Monday, December 31, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Newcastle Cluny Gig Review

Dick Whittington at the Hackney Empire

It had to be a trip to the panto this year so I looked at the reviews... The Thetare Royal Stratford was cheaper but all booked up so off we went to Hackney. From the start, the omens were good. I have honestly never been part of such a mixed audience in a theatre before; all ages, all nationalities, big family groups, solo flyers, the lot. The atmosphere was wonderful and there was a welcome lack of pompous 'been there, done that' types.
Our first character was a mildly annoying Hindu fairy who looked so fabulous that she was instantly forgiven; from then on we were introduced to the various characters:  a proper thigh-slapping Dick, a tumbling cat, a totally camp and gigantic dame complete with regular outrageous costume change, Idle Jack who fell asleep and had to be woken up by a lot of yelling by the audience, a wise-cracking Alderman who specialised in sub-cracker-joke humour, a fiendish King Rat whom we booed loudly, and a beautiful leading lady who was a tomboy adventurer. The action didn't falter for a second; one minute you were groaning at a terrible joke and the next you were standing up singing a really corny song about paws and claws.
There were proper musicians in the orchestra pit, and touchingly the backstage crew were invited on to the stage at the end to be applauded along with the rest of them.
Completely cathartic! This panto could not have been better: the singing was faultless; people my age guffawed at some (ruder) parts, and the children in the audience gurgled with glee at other parts. The gorilla was scary enough to give the lot of us a fright when it turned up close to the end. We celebrated the birthdays of tinies and also a 73-year old grandmother.
For the first time in my life I felt like a Londoner, sitting in the middle of such diversity with my loved ones, watching an English institution that has managed to adapt itself so readily to cultural differences while still keeping a completely traditional atmosphere.
If you've never been to a pantomime before, this is the place to start. Forget about the glitzy star-vehicles. Choose Hackney or Stratford and you are guaranteed a jolly good night out!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Peotry: The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Abridged

I am Lord of the Snords
I am King of the Pings
Watch out for them goblins
In Lord of the Rings

There once was a Hobbit
With pointy pink ears
That's the end of the story
So goodnight my dears

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lord of the Rings

How many thousand times have I watched it? I still don't know what on middle earth is going on. Every time I look up another famous chap is standing in a cave with stringy hair, spouting nonsense and thinking 'That's another five grand in the bank, then'.
We're on to the fiftieth animated monster who gets limbs cut off with a clashing sword. Bring back The Killing. It's got some females in it. Just because Frodo's pretty, that doesn't count!
That's the Christmas rant over with. You can get back to your selection box now. Save the Lion Bar for me, please.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cowboy Shirts

Well it was cowboy shirts at the Newcasle gigs- we raided Flip and outdid each other.
Which was the best Cluny night? The second one, just like last year; the audience was huge and very good natured. The psychotic man who interrupted the Friday gig wasn't there on the Saturday one, although a milder shouty man occupied the same place. Mir did a great couple of gigs. Chris Mordy came up to play bass on 24 Hours which I played on the first night but not the second. the second night was new song night for me.
The Daintees played really well both nights with Martin giving more than his all.
Great gig guys!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Brudenell Social Club

Amazing venue! Sound engineer has fantastic ears, the Meekats were top notch and the Daintees played a stonker as always. Roll on the Cluny tonight, Mir's on her way. Who cares about the rain?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Well, it's been busy; on Sunday I went to se Mike and Em in Briton. They have brought out a new listings mag called Brixton Buzz ( which is a snazzy little item with a great layout and a good independent vibe. Being handed out at a tube station near you every month, Brixtonites!
On Monday was the Under the Influence Christmas do; Lester Square came down from St Albans to be in the choir for Christmas Queen and he was joined by Nat and assorted audience members and I think we still managed to be rousing.
The Anti Poet put in a grand set, and so did Miranda Quammie, whose CD I will be reviewing in the New Year. The whole lot was topped off by a rousing singalong set by Nat's band, The Reverse.
Always worth going along to!

Last night I was given tickets to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at Cecil Sharp House. I took Martin along as I was tour-managing him for the night. The room was decorated beautifully and I really enjoyed the set especially when Martin Carthy was singing songs by Marina Russell. I'm not used to listening to such pure folk music and sometimes find it difficult on the ear as recordings, but this was a great performance with two musicians so in tune with each other that they played as one and it was a real pleasure to see and hear. Thanks to the Musicians Benevolent Fund for the tickets and for their support for musicians in need!

Then we went to Radio Two for Martin's interview with Janice Long. He gave her a lot of music from the Highlands to play- Dave Fleming, Andy Gunn and Jill Hepburn tracks. So much good music from the Barbaraville label: Eliza P got a mention, and Mir Davey Cowan and Ally McLeod were cued up to play but there wasn't time.

It was a lovely interview- Janis Long is a sweetheart and a long time Martin Stephenson fan.
Leeds tomorrow- see you there!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Under the Influence Christmas Show at the Boogaloo Tonight

 £3.00 to get in, The AntiPoet, me, Nat the Hammer, lots of great acts in a great venue.
I'll have copies of Voxpop Puella with me.
I'm off to interview a very interesting person for my next bit of research.
Stuff about Mike and Em's party later...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Southwark Cathedral Crisis Carol Service

