Monday, June 30, 2014

Songwriting Tips


Odd that when I don't post anything for a while, more people read this blog. There's no rational reason to explain that at all.
I am having a quiet night in; no TV, no noise.
McMum was cremated on Friday, a small ceremony with close family which was exhausting and intense. I do feel that between us my sister and myself (and in particular, my sister) made sure that McMum's last ten days were dignified and serene. Our youngest brother was with her when she died which is probably exactly what she wanted.
Thankfully, the Friar's Carse Songwriting Weekend followed and it was good therapy to be busy again, helping people to write lovely songs with the lush green trees around us and the bright blue sky above us. The weekend before, the lovely people on the Premises Songwriting course were also a pleasure to work with.
I came home to a CD on the doormat from my dear friend Dubulah and I will listen to that tomorrow.
It will be strange not to be making the 400-mile commute to Edinburgh; often, the trip was a swerve eastwards from something in Glasgow or northwards from something in Newcastle. I wonder whether Edinburgh will become a stranger?
There is such a lot to catch up on. I must start that now.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And This! A Gig at the Harrison Bar, Wednesday 2nd July

Looking Forward To...

I'm looking forward to the Friar's Carse Songwriting Weekend.
They are so different, all these events, each with their own distinct personality.
When I have time I'll upload some photos from the Premises Course; things are quite busy at the moment but normal service will be resumed next week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Disappearing Act

I was thrilled to see that the Newham Recorder had picked out my research to mention in an article they wrote about tomorrow's research conference at the University of the East last week, but not so thrilled to find out that it had been replaced this week by a paragraph about a colleague's research instead. What a mystery- and ironic, since I specialise in doing research about women who have been written out of history!

Charlie Chaplin

We were waiting at CamdenTown for our connection to Old Street.
A train slid past on its way out of the station.
In the end carriage, leaning back on his own, sat Charlie Chaplin in black and white, a expression of lonely sadness on his chalky face behind his bristling black fake moustache.

The Premises Seven

Another Premises Songwriting Course has just come to an end. What a nice bunch of people. From the outset, they supported each other, listened to each other and boosted each other's confidence. Martin Stephenson did an amazing masterclass and Paulette Long spoke to them about marketing their songs. the band, Martin, Kate and John from The Daintees and piano player Barry Green worked hard all day yesterday in the studio; Jason did a grand job of recording and even rose to the occasion of recording Maya's harp with aplomb. Thanks to Julia for organising it- and here's to the next one.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Our mother, Jean McCallum, passed away very peacefully on Sunday in Edinburgh. She will be especially missed by her six grandchildren who had all visited her in recent weeks, much to her great joy.

University of East London Research Conference

I am presenting my current research here (and heads up to Paula Woolfe who I do actually quote from although it doesn't look like it from the blurb attached to this).

Monday, June 16, 2014


My mother lay in bed listening to blackbirds in the daytime and owls at night.
Yesterday evening, my sister and myself sat drinking tea, and we distinctly heard an owl hooting in the darkness outside the flat: further, closer, further.
We had never heard one here before.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Women in Punk, Sunday 1.30 p.m.

Women in Punk

Please note that there will be no adverts or trailers prior to screening(s) of this programme. The programme will start at the time listed.
4hr 00min.
On Sunday 15t June, The Phoenix introduces a double bill that celebrates free thinking women and rebel girls from school days to international fame. The event will kick-off with an introduction from Helen Reddington of the University of East London and end with bands The Exhausts and DOE playing in our café.

We Are the Best 
Sweden 2013. 1hr 42. Directed by Lukas Moodysson.
An adaptation of a graphic novel by Moodysson's wife, Coco, about three young girls growing up in early '80s Stockholm, who are looking for a cause and decide to form a punk band despite being told by everyone that Punk is dead.

The Punk Singer 
USA 20113. 1hr 22. Directed by Sini Anderson.
Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre, rose to national attention as the reluctant but never shy voice of the riot grrrl movement. She became one of the most famously outspoken feminist icons, a cultural lightning rod.

Helen Reddington is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East London. Her publications include, The Lost Women of Rock Music: female musicians of the punk era, The Forgotten Revolution of the Female Punk Musicians in the 1970s and Lady Punks in Bands: a subculturette?

Following the films the Phoenix will be hosting hot new bands The Exhausts and DOE in the café for you to let out some of your angst!

