Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Song For New Year's Eve


Oh well, that was Christmas. I sent Offsprog One off to Dick Whittington at Wilton's Music Hall with a friend, because I was too poorly to go. Dammit, panto only happens at Christmas and I missed it!
It's been a holed-up-with-films and Lemsip time. Lots of James Stewart (including a birthday trip to the BFI which was sweet and survivable to see The Shop On The Corner. Kaurismaki's Leningrad Cowboys and more, so that I dreamt a delirious dream that I was in one of his films.
The documentary on penguins with the little runt baby penguin hiding behind it's Dadda when the guillemot came to gobble it up, metamorphosed into a computer game in my mind; penguins heads, penguins heads, all lined up and ready to... well, whatever happens in computer games, I don't know.
I have a copy of 8 Women to watch, having missed the showing at Viktor Wynd, and also a copy of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort; tomorrow may be French films and paracetamol, to ring the changes.
Instead of watching Vertigo on TV, I'm writing this. Poor attention span.
I'll go back to reading Sunday's newspaper.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cough Cough

It started on Boxing Day. I went to the doctors today, and everyone was coughing the same cough. Top of the Coughs.
Honey, ginger, and lemon to wash down a truckload of paracetamol; I'm missing the panto at Wilton's tonight. What a shame.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Last Night at The City Hall

Bone-drenching rain fell relentlessly, but nothing was going to damp our spirits. The crew at The City Hall treated us just like any other superstars (The Osmonds are playing there this week) and we had plenty of chocolates in our dressing room thanks to Mike and June.
El Cid played a nifty set; they are fabulous song writers and have grown ever more confident as performers. They brought a welcome West Coast Californian warmth to dreary central Newcastle yesterday evening, as they have developed their garage band palette to a much more mature and mellow vocal-harmony-rich sound. They also look like a proper pop group, and they didn't look too scared to be on a very big stage, which bodes very well for the future. They are such great songsmiths and have such a good sound; they are my favourite band by far that Martin has produced. (and it was really sweet that their mums and dads were in the audience).
I wore my best shirt for the occasion, and ignoring my shredded fingernail (thanks, E, Coli, for leaving me with health issues months afterwards) I had a great time. It was really exciting to stand on that stage where I'd been to see so many bands when I was a teenager; I never in a million years dreamed that I would find myself there one day and it was an extraordinary privilege to be invited on to the bill. The sound man was excellent and afterwards the only thing I could think was 'My fingernail can fall off now!'. I wonder if Rihanna ever thinks things like that?
Naturally, The Daintees were warm-hearted, musical and hilarious all in one package. Previous to this year, these Christmas gigs have been at the Cluny and the audience has gradually (or not so gradually) got progressively more and more pissed so by the time the set drew to a close, nobody was listening any more. I used to feel sorry for the band to have to play their last gig of the year to an audience who had stopped listening. At the City Hall, you couldn't take the drinks into the auditorium and it was a proper gig with people listening all the way through. I loved that, and so indeed did the audience. Some got up and danced at the back, others heckled song titles, and Jamie was invited on stage to play guitar and he did a great Bruce Foxton leap. So did Martin, but Chris has a bad knee and only managed to lift one leg off the ground. All the band were in top musical form and great spirits.
Boo to the local mag The Crack, who frantically tweeted the gig that was being played at The Cluny and not this one, in spite of an ad being taken out and paid for. Bad business and misplaced loyalty, guys.
This was a fabulous gig with a much-deserved encore and CDs flying off the stall at the front of the City Hall. Well done to The Daintees themselves, Andrew their promoter, Mike, June and Laura on the merch stall, El Cid and chiefly, the audience, for making this a night to remember!

