Friday, November 28, 2014

A Snippet of Frank Ocean

I've just listened to a snippet of Frank Ocean's new material. He's sounding very D'Angelo but also pleasingly low fi. Having recorded a track on my iPhone last Saturday at home (satisfyingly typo'd as iPhome before I corrected it) I am now of the opinion that low fidelity is the way forward. My song has the cars going past, and a nice fade out featuring next door's dog, as well as some imperfect sounding vocals and a bit of clumsy playing here and there. But it is spirited and it seems like a logical step forward from recording 'Anarchy Skiffle' live in Colin's garage in Darlington in February. Here's to the authenticity of the occasional mistake.
Oddly enough, Frank Ocean's track reminded me of Billy Childish's kitchen recording that you could hear him switching the tape recorder on/off in, at the end of each line as he was making the song up. You can hear Frank pottering about briefly at the start and end of the track. Very blues: singing the line twice or three times while you think up the punchline. And also an impressionist painting too, where there are no sharp edges to trip over and kill the imagination.
Frank Ocean on Soundcloud: Memrise ( sorry no italics today; the iPhone touch screen is being anarchic)

Grey Friday

Nope, I'm not buying things because the media says I should. I'm selling things instead, to fund a new laptop. I haven't had one for two years and my copy of Logic Audio is slowly vaporising as my desktop computer approaches its dotage.
I'm rummaging through my old clothes and suchlike, and aiming for the January sales when computers are cheaper; with any luck I'll be recording a new album during the gloomy winter months if the dog next door stops barking for long enough! I have the songs, I have the guitar....
Which brings me to the Bloomsbury Tavern in WC2 on Saturday evening at Lucie's Lounge. Lucinda Sieger has invited me along to play, and my dear friend Nick Page aka Dubulah is going to join me for a few songs at the very beginning (7.30) and then I'll do short set later on. Lucie sings lovely songs, there are more musicians playing and it's all for only £5.00. It should be a lively warm hearted evening.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I awoke very early indeed this morning in a mass of palpitations; butterflies fluttered across my chest and I had to get up and start the day as a distraction. Later, I remembered that today was McMum's birthday and wondered if I was programmed to feel disturbed by that fact; the butterflies eventually settled as practical concerns took over.
The last tutorials for my thesis group were therapeutic; they have worked very hard and their subjects are all interesting. Even the Permanent Absentee turned up, all flustered and urgent. We did what we could; let's hope all that intensity and days-in-the-library pay off for them, the sons of feminists with gracious manners and a good work ethic.
This evening, more therapy: I went to see Royal Limp at Electrowerkz, Despite having concussion, Andy did a great front-man job. I have a new fave song, Public Transport Blues, and I've now decided that they sound like early Modern Lovers. I strewed some of my Guerilla Warfare comics about the place; a man picked one up to read, but put it down again. It was very dark, so he probably couldn't see it.
Over and out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I'm looking at a big bag of ironing that doesn't, strictly speaking, feel like mine. It's been waiting since the summer for this moment: it's the winter clothes eBay bag, which still contains the summer clothes which I didn't get around to selling in the appropriate season.
The problem with ironing is that you need a TV show without subtitles to iron to, so that you can look at what you're doing, or one with so much action that you can listen in and glance up occasionally. Unforchly, Columbo won't do because we aways know whodunnit at the beginning rather than the end, and rather tediously, have to watch Columbo being clever, and knowing how clever he's being, all the way through.
As I consider the available options, I've taken to the blog, site of prevarication.
I've been receiving bulletins from Martin who has in his northern corner of Scotland caught no less than three mice in the humane trap he bought yesterday. He was talking about tagging them with Tippex to see if it was the same mouse coming back from a long way away where he dropped them off.
I told him about the Blue Peter experiment with snails whose shells they marked before dropping them off in distant gardens, only to find that they had a fantastic homing instinct and turned up again in their source garden no matter how long it took.
The problem is that to catch a mouse to tag it, you've got to catch the mouse.