Every year my Champagne Friend and myself go to a carol service. This one was hidden, rather; it wasn't on the Southwark Cathedral website but I had seen an ad on a tube train and I got us a couple of tickets.
It was a wonderful combination of the Secular, the the Spiritual and the Christian; there were some painfully moving accounts from people that had been helped by the charity and some lovely singing from the choir (and congregation). One story was funny: a woman described being given a free Christmas tree as a child, the last one on the stall, and dragging the massive thing home on a piece of string with her sister. They'd taken all their not-much-money to get one to try to cheer up their mum after their dad left home because he'd gambled away all their money. As the tree became wedged in the stairwell of their block of flats, their mum was furious. But eventually she borrowed  a saw and after what seemed like an age managed to saw off enough of the tree to get it into their flat, where the sisters made decorations for it. And mum was happy. The Crisis Skylight Choir, which featured a solo cameo from each singer, were so touchingly brilliant that the congregation broke protocol and gave them a huge round of applause. Perhaps the most grave speech was from the man who has been volunteering for 30 years after going along because he needed help himself after  a terrible family upset (he didn't tell us what it was). Voice cracking with the combination of a sore throat and passionately-felt emotion, he ended his talk with the words: 'This is ordinary people, helping ordinary people'.
He described working at the food counter last Christmas alongside a Jamaican brickie and a Dutch investment banker, all working together to make sure that single homeless people felt loved and cared for when it is so cold and bleak outside.
The youngest volunteers, two children, marched down the aisle with Christmas puddings with sparklers poked into the top that went out as soon as they were lit, which in itself was a rather symbolic moment.
The Merbecke Choir ('retired' child choristers) and the London Philharmonia Orchestra injected energy into the carols- the descants whammed into the final verses of the carols in a congregation-versus-choir competition that was oddly uplifting.
Somehow, this morning all the money-and-party thing doesn't seem to matter very much. I came away moved to the core by the kindness of the Crisis volunteers, and horrified by the face that in the last five years homelessness has increased by 43% in London. And we are still one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in spite of the recession.
Winter is vicious on the streets. I am putting their link here in the hope that if any of the people that read this blog can afford it (and only if) some of you might be willing to donate to them today:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Tree

I've just bought a Christmas tree, I just couldn't resist it. It had to be skinny to fit in the little house.
'Is it heavy?', I asked the man.
'Use a shopping trolley', he suggested.
So I clanked home, snagging the knitted white Christmas tree shroud on every single privet hedge all the way home.
I am conscientious, so I had to take the trolley back to the supermarket. I lobbed the tree into the house, and the trolley took off across the road as soon as it lost its load, clanging and bouncing and ending up on its side in the middle of the road that was, thankfully, empty.
It's got the lights on it now and I'll decorate it tomorrow. It smells perfect.

V & A

The Victoria and Albert Museum is a fantastic place to meet a friend or take the kids of whatever age. I met Caroline and we went to look, supposedly, at Prints. However, the print room was closed and we wafted through Silverware into Tapestries and sat basking in the glow of Henry IIX's gorgeous Dutch-woven wallhangings with their depictions of recognisable wildflowers (drifts of cowslips and thistles) and storyboard-like vignettes. In one of them a pond full of swans was attacking some poor serfs; a gnashing beak was attached to a pasty arm and a little fellow's mouth was agape in agony. Another swan had tipped over a small boat and was about to start tucking into a terrified fellow, with gusto. Romances, scandals, hunts; pheasants, ferrety things, dogs in little jackets; it was all there in perfect faded glory, probably more aesthetically beautiful and impressive for the aged dulling of the original rich colours. Inspired, we went to look at the Raphael room and the tapestry in reverse of a painting that faced it on the opposite wall.
The museum is full of exciting moments and just before we left we came across this Cornelia Parker sculpture, made of squashed brass instruments. We went for Green Tea Cake and Jasmine Tea and talked politics and scandal to finish off our restorative day: roll on the next one in January!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


When you're inundated with so many critical comments that you find you can't defend yourself...
you could try agreeing.

Barbaraville Compilation

This is a brilliant compilation of lots of stuff from Martin's label (including a new skiffle demo Sugar Hill by yours truly plus the instrumental from The Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses, Beachwalk). One of Martin's best instrumentals is on there too, General Custer, plus The Streets of San Sebastian by The Daintees and Martin's new solo track, Ride.
There's a song by Eliza P, a song by Mir, a song by Jill Hepburn and a song by Ali MacLeod- Go Girls!
You can buy the whole lot or just one or two tracks. The proceeds go towards recording more music.
I also tried to upload this to Blogger yesterday but she wasn't keen, moody creature. It's the song Temptation played by Helen and the Horns.
Finally the song Christmas Queen is a free download on Reverbnation

Monday, December 10, 2012

Filled Baguettes

Five colleagues and myself have been grading student presentations today. Almost unconsciously, we graded our filled baguettes in our snatched lunch break according to the criteria we had set for the assessments.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Buckinghamshire Kestrel

Ahh... housework... listening to Martha and the Vandellas Come and Get These Memories.
You see, I went out and got shopping number one, popped it into the house and went off for shopping number two; when I got to the Oxfam shop to buy Christmas cards I realised that I'd locked my keys in the house.
I phoned Offsprog One in Brighton and set off to the tube station, trying to buy a ticket by phone. I'd put the shopping in the boot of the car to keep cool till I got back.
But at the tube station: had I locked the car?
Urgggh! Two years ago I left the car unlocked when I had a similar key crisis and had the Satnav and my vintage iPod stolen.
So I went back up the hill, and decided to drive to Brighton instead. It was a  beautiful wintry day and in the only slow bit of traffic somewhere around Heathrow, a small kestrel hovered above us looking for mice on the roofs of our cars.