What am I doing tonight? Trying to catch up on three months writing. I've been at it for four hours now and the computer's just about to run out of battery and power down.
Hip hip hooray! That's as good a reason as any to out the TV on and take a break.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Newcastle City Hall

Tonight- where I saw Santana (charming bloke and fabulous music), the odious Spinal Tap-like Yes (with a boyfriend), John McLaughlin (self indulgent) Kevin Ayers (the PA broke down, and he did the whole thing acoustically).
I always had to leave at 10.30 to get the last train home to Wylam, being a country girl.
Tonight I get to play there, supporting The Daintees, with El Cid.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Music Entrepreneurship

This book, edited by my former colleague Allan Dumbreck, and Gail McPherson, comes out on Thursday. Really it's aimed at students but I think it's got stuff in it that any young music entrepreneur will find interesting.
I did the Case Study on Recorded Music, which comes out of the research I'm doing at the moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


My phone is such a know-it-all. It has just autocorrected the word 'geminid' to 'feminist'.
It's like arguing with a misinformed pedant, but quite funny at the same time.

Carols for Crisis

I had a long urban stroll today, through Covent Garden, down to the footbridge over the Thames and then along the South Bank. There were vast quantities of Santas, many of them Very Merry. There was an utterly plastered gentlemen in a tailored suit with an all-over Christmas print, regrettably too unpleasantly aggro-drunk to ask for a photo.
I was on my way to Southwark Cathedral for the Crisis Christmas Carol Service. I hadn't got a ticket but I'd got a hopeful feeling and luckily there was a spare chair.
It was lovely. The cathedral was packed to the rafters and the service kicked off with the Merbecke Choir singing a lovely a cappella song with lyrics by Oscar Wilde called My Heart Stole Back. They sang beautifully and so did the Crisis Skylight Choir, only in different sorts of voices.
Jonathan Pryce (a patron) joined them, which was really touching. He narrated their second song, a version of When a Child is Born, but sang with them for their first one, Hallelujah, too.
The congregation burst into applause and just to be fair, applauded the other choir every time they sang too: and the members of Crisis who spoke about their lives.
They bravely stood in front of the congregation and told their stories; one particularly moving one was told by a young Irish chap those father, who didn't provide the love he ran away to seek, died on Boxing Day a few years ago. Through depression, alcohol and drugs, homelessness took these people's hope and confidence away, and Crisis gave them back through education, companionship and care.
We carolled away in between: Once in Royal David's City, Ding Dong Merrily on High, The Holly and the Ivy and O Come All Ye Faithful. Babies cried and chuckled, little children were escorted to the loo, gentlemen coughed their Christmas cough, groups of ladies from Derbyshire reminisced and rattled with perspex necklaces. There were readings: one by Jeremy Paxton (much rustling from the Derbyshire platoon: had he shaved off his beard? He had).
We all put as much as we could afford into paper envelopes because homelessness has risen by 77%  in the last five years. That's awful, isn't it? A combination of lack of housing, benefit sanctions and very poor behaviour by employers (who in some cases withhold pay for months) added to depression, makes it surprisingly easy for people of all ages and backgrounds to completely slip out of what most of us regard as normality, into a hellish life.
Crisis volunteers cook Christmas dinner for thousands of homeless or vulnerable people every Christmas. They do it for all of us who don't do it, and that is why it's particularly important to support them at this time of year. I'm not a street charity donor, and in case you're not either, here's a link to the Crisis website in case you are feeling generous today:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tickets for Newcastle City Hall

How exciting! Where I saw Santana, Kevin Ayers and the abysmal Spinal Tap prequel, Yes:

Darkness at Dawn: Another Early Start

Camden didn't offer me anything exciting this morning, but an early pondering in Stratford, wondering if Pret a Manger would ever dare to do an Away in 'a Manger' Christmas advertisement, kept me amused for a second.
I sat an an empty lecture theatre for the second morning in a row, and watched The Decline of Civilisation, Parts Two and Three. I am reviewing these films (and Part One), for the Jisc magazine Viewfinder, and it's taken a million years to find Blu-Ray equipment that actually works; it has been worth the wait though. Sitting on my own in the emptiness as dawn broke, I was completely absorbed by the films and the obvious trust that the protagonists had for Penelope Spheeris.
Part Two stands apart from the others. I have never liked Gene Simmonds and I now have a new-found dislike for Steve Tyler. What repulsive men they were, and possibly still are.
Lemmy, however, has a noble working classness about him and so of course does poor old Ozzy Osborne, a spring chicken making an omelette (see what I did there?) in his rather unflashy kitchen, as always bewildered by the peculiar world of heavy metal he appears to have been born into.
Well before the film was finished, I was bored by stories of groupies, d*cks and f*cking. Ever the genius, Spheeris asks these crowing prats, during a section where they boast about poncing clothes, food and money off various groupies, whether they are in fact prostitutes.
That passes them by.
Part Three made me cry; it was the stories of abuse by families and by the police. Americans can be just as horrible to their offspring as anyone else and a lot of global physicians need to heal themselves (here as well, of course). The young people in this documentary reminded me so much of the Brighton punks that I knew, and I found it terribly sad to realise that as humans we learn so little as time passes.
I've head two days of immersing myself in films; deep treatment, deep treatment.
I think it's time I made some music of my own.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Gig at The Lexington

Martin Stephenson and The Daintees at The Lexington on Wednesday 16th December.

Santa Claus and Spheeris

Well what a funny day.

I rose early, and by 7.15 I was hot-footing it through Camden Town. At the usual traffic lights I stopped.
In the moody pre-dawn sodium lighting, the cars, lorries and motorbikes were lined up for the green-light dash.
Who should be in the front row of the thrusting bikes, so tense with hair-trigger reflexes, but Santa Claus, his curly white moustache, beard and eyebrows twinkling in the gloaming and his red coat and trews with fake-fur trim and pom-pom buttons picked out against the throbbing buses.
All that was missing was his hat, because of course he was wearing a crash helmet.
The lights changed, and off he roared into the distance.
Was I the only person who noticed him?

The University of the East wasn't even open when I got there. The chap on the desk looked at the clock with one eye. To minutes to eight. He let me through to wait for Mr Keys to work his way down from the top floor to open the lecture theatre.
Down-time in the lecture theatres is the only opportunity I have to watch the Penelope Spheeris films- I've got three-and-a-bit to watch and review.
I sat with a coffee and a chewy pretzel, and thoroughly enjoyed the first one, The Decline of Western Civilisation (1).
I noticed all sorts of little details, like the fact that most of the LA punks had perfect teeth, and very expensive amplification equipment. You could identify those who had dreams of big bucks, and those for whom it was a desperate attempt to have some sort of value in their lives.
In this respect it was very similar to UK punk, I suppose.

And then there was a music team meeting, and then there was Mike Holdsworth who came to deliver a fascinating talk to the students about music marketing in the indie sector, followed by a Finnish academic, Leena Louhivuori, who talked to them about Baltic music and film festivals.

I wish every day was like today, perhaps with a slightly later start; and maybe not with the fact that the chilli I made yesterday is going to be my evening meal until at least Saturday, because I made too much of it.

Pip pip!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Helen McCookerybook's Christmas Assortment on Bandcamp

In 2007 I recorded four Christmas songs, one of which featured a scratch choir, the He-mails and She-mails, recruited from my email contacts.
I've put the tracks up on Bandcamp for the princely sum of £2.00.
Link here:

Musical Meanderings

First to Drax, where the thrilling power-station loomed out of the rainy darkness, spewing orange steam from the top of the cooling towers, and festively decorated below with functionally white, white lights.
We were on our way to Laura's birthday party; Laura sparkled like a princess and would have been sparkly even without her sparkly clothes; she had a wonderful evening and so did we.
And so did Mr Blobby.
Sunday night's music event was in Croxley's Coco Cafe, situated in a tidy suburb on north London, where the Rrrants crew were saying goodbye (temporarily, I think and hope). The little cafe was packed, and Poet Terry was on hand to deliver his smutty offerings, accidentally starting the same poem twice; Hannah did a great poem about shedding snakeskin which had great resonance in our quarter (and I'll have to find out the names of the other poets and get back to you later).
Towards the end, and after a version of Freight Train featuring Steve Joy on trumpet, the Antipoet were joined by Martin Stephenson, Lester Square and yours truly, launching into Jet Set Junta which I managed to play by sticking closely to E minor and not budging.
On to last night when my Champagne Friend joined me at The Forge in Camden to see Jamie McDermot play a minimal set. It's wonderful to hear a singer who you know that you can trust never to hurt your ears, and who you know will hit every note perfectly.
And the songs!
The guy next to us was weeping openly and feeding his tears with regular swigs from a glass of water. Jamie, I'm so proud to have had the pleasure of teaching you, and so delighted that your dreams are coming true.
Pics below: Laura and friend; The Antipoet; Martin and Lester; Jamie and some Irrepressibles

