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