Thursday, February 28, 2013

She-Bop Book Signing

 I went to Lucy O'Brien's book launch (third edition of She-Bop!) last night. Lucy was looking radiant and very 1920s; Cazz Blaise had travelled down from Manchester to be there, Caroline Coon, Dr No: lots of people turned out to support Lucy, including Skin from Skunk Anansie, who took to the floor to thank her for services rendered to the history of female musicians.
Here here!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Accidental Song

We were playing songs to each other down the phone and Martin played some chords which he called 'Helen Chords'.
So I wrote the Mad Bicycle song to go with them.
It will be a chance to try to write a guitar instrumental that I can play solo, so that's the task this week!

Monday, February 25, 2013


Are my words all going to the wrong place?
I have spent the day marking theses and writing a lecture for Wednesday. Last night I began two songs and abandoned them, partly because I still can't sing properly again, and partly because all I have in my arsenal at the moment are nuts-and-bolts academic words and not poetic ones.
However, the nuts-and-bolts are due to take me on adventures: I have written a piece for an e-zine called PerfectSoundForever ( which has not yet been published, and I am going to the University of Limerick in April to talk at a Riot Grrrl event: not about riot grrrl, but about the sonic landscape of women's punk music.
Songs, however, are knocking at the door. I can't wait for Monday at the Camden Head, where Martin and myself are going to sing and play together.
Next year I resolve to avoid gruesome viruses at all costs.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

At Rrrants Next Monday

We will be playing a half hour tour of our two albums as part of this fund-raising event in Camden, next Monday evening.

Listening to Jumpin' the Blues

I haven't been able to sort out the Sunday listening today; Merle Travis was too bibbly-bobbly this morning and then Gareth Lockrane's Hammond organ-suffused jazz did the trick for half an hour...
I went out to do some errands in the Buckinghamshire villages this avo, and came back to Agatha Christie and toast with blackcurrant jam.
And now it's Jumpin' the Blues, an Ace Records compilation which is just perfect for early Sunday evening; risque from both a male and female perspective and rough enough recording-wise to distort in places. Yeah!! Distortion!!! The saxes are yelling, Winifred Attwell's in the next room playing piano (at least I think it's her, it's just so frilly), the cheap cymbals are crashing, and the vocalists are having a bloody good time. Dolens Dickens, you're fab!

Talking of music: the students at the University of the East had a visit last Tuesday from Colleen Murphy, a dynamic woman who started and runs Classic Album Sundays where groups of people congregate to listen to classic vinyl albums in pristine conditions, played on top-of-the-range audio equipment. These events happen all over the world and are the best antidote to mp3-ism. Ever wondered why you buy so many mp3s and never listen to them? It's because the sound quality is clumsy; the bit rate is low and your brain gets tired trying to bridge the minute gaps between the bits (just like fluorescent lighting). So all you are hearing is a nod in the direction of the music, rather than the actual track itself, and your head doesn't like it!
Colleen's events allow listeners to hear analogue music and to listen to people talking around the music, not just about it. To find out more go to

Last night I should have been at Viv Albertine's gig at Nambucca in Holloway, but I am still too virused-up to go out in the evenings. So I stayed in and finished the illustration for Eliza P's forthcoming album, Eclectic Kettle, which Martin Stephenson is producing. I had to imagine the gig in my addled head, which wasn't as good as being there. Anybody go and can tell me all about it?

Larstly, I was sad to hear of Kevin Ayers dying last week. His track May I? from the album June 1st 1974 was so very romantic to a just-teenager. I went to see him at Newcastle City Hall (had to leave at 10.30 to catch the last train back to Wylam). The PA blew but he just carried on regardless, standing at the front of the stage and singing with his lovely silly posh voice; in some ways it was the perfect thing to have happened, complementing as it did his air of the futility of everything.
Bless his sweaty cotton tour socks and his English Gent Adrift persona!

I feel a trifle blue now... jumpin' blue? Take Out Your False Teeth Daddy, sings Margie Day.
Nothin' blue 'bout that!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