The Offsprogs had arranged to meet for tea anyway so the three of us sat down for a late breakfast and key-exchange before I drove back through a still-beautiful day.
The kestrel was still there, floating about on the thermals that rose from the traffic and living in hope, incongruously etched against the navy blue afternoon sky.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Rrrants at the Camden Eye

It was a great night out at the Camden Eye: the Rrrants events are always interesting. I can take or leave the smut (leave it, preferably, as I had it all and more drilled into my head over seven years of touring with guys both in my bands and with King Kurt) but I absolutely adored Lobby Ludd's set which made me guffaw like a penguin choking on an Arctic Roll, especially when his fabulous musical instrument made of shop dummy's arms, a trumpet, a microphone stand and a shower hose emitted a pathetic squeak when he tried to play it. The smut, I have to say, is extremely popular with the punters, but I suspect that they haven't had the same level of immersion as I have! The Anti-Poet were well on form, Jennie Joy sang beautifully and the banjo player was excellent. This was a charity gig and the Horns agreed to do it to put poetry books into school libraries, so here we are (photographed by Martin) deciding on a set list. Martin filmed some of the songs on his iPhone and I'll put them on Youtube when he sends them to me.
Last up was the Sentimentals, who featured what can only be described as a 'show-off' between Paul Eccentric and Den Hegarty from The Darts, all wrapped up in some truly lush doo-wop harmonies that were frankly terrifying in their accuracy and precision. My favourite song was 'Two Heads' but they did some catchy numbers and were promoting their Christmas single which I'll have a listen to when I have decided whether my dinner (in the oven) is so past its sell by date that it is poisonous, or not.
Den is a consummate showman, but Paul challenged him for the crown last night, not least by holding the whole evening together with his master of ceremising. I was so glad that I stayed to see them because they were really entertaining and exceptionally well rehearsed, showing just what a good double bass player Ian is. Thanks to the Horns for some brilliant playing, and to Donna and Ian for inviting us to play.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Helen and the Horns at The Camden Eye

Ah yes... Sunday night at the Camden Eye, another rare outing for the Horns, in aid of Bardaid, an organisation that puts poetry books into secondary schools. Expect sets from The Antipoet and the great Den Hegarty, once of The Darts.
Lots of stuff to see so get there early (especially if you want a seat) and we are on at about 9.20

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beautiful Morning

I set off at seven for work- far too early but at the same time not far too early, because it was such a beautiful, beautiful morning: clear skies, frost in the air, silence and navy-blue tranquility.
Gradually as I made my  journey, the world revved up. A solitary man in a cream mackintosh with his shoulders hunched against the cold made a tributary to the stream of people that flowed into the tube station. We were tailored and woolly, formal and informal, different bags denoting different occupations. Some coats were black and stern, others cuddly and domestic; everyone stared straight ahead as if to bore a destination through the chill by glaring through its challenge.
The magic ended as we took our seats on the tube train and the reality of the working day broke the dream.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Little England

While I've been collecting up jpegs of some illustrations to put up a new artwork site I found this video of Little England that Martin made at the Musicker Cafe in Rothesay in 2010. Rothesay is a wonderful quirky music-loving island (birthplace of Lena Zavaroni I believe) and the Musicker Cafe is a  welcoming little cafe a stone's throw from the seafront.

One Missing

... but I did find this cardboard sculpture joke that I made on Foundation at Sunderland Art College.

Beck and Buck

Beck has just issued an album in sheet music form with brilliant illustrations, so that people can interpret his songs in their own way. How lovely! It's so un-X Factorish and even though I can't read music I will be getting a copy.
A while ago I started doing something like that (with a song called Baked Alaska that I performed with The Gluts at a gig they did at Cafe Oto, and with Sing a Song of Sunderland for the Sunderland Book Project exhibition). I am pretty certain that there are lots of mistakes in my dots and it kind of worked illustration first, music second: but it's still pictures and music; mood, rather than instructions for the consumer's imagination like pop videos or whatever.

I also did a whole series of illustrations for Martin's Buck Easly project, one for each song. I wonder if I can find the scans of them...
Hooray for Beck, swimming against the tide with different arms!
Martin got the music for Heaven Avenue written out by a professional transcriber in the Highlands a while ago; I am going to find it and make it a beautiful cover and sell it at my gigs :)
There are more than this: I will find them

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

Darwen Tomorrow

I'm really looking forward tomorrow's gig in Darwen, supporting The Daintees. I get to play and I get to see a brilliant band at the same time. Perfect.
I keep noticing Darwen on TV- Heston Blumenthal was there making a giant chocolate biscuit last time I looked. I wonder whether any of tomorrow's audience will have taken a bite of Heston's biscuit (fnurr, fnurr!).
Work caught fire yesterday, and the early birds (dammit, I'd gone in at seven to catch up on some admin) huddled outside a cafe in another building until the fire alarm went off there too (someone burned the toast I think), and we migrated again to a third cafe before being told we had to reschedule everything. So that's a million tutorials booked in for next Thursday; I shall have to take in my gigantic sheepskin unislipper and a flask of hot chocolate.
When you do a day like that you end up with a slightly rabid look about you: dramatically popping eyes, hair awry, lips permanently drawn back from dry teeth, the product of too many smiles. If I didn't love my students so much I would cluster them into easy flocks and dispatch them with easy homilies, or even just email them some General Thoughts.
Sorry, I got distracted: I was talking about Darwen..
My guitar is resting on the settee waiting to be played. I think I will play at least one new song tomorrow; I've been recording skiffle and jazz and even a track which Gina has asked me to do some stuff on, which I've had to break out of my usual neat and tidy boundaries to do (good for me!).
Sometimes I wonder if I'm obsessed by music; there always seems to be something different around the corner and the same artist can make a recording that you really love, and then one that you really can't stand. You can listen to the same song over and over again in a hundred different ways; and there's a that odd thing that happens where a song can be really magic for weeks then suddenly lose its power over you. Why does that happen?


Walked into someone's burp-air on the tube the other day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I recorded the song Feathers and put it on Youtube this afternoon.
It is called feathers because Offsprog One used to be afraid of feathers when she was about two. If you did anything she didn't like she used to run up to you and shout 'Feathers, feathers!' to try to scare you.
It is an anti-bullying song.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday. Pear Pie.

