Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Roll On 2014- Happy New Year!


Wow- I have just spent part of the morning in the loft with Offsprog One, editing her boxes and adding some of Offsprog Two's.
As well as finding my original clamshell Mac, I found a box of CDs that contained all sorts of weird stuff including a French version of Footsteps at my Door which I forgot we'd even done. Too late for the album, alas, but I must take a listen.
I also found a Skat live at ULU (the University of London Union) cassette (that's where I got my guitar'n'mother-of-pearl bootlace tie nicked: if I play the tape, will it re-materialise?), plus two original demos on cassette that we used to send out to promoters and so on. I also think I might have found the Edith Sitwell poem that I rapped for Alannah Currie's project many years ago. I doubt very much that I still have the Debbie Harry tape she sent me to show me what she was doing. That would involve a lot of listening to unlabelled tapes.
The loft is tidier but it still needs some work. I have brought down an old cream-coloured plastic phone to put on eBay, and a pair of Levis that appeared on stage with me at more than a hundred gigs; alas, I was a beanpole in those days but they are being washed as we speak.
There's a strange old guitar up there that I bought at a charity shop. It smells peculiar, which is why it doesn't live downstairs with me and the other guitar-fellas. Something to do with the varnish, I think.
Well, that's the end of the loft story for now- to be revisited in about a week's time, for excavation mark two.

Monday, December 30, 2013


Between them, the Offsprogs have attended school, college and University and collected assorted friends along the way, many of whom have lain rolled up in blankets and duvets in lines on the living room floor, or crushed themselves into human mountains on the beds upstairs. The size of the residence has not deterred them; young people can layer and fold themselves into any sized accommodation, I have found.
This factor is the reason for the fifteen-and-counting (OK, so I'm exaggerating, but not much) toothbrushes sprouting colourfully from the tooth mugs in the bathroom.
I had had enough so I asked the girls to weed out each toothbrush that belonged to them, and I'd throw the rest away- or put them under the sink for scrubbing the grouting when it got grubby.
I looked for my brand new toothbrush this morning, and alas, I found it face down in the bathroom bin.
'Sorreee', said an Offsprog. 'I thought it was an extra one so I threw it away.'
I was aghast. This does not fit in with my penny-pinching scheme!
So it's been in the dishwasher. I do hope the antibacterial properties of the dishwasher tablets do as they promise and destroy all nasty germs; it looks clean enough and it may taste of Finish for a day or so: but. My gnashers will be gleaming like porcelain, and although it's life may have been shortened slightly, I've saved a bob or two by not having to replace it.
Should I write and tell Viz?

Lets Go Fly A Kite

Oh.. Sorry... Just watching Mary Poppins for the millionth time! I got a kite for Christmas from the Offsprogs and I can't wait to go fly it, preferably on the beach in Brighton... Or on the common in Barnet perhaps.
Mary Poppins... I mean Maria Von Trapp... I mean Julie Andrews...  is a really good actor, actually. She totally believes in the parts that she plays, whether or not you actually like her and them.
What a lazy Christmas and New Year combo this is proving to be! I have actually done some work today after getting up stupidly early; then the girls' first child-minder came round with her family and it was lovely to see her again. She has become a Maths lecturer and she is doing really well with that, and her family have become British citizens (they came from Hungary). It is not the easiest thing in the world to integrate into British society; in one horrendous episode her husband was arrested for no reason at all along with a whole lot of other men, and imprisoned without explanation. Yes, here in the cosy United Kingdom. He was released the next day, but this is a hostile country in many ways, not least for those of  our own citizens who can not sustain themselves financially, usually through no fault of their own.
I can't stop thinking about this, I'm sorry. The problems of our very poorest people are swept under the carpet all the time and this winter is so dreadful. I am trying to convince the girls that the world will become a better place in 2014. I do hope so, so very much.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Navarone Again

Yet another Alistair Maclean film... I can't believe that I used to avidly read every book and then go to see these at the cinema when I was knee high to a grasshopper!
Today is the last day of no-emails. The big girls computer with its top-heavy workload gets switched on tomorrow, early in the morning, and the brain will grind back into action.
It was my birthday yesterday and the girls cooked me a roast dinner. Apart from that I did practically nothing at all, apart from saying goodbye to Martin as he headed back to the Ross-shire routine.
It's been a busy time; first the Helen and the Horns gig and all the rushing about to do with that; then The Daintees in Leeds and Newcastle; then family doings.
The Newcastle gigs with The Daintees were touching. The band is on top form at the moment, having   spent a week recording most of a new album at The Premises a few weeks ago. But the move from the Cluny One with it's side bar of rabbiting boozers and its dressing room with a sofa with a huge hole in its seat (you always forget and sit down heavily, only to end up with your Harris in Australia), to the more intimate Cluny Two, was a good one. Cluny Two is a blacked out room with tiered seats to one side, a seated balcony and crucially, no bar in the room. The sound guy is amazing (the Cluny One sound guy is good too, but you can see this one from the stage!), the sound is amazing and people still manage to haul themselves up the stairs to the bar, but they don't talk while the bands are playing. Fin the percussionist was playing with the band, and Martin was on top form with the wit and wisdom of a Geordie expat who can remember every street in Washington and every club in Newcatle, especially the dives. It was fantastic to hear the band playing so tightly yet so fluidly; you can hear the bits in each song that each member likes playing best; nobody overplays and they are disciplined to a whisker: if a song unexpectedly ends, they are on it immediately.
The album California Star is doing steadily well. Lets hope 2014 is the year of The Daintees! There is a tour coming up in the spring....

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Swan Lake at Sadlers Wells

During the festive season you need something to do that will keep assorted people happy. Glumly, I realised that the Hackney Empire panto last year had only made me happy and had been gruelling for the assembled crew.
This year, we went to Matthew Bourne's most famous ballet at Sadlers Wells. We had been at a daytime party and everyone was yawning on the tube on the way there, but the great thing about Bourne's shows is that they are so entertaining. You just sit there and prepare to be gobsmacked.
I had, of course, read all about this version of Swan Lake with its male swans, but I wasn't prepared for all the other storytelling. In fact, I completely lost the plot halfway through and had to have it explained afterwards (because 'Odile' wasn't dressed in black feathers), but still enjoyed it even more than last year's Sleeping Beauty. Our seats were high up and we could see into the orchestra pit (what a brilliant harp player!), and we could also see the shapes of the dancers, although we missed the facial expressions. There was a lot of deliberately audible breathing which was a really effective dramatic device especially since Bourne's dancers are so fleet of foot and silent most of the time. The lighting was fabulous especially in the story-within-a-story section where gorgeously attired butterflies with little intricately shaped head dresses which were thrown into relief against their backdrop. The obvious joke in that section was the Nokia ringtone that punctuated the storylet, much to the Queen's fury; another less obvious (perhaps) was the woodman in white ballet tights who wielded a giant chopper (fnurr fnurr).
The lighting was also really well done in the prison cell section, where the prince's shadow could reach up to the high window, but he couldn't, and the Queen entered the door normal size but turned into a monstrous giant as she strode to the front of the stage.
Shadows also augmented the flock of swans; we'd watched a documentary about wildlife earlier in the day and it was notable how carefully Bourne had translated the movements of real birds into choreography without going Disney. The power and beauty was there without any anthropomorphic silliness. When the Prince and the Odile-man duetted, they mimicked movements just as the loved-up flamingoes in the African documentary had.
The troupe dancing of the swans was lovely. Obviously I am not a gay man and I didn't find these dancers' bodies erotic at all, but they combined athleticism with grace and fluidity, and it was enthralling to watch them.
The production was full of little memorable details- the white-gloved hands in one part that made a dance of their own; the sleazy nightclub (I must have been in the same ones as Matthew Bourne in the early 1980s). The pacing was perfect, the orchestra tight and the whole thing was a delight from start to finish.
Back next year: I wonder what they'll be dancing next time?