Yesterday I wrote a two minute song for a compilation, which I will tell you more about later on. I recorded it using my iPhone, which picked up the clock ticking, cars whooshing past the window, and of course next door's dog which was barking relentlessly as usual.
When I have asked them to take it out more, perhaps, or get someone to take it for a walk when they are not there because the constant barking and whimpering becomes overwhelming, the neighbour says 'He doesn't bark'.
It will not be long before I call the RSPCA to report them for their neglect ; I think they might then realise that their dog does, indeed, bark.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sketching In The Fog

What could be better than sketching in the fog? It may be cold and damp out there but there are still beautiful things to look at, picked out against a white sky or looming out of the grey mist. We drew a pile of tables stacked in front of a couple of tepees, their silvery wood shining in the gloomy daylight. We drew two diggers that moved at crucial moments as though they realised that they were being drawn and were self-consciously adjusting themselves in response to the scrutiny. They did exciting things, like lifting up a metal beam with a chain and moving it a fraction of a centimetre across the site, or scraping the mud in a big bucket with goofy teeth. Their pistons shone, they rotated and gyrated, and they roared. Wonderful! Little distant men in hard hats and high vis jackets pottered and pulled levers.
It got bloody cold.
We went for tea and cake.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


What do you call a person who posts nasty messages on a supermarket's website?
A shopping troll.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Feral Five

I've been wanting to watch Feral Five for yonks, having shared space on the Ralph's Life CD last year that raised money for mental heath charities.
This gig was to celebrate the launch of a compilation CD by the band/label Gertrude called Songs About Women (in the 21st Century) at the Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel Road. I'm sorry not to have got there earlier because it had clearly been a really successful night, but it was great to have the opportunity to see Terry and Andy at last. The photo shows them just before their set.
How to describe their sound? Well, I scribbled various things in my illegible hand as the set proceeded. I'm a compulsive influence-miner, so
'Dr Who dark theme' and 'Siouxsie Quatro' summarised the first song. They play guitar/percussion (Terry) and bass (Andy) and are accompanied by a computer beatbox that thankfully doesn't dominate the sound. I like it when computers know their place, and walked out of a gig a couple of weeks ago after seeing the Macs lined up on stage and overhearing the shocking arrogance of the producer just before the act came on (and didn't review it, because it was so upsetting).
Everything here builds around a deep dark, dirty bass groove, sliced up into chunks with electric guitar attacks or neat riffs; Terry sings acerbic lyrics over these sounds and the computer contributes atmospheres and beats underneath it all. Sometimes Terry, Andy and the drum machine nod in the dark to techno, and sometimes Jungle underpins their music. Sometimes they could be the B52s without the hysteria.
Strung Out is murder disco of the first order;  I wonder if they've been listening to Sylvester? Over the grumbling and thwacking in the background, Terry's almost bratty boy-sounding vocals are a refreshing change from the over-Beyonce'd or hyper-Adele'd norm, relating much more to punk than to the music-college honed perfectionism that sometimes seems to have taken over all of the space in the universe. She has a upbeat and clear-sounding voice that delivers these short, punchy songs with aplomb.
People are dancing and in the audience, and for the first ever time, I see women headbanging.
The new single Angel Road is a stunner. Terry uses a builder's mallet and scraper as percussion and Andy takes to the microphone; the beats are sparser, and the bass line reminds me somehow of the style of Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth. Lush-sounding electronic noise moves through the track, which conjures up a sense of emptiness and loneliness and begs to be the theme tune for a black and white film about Kansas, post tornado. They encore with Germ Free Adolescents, joined by a sax player. Although this is a very different version to Poly's, I think she would be very flattered at the thought of her song being re-worked so many years later.
The Gertrude tracks can all be heard here and downloaded for free:
And you can hear Feral Five here:
It was great to see Felix in the audience; she has been helping female musicians for a long time and she did a great interview last year for this current research I'm doing. And Rasha was there too; keep in touch!
Confession: the first thing that I wrote in my  notebook was a comment about the disgusting toilets at the Rhythm Factory. Owners, whoever you are, if the punters knew just how much money you make out of flogging them alcoholic drinks that send them scurrying to your horrible bogs, they would be scandalised. Get a grip!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Is What I Do

