Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Last lecture of the academic year today; some of the students have been offered paid work as a result of doing placements and I am delighted for them. In a week's time, the sea of marking will start crashing in from two Universities and I'll be burning the dawn oil (I start at 7 and work through till early afternoon) to get it all done by the deadlines. I have also been examining a PhD which I read on the way to and from Brighton to take the Offsprogs out for dinner last night. I will have to read it a few times more to work out the way I will word the questions at the oral examination, or Viva.
Meanwhile, we are going to form a residents association in the little street I live in, which is about to be swamped by a huge housing development directly opposite where I live. One of the neighbours is selling up and leaving but I'm not in a position to do that. There will be two years of noise and damage. I can not believe that Barnet Council has OK'd a new housing estate right in the middle of a conservation area. Several of us who live in this street work at home a lot (I spent the whole of January marking 65 two thousand word essays and 12 eight thousand word theses) so these orange ear-protectors will come in very handy!

Thanks to Jonathan at the Gonzo Blog http://gonzo-multimedia.blogspot.co.uk/ for name-checking my track The Song of the Unsung Heroine on Youtube. This was filmed at the gig in Gateshead that Martin organised where Gina Birch, Viv Albertine and Pauline Murray played. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoGALCk4Nrk For some reason Voiceprint lists the album Poetry and Rhyme as Poems and Rhymes. A much more down to earth title, perhaps?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Next Premises Songwriting Course with Ed Harcourt

The Art of Record Production Online Conference

I am taking part in a panel in an online conference tomorrow here http://artofrecordproduction.com/
I'm hoping to talk about the work that I do recording songwriters and the real life issues that come into play when you work with people who are not savvy about the recording process. I am on the Vocals panel; perhaps I should have been on the Authenticity panel but I've subscribed to that one too.
It's going to be an interesting day.

Grainger Market, Newcastle

What a gem!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Guitar Talk

Jim Hornsby and Martin Stephenson talk guitars at Thekla, Bristol. Joby posted this on Facebook: Thekla is a boss venue, not pretty (you can make up for that) but fit for purpose, convert the hold into a club. Glad to know she is still there after many years & problems. My friends Dutch barge MV Peter lay alongside for quite a time until she got me & a few cronies to take her down to PZ, later we took her to moorings near Tower Bridge. GR8 fun, bit of a handful (both vessel & owner), armed River Cops boarded us to CHK we were Halal/Kosher & were not full of Semtex (just after 9/11) but cool. Did some work on her & took her to Rochester for hull inspection (Thames Barrage is awesome) & she sold for 90 grand. Made some manoeuvres for new owners, bit scary with bloody tourists on Tower Bridge, no FU tho. Thekla was brought down from Scotland, must have been some voyage.
Have a good gig & POI she is a ship not a boat & has ‘freeing ports’, the windows in her hull are known as scuttles

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chinnery's, Southend

Three cheers for one of the nicest live sound engineers in the business! Chinnery's, you have a gem there.
Pre-gig smoke almost steals the show....

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Monday's Gig at The Boogaloo