There was another highlight of the season: the Sex Pistols in Huddersfield, playing to children of striking firemen. What a touching film! Johnny Rotten shared the mike with assorted children, and even Sid Vicious managed a lopsided smile. Punk never ceases to amaze me; it was so much supposed to be one thing, but was so much actually another. The Sex Pistols were good clean fun, in a lot of ways. They were truthful and Rotten outgrew McLaren's cynicism very quickly. They were also relatively unexploitative and unsexist which is probably why so many women liked them (yes, we did).
It was nice to see Johna, who wrote to me a few years ago and told me how I'll he had been. Johna later became an avid fan of King Kurt. Johna was looking very stylish, and he had been to the evening concert that was laid on after the children's party. There, the footage showed a sleek and well rehearsed band enjoying a gig that was to be their British swansong.
See what I did just there? Back to swans and time for another mince pie

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Cold in Camden

Just because it's warm inside doesn't mean it's warm outside, as we learned.  Had planned a walk along the South Bank but Camden seemed nearer for lazy bones. It was thronging with people and the hustlers were working overtime, but it was much too cold for street food and we found a Neapolitan pizza restaurant that welcomed us with discreetly open arms. Everyone looked a little glazed about the eyes and shocked by the chill; the place to be on Boxing Day is at home watching a technicolor film and eating as many mince pies as possible.
Let the podge fest begin!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Well, Merry Christmas. I hope that if you are one of those poor people whose house has been flooded or who has no electricity that everything gets sorted out quickly for you.
My wish for next Christmas? That this insane Gevernement somehow sees the error of heir ways and stops removing everything they can from the poorest people in our communities who so desperately need safe and secure housing, affordable fuel and most importantly, enough food. How can it be that we have ceased to care about people? This is not civilisation!
On a happier note, it's the most exciting news that the Pussy Riot protesters have been released and can rejoin their families. At last.
Back to Poirot re-runs, and some reports about the Daintees Christmas shows when the travelling fatigue has worn off.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ee, the Geordie Chord

I have seen some amazing music over the past few days; after the London gigs, where Hannah and the Relatives supported The Daintees with their new take on country-rockabilly (Hannah Rickard has a fabulous voice, a cross between Patsy Kline and Doris Day, but better still than that), The Old Town Quartet supported them at Leeds Brudenell. The Quartet gesture a cello being played sometimes as a cello and sometimes as a mini double bass, a banjo or guitar, and some lovely harmonies from the guys. Both bands feature some strong song writing.
At The Daintees gig at The Cluny, support artist Pauline Murray ( of Penetration) played a solo set that demonstrated her increasing confidence since the last time I saw her in the Art Gallery in Gateshead. We talked of doing another gig with Viv Albertine and Gina Birch, maybe in London this time. I wonder if we could fill The Lexington?
Newcastle is stormy but beautiful as ever. I'm having a night in with Poirot and a chocolate reindeer. Which has unaccountably lost its chocolte head already. How come I though I could get through this Christmas without putting on the chub

Friday, December 20, 2013

Satnavs at Dawn

We drove to Leeds for the gig last night.
In the front of the car, Martin Stephenson with a phone Satnav; battery very low indeed.
In the back, Chris Mordey, with a perky Android phone; he booted it up
in case of emergency.
Left turn in four hundred yards, said Martin's phone lady in an almost inaudible, husky voice redolent of Muttley. Left turn in four hundred yards, echoed Chris's lady in a brisk tone.
I drove.
At the roundabout, take the first exit, said each phone in turn.
I drove more. The chaps started to compare satnavs.
Take the exit, said Chris's phone.
Keep driving for three point two miles, retorted Martin's.
Comparison started to drift into competition.
But had I missed a vital turning? Was I now heading three point two miles in the wrong direction? The street signs were no help. 'Leeds' said a sign pointing left. 'Leeds' said another, pointing right. 'Leeds', said a sign pointing to a roundabout, straight over.
Instructions were coming thick and fast from Chris's Satnav, which appeared to want nano-incremental control over our journey. Martin's, on the other hand, was much more laid back and at times almost inaudible under the almost bickering about the relative merits of the two Satnav ladies' vocal timbres.
At last we got there, much to the triumph of both Satnav owners.
The driver made a mental note to memorise a map, next time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mark Nevin and Thousands of Sprogs at UnderTheInfluence

What warm-hearted nights these are! Nat's father won the raffle a suspiciously large number of times and the Dave Stewart signed solo albums failed to find homes again (apparently it's becoming a tradition that they are returned with tactful regret every time they are won). There were mince pies (and mice pies for meat-eaters), cheesy thingies that you can't stop eating, and the usual plethora of acts including The Reverse playing songs from their new album, and The Antipoet. I played a trio of wintry songs (Christmas Queen, available here to download: https://soundcloud.com/mccookerybook/01-christmas-queen and featuring amongst others, the Legendary Lester Square on BVs, Waltzing Away From Winter, and On New Year's Eve), and sat by the fire with Martin and Wilky drinking ginger beer. Happy Christmas, Nat, and long may your events continue!

Footsteps at my Door, from The Lexington

Monday, December 16, 2013

Martin Stephenson and The Daintees at The Borderline

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) The Daintees will be playing at The Borderline; they are rehearsing as we speak. Fist support will be Hannah and The Relatives, a spectacular new band from the north-east, and I will be the middle-child support. The Borderline is a great place to see The Daintees as the sound guys there are superb, Tickets here: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/YGB1712?camefrom=CFC_UK_MAMA_BORDERLINE&brand=theborderline
Review of the Boogaloo later this week: just got in from a seven hour meeting at work.
Yes, seven hours.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Under the Influence Christmas Gig- Boogaloo, Sunday

At the fabulous Boogaloo in Highgate tomorrow there's a early evening surprise- Under the Influence is celebrating Christmas with a bunch of  songwriters. It starts at 6 and features amongst others The Reverse, The Antipoet, Mark Nevin and myself, accompanied by Martin Stephenson, who has been down in London recording an album author The Daintees. I believe there will be pizza and mince pies (I hope it's not pizza with a mince pie topping) and we'll all be singing Christmas-themed songs. It only costs three quid to get in and it's an absolute bargain for those of you who have spent all their money on Christmas presents or given the lot to charity in despair.
I'm sitting looking at a Christmas tree in full regalia. Beautiful.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Interview/Review of The Lexington Gig

This is a fab interview/review by Terry of Kitmonsters (and of the Feral Five, a duo that formed after the very first Premises Songwriting Course and who are going from strength to strength).
It was a great night. I wish we did more gigs!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I landed back on earth with a thump on Monday; I ran a student assessment with more than fifty students in three rooms with six of us working simultaneously.
Afterwards, I felt as though my two eyes were not functioning together, my ears were full of cloth and my mouth had been borrowed from a hippo.
Next day, I did an afternoon assessment, but that wasn't so tough and Nadya came home for tea and we had a massive bean casserole with Offsprog One.
Martin turned up later, having spent his second day in The Premises studio in Hackney, recording with John and Kate.
On Sunday I'll be playing at the Under the Influence Christmas do at The Boogaloo. It's an early evening event with the Antipoet, Mark Nevin, The Reverse and more, all paying festive songs to the sound of roasting... Pizza actually. It starts at 6 p.m.  and finishes at 9.
Until then, more teaching, interspersed with a little frantic revision of wintry songs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


This is Peter Chrisp's photo of our show at The Lexington.
It was cold up there, but The Antipoet certainly warmed the audience up, playing a tight and sharp set that got everyone laughing and broke the ice (which was forming around my fingernails). The sound was superb and the double bass was crystal clear, so musically it worked on a level that I've not heard before.
After that, Martin and Jim and Jimmy (Morrison and Cole on fiddle and banjo respectively) played a lovely string band set which took the mood in a more reflective direction; again, the sound mix was wonderful (hats off to the sound guy all night) and by then the venue was filling up. We went on at ten and charged through the set at breakneck speed sometimes- although we settled into the groove by about the third or fourth song. We played almost everything, bar a couple of instrumentals and I must say that I enjoyed every minute of it. These songs are in my bones- we toured so much in the 1980s that they are completely automatic, including the chord shapes which are in different configurations to what I play now. All of us are better musicians now too and it all come much more easily (also possibly because I no longer drink!). The hour went by in a flash and we finished with Freight Train with all of us on stage; I've done this song with the Antipoet and with Martin and Jim before so everyone knew it, and lots of people were dancing. We just managed to squeeze an encore into the curfew time, and we managed to sell a few CDs and a lot of badges! The CD will be officially out in January, which is when it will be available worldwide etc (just got a note from someone in Canada).
Thanks so much for coming everyone! A lot of old friends came along, some from far away, and I was delighted to see so many students and ex-students, and fellow musicians. It was touching. Thank you for supporting the night, very much, from the bottom of my heart x

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Dress for Tomorrow

Made with African fabric from Willesden: this is Offsprog One's handiwork, made form a vintage pattern, and it features cowboy poppers.