Academic life certainly has its ups and downs; after a grim Wednesday, Thursday was completely uplifting. One of the reasons that I've been so busy (I believe I may have mentioned nine-hour admin days a few times) is that just before term started, the lecturer due to deliver a series of business lectures was offered a full time job elsewhere.
Instead of booking another series of lectures from one person, I decided that the students would benefit more from people coming in to talk to them about what they actually did in the world, and the ups and downs (see above) of their professional practice. This has happened a little bit before, but not as a matter of principle, and it's proving to be very interesting and well worth it.
It started off with a visit from David Sheppard, who wrote On Some Faraway Beach (about Brian Eno, see, writes for Mojo, edits Art and Music  and is also a practising musician, see
After lulling the students into a sense of security by his self-deprecating style, they gradually began to realise that they were in the presence of a genius of lateral thinking and they ended up listening with church-like stillness to his strategies and imaginative troubleshooting; he has had the ability to capitalise on accidental opportunities to quite an extraordinary degree.
The following week, Colleen Murphy, former protege of David Mancuso and who started up and runs Classic Album Sundays came along and wowed them with her energetic focus. Completely different, she shone a light on the ways that an idea can grow from a small event run in a living room to a worldwide franchise.
Joe Boyd and Nile Rodgers have both spoken at her events; now that's an event!
Hot on their heels came Urban Development who run events and advice sessions for up-and-coming musicians in East London and beyond. So useful, so well thought through and such an opportunity; they run music industry events at the University of the East: well worth checking out!.
Next up came Gina Birch, to talk to them about her journey from punk musician and artist to film-maker and Glut, taking in all of the ups and downs on the way (or many of them, anyway). 'Kinda cool, isn't she?' commented one of the students afterwards. Well, she certainly is, and she's about to go to Paris with Ana Da Silva; and someone's writing a 33 1/3 about the Raincoats' first album at the moment as well.
On to Thursday; we had a delightful visit from Ian Damaged of Damaged Goods Records who, he told us, had never spoken to students before. It was an amazing talk, a mixture of anecdotes and advice, delivered in a really positive and engaging way. Information flowed out of him and the students were rapt and crucially, laughed at all the funny bits so I knwo they were thoroughly attentive (that's the lecturer in me speaking)
I felt privileged that they have released The Chefs and Helen and the Horns back catalogues, and I'm looking forward to having time to mine through some of their other stuff again (Penetration are there, and of course Billy Childish, the genius of being indefinable).
Tired? You bet I am, especially because I finished my chapter for The Music Entrepreneur and sent it off yesterday morning. I slept for 12 hours last night, only waking to take a fleeting and crackly phone call from Martin in Devon, who is travelling around and gigging constantly at the moment. the Daintees have a beautiful new album out soon, you just wait and see.
Below: with Ian from Damaged Goods, both lightly dappled by a Powerpoint projection of the website. Frowning because there's a projector shining in our eyes. Art, innit?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Strange that the first manifestation of the research that I've been doing for the past four years is to be a chapter in a book about music entrepreneurship! It has been quite a pressurised experience writing it because of what was happening earlier in the year and I'm now re-editing it after the editors' comments (it's actually been more of a re-write). Every morning I print it out, every afternoon I re-read it, and every evening I make corrections. Really, there's only one more day to go and it's winging it's way over to my work computer as I write this, to be printed out tomorrow and read tomorrow afternoon.
I have become a ruthless slash-and-burn reader of my own work, all the more so because of the lack of time. 'What's this rubbish?' I bellow at myself (well, silently in my head), and I press the delete button, or the copy-and-paste as large chunks of text vanish from one part of it and reappear in the next.
The pink fluorescent marker pen has run out of ink and the Editor's Pencil has travelled back and forth many times between my fingers and the convenient slot behind my ear. Nearly 7000 words have swirled and swarmed like a murmuration of starlings and landed in line on the screen in front of my bespectacled eyes.
On Friday morning, the chapter will fly off into the sunset, and on Saturday I'll go out to play.

Monday, November 10, 2014

An Exciting Afternoon

Well, it was a combination of fun and learning things. The students at the University of the East have been writing songs for the last six weeks and this afternoon was their opportunity to listen to each other's group songs.
It was a bit haphazard, but the first group managed incredibly well given that some of their members were missing. We heard hooks, a good rhythm, some lovely chord sequences and a very interesting guitar sound.Then one of the other groups had to play an instant cover version of their song!
They did a remarkably good job, especially since the song they were covering only had a verse and no chorus ( one of the missing members had that in their head, I think). But we could hear the bits they remembered: quite a lot, as it happens.
We listened to the next song, a full group this time, who had everyone whooping and bouncing around: good performers. They had a very earwormy chorus, and two rappers which made things rather difficult for the group that had to do an instant cover of their song; they had one female singer!
But it was fine, because goodwill carried them along.
The third group had run away and left one poor member shrinking at the thought of performing on their own, but I was kind and allowed her to sit the session out; what a pity that they missed the fun.
What's more, all hands were on deck to put the gear away.
That's my kind of afternoon.