In the maelstrom of work I have found an oasis of peace. A scented candle burns and I am living with the drifts of paper that call out to my deaf ears to be attended to. The emails are not causing stress today although the content is not markedly different from that of other days. A cold-call from PFI scammers as failed to anger me.
For it is Tuesday, and I herby christen it 'Calm Down Tuesday'.
Girl group music has accompanied me this morning and I have decided next year to invite my students to join me for disco breakfasts before class starts: the pop equivalent of school assembly, perhaps. It is so easy to forget that this is all about creativity and not about bending young people's arms behind their backs and bullying them out of future earnings. I am determined to be a good and inspiring lecturer regardless of Government's attempt to trample higher education under the feet of a herd of stampeding elephants with clipboards.
Jonathan Downes (aka Gonzo) has very kindly interviewed me over three bog postings, about Club Artyfartle, mainly. Part three is here
Now where was I? I don't remember. Thank God for that.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wake-Up Call

What a funny morning. I was reading the Guardian and was moved to tears by the young weightlifter, Zoe Smith, describing her relationship with her grandmother and saying that 'If I grow up to be anything like her, I'll be happy'.
This is exactly how I felt about my grandmother, who kept her principles no matter how life buffeted her and no matter how many tides she had to swim against.
I love you Gran, even though you're not a physical presence in my life any more.

Over the last week I have started writing skiffle songs, starting by walking down the road to the postal depot, singing what I saw: poplar trees, magpies, mud.
So I finished the song about magpies and should have been recording it today, but next door have decided, after being silent for three years, to start whacking a sledgehammer against our adjoining wall and I'm not sure I'll get it done.
I also wrote a song about bullies (the second in three months: telling, huh?) which I was also planning to record today, as well as doing some vocals/lyrics on one of Gina's tracks.
Life is noisy- last Monday it was the fireworks (who's that at the door? I kept thinking as the banging interrupted my vocals in the headphones).
The central heating also has a part to play, wheezing, groaning and cracking alarmingly; what a drama queen it is!
I hope they stop thumping soon. I want to go to see a band tonight and I finished the humungous pile of marking last night to make sure that I can.

Anyway, a lyric about Martin suddenly came into my head as I woke, an idea which I have put away for later to make a song with. This made me think about Piedmont Blues fingerpicking, because Martin is the best fingerpicker I've ever seen or heard, and I listened to The Carolina Chocolate Drops for breakfast; soon I was dancing round the kitchen. And I was delighted to get a tweet from someone who has been listening to my music this morning, to say that it has cheered her up. Happy music is a good Saturday breakfast!

Lastly, I have just walked down to the postal depot again; very kindly, Martin has sent me an M-Audio box which will really help as part of my tabletop studio; he did a gig with Mir last night in Inverness and apparently that went very well. Next weekend he has a gig in Glossop with Eliza P supporting, then a gig in Darwen with the Daintees which I will be travelling to play at.

Not even 11.30 on a Saturday morning. Sometimes I  curse the inner alarm that wakes me up at 6.00 a.m. (work time) every day of the week, but sometimes it's a blessing!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Sarah Wallis, my sister in law, has a really interesting blog at ; she does all sorts of creative projects and she is just about to sell some of her dolls at a craft fair. My favourite of Sarah's dolls was the donkey character Bottom, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, who wore a natty houndstooth-check tweed jacket not a million miles away from the type of jacket that McDad used to wear! For more of Sarah's stuff go to:
Then while walking through Marylebone with Gina yesterday we passed a street market that sold all sorts of things- jewellery, clothing, bags, and we came across a stall that sold dolls and we were rather taken by this one: the Pussy Riot doll! (from
I have a nagging feeling that the dolls are plotting to overthrow humans and take out places at some time in the not too distant future...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Viv Albertine at Rough Trade East

There was a crackling buzz at Rough Trade East on Monday night: dressed predominantly in black and grey (yes, even me), we gravitated to the back of the shop where the stage was set up with gleaming microphones and an array of interesting equipment (no, please don't fnurr fnurr at this point!).
Almost bang on seven, Viv took to the stage with her musicians and launched into the first song of the evening, the get-real song I don't believe in love which has developed into a powerful and memorable track. The group were well-rehearsed: a violinist/vocalist called Millie (Viv chose her for her fantastic hat: a good choice, since she's a fantastic player too), a synth player called Andrew Robertson who not only invented a syncher for Ableton Live ( but has also been in a film called The Cement Garden, and a cahon player called Ollie.
Next up was a song called It's Love (I texted Martin to tell him this as at the first Club Artyfartle there was a variety of love and non-love songs played by the assembled company and this caused a degree of mirth) which was a new one.
In Vitro followed, with a stark introduction from Viv about its origins in heroin and hormone injections at different points of her life. The words of the song are complex and sinister as in many of her songs; the dark poetry of her lyrics set her apart as a songsmith, and the good thing about the band was the fact that their arrangements didn't crowd out the aural space- there was still space to hear everything: the lovely layered backing vocals in places, the hard sound of her guitar and Viv's tough-talking, tough-singing vocals.
In spite of the almost aggressive delivery there was still something girl-groupish about the sound- the way girl-groups would have been if they were made of tomboys, perhaps; but Viv in appearance is a million miles from a tomboy, for l
ast night she wore the sparkliest dress I have seen for a long time and... those amazing legs! God, why didn't you give me legs like that?
I Should Have Known was another corker, somehow conjuring up both early Bowie and the Kinks with the guitar's lonely reverb, before building to a Velvets- style heavy thrashy ending. 'It's like New York in here',  commented a friend, partly about the style of the shop (definite East-end urban gritty) but I thought, 'The sound too'.
For I Want More Viv declared that she wanted a horrible guitar sound; it was truly horrible, in the best way. The song sounded punky, with techno shadows grumbling underneath it. Ollie pulled a rhythm from the cahon that reminded me of the original Daniel Miller version of Warm Leatherette, and the song ended with squeals of feedback that would have made Hendrix wince. Viv sounded a trillion times more mean than Madonna and could teach her a thing or two about dramatizing womanhood. In fact I believe she did, when Madonna used to secretly attend Slits concerts in New York in the late 1970s and stand in the front row: not something she's known to mention in interviews, eh?
Another song with a wry and sarcastic lyrical approach was Confessions of a Milf. why does this song remind me of a perverse Heidi? Is it the clucking, that sounds like a cuckoo clock? 