On the Eleventh Day

On the eleventh day of 'flu, I decided that a fresh walk along the Thames would do the trick.
I started at Waterloo which is always cold, even in summer, and which was particularly cold today.
The river was grey and steely and slapped and heaved under the thick cloudy sky.
As I passed the South Bank, I mused that if the graffiti-stealers with their angle grinders took to the underpinnings of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and removed the graffiti'd pillars, the whole thing would collapse in an undignified pile of concrete and skateboarders, with only their feet and perhaps their skateboards left behind, just like the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.
Although sweaty trainers don't have quite the same appeal as ruby slippers....
I walked past The Globe, which shivered beneath its Beatles fringe of thatch.
I tried to go to the Lichtenstein exhibition but the Tate Modern is a confusion of ticket offices, stairs and escalators, with more gift shops than sense, and I decided to get tickets online and go another time.
My final stop was the Borough Market which was crammed with people but really fun. I bought a sloppy wrap which squirted its contents all over my clothes; I looked at cheese but didn't buy it, but I did buy a huge bunch of parsley and some of those lovely little Portugese custard tarts (which won't last long in this house). Although it is resoundingly middle class and ok-yah, the sheer variety of photogenic food is a delight to the senses and nobody seems to get cross if you bump into them (inevitable). Even at this time of year there were lots of tourists eating venison burgers in floury solid-looking buns and every stall has minuscule sample blobs of whatever it is they are selling. If you were really patient you could probably eat an entire lunch out of mini-portions.
Urban walking is a good remedy for the dregs of a cold and even the cold wind and little flurries of snow didn't spoil the afternoon; the only shame was that I think Barnet were playing this afternoon and I didn't have enough energy to go!

Friday, February 22, 2013

I Don't Make Money From Writing This Blog

I seem to be getting a large number of viewings from a site telling people how to make money from writing a blog.
I don't make anything from this blogas I decided not to monetise it; I'm not sure why I decided that, but I did!
So don't take advice from me if you're trying to cash in on your readership, bloggers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Liberty Horses

Always up-to-the-minute and current, Liberty's window display nods ironically in the direction of the horseburger scandal...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Molly Drake

I have been listening to the recordings of Molly Drake, Nick's mum. It's odd how much you can hear her influence on his vocal modulation as a singer: she has that slightly fluting delivery that can torture you when it doesn't work, but both of them have perfect pitching and her singing is heartbreakingly beautiful to listen to. Subject-wise, the songs could be twee but there's an underlying sadness in her voice and a kind of isolated, imprisoned aura to the music.
She sounds like  a very lonely woman putting the whole of her aching heart into each word, each syllable. Although they were recorded in the 1950s and 1960s, style-wise they are planted in the 1940s with that echo of World War Two never far away, although they do have something of that 'Listen-With-Mother-ness' that pre TV-era under-fives will remember clearly (ahem).
A lovely set of recordings, greatly recommended:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


A symptom of middle-aged middle-classness in an ex-punk is being inspired to sing a well-known Buzzcocks song while making tea in a Danish Bodum teapot.

Monday, February 18, 2013



Is this the famous mechanical silver swan at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Teesside?
No, it's an aluminium foil scallop receptacle in the marvellous covered Grainger Market in Newcastle upon Tyne, silly!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


In our bathroom cupboard for many years there was a small powdery soft old cardboard box, half full of ancient bars of hotel soap in exotically-coloured paper wrappers. If you looked into the box, you sneezed because of the overpowering soapy dust and the aroma of concentrated perfume.
These were McMum's holiday souvenirs from the 1950s ; the packets were worn from rubbing against each other and from general ancientness.
Postbox red, clinical blue, flashes of yellow, each of the miniature packets looked more tempting than the last to open and try; paradoxically, this was probably why they had never been used.
Which to use first?
And of course, once the first one had been used, it was time for the second, the third, the fourth... and the magical box of free holiday souvenirs would eventually vanish along with its memories of forgettable motels and budget hotels.
So they stayed there on their bathroom cupboard shelf for years and years and years.
I wonder what became of them?


Hotels are complex ant-hills. In this one, we asked to be moved after being parked in a room next to a pack of laughing hyaenas who arrived back sloshed at 7 a.m. and roared through the corridors yelping and howling.
The toilets gurgle and heave when you flush them and the sink drains cluck and chuckle randomly for half an hour for no reason.
Our room service dinner gave us mild food poisoning but not bad enough to complain about and the entire hotel shakes every time a train enters or leavs Newcastle Central Station.
I love Newcastle; the surface has been scrubbed and EU money has given it new things but it is a stubborn beast of a city.
I'm taking the flu home today but it's been nice to be ill somewhere different. Martin has been writing ska songs on his laptop (very good ones) and he is off to the studio again later today.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Nova Castria

Nova Castria is in full flow; the bars are starting to fill with packs of women, hair solid with spray and faces solid with make-up, skin tanned from a bottle and on display; the male of the species, also hunting in packs, has a premature beer-belly, cropped hair, chimp-hanging arms and clouds of aftershave swirling in the cigarette smoke.
Last night's phlegm is still patch worked on the Tarmac; the streets fill with shouts and barked expletives. In the windows of the bars, cocktails are sucked through perfectly lipsticked  mouths, the eyes above them darting to left and right, searching for romance.
The Indian restaurateurs wait patiently for the onslaught.
In Greggs, a chap who is already drunk orders a shaushashe roll.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Seen on an Edinburgh Bus...

Most Edinburgh buses, actually: a tartan-carpet-framed security video display.
I think someone at the bus company has a sense of humour.