Friday, November 07, 2014


Marking, innit?
It has been such a busy beginning of year, catching up on stuff I didn't do while McMum was ill, covering for a new member of staff who hadn't started yet (and now he has, and all is good), and after having made a decision to take my research out into the world, doing that.
There has been little time for blogging, hence the copious blog gushing when I actually do get out and about. I would have loved to experience some culture: The Girl of the Golden West, the opera by Puccini at the ENO; various plays; the Conrad Shawcross installation in the car park in Berwick Streeet to celebrate Ada Lovelace; the Abram Games exhibition at the Jewish Museum which is never open when I can get there (get the gentiles to do the door at weekends?). But since the summer I've played some nice gigs (largely thanks to Martin because I hadn't organised anything myself, but also thanks to Spinningchilli in Brighton), talked some talks (Southend's Metal event, the Cybersalon and the Concerts and Colloquia event at Middlesex University) and now I hope will have time to write both words and music, and to draw.
There is still a massive backlog of stuff to do, listed on paper on the table with circles round the 'do today' things, but at least now there is the time and space to do it.
Time, the final frontier.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Distraction from Grooghsvile: Last Night's Rrrants

Let's see what my typing skills are like today. It got to 5 a.m. last night when I finally admitted to myself that I was unwell and wouldn't be able to go to work today. There is a cold prickly boulder in my tum and I'm hoping it's not Norovirus. I wait in suspense.
Let's be positive; I've had to stop working as I'm unable to spell a whole word without mistakes, and I may well abandon this posting if there's too much correcting to do. But last night's gig was fun so here goes...

Last night's Rrrants gig was marvellous; everyone was on top form and there was a great atmosphere.
Martin travelled down in the daytime and we had to have a quick rehearsal which meant that we missed the fabulous Lobby Ludd in all his unfabulousness. I'll never forget the machine he brought on stage once that had horns, cymbals, so many additional features that he became intrigued mid-song and abandoned the audience for a couple of verses until Paul yelled (with great charm) at him to get back to what he was supposed to be doing. Luckily, I now have a copy of his CD to listen to.

We managed to get there in time for Julie Mullen, who sported a gigantic ugly baby with a huge green face and who talked us through her childbirth experience in great detail. The baby didn't seem to mind, remaining impassive throughout, which I though was rather ungrateful of it.
At this point, three fresh-faced young men rather unwisely chose the three seats directly in front of the stage to sit in and provided additional entertainment, especially as the face of the freshest one was readily observable throughout. They looked like happy puppies, lapping it all up along with copious pints of bitter that led to much mockery from the stage (more of that later).
Richard Frost told us a long shaggy dog story; perhaps it was a shaggy horse story, or even a shaggy bear story. Partway through the horse story, he waited for a few seconds. I think the horse had just met a bear, who interrupted the joke. Why the long paws? asked the horse.
Reader, that's right up my shaggy dog street.

Poeterry got up, and pretty Poeterrifying he is too. He loves women....
Dressed in a brocade waistcoat and tails, he tells us in poetry about the various women he has fancied. The audience, a family of eccentrics (who I appear to have become one of as I realised during my comfort break halfway through), know all the words and chanted along very much like a group of primary school children chanting along with teacher to learn a nursery rhyme.

There were other comedians too; Mel Jones thrilled the three fresh-faced fellow with her bawdiness which they absorbed with drunken hunger. Actually, my favourite bit of her set was the compilation of CVs which any of the third years reading this will fully understand. How I wish I'd filmed it to show them!
I think I have written before about the Rrrants night when the Offsprogs came along and were slightly taken aback to hear about middle aged (and post-middle-aged) people's sexual fantasies being articulated as comedy poetry. Looking at it from that perspective, it's refreshing to realise that the miraculous discovery by their generation's rappers that they have penises is really just as silly as everything else.