It was a fantastic evening of music and good-natured support! We put names in a hat to decide the running order but Amy and myself kicked off the evening, taking turns to do songs (two each of our own and two Jeffersongs). First guest act was The Home Office, and extraordinary duo who sing songs of workaday angst on this occasion accompanied by a Nintendo Gameboy. Dressed in army and navy hats, they sang the poppiest of songs in unison over nervy, skittery beats, moving mechanically in a parody of Kraftwerk and taking the slumbering rock'n'roll Boogaloo rather by surprise. Peter and Nadya are a striking duo, he tall and severe-looking and Nadya with enviable cheekbones and a look of mischief in her eyes.
Next were Trees and the Slipway, who play music that in their own words 'sounds like we spent the 1990s taking acid in Liverpool'. They also favour unison singing; the three chaps stand in a line, with a large Casio synth in the middle that takes them on an odd journey to an even odder destination. Steve plays a red Hofner guitar that fuzzes through a tiny Roland practice amp; insouciant, the bass-player gazed out of the window at the traffic heading down to Archway as he plays; somehow this is apt, especially as a large roaring vehicle with flashing lights snarled past during a quieter moment in one of the songs.
Great sound guys- unique!
I think I am probably getting everything in the wrong order....
The Magnetic Mind turned up just in time to play; with the lead singer Paul on guitar and the drummer on bass (was that right?) they treated us in the audience to the most lush of harmonies and they played two Jeffersongs and one of their own. Their own song was better than the cover versions, I thought; they have a knack with harmonies that soar and swoop and are deliciously layered like a gorgeous cake from Patisserie Valerie. This music is neo-psychedelia of the first order, and afterwards I told them they should hook up with Lester Square from the Monochrome Set- he would just love their songs and their set-up.
One of the pleasures of the evening was watching the artists watch each other- the line-up was unusual and it was great to see everyone playing up to and beyond their potential.
Guy Harries played next, and treated the audience to an emotional electronic experience, augmenting his powerful vocals with flute-playing and exploring Alan Turing's death with such intensity that later, and audience-member came up and told me that she had been moved to tears.
Our final guest artist was Martin Stephenson, who is mid-tour, and who very kindly agreed to take some time out to play for us. As soon as the little Yiari was plugged in, a charge of energy went round the venue and he played a stormin' mini-set that rounded the guest slots off perfectly.
Amy and myself finished the evening with a song each, and then it was home-time.
I was really happy that it went so well- thank you to the artists who all performed so well, to Nat who asked us to host it, to Nat's dad for doing the door, to Dylan for filming it, to Jamie for doing the sound, to Amy for her sharp and fresh new songs, and to the audience for being warm and supportive!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sweep - Singing his Greatest Hits


Without vanity plays my Reverbnation counter has got to 1999. You have no idea how tempting it is for me to press 'play' to play a song and get it to 2000!
Please put me out of my misery, someone!

The Boogaloo

Tonight at the Boogaloo, nanosteps away from Highgate Tube, Acton Bell and myself present a night of Jeffersongs- Airplane, Starship and Slick, with Trees and the Slipway, Martin Stephenson, The Magnetic Mind, Guy Harries, the Home Office and Portia Winters.
I feel hugely proud of our line-up- what a variety of guitar pop, electronica, psychedelia, folkwhatsit and more!
We are putting names in a hat for performance times so come early- it starts at 8 on the dot and Acton Bell and myself will be kicking the evening off.
£3 to get in.
Wear your flares!
I haven't got any any more, but I'll be wearing both my flares (half mast) and my stars'n'stripes clogs (which I bought form a small ad in the back of Sounds), in my head.
Peace and love, man!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not At Columbia Road

Its so sunny and lovely. I had hoped to go to Columbia Road where they sell the plants and flowers, and return bearing bags of multi-coloured semperviva to plant in the voids of birch Christmas tree stands, now that the lopped trunks have gone to the municipal refuse tip.
Alas, I have work to catch up on, the nine-tenths of the iceberg left below water after the symposium et al last week.
A pigeon perches on the tree next door hooting mournfully: 'Poor you! Poor you!'. Sarcastic b*gger!
Students from the University of the East have been out on work placements and I have been overseeing their CVs, advising them, visiting them, and managing a certain degree of panic.
Having a work-age daughter who is also setting off on a journey into this horrific unemployment situation gives me a certain empathy- I have to fight against the feeling that I have 42 offspring (or 150 if you count the Theatre and Dance students that I have ultimate responsibility for) to support.
Some of the students have been incredibly resourceful, even at the moment of panic.
My mantra for myself in the same situation in the 1980s (yes, Thatcher!) was to live by my wits.
One of the guest speakers who came to talk to the students cited 'resilience' as his most useful attribute; I couldn't agree with him more.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Week

