together a few times and I used to sit in the dressing room and chat with Hester, the drummer, who was often knitting.
When The Chefs were offered a residency at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, I asked if they could play with us each time because I wanted to share the bill with a band that we actually liked. Not that we didn't like the people in other bands, but we all liked all of the people in the Dolly Mixture, and they werene' furiously ambitious, which was often a bit of a pain in the arse on the circuit.
Both bands did versions of the Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale, both really different. I liked that fact too.
For the Lost Women of Rock Music, I spoke to Hester and Rachel; it's strange just talking to one or two people from a band but often you find out enough to fill in gaps. I spoke to Gina from the Raincoats, but not Ana (although I have arranged to interview Ana for another piece of writing I will be doing). I had hoped to speak to more of the Delta 5 than I actually did. I was glad I spoke to so many of The Slits (though not, sadly, Palmolive or Kate Korris: that would have been interesting, to speak to the beginner-drummer and beginner-guitarist). The book also doesn't represent the very many women who wrote to me who had been in bands that never got noticed by the press at all (although the original PHD did, and I did mention them in the book but probably without enough trumpets).
And of course, I never got to some bands at all. For it not being noticed at the time, punk was phenomenally well-populated with women musicians.

The Mini Pops Are Here To Entertain You

Following a comment by Wilky (thank you!), I ended part one of the Study Skills lecture on Thursday, where we discussed the J-Pop video posted below, by finishing off the session with the Mini-Pops, a truly, truly weird 1980s phenomenon.
The students were flabbergasted. They had  never seen or imagined anything like it before.
For the second week running, I wished that I had filmed their faces as they watched.

I am so glad that I took some time out to record a new song, Mr and Mrs Songsmith:
...because I am knackered after lecturing every day this week apart from Wednesday, which I spent writing a lecture (and recording).

Hooray for the WEEKEND!
p.s. I've just misheard 'Blood Sugar' for 'Lord Sugar' and been taken on a very odd journey of the imagination.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beware: Teddies!

It's a hazardous job, replenishing teddies in the grab-a-teddy machine. The Teddy Replacer spent many a minute deciding which teddies should go into the machine, and which ones should remain in the black bin bag he had brought with him.
As a reflection(sic) of the risks of his occupation, he wears fluorescent protective workwear, with thick sleeves in case one of those seemingly placid little fellas delivers a nasty nip when he's not looking.


Writing a lecture: autocorrect wants to turn 'skiffle' into 'sniffle'. Bless.

The Coal Man and Andy Pandy, etc.

When you are a child the world appears from an entirely different perspective from that of an adult.
I knew, for instance, that the BBC Children's TV character Andy Pandy was a girl. I mistook the pom-poms at the side of her cap for an elaborate hairstyle (the joys of black and white TV!) and pitied the narrator (whom my brother assumed was the Queen) for making that silly mistake about her gender.
I also envied her for never having to use the lavatory. I could not work this out, but seeing the way she was sewn into her clothing, I was certain that such an activity was beyond her capability or need.

The radio was full of tiny people, as busy and chaotic as ants. My mother told me I was wrong, but secretly, I knew that I was right. Those tiny peeping voices couldn't possibly come from people the same size as us. And anyway, how did they all fit into that little plastic casing the size of a cornflakes packet? You couldn't even get one person in there.

My fave guy was the Coal Man. He turned up every two weeks in a noisy, hissing lorry, heaving huge sacks of coal and coke on to his back. He had a big, loud face. And the best thing about his big loud face was that it was really, really dirty: it was smeared with pale grey coal dust and sweaty black coal-ink.
This was the most fantastic thing. I seriously wanted to be a Coal Man when I grew up; just imagine having a mother that didn't insist on you washing your face every day!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Might do a little bit of recording tomorrow. Got some new songs.

Last Night's 'Under the Influence'

Always worth going to, these things. Friendly, interesting and fun.
The little drama that played out was extraordinary.
I am trying to write it down, but still mentally digesting it.
Naming no names, in case of vanity searches; a little like the tale of the Weasel and the Vole, many moons ago.
Nat's Dad is a diamond (nothing to do with the drama, he just is).
I was sorry to miss the last band, who looked like they might be good.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Anachronistic Milk Bottle

