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.