The plane bumped and lurched into Shannon Airport on Monday narrowly missing the tornado that had been forecast (it didn't arrive, thankfully); I was rustling with papers ready for the Riot Grrrl Symposium at the University of Limerick.
Tuesday broke with glorious sunshine, and the room filled with a very interesting-looking bunch of people. The first speaker was Claire Sedgwick, and she talked about the importance of Zines to feminist discourse from a historical perspective; Tiffany Naiman presented a paper on Courtney Love's Somebody Kill Me and its ethical repercussions; and Gretchen Larsen presented a paper on groupies (one of the most under-researched subjects in the universe of academia: it will be interesting to see what she has concluded when her research is finished). My paper was on the influence of reggae on the sounds of female punk bands, and the Julia Downes presented research into 'all-girl' radicalism.
After the papers had been presented I was struck by just how different things had been for girls and women in punk bands. Riot Grrrl was bristling with manifestoes and a network of communication through letters, zines and music, all centred on how young women felt about themselves in relation to family, society, the media and politics.
Our experience was infinitely more raw and clumsy; I simply can't imagine how it must have felt to be part of something that women did internationally rather than to reside in a corner of punk. There were women's music groups all over the UK (and Europe, and the USA) back in the 1970s but I was put off by the cliqueyness, which simply doesn't raise it's head in the rosy histories of the moment. I recall a deeply upset older woman musician being told at a Women's Meeting that one of the group was physically repulsed by her because of her age. Some support network that was!
I'm sure it wasn't the same everywhere, and the women's bands in Brighton played alongside everyone else. But there seemed to be an awful lot of rules and that was what I thought I was escaping from by playing music in the first place.
So this was all very interesting.
Afterwards, the all-female group Girl in a Coma did a live set, interspersed with a Q&A session run by Eoin Devereux, the academic who had very kindly invited me to speak. It was interesting and a relaxing way to spend the afternoon before Michael whisked me off the the airport with much political discussion and I hopped on a plane back to Heathrow.
I'm hoping to get some photos and I will post them when I do.
Oh and on the plane, I met an old chap who talked all the way back to England. Having had hypnotherapy to deal with my fear of flying, I normally go into a trance. This was awkward, especially the bit when we got back to Heathrow early and circled about. The chap was sitting in the window seat and I had to look past his face as he talked, and see beyond him through the porthole the ground and houses directly below, as the plane tipped sideways. It makes my feet burn even just to think of it. Talk about inner screaming!
So the next day, after a morning of tutorials and trying to help an old lady on the bus by making a phone call for her to ask for someone to meet her off the bus ('NO! That's NOT WHAT I WANTED YOU TO DO!!!' she yelled aggressively when I'd finished) I headed down to trendy Hoxton for Songlab, our student songwriters night.
When I got there, the owner of the venue said he had double-booked us with a screening of a documentary about gypsy jazz.
The day started to feel surreal.
In the end, it all blended together in a casual and relaxed way; I sat in the corner with one of the students listening to his stuff, while the screening went ahead, and then the film-makers hung about and listened to the music. If you're interested in what we do, take a look at our Facebook page, Songlab UEL.
The week continued to be busy... but I'm going to take a break now.
Tomorrow at 1 p.m. I am playing at David's record store in Letchworth, a free event for Record Store Day and will probably be playing the first political song I've written for ages, Big Brother Is Watching You which is here, on Reverbnation: www.reverbnation.com/helenmccookerybook

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Fantastic Riot Grrrl symposium at Limerick yesterday, with lots of food for thought. I'll write about it properly later; tutorials this morning and Songlab at The Troy Bar tonight. I needed soup in the garden with the bees!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Small-Town Adventure

Printing out the paper for the conference in Limerick took me on a small adventure yesterday. I had already emailed my air ticket to Martin is Scotland, which he kindly printed out and posted back to me.
Snappy Snaps offered to charge me £14.00 but I scooted through the rain round to the library where I re-registered (I lost my card a while ago) and printed it out from one of their computers for the princely sum of £1.70.
Meanwhile, can anyone recommend a non-Epson printer that works with a Mac? This one's going back to Ryman's for the second time and I won't even get a refund as it's out of guarantee now. But I don't want it in my house any more giving me grief!
There are more adventures than this happening in Barnet at the moment but when I write about what is happening, I will have to choose my words very carefully- so not yet.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Big Brother is Watching You

New live iPhone track here http://www.reverbnation.com/helenmccookerybook


I am learning Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers to play at the Jeffersongs gig at the Boogaloo on 22nd April. The lyrics seem oddly apt although of course they are about America. Maybe I need to write some more about the UK! It is such a short song that there is room to manoeuvre.


