Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Versions of Freight Train (Not My One)

Elizabeth Cotton aged 92- who wrote the song when she was 12 years old; and Nancy Whiskey with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group.
Thank you Martin for telling me about her, and for sending this link too, where Elizabeth Cotton is with Pete Seeger

Opposite the Blue Cat, Stockport, Christmas 2011

Andrew 'Guitar Weekends' Bailey; self; Martin Stephenson; John Steel; Kate Stephenson; Lou Short.
What a gang!

The Nutcracker at Sadler's Wells

Over the holidays I took Offsprog One and Offsprog Two to see Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker at Sadler's Wells.
Even the venue is perfect for a Christmas break, because it is not too large or posh and the three of us were in various stages of glamitude depending on how frequently or rarely we have a nightlife. Every year we go to the ballet and every year we say 'We must go to the theatre and ballet more often', and every year we don't, so our garb tends to be rather motley.
Last year's production (Cinderella) had recorded music which was a bit disappointing, but there was an orchestra this time (or at least a man with a bald head conducting, which could of course have been pretend).
I have seen Bourne's version of The Nutcracker twice, and the first time I enjoyed the second half best; this time, it was the first half that I liked best: the land of black, white and grey that showed off the dancers' personalities to such good effect. Bourne's company are as light as feathers on their feet and as supple as fresh blades of grass; they fold up, unfold, blow about, and whisk here and there as though they have magic in their veins instead of blood. Their feet land with a whisper and they float past each other as though their bodies weigh precisely nothing, although they must because they have real muscles and look like real people instead of pale spindly (but beautiful) giraffes in the way that classical ballet dancers do. (no spots, of course. Nor horns. Or manes. Not a good comparison at all, really).
They have expressions too: nearly all have big features and they act with their faces and acknowledge the audience, which is something that classical dancers never do, so we were in on the act from the beginning.
I lusted after one of the grey smocks that the girls in the orphanage wore (so stylish!), and I could have leapt up and joined in the dancing at any point; I'm sure I could have managed somehow even though I am a lapsed yoga-ist and dance in a surprisingly elephantine manner for one so formerly slim.
'Our Father', they mimed with big wide mouths as they said their prayers, knelt at the side of their beds. Matron was terrifying and pointy, goose-stepping around the stage in a striped shirt and severe skirt that must have been a nightmare to dance in.
The main male lead looked surprisingly like Will Young, who I believe was at one time Matthew Bourne's partner. Bless! He was a fab dancer, and this being a Bourne ballet we saw a lot of his bare chest. He partnered both Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy with aplomb (ha ha).
The sweeties in the second half were just as good as the last time I saw this ballet, all vibrant colours and nightclub personalities, and when the whole thing was finished I wanted it to begin again because it was so  nice to be somewhere away from the bustle of Christmas, visiting a colourful and energetic version of dreamland for an evening.
It wasn't till I got home and spotted the birthday present the Offsprogs had given me, a big wooden nutcracker in the shape of a very red and pink General with a white fluffy beard and big gnashers that I realised that there hadn't been a nutcracker in the ballet at all. Amazing.

How Weird

I marked almost 30 student papers yesterday, back to back, and I actually enjoyed it.
Now, that is really weird.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Martin Stephenson on Stageit Tonight

Martin's on at 9.30 p.m.
Ally Macleod is on at 8.15

To the Cheese Football

The sweet footfalls
Of Cheese Footballs

Delicate wafers
Textures like paper;
Globes of paste
With a neutral taste;
With an acrid stink.

Oh how I adore
Now I want

Cones, Rain

Just around the corner from Russell Square. Lovely.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


As I unloaded the basket at the supermarket checkout, this rosebud was stuck into the wire at the bottom.
I offered it to the checkout assistant but she declined, so here it is in the kitchen at my house.

What I Have Learned This Christmas

That a prominent female family member tucks cracker jokes into her bra for later.

Bardaid Book Launch: 22nd January in Camden

Sunday the 22nd of January from 7.30pm at The Camden Eye, 2 Kentish Town Rd, Camden NW1 (opposite Camden tube)~
A festival of poetry and music to salute the publication of our new charity anthology. With DEN HEGARTY, PAUL LYALLS, HELEN McCOOKERYBOOK, THE ANTIPOET and more!!
£5 entry includes a copy of the book!
For details 07921764712

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good Luck

Good luck to my friend today who is having a liver transplant. I am thinking of you, crossing my fingers, praying, everything it takes because you so deserve a second chance. Lots of love!
This is an old Helen and the Horns set list from nearly 30 years ago sent by Ian Pritchard. Could still play most of these, i think: like 'one helluvan impro'; was this one of the trumpet players?