Monday, December 07, 2015

A Weekend And A Dream

On Saturday morning I had the opportunity not to get up at 6.30 for a change. Wonderful!
Unfortunately, I was woken by a forensically-detailed nightmare about today, in which everything went wrong: everything.
I rushed around my imagination trying to solve all the humungous problems thrown up by the dream and finally woke exhausted as though I'd lived through the whole day.
Then I had a whole day to live through, but not the day I'd dreamed about, which was today.
Saturday (once I'd recovered) was fine, and so was Sunday, but more of those days tomorrow (confused?).
Today was amazingly OK. What was scary about it? I had to organise 81 student presentations across six rooms with six staff, who should have been seven. That's 81 named mark sheets (can't afford not to, in case one or two go missing), 81 time-slots, six tea breaks and strategies to deal with no-shows.
We all met at 9.30, got started at 10, a camera showed up at 11 to replace the missing lecturer and in the end, most of the assessors were quite pleased by the quality of the students' research.
Me? After a satisfying evening repast of a left-over chocolate biscuit and a bowl of original Doritos, it's iPlayer and a cup of decaf tea for the rest of the evening, which I hope will not lead to another horrid dream.

Saturday, December 05, 2015


A busker's digital piano gave me a headache within nanoseconds when I walked past it in the tube station the other day. Or it could have been that plus the fluorescent lights, perhaps.
Groucho, who was a live reggae mixer and who cut Freight Train at CTS in Wembley all those years ago, told us that digital sound exhausted the brain in the same way as fluorescent lighting: all those on/off processes are registered one by one and they cause fatigue.
I asked executive from Phillips, who were the main CD manufacturers at the time if this was true, when I happened to sit next to him at a wedding. 'Yes', he said, 'We are trying to work round that all the time'.
Brains are supposed to enjoy distortion, which is part of analogue sound, and this might be why sometimes when you're working with music and elderly people, they put their hands over their ears if the digital piano is too loud. For them, that actually is noise; we've got used to it. Or not.
I was intrigued by the bad reviews of this artist, Sophie, as well as being delighted to have such a clearly articulated piece of music to write about in my forthcoming research.
I'm posting it here not for that reason, but because I wondered if the little drop sections in this track were enough for the brain to catch up with itself, rather like a native American Indian waiting on a train platform for their spirit to catch up after a railway journey.
On listening again, I don't think they do, but I'm posting it anyway.
Music by Autotune, lyrics by Autotext, perhaps.
(apologies to Navin for reposting my comment on Facebook)

Friday, December 04, 2015


I was probably five or six, and McMum's best friend Pam was whisking the porridge in a pan on the stove while me and Bruv were staying with her for a while. This song came on the radio, and Pam burst into song, whisking along in time with the music, thus sowing the seeds for Helen and the Horns almost twenty years later.

Garage Chez Moi

Working life currently feels akin to trying to drive a car forward that is permanently stuck in reverse gear.
I'd burst into tears but I'm a mechanic, so I fix the car.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Old Smokey

Linda Lewis made London seem so magical and sparkly, telling the story of her family in the East End.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Monochrome Set: Jet Set Junta

At Coco's Cafe in Croxley on Sunday, a whole bunch of us will be playing the last Rrrants charity night at the venue. Lester Square, The Antipoet, Martin Stephenson and myself plus others will all be there musicking, and we will have mastered this song so we can all play it together (I hope) plus Freight Train. Entrance is by donation to put poetry books in schools- so do come along and support the event if you can. Faded superstars rule!