The Deborah Orr article in today's Guardian was disturbing. The former Prime Minister whose funeral is happening next week did nothing for women (alongside all the other people she did nothing for, which is a deliberate understatement, if you get my drift).
There is an argument that asks 'Why should a woman help other women to get on in life?' which is a long debate and not the subject of today's posting (and the answer is usually somewhere along the lines of 'because it is too difficult and saps the energy that needs to be used for defending her own position').
The fact about the former Prime Minister that should be considered is that she brought in legislation that made it more difficult for women to achieve anything outside the home.
For approximately 1 pence (and if you use the tax-avoiding beast) Amazon Marketplace will sell you a book by Wendy Webster called Not A Man To Match Her.
My copy has, I think, been spirited away by an Offsprog. It's an entertaining and horrific book in equal measure and gives a useful perspective on the (insert appropriate words according to political leaning); ******* *****.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Odd Ones Out

I have been working on my paper for the Limerick conference today- editing it down to a half-hour talk.
I keep thinking that I have finished researching punk but then new things appear on the horizon and beg to be investigated.
I think back to those times, and the way that we as young people struggled to understand each other. Different social classes of people were all jumbled up together, an intense 'university of life' for people who in more affluent times might have been oblivious to the ways others lived.
Unemployment put most young people into the same boat; to imagine it today you'd have to mix the young urban rioters and gang members up with the University and College students. You can't imagine that now, but that's what it was like.
I had a mixed race boyfriend and my best friend was Persian, but a racist skinhead and a professional 'queer-basher' used the same pub, as well as various burglars, hotel workers, shop workers, addicts, musicians and students. There were a lot of direct arguments and fights, but I actually think things began to get sorted out in a lot of ways.
It is a good thing to face people and challenge them directly rather than just reading about what they say and who they are in a newspaper, or watching a TV report.
They were mad times but I think a lot of people who experienced that odd era in history feel that it included them in a huge cultural gang that they still feel they belong to in some sense today.
It was something you had to survive- intense and sometimes violent, with some sort of disruption always lurking under the surface and quite shocking to me, a village girl, to find that the Police hated us just because of a name.
Odd to think that it's now going to become illegal to attack people who choose to look different!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Helen and the Horns Peel Sessions

The Helen and the Horns John Peel sessions will be released later this year- watch this space for details!
I also have compilation albums of our other stuff which I collected from Near Shore Records a few weeks ago- email me if you'd like one, £10.00 inc p & p.


Interesting; you may have noticed that I am slightly dyslexic.
A posting I made years ago about Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers was mistitled 'Johnny Thunders and the Hearbreakers'.
I didn't realise, and that posting was getting between 25-50 hits a day.
I realised my mistake about three months ago and corrected the title of the posting.
It now gets between 8-11 hits a day.
Isn't that mysterious?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Record Store Day

This is a fantastic record shop and it's worth travelling to- amazing, and I am delighted to be playing there again this year

The Introduction of the Cardboard Box

In 1989 Berlin was European City of Culture, and Paul who plays sax with Helen and the Horns, and myself were invited to play a gig at The Loft in Berlin and also to do some recording.
We made friends with out engineer, Sylvester, and the next winter he came to stay with me in Camberwell, where I lived at the time with my then partner.
Sylvester was hugely excited to be in London and sang the praises of Margaret Thatcher, who he said was a leader of great vision and personality, unlike the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was often to be seen looking glum and boring in a large grey mackintosh.
Sylvester set off to see the sights on London, buzzing with delight.
On his return, he seemed a little deflated.
'Who are these people living in boxes at Waterloo?' he asked. 'What are they doing there?'
'They are the result of our leader of vision and great personality', I replied.
'Before Thatcher, there was nobody living in Britain in cardboard boxes; there were hardly any beggars at all'.
(I told him about tramps, just to be fair).
'But how can one of the wealthiest countries in the world allow its people to become so poor that they have no roofs over their heads and they are reduced to living in boxes?'.
How indeed.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Bachelor Boys