The Vehement Temperance Officer

Grrr! There is nothing worse than ME, the person-who-used-to-get-off-her-face-on booze-and-has-now-given-up.
Yes, you see, I can identify a p*ss artist at 100 paces. All the way down the road to Big Bruv's yesterday, the seriously hung over (and still p*ssed) were driving as though they were pedestrians (p*ssed ones at that).
 'Oh, I think I'll cross the road', they would think spontaneously.
Indicators? Those complex pieces of technology that require massive muscular effort to put into operation (let alone hugely taxing brain activity)? Why no! Just make a dash for it, you'll be fine. It's up to the driver behind to take evasive action, innit?
Meanwhile, the driver behind is 'negotiating' Trendy Daddy on his new Christmas bicycle, sure in his heart that he'll never be breathalysed on a velocipede. Santa didn't bring any lights, so he's surviving in the dark on a dynamo. But Trendy Daddy's pedal power is as erratic as his steering and the dynamo flickers intermittently with a sigh of resignation. Suddenly, Trendy Daddy decides to do a U-turn!
In his mind he is skilfully manoeuvring his new piece of kit in front of Gemma Arterton, who is watching him from the opposite pavement, clad only in an Agent Provocateur neglige; alas, in real life he is wobbling precariously in the path of an angry woman an a small but popular German car.
Whoops! Another car has just hopped out, indicating left while pulling out to the right and hopping back into the next parking space down.
Suddenly, a boy-racer undertakes impatiently.
... and another one! They must have just passed their tests before Christmas and now they are celebrating with the boy race to end all boy races, perhaps quite liderally.
The Vehement Temperance Officer tuts crossly. How disappointed she is in the Human Race!
She recently calculated that thus far in her life she has spent around £30,000 drinking, and is happy to be able to add the occasional pair of shoes to her wardrobe these days.
She doesn't get invited to as many parties as she used to although she doesn't mind other people drinking around her, as that would be a mite hypocritical!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011



According to the Guardian birthdays column, Mick Jones (formerly of The Clash) is 70 today.
Wow, he looks good for his age!
(I was looking as it's my birthday tomorrow and I wanted to see who else is a Capricorn. I will be 85, since you ask!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Shippy and Me

It was a bit chilly in Gatesheed on Christmas Eve!

Chairman Ralph's Blog Review/Interview

This is about The Lost Women of Rock

Festive Martin Drinks Coffee in Glasgow

Daintees Gigs at the Cluny

My phone has managed to delete some of the films I made, though I did see the DJ Buddha filming from  the Royal Box; I think Rain worked out but there's not enough room on this computer to download it, and until Offsprog One has finished writing her thesis on the kitchen table I can't get to the other one.
They were two wonderful gigs; at the second one the audience sang almost all the way through and were actually pogoing at one point, something they never did back in the day, according to Martin. People had travelled from all over: Terri and Graham travelled from Surrey for the first night and we did The Airship Song for them. Paul Keveney came from Spain, with his partner Louise. On the second night, Shippy supported with Keith on drums (who drums for Stephenson's Rocketts. Martin sat in with Shippy, sporting a Santa hat. Even though Shippy's glitter antlers fell off halfway through, they turned in a great set.
The band had rehearsed Trouble Town just before the gig, so that was a rare track pulled out of the bag as a treat for the audience. It was another stormin' set; I believe there is a serious tour in the offing for next year, plus of course the release of California Star. The band is more than ready to hit the road!
Now it's Boxing Day and I have eaten so much my body is bending over backwards. Fin says I don't write enough about what the music sounds like when I write about bands; I said that when I wrote about the Green Gartside gig in Dalston my notes (loads of them) looked really pretentious but I will find them and post them when I have got through some of the marking mountain (not today as it's a day off).
Acton Bell: she has a very high, clear voice and she sings with a Bolton accent, which is totally charming. She strums her guitar in a simple way and uses simple chord shapes but her sense of rhythm is solid and there is a knowing irony behind her innocence. People always sing along with her. Because she doesn't decorate the songs or try to be clever (she sings a lot of Searchers songs), there is plenty of space for people to enjoy them in their unadorned form.
The Anti-Poet: this is a duo consisting of Ian on double bass and Paul on poetry. They are comical and sometimes rather rude (there is a poem/song called Tights or Fishnet Stockings, that the audience seems to like a lot). They have a fantastic sense of timing: the double bass is almost like another member of the band, and they are extremely funny when they build up excruciatingly embarrassing situations and hit you between the eyes with a punchline! They both wear skirts, or kilty sorts of things anyway, that are suspiciously leathery-looking. But that's not anything to do with the music is it?
I can't remember who else I have played with recently.

