Monday, July 28, 2014


I don't know how I've managed to do this today, but lots of tiny little irritating tasks have been completed after months of lingering and itching. London is sweltering and humid, but my house is cool and it's a perfect refuge from the roasting sunshine.
It's a huge help having so many charity shops around the corner because often the problem is an old smelly cushion that I felt that I couldn't get rid of because it came from McMum and McDad's old house, or an expensive but useless article of clothing which is the last straw on the eBay camel's back, the eCamel. Bags of paperbacks have been despatched to the back of the Oxfam shop, and nothing has been bought to replace them (liar! I bought three trashy novels today).
Television? I'm not tempted by the Commonwealth Games because the Scottish Independence vote is just around the corner and I don't know who I'm batting for; it would be Scotland but I'm not into nationalistic anti-English sentiment (nor anti-Scottish for that matter), so I'm bypassing the whole thing.
Nationalism sucks, wherever it comes from, and you only have to look at Israel and the Ukraine to see exactly where it leads to. Sports are not exempt from the nasty side of competition: if not from the competitors, then from lay commentators who spirit up haloes and plonk them above the heads of whichever side they're on.
That's enough mini-ranting!
All I was saying is that there is no new series of Poirot or Sherlock to distract me; I've even put in a couple of solid hours of quotation-mining for the research I'm doing. All good and useful stuff but the more I do, the further the goalposts seem to move away, or the further away the finish line seems to be.
Sporting metaphors aside, it's extremely absorbing and I hope that I'm doing something useful for the future of music studies.
Next week I will do a full week of research. I have three things in the pipeline and I need to get them well under way before term starts again. Lots of people seem to be away on leave so I might get a head start; the kitchen is piled with books and so is my desk at work. So many ideas......
Before then, there's a gig at the funky St Cecilia's Hall in Edinburgh next Saturday, where I'll be playing a bit of skiffle and a bit of not-skiffle too from 8 p.m. I've had the chance to practise my playing more that normal and I have the familiar thickened and painful finger-pads on the left hand to prove it. There are no new songs in the pipeline yet; an emotional switch has yet to be altered to allow that to happen.
I also say Happy Birthday to Martin for yesterday; lots of people from the past went to meet him in Gosforth yesterday evening and I think he found that touching, and so do I.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Technological Hand Over My Mouth

Intermittent Broadband, 'due to the weather' according to an email from BT.
Weather? How astonishing to have weather in this buffeted Isle!

Disobedient Objects at the V & A

Oddly enough, this exhibition tailors in very neatly with the Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain.
Both are firmly not high art, and although the political significance of the latter is much less overt, these objects belong to the same strand of dedicated difference that 'the people' carve out for themselves against a background of establishment and corporate aesthetics.
Caroline Coon invited me as her guest to the opening, and we drank pear and apple juice as we mingled with assorted artists, intellectuals and media people. We chatted to Paul Gorman ( whose informative blog will take you on a tour of the exhibition itself.
Apart from Caroline's Bust Card, which she used to distribute alongside other members of Release so that those who were busted could make contact, there are many other extraordinary objects on display. For more information see the February 2014 blog post at
I also liked the customised anti-death-penalty car and the Trade Union banner; there were badges, a suffragette tea cup and saucer, a Palestinian slingshot made from the tongue of a child's shoe, instruction leaflets for improvised tear-gas masks, and many other mostly small objects of significance, which could otherwise have not been 'joined up' into a thread of dissent, as the speaker told us.
I'm delighted to see Caroline honoured in this way; being principled about one's beliefs can lead to a lot of opposition and there is something pleasing about these objects of revolution appearing in a building that was set up as a hymn to Empire and British authority.
This is the link to the V&A

Caroline next to the Release Bust Card; both of us (photograph Paul Gorman)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I've had a day in Margate with Julia, who I used to share an office with. The train from Victoria was packed with families (minus their dads) and got progressively rowdier as we headed down the Kent coast.
We took off our shoes and wandered across the think yellow sand. What a lovely feeling: bare toes and cool gritty sand on a hot and windy day. We ate salad in a little cafe and drank Earl Grey tea.
Our office used to be fun. No matter what happened in our lives ( and a lot did) we could turn it around and laugh. Someone stole her PhD, and someone stole my Spice Girls toys with big heads and little bodies, my Ken doll with the red jumper made out of a sock, and even the bright green plush Hulk that Sarah gave me to guard my dolls.
It was a strange office.
Anyway, back to Margate. It seemed to have shrunk a bit since the 1980s when I and another youth worker took a coach load of yelling children from the Rockingham Estate in Southwark down to Dreamland, the funfair full of tacky and exciting rides. It is still shabby in a fabulous way, a cross between Redcar and Scarborough but with less evidence of fish'n'chips and unlike Brighton, not a Mr Whippy in sight; Dreamland, sadly, has died.
The Shell Grotto was our destination and we squeezed past a small pack of Spanish schoolchildren to head through the dark passage into the grotto itself. Within, shells blackened with age encrust the walls: oysters, cockles, sea snail and mussels, picking out fleurs-de-lys, a tree of life, Egyptian ankhs, eight-pointed stars and other mystical symbols. A small chamber has what appears to be an altar in it, accessed by an entrance corridor and an exit corridor, all completely lined with shells laid out in delicate swirling patterns and geometric lines. It was first discovered when  a Victorian chap was digging a hole for a pond in his garden and his son fell into the grotto hidden below and there are numerous theories about it's age and what it is for. I imagined it to be an illicit place of worship for seafarers who looked to the Far East, across the waves, for spiritual succour and safety from the elements. It's age? 1700s, perhaps, when once it stood on a promontory looking out to sea before being buried to disguise its purpose.
Today, it was a cool and quiet refuge from the searing sunshine, hosting a perky group of curious pensioners as well as the schoolchildren and of course, ourselves. It's a little marvel, amazingly unkitsch in its cladding of darkened shells, and much loved by the man in the Millwall shirt who was manning the till of the shop upstairs.
Back across the beach to the station we wandered, crunching though dried seaweed and avoiding collapsed sandcastles. The air conditioning on the train was a cold but welcome shock and brought us back to reality after our small adventure in dreamland.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scared Of My Own

I walked back from the Co-op laden with shopping.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone following me at close quarters.
I turned around.
It was my shadow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The End Of An Era

No more McDad, no more McMum; this is a very strange sensation. I am the eldest member of my branch of the family. It was overwhelming at some points to see people from long ago who had made a pilgrimage to Edinburgh for the memorial service.
I have been looking at old photographs today and visiting the Botanic Gardens with the Offsprogs, Edinburgh's beautiful green lung that seems to have new surprises around new corners every time we visit.
And they sell ice cream just outside the gate.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Folk Day

I met Offsprog One on Friday afternoon at Tate Britain so we could see the Folk Art exhibition.
From the second we stepped into the galleries, we were entranced. There were woolwork ship embroideries made by sailors with different and fascinating ways of rendering the sea and the sky( look here, David Hockney!) that surrounded and threatened their spindly little ships, flags fluttering from their rigging. There were gigantic boots with narrow ankles- one advertising Timpson's, a company still fixing broken shoes to this day. There were two embroidered boxing matches, a chicken made of bone by a French prisoner, a violin made of bone... and a room full of ship's figureheads, nothing short of splendid.
An odd man had painted lots of versions of a goose woman in a red coat, obviously working to a template but with every one different. Scraps of fabric adorned paintings; the artefacts ranged from the doodlings of the bored, sometimes in three dimensions, to articles of religious or commercial significance. There were photographs too- I particularly liked the fairground mounts, carved wooden rides, some with the heads of chickens and some, centaur-like, with the heads of Otto von Bismarck (or his doppelganger).
It is so brilliant that even though it's expensive to get in, I'm going back for second helpings as soon as I can.
It was a very muggy evening but an invitation to an informal performance by The London Gypsy Orchestra was impossible to resist. I know Karen Yarnell because she used to drum for The Gymslips back in the days of punk, and she has been telling me about this new musical outing for a while. Normally there are around 45 of them but even this smaller group of about 15 packed a superbly infectious punch. They were gathered at the foot of the stairs at the student bar at SOAS and at times there were more of the band than there were of the audience. They were totally foot-tapping, even the 7/8 numbers, and I loved the way the whole lot of them burst into song from time to time. They were so absorbed by what they were doing that each player moved constantly, giving the impression of a shoal of colourful fish being carried along in a flow of Moldavian, Romanian and Greek music. There was a lot of unselfconscious smiling and I was struck by the positive sight and sounds of a group of people doing what they really loved doing. Fantastic to see authentic enjoyment of playing! Two fingers up at the often horrible networky and calculating music business side of life: I can't wait to see them in their full splendour, perhaps in the autumn when the leaves are falling and  bands are re-grouping.
I know they were going to play again outside later but I wanted a walk so I left them as they headed to the bar, and I walked up to Camden thinking about folk art, folk music, and the joys of doing things for the hell of it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Little Books

I made these little books when I was thirteen, writing the stories with a 0.5  Rapidograph pen. I wonder if they still make them?
The  4 page comic Bande Dessinnee is at the printers and should be delivered next week. I am going to distribute it in recording and rehearsal studios all around London. Paper graffiti!


After months of travelling between Edinburgh and London, now I'm flittering.
There is so much to catch up on.

The kitchen, everything but a room to cook in (unless Offsprog One is making a portrait cake that covers everything with a fine, sticky film of icing sugar), is piled high with academic books and leads and wires of various sorts.

The first job I landed on was book-weeding. I trawled through them, opening each one at the torn-paper-strip bookmarks and collecting quotations into a file on my computer.
Many of them are cross references (often quite literally: idiotic statements by academics who should know better. Don't they realise that women read their books as well as men?).
I am halfway through that. I need to go somewhere else to do the rest of it, somewhere where there aren't bags of crisps and fresh cherries to tempt me away from the task in hand, somewhere where the sun shines in the windows.

Next, I landed on a pile of eBay stuff. I got to the third item and the photograph wouldn't upload.
I didn't want to get cross about that too so I flew off and landed on the washing, just about the only bit of housework that I don't mind, because it involves a machine that does everything.
You don't have to push it and pull it like the vacuum cleaner or struggle up the stairs with it, and you don't have to clash and clang dishes in and out of it like the dishwasher.
(I was remembering with my sister the first time I moved into a house with a dishwasher. I was too scared to use it and several months later I asked her to help me. Pathetic, really).

Then I flew to Tony Fletcher's book Boy About Town, which I found when I was tidying the bookshelves. It's an absorbing autobiography, just like Viv's book, although it stops before he even gets to the Sixth Form at school so it's more... childish, perhaps.
I met Tony years ago when he interviewed The Chefs (or was it Helen and the Horns) and I've got an original copy of Jamming with the interview in it somewhere. Tony was very young when he did the interview but it wasn't surprising; those 1970s times involved such a mixture of people and ages, from Vi Subversa who was in her forties and who had her 14-year-old son playing with Poison Girls (and us), to a group of 15-year-olds called The Underaged who came to be a support act with us once in Lambeth and were almost barred by the landlord before they played a note.

Next, I emailed to ask the Mad Professor to do a dub mix of Anarchy Skiffle. I wait with bated breath....

I sat in the back yard and watched honey bees. How exciting! There must be a hive nearby. There are not many flowers in the yard at the moment but the passion flower is looking ready to burst into bloom. Over here, bees!

I stood up at the kitchen sink and did some embroidery. I know that sounds weird but I was photographing it, and the kitchen is dark and the sink is by the window.
The camera pretended that the memory stick was full so I had to stop once the allotted hour was up, and I'm working out a trick to make the camera work again, because there is plenty of space for more photographs. It was time for a rest anyway.

Yesterday I flew to the common with a woman called Elena; we met on the tube last week, and she took some pictures under the trees. It was a battle against the sun and the pollen; I hope they come out. Her photographs are very beautiful and you can see some of them here:

I tried to throw away my old fluffy blue cardigan from Primark in Barcelona, but it looked at me with those sad old eyes and now I'm wearing it. Ho hum.

I looked at the Freddies of Pinewood rockabilly clothing website and imagined looking very rockabilly indeed this coming autumn.

I hovered around wondering whether to paint bits of the house, but drew back from the smell of paint, at least temporarily.

This is called having an unstructured life. It's brilliant.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Anarchy Skiffle Song Review

Ho ho! Someone knows me, I think:
Thank you to all those who have bought the CD or the download! This is a self-funded project and it's much appreciated.
To take a listen follow this link:

Monday, July 07, 2014


Two different groups, two different locations; one hell of a lot of creativity.
Time for me to start creating again, i think.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Thought For the Day

As you become older, family become friends and friends become family;  a twist of the dial that makes you revisit what could be called the 'peoplescape' of your life.
We are all interwoven but the pattern is fluid. I am thinking about this, and it is helping me to understand why different people behave in different ways.

Thursday, July 03, 2014


McMum had a little cardboard cigar box that she kept pearls in. Not a pearl necklace, but pearls that she had found in mussels she and McDad collected from the bed of the river Fleet near Gatehouse in Galloway. They were tiny and knobbly but quite definitely pearls; some of them we had almost broken our teeth on when we ate the mussels.
Once she found a minute crab, a perfect specimen entirely covered in pearl. It lived in the box too, until one day it completely disappeared. We never found out what happened to it.

Gigaholics at The Harrison Bar

On the tube, I folded a newspaper and stuffed it into my guitar case in case I needed something to read. Sometimes you need something to while away the minutes and to be your friend if the air is hostile, but I needn't have worried.
Where was I going and what was I doing? It had been a long time since I played, let alone a solo gig.
The bar was heaving with early-evening drinkers: but Karen was there smiling, and I chatted with her and her friend before heading into the bowels of the building which weren't there when Diana and myself ran our club Songbird there.
Downstairs has been converted into a lovely cosy venue with a low ceiling and warm lighting- and a surprisingly good sound system. Kath Tait was setting up microphones and we did informal soundchecks. I had the Green Goddess with me, who has been sitting in the living room being played by everyone who passes through. Oops: was that rust on the strings? I do hope not!
The room filled up- I was delighted to see Lyn and Dean from The Premises Songwriting Course, who were both excited because their music had arrived that morning. Valeria and George came too (hello!).
Brendan Power played the first slot, making particularly antipodean-sounding loops over which he sang some very witty songs. The one about Jimmy Savile was rather awkward because there was something of the Rolf Harris about his sound in places because of the didge-like drones that formed the basis of some of the loops; this provided food for thought for one member of the audience, who sat there stony-faced. The song he sang about his happy girlfriend was glorious though- very loving and tender with a satisfyingly uplifting chorus. Big round of well-deserved applause for him.
Next it was my turn, and for some reason I played some of the more introverted songs I've written, in spite of intending to play lots of skiffle and jolly songs. I'm not sure if it was the warm weather or whether it was my own general feeling of melancholy... but I did manage Sugarhill, Daisies and Heaven Avenue and Kath got me a fab sound. It was cathartic to do what I love so much; the past few weeks have been tough.
After a short break, Maggie and Lucy Lyrical took to the stage and gave us some almost burlesque, but often political, music-hall influenced songs which were very catchy and potent, and which were delivered in a really engaging way. Finally, Kath trod the boards and took us on a gentle journey through London. One song, about the doctors refusing a woman a facelift, saying it wasn't worth it and recommending a safety-pin instead, made me literally bark with laughter. We forced her to do Lentils as an encore. Lovely song. And I did the sound for her!
It was a lovely gig with a great audience who listened and laughed in all the right places.

Afterwards, I learned that you have to take your guitar case off your back when you go to the loo.

And I saw Caroline Coon just outside King's Cross Station. She looked fabulous, as a twenty-something man interrupted our conversation to tell her. What a nice surprise! We are going out artgallerying soon.

Swallows at The Friar's Carse

There was also a nest with seven chicks who all learned to fly while we were there. One night, there was only one timid chick left; by the next morning, it too had taken wing and flown.
They lined up on the parapet, looking very pleased with themselves.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Beautiful Rubbish in the Recycling Bin

Look at this beautiful blue bread! I discovered it this morning when I threw the banana skins away. If it didn't smell so awful I'd be tempted to disgorge it and frame it. Or not.

Gig Tonight

This will be strange... I don't seem to have played since the tour.
It's at The Harrison Bar, 28 Harrison Street, WC1H 8JF
Starts at 8 p.m. and features not only Maggie and Lucy Lyrical, Brendan Power and myself but also the amazing and poignantly funny Kath Tait.
£5.00 admission, £2.50 concessions.
I will play a mixture of songs- some from the skiffle album and I will have some with me; they are £10.00 each at gigs.
I'm looking forward to it; will my fingers still function?