Friday, December 06, 2013

From Hull

The CDs for Sunday turned up today; I had to wake poor Offsprog One who had come in from a 12-hour shift last night, to ask her to be ready for them.
I need to stop feeling so excited!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

In the Midst of It All

I sat last night for nearly three hours transcribing the recording of an interview with Zillah Ashworth of Rubella Ballet. She is a very interesting person and I have their latest CD to review after I've had a good listen.
I am currently writing a chapter for a book on anarcho punk and I had been stuck, but the interview is going to re-energise me, I know. I'm just about to edit the writing that I've done so far (not much) and I have a large pile of books to read, and more on the way.
An three theses to read by Tuesday.
And an all-day assessment on Monday.
And a gig on Sunday!
The CDs are on their way down from Hull (City of Culture 2018) and should arrive tomorrow, storm surges permitting. I called Martin and he's OK- he has electricity but I don't think many people in the Highlands have been out and about.
Meanwhile, the pots are a clatterin' on the stove as I'm cooking dinner for Offsprog One who will have worked a 12 hour shift today.
It's all go.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A CD (not ACDC)

Well, here it is!
It has all the Helen and the Horns Peel sessions plus the album that we recorded just before amicably calling it a day.
The CD itself will be released in January although there will be copies available on the 8th December at the launch at The Lexington. The sleeve notes are by Lester Square, of the Monochrome Set. At one time, he and Mike Slocombe of Urban 75 fame were in the band, the fledgeling version of the band that didn't have a name yet. We used to hang out together and go to record labels (well, Cherry Red, anyway) and we even did one gig at The London Musician's Collective. Then The Monochrome Set offered just me and the Horns a gig at Kingston Poly, and that was it- we were off. We have another rehearsal tomorrow evening and we will be playing a full set on Sunday including Secret Love, Twice Brewed, Pioneer Town and Happy Ending, which we haven't played for years. It will be a jolly evening, with The Antipoet and Martin Stephenson (plus fiddle and banjo players) and a special DJ.
Any Helen and the Horns fans of old, do come along- you might have a bit of a reunion! Tickets will be available on the door or from here: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/242529

Friday, November 29, 2013


I'll be supporting Martin Stephenson and Jim Hornsby in Huddersfield tomorrow night. If I knew how to paste things on this bloody iPad I would paste a link in. But I don't!
If you fancy coming along there's a link on the Reverbnation Player next to this post. The hosts Andrew and Tina Roberts are fantastic. Gary Stewart is also supporting.
Over and out from the Typopad.

The Escaping Book

I bought a copy of the Day the Country Died, which is a book about anarchy punk by Ian Glasper, in the summer. I left it on the tube, along with my lyrics book, and never got it back in spite of harassing the Lost Property Office for months.
Eventually I realised that I would have to buy a new copy. I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on the subject and I need the book in order to get the details right.
Alas, when I got to work this morning I realised that I had lost the new copy.
I charged across town and luckily found it in the coffee shop!
For some reason, that book does not want to belong to me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I collected my surprise guitars from the luthiers today. One of them, a Framus, came from the North London Hospice shop. It was filthy and I almost scrubbed the little brass logo off the top; I found it tangled and scrumpled up on the floor. Now it has had a new set of strings fitted and it twinkles sound-wise; it's a bashful, friendly chap and I've enjoyed strumming today.
The other, a Hofner, came from a market stall in County Durham. As soon as I saw it I wanted to play it and as soon as I played it I wanted to play it forever. It still has its original guarantee, a little yellow card filled out in the 1960s. It has had new controls fitted and a new pickup and its an absolute delight to play.
Luckily, I resisted the £8 mini-guitar in Tiger the other day. I don't think it would have lived up to these guys. Both of them are very battered and scratched and have seen better days. But so have I, and that might be why I love them so much.

Monday, November 25, 2013

CDs Have Arrived

Yes, real live CDs have popped through the door!
I have put the live version of Two Strings to your Bow up on Soundcloud here:

Helen and the Horns, The Lexington 8th December

Just planning another rehearsal for the gig; Martin will be playing with Jim Hornsby and Jim-the-fiddle, the Antipoet will be playing and Offsprog One will be playing Northern Soul in between it all.
Ticket link here http://www.wegottickets.com/event/242529

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ode to Technology

Since twice updating my iPhone to the new ugly design, it has become slower than ever, taking an age to load pages. It has stopped Face-timing people I don't know very well as the side of my face pressed the screen mid-call to friends. But all of the new features have added keystrokes and a counter-intuitive feel to the built-in applications. Perhaps they are designed to make things easier for designers rather than end users. It's much harder, for instance, to send a photograph direct, and don't even get me started on the audio recording function.
Perhaps reassuringly, it has retained its ability to lose an entire set of notes at whim, which disappear into the top right hand corner of the screen whenever they feel like it. Goodbye notes from conferences, and goodbye song lyrics!
Likewise, Google Chrome has become so clever that it sends you to pages you don't want, but it guesses that you need, before you have even decided yourself. Safari has ceased to work with some applications, Firefox is clunky and Internet Explorer can't find anything at all, Poor Victorian Wretch.
I am exasperated with technology and even more exasperated by everyone's insistence that we become ever more technologised.
While on the train yesterday, I rewrote a blog posting twice because Blogger insisted it couldn't publish it. Much to my horror, it had indeed published every draft, which I then hurriedly tried to delete. My phone remembered every keystroke that I made (it usually ignores everything until I stroke the screen the right way, the pervy little git).
So I lost the whole lot.
I'm so glad that I don't do Internet banking because I have ignored every urgent request to just click on this link that will allow mysterious overseas criminals to totally erase the hard disk on my computer. The Universities, however, are another matter. Stung by last year's student criticism that I was ignoring their emails, I contacted the IT Professor at one university, who cheerily informed me that I now had two email accounts, one of which I didn't know about, and that's the one the students had been writing to.
If this is intelligent management, I'm a flea's cough.
Wow- I'm in a thunderous mood this evening!


I asked Offsprog Two if she would like to go to the pantomime at Hackney Empire again this year.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Arrgh Moments

I've had a few this week, and I literally spat out the words 'For fxxx sake', at maximum volume in the bogs at work yesterday. I am normally such a polite person. It wasn't anything to do with work, and I'm in the realms of confidentiality here but  it was when someone nearly blew a chance big-time and sent me a text telling me so at one of my more vulnerable moments- you know, in the bogs at work.

Home has shrunk immeasurably too; there are masses of boxes and more to come.
I said goodbye to the Duplo this week. I have been sentimentally attached to it ever since the girls were tiny. I remember looking at my nephew's Duplo before Offsprog One was born and thinking 'I want some of that'. I imagined life in the old people's home, sitting building coloured houses for baby tigers to live in out of big, chunky yellow and red plastic blocks. I was mourning the Duplo baby tigers on the tube home from work today.
Then I got  a grip. Offsprog One persuaded me that it would be better to give it to the hospital and I phoned the children's ward. She took the whole plastic sackful up there and said that they were delighted to receive it; so now we can think of poorly children making the tiger-houses and enjoying the Duplo just as much as we did.
I've still got the Lego though!

Meanwhile, the house is gently falling to bits. Nobody wants to come to repair little houses. All the workmen round here have grand fishes to fry. Draughts whistle round our ears and the house trembles when you sneeze. Almost.