Sometimes I don't write about stuff if there is something I don't like about it; there was one gig where one of the performers was so big-headed I couldn't think of anything nice to say.
Sometimes I have been too darn busy (especially writing new lectures since September) and sometimes I sit down to write about a gig I have been to and write about something entirely different.
Sometimes, nothing has happened. People say that I seem busy, but there are a lot of days when I just wander about from room to room with a cup of tea and smile at my house.
Millions of those days, in fact, so I pump up the exciting days to monstrous proportions. There are also a few thousand days when really horrible things happen (whacking great fines that I can't afford, medical problems and scary things too) but I choose not to dwell on those too much because when I first started blogging I decided that it was going to be a positive blog (or just shut up).
Anyway, that's enough rambling for today: Merry Boxing Day, thank you for reading, thank you for commenting and enjoy those chocolates your Nan/Kids/Partner/Friend gave you!
And keep your fingers crossed that we get Martin's car back on the road tomorrow...

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I'm writing this from a service station at Newport Pagnell and I thought I'd ruminate about the current incarnation of the Daintees. They have got better and better over the past few months with a steady personnel, and they are consolidating into a really punchy band; they have developed that psychic ability to guess what each other is going to do, and they are making each other get even better, which I don't think I've ever seen a band do before.
The first night at the Cluny is normally reasonably full, but this time around it was packed out with a listening audience. This was great for me because I did a set to begin with and I felt that they gave me a good listen! Next up was Paul Handyside (who used to be on Hurrah!) who did a country-inspired set which showed off his deep and powerful voice to great effect; he was accompanied by a lap steel player and the blend of lap steel and acoustic guitar was a great sound....
(continued tomorrow: home now... 12 hours back from Newcastle yesterday: makes you appreciate four walls, a roof and a big bar of chocolate!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Stormin' Daintees gigs at the Cluny- packed out both nights- made some little films.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Southwark Cathedral

Back home from Southwark Cathedral Carol Concert (no prayers so suitable for the atheists that stuff British Churches these days trying to get their kids into Church schools).
What a choir! They sing with proper voices, not mismsy-pimsy chorister voices, perfectly in tune and they are so well rehearsed! Their belting singing style adds a lot of energy to the music and makes it really dynamic; they have a lot of John Rutter's compositions in their repertoire and he's an ace tunesmith.
It was sold out but me and my Champagne Friend lurked in the cafe (there's quite a scene in that caff!) until it had started and then managed to get the last two returns.
Unlike a normal carol service, we were an audience and we clapped, although we also sang (O Come All Ye Faithful and The First Nowell to start off with) and stared at the innards of the Cathedral, which is like being inside and enormous and elegant sandstone whale, as we did so.
It was worth the twelve quid for the peace and the beauty and definitely worth getting tickets for next year.
Afterwards we walked to London Bridge Station through the towers of mammon, being built as high and shiny as they can go, just to show Southwark Cathedral how important money is. And they are building at night, by spotlight, to heighten the clanging drama of it all, with lots of men in hard hats and orange jackets looking Urgent and Important.
What would Chaucer have thought?
Twenty years ago in my naive cheek I phoned the Cathedral to ask them if I could use it to stage the big-band version of The Nun's Preeste's Tale that I had written. Ho ho! I still have it somewhere in a home-made folder, arranged for about 20 instruments (according to a jazz person I 'ran it by', it works).
As a greedy child, McMum used to scold that my eyes were bigger than my stomach; I think the same could have been said for my youthful aspirations.