McSis would sit there in stitches: every time she watched a film, she saw the telegraph wires in the drama set in the stone age, the Edwardian double yellow lines or the microphone bobbing up and down in scene after scene, top left hand corner. She would chortle through the most serious films at the parallel text of silly mistakes.
Yesterday I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which is a really enjoyable film (casting done from a Pantone chart: grey complexions). But in one scene a tea tray is brought in , and the milk bottle is definitely the contemporary shape rather then the correct vintage, and it worried me for the rest of the film.
Funnily enough, the best actor is actually Benedict Cumberbatch, closely followed by D'Arcy (oops!) who acts with his dimples. Gary Oldman seemed to be playing Alec Guinness, rather than George Smiley.
But maybe that's just me being fussy.
I roadied Martin to Wales and back on Saturday/Sunday, where he played at a wedding in a teepee; it was very jolly and even the older chaps who didn't know his music ended up dancing and hollerin'. On the way over I texted a colleague and the iPhone, which I must say has turned into a complete bully, autocorrected the word 'roadying' to 'toadying'.
iPhone, I have a bucket of water beside me, and if you don't start being-have immediately, you are in for a good ducking!

Tonight Nat the Hammer presents another of his nights at the Boogaloo in Highgate, featuring Sergeant Buzfuz amongst others. The featured artist is David Bowie, and I am off to learn The Laughing Gnome as we speak.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gobbled Up Email

To the person who sent me a very nice email about 24 Hours- could you re-send it? My cunning iPhone deleted it as I read it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Photocopying and J-Pop

Thursday and Friday mornings are up-at-six mornings. I got to work early to do some photocopying, and stumped down two flights of stairs to Security because they hadn't opened the door of the photocopying room.
I had given up on the machine in the post-room, which was churning out blank paper.
By the time I got to the third photocopier that was churning out blank paper, I realised that I had the originals the wrong way up.
What a prat I am. Three quarters of an hour wasted by my own stupidity.
Later, I watched the student's faces as they watched a J-pop video. 
How I wish I had filmed them!
Watch it, and see if you can catch sight of your face in the mirror.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Georgian Light

I met Caroline Coon this morning at Holborn, for our trip to the Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Every month or so, we meet for a catch up and a museum or art gallery visit. Caroline is a really good chooser, and this venue was no exception.
On the pavement, a polite and cheerful attendant gently persuades you to put your bag into a plastic carrier bag (in our cases, almost like reverse childbirth); you hang your coat on a hook by the door, and enter an enthralling world almost entirely lit from above through cupolas and skylights and craftily-positioned mirrors and windows that send shafts of light down on to exhibitions of ancient remains (I particularly liked the small wall of paws), or a suffused autumnal glow through vistas of carpeted rooms with inlaid chairs (every chair has a daintily-placed by menacing teasel placed upon it as a subtle hint that they are not to be sat upon).
There was so much to see, and more than we ever imagined, as we turned around just before leaving due to  Carolin'e inspired enquiry about the drawings for the design of the Bank of England and re-entered a tiny, square room that displayed amongst other things a recently-restored painting by Canaletto.
The gallant and knowledgeable attendant undid some brass fittings, unfolded the whole wall to gasps of disbelief, and there was a whole other layer of paintings and drawings: the Bank of  England, and a drawing showing all the buildings Soane designed in a collection, and a drawing showing all the ones that never got built....
The attendant told us stories galore before undoing yet another wooden layer and showing us the Monk's Parlour from above, stained glass and all.
More was in store: we shuffled across the room, for at the other side the secret shutter his the entire sequence of Hogarth's paintings of The Rake's Progress. By this time losing his voice and ready for his one o'clock soup, we were talked through the sequence of events: and there was Handel at a spinet, painted from behind as he had told Hogarth never to put him in one of his paintings. And there was the Rake's gardener (according to Hogarth's great great grand-daughter, who had visited the museum).
It is a completely magical experience to visit this museum. Every single attendant was ready and enthusiastic to tell us anything we wanted to know (for instance, Soane was an abolitionist, but this was almost the lesser of two evils as the alternative back then was to be an imperialist, whose adherents wanted to plunder and rule Africa anyway). Soane's enthusiasm for architectural design was more than matched by the museum staff, and this rubbed off on the visitors. Every time we wondered something aloud, someone with a guide book would answer our question; and as I was translating a French notice under one of the pictures, others were listening in politely.
Sweetest of all, a mausoleum in the yard addressed 'Alas, Poor Fanny', is in fact dedicated to Soane's wife's pet Manchester Terrier who outlived her to capture her master's heart.
So much to see: three layers of shutters on the front windows, Georgian underfloor heating, curios, oil paintings, space; I can't describe it all. It would be a perfect rainy day destination to change the mood and revive a sense of wonder.
Ten out of ten- for staff, respectful preservation and sheer magic!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rats, Always There

As I returned home after saying goodbye to McMum and McSis, off the the US to see the Fall Colours in New England (they almost had to cancel because of illness), I watched a large animal galloping down the pavement in front of my house. In horror, I realise that it was a rat: fat, swaggering, confident.
Where was the urban fox I heard sobbing in the back gardens a few weeks ago?
Come on mate, get to work!

Monday, October 10, 2011

News About The Chefs CD

The Chefs CD will be released in March 2012 on the label Damaged Goods.
The CD will have the John Peel and Richard Skinner Chefs sessions as well as the Peel session we did under the name Skat, as well as the tracks we recorded for Brighton's Attrix Records. The sleeve notes are by Everett True, cover design Emerald Moseley, tracks remastered by Colm O'Rourke.
More news as it appears.
Photo by Claire Barratt, 1979

Saturday, October 08, 2011


What a lot of 'Wallanders' there are. Ystad must be overflowing with them.
I don't mind at all (apart from when this week's one burst into rock-song at the end of the show: scary!).

Student debt (the American type)


Almost a year ago, Gina (Birch, from the Raincoats) made a series of feminist banners for a re-staged feminist march; the idea has been bubbling along and this morning we met at The Serpentine (some of us in seventies gear) to appear in a film she is making. It was cold and grey; rain was in the air. Richard Branson's helicopter passed above us, low in the sky, first one way and then the other. Tourists photographed us, or asked to join in. Her friend's daughter filmed part of it, Gina filmed part of it and Hayley Newman filmed part of it. We all chatted, chanted, interfered, shouted, ran, marched and synchronised. It was a great way to spend an autumnal Saturday morning and I think the film should be a lot of fun! (think it's for one of The Raincoats new songs, but I'm not sure).

Friday, October 07, 2011

Art Website Refreshed

I have posted some new stuff on my art website and will continue to do so over the coming weeks. Take a look at

In Which Tired Blogger Avoids Nigel Slater

Although strictly speaking I am too tired to write a blog posting this evening, I am exercising myself in 'avoiding Nigel Slater'. I am too tired to change the channels, or rather to experience the other unpalatable offerings that are broadcast at this time on a Friday evening.
A while ago there was a dramatisation of his semi-autobiographical novel on TV. The boy Nige came across as an awful snob who was ashamed that his natural mother couldn't cook (hence the book's name 'Toast') and even more ashamed of his stepmother. I haven't been able to read any of his recipes since, without imagining scenes from the dramatisation and cringing.
Before I got wise to my own problem, I used to cook huge vats of soup made from leftover vegetables and leave them on the side in the kitchen. I would take the lid off the pot before heating it up, sniff it, and think 'compost heap', and then of course, throw it away.
Quite a lot of Slater's recipes inspire me to the same reaction. I watch with a sinking heart as he adds just one ingredient too many to the mix, and then with a lot of 'hmmm'-ing, tucks into a different coloured compost heap each week.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


After an early start and three hours of study skills teaching (great students!) and a research supervision course, I await the Course Party at the University of the East (which I  just mis-typed as eats, because I am hungry).
Some of the afternoon has been spent talking about every subject under the sun with my office-pal. Controversy, Josephine Baker, The X Factor, we cover it all in between talking to students about emergencies, and teaching.
I have brought the Green Goddess, as I'm supposed to be playing some songs at the course party.
Shortly, I shall commence some pool lecturer teaching at the University of the Middle, which I think is rather splendid: East, Middle and West. Perfect!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


The list of books and CDs that I wanted to order from Amazon got to over two hundred pounds and I still had another list of CDs to add. Would I read it all and listen to it all? No, I would not.
I had a boss a while who who used to get me to read all his books for him and report back. I got free books, and he didn't have to bother to read them. Something like a cross between one of those poor people forced to taste the Emperor's food in case it was poisoned, and a 'walker' who accompanies a married woman about town in a chaste manner when her husband is out of town. I think.
So the list has been pared down and is now merely a fantasy list.
The less I read, the more I write and draw, and the less I listen to, the more songs I write; expect production!