I've had to miss some acts out, sorry; they were all good!
John Hegley was up next and demonstrated his mastery of stagecraft and audience manipulation. Within seconds, he'd told off the three fresh faced chappies for filming, telling them in the process a neat little anecdote about a recent children's performance where the audience had been asked not to film for fear of spoiling the children's magic. He eyed them sternly when they were restless, and sang songs accompanied by a very beautiful woman on ukelele. Paul and Ian joined him for the Guillemot song on washboard and double bass respectively. By now, John was on the floor in front of the stage, artfully blocking one of the fresh-faced who was attempting to return wobblingly to the front row with a tray laden with overflowing pint glasses.
The audience flapped their wings, made like fish with their hands and laughed.
It was good.

Finally, Martin and myself got up to play our combi-set of his songs and my songs. We started off with Me and Matthew, followed by If You've Got the Blues and then 24 Hours. We played Wholly Humble Heart, Anarchy Skiffle, Little Red Bottle and finished with the Cannonball Rag with Paul, Ian and Steve (who plays with me in Helen and the Horns), who played a rootin'tootin' trumpet solo or two. Lobby Ludd could be heard tootling his kazoo in the background. It was great fun to play as a duo even if the rehearsal was a bit last minute, and at times we hit the groove even though my Telecaster decided to go off-piste at one point and contribute some unintended Hendrix-style feedback.
The Antipoet rounded the evening off with Tights or Fishnet Stockings. Hilariously, after all that had come before, this was the song that made the fresh faced chappies look really embarrassed. Maybe it hit a nerve, or maybe it missed one; I couldn't work it out but I spent the song watching them listen in stunned silence. They completed the evening, really, and at one point I did wonder if they were a deliberate plant recruited from Marks and Sparks menswear department earlier in the day.

Great to see Tom out with his lovely partner, and Wilky and various other chaps and chapesses.
Foolish Girl, where art thou? We miss you!

Thanks in abundance to Paul, Donna and Ian for putting on these intimate, hilarious and warm-hearted evenings. They will be greatly missed: I've enjoyed both performing and being in the audience; could there be a better night out?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Smartees

Many thanks to Zoot Piranha for sending me the demos that Steve Bearsdley made of Smartees songs all the way from New York City!
I can't think why Steve did it; Zoot says we were looking for another drummer to stand in because our existing drummer Ricky couldn't do the gigs. But I think I might also have left the band by then; who knows? It was before I really wrote songs; Thrush was there but Let's Make Up!, which I wrote with Tracy, wasn't.
The Smartees was the band that I was in between Joby and the Hooligans and The Chefs. It was started by Joby, who wanted a band like The Monkees, and it had drifting personnel. I played bass, Steve and Carl played guitar, Tracy and Joby sang, and Ricky played drums. People used to leap on stage from the audience and join in with the singing, which I remember enjoying a lot; there was a darker side because there were a lot of collapsing relationships in the band which is probably why the content of the songs moved from the political to the personal.
Zoot reminded me of just how busy The Piranhas were as a band back then- endless gigging with no break. I don't think they ever really got their due as a band. At early gigs, Madness used to come along and beg for a support slot, but the Piranhas manager wouldn't let them do it for some reason. You can definitely hear the influence on Madness of the early Piranhas explorations of reggae rhythms. Isn't that strange? Madness are seen as one of the quintessential examples of the processing of reggae by a young British band in the late 1970s and early 1980s, yet it was a little Brighton band that provided a lot of the inspiration for that.
While we are on bands... I went to see Offsprog One's band Royal Limp last night at a Dalston warehouse event that was really good fun. There were lots of artists playing and Royal Limp played a short, neat set that revealed a lot of progress since the last time I saw them about a year ago. they were much tighter and more direct and the new song was brilliant. They play songs very heavily influenced (to these ears) by the dronier side of the Velvet Underground; one audience member described them as 'not as miserable as The Fall', which they definitely aren't. Andy, the lead singer has a very amenable stage presence, for a start, and to these ears The Fall sound like chaos of the most pretentious order.  Sorry if you're a Fall fan reading this, but I used to teach a PR person who worked for Mark E Smith and anyone who directs nastiness at working people in manual trades is a rat, a prat, a gnat and a tw.... well you get my drift. Not fair game.
Back to the positive side of things: Andy says they are due to do some recording soon and that's very good news.
Ok, ok, ok, back to marking essays, which I've been doing in one-hour chunks ever since 8.30 a.m. this morning. Could this be counted as a spiritual Sunday activity? I don't think so. Tell you later.