Newcastle Gigs

Just getting ready to head for Newcastle tomorrow: the fab Cluny gigs, with the Daintees who are on top form at the moment. Have to do the housework. In an hour, perhaps.
Meanwhile, something to think about for January, The Premises Songwriting course with a masterclass by Chris Difford from Squeeze, and Paulette Henry to give industry advice; I will be the main tutor.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Poet's Tale

I was showing the cover of Suburban Pastoral to Biff Smith (of the excellent band the Starlets, who supported The Daintees in Glasgow), when a poet came up and heard my story about the chewing-gum painter, Ben Wilson, whom I had commissioned to paint the little lawnmower picture on a blob of squashed chewing gum on the pavement.
He told us that as a boy in Glasgow, he and his friend used to pick the dried chewing gum off the pavement and by gnashing it with a lot of little chews on their back teeth, they could revive whatever minty flavour was left. If one of them had something to do, the other would store his gum under his upper lip for him to keep it soft, meanwhile carrying on his own chewing activity in the main mouth.
Apparently once his friend, while storing his gum for him in this way, had been offered the rare treat of a handful of peanuts by a pal round the corner, which he scoffed in delight.
So when he handed the chewing gum back, it was studded with tiny fragments of chewed up peanut.

Car Radio Clock Says Time For Gig

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Punk and Beyond

Whizzed down to the last day of this today: Charlie Harper was due to play this avo. The exhibition was curated by Gaye Black (aka Gaye Advert from the Adverts) and featured some really good stuff- I particularly liked Gaye's collages, the photographs by Ray Stephenson and Ian Dickson, Penny Rimbaud's painting and Eve Libertine's etchings.
Photo shows one of Gaye's artworks.

Newport Pagnell in a Nutshell

I wish I knew Elton John's private number: I'd get him to bung ten grand or so towards The Watershed Cafe to fix their heating, pay some wages to the guys and give them a bit of a cushion to help them through the recession!
The cafe is positively Narnia-esque, hiding at the end of an eau-de-nil painted arcade in Newport Pagnell and demonstrating an enlightened attitude to both bands and audiences. In the summer, Acton Bell, the Anti Poet and myself played to an audience of fairly p*ssed teenagers, who absorbed the whole lot with bemused awe and then came up and talked to us all about it afterwards: quizzing the Anti Poet about their lyrics, Acton Bell about her cover versions and me about my guitar playing.
This time around, festooned in scarves, a bunch of people who had left the age of fifty behind a few years ago sat in the cold (broken heating system and not enough money to fix it) singing along to Herman's Hermits with wistful gusto, and soon warmed the atmosphere with their good will.
Wilky and Foolish Girl were both there, and so was Jim From Work (old work) who now works at the Open University and posts a lot of pictures of geese on his Facebook page. Indeed, we indulged in a riff about feeding the squirrels (of which there are also plenty, he assures me) to the geese and fattening them up for Christmas.
Andy, the genial and almost regal cafe proprietor who was presiding over a mega-plate of mince pies, told me that Attila the Stockbroker had reduced his audience there to tears with his poem about dementia, and he had gone to the local care home to deliver it to the relatives of dementia patients as a result.
Acton Bell, as Andy observed, has gained in confidence a lot since our last gig and she played three of her own songs this time, all of which held up well in her set of covers. Piece de resistance was Mull of Kintyre, which was fine without the bagpipes marching across the sand.
We did wonder if they auto-appeared when Sir Paul was on holiday about the place, say in Majorca trying to have a discreet sunbathe with the proles. Could be a mite embarrassing.
My fingers were too chilly to play Christmas Queen, although I thought through it privately in my head for the occasion. But I put in a full set anyway, debuting Mr and Mrs Songsmith, and joined for Heaven Avenue, Loverman and Freight Train by Ian and Paul (the Anti Poet) on double bass and washboard respectively. Their manager wasn't there (get well soon, Donna!) so they did a poem I haven't heard before which described some of the poets they sometimes put on at the Rrrants events. The chorus was 'What the f*ck, what the f*ck, what the f*ck, What the f*ck was that?'.
Actually reader, I laughed out loud as I am convinced I myself have watched these poets at their events, and recognised them quite clearly.
'Did they leave the verse out about me?', I wondered paranoidly. Bit naughty of them, but bit funny, too.
So it was goodbye to Wilky, Foolish Girl and Jim from Work; we will be back in six months and my New Year wish is for the council to start subsidising The Watershed, a little gem of imagination and anarchy in the cosy Home Counties.
Pic: the Anti Poet

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pool Table, Woodend Tennis and Bowling Club

On The Road

Railroad, that is. Glasgow is grey and chilly, but last nights gig was colourfual and warm, and there is the Watershed gig to report on...
However, I'll spare you the iPhone typos for today.
If you are anywhere mead the Haberdashery cafe in Squatters Bottom (Crouch End, of course), there are s whole bunch of us playing 3 songs each, in aid of a local charity. My slot is 9.30, but the music starts at 7.30

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Overheard on Bus: Teenage Boy With Loud Voice

'Hey, is Armania a fashion brand or a country?'.