In a few weeks those boxes will have been unpacked, edited (two bags of our stuff have already gone to charity shops and there is more to go), and we should, I hope, have settled into some sort of routine. Funny that we both go off to rehearsals (as I call them) or band practice (as she calls them).
Next gig is in Huddersfield supporting Martin: details on the Reverbnation page just up there. 
I hope to be doing some recording with him soon- as producer as well as guitarist.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rehearsing with Helen and the Horns

We had a good Helen and the Horns rehearsal last night and we did manage to nail Happy Ending and Twice Brewed; and Secret Love, and it looks like we'll be playing Pioneer Town too. Stephen Joy is an excellent trumpet player and he brought along his new custom-made flugelhorn, which looks as though it's made of copper with brass fittings.
There's something very Thomas Heatherwick about it (I'm thinking Steampunk, not neo-Routemasters) and it closely resembles a Steampunk USB that I sent off for about a year ago, except it hasn't got a little flashing red light on it; or if it has, I didn't see it. And of course, it's much bigger.
The blend of the players, Paul Davey on sax and Dave Jago on trombone, both original Horns, was absolutely superb in the section parts. I wonder if we sounded this good back in the day?
We will be playing for a full hour at the Lexington on 8th December. I will have to do a lot of practising with The Green Goddess because she's so different to play from the Telecaster; the neck is skinnier and a bit shorter, the frets are more prominent and she's so very big. But she is still an amazing beast.
Thanks to the three guys for a really great (and tiring) evening.
From the Jazz Caff a couple of years ago, with Martin:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I've spent part of the day transcribing lyrics and chords for Happy Ending and Twice Brewed for our rehearsal tonight. The Green Goddess is coming with me and she is stretching her wings as we speak.
This makes a change from writing lectures and editing sound clips, although I was proud of the lecture I did yesterday. I have some of Mark Cunningham's audio clips (he wrote the book Good Vibrations about the history of record production) from when I invited him to talk to students at the University of the West years ago, in the days when there were plentiful budgets for such invitations and plenty of people to fulfil them.
A producer who shall remain nameless sneeringly told me he didn't get out of bed for less than 400 quid when I tried to book him two years ago. What a greedy man.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Rutland Arms on Saturday Night

Even at 7.30 it was pretty packed- there were Mike and June and Laura and their neighbour from down the street; it was a lovely surprise to see them. And there was Peter Knight and his folks- probably about 8 years since I've seen him!
Some of us sloped off for a quiet bite to eat and inadvertently missed Seven Tors- who apparently were brilliant. When we got back, it was standing-outside-the-door-room only but I did catch the lovely songs and harmonies of Robberie, and also clocked the perfectly silent audience which was a good sign. Mark from MyLittle Owl was welcoming, and said his partner Vinnie was ill and could not be there. He did a good job of hosting though, and we sat down in the seats June had baggsied for us to watch MJ Hibbett, who was very, very funny. Mike and June's neighbour was guffawing (or maybe neighing, come to think of it, given the fact that he's a neighbour). MJ had a lot of singalong songs and everyone clearly knew the choruses. While laughing, my heart started sinking as I imagined playing to only two people because everyone had come to see him and was going to head home after he'd played. It wasn't like that though- he himself sat in the front row and everyone stayed. My voice didn't run out for an hour and Martin joined me for the latter half of the set. I started off with Temptation, which I haven't played for about a year, and then mingled new and old: 24 Hours, the folky acoustic version; Let's Make Up, in which I simultaneously pretend to be twenty-two and also a whole band; Heaven Avenue complete with pre-apology; Freight Train and a whole lot more. I loved it, it was so friendly and the misgivings I'd had about singing without a microphone vanished pretty quickly. Afterwards, there was a lot of chatting; one of the promoter's friends was starting up a vinyl record store and he bought lots of 7" singles. Peter's Mum bought him some CDs to cheer him up because he's been ill; a couple of people (including Mark the promoter) bought albums. Martin did a great job of accompanying the set and we did an encore of Loverman at high speed (it was the relief, I think!).
And something I found utterly charming: the DJ had vinyl decks which consisted of two Dansettes next to each other on the little bar. He played Jonathan Richman and all sorts of things. I took a picture but it's a bit fuzzy. I just thought it was such a great idea!
And now I've been writing tomorrow's lecture on the history of record production, which has involved editing the original Mellotron demos and some out-takes from Good Vibrations. It took ages and I'm very tired but fingers crossed it will all have worked- I've got some other ace stuff like Youtube footage of Les Paul demonstrating overdubbing.
It has been a lovely weekend.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I used to draw the Beverly Sisters a lot when I was about six, and I also drew triplets a lot too. There were usually three of what I drew; I don't know why.
McMum also had a picture I did titled 'Little Girl Crying Because She Doesn't Want Her Hair Cut', which says a lot really.
I was telling the girls yesterday that I used to want to be a Coal Man because then I thought I would be allowed to have a dirty face all the time and I'd never have to wash it. That, to me, was the epitome of bliss.
And the noise the coal made when he tipped it into the coal-hole! Magnificent.


BTW, not a lot of long postings at the moment- I'm exhausted and surviving on mainly chocolate and coffee with the occasional banana thrown in. Looking forward to hooking up with Martin, and the Rutland Arms in Sheffield on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the little living room is bursting with Offsprog One's belongings. Just off to try to clear a bit of space upstairs...


Hah! I was in an infernal telephone queue listening to infernal telephone queue music and I decided to fire up my own, which makes a passable substitute although I say so myself:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brighton Bounce

What a beautiful sunny day! I clambered into crapsy-car and shot round the M25 to Brighton to pick Offsprog One and her belongings up.
Woe. The indicators stopped working and I had to pray for no right turns as I got lost not only in Brighton's heinous one-way system, but also in two lots of closed-road diversions signalled by infuriatingly cheerful yellow signs.
On my fifteenth circuit, I stopped and fired up the iPhone satnav which decided to work for once in a miracle.
Unforchly, my car was pointing in the wrong direction and I was looking at circuit number 16. So I did a 3-point turn which would have been OK if I had not stopped at point one to face a scowling harridan of a cyclist dressed in cutie-pie Brighton chic.
Terrified, I backed into the parking ticket machine and smashed my back tail light covers. The customers in the cafe behind me had their hands over their mouths, eyes popping with horror.
Wimps. I drove off proudly.
Indicators now miraculously working (could it have been the near-death experience?), I managed to pull up outside her house and we loaded up to the gunn'l's.
We met Offsprog Two for lunch in a pub, bouncing off near-argument subjects like steel balls in a pinball machine.
And now we are back here in north London.
The kitchen floor is covered in boxes and we are planning a book case in an unfeasible place. I sold a roll of carpet at a snip on eBay to make space; there is more stuff to go as we shrink to fit into a small space. Luckily both of us will be quite busy at work and so on. We just have to make sure that there is always milk and that the bath is always clean.
That's all.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Sometimes I get asked to peer-review book proposals and also academic paper proposals. It is interesting because then I get the chance to look at breaking research- the books of the future.
Sometimes, it's like internships- you don't get paid; but then people peer-review your own stuff, so it's a gentlewoman's agreement in a sense.
Today, however, I have booty- I have been paid in books!
A parcel arrived containing The Sound of Tomorrow: how electronic music was smuggled into the mainstream, by Mark Brend; Understanding Records: a field guide to recording practice by Jay Hodgson; and Undercurrents: the hidden wiring of modern music, by the Wire magazine.
These will lie alongside the trashy detective novels from the British Heart Foundation shop (currently Val McDairmid) and the half-consumed Trollopes, half-read Private Eyes and copious press cuttings until I have completely digested everything and become