It's a threatening song. I closed my eyes to listen... in my mind a Babycham deer skipped across a rubbish dump strewn with broken bottles and folded, tattered carpets, a happy ending twisted and skewed and discarded as reality exploded its myths.

At the end of the show a hippy leaned forward and casually helped himself to the set list.

This was a brilliant set, short and punchy; I found it cathartic because I find it so hard to express anger. What a relief to see such feistiness and defiance, and to hear it expressed in rock music by a skilful female performer at the top of her game when many men performers are nursing their habits and regretting their pasts. 
Rock on Viv and here's to the next gig!

Another Pic from The Borderline

Photo by Veronique DuBois

Helen and the Horns on the Same Bill as Den Hegarty Shock

One of The Antipoet's exciting and varied evenings: arrive by 7,30 if you want a seat (Horns on at roughly 9.30 I think); there are lots of really good acts on at this event.

Lucy O'Brien's She-Bop, Third Edition

Lucy O'Brien's fabulous book, She-Bop, has just come out in a third and revised edition. This is an essential and comprehensive book and it's the first place I go to for information about female pop and rock artists from The Blues right up to the present day.
Lucy's writing style is readable and truthful: she's not a star-worshipper but she gives credit where it is due. She has a natural rapport with the women she speaks to, not only because she's a woman, but also because she is a musician and has been in bands. That makes a massive difference in the way people speak to you in interviews.
If you haven't got a copy, go out and get one straight away whether you're a straightforward music fan of either/any gender, a nerdy fact-gatherer or a woman in need of affirmation that the creative talent pool is swimming with inspiring people of whatever gender humanity throws at us, which includes a massive contribution from women musicians!
Jawbone Press: try to buy from an alternative to Amazon if possible due to their tax-avoidance scam.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Friday at the Borderline...

... was a great night: Mir was fab, the Horns were on form, Martin was hilarious and the Daintees were as tight as a cows *rse in a sandstorm!
Chilling out due to exhaustion and writing lectures, powerpoints and research narratives before Homelands and popcorn with Martin.
Horns soundcheck pic by the ace-bass player Lou Short form The Daintees.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

House Music

I remember when I first heard House Music. I was working at Better Badges (in Bethnal Green, I think, but it was definitely Joly who played it so it might have been at the Portobello Road premises).
Joly had an old cassette player and he'd taped Kiss Radio (the New York version, not the London one, though even that was quite cool back in the day).
I was knocked out by what appeared to be dub mixes of new soul tunes: amazing!
Daruyl Pandy's Love Can't Turn Around is thundering through my head as I write.
Such clarity of production, such clever arrangements, such good songs. Happy birthday Joly!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Desperate Measure for Wedging Light Switch On with Pink Bird Cracker Toy


Fired up by all things technical, I set up Logic and start recording my new song.
Would have to be fireworks night, wouldn't it?

That's Enough D.I.Y. For One D.A.Y.

The drill has been put away in its hutch, the screws have been rounded up by the screwdog and they are safely back in their pen.
There is now a curtain rail over the back door, with a curtain hanging from it that looks amazingly Proper.
I have worked out that most DIY jobs take ten days at least, over a two month period; six days to think and worry about whether you'll be able to do it, two days of not having the correct materials, and two days to work yourself up to bother/get the drill out and overcome drill-fear/imagine what it will look like when it's finished.
The actual job takes ten minutes, or thirty if you're out-of-condition and need a cup of tea in between screwing in the screws.
The house is warmer, and will be warmer still after I've implemented phases two and three: the draught-proof strip that will have to hold out the wind even though the back door is bent like a Rolf Harris wobble-board frozen halfway through Sun Arise (In The Morning), and the curtain rail over the front door, with its added complexity of the curtain having no curtain tape.
I deeply dislike sewing, and there is bound to be a delay during which I wonder whether my budget will be able to stretch to a curtain with built-in tape. This will probably take at least a month, so the whole rigmarole will start again in the middle of December.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Didn't fancy the Boy Scouts Fireworks in Finchley, didn't fancy the Southgate extravaganza, so its an indoor impression with no visuals. Wheee-snap, wheee-crackle, wheee-pop, with the central heating wheezing away in the background.
Today I got fined £65 for stopping in a box junction on my way back from Club Artyfartle last Sunday. But I am undaunted. It remains a brilliant afternoon, in spite of the fun-tax demand!
So I sat for the third weekend working on the miniscule research budget and got it just right... then pressed a key on the computer, deleted the lot and had to start again. It's going off on Wednesday and that will be an end to it!
It's been a bit of a nothing day, but sometimes you need a day like that to unwind with a guitar or two, a cup of tea and a slice of pear and almond tart. I have been playing the Martin and the Telecaster; it's the UEL Songlab at 93 Feet East on Wednesday, then I'm playing some songs before The Daintees come on at the Hertford Corn Exchange on Thursday and then of course it's the Borderline gig on Friday, with Mir, Helen and the Horns and the Daintees.
Busy week: I'll be getting some kip in in advance!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Next Friday

They are dusting off their horns as we speak, for next Friday Helen and the Horns will be supporting Martin Stephenson and the Daintees at the Borderline (with Mir as well)
We sound like this:
I don't think anyone else sounds like us.


