Monday, September 29, 2014

Excuse Me While I.....

It was a long rambling drive back from Brighton last night through the foggy wilds of Sussex, diverted off and then back on to the M23. Petrol was getting low; there was no moon and no stars. It was scary.
Then today a lecture on Authenticity at the University of the West, followed by Songwriting at the University of the East.
I ate my lunch at 6.30 p.m. and then came home and I've been doing admin for an hour.
The gig was great, but I'm too tired to write about it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


I've spent most of today cooking and the rest eating.
And practicing the songs or tomorrow night!
Work starts big time on Monday and I had a lecture to write and course materials to prepare. It's a full on day after driving back from Brighton and I imagine that I'll be too tired to cook that night.
I made a plum cake too for the Offsprogs and me, if I manage not to eat it all this evening.
I had some of those plums that go straight from unripe to over-ripe and I just sliced them in half, put them on the bottom af a tin and made a sponge cake mixture with loads of vanilla. Because I was cooking lots of other things I managed not to keep opening the oven door to peep in so the cake cooked beautifully and it's so delicious I've had to hide it.
That reminds me of McMum's American friend Inky who tried to see if the light in the fridge really did go off when she shut the door, and who ended up shutting her nose in it!
I'm all ready for tomorrow: dress ironed, boots polished, songs sung, just the set lists to do tomorrow morning.
Watch out Brighton, the Horns are on their way!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Interview on Juice FM 107.2 Tonight

Kelly Westlake interviewed me for Brighton radio station Juice FM  and it will be broadcast tonight at some time between 11 and 11.30.
You can listen online as well as over the waves, here:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


And back in the day I used to wear a hat when I sang and played in Helen and the Horns.
Unforchly during the plague of moths in my flat last year, I lifted one felt hat off the top of the other and found a ghastly mess of tufty gnawed wool, glittering moth wings, seething grubs and disappointment.
Both hats had to be thrown out, so it's going to have to be Big Hair, ultimate Marge Simpson at the gig on Sunday (but not blue hair).

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Spooky Coincidence

Two things happened today that have never happened before: one a thought, and one an incident. That they happened on the same day, that was weird.
I was heading up the escalator at Euston in an anarchic frame of mind for some reason. Looking for trouble.
As we ascended, I spotted an Emergency Stop button halfway up the staircase. Ho ho! Wouldn't it be fun to press it! Would anyone know it was me? Of course they would: CCTV.  I imagined hiding a stick under a voluminous coat to poke it with, but the thread of anarchic thought snapped when I imagined the sudden stop of the moving staircase an people tumbling about all over the place.
The moment passed as soon as it arrived.

On the way back home, I was descending a steep escalator at another tube station, daydreaming about something else entirely. Suddenly, the escalator snapped to a halt and nearly threw us all forward. We had to stumble down the rest of the way holding the momentum at bay; I saw that a woman had fallen down and someone had pressed the emergency stop button.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering if I'd had some strange sort of karma-premonition or something like that.

Then I put the kettle on and had a cup of tea.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Big Bardaid Birthday Bash

If you want to reserve a seat at this please email me

The Chefs and Helen and the Horns Releases on Damaged Goods

If you are a new visitor to this blog, you might not know about the releases of the Peel sessions (plus more music) that Damaged Goods has released.
The Chefs here:
Helen and the Horns here:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Lantern Theatre, Sheffield

The Lantern Theatre is a little gem in the suburbs of Sheffield. Mini-rows of red velveteen seats perch expectantly facing the stage, and all the features you associate with big theatres: wings, flies, the brick back wall, are all here in pint-sized portions.
I couldn't escape the writing tasks in hand but I read on the train and scribbled notes in pencil on my ration of one sheet of A4 as I travelled somewhat stressfully with other passengers from our cancelled train, changing at Doncaster for another train that was late because of points failure at Meadowhall, or 'Meadowhell' as the conductor called it.
Strangely, I got there at exactly the time I was supposed to; that's just one of those things you can't figure out.
Jim Hornsby was accompanying Martin on guitar, he of the steely Eastwood-like glare and the heart of gold. The sound was great; they have an excellent sound engineer at The Lantern and I think he recorded the gig. I pulled out some old songs- Summer Days, for instance, which I thought would echo the Indian Summer temperatures outside. They weren't there: it was cool and misty and I kind of yearned for a jumper. But it was nice to play again. I've had a bit of a break after losing McMum. It was nice to smile and feel happy.
That all increased when Martin and Jim played, too. Martin also played some songs that rarely get an airing- Nairn Beach, Synergy (two of my favourites) and a song called Daffodils that he played after describing Anth's idea of throwing Morrissey's daffs into the Regent's Canal when they were sharing a dressing room with The Smiths at Dingwalls in the 1980s. They had stopped at a golf course on the long way down from Newcastle to pick magic mushrooms, and after eating them, floating the flowers in the canal seemed like a good idea at the time.
Apparently Morrissey had to make do with tulips that night.