Christmas Tree

Was just deciding that this year it's not worth getting one (kids left home).
So I have just walked home carrying a five-foot fattie, heavy as hell and prickly as a teasel, getting weaker by the second and resting it on walls and my knees.
A woman in a car that passed me had a jolly smile when she saw my festive burden.
Then for some reason I had a surge of strength and was ready to josh with the pole-sorting scaffolder who was suffering from the cold, just as I got to the doorstep.

Kate Nash's Rock'n'Roll Club For Girls
From Collapseboard, a lively online journal/blog/conversation run by Everett True, creator of the now resting PlanBmag and once editor of the Melody Maker.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Catmas!


What a crappy day! Drenched floor and feet when bringing in emptied recycling boxes (design criteria include 'lid must not fit'). Could not access University of West account for urgent emails, and printer refusing to print (says it has no ink but it has) so can't print out assessments from the University of the Middle (one of which crashes the Word program, anyway). Decided to drive to Docklands, on M25 to avoid traffic jams. Huge traffic jam on M25. Computer there would neither access Hotmail nor Webmail. Waste of time. Drove home straight away. Another huge traffic jam on M25. Bought cheat's Biriyani in supermarket despite vow never to eat food cooked in that way. Do not possess strength to pierce film lid.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Watershed on Wednesday

If you're coming to the Watershed Cafe in Newport Pagnell on Wednesday (can you come Foolish Girl?) feel free to learn the backing vocals to the Christmas Queen. It's there on the player }}}}}}}}}}}}}}}
Then I will have to sing it. I can never remember the words but I am trying to, right now.
Acton Bell and the Naked Poet will be there too and it is going to be just as much fun as the last time we all played there!
It is a brilliant place worth coming to for the vintage video games alone.

Friday Night in Dalston

I was a bit late. I had driven part of the way with no headlights, and I had been wondering why there were so many invisible people crossing the road in the dark; and then I discovered that I'd run out of screen wash and I spent seven quid on a tiny bottle of diluted stuff, a thimbleful, just-in-case.

The Queen Victoria in Dalston was heaving; in the front part, elderly Nigerian men played pool while scruffians of a certain age nimbly sidestepped them in a thirst-driven pilgrimage to the bar.
I had missed Alex (the first act) but got there in time for Robyn Hitchcock, who was utterly unlike what I had imagined him to be. Perhaps because he is called Robyn, (a rural moniker if ever there was one) I had pictured him as a whiny folk artist and was preparing patience to tolerate his set with, when he burst into a batch of acoustic psychedelic songs sandwiched between quips: 'This is what the Beatles would have sounded like if they were us', and 'If you could weight trips, this would be a heavy one'. He was also wearing a pop stars' shirt and had a slightly off-beat hairstyle. He was decidedly unpolished and surprisingly entertaining, almost a one-man Yardbirds. Green and Rhodri joined him on stage for his final song, Tarantula. 
There was no dressing room, and the hall itself was magically scruffy. Above the heads of the audience, last year's mistletoe hung, dried to a crisp. Several burst pink balloons dripped forlornly from the ceiling, taped on with criss-crosses of sellotape that were giving up the ghost, presumably dissolving after months of sweat-evaporation from the audience below. There were mysterious black criss-crosses of gaffa tape and drifts of yellow post-it notes on the walls. The performers mingled with the audience and after a few minutes Green took to the stage along with his band and to a rousing cheer, kicked the set off with The Sweetest Girl, a short but sweet version, which proved to be the order of the evening (hooray! I like short pop songs!). At the end, 150 people gave the cheer of a 2000-strong football crowd, and the evening carried on in much the same way. Green was also in the mood for chatting. He told us that his manager had sent The Sweetest Girl to two of the acts he most admired, Gregory Isaacs and Kraftwerk. They heard back from Isaacs' 'people' to say that he liked the song and might do it, but nothing form Kraftwerk. Years later, he met them and asked them if they had received the song he'd sent them.
'Yursss', they had said, 'But we hate reggae'.
This was the night of the good-natured raconteur and happy atmosphere; paper plates of mince pies were circulated, and pass-the-parcel happened somewhere in the depths of the crowd.
When you hear all Green's songs together you realise what a track record he has; and such a strong identity, sometimes answering back to Soft Cell, circling around Spirit in the Sky, or deconstructing The Beach Boys (often, it sounds as though Green has fished out the best harmony and allows us to just imagine the others around it).
My favourite of the night was Brushed with Oil, Dusted with Powder, which is a sublime song that was performed beautifully.
Towards the end they played a song inspired by the Raincoats (it's called Overcoats). I was so excited that I texted Gina, but by the time I'd done that, it was too late to phone and record it on to her voicemail, which  of course is what I should have done. What a techno-fumble!
At the back of the crowd I found Jay Derrick from Brighton band The Parrots. We shared their drummer, Russ, who of course sadly died a few years ago. Jay speculated about what a brilliant drummer Russell would have been for this music; he was a tight and crisp reggae drummer, a mass of sticks and skinny arms and legs. As Green told us that the band were about to play a song that  isn't finished yet, Jay told me that he's been to the first ever Scritti Politti gig at which they played three songs, all  not finished yet. Ah, consistency, the under-rated accomplishment!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A New Sort of Christmas Stuffing: Animals in Barnet

A Night at Le Beat Route

We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith (not to be confused with the novel of the same name by Catherine Bruton) is a book celebrating in photographs the youth culture that most people would know by the Blitz Kids. On Thursday, a mass of people congregated at Le Beat Route to listen to DJs such as Jay Strongman spin the sounds of the scene and launch the book.
As punk was petering out in London, New Romanticism was beginning. The whole idea of individual style and empowerment through looking unique and different carried on and young people (particularly from the industrial parts of Wales and the UK) dressed up and partied to their hearts' content to celebrate their defiance of the 1980s recession.
The most famous club was probably the Blitz; I went once but couldn't get into the 'standing and looking at each other' vibe; it was a fashion-based scene and I wasn't keen on a lot of the music that was played (too much mushy Eno).
However, Le Beat Route was a different kettle of fish altogether.
It was run by a guy called Ollie and my friend Stephen Mahoney, who was a bit of an angel to me in those times. I was between bands (The Chefs and Helen and the Horns) and Stephen and his then partner Richard Ostell, who was a fashion designer, used to cook food for me, buy my drawings and generally have a laugh.
Every Friday Stephen used to let me and my pals (Treacle, Charlotte, Ruth and Claire) into the club free. We came down early, all with big black hair in a cloud of hairspray and glowing red lipstick, and partied like mad until the early hours. Other people posed for photographs and looked splendid; we ferried drinks from the bar, danced and laughed in the background, heading home at 3 a.m. on the Kilburn night bus that stopped off at the all-night Kentucky Fried Chicken and dropped everybody off at the end of their street!
Jay used to run a 1940s-1950s-style stall in Kensington market called Rock-a-Cha with immaculately tailored trousers and jackets, and was also the lead singer in a band called the El Trains (they had a female drummer called Max whose long and lustrous red hair was a legend in itself).
The El Trains were one of the bands that The Chefs' guitarist, Carl, used to transport around in our van.
The club was full of people wandering round in a daze, remembering the past and greeting each other enthusiastically. Lots were dressed up (Boy George was there in a fetching outsize green hat) and others were just there for the vibe. I talked to a woman who had worked behind the bar back in the day, and to a chap who was just about to do The Knowledge (that's the London Cabbie's exam).
The details about the book are here:
I've still got the membership card somewhere.

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Also, I had an email from Zack Furness, who has been editing a US book called Punkademics which features contributions from academics who used to be punks. I had been working huge amounts of unpaid overtime when his call for chapters went out and I ended up submitting a cartoon story, which is going to be published. It's La Lectrice Gourmande, and actually I am happier to have submitted that than anything else!
It is available for pre-order here:
Zack also sent this link to a very interesting documentary
Over and out!