I'm not going to say anything, because everyone else is; apart from the fact that the repercussions of what she did and the way she made people think are still being felt today. Awful.
Last night Martin recorded a version of The Bachelor Boys for me on his computer; we sat in my front room and set everything up amongst the books and coffee cups. It's not bad at all, though not finished. It felt like an oasis of calm; our street has risen up in protest at a huge housing development that is being mooted, plonked on to our neighbourhood with fanfares of press and radio before it's even got planning permission. We are going to a council meeting in a minibus to show them that we exist, the call of 'We're here!' echoing the Dr Seuss animation of Horton the Elephant rescuing a tiny planet whose population climbs to the tallest building and chants those words through a mega-megaphone until Horton hears them and rescues them.
Except in this case, the rescuers have to be ourselves.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Howard Moon

I saw Howard Moon on the tube today. He got off at Kentish Town.

Songwriting with Gina

I headed to the heart of Bayswater this morning; a few weeks ago Gina sent me a backing track to have idea about, and today I recorded the top line and some harmonies on to it, holding a home-made pop-shield like a mis-shapen Japanese fan in front of my mouth and a lyric-book in the other hand.
We have been trying to collaborate musically for years but we have never been able to work out how to do it and I have to say we were both quite pleased with the result, which was fairly basic because I'm not the world's best reggae singer but I can carry a tune or two. Years ago a band called Shriekback invited me to sing over a groove they had made and I was too lacking in confidence to do it; this time around I had a clear idea about what the song was about and writing a melody and words came easily. I even pretend to be an offended Daily Mail reader halfway through it.
I was going to play some mad guitar on it too but we couldn't find the amplifier (she is moving house shortly and half her stuff is in the garage).
By the time Gina has applied her dubfinger mixing approach I think the track will be very listenable.

Meanwhile, yesterday Martin sent me a rough version of what I think is his best track in years (and that is saying something).
It has a very European black-and-white-film feel to it and he has asked Veronique, our photographer friend who did the Covent Garden photo shoot for me earlier this year, to translate and speak some poetry in the middle part of the song. It is going to be utterly lovely and I can't wait to hear the finished version.
Now, I have some writing to do (I always seem to have some writing to do!) but I'm actually going to eat half a bar of chocolate and watch The One Show apart from when Chris Evans is shouting, when I'll find minor chores to do.
That's about three-quarters of it, then.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Land of One Sock

Please come and join me in the Land of One Sock.
It is a new Queendom (open to all except members of the current political administration).
Poor people welcome, especially those with mad ideas!

Daintees Playing Glastonbury

Did you know that The Daintees will be playing at Glastonbury? They will be in the Acoustic Tent; also playing that night will be Steve Winwood and Sinead O'Connor!



It's snowing outside. I have bought soup, and I am listening to Frank Ocean.
I don't feel so cold any more.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Stamp Collection

O for the days of DIY! Sounds like a song title... next one perhaps. While unearthing lost cassettes of music ( I used the sing the horn parts on to three separate cassettes and give one each to the trumpet, trombone and sax players to learn) and lost DATs (where I found Paradise Lost, which I'm now working out as a Spanish-guitar backed acoustic song), I found these rubber stamps, which both The Chefs and Helen and the Horns used on correspondence, photographs and so on.
The Chefs' one is rather worn out but the Helen and the Horns one still works (it's a bit younger). The others are Musician's Union ones. I am contemplating forays back into DIY at the moment, in particular the idea of making my own comic out of some of the stories I contributed in the past to now-defunct publications. Some of the stories are a trifle fruity and hence don't appear on the Tumblr site I set up a few weeks ago.
BTW I also have a Facebook artist page. This is a symptom of many hours at home marking, with prevaricative forays into social media in order to stretch my brain and prevent it from becomeing addled with too many there's and theirses (anyone who marks student work will understand what I mean by that, defiantly).