After eleven hours sleep last night, I am still knackered. Lecturing pulls effort out of every last cell in your body. Thank God for fantastic students across the board who are a delight to teach.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Radical DIY at The Arts Catalyst

Hold on to your hats- this is a long posting!
The Arts Catalyst mixes artists and scientists up in a pot to see what emerges, and they arrange talks to involve the public in the results. After years of prevarication, I girded up my loins and headed down Clerkenwell Road to sit with a crowd of very well-turned-out techno nerds and artists in an atmosphere of bonhomie.
Please excuse the slightly 'note-form' style of this posting- it's taken ages to write it up and I've got some assessments to mark. It was also written on Text Edit which has a charming tendency to get creative with the vocabulary and substitute rhyming words for the ones you meant to use. Science/art- appropriate I suppose! This is who we listened to:

Alistair McClymont: Inspired by the urban myth that you could watch the film of The Wizard of Oz and synchronise it perfectly with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Alistair became interested in the tornado, his favourite part of the film, and decided to make his own DIY one.
His tornado is minimal and industrial-chic with a fan at either side and one at the top, scaffolding to hold it up and a humidifier puffing damp air out at the base of it, all presented in a darkened room with stark white lighting to illuminate the wispy transience of the column of air. 
To look at, it nods in the direction of The Mutoid Waste Company, although he was describing the aesthetics of the sense of touch: the air in the whole room is obviously moving but it is only when you approach the tornado itself that you feel the pull of the vortex. It took two years to 'tune' the column of air to behave like a tornado; he liked the idea of starting in control and then allowing the tornado to have a life of its own.
The piece of work I preferred was the suspended raindrop, captured so that you can look at it close-up.
Through the droplet the world is upside down, with an occasional tiny rainbow . Rain drops are not raindrop shaped, they are curved at the top and flattened at the bottom; there was a lovely close-up photograph of the droplet. Alistair made a machine to blow upwards and hold the droplet still, with a metal plate above it to hold the stream of air in exactly the right place to counteract gravity; each one lasts half an hour then starts to evaporate, rises and flies away as it gets really small. A gallery assistant with a syringe replaces the droplet when this happens, introducing a performative element to the piece. The contrast between the deliberately ugly blowing machine, with industrial filler seeping out of its sections, and the tiny, gleaming raindrop was perfect.
Alistair is an example of an artists who makes things himself a voyage of discovery rather than getting other people to do it for him; as he says, 'you learn about something by doing it'
He wants to take it to the seaside!
The other thing that was engaging about his talk was the description of the faux-poetic names of air fresheners, like 'After the Rain'. He told us that he made a pile of tarmac heated by infra-red heaters that made the smell of a road after the rain when water was added because as a cyclist, this is what is personally evoked by the title of the air freshener. Ha ha!

The next artist, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, was more of a designer and had hand-made a DIY particle accelerator to accelerate electrons, which are lighter than protons and easier to accelerate. 
He bought a Vacuum pump to create 45,000 volts and in the first version of his collider, he showed us the plasma created by electrons colliding with air left in the glass after most of the air had been pumped out. This was a sleek-looking glass tube that looked like a scientific instrument.
He advised DIY science artists to 'get help when you need it'; he was helped by a physicist from Cambridge.
Patrick developed this further into a hand crafted particle accelerator with hand blown glass vacuum chambers shaped like suspended test tubes and light bulbs to tap into science's aesthetic potential; they were told that they couldn't hang things from the ceiling so he made table top versions.
The glass vessels were made by visiting a craftsman glass-blower in Harlow and he learned how to blow the glass himself, which he said gave him a strong connection to the pieces as well as an insight into the craft itself: there is no 'thinking time' in glass blowing; you have to plan it all in advance
The components he used (apart from the blown glass) were all off-the-shelf; a two stage rotary pump to chuck out a stream of air although the  physicists he consulted recommended a diffusion pump which rips the air out in a different way. The air is pulled out to allow the electron particles shot from an electron gun to accelerate without bumping into other things (like air particles). The electrons then crash into a phosphorous coating at the end of the glass globes and make it glow.
Electron gun is the source of particles. 
He equates himself to gentlemen scientists in their garden sheds during the enlightenment; I was more reminded of my brother and myself pottering about with our chemistry sets as young teenagers, coating pins with copper and (in Bruv's case) cooking up explosions that resulted in second-degree burns. You could buy all the chemicals by mail order or by going to the chemists in Prudhoe where they had little drawers full of white powder that they would sell you in paper wrappers.
Patrick's finished pieces were exhibited in Milan's version of Harrods, where passing customers gazed on in amazement from their forest of shopping bags.