An Awful(ly) Strange Day

Three hours in a traffic jam to do a journey that normally takes an hour... the North Circular was paralysed by a fire and we crawled along watching the day disappearing before our eyes.
A quick call to the Security Guards at the University of the East got a note pinned to my door, and I arrived in time for... nothing.
Apart from a Bulgarian TV documentary maker and his charming camera woman, who came to do an interview about British pop music. We sat nestled amongst the floor toms and cymbals in the recording studio, talking about the Trio Bulgarka, Adele and Laura Marling, and of course Transglobal Underground who did that work with Bulgarian choirs in the 1990s. The high wind had blown my hair into an eccentric version of itself, stress has turned me into a ten-years-older version of my former self, and I dried up at a crucial moment, but it was intriguing (especially to see that they still do what McDad called 'the noddies', filming the interviewer nodding sagely, to be intercut with the interview footage later).
They say they will send me a copy, which will all be translated into Bulgarian, in January.

Cracker Joke Without the Cracker

What did the grumpy snake say to its pals in the festive season?
'Crappy Hissmas'.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Chinese Britpop

Returned from work with the kind gift of a Chinese Britpop CD.
Apparently there is much debate about the name in China!

5 Hours

I got so absorbed in writing today's lecture that I sat there for five hours yesterday. Now my body is moulded into a 'sitting down' shape, as unbendable as Barbie's poor 'high heel' feet, and not even a bath could melt me.
I shall deliver the lecture poker-straight but not poker-faced!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Songwriting Couse in January: from The Premises Studio

We’ve just received confirmation of a great new Masterclass tutor for our next Songwriting and Recording Workshop, double Ivor Novello Award winner and founder member of Squeeze, Chris Difford.  Famous for his storytelling, kitchen sink style lyrics he has co-written classics such as Cool for Cats, Up the Junction and Labelled with Love and we’re delighted to welcome him onto our course. We’ll also be bringing in the Vice Chair of the PRS, Paulette Long, for a special session on “Making Money from your Song” – an important part of any songwriter’s knowledge.
The dates for the 5 day course are January 13th – 17th 2012. As well as the masterclass sessions with Chris Difford and Paulette Long the course will be made up of 3 days of intensive tuition with Helen Reddington, one of the most experienced songwriting tutors in the UK today. Over the following 2 days you will have individual recording slots in Studio A with a top session band where you will record a track you’ve written during the course.
The cost is just £395 including the recording sessions. Places are limited to 16 and we expect this to sell out fast
To book contact:

Blog Prevarication

Two hours into writing a lecture about Music Scenes for tomorrow. The coffee is cooling (and so am I- it's bloody freezing in here).
As always, I am finding out fascinating stuff- the Liverpool Poets brought out a book of poetry called The Mersey Beat in 1967 and it seems that they were just as prominent as the Beatles for a while.
I also love an academic book called The Hidden Musicians by Ruth Finnegan which describes amateur music-making in Milton Keynes. This is particularly interesting since McSis and her husband (who plays sax in Helen and the Horns) have joined an amateur orchestra near where they live in Surrey.
There is so much music being made in the UK. It must be good for our collective soul, surely? Maybe Michael Eavis should look to the amateurs next Glastonbury and give them a bit of a plug. I know he has been grumbling about the lack of developing good guitar bands to headline. Amateur need not mean crap; a couple of years ago I did some gigs with an amazing cello player called Natasha who played with the Kensington Philharmonic, which is an orchestra of professional-level classical musicians.
It's not all the Portsmouth Sinfonia (although they must be secretly good, because Steve Beresford told me that he played with them).
My coffee's actually cold now. Back to work.

Monday, December 05, 2011

BT Infinity -- Olympics

BT Infinity -- Olympics
That's Jamie from The Irrepressibles singing! Congratulations guys!

Old Helen and the Horns Photo From Years Ago


I'm reading about the electronic dance music scene in Philadelphia. Interesting, especially as the author describes euphoric and spiritual sensations when listening to the music that are absolutely beyond my comprehension. It's not even a Generation X thing, because she is a fair bit older than the scene herself. One writer's meat is another writer's poison, I believe.
Rave Culture: the alteration and decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene by Tammy L. Anderson (Temple University Press, 2009)

Book News and CD News

The paperback book The Lost Women of Rock Music and the CD Records and Tea: the best of The Chefs will both be out in February/March next year.