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Little Ship Club, Maldon

Maldon is a lovely little town clustered around the coast in Essex; it's a bit like a mini-Whitstable, except slightly more wiggly in terms of main street.
We were late, having tried to avoid rush hour traffic with an app that sent us in the wrong direction up the M11 and then abandoned us for a while. But Stephen Foster Pilkington is genial and greeted us with a grin.
What a sweet little place it was: shades of scout hut but a bit more glamorous upstairs than downstairs- black beams stretched across the eaves and embroidered flags hung from the ceiling, probably saying something earnest in boat language. Katy was doing the door, looking splendid in a red dress.
Red chairs stood in lines watching us as we sound checked. Soon, they were full of people and we were ready to begin. I'd had a long hard day at work and Martin had had a long hard day travelling, but Stephen cured that as soon as he hit the stage. Within seconds we were all doing his singing exercises with him and listening to his punky cover version of 'Ive Been Everywhere (Man)'.
Katy joined him for one song from the back of the room; she is a trained opera singer with an incredible soprano voice. What a treat!
After I'd played, Martin got up and did a lovely set that blended old and new songs and some virtuoso playing. Stephen joined him on fiddle for some oldtiminess, scraping away with aplomb, then Marin invited me up to play Freight Train.
Afterwards, a woman told me she'd been in tears when Martin played 'Home'. It was one of those nights that was hilarious fun one minute and emotional the next and it had a cathartic effect. No more work issues buzzing around in my head, just a bar if chocolate on the way home in the car on a traffic-free motorway.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Maldon Little Ship Club

It's here http://www.mlsc.org.uk/
Stephen Foster Pilkington is a very funny and talented musician; and the wonderful Martin Stephenson will be playing. And me.
Friday 8th November
Tickets here www.wegottickets.com/event/242167
I was making the students laugh today telling them about when I left the University of the West and I was told by one of the technicians that I was famous for my dyslexic emails. I hadn't realised.
The reason I'm saying this is that I occasionally notice the ridiculous spellings that I put into my blog posts and correct them. the rest of the time I don't even notice.
I also earn considerably less than most of the graduates that I've taught. In fact, I would probably be rather a disappointment to myself if, I wasn't fundamentally happy.
Perhaps knowing one's limitations is quite a good thing.


I'm at work early this morning, wearing a groove into my chair before I start lecturing.
I have been asked to donate a track. Monday's Mood, to a CD in support of mental health charities; more news to come about that shortly. I am just about to write and say 'yes'.
Later, I'll head to Docklands and pick up my mail (3 hour lecture to do first) and then head home to write tomorrow's lecture; the history of recording, from a technological determinist perspective.
It is as they say, all go.
Tomorrow evening I will be supporting Martin and Stephen Foster-Pilkington at Maldon  Boat Club (at least I think that's what it's called- I must check- details here www.daintees.co.uk
And I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Dr McCookerybook

She is working very hard at the moment. The University of the East has moved and everything is being refreshed and revisited and it's taking a lot of time and effort.
Her back is aching this afternoon. She is alos making space in Offsprog Two's bedroom so Offsprog One can move in, and everything keeps falling over and landing on her toes. Ouch.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


I've just taken two guitars to the guitar hospital. One came from a market stall in Durham and the other from the North London Hospice shop in Barnet.
Both are looking old and tired but with a little TLC they might be rejuvenated. There is a dull bloom on the varnish of both that won't come off with lemon oil, and lots of dings, but I don't mind those. I have rather a lot of those myself, actually.

Monday, November 04, 2013

I'm Sitting Here.....

Yes I was, waiting for a student who didn't turn up for their tutorial. Hour-and-a-half to get there, hour-and-a-half to get back. And now I have been sitting at home marking and feeling quite cheerful, as the students whose work I'm looking at have worked hard on their assessment work.
Now to organise some rehearsal for the helen and the Horns launch. the CD has gone off to be manufactured. It's actually happening!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treat

The rain is spluttering down outside and keeping the kiddies away from my door. I've had no takers for my half a tub of leek and potato soup; what a pity. I'd been imagining the joy on their little faces all day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Geek Express

For geeks, geekettes and geeklings to dance to:

Helen and the Horns CD Launch

Soon it will be time to dust off the bit of my brain that remembers the Helen and the Horns songs- and also to arrange a rehearsal (or two if we need them).
Martin will be playing at The Lexington with us and so will The Antipoet; and I think Offsprog One will be taking to the decks and spinning a bit of Northern Soul.
Tickets here:
Advance tickets: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/242529
Door entry £7.00

Numan Ate My Calculator

Here's another!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Elektronik Niteride

Bit of retro, this one. I think inspired by cheesy cop shows; it has an abrupt ending and I don't know why. Photo from the induction to the new University of the East.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Busy Exchange, 3 a.m.

I just found a load of soundtracks that I programmed in about 1999 in my lunch hours at work. I had been asked for some demos for a football series; they got rejected but this one was used on TV for an animation about ginger-haired people. It's the jolliest one- the others are rather dark.
I've really enjoyed transferring these to Logic Audio this evening because I could only remember doing about two of them. There are six altogether, I think, and I'll upload them after I've EQ-ed them and compressed them (they sound a little lively).
It was such fun making this sort of music and at the time I never dreamed that I'd pick up a guitar again; I'd been doing loads of soundtracks and eventually stopped even doing that because I was teaching full-time and lost all my networks of film-makers; I just couldn't do all that and be a mum to two little girls as well.
This tune makes me feel ridiculously happy even now and I am deeply tempted to set up the JV1080 and have a week of playing about. The Logic edit pages have changed but I am sure I can remember how to do it.

Tons of Toadstools and Millions of Mushrooms

Bad Fairies, Nursery Rhymes

It's so lovely and sunny outside!
To prevent stir-craziness, I went for a walk and photographed toadstools. There are hundreds of them on the common, all shapes and sizes and colours.
I got it into my head that I wanted to photograph a Fly Agaric (the red spotty Bad Fairy ones) but couldn't seem to find one, even though I retraced last year's places.
But I did, eventually; it was hiding in the undergrowth, festooned in swarms of tiny flies.
Now I'm taking a break from recording nursery rhymes- frustrating, as they are so short and condensed.
Back to zero, back to zero..
 I've resorted to powdering my finger's with Lentheric's Tweed talcum powder (special offer at the chemist's) to stop them shrieking on the strings, which they are doing even though I have changed to a Spanish Guitar.
Strange how a difficult song is easier to play on a difficult guitar.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The wind is rattling the windows but I'm not sure if I believe in the impending hurricane. Am I doing a Fish? Tomorrow will tell.
I have a few new songs on the go and a set of fancy chords waiting for the song to arrive. I've been singing.
I've had a day off today although I did spend an hour preparing Monday's lecture.
I read the newspaper from cover to cover, bought a new crime novel in the British Heart Foundation shop, where the books are arranged in alphabetical order of author's surname and are therefore much easier to browse.
I spoke to Martin for a time on the phone; he's playing in Cumbernauld
I hauled the Dyson round the house (aren't they heavy?) and I did some laundry. I went into town and bought a birthday present for my sister, dodging raindrops as I hopped between shops.
I saw how many times I could write 'I' in a blog posting while listing semi-boring activities.
I watched back-to-back Come Dine With Me and then Inspector Montalbano.
Now I'm looking at the book pile, because tomorrow I start to organise my next large research project in earnest.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I love working in Stratford.
Docklands could be beautiful, especially in the early morning when the docks were swathed in fog, and dim silhouettes of cormorants stretching their wings to dry would materialise out of the woolly grey dawn.
And the planes- taking off left to right, then right to left.
Who decided when they should swop over? Why didn't they collide?
But Stratford!
A huge old steam engine sits on the pavement, splendid in dark red and black livery and stranded far away from rails and grime: looking a bit silly really, but charming nonetheless.
I went into Westfield yesterday- and won't go again. It's horrible, cheap and nasty and too big and greedy.
My fave bit of Stratford is the Stratford Centre- white cotton old-man vests for two pounds each or three for a fiver- a whole stall of them!
African vegetables- plantain and breadfuit; a reggae stall and a seafood stall.
A branch of Tiger: hooray! Cheap and cheerful!
Sports Direct, Fabric Direct.
People bustling around all shapes, ages and sizes, with those plain mid-blue plastic carrier bags that have slithered under the branding radar of the big supermarkets, and that declare 'We bought cheap stuff that is just as good as the branded stuff and we're Going Home to Eat it Now!'
You can't glide though the Stratford Centre: you have to waddle at a snail's pace to avoid bumping into people using walking frames, or with people pushchairs and swarms of children. There are people from so many different cultures, all with different life paths and different destinations.
I bought some lilac canvas shoes there last summer for four pounds and I wore them every day; they were perfect.
Do I need an African kaftan? Probably not, but you never know. It's handy to know where to get one from should a situation arise. Bright red nylon net curtains... or black? No thanks: but I'll have a coffee while gazing at the punters riffling through the slithery nighties on the slithery nightie stall.
Oh nylon, nylon, pyrex, plastic! Here you are in all your splendour. I love your artificial authenticity; stuff cotton, linen silk and wool, just for once! Let's hear it for acrylic: honest, cheap, harsh and temporary, free from Good Taste Rules and Designer-ness.
Stratford Centre, a million miles from focus group concepts and global corporations; it's an urban microcosm of unselfconscious co-operation, unmeddled-with and unforced.
Three cheers for cheap!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I've been spending the afternoons after work transcribing interviews that I've undertaken in the past eighteen months. This week it's one of the most substantial ones, the mastering engineer Mandy Parnell who worked on Bjork's last album. It's slow work; it has taken about five hours to transcribe 5000 words and there's still more to go.
It's motivating though: the interviewees are fascinating and have amazing life stories. I become completely absorbed in what they have to say and it rivals kitchen recording for losing track of time.
It's a knackering time of year. This morning on the way to work I realised that I do three quarters of my year's work between now and Christmas!
I leave debris around; I left my hat on the stairs in the new building today and had to leave a meeting in order to retrieve it, being accosted by some students on the way. The students are full of energy at this time of year (those who have not succumbed to Fresher's 'flu) and you get carried along on a sea of their enthusiasm while trying to out-dodge their dodges (some of them).
I'm so tired that I can't even be bothered to watch Poirot. What is the world coming to?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