Next up was Song Hojun,from South Korea, wearing a banner saying 'Science is Fantasy'. 
He told us about Russia creating the 'mother of all bombs', which the USA responded to by creating 'the father of all bombs'. So Hojun created 'The Strongest Weapon in the World', a weapon of mass happiness that spouts out happy messages and which will cease to exist if there is a nuclear explosion next to it.
He showed us a metal sculpture which you hit really hard with a construction hammer (wearing a construction hat) that shouts 'I love you' if you hit it hard enough (really, really hard)
He made some radioactive jewellery to allow potential suicides to taste death before doing it, with a cutter to remove the jewellery if they change their minds. To do this he ordered uranium off the Internet and advertised the jewellery for $900,000,000 on eBay (he showed us his ad on a slide). 'Why so expensive?' asked a potential buyer. 'That's what your life is worth', was the reply.
Hojun was humorous and demonstrated a different way of being an artist-scientist: he is an enabler with a strong sense of global community and of the effect his artworks might have on other people. As he told us about his DIY satellite, he took out a Primark bag and extracted a mock-up of his little satellite to pass round the room. the satellite has to piggy-back on a bigger satellite on its way into space, and Hojun has booked a slot on a rocket next April. He showed us pictures of Russian and French scientists in white coats: as the satellite was ejected from its adaptor dock (this reminded me of watching piglets being born in Denmark), and the French scientist caught it in both hands. The antennae have to be wrapped around the satellite and ping out when the restraints melt in the heat.
At the Paris air show to sign the contract, about 100 media people had been invited so Hojun hired a cameraman to film the occasion. No one turned up apart from the cameraman but he still made his speech, and there was a shot of the guy-in-a-suit who had supplied the contract smiling smugly beside him.
So, permission: that was very important and took six years. Hojun has his certificate which he got by registering with the Korean Government. Finance: 100,000 dollars to put it into space: Hojun was selling t-shirts to finance his project (of course I bought one: every penny scraped from my bag wasn't enough but he let me off a couple of quid).
The satellite itself is in San Jose in an exhibition but he showed us what was going to happen when it's up: you hold hands with your friends, press a countdown button and upon a signal from Earth a light in the satellite sends out a morse code message that you have reserved in advance. The satellite will only last a year (possibly up to six) after its launch in Kazakhstan after which it will within 30 years return to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.
Hojun says that artists don't have requirements like scientists do, and so they can learn more from science than scientists. I loved his approach, which was utterly without boundaries. He made it plain that we should all be launching our own satellites through the Open Source Satellite Initiative. As he says: 'creation is belief', and he left us with the appeal, 'Where's my satellite?' and it was passed back to him by the curious audience.


Last up were the Owl Project, who again had a humorous approach to their work. I have seen them before, I think, at one of Diana Mavroleon's parties in her woodland in Cromer, where they sat at night in a boy-scout style tent playing amplified pieces of wood, illuminated by footlights made of small logs embedded into the grass in a semicircle with a tea-light on each. Every insect in the universe flooded to the patch of light under the trees and weevils and earwigs rained softly down on us as we watched and listened.
They showed us log-type computer with hinged lids and the iLog, a hand-held synthesiser with its technology packed into a hollowed out log and activated by pulsing lights. 'They're quite hard to use', they stated, with happy smiles. Each instrument has a single action, and they told us that they couldn't possibly justify manufacturing them commercially as they take a day to make. Instead, they do workshops where people make their own, with, for instance, sensors down the side for a flute-player to activate the sounds. Good on them! Like Hojun, their sharing is a transfer of power to the audience.
Some of their iLogs are solar powered, charging up by day so that they make sounds to party with at night. They delighted in their nerdiness (as did Alistair); it's funny to see the partying tendencies of self-confessed nerds and I do wonder sometimes if I partied myself out before the age of thirty. 
I have my own nerdy mini-synth at home (Shut UP! shouts Offsprog Two as I create farts and bleeps) but I don't want to go to any parties with it, definitely. It's a fireside activity, for me.
They displayed a sound lathe, which gave them the aesthetic problem that carving a beautiful object sometimes resulted in an ugly sound and vice versa.
On the River Tyne they have installed a wooden water mill that uses the energy and relative saltiness of the water to create sounds that are broadcast through huge wooden horns, one of which is two meters across. They built the horns themselves, creating computer programs to help with the angling of the wooden slats to maximise the volume so that a 9 volt battery will last for two weeks ; one of the speaker cones was curved using steam but this was a slow process and was abandoned. 
As they said, instead of milling flour, they mill data (salination readings are taken every hour and used to alter the synth sounds), and physically, they are re-envisioning obsolete technologies.
I did like the most Geordie of the blokes who had worked on the construction with them. 
'I thought it'd never work', he prophesied glumly and perhaps with a tinge of disappointment. I laughed: I know that type!

What a brilliant evening. Lovely to sit next to Emerald (who has designed so many beautiful CD covers for my songs) and of course to see Nicky Triscott again after probably fifteen years. Nicky is the driving force behind the Arts Catalyst and I must say, this was the most absorbing and exciting event that I have been to for yonks.
Not counting Club Artyfartle, of course!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Club Artyfartle

I'm emerging from a fog of a grant application which has taken the bulk of two weekends plus the whole of this morning so far; I'm dodging a rain of emails from work about work.
I've had a short laugh-break (you don't need to read much of Giles Smith's Lost in Music before you get to that point: this morning, it was the description of him force-folding his fingers round the neck of the guitar as he struggled to play it).
I have a review copy of Lucy O'Brien's She-Bop to read (I had a delve last night and I'm already hooked) and review here later this week.
Let's think back to Sunday....

Cold, wasn't it? I was prepared for nobody to turn up except us, the performers, which would have been fine as it's the sort of do that's interesting to watch as a performer as well as audience. We couldn't get the paper tablecloth to stick to the flock wallpaper (it was the makeshift projection screen and it kept pretending to stick and then silently floating down as soon as we turned our backs).
I had a rug from home and I set up the chairs for us on that, and Guy Forks and the tip jar.
Acton Bell mentioned doing a runner as she was so nervous (we all were) and at one point I thought she really had when she momentarily disappeared. The floor was sticky and the vibe was definitely rock'n'roll, but the quiet sort, for a Sunday afternoon.
 Joan set up the projector on a long chain of extension leads, rather like a funky giant's necklace and definitely not correct from a Health and Safety point of view, but quite spectacular in its own right.
My brothers appeared, and so did my Champagne Friend and her partner; and so did lots of other unexpected people, giving the lie to the fact that Facebook Events are a good idea. As far as I could see (and as observed astutely by Joan), the act of pressing the button to say 'yes' was satisfying in itself and meant that you didn't need to come. They were there in spirit, I know!
It was emails that did it: there was Katy, who is a friend of both Joan and myself, and members of the Gymslips, Dolly Mixture, Strawberry Switchblade and Ut, as well as a clutch of artists and much-loved pals.
So I took the trumpet downstairs, gave it a creaky blast or two and we did a procession up the winding stairs. Lucy sat at one end, I sat at the other ( two old ladies in glasses, I believe the observation was!), with Acton Bell and Paul in the middle.
Fear strangled my voice for the first song and we all had a collection of shaking fingers, fluffs and missed lyrics the first time round; but then I think we got into our stride and one after another we played our new stuff: Amy's wry and perceptive lyrics (enhanced by the fact that she worries so much in case she is too bitchy), Paul's romantic crooning and Lucie's bright and melodic pop.
There was time to talk about our lyrics and the audience was silent and listening: you could hear a pin drop.
Twice round, and we had a break to say hello to our friends and each other's friends; people went downstairs to refresh their glasses, I kicked over my glass of coke and re-stickified my patch of floor.
Then I took the trumpet down and played a fresh fanfare (fartfare?) and off we went again.
Joan's talk was mesmerising; her solargraphs are made through the pinhole of a beer can attached to a lamp-post, over a six month period. The audience was rapt and gazed at the beautiful rich blue solargraph images striped with the softly blurred white tracks of the sun passing overhead, punctuated by photographs of the tins strapped to trees, buildings and the like. And there was the friendly builder in his high-vis jacket who had allowed them access to a next-door public building that was being revamped!
It was fascinating... and very, very arty.
Then it was time for our bit: we started from Lucie's end this time, and she soon had everyone's feet tapping and smiles on everyone's faces. Paul gave us a song he'd only just completed that morning (it was lovely). Acton Bell had intended to play a bit of Mozart on her electronic keyboard but her sheet music had vanished (I think it had done a runner) so she sang a song instead and she sounded brilliant. I played a song that I'd only finished the day before (Change the DJ) in which I tried out 'the Hendrix Chord'. By now, we were rolling and we went once round again; I finished with Women of the World in support of UK Feminista.
The tip jar clinked; I rolled up the carpet and tried to put my guitar away in the wrong case. The guys from The Hangover Lounge who invited Club Artyfartle were delighted with the turnout (so was I!). Big up to them for giving us the opportunity to do it.
Thanks for coming everyone- you were a really amazing audience and it was lovely to see so many people that I haven't seen for such a long time. And thanks to Joan, Lucie, Acton Bell and Magnetic Paul for jumping on the magic carpet and making it all a success!

Karen from the Gymslips is now playing in a gypsy music big-band- more details later...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Confirmed: Guy Forks Will be At Club Artyfartle

Sunday at The Lexington's Hangover Lounge

Don't forget!All new songs from Lucinda Sieger, Acton Bell, Magnetic Paul and me, plus Professor Joan Ashworth's marvellous solargraph photography demonstration. 2.30 p.m.
Bring your sketchbook: you can sketch, or if not, pose for posterity!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Books... Oops! Politics!

There is now a free book 'shop' in High Barnet, where you can donate books and also take up to three without paying. It has erratic opening hours and it's at the corner of The Spires on the High Street. I took these today and will probably return the Le Carre when I've finished with it and keep the others. We took our old computer there to be recycled: they are putting the adage 'waste not, want not', to practical purpose; and it's a treasure trove! Lost in Music by Giles Smith is hilarious and made me laugh out loud when I read it, so I gave my original copy away to make someone else laugh out loud. I am glad I saw this, as I feel like laughing again. Meanwhile, the Friern Barnet library needs your support. It has been closed by horrible Barnet Council and re-opened by a conglomerate of squatters who are not yer usual run-of-the-mill squatters (if such people exist). They are re-stocking the library and I plan to take my duplicate academic books down there soon; they are also doing lots of stuff for kids. The basis for all this is that libraries are places where children can go to read and do their homework in peace, retired people can congregate in the warm and read the newspapers, and everyone is free to browse, use computers and generally become an informed community, if not a learned one.
Having written huge parts of my phD/book in the local library because of its peaceful atmosphere, and knowing that both the Offsprogs went there to do their homework with their pals, I can safely say that I have been a library user for many years. If you would sign the petition, that would be a big vote of confidence in the need for public libraries in the UK (and everywhere, for that matter)
I have also been plundering the charity shops for books. I reckon £100 spent on 50 books from charity shops is worth much more than £100-odd spent on a Kindle. I'm not just being a Luddite, although I do love paper (whether scruffy cacky second hand book paper or brand new smooth shiny paperback paper scented with ink). The books go back and are re-sold, making money for the charity many times over.
Where does this leave bookshops?  Still great, still useful and yes, I buy new books too and really enjoy the environment of browsing in newness, often with coffee and always with an informed assistant to talk to about the books.
Long live reading in all its many forms.

Shouts also to the UK Feminista march today and Helen Pankhurst, with their lobby of Parliament.
I was hoping to go but simply have too much preparation to do for the lectures I'm doing this week. You go, girls!

Whitstable in the Fog

Tube Mouse

I marched down the fluorescent-lit Underground corridor alongside the rest of the commuters. There were distant screams.
The others in my bloc of people broke ahead, more keen to see daylight than me; alone, I walked over a bridge that was illuminated by a ghoulish yellow light.
In the seam between the walls and the floor, a tiny, rotund and filthy black mouse bobbled along rapidly , its tail whisking behind it as it sought the safety of the dirty track and the electrified line that afforded it protection from the terrifying humans who shrieked and flapped at such a height.