Thursday, April 30, 2015


One of my students gave me a thank-you card. The sun came out!


Any academic will tell you that a large part of their life is spent waiting for students who have an urgent appointment with you and who then don't turn up. If I added together the minutes and hours I've spent waiting for no-shows, it would amount to days and weeks.
My career has proved to be an education in patience. Here I am waiting for a student who turned up 25 minutes late the last time, and who is running 'ten minutes late'. Fifteen minutes later, there is no sign of them.
This is the second moany posting in a row!
Put it down to anxiety about the forthcoming election. I've had to stop reading London's Evening Standard which was stuffing Tory policy down my throat every night, and I've stopped watching the news, because of the constant chirruping about companies that are doing so well now the economy has got better. I am ashamed to be part of a country that demonises the less fortunate members of its society- people who are unemployed, disabled, elderly, or in poor health.
And the student still hasn't turned up (twenty minutes late now).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Guitar Tuners, Alas

Is it just me or do guitar tuners break at a rate of knots these days?
The worst ones seem to be Snarks which, in spite of their funky look and comical name, last for a gig and a half before conking out.
Because Snarks are so useless, I tried another brand and found that it was happy to tune three of the strings, but not the other three.
This, I think, is a genius stroke of engineering that ought to win the Nobel Tuning Prize, but isn't very useful for an ordinary musician trying to tune an ordinary guitar at an ordinary gig.
I have recently been reduced to
twingTWING twingTWING twingTWING twingTWING 
tuning the old-fashioned way, comparing string to fretted string.
This is fine at the beginning of the gig but disastrous halfway through because the gig turns into an experimental music event that wasn't advertised on the posters.
I have a very ancient battery tuner that is held together by a sawn-off knitting needle. It never went wrong and always worked; cruelly, it was relegated to the bottom of the bits-bag when the swanky Snark came along and took its place.
Old tuner, you are about to be refreshed with a new battery, forgiven, and clipped on to my guitar headstock once more. Never again will I snicker at your eccentric knitting-needle hinge; you know how to do your job, and that is what matters.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bin Men

I'm watching a TV programme about bin men in Newcastle.
There has been so much in the newspapers about 'hard-working people' and why business people deserve to make hundreds/thousands/millions/eventually billions of pounds/dollars/yen or whatever.
With public sector workers, no matter how hard you work, you only make your wages.
Personally, I'd like to see people like the bin men, the health workers, the carers, the cleaners, the police and so on make the money they deserve too. They keep us clean, safe, and well: you can't put a price on that, and I'd hate to be 'enjoying' my billions in a land over-run by rats, riddled with diseases and with no-one to care for me when I'm old and infirm.
For how much longer will the trickle-up effect be tolerated?

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Disability Rocks Gig, Tatton Park

It was a chilly and overcast day, but this wan't reflected in the mood of the punters. Hay bales were lined up in front of the stage and there were lots of tents where drumming, singing, food and other things were happening. Tattoo Park is gorgeous. On the way in, we passed dark brown hairy deer on the right hand side and beige smoothie deer on the left. There were a few sheep, looking confused.
We scoffed some chips and drank some tea, then I hopped on to the stage and sang to a group of people that included a dog called Starsky whose tail wagged along to the music. I had a friend in the front row, Anne, who was having a lovely time and who told me that she was in love, so I sang some songs specially for her. As I sang, giant bubbles drifted past in the distance making the afternoon feel like magic.
Then Martin and Jim played an uplifting set that combined some old Daintees favourites with some high-energy fingerpicking' songs. During his set there was a running joke with people in the front row making wigs with straw from the bales, much to everyone's amusement.
Singing and playing outdoors is really special, and this was a very special group of people.
There is a whole series of these gigs all over the country that welcome people of all kinds to join together and enjoy live music, comedians, jugglers and so on. I loved the escapologist but I guessed how he did it (not telling). If you want to find a festival near you, look here

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Walnut Whips in the Fridge

I'd forgotten! Hooray!

Thank You

Thank you to the ambulance staff at Warrington Hospital, aptly situated in Lovely Lane. You are a credit to the wonderful NHS, our national treasure made up of national treasures like you.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ermelinda Silvestri

Start press: she is a woman! Acoustic guitar with cartouche "Alaric Sgroi Silvestri". It is a descendant (son?) Of Salvatore Mancuso and Sgroi Ermelinda Sivlestri, husband and wife, who at the beginning of the 900 'unified the existing Companies Sgroi Mancuso and Ermelinda Silvestri. The guitar is the '60s. The rosette is typical of the company. From
Stop press: alas, Ermelinda is a man. But I like my story so much, I'm going to keep it here because it made me really happy for 24 hours.
This is a bit of a 'you couldn't make it up' story, I think.
About two years ago I was searching for a cheap parlour guitar on eBay and I saw one for £150 or best offer. I offered £50 and this little guitar turned up. It was almost unplayable, but looked OK. The problem was the smell- really weird, a bit fishy, and eventually I stuck it in the loft and left it there because it was too pungent for everyday inhalation. It joined a cohort of other loft-stuff that had been dumped there for posterity.
You can't do that with everything and I'm in the process of working out what to keep and what to lose, especially after seeing what two parents left behind in terms of a lifetime's collected stuff (and also after making a major move about 9 years ago, from a 4 bedroomed house whose loft was as big as the whole house I live in now).
So the little guitar was destined for eBay again until an internet angel told me a bit about it, and now I am going to find someone to restore it because it's a very old and very peculiar guitar.
Ermelinda Silvestri was a mandolin maker who was born in the 19th Century and who worked in the Rome area (I think). She specialised in inlaid work and often decorated her instruments with a butterfly motif. There are photos of her instruments on the internet and some vague histories- but isn't it a bit unusual for a female instrument-maker to have been so prolific at that time? I sense a research project coming; don't nick my ideas, you out there!
This guitar has no label, and no stamped signature, and I think it may well be one of the very early ones, although it was made for steel strings. What is unusual and what would, probably date it, is the inlays on the neck- the dots that help us poor guitarists locate the correct places to put our fingers, and which are usually central to the fretboard. Here, they're at the edge. By adjusting the bridge, I've managed to lower the action and the intonation's not bad although it resonates in quite a harsh way despite being made of old wood; this could be because of the metal the tailpiece is made of, I think.
Anyway, what a lovely project to accidentally have stumbled upon: I have in my possession a guitar made by a woman guitar-maker in the very early 20th Century that I almost sold for 99 pence.
And it doesn't smell any more, either.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Club Artyfartle 2

I've just got back from Aryfartle 2. Katy and Mikey were both ill which was a disappointment and I'm wishing them both a speedy recovery. Amy Corcoran and Snow stepped up to the mark and the evening was really, really good. It was great to hear Johny in such good voice, singing very different material from the songs he sings with The Band of Holy Joy: contemplative and beautiful songs about the Scottish landscape. Lovely. Amy was brilliant as always, piercing those big bubbles of self-delusion that people float around in; Gina was ferociously frank and stilled the noisy talkers in the corner with her energy. Snow gave us rock from the heart, her big voice and rapid-fire guitar playing making her a hard act to follow. Then Em asked the audience to gather around a table and played an art game that had a random element to it. The audience were intrigued and all joined in like children, throwing dice, taking chance cards and doing a lucky dip before admiring the thick book of photographs of her artwork and sculptures.
Thank you for coming everyone- Wilky you were missed again!
The next one will be in a different venue when I find a suitable one.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thought For the Day; a Re-Branding Exercise

Ah yes, early morning thoughts, said to be the clearest and most valuable.
So rock'n'roll music was named after the slang for sex, and it has stuck for years and years.
It's about time we rebranded pop music now, isn't it? After all it has clearly articulated, after so many years, what it is all about.
Perhaps because I've been reading and enjoying bell hooks (there's nothing like an angry and articulate academic to stimulate the brain buds), I woke up thinking about this.
So here is my new suggested moniker for pop music: 'Sexism'.
Think it'll catch on?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chore-ing: Boring

Sweeping the yard. Taking clothes to the charity shop. Putting things on eBay.
Remarkably, buying a portable CD player to play Gina's backing tracks on Monday, from the Noah's Ark Hospice shop (at the suggestion of a Kind Young Man in Cex who told me that they often have electronic equipment for sale in there- saved me a trip to Argos!).
Rehearsing songs for tomorrow's gig in Brighton on a Rickenbacker (Telecaster's very poorly indeed).
Soon, vacuuming.
Recently, eating raspberries, yoghurt and maple syrup (much to be recommended).
Later, writing.
After that, sleeping.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Club Artyfartle 2

It's actually number 4 (one and two were at The Perseverance and the Lexington respectively) but here is the Facebook event page for all you Facebookers out there:

Thursday, April 16, 2015


After a few weeks off, I'm back gigging again. On Sunday I'm heading down to Brighton to support Lesley Woods, formerly guitarist and vocalist of The Au Pairs, at The Prince Albert. I think Lesley will have a band; the gig starts early, at 8.30. I love The Prince Albert and I'm really looking forward to it.
Then on Monday, Club Artyfartle 2 happens at The Boogaloo. I have invited Johny Brown (of The Band of Holy Joy), Mikey Georgeson (of David Devant and his Spirit Wife), Gina Birch (of The Raincoats) and Katy Carr all to share some of their new songs in a very informal setting. Emerald Em will be doing an art workshop as well. I don't know what to expect- do you?
It starts at 8.30; be there or be Halifax.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


This is in memory of Francisca, a super-amazing person who I've just discovered died recently. She was a lovely woman who hugged me every time I saw her. She was one of life's enhancing people, positive, energetic, funny and loving. When we got into trouble for The Cleaners' Voice (the University didn't much go for the campaign for fair pay for the cleaners) she turned up at a Research Event to be interviewed in front of an audience even though her English wasn't that good- she came along for the craic and did a fantastic diplomatic job just by being there.
There is a Paypal link to repatriate her body to Brazil. It would mean such a lot to her family to have her home; even a fiver would help. I've put the link to the video above the Paypal link so you can see what it was all about. Leaving the legacy of a successful campaign was a great thing to do, but her real legacy was a personal one- you could see her smile from the other side of the building. How sad, the loss of such a positive woman.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Art Installations in a Suburban Street

Actually, now I'm sure that the ducks are an art installation.
Because last week there was a wrapped cucumber casually resting up against a doorpost next to a small industrial building in the street.
I'm excited to think what will be on display next week.