News from Barbaraville

Barbaraville records has been very busy- Eliza P's CD Eclectic Kettle has been released and has started to get good reviews; Acton Bell, now rechristened Amy Corcoran (rechristened is correct- it's her real name) has been on an Awayday to Darlington to record at SkipRat Studios and has turned out some wonderful, refreshing-sounding tracks.
California Star is selling steadily and will soon make a bit more of an impact!
Meanwhile Martin is busy recording more artists and is just about to produce a very special act from Warrington- watch this space!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Grandpappy with Mandolin

I remember you as a solid, serious and sometimes grumpy man, with wispy white hair and a waistcoat. As a child, I didn't believe in your grumpiness and made you play in the sand-pit with me with a little bucket and spade, as I thought that would cheer you up. I believe the assembled company held their breath.
So here you are before the First World War stole your joie de vivre, looking (I must say)  a trifle camp and very jolly, with a lustrous head of hair and a happy smile. That war was a steamroller of misery (as they all are), destroying a generation and stealing the lives of even those who managed to 'survive'.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Old Cinema Launderette

So is it a cinema? Is it a launderette?
Tonight it is neither, although washers and driers are lined up along the back and side of the room and there are price lists for dry cleaning and racks of garments swathed in polythene visible through the door behind.... the bar.
The Old Cinema Laundertte is what you could call a boutique venue. It only holds around 30 people, some of whom have brought their own stools to sit on, although there are a couple of rows of  mongrel chairs sitting expectantly as we arrive for a sound check.
Jim Hornsby is already there with his Dobro at the ready. Mr Wishy Washy offers us a cup of tea.
I plug in the little amp and take it to a volume that I can sing over comfortably without a microphone.
Mike and June have set up the CD rack next to a rail of vintage dresses. People start to arrive early, all excited by the idea of watching a gig at their local launderette. There's no hiding: it's eye contact from the get-go, but luckily it's a friendly crowd.
I do the first song sitting down but memories of carpet time at primary school make me stand up and do the rock and roll thing. It's almost more like talking directly to people than performing especially for the song Lover When You Leave Me which feels unexpectedly direct and emotional.
Afterwards I claim my second cup of tea of the evening and settle down to listen to Martin and Jim. They are perfectly synchronised tonight as always, and the people in the audience are real aficionados- they start singing from the start and join in intermittently all the way through as Martin and Jim stroll past the machines from one end of the launderette to the other. Martin is playing the Dobro which rivals the little Yiari for sound and soundscape. They finish with a rousing version of Will the Circle be Unbroken, with everyone joining in.
With hindsight, given the nature of the premises, perhaps this should have been 'Will the Cycle be Unbroken'.
It's a beautiful gig in a beautiful little venue; magical, in fact. At the end, a stylish woman unpacks her bag and coat from a vacant drier that she's stored them in for safe keeping and we all go home.
Jim, Martin and Mr Wishy Washy

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ruts DC and Wilko Johnson at Koko, Camden

Tall blokes in front of me, blokes with big tummies squeezing past behind me...
Last time they did this they were sylph-like, but no longer; I sucked my own tummy in self-consciously.
The Ruts were already playing Staring at the Rude Boys, their singer Molara powering through in her Ruts t-shirt. The sound was crystal clear and more than did justice to their songs, whose nod to their 1970s origins was perfectly updated to 2013. Dave Ruffy, their brilliant drummer, sings too and the effect was that of complete commitment- and boy, were they well-rehearsed! The bass-lines had that melodic characteristic and particularly came to the fore (or the under-fore?) in the song Shine On Me.
'A lot of these songs are 30 years old but they sound as though they were written about David Cameron' observed Molara. And they did; and when Babylon's Burning drove into the building, the crowd erupted. Jangly chords, the driving bass, that Peer-Gynt-on-the autobahn thing. I wore out my vinyl copy on my tinny Woolworth's stereo; it even sounded good on that. Live, it was incredible!
The band looked absolutely great and the crowd loved them. They could have easily encored, but they had good manners and vacated the stage swiftly and neatly so the technical crew could set up for Wilco's lot.
By this time Chris Carr, who is a gentleman, had hoisted me up out of the crowd and into a box at the side. I watched the change-over with interest. Looking at it all from the middle-aged perspective is so different from being a rookie, I almost think I could mic up a drum-kit myself now. I have been on a big stage and I know what's behind it. What a pity I missed out on the rich and famous bit though!

After a few minutes, the anticipatory yell-chatter increased in volume. Everyone was very excited and the venue seemed to be packed to the gills (or maybe we are all just bigger!). Was it morbid to come along to this?
Not really- I'd heard that he is doing fantastic shows at the moment, and the double-whammy of Wilko Johnson plus the Ruts... well, who could miss that?
And his occasional lapses into misogyny in interviews are balanced out by his amphetamine strut.
In this perhaps I join the black women who get a kick out of listening to Gangsta Rap 'in spite of...'.
I am here not only 'in spite of...', but also: '... because the guy is brilliant'.
Suddenly, he's there: white-faced, black-clad, whacking the sh*t out of his guitar, face in an Essex snarl. He's in great voice and jerking like an automaton.
The feeling from the crowd is touching: they are there in support of an iconic musician of their era, feeding him energy and goodwill with an unusual degree of tenderness from such a lot of blokes (and some Significant Women too).
Same face, same glare; he used to look more ill when he wasn't ill. His sharp, harsh guitar playing is to the forefront in this minimal line-up. Was that the glimmer of a Canvey Island smile I caught between him and Norman Watt Roy, the bass player?
'THANKYU', he barks at the end of each song. He buzzes round the stage like a rock'n'roll bee, attached by a thick coiled red lead to his amplifier. Is it that that is stopping this strange dark rock'n'roll angel from taking off?
Norman mouths the words... 'I'm tired of waiting for her and I'm going back home!
The audience swells up with love.
WENGACHACKA WENGACHACKA WENGACHACKA WENGACHACKA.. his right hand pulsing up, down, his left gripping the guitar neck. Somehow he is simultaneously relaxed and aggressive. Wilko Johnson is elegant!
In When I Was A Cowboy, the guitar clucks like a demented electric chicken and we nod our heads in affirmation.
'HUYU': the song has ended.
I crane my neck to look at Norman Watt Roy. He's an act in himself. Grey and shiny, he hunches over his bass, singing along in a world of his own and puzzling over the instrument as if someone has placed an elephant in his hands and told him to play it. His rumbling bass lines form the perfect foundation for Wilko's spiky guitar activity. Booble-oop, booble-oop, booble-oop, he rumbles; boom-thwack, boom-thwack, boom-thwack drums Dylan Howe, who is getting younger every day.
'I may be right, I may be wrong...' Wilko machine-guns the crowd, much to our delight.
He is feeling his songs: he breaks off playing occasionally to make a point with his hands.
Meanwhile, Norman Watt Roy's hands, enormous and spider like, arch over the bass as his fingers flutter and pluck. One song has shades of Bolan lapping away inside it... which I could remember which one...
In Don't Let Your Daddy Know,Wilko delivers the lyrics to the headstock of his guitar, which he has turned to face him, body nestled into his crotch. He's still playing it. 'I love you', he grimaces and coos to the machineheads, much as an exotic countess would address her miniature Pekingese.
Boy, rock'n'roll sure creates some alien men!
Back in the Night is a mass singalong, sliced up by searing guitar chops.
I'm singing too! What am I?
Not a rock chick... I'm a rock tomboy!
More high-speed Wilco-walking ensues, followed by two encores called for at deafening levels:
Louder than his guitar, even.
He was gracious enough to remember to thank the support bands, and he sang Bye By Johnny so the crowd could say goodbye to him, or rather, roar goodbye.
Wilko Johnson does that proper rock'n'roll thing of simultaneously sending the whole thing up and venerating it; at times his persona is comical, at times powerful and scary; as he always did, he is playing out his defiance, challenging God to take him mid-thrash so he can go out with a BANG!
What a night.


Looking back over the past month I can see that there are considerable gaps in my blogging. This is to do with what I shall euphemistically call 'change management'. The blog weeks have been concertina-ed into a series of pleasant events but the reality of life has been rather stressful.
Prior to the wonderful experience of Vienna at the weekend, I'd spent every weekend writing lectures and presentations and trying to think of a way to fit 40 students into rooms designed for 10. The sound of my head banging the wall might not necessarily make for a good posting (well, perhaps it might), but a solution is under way thank God, and I also have a short respite from writing academic stuff.
I have also been ill for three weeks. I can not shake off a cold and cough that landed as soon as I started  lecturing again and I have emptied the local pharmacists of remedies. Illness is not good blog-fodder either, so that's enough of that.
I had a great night out last night which, added to the Vienna conference, has restored my belief in music and discourse and all that. It has been good to get out of the kitchen cell in which books are piled on the chairs and the route to the kettle is marked out by a furrow in the lino!
Some gigs are in the pipeline which is a very cheering thought.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Vienna: Music, Gender and Difference Conference

 After the delivering the morning lecture on Thursday, I headed over to Heathrow to catch a flight to Vienna. By the time I got to my hotel I was more than wilting and glad to sleep. I have never been to a conference anywhere outside the UK before so this was a daunting adventure. Next morning I get severely lost on the way to the University. Asking a policeman was not a good idea. He gave me a guttural mouthful and almost reduced me to tears; but a kindly woman on her way to work phoned her flatmates and between her and a kindly street-sweeper, I found my way there in time to present the paper. The conference itself was extremely well organised (shouts to Rosa Reitsamer for that) and as Sheila Whiteley pointed out, it was a stroke of genius to have a two-hour lunch break which was not only reviving but which also allowed us to speak to each other about our work and our research interests. There were a lot of interesting papers: Alenka Barber-Kersovan's paper about string divas was fascinating (I wondered if she'd heard of the Medieval Babes), and the new researcher Paola Medina delivered a heartfelt paper about the lot of female trumpet players in Colombia. Teja Klobcar's paper about Slovenian singer-songwriters was also very interesting. Star of the show, however, was Sheila herself, who is a brilliant writer and editor. I had been recommending her book The Space between the Notes to some students the day before and I'm using Sexing the Groove myself at the moment. Sheila has an overview of the way that pop music works in several different European countries and the attempts that governments and other organisations are making to create a fairer division of labour in the music industry. The statistics are depressing and they threw into relief issues that have come up within my lectures recently. I can't discuss that here, but I felt that the research I've been doing is valid and it's probably about time that I took proper steps to publish it. Vienna on Saturday was beautiful in the sunshine. I'd love to go back.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Graphic Scores at LSO St Luke's on Sunday Night

Intrigued by Offsprog One's link, http://www.theguardian.com/music/gallery/2013/oct/04/graphic-music-scores-in-pictures , which she sent because of my own graphic song scores mccookerybook.tumblr.com (although mine are Low Art and the others are several notches Higher), I decide to go to LSO St Luke's on Sunday night to see what the beautiful scores sounded like.
St Luke's is an extraordinary building which has somehow retained the spirituality of churchness while adding the most perfect acoustics.
I am not used to attending concerts like this, so arrived early to 'get the feel' and enjoy a coffee in the ubiquitous crypt caff. Would all those old bodies be rolling in their graves at the sound of Espresso machines' enthusiastic whooshing? Perhaps they would, or perhaps they would enjoy the company.
It was interesting to observe the audience, who were also observing the audience; it was impossible to work out from their uniforms if they were artists, musicians, classical music fans, experimental fans, or the purely curious like myself.
In this it was quite definitely different to the average rock gig.
The concert started with Joanna McGregor's solo interpretation of John Cage's Water Music. With a combination of tuned radio, water-filled jugs, a duck call and a piano, she followed the score faithfully as it scrolled above her on a screen. Joanna is a mesmerising performer whom I last saw many years ago performing Rachmaninov in a sparkling and dramatic Zandra Rhodes dress! This was a much more formal occasion but she still had the sparkle, only this time emanating from within her performing persona; at the conclusion of the hectic piece, she smiled at the audience and was met with appreciative laughter and a round of applause.
The Cornelius Cardew composition, Treatise Pages 34-39, was not so appealing for some reason. In this piece, the formality worked against the format. What should have looked like fun looked like hard work (in every performance genre the hard work is there: the trick is to hide this from the audience). There were a couple of personal taste issues here too: the muted trumpet reminded me of the worst of Ian Carr's Nucleus, whom I loved apart from the too-much-muted-trumpet bits, and the laptop.
Am I the only person in the world who is a tiny bit fed up of laptops? Too many laptop musicians are completely un-engaging to watch and Cardew himself couldn't possibly have written for laptop as they hadn't been invented. I love audio machines and technology, all the more so when their workings are visible. These scores are extrovert and visually loud; it doesn't matter how loud a laptop is, it's still quiet!
Everything came to life again with Fred Frith's Zurich and Bricks for Six. Zurich's score was a pitted snowfield, which Joanna McGregor played as a fluid and dripping soundscape, trading licks with the cellist, Oliver Coates. Coates, like policemen, seemed to be getting younger every day but he was putting an appreciative amount of effort into sounding just right. Bricks for Six utilised the ensemble perfectly as they translated a brick wall into audio, even the by now un-muted trumpet and the laptop finding their place in the audio field.
Tom Phillips's scores were breathtaking and again, the ensemble leapt straight into them rather than skittering over the top. The Lesbia Waltz in particular was brilliant and humorous with a tongue-in-cheek approach to the complex instructions. It must have been hard because Tom Phillips was actually in the audience- he seemed very pleased with the interpretation and stood up to take a bow at the end.