Herb Alpert

At a birthday party last week I was chatting to Steve Beresford about my trumpet. He suggested that I should take lessons and he is right. I will, as a New Year's rez.
I am also going to learn Spanish and /or Japanese as they are offering lessons free at one of the places that I work. Spanish would be most sensible but I love the idea of learning the meaning of different symbols to the Western cultural ones- Arabic, Greek, Chinese, Japanese. I flew an email into the ether to let fate decide!
Where was I...
Oh yes! here was  DJ there called Toby Woby who was playing Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain by Richard Harris (vinyl album signed by the songwriter Jimmy Webb). He had lots of old LPs including one by Herb Alpert, which reminded me of McDads small collection of pop LPs at home, really just consisting of Melanie's album (can't remember what it was called but it had candles on it) and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Sour and sweet, you could probably say.
McDad loved Herb's tootlings and would do silly dances round the table in his slippers, tidying up as he went, and (I confess with embarrassment) my love of trumpets and all things brass may well hark back to this time. In fact I could probably transcribe some of those arrangements from memory!
I also loved his extra-slushy song This Guy's In Love With You, which I imagined (at the tender age of ten) to hold all the secrets of grown-up love and romance in its crackly grooves.
Imagine how disappointed I was when my manager Claudine tried to sign Helen and the Horns to Herb's label, A&M, in the 1980s!
What did they say?
'We've got a female artist already'.
(Joan Armatrading)


Weekend of chocolate cake and songs. Just about perfect.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Edinburgh Punk and The Tube

I was talking to a very interesting woman last night who is writing a book about the Edinburgh punk scene.
She had been in a band and I asked her if it was the Von Trapp Family- that was Muriel Gray's band, and I had tried to find Muriel as I would have loved to talk to her about it all.
However, it never came to pass. Muriel screen tested for The Tube on the same day as I did. Actually, so did the guy called Nick who later had a hit record with a song called Northern Town or something (which I assume was about Newcastle although he was from darn sarf) and a girl called (I think) Michelle. You had to interview Jools Holland as part of the screen test.
They all got jobs on The Tube and I didn't, which could have led to an extreme case of paranoia but I only needed to watch one episode of Michelle walking backwards holding a microphone interviewing someone to realise that I wouldn't have had the guts to do it!
The producers were rather naughty, as I'm sure many are. They had 'brainstorming sessions' in various cities around the UK, which we were told were arranged so they could meet young people who could possibly act as presenters for the series. They then proceeded to nick everyone's ideas for the entire first series. There was a young woman at the London session who was a regular attendee at air guitar competitions at Camden Palace (now Koko). So there was a  feature on that. My contribution was to tell them about Jammin', a fanzine run by Tony Fletcher. I suggested that they should do a feature on the fanzine and also interview him. So there was a feature on that. And so on, and so on.
However, it was a damned good programme and always had ace music on it (including The Daintees). It seemed that they were capable of airing bands that hadn't been plugged to death and who sounded fresh and authentic, and it was also live which gave it a frisson of excitement, especially one week when Jools Holland swore.
Must say I prefer a bit of good honest swearing rather than a clapped out tw*t trying to publicise his latest book in time for Christmas by 'being controversial' on live TV at a time of industrial unrest.
He doesn't even deserve a name, I'm afraid.

Some Very Beautiful Nature Photographs


I have been working with my Songpal this afternoon; I showed her how to use Garageband to record and guitar and vocal track. All computer programmes can be difficult, but Garageband can also be easy and I hope I showed her this.
I have worked out the mysterious chords to a song that she had recorded a while ago; because I'm not 100% sure what they are called but I know what shapes they are, she photographed my hand on the fretboard so that she can copy them.
Music-making is weird; it is often dominated by people who have names for sounds and shapes and rhythms. The thing is, it existed before these systems of naming did, and it is possible to write a lot of it while bypassing the labels.
Songpal's first song to send was recorded as a Voice Memo and texted to me. That worked fine for us, and didn't involve any leads, wires, manuals or stress. It feels a bit like slipping under the radar, and it's definitely quick!


A pile of ten library books to bring home, slithering around in their plastic covers.
I have a bag of emergency carrier bags under my desk.
I hoist them out, only to find that I am excavating shreds of stinky plastic with the remains of supermarket logos barely visible on the rotting fragments.
I suppose it's good that they do what it says on the packet.