The Likes of Us

I have just finished reading Michael Collins' The Likes of Us: a Biography of the White Working Class.
I lived in Southwark for 13 years, as a Housing Association tenant (a middle class one, which I gather from the subtext in Collins' book he rather dislikes).
The early pages were fascinating. The most poignant part of this was reading that all of those young men who died in the First World War were not even eligible to vote. Following the rights of women throughout history, I had neglected to realise the lack of rights of poor people and the working class.
Collins appears to be very angry with most of the historians that documented early London working-class life, with the possible exception of G.K. Chesterton. As one reads through the book, this provides a tension with his own subjectivity. The book is described as a 'history/memoir' and this is accurate. Unfortunately  there are passages that assume that the reader is male: for instance, his description of Vic Brown in Barstow's A Kind of Loving: 'ultimately trapped by his circumstances when his girlfriend falls pregnant' (148).
So how did his girlfriend get pregnant then?
Stork bring a baby?
The descriptions of the drama of light and shade and poverty are evocative, and in some of the later parts I began to wonder if our paths have crossed.
I read the book because I felt that it was an important subject and a very interesting one. By the end, I felt a little cheated. For instance, the reports of the lack of white on black violence in the 1960s and 1970s could be because black people under-reported what was happening to a police force that they perceived as being racist. I don't know this for sure, but I worked with a young black guy for a while who described being beaten up by white kids every single morning on the way to school, which is why he eventually started carrying a weapon.
Its good that the book exists, especially the sections where he compares the way different writers, from social theorists through journalists to playwrights and novelists, responded in writing to the way the working class live and lived in Southwark. But I started off wanting to recommend it to my kids to read (who were brought up until they were six and three respectively on Camberwell New Road until the murders got out of hand), and ended up thinking they would become infuriated by the later chapters. Being of the next generation, I think they might actually find some of the assumptions in the book racist.  There is a list of possible ways a white working-class person might know a non-white person, as 'lovers, muggers, husbands, killers, wives, victims, neighbours, rapists, friends, foes, attackers, carers' (223). Even my ex-mother in law, born and raised in Southwark and later moved to Welling, had praise for her black doctor. Why not mention the professions in this list? Teachers, lawyers and medical professionals are very important people in the community.
What a can of worms you can open; I am well aware of the shortcomings of the autobiographical parts of The Lost Women of Rock Music. You could say that as a member of the middle class, I am resentful of the strong identity of the upper and working classes in the UK. Us do-gooding snobs have no fixed identity, observing those 'above and below' with fear and awe and a patronising gaze (we are often told).
Overall, a book like this is a good contribution to history and would be a good addition to a personal library; however, I feel that it needs a reply, another person or people in the room to make the later chapters not only more gracious but also more detailed.
By introducing us to one elephant in the room, the author blocks out a whole series of elephantlets, which is probably an inevitable result of pioneering writing.
Ironic, given its location centred on the Elephant and Castle.

Monday, October 03, 2011


Between two sets of railway tracks at Durham station, a faded pink stetson is nestling amongst the weeds and beginning to return to nature, the last remaining evidence of a long-gone hen party.

Rockin' Girl, By The Side of Loch Lomond

St Bernard, Radiators, Oh, A Lot Of Stuff!

It's been one of those weekends that seems to have lasted a week! We journeyed to Newcastle on Saturday after Martin's recording session at The Premises, noting a sea of cars on the hard shoulder along the way with radiator problems due to the unseasonably hot and humid weather.
On the way up I photographed this hilarious sight- a huge St Bernard in the sidecar of a motorbike. 'Wait a minute', said its owner, 'He hasn't got his helmet on yet'.
I thought the guy was joking and went to the loo, only to return to find the whole cafe in stitches, having just seen them drive off with the dog actually wearing its own crash helmet!
We made it most of the way up the A1 and then joined the gang of stranded cars on a terrifying stretch of motorway until we managed to limp to the junction of the A68, where we waited up a farm track for AA Relay and for Jim Hornsby to come and collect us to take us to Tynemouth for Martin's gig with him.

Martin changed his strings by the side of the road.
Thankfully, Mike and June transported him to Glasgow (thank you Mike and June!) and the car is following him via the AA, back to Ross-shire.
The gig was a roaring success; Jim is an extremely talented guitarist and his accompaniments were spot on, complimenting what Martin played beautifully. I hope they do some recording together because they both make each other play to the fullest extent of their ability.
On Sunday I went to Leeds, where Offsprog Two is at the Art College. It is a proper old-fashioned Art College and it looks like they have been having a really enjoyable time making big flimsy paper things in huge white rooms and filming them.
Art, I love you!
Back home late last night, I have been playing guitar and thinking about recording another album myself.
Martin has given me a computer (mine is on its last legs), which I am using this very minute. I am massively grateful and will be altering my art website a bit over the next few weeks as well as using Logic Audio to write some pop!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Brighton University Graphics and Illustration Show

It's brilliant! On today and tomorrow at The Red Gallery, 2 Rivington Street, Hackney.
Workshops and stuff today... there are animations on show, books galore (beautiful handmade ones) and lots of fantastic illustrations and posters etc.
best thing is a 20 pence machine with original art and gold-painted dinosaurs, 20 pence a pop!
Be there or be square!