By this point my full-on cold was taking it's toll and I started to cough uncontrollably. Thank God I saw Cathy Berberian's Stripsody before I left. This was sung by Elaine Mitchener and was the aural equivalent of The Beano, consisting as it did of a series of expressive sound effects in a dramatic construction that could have been any Comic graphic story depending on the interpreter. This was a real tension-breaker and was the most engaging piece so far: The audience seemed to be willing her to get through the complicated and dynamic instructions and at the end she garnered a huge round of applause.
I had to leave at half time to cough, which was a shame as the concert format had started to win me over by then. These glorious visual scores are open to interpretation and at first I had been wary of the formal black clothing worn by the performers and the stiff format which seemed to be working against the visual exuberance of the projections above. But the scores are for everyone and anyone to perform; there was something relaxing in the silent formality of a Sunday evening and in watching a performance that paralleled a child's experience of learning to read. Who's to say that our system of writing signs and symbols could not have evolved utterly differently and that the relationship between how we read them and the way we make them sound as speech, or indeed the way we communicate with sound, could not have been entirely the opposite to that which we have mutually agreed to use?
Watching classically-trained musicians grapple with spontaneity and fight with their instinct to make perfect sound according to a perfect plan was absorbing in itself, and the actual sounds were intriguing. As interpretation, this was a really rewarding evening and most of my negative responses were entirely to do with my own prejudices, which I am working upon as we speak!

Thanks to Marc Riley!

Brilliant news: BBC 6's Marc Riley is playing one of our Helen and the Horns sessions this week- different song each day, next to the Monochrome Set last night which is interesting because Lester Square wrote the sleeve-notes for our forthcoming Peel Sessions CD.
I have arranged a gig at the Lexington to celebrate the release, with Martin Stephenson and the Anti-Poet also performing. I am really looking forward to it!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Short Northern Soul Playlist

Popcorn Charlie: Charles Spurling
Gonna Get Along Without You Now: Viola Wills
Our Day Will Come: Ruby and the Romantics
You Got To Prove It: Dan Brantley

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Conference Paper

This is another working weekend; the two previous ones I've been writing lectures and troubleshooting, but this one I am revamping a conference paper, tidying it up and updating it.
That meant three hours this afternoon and probably the same tomorrow; but in spite of the fact that the world of music is clamouring at me from it's bubble, I have to do it and it's rather absorbing.
I've lost my voice anyway. I tried to sing last night but presenting three-hour lectures and workshops means that the vocal chords need a rest and that's just what they are doing.
My house is collapsing under piles of books. I don't know how I've managed to amass quite so many (well, I do: the free bookshop and the fact that so many of these titles are not too popular and the cheapest one was a penny!)
I feel like a pressure cooker. A new song is bubbling away but I'm not letting it out till I'm ready. I keep playing guitar so the ends of my fingers stay tough and don't soften up, but it's the stuff that's already there and not new compositions.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

A Cautionary Tale: The Really Good Band

I was told this story by a musician friend a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I've changed names and so on, but it's something like 70% true. It stands as a warning to those of us (myself included) whose offspring play in bands.

There was a really good band, once.

Ned was 15 and was an amazing bass player. He had learned from his uncle who'd been in... well, I can't remember their name but they supported U2 on one of their tours back in the day.
Yes, he'd learned from his uncle, and he'd also had a great teacher at school who really encouraged him. This teacher had taken him under his wing and had told Ned's parents that he was really, really talented.
Tommy was the drummer. He was 18, a bit older than the others but he'd bought his kit himself- saved up from his job helping his dad in his haulage business on Saturdays and also from his inheritance from his Grandparents (he was saving the rest of that for a flat). He had already had some success; he had played with his school at the Royal Albert Hall for an event that featured talented children from all over the UK and he had auditioned for an earlier version of Chvrches, before they changed musical direction (but he didn't get the job, although he reckons it's because they changed direction).
Sam was the guitarist. Like Ned, he was amazing- practically a child prodigy. Sam's dad had always wanted to be a guitarist but wasn't musical at all so he'd poured all his encouragement into Sam. Sam's sisters were a bit naffed off that their dad had spent so much money buying guitars and amps for him, but Sam's dad told them that Sam really had something, and when he made it and became famous, Sam would buy them all clothes, ponies, cars: whatever they wanted.
So just be patient!
Lastly, but not leastly, was their singer Damian. Damian had a proper rock voice, raspy and loud: not unlike Rod Stewart's, his dad's friends said, and he got a bit annoyed having to do Sailing and Maggie May at all their karaoke parties. But the book his mum gave him, How To Be A Success In The Music Business, said that you had to think about everyone as a potential audience member, so he always wheeled the songs out when he was asked to sing.
He really rather liked Charlotte Church, but he kept that quiet.
People had told them they should go on the X-Factor and they had actually auditioned but not got through (please don't tell anyone I told you that!).
They had everything they needed- a van (from Tommy's dad), equipment (parents had pitched in and bought what they needed), photos (Damian's girlfriend's aunt was a professional wedding photographer and had taken some moody shots down by the canal), and now they had a proper gig!
A local promoter had booked an artist that he'd liked since he was at Uni, and he knew that at least 150 people would come to the village hall to see him play.
Would the band like a support slot?
You bet they would!
Playing in front of 150 people was an opportunity that They Could Just Not Miss.
It was the school summer holidays and they spent days rehearsing in the Scout Hut, getting quite grumpy when the Scouts actually wanted to use it themselves and making some of the Guides cry (in fact the Guide Leader complained to Ned's mum when they were both having their hair done).
The night of the gig came round.
The promoter let them into the venue early (Ned's father had a word with the promoter because he owed him a favour) and they set up and rehearsed in situ to make damn sure they sounded good.
The sound engineer had been at school with Tommy's big sister and he took ages making sure everything sounded just right.
It was a bit annoying when the headline artist rolled up and tried to get on stage for a sound check. Didn't he realise that they were a Really Good Band, and not only that, they had A Lot of Local Followers?  (well, all their mates said they'd come along if they could be on the guest list and between them they had eleven family members coming along, if they could be on the guest list).
Eventually the headline artist gave up and went off to get something to eat, which meant that they could just carry on playing as the hall filled up and play their entire set of 20 sh*t-hot cover versions.
They cranked it up to the max, and the family asked for encore after encore. The audience loved them so much that they played for an hour and a half, even though they were only supposed to play for 30 minutes and the main artist was supposed to be on after that.
The main artist was standing by the stage looking a bit naffed off. Couldn't he see how Good they were? They must be, because the audience (or at least their family at the table at the front) were asking for more and more and there wasn't really any point in stopping between songs as a medley seemed like a good idea, building the atmosphere and getting the crowd going, especially when Sam played the solo from The Boys Are Back In Town absolutely note-perfect (and it's not easy!).
Eventually, when they were completely exhausted, they played their last encore.
Sweaty, laughing and triumphant, they left the stage, waving at Tommy's girlfriend at the back of the hall.
The mums and dads were standing up clapping frenetically- a standing ovation!
The main act went on. He'd had to set up in front of their gear but he'd said he didn't mind even though he looked a bit cross.
To be honest, although the audience seemed to like him a lot, he wasn't half as loud as the Really Good Band and when the mums and dads were having a laugh during his set, you could hardly hear him at all. He seemed to get quite annoyed at one point when Ned's father was telling them all the story of Ned dropping his guitar in front of a lorry in the High Street one night when he'd had his first ever pint or two. Hilarious! They couldn't stop laughing. It was a pity that it was during a song that the main act seemed to think was emotional: his audience were singing along with him but that didn't necessarily mean anything, did it?.
Some of the songs the main act played sounded quite good and the audience was clapping, but he wasn't as good as the Really Good Band, not by a long way. What was the point of playing songs he'd written himself? The people who had come to see him seemed to like them, but that was all. All the guys in the band were pretty sure they'd blown him off stage and the mums and dads agreed.
Finally, it was all over. It was dead annoying that they'd just had to sit there while the main guy was on, and wait to get their equipment off stage, because it was behind him.
Damian's dad had gone up at half ten and stood by the side of the stage. Between songs he'd asked if the guys could get their gear off , but the main act wasn't having any of it, which was a bit mean of him really. The band was knackered: didn't he understand?
But no- they had to wait right till the end.
Yes, that was dead annoying, but all in all it had been a good night.
Goes to show that by playing a set of standards really, really well (and I mean well), a Really Good Band can blow even an experienced solo artist off stage and show the guy's audience just how Good they are.
You might want to know the name of The Really Good Band because you might want to catch them if you're in their area.
They are called The Cuckoos.