Sunday 15 June at 1.30pm.
Tickets £7.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Edinburgh is an extraordinary city. Even from here in the suburbs, you can see the castle and, of course, Arthur's Seat, the huge green hill that mocks Edinburgh's formality with its permanence. The shifting weather throws up different nooks and crannies every second. Spring shrubs blossom and fade in what seems like seconds. Tourists on Princes Street are caught in ferocious summer rain showers that drench their t-shirts. Old-fashioned bars squat next to newsagents plastered with notices and advertisements and vintage shops trace a map from charity shops just two doors away.
Chichi coffee bars are so laid back that nobody gets served, and the silver-haired elderly dart around, going about their daily business as they have done for decades.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Thoughts On Getting Older

It seems that the older you get, the more you have the simple act of survival in common with people. The D-day survivors get together to share their survival.... The women of their generation also survived.
I look at elderly people in the street and on the bus in Edinburgh. I'm more objective because I'm not in the city that I live in; I think about the punk generation, and Poly and Ari who have died. I think about our generation getting older and taking our different memories of a common time through middle age and into old age.
Will we become friends with the Thatcher babies purely because we have spent many years side by side or will we be eternally irritated by each other?
I think about all this as I return to McMum's flat in Edinburgh. Lots if very senior people live in the building, and outside the door a very ancient pigeon nibbles at leaves in the flower bed. It has a scaly old beak and tatty feathers. 'You've come to the right place', I tell it, and try to feed it a croissant.
Suddenly I'm intrigued by the mystery of the elderly.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Dog Next Door

Frantic, it barks and barks. It's out in the yard panicking. I went out with my guitar, trying to set the barks to music (if you can't beat 'em,  join 'em, but not if they're UKIP of course).
It listened for a while then started again.
Bark, bark, bark, whimper, whimper, whimper, for three hours every day.
How am I supposed to think, let alone work? These houses are tiny, far too small for dogs and far too close together for them too.

Meanwhile I have finished Viv's book. I found it riveting; it was so true to life especially the punk bit, and the rest of it was a very frank adventure through life's lies and disappointments.
It is written in a tube-journey style so you can pick up easily where you left off, which is probably why I read it so quickly. That being said it is by no means ephemeral; there are some very keen observations in there that I have bookmarked for further consultation.
I thought about life. Often, when someone tells me that they are depressed, I ask them if there is anyone else in the world that they would rather be. I have never known the answer to be no, and I am pretty sure that Viv would not have wanted to live anyone else's life but hers.
All of the women in punk bands, without exception, were and are survivors; we were women in a man's world, in the most sacred part of it, the rock part that has excluded women for decades. The men didn't know what to do with us and we experienced a rainbow of behaviour, from positive and enabling to very, very dark indeed. All of this is here painted in vivid colours (yes, I get it).
This book throws down a challenge to those muso boy-biogs that will be hard to beat.
Wholeheartedly recommended: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, published by Faber and Faber.

A Big Thank You

A big thank you to you, for everything you do that people forget to thank you for, especially those you do most for over and above the call of duty (or the call of your job description).
And a big thank you from me to me, for exactly the same thing!
(thankers can be excused, and are much appreciated: you know who you are!)
Do pass this message on if you get the chance.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Five Minutes. Some Things.

Ahhh... five minutes.
I saw a woman pursue a yellow flimsy plastic bag from the toy shop, down the street. She had a tubular aluminium walking-stick with a rubber foot at the end. She was trying to spear it but the wind was playing a game with her. She chased it towards the street bin, sometimes managing to catch it.
She lifted it, against the wind, and towards the opening to the bin.
The wind laughed.
With a caressing tiny gust, it entered the bag and lifted it up above the bin and down the street beyond her reach.

I have been at Gina's this morning trying to play guitar chops on two of her tracks. I'm not a chopper and I want to learn how to do it; that bloke from The Young Marble Giants is brilliant at it so I'm going to listen.
I think what I did was OK in the end, and it's good because I've started wanting to play guitar to write songs again; it all got a bit swept to one side last week because I did so much travelling.
We went for a snack in her local pub and a builder was yelling into his mobile phone in the garden about measurements and prices. When I got back to where I live, another one was doing it in the street.
They have got very big-headed and annoying now that the 'housing market is overheated'.
Pity they are all too bigheaded to bother to come to fix my roof; they are probably yelling at nobody, just showing off. Their imagined thousands pile up in the bank, day after day, making imagined millions. Meanwhile, the next crash is just around the corner. What will they do then?

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


I'm not posting much at the moment; I have been very busy. It's the time of year when academics can be seen poring over their computers inputting scores of student grades. We've all got stiff necks and RSI, and squinty eyes too.
I have just written a short article for Songwriter Magazine (which will be put online some time soon) and written my top ten fave albums for the Greenfield Cygnus blog. I have also done a drawing for Martin's songwriting weekend. It's all go; the Premises weekend is coming up soon (still some places left on that one) with the final day of that one being a recording day.
I have started reading Viv Albertine's book, which is a stonkingly good read. I have read almost half of it and I only got hold of it yesterday at the launch, which she herself had to miss, unfortunately. It was very well attended; Gina, Ana and Shirley from the Raincoats, Terry from Feral Five, Tessa Slit DJ-ing (fantastic music: someone give her a radio show!), Don Letts, Steve Beresford, and that's just one glance round the room.
I had to come home early because I was tired. That's what happens when you're busy.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014