Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kitty Finer's Night At The Horse Hospital

I'd had a text from Gina to say that she was playing a few songs at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.
Well, it had been a fulsome day, starting at seven witha stop-start journey round the M25 to brighton, pre-loaded with Offsprog One's belongings. All was fine, until I got into Brighton itself (accessed via Hollingbury Racecourse, an extraordinary but quite beautiful route). The Satnav swore blind that Offsprog One's road simply didn't exist. I tried all sorts of tricks and eventually broke into mild perspiration after several stressed phone calls to her through clenched teeth. Rename: Satan-nav.
A tough looking man (who had obviously done so much teeth-clenching that most of them had fallen out) had baggsied the parking space outside Offsprog One's house, but somehow we managed to unload and I even found a space further down the footpath-masquerading-as-a-street and had a quick cuppa in her pocket handkerchief garden.
Then it was time for Offsprog Two. We tried loading up from the next street (she was moving from only a street away from Offsprog One to the Big Yellow up the road), but eventually settled on a double yellow line with hazard lights (cue more mild perspiration) and then had a comedy-film hour of the wrong person being at the storage facility to sign the papers, no padlock, the trolley ran down the hill with the house contents on it, etc etc.
Back in London, I sighed a big sigh and thought that at least I'd done a bit to help and nobody looked too miserable even though homelessness was impending (maybe that's changed today).
I felt I deserved a night out in fantasy land and I was not to be disappointed. I got there just in time to see Gina play (did Kitty play too? I'm so sorry if I missed her). Gina was looking exceptionally glamorous and played four songs, including my fave, I Do Not Want To Wear Stilettos. She got a very good reception and was closely questioned by one audience member about her lyrics, and gently mobbed at the end.
There was a chap called Sebastian Willan (I think) who according to Kitty (who was a very charming and funny mistress of ceremonies), wasn't called Sebastian at all, but was really Sam. Sebastian/Sam sang four very funny and simple songs nestled within anecdotes, with an appealing DIY simplicity about them. The best one was his song about the Chairoplanes at Carter's Steam Fair where he had worked for a day, apparently becoming bored after the first half hour. He'd obviously been mildly indoctrinated during his day's employment as his eyes glazed over slightly when he told us the ins and outs of the Chairoplane. He wore super shoes and a shirt that he claimed looked good on the shelf but on the person was a little too like something Noel Edmonds would wear.
Emma Bennett, wearing double headphones, sang, spoke and chirped along to recordings of herself responding in that way to birdsong. It sounded like Dada or Savant poetry until you realised what she was doing and then it all made sense and took on a more beautiful aura, shifting from Joyce Grenfell to Laurie Anderson in one fell swoop. Very aurally interesting and nice to see a committed performance of something so detailed in its dedication to the transcription of birdsong.
Finally, Molly Farquar (?) appeared, telling us about living in the same street as David Bowie, who painted his house black when he moved in, while Molly's family's house had been black and they painted it white. Molly had a box of records and she played firstly Cliff Richards' Summer Holiday followed by a seemingly random series of vinyl singles that got us all up dancing for the grand finale. Funny coincidence of the finale was Molly picking out Jimmy Cliff's You Can Get It If You Really Want It, followed by The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Press 8 to answer the phone; I'm at the clearing desk, interspersing answering student queries with an attempt at accelerated reading of half the books in the library. I've got two on the go at the moment, but I'm concentrating most on Simon Frith's Performing Rites: on the value of popular music. Like most books written on the fast-moving and ephemeral world of pop and rock music, parts of it are out-of-date but Frith has the skill, probably honed while he was a pop journalist, of condensing complex and opaque ideas into sound-bites which explain everything in a nutshell. Nutshells are immensely useful aides in navigating through the densely-forested world of academic discourse.
He also prompts recognition; you feel that he's reminding you of ideas you had yourself last week, for instance: ‘... to read images into the lyrics that are not there (always a pleasure of pop)…’ (page 7).
Next in the pile is David Hesmondhalgh's The Cultural Industries. I have a feeling I'm going to be hefting another big pile of books home on the rush-hour tube. the phone rings again (actually the onomatopoeic sound is more like 'pibble-pubble, pibble-pubble').

Monday, August 25, 2014

Right! That's IT!! CD Reviews 4U

I've been drudging and now it's time to stop. Not so far away, people are Carnivalling in the rain and so I'm going to listen to some music, review some CDs I've been given until I get tired of it and then do some sewing. I've done a bit of listening this morning: Robyn (ugh), Little Boots (ugh) Lykke Li (ugh) Janelle Monae (brilliant but very Kanye) and Laura Mvula (oh how guilty I feel for dismissing her as hyped without even listening: she's amazing).
Nothing's going to be in the right order, I'm afraid.

First up on the record player is Dub Colossus, about as close as I can get to Carnival sound-wise and I've already listened to it just for fun.

Dub Colossus: Addis to Omega

There are 15 tracks on this album, an hour and 15 minutes, big time for big sounds. This was recorded all over Europe... well the Mediterranean parts of it anyway, which is where the driving force behind it all (the producer Dubulah) has emigrated to from the cold and grimy wilds of North London.
This is the sound of musicians having fun, featuring as it does regular collaborators Natacha Atlas, Winston Blissett, Nick van Gelder and Mykaell Riley amongst many others. All of Dubulah's collective of musicians have distinctive personalities that he harnesses to the songs with great success.
For instance Winston Blissett is the only person in the universe who plays bass as he does; because I've seen them live I can't get the image of Blissett and Dubulah, long term friends, standing together at the back of the collective with that London-boy cheekiness which hasn't left them since their early days together in Riley's band Bumble and the Beez.
I particularly like the slow, hot groove of the Casino Burning Down, a track that flings echoes and processed sounds out into the sky, twisting and mangling guitars into all sorts of chilled-out shapes. There's some neat horn playing from The Horns of Negus on lots of the tracks; I like the cheeky trombone on We Are The Playthings Of The Rich And Famous (there's a Brechtian title if ever there was one) and the carolling trumpet on Addis to Omega (Amnesis Mix), a track which rub-a-dubs it's way to Ethiopia. I believe that the African side of this collaboration has been temporarily severed due to lack of funds.
Dubulah has never abandoned the left wing politics of his youth; he simply doesn't care about not being political. Honesty in both music and lyrics is to the forefront here, embedded in deep grooves with strong vocal performances from all of the guest singers and some lovely moments of harmony, rhythm and mood that you can't sit still to. This is a great album for raising the spirits, and it's being imported as we speak to my iTunes player. Destination? The "uplifting' playlist!

The Old Town Quartet

This is an 8-track independent CD by a band that I've seen several times supporting Martin Stephenson and the Daintees; Martin produced this. They hail from Warrington and they are a really good live band. This album was recorded live at Colin Mee's Skip Studios in Darlington, and demonstrates all the energy of the band. They are good songwriters, and I'd describe the sound as contemporary skiffle (nu-skiffle?) with a handful of Elvis's Sun Sessions thrown in thanks to the slap-back mixing. The best track is Crows, whose dark Cash-dom slashes through the group's wholesome image.
Unusually, they use a cello rather than a double bass which adds to the distinctive gravelly tone of lead singer Lyle's voice, and which you can hear bowed in some songs (I think Utah, but there are no titles popping up on iTunes); a rhythmic strummed banjo appears with the cello on Hey Mama, a minor-hued melody that adds a Kletzmer flavour to a drinking song.

Myrtle Park's Fishing Club: Nothing To Be Afraid Of

This 12-track album is the work of Kate Stephenson, a songwriter and drummer who has worked with artists as diverse as Sam Brown and Midge Ure and more recently she has been drumming for The Daintees. This is a tremendous achievement as a solo project and has a distinctive sound: light, fresh and... can one say aeolian? There is a breeziness to many of the songs (Wonderful You demonstrates it really well). Kate is a talented multi-instrumentalist; she drums, programs, plays guitar and keyboards on these tracks. Vocally, she travels through different pitches with ease and sounds particularly lovely on the track Afternoon Moon. My fave track is Wildest Smile with it's shuffling rhythm and perky backing stacked-harmony vocals.
There is something very 10CC about this album: that's meant as a compliment!

More soon.....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Breakfast at the Barn

Offsprog One and myself put on our marching boots and walked up to the Ferny Hill Tea Room for breakfast this morning. It sits beside the road between Cockfosters and Enfield and serves up giant plates of breakfast, all the more welcome if you walk up there from Barnet and are ravenously hungry by the time you get there. It is big, wooden, light and cheerful with plenty of room for everyone of all ages and girths. You get lots of everything on big white china plates and the pancakes with maple syrup are particularly addictive.
Sometimes you sit alongside healthy-looking pensioners tucking into tea and scones. Almost always there seem to be tables of off-duty Black Cab drivers eating mega-breakfasts of terrifying proportions. At least, I think the are taxi drivers; they look as though they should be and it's Enfield, after all. I know a taxi driver who comes from Enfield so I suppose that colours my expectations. They fold their arms over comfortable tummies and expound, probably practicing for when they're back on duty in Town.
There is a farm shop there too that sells potatoes, carrots and biscuits but we didn't get a chance to go because we realised that its quite a hefty walk to the nearest bus stop to get back. In fact both of us missed out sizeable chunks of the day by having breakfast just off the Cockfosters-Enfield road. I haven't done any writing or music as I'd planned; the walk wore me out and now I'm sitting in front of the TV again, reading a book called The Long Tail by Chris Anderson which is interesting and plausible, except it says that people don't really watch TV much any more, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Disco Musings

I'm watching a TV show about disco on BBC 4. I was surprised to see the date of The Beegees Jive Talkin': 1975.
I thought back to working in Sherry's night club in Brighton in the late 1970s and actually did a search to see if there was anything about it. Yes; and there was the name of the resident DJ who worked there, Kenny Lynn.
I had got into a frame of mind that Chic invented disco but of course they didn't. Donna Summer's Love to Love you was released in late 1975 and I don't think Chic hit the charts till 1977.
There were so many songs that fell under the genre title of disco and its easy to forget how many different songs were played at Sherry's. That was the first place I heard Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, which was a really unusual record.
Later on, after punk had started (probably 1977) I bought a lot of 12" disco singles because they sounded so huge and fabulous, even on my little portable plastic record player. A lot of punk records sounded thin and tinny and I like the sound of the bass and the groove of disco basslines (which is why I wrote 24 Hours).
Even before that, there used to be a great DJ in the Art College Basement. I wish I could remember more of the tracks he played but I often didn't even know what it was he was playing. Low Rider by War was a great one to dance to, and I think he used to play The Fatback Band who were an absolutely amazing band that seemed rough round the edges in a really cool way.
I always found Chic tracks too stiff to dance to, somehow. I thought of them as great pop records rather than dance records; there were other songs with much better grooves. Anyone remember Let The Music Play by Charles Earland? I had to play that one every night before going out, with my little budgie Toby gripping on to my finger for dear life as I bounced around the room.
I'm not sure about The Village People: great sparky tracks that make all the right noises but too jerky [sic] to wiggle your hips to. McFadden and Whitehead, Ain't No Stopping Us Now, I liked that one. and Heatwave, Boogie Nights. And Funky Nassau but I can't remember who that was by. That was a really early one!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Against the Negative

One of the problems of doing a lot of academic detective-work, especially if you're dealing with gender (and, I should imagine, race) issues, is that you unearth a lot of depressing information that articulates just how unpleasantly powerful the systems are that keep everything in place and prevent change that would make work, family, and other life situations more fair.
The sort of research that I do can be miserable at times. I don't set off with an agenda, just a simple question, but as time goes on and as the research becomes deeper, I turn around to find that I'm in the middle of a swamp of predjudice that is nothing short of horrific.
The very positive and interesting interviews that I undertake become undermined by a feeling that there is a cycle of repression that is impossible to break through; there is little progress, and what there is is slow and easily reversible.I have noticed this negativity creeping into the writing that I'm doing and the biggest challenge now is to revitalise it and make it interesting to people who probably (metaphorically) have their hands over their ears.
I already know how rigorous you have to be if you are swimming against the social and academic tide and I have read some academic material recently that puts my own writing to shame.
Last night I spent two hours shunting bits of text around to try to make the writing flow and collect together relevant bits of information in specific places to reinforce what I'm saying. As I sat there, it got dark and my feet got so cold that I had to switch on the fire to thaw them.
There is a new pile of library books sitting on the desk waiting to be harvested. House-bound this weekend, I know I'll have deep spectacles-grooves imprinted on my face by Sunday evening.
This is a bit like recording, when you start off in the morning and the next time you look at the clock and it's four o'clock. I'm going to do that too this weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cake and Writing