Ducks in May

Oh all right then, April.
I mis-spelled it as 'dicks' which could have been even worse.
A tribe of ducks has moved into a car park at the end of the street- three males and one female- tempted by a large pile of breadcrumbs. Their emerald heads were gleaming in the sunshine and they looked absolutely beautiful.
The senior one was waddling about in the road and won't be chased back to safety. When I looked back he was nestled under the wheel of a car in the shade, being a look-out.
There are often wagtails in the street too, which is quite extraordinary because as far as I know the nearest body of water is about a quarter of a mile away.
It's an exciting location, where I live.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Writing Fatigue

I don't even know how many hours I spent writing today; between three and four.
It's the graft bit now.
There are about 60 books stacked up there, and a whole pile of academic articles plus lots of data.
I've written just over 20,000 words, not counting the interviews.
What I'm writing is depressing at the moment; I'm hoping to get to an 'up' bit soon, which will probably be editing the interviews.
Now I'm writing therapeutic songs!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Flannelette Walk

I went on a long peramble today in the hope that it would suddenly become sunny, but it didn't. I'd organised about 40 books into piles ready for catching up on writing this weekend and decided to walk first to clear my head. Finding a way on to the canal towpath at Camden was impossible because it was so crowded you couldn't move, so I strolled up to Camden Road where it was such more peaceful. Accompanied by the dulcet tones of ducks and geese, I peered at houseboats with bicycles strapped to their roofs and bay trees wedged into crevices on their decks. The St Pancras Basin seems to be gripping on with white knuckles to its right to exist, but I sense the steam-rollers of progress snorting upon the horizon (and Camden Market should be trembling in its cowboy boots too).
The towpath's a bit of a con because at Islington you have to walk through a housing estate and then you get lost. Or I did anyway, until Chapel Street Market suddenly appeared. From then on it was football fans all the way; they appeared to support a team called Fly Emirates that I've never heard of but I liked the red shirts anyway. Islington is a curious place, with very expensive houses and very expensive shops to match them; but the streets are full of all sorts of people who must live somewhere in a parallel universe of metropolitan affordability. As I walked up Holloway Road, diving into vintage furniture shops I'd only ever seen from the car, the fans passing by got drunker and more noisy. Were they consoling themselves or celebrating? I never really picked that up. I saw the new Twelve Bar, which was hosting a large number of pavement drinkers. Further along, two rappers charged down the road rapping in unison. Then the shops gave way to lurid plastic signs for burger bars, kebab shops, and what appeared to be hundreds of minicab firms.
Holloway Road appears to be arranged in cultural stripes, with some middle class bits and some much poorer parts, with the air quality to match. Have the posh houses got ionisers tucked into the bushes in their front gardens?
I walked almost six miles this afternoon, much further than I'd meant to. It worked- it has cleared away the fog. The thought of Steel Pulse at The Forum was tempting, but writing won the toss in the end.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Victory! The Scanner Submits.

After an hour of experimentation, the scanner works if you disconnect it from the enormous programme that controls everything and just tell it to scan. At last, I can use the scanner without making an appointment at the library or paying £9 at SnappySnaps (shame on you, greedy fellows).
Here is one from the archives; the very poor quality is because it's scanned from an A5 comic. The original, which took 3 months to do, was thrown away by the then editor of the Imperial College magazine where I got it printed. He now appears regularly on the BBC and I still have a very small twinge of resentment every time I see him!


Like many academics, I'm working today catching up on emails, sorting out books, and all that lark.
In between, I'm ruminating. On Wednesday I toyed with the idea of queuing up for last minute tickets for the Mahogonny opera at the Royal Opera House. But I had an unexpected (and very welcome) visitor so I didn't go. The whole area burst into flames later that day and is still burning, underground. Apparently the ROH isn't affected but I imagine it could very well have been closed down that night. I stayed in an watched The Mighty Wind instead. And laughed a lot.
The printer/scanner I bought over a year ago has resolutely refused to scan anything, ever, and during lengthy and fruitless online advice sessions, I've been sitting upstairs in front of the ole computer waiting for various things to download.
Through the rainy atmosphere, I could hear very faintly the congregation of St John's Church singing their Easter hymns. Their voices swelled in unison: 'Rah, rah, rah, rah!', blown a bit by the wind and interrupted by the whooshing of passing cars, but still quite emotionally moving.
Easter this year will as always be a solitary affair. I will walk, think and watch out for signs of spring everywhere; the dark burden of winter has shifted and life feels fresh, free and exciting.