Friday, September 19, 2014

O Stratford, How Fabulous Thou Art

I've had a writing day; I needed books. I went to Stratford, to the library. It was muggy and thundery. I got the books (some of them). I took a picture!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Listening to Song Selfies from the Past

I'm heading through old recordings when I'm meant to be looking at and learning the Helen and the Horns song structures for the rehearsal on Tuesday.
Here, I find the songs that I wrote when I very first picked up a guitar to play solo without a band in around 2005 and the invitation of Jamie McDermot from the Irrepressibles, to whom I will always be grateful.
Clumsily, my fingers trip over the impossible chords that I had invented. My voice sings at a higher pitch than it's meant to and poor cello players valiantly try to play along with me.
The songs are weird, but the lyrics say quite a lot- some of them overtly political.
I'm going to try to work out the chords (which will be an uphill struggle: what the heck was I playing?)and once work has settled down for the new term, I'm going to revive these songs and have some poptastic fun with them.
Wouldn't it be lovely to go to New York in search of Tom Greenwood, who recorded them in the first place! I failed to win the lottery this Saturday (and last Saturday), but I'll keep on tryin'.


Look at these beautiful flowers! They arrived early this morning with a huge bag of apples and vegetables, from Adrian in Stockport, who grew them on his allotment. They are so gorgeous that they seem edible; and I did almost eat the cactus, which in the gloaming I thought was a strange form of okra that I hadn't come across before. Good roughage, I suppose.
Thank you Adrian. I will never forget the Allotment gig that Martin and myself played at. These flowers have brought back some very happy memories!

Friday, September 12, 2014


Alas, today I have to moan. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I worked 12-hour days trying to write the material for the University new year. One University has changed from semesters to whole-year teaching. The merging of different modules and cross-referencing to make sure it all does what it says on the tin is extremely time-consuming. I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon doing this too and I'm still far from finished.
It's my job, and so I don't mind, but my body does. My shoulders feel as though they are raging on fire because I've spent so long hunched in front of the computer. No matter how many breaks you take, shoulders don't want to be doing this. They want to be walking ten miles on the NHS march.
They liked that, even though my feet didn't.
Yesterday was rescued by a visit to Gina's; we are writing a song about nuisance neighbours, something we both have recent experience of.
Before she moved, hers did so much building work that they cracked the walls of her living room and there was constant noise. Mine won't repair their chimney, which is leaking into my loft, and they have bought a dog which barks very loudly whenever they go out (burglars, take note: it's the opposite of a watch dog). This is usually three to four hours every day.
Gina and I work in three-hour slots, and we are remarkably productive.
I remember writing my PHD in even shorter bursts, during the double-bill Simpsons on a Friday night which kept the girls busy, and writing most of the songs for Suburban Pastoral between 8.15 when I took Offsprog Two to school, and 9.45 when I left for work. Mumalicious!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Musicky Time

After a day grafting away at timetables for the new University year (seven hours today and the same tomorrow), I'm leaning back and listening to the backing track that Gina Birch has sent me. We are writing a song together about nasty neighbours, something of which we both have ample experience.
We are thinking Kinks over dirty electronica. Watch this space...
I am also rehearsing songs- some for the gig at The Lantern Theatre in Sheffield on Wednesday next week, where I'm supporting Martin Stephenson, and some for the gig at the Prince Albert, a rare Helen and the Horns gig in sunny Brighton which we will be playing at the invitation of the wonderful Spinningchilli promoters (Bad Bad Whiskey are supporting us at that one).
At times my two occupations, lecturer and musician/songwriter seem to be poles apart.

Monday, September 08, 2014


McDad could be remarkably camp. A poor unfortunate male friend had missed the last bus home and had to sleep in the spare room.
McDad appeared with pyjamas. "I've got the orange winceyette, the pink and white brushed cotton or the green linen/ cotton blend", he offered (or something like that).
The poor stranded fellow looked baffled and embarrassed in equal measure. Which to choose?

Interview in Making Waves Zine

This zine originates from Camille Lan and I was delighted to do an interview for them:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Marching for the NHS