I was deep in academic writing land, having found a rich source of energy after slipping a rather snotty Nile Rodgers comment into my work (from Daryl Easlea's book on disco, Everybody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco). Suddenly, it stopped feeling like an upward slog and became an exciting ride. And I've just watched the film Twenty Feet from Stardom, which also was full of interesting observations. It's still going to take until at least Christmas before the article is finished, but at 15,000 words its getting ever stronger. I've learned to self-edit, slashing and burning and restructuring: but it's still to huge to read in one sitting. It doesn't move along quickly enough and I need to work on that.
Anyway, jolted from the academic reverie by a knock at the door I realised that time had flown and there was Offsprog One at the door. To celebrate, I made a blueberry cake with fresh blueberries which must have come to the boil in the oven, because half the cake started to burn and the other half was so liquid it ran out of the tin on to the bottom of the oven and from there on to the kitchen floor. I was too laid back to panic even though the kitchen had filled with smoke, and I just swore mildly before rescuing the sticky mess and turning it out on to a plate.
Miraculously, the smell of burning was fake and so was the smoke, and the stickiness solidified.
We had eaten half of the cake before it had even cooled down.
Now, back to writing for a while because I will be spending a ten hour day at the University clearing desk tomorrow. Last year, that's when I left my lyrics book on the train. Although I managed to salvage all of my songs (I hope) from iPhone recordings, and made them into the Anarchy Skiffle album, and also had to get my finger out and do the Bande Dessinee story which was languishing in rough format between the pages of the book, it was a miserable few weeks of constantly going to the Lost Property office at Baker Street and trying to remember what was actually in the bloody book.
That was a nine hour day and tomorrow has an extra hour attached. I don't dare try to do anything important so I'm hoping it's going to be busy. The upside is that it happens in the library, so I've prepared a small and perfectly formed list of books to stick my nose into when I get there.
All this writing: you don't tend to get paid for academic writing and often end up having to apply for funding to pay for illustrations, photographs and indexing.
I have resolved to write a best-selling detective novel next year, once I have decided which of two ideas is the best!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sun Tan

An area of sun-darkened skin has arranged itself in an amusing butterfly pattern across my face. Being a Celt (a mongrel blend of many Celts plus God knows what in the background), I used to have a tendency to freckle. Now, I look weatherbeaten and can add this to my list of non-feminine attributes. Stranger to nail-bar and hairdresser alike, I stride through town as an idiot-flaneuse (note the French terminology) scattering glamour in my wake.
I'm rather proud of my wind-whacked complexion, actually.
It glows in the dark and I don't need a torch to get from A to B in the middle of the night.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Pile of Paper, and Grains of Sand

Back from the seaside; the pile of paper awaits. Bills, instructions, notes-to-self, letters to forward, newspaper clippings, ancient stamps waiting to see if I can still use them....
The washing machine is churning and snarling, finding the receipts left in pockets digestible, the sand left in socks not.
Miraculously, I have returned with pairs of socks, not lone singletons. Finally, I have grown up.

Snails have attacked the Giant Hosta and decimated its leaves to lacy shadows of their former selves.
I deeply dislike snails most of the time. One by one, I picked them off, the huge rampaging grey-brown molluscs, and dropped them into the food recycling bin. I am mortified by my cruelty.

The holiday was heavenly, by the way.
Does this mean that real life is hell?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Sound of the Sea

I've been listening to the sound of the sea, close by, for hours, it is endlessly interesting: whispering, grumbling, roaring, rushing, and telling secret jokes that have the seagulls cackling uproariously with laughter.
A little dog barked on the beach on a windy day.
'Arf arf arf! Arf arf arf!'
The wind blew up under the bark, lifting the dog way up into the clouds, never to be seen again.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Greed Is Good! First Prize To Barnet Council!

After McMum passed away, things were fairly complex because she had lived in Edinburgh. There were things to organise and Offsprogs to transport about the place.
I had arrived back home in my car (which I rarely drive) one day, and been unable to park outside my house, so I parked further down the street instead.
My car was there for a few days because there was never a space in front of my house to move it to.
At some point, a parking suspension notice was tied to a lamp-post there, but I didn't see it because I don't live there and I wasn't walking around a lot because there was so much to organise.
The day before I was due to drive up to the funeral, I went to collect the car to have some work done on it at the garage. I got to my car at two minute past nine to find the warden writing out a parking ticket. He carried on but assured me that he would put in a good word for me because of the circumstances.
In spite of sending a copy of the funeral service with the date on it as part of the appeal, the fine has been instigated anyway. And I don't believe the warden, do you?
Lucky Barnet Parking Services! And how clever, not to post a note through people's doors to tell them that legal parking suddenly becomes illegal at a random time and in a random place!
Ring-a-ding-ding Barnet Council! Ring-a-ding-ding!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Catholicism vs Prestbyterianism

Catholicism: have fun, feel guilty later.
Presbyterianism: feel guilty for even thinking about having fun.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Big Faces

I wandered the muggy streets today between Camden and Kentish Town. London is still a stranger to me, after many years of living here.
'Who lives here?', I wonder; 'Who are their friends and what do they do?'.
As always when I stroll around, my mind wanders too.
I think about the conversations that I used to have with my friend Lester Square, the guitarist from the Monochrome Set, who I still owe a bottle of wine to for the sleeve-notes of the Helen and the Horns compilation.
We talked about the fact that both The Monochrome Set and The Chefs had fans who weren't just 'anoraks'. They actually wore anoraks. How we longed for hipsters!
And we talked about the size of our faces (little) and pondered whether if we'd had larger faces we might have become more famous: TV stars, perhaps, who all seemed to have larger than average heads and faces when we saw them out and about the the B-list events we frequented in the 1980s.
But it didn't seem to hold back the band, The Small Faces.

A review in Maverick!

Writing has trapped a nerve in my arm (!) but it's worth it. Yesterday I discovered a scribbled note in the margin of one of my conference papers that led me off on a new trail. I will take a break for a couple of days soon so I can see the wood for the trees, and perhaps write some new songs too.
On another and more musical note, Maverick magazine has given Anarchy Skiffle a four star review and also (thanks to Martin) put one of the tracks, Magpie, on to a free CD on their cover. The reviewer, Alan Harrison, is also a photographer who takes amazing pics of the Newcastle music scene, here
I bumped into him backstage at the Americana festival a few weeks ago and he told me that he really, really likes the album so I was chuffed to bits. I might try to find a double bass player locally so I can play some of the skiffle in its energised form in London.
Also backstage, there was a guy with a strangely-shaped black musical instrument case. Miraculously, the instrument that he unpacked was one of these which he proceeded to put together in a trice, and which sounded perfectly normal when it has been assembled.
I love the sound of the double bass; I wish it had been an option to learn when I was a nipper.
Instead, I sat swinging my legs in my piano lessons at Miss Matthew's house, unable to read the dots and carrying the music home in my head to work out at my leisure.
When she realised what I was doing (I'd got to grade three by then) she sacked me, and my formal musical training ended before I got to the age of twelve.
I didn't really like the way she spat her bits of dinner that had been trapped in her teeth on to my knuckles during the lessons anyway.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

This Morning...

... I have tried and failed (I think) to repair some 'dings' in my car windscreen, and read one-and-a-half academic articles. The first one was a very detailed study about music technology and gender in Australia which has booted me up the arse (apart from the bit on Foucault, who I have trouble in believing in). The other was a hilarious romp through the misogyny of 1950s America's hi-fi marketers and the way they engineered a territorial battle between the husband and the wife for space, sonic or otherwise, in suburban homes. The advertising copywriters were absolutely vile and the whole attitude was reinforced by Playboy magazine, and other social commentators.
All very intense and very interesting. Do I have time for a break? I think so. Cup of tea and that BBC antiques auction programme where they all lose money and nobody cares. That's my kind of TV!

Monday, August 04, 2014


Why is there a train ticket in the fridge?

Hello Again Blog

It's been a busy few days; it's strange to be back home and once again welded to the seat in the kitchen, writing and messing about with files.
The gig at St Cecilia's was lovely. Foakies gave me a warm welcome and I enjoyed listening to Mark Barnett's new song, and to John's set. There was a very funny comedy poet (I'll find out his name) who did a poem in a Dalek voice about the Dalek's skincare regime (exfoliate! exfoliate!).
There was a small PA in the hall which was tuned perfectly; the acoustics in that room are so delicate that you can hear what a person is whispering right across the room. It was nice to have a bit of levitation though and I really enjoyed playing and singing although I was still too timid to play the Anarchy Skiffle songs on my own. Note to self to start off with those ones next time rather than letting the fear build!