Seen in a London Street...

This car had been trying to do the jigsaw, but had been interrupted by the first passer-by of the rush hour, and had to abandon it.
Later, it was swept up by a street-sweeper and the poor car never got to find out what the picture was.


Not many postings at the moment, due to a diet of Lemsip, deadlines and and students; had to cancel my performance at the Love Slam last night due to complete loss of voice.
Normal transmission should be resumed next week!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

East London Errands

There was a bitterly cold wind, but I didn't mind doing the East London errands; there was plenty of interesting graffiti, and a very strange window display of Action men.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I went for a facial x-ray today and discovered that on one side of my face, all of the teeth have long pointed roots, and on the other, they all have short rounded roots; I am completely asymmetrical.
I thought that I would share this incredible information with you.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


In a variety of fabrics and 'tartans', some crumpled, some crisp.
Waverley Station is awash with tartanry as rugby fans flood to Edinburgh, with tattooed legs and pierced faces, all red from the chilly drizzle sent to drench their sporting fixture.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

On Being Huhne-d

I think we need a new verb: Huhne-ing.
That's when your partner tries to get you to take the rap or responsibility for something illegal on their behalf.
Many years ago when I was an art student I travelled to Amsterdam with my then boyfriend.
He bought some weed; we were guests of a pilot who probably guessed what he had been up to, and remarked in conversation that if any type of drugs were discovered at his house he wold lose his licence, no matter whom the drugs belonged to.
That night, I was awoken by a scuffling sound; the boyfriend had unrolled the end of a tube if toothpaste and was packing his little bag of weed into the end of it. He rolled it up again, with a satisfied sigh, and said to me, 'Nobody will ever find that'.
On the ferry back to England, he rummaged in his luggage. 'Here, you can take this through customs', he said. 'They'd never stop you!'.
So I took the toothpaste tube.
All night I may awake worrying. He was probably right; I was only 19 and looked younger. But in my imagination I wax caught, abandoned, and stood trial on my own.
Eventually, I took the tube of toothpaste and threw it over the side into the North Sea.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Pomegranate Juice

Nothing like a glass of pomegranate juice to cool the cockles of the heart after a stressful day at work.
An unexpected discussion about life, the universe and art ended the afternoon on a good note, and now Martin in his Highland eyrie is adding some guitars to one of my tracks.
A busy day ends with a sparkle!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Computery Things

Computers can be boring, it's the things you can do with them that are interesting.
I have been listening, listening to the sounds of recorded guitars, trying to get them just right... trying out a different guitar, a different feel, a different way of playing.
It's all so detailed but it all makes such a difference.
I am going to have to crack open the posh microphone for some of the vocals, which means that the grunting, wheezing, cracking, roaring central heating will have to go off for a couple of hours (I'm sure you can understand why).
The SM58 doesn't notice it at all, nor the loudly clanking tick of the wall-clock.

I dropped the external hard drive on the floor this afternoon but it still works, just. There is something melancholy now in its high-pitched whine, but it's only a machine and my heartstrings are un-pulled.

And I have been sorting out archives, this time of drawings, collecting them into an electronic file together. The Pussy Riot story is going to be published in a collection with lots of women's artwork and writing, by Rough Trade/The Guardian, to help in the freedom campaign. More news when I know it!

The upside-down elephant is now part of a drawing, too... not quite finished!

Bloody Hell, it's Monday!

Where did the weekend go to?

Friday, February 01, 2013

Danse Macabre Demo

You can hear it here


Anyone who records vocals will tell you that 'p' is for  'pop', that plosive sound that acts like a minor explosion when mediated through the tender diaphragm of a microphone.
The letter 'p' and to a lesser extent the letter 'b' send the dials and the engineer's faces into the red.
The shame...
With my hick kitchen setup, and while recording demos in between marking bouts, I realise that I don't have a pop shield.
Amateurs make these by stretching an old pair of tights over a coat-hanger, placing the contraption between the offending singer's lips and the microphone, and intercepting the blast of air before it gets there to shoot the VDU off the scale.

I wander around the house.
Not only do I not have a spare coat-hanger, I haven't got (a) old tights and (b) even new tights of the required delicate denier not to muffle the voice altogether (it's winter, innit?).
Also, I haven't got three hands: one to hold the microphone, one to hold the lyrics and one to hold the makeshift pop-shield that I haven't made.
The mike stand is in the boot of the car and it's cold out there. The music-stand is deep down inside the umbrella stand which will finally break if I burrow down inside it because it's made of second-hand dried up wicker.
Suddenly, I hit upon a wheeze!
I go through the lyrics, substituting new words for all the words that include the letter 'p' abart from the ones that I can reblace with the softer and less risky letter 'b'.

Ho ho!
Off I go...
Demo, Dem-o!!!!!