After a sumptuous brunch of fish fingers on toast (September is austerity month and everything is served on toast to augment its belly-filling properties), I went to look for the NHS march who were supposed to be stopping for lunch in a little local park on their way from St Albans to Edmonton. I'd been working all morning on charts, timetables and other such administration, and a walk in support of something that I fervently believe in was now the priority of the day.
The Conservatives have never been able to stand the idea of something as essential as health care being in public hands. Just think how often people get ill- and just think how much money can be made out of that!
This drove me to join the Labour Party many years ago when John Major was ripping it to shreds (since lapsed, but I'm watching) but I think the best way to look after the NHS now is by signing every petition that crosses my path, and walking part of the route from Jarrow to Trafalgar Square in support of the amazing women who have walked the whole way.
A small welcoming party was waiting in the park but I walked up the road to meet them. They didn't stop for lunch but carried on. Boy do they walk fast! I'd arranged to meet Offsprog One at the next tube station down the line but we were well past there at the allotted time so we had to rearrange.
A van met us every so often to hand us piles of leaflets (I was tweeting it so I didn't leaflet but I did hold a banner with a marching fellow for part of the way). People were reading the leaflets, not throwing them away, and drivers were drawing up in cars and winding their windows down to ask for them too.
We stopped at Arnos Grove, and there was Offsprog One with her camera. A very nice Italian shop let us all use their loos, and quite a lot of people bought ice creams before we set off for the last two miles to Edmonton, walking mostly alongside the North Circular which is possibly London's most dangerous and dirty road. But the company was great and we heard every sort of car and lorry horn tooting in support; some of those lorries have the most amazing sounds: hoarse, grunting, tuneful, I'd never realised the music available in air horn form. One of our number had a bugle, too, which was a very cheerful accompaniment. Every time a car or lorry hooted, a man with a whistle mimicked their sound, and we waved and cheered. It was knackering but good fun. Sometimes the march slowed down a bit, for instance when the over-50s group joined for a while.
I'd been planning to walk from High Barnet to Arnos Grove, after meeting Offsprog One at Whetstone. But we carried on and when I got home I was surprised that our leg had been 9.5 miles.
The people who have walked the full distance deserve a massive amount of respect.
They are setting off from Edmonton tomorrow morning and aiming to be at Trafalgar Square for 3, where there will be speakers including the writer Owen Jones.
Somewhere along the way, we were wondering what the Queen thought of the NHS being privatised. All those poorly subjects, feeling to ill to sing the National Anthem. Bless.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Timetables and Taps

Six o'clock... What a fabulous time to wake up, if you're a bird. I had been hoping for a lie-in, but alas something woke me up and I thumped downstairs to put the kettle on.
Every single morning, I forget that the cold tap in the kitchen is actually a fire hose. A thick jet of icy water spurts out and drenches everything in the kitchen- floor, worktops, window, and of course, me.
Once everything was dry again, I sat down and did Timetables for an hour and a half, managing to win the fight against the table I was creating yesterday by simply deleting half of it.
'Ha ha! Destruction!', I thought nastily and put the kettle on again for coffee.
Soaking wet again, I got changed and headed down to Gina's to make music for a couple of hours. It's difficult to describe what I'm contributing but it's definitely something- lyrics here, lyrics there, vocal harmonies, a bit of programming, a bit of guitar, feedback (the talking kind, not the sound... yet) and some quite stringent editing in places. It's great fun, a different way of writing that goes against the normal rules that I've inadvertently hemmed myself in with. I think I get tangled up in structure as though it were barbed wire, and Gina deconstructs to create a forest of sound that you can get lost in; things definitely change between the beginning and end of the sessions, I hope for the better- the process is really energising, anyway.
I'd been hoping to go to an Employability Conference this afternoon but in the end I had too much work to do. Finally, a pile of 'finished with' books is starting to grow and the list of orders to myself has started to diminish with more crossings-out than instructions. Time for tea again. Toodle-pip!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bring Forth The 5USA Cop Shows!

This evening, I have taken on the Lego 'writing shape person' attributes. I've been sitting at the kitchen table planning teaching schedules and battling the general grumpy feelings that come along with trying to make grids in Microsoft Word that disappear as soon as you try to fill them with anything. I've still got a grid with no line at the end of it, so I abandoned ship and transferred my attention to another professional endeavour.
I'm trying to write as much as possible this year. There are reasons why, but not that I want to share at the moment. It's hard work, but also very interesting. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Chantal Epp, who runs this fledgeling company
Before we met I had no idea that cheerleading music even existed and it was fascinating to talk to her, especially as she is so enthusiastic about what she is doing.
I am writing a chapter for a book on entrepreneurship in the music industry, and I'm devouring books about the creative industries as fast as I can eat them. The sofa is covered with piles of books that have scribbled notes sprouting out of them at unusual angles.
It's just like writing music in some respects. You dig deeper and deeper into it and suddenly it's dark outside and you haven't had anything to eat for ages. It's not good for the body: your shoulders stiffen and your feet get cold, but you feel that it's good for your mind to flex and connect different ideas from different places.
The cop shows are on TV- I'm off for a tat break!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Brighton Gig Coming Up!

On 28th September Helen and the Horns will be playing at The Prince Albert in Brighton with Bad Bad Whiskey supporting us.
It's one of Brighton's best venues and it would be lovely to see some old friends there. We will be playing a new song I think, and I'm really looking forward to it.
Phil (formerly of Brighton band The Lillettes) runs the punkbrighton website and has done a lovely write-up: