Friday, December 29, 2017

On New Year's Eve

Margate and Ramsgate

Somehow we managed to survive the blowing of two coil packs in the car engine, one after the other, that necessitated calling out the AA twice within an hour. Margate was freezing cold but completely gorgeous; we ate fish and chips while we waited. The Offsprogs made me go on the big wheel at Dreamland, even though I am terrified of them. I felt a million feet tall after surviving the ordeal. We went to the Tate as well, and saw the Arp exhibition and Tracy Emin's bed (which is not a sight for sore eyes if you have ever been a 20-something woman yourself).
There was a bitter wind and Offsprog One noted that the sand felt like snow when you walked on it.
We ate dinner at the end of the pier in Ramsgate, serenaded by the loud chatter of a group of chaps celebrating the birthday of one of their party, and we had to block out their sound by talk of our own. Out over the water, a flotilla of yachts bounced on the black swell, their masts decorated by fairy lights of every conceivable colour. Just beautiful. We nearly blew off the pier walking back to the car; the sky was full of stars and the wind was icy cold and fierce.
This morning we watched the lashing rain thrash the beach as we ate breakfast and a seagull tried to rap his way into the hotel with his beak. 'He comes every morning', said the waitress.
It was too wet for ice skating at Dreamland, and too dreich for the Shell Grotto. We drove home and had pasta round the corner, and resolved to go back to Margate as soon as we can, because it's lovely.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Picking up from where I left off ten years ago, I bought some red hair dye.
The bath is now pink, the precious heirloom Babar towel has red stripes, my face and half my neck are deep red, and my hair doesn't look much different.
There's an art to this lark.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Songs From The Kitchen: Christmas Queen

Ho ho ho! A song for the winter solstice, the Christmas season, the woollen Primark dress, the fake ivy from Stratford Market, the north London kitchen, Fleas4U (where he gone?), the unfinished academic writing, and chiefly, yourselves.

CD Review: North by Gem Andrews

I don't review recorded music as much as I used to because I've been out playing live, and consequently most of the reviews have been about gigs. However, I asked Gem to send me this because I've seen her and her band play live on several occasions and I was interested to see if the warmth of the live performances translated into recorded versions of her songs.
Gem is an Americana artist whose subject matter is anchored in a British childhood, although she now lives in Berlin; she sings in a clear, Celtic-sounding voice which is both pitch-perfect and authoritative. These songs have been tried and tested live, and I recognised a lot of them from the live gigs.
The swing and sway of the live performances is there from the first track onwards, from the first sparkly fingerpicked intro to the song Letter. There's a lot of variety here and the occasional knowing nod to other eras, for instance in one of the best tracks, Lungs, whose backing vocals almost have a chain gang sound, but sung by women. As in many of the tracks the lyrics are bitter, sung with a sweetness that belies the story being told, and the track bowls along powered by the double bass and drums. Feather and Skin is also a lovely song, again underpinned by strong harmonies sung by Nicky Rushton and Sarah Van Jellie (who have their own band), Bernard Wright, who plays fiddle, and others. On first listening, I put a star beside this track: on second listening too, it is a real stand-out.
Two Lighthouses is a song that transcends genres; it's even possible to imagine this one covered by a pop diva (although they might want to tinker with the lyrics to make them a little more bland).
One of the deceptively simplest songs, Straight Lines, could quite easily be sung by Dolly Parton, and I felt a burst of songwriter's admiration for the skill it takes to blend lyrics and melody with such craftswomanship. Carole is just a lovely song, sung for a departed friend so delicately and tenderly that it's impossible not to feel deeply moved; the backing vocals gently cluster around Gem's voice and you can hear that this must have been quite a difficult song to record for everyone. It's very hard to write a song about a person who has passed away without sounding sentimental, but this song has almost a gritty feel to it, a determination not to forget, ever, that etches it into the psyche.
The band is as perfectly tuned in to the music on record as they are live. What is particularly lovely about this set of songs is the fact that they are recorded with space for every instrument to be heard and most importantly, Gem's singing to the forefront. Newcastle's Jumpin' Hot Club has been the springboard for a wide variety of different artists' careers. I think I might have even been at one of Gem's first gigs, and one of the best things about being out there gigging is to see how people's songs and performances change and develop over the years. Gem has put together a band that underpins her songs with great sensitivity. Go to see them, buy the CD (from Market Square Music) and listen to these songs here so you can sing along like I do!

Photo by David Wala

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Oh Well, You Know....

At dawn or thereabouts I fell into Rymans to buy a printer cartridge.
The job in hand is to edit an article down from 8000 words to 7000 words and update it; deadline 15th January. I printed it out and started to scribble on it, slashing and burning, then fired up the computer to start the actual work.
A faint voice called from the other room. What was that?
I went in to investigate.
The guitar was casually lying on the chair, just looking a bit under-used; not any fuss or anything.
A half-written song was quietly breathing on paper beside it, trying not to draw attention to itself; it needed another verse, and the song needed a structure before it could survive another day.
'Only a couple of minutes', I called through to the kitchen, and picked up the guitar.
In excitement, it gave me another chord in the sequence.
'Cluck!', I thought, with an 'F'.
What could I do with this?
Oh, a cheesy major-seventhy song is on its way!
The article lies forlorn on the kitchen table, scribbles tangled up in distress. Tomorrow morning! Tomorrow morning! Just let me finish this song.....

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Season's Greetings!

A few days early, but I'm leaving space to do a Christmas Queen video!

The Last Meeting Of The Year

I have put the windowsill lily in a plastic bag, tidied my desk, danced and ate cheese straws at the Office Party yesterday; there is one more meeting to go. That doesn't count studio training on Thursday, but the tight reins are feeling looser at last. I woke at six, and started singing at seven.
That's the way to do it.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Asbo Derek at Sticky Mike's Frog Bar

In all honesty I was a bit worried about the stickiness, but after consulting with an experienced friend, I decided it was safe.
We had a meeting beforehand in the pub next door, or perhaps a shouting might be a better description. It was very noisy; we have a secret plan, and luckily the noisy people were broadcasting and not receiving, so they didn't find out what it is.
This gig was the launch of an album by the band Dr Razzu, with Asbo Derek double-headlining. The Asbos started with a spot-on parody of The Double Deckers theme tune that segued into Gaudete, alongside a bewildering array of synchronised hand and arm movements and layers of innuendo that would have challenged the most Frankie Howerdest person in the audience. Meanwhile, I struggled into the knitted woollen extra-small Santa dress that stretched to fit a medium/large person in the way that only a Primark woollen can, then hopped up to do Christmas Queen. Bloody good job the backing vocals were bellowed with such spirit. I forgot an entire chorus, and an entire line (Jem shouted 'Christmas' at the top of his voice and disguised the error). Someone filmed it and thankfully I later had the opportunity to beg her not to put it on Youtube.
If I could sing it without dribbling, I'd do a kitchen version. Watch this space or perhaps, don't.
The Asbos were on top form. They had a superb prize or two on offer; a Charles'n'Diana lavender pomander complete with real lavender from Mark's garden for power mincing most mincingly, and an obscene tie that invited the observer to kiss the mistletoe (with downward-pointing arrow), that was won by the best crook-of-the-elbowist. What was alarming about the tie was that on the way to the gig on the train, I'm convinced that I saw a straight-looking businessman wearing one tucked into his jacket.
Oh, Christmas, what you make us do!
Their piece-de-resistance was the crimping of Brian Blaney's hair while he was actually drumming. Brian patiently whacked the skins while his entire barnet was singed into a series of frills, sending gusts of burnt-hair air out into the audience and beyond. The jury's out as to whether this constituted onstage abuse, but Brian got his own back by shouting 'get on with it' at the back of Jem's head as Jem was being particularly voluble. However, Jem uses the fact that his ears point forwards rather than backwards to ignore Brian when he shouts, as do all musicians in a group with a drummer. Having heard Brian's pleas being ignored on other occasions, I am beginning to understand the frustrations of the pitter-patterer at the back of the band, I think. (Jem's words, not mine).
There was a new song, based on an email from the Buddhist Centre itemising all the lost property that had amassed there. The new song struck a tremendous chord in my heart, because the gutter fell off the front of my house this week due to the weight of the snow, and during the thaw a lone beige flip-flop appeared next to the fallen gutter on the pavement. This was oddly disturbing; It's amazing what people don't realise they've lost.
It was fun. I am glad I went, and big thanks to Asbo Derek for inviting me along and singing too.
I also enjoyed the part of Dr Razzu's set that I watched. They are a power-punk band, really- very tightly rehearsed and both the guitarist and bass player have great voices. They have just self-released an album on Bandcamp with all of their songs from the last ten years, which sounds like a great project: self-archiving is the way to go.
Unforchly, I had to leave early to get back to the frozen wastes of north London. It takes three hours (less if I drive, but I fell asleep once at the wheel and will not drive again without a co-pilot). I'd forgotten to eat anything apart from beans on toast for lunch, and by King's Cross I was ravenous. That sandwich on the platform in the wee small hours was possibly the most scrumptious thing I have eaten all year.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Christmas Dress

I have allowed myself to be talked into (or emailed into) singing one of my Christmas songs tonight in Brighton with Asbo Derek. Stealth persuasion gets me every time- very crafty. To get my revenge, I've requested that they learn the backing vocals in the hope that the resulting cacophony will disguise the fact that I will forget the words. I always do- fear of forgetting the words means that I forget them, even though I don't forget the words of any other songs.
Call it seasonal amnesia, of even Milk of Magnesia if you want to.
On Wednesday, I remembered seeing Christmas attire in Primark on the way back from the Mike Flowers gig at the 100 Club, and I popped in to buy a Santa dress. Three ferocious shoppers were acting tactically and whipped the dress almost out of my hands as soon as I thought about picking it off the rail. Beaten, but not defeated, I rose at 7 a.m. yesterday and went to Stratford first thing, tumbling into the doors of the Stratford branch and heading straight for the red-and-white things. They only had enormous ones, or an extra small. I bought the extra small, and rushed into another shop to try it on. It took me ten minutes to escape from its red woollen clutches and rather unwisely I snaffled it and then went straight to work before I could regret it.
Oh dear. I look like a complete twat in it. It is far too short, far too tight and makes me look like a mutton dressed as an elf.
Who cares! It's a stupid enough thing to travel all the way to Brighton to play one song that I don't know the words of, with a group of people who probably won't have learned the backing vocals anyway.
In some ways, it makes sense of the whole years' wonderful nonsense!
Brighton, here I come.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Shanne Bradley

Yes- her name is Shanne Bradley, not 'unknown woman', and she formed The Nipple Erectors and auditioned Shane McGowan to be in her band. She was one of the first punks and saw The Sex Pistols play at St Albans Art College in 1975.
Just thought I'd mention it.

Mike Flowers Pops

Went to see Mike Flowers Pops last night- what a fantastic night! I couldn't find their best ones on Youtube so have substituted an original for now: Beautiful Balloon and The Candyman were arranged and played exquisitely with perfect collision of sentiment and pure emotion. What a thing to pull off! Loungecore rules!
Pix: The Choir from Windsor (supporting); Karina; Karina plays the saw; me, Shanne and Karina.
Danced until I dropped with Andy and Jaime round the side, where we could hear the brass section in all its glory, and watch the keyboard players glowing with delight.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In Support Of Musicians Against Homelessness

I’m playing to support @Musicians Against Homelessness #MAH2017, please text MAH to 70004 to donate £3 to Crisis and help homeless people in the UK this winter.
I wrote this with clear lyrics that a child could sing and understand. Thinking about those people in the camps, as well as the people on the streets in our cities, towns and villages. How have we allowed this to happen?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Hull O'Rileys

This was the last gig of my tour and the first for Vic and Subway Sect. I was all set to feel rather sad because I've had such a great time on the road for the past few months. At first sight, the venue was like a sort of youth club- and it is indeed a boxing club part of the time. It had a bit of a feel of Whitley Bay Ice Rink about it.
Mick, June and Laura had come to pick me up, and when we went in, Subway Sect were sound checking and Mandy was setting up the merch stall. Andy, the promoter, had bought a kettle for £3.00 especially for Vic, who only drinks tea. This was a good move, because that's what I only drink too, so the omens were positive from the start. The DJ was Doodlebugnuggets, who did the Furley and Co. gig in the summer and who has immaculate taste- a smattering of Northern but lots of good other stuff (many thanks for the Mixtape link from Furley and Co.
The place is huge, but has perfect sound. I couldn't see the audience, but was heartened to have people join in with The Sea, and indulge in a bit of encouraging heckling here and there.
Afterwards, I realised that Ian Damaged and Duncan had come down (Damaged Goods has a warehouse in Hull) with a bag of Chefs CDs.
Subway Sect took to the stage, Vic had s sip of tea and off they went, in their inimitable way. Mark is playing guitar at the moment, and I was extremely impressed by his ability to scratch his nose mid-solo without losing a beat, carried by the sustain on his guitar. As the band hotted up, Mandy started dancing and soon we were all at it- even Richard Cundill, although he pretended he didn't want to. I understand Ian is a rare dance floor visitor too, but there he was, and in fact there most of us were, using energy we didn't realise that we had, Laura too, all with big smiles on our faces.
We sat down for Hand Job, and nobody but me seemed to notice Vic asking Kevin if he was going to play it on the organ.
It was a right laugh, and they deserved the encore they got after getting so many lazyboneses to their feet. I only wish I had remembered to take some of the curry they had offered with me at the end of the show. All I had to eat was a poppadum, and by lunchtime the next day I was starving (don't even ask about the 7 a.m. train back to work, the visiting lecturer who had to cancel at the last minute, and all the other worky things).
Off they went to Sunderland, Newcastle and Manchester (they hadn't booked the train tickets yet, I believe). I hope we get to do some more gigs together next year, because it's been a good laugh to gig with such great people. Maybe some song writing, perhaps.....

Friday, December 08, 2017

Christmas Eve Airplay

Something to listen to on Christmas Eve! Big thanks to Ralph's Indie Show xxx
Review of Hull O'Riley's to follow (what a larf), been very tired due to travelling straight form Hull to Stratford for lecture yesterday, transferring ProTools files today (lot of swearing at the computer by Jono did the trick!), working on the doc with Gina and copious watching of NCIS this eve.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

O'Riley's, Hull Tomorrow

Last gig of the tour tomorrow which is sort of sad in a way, but it couldn't be with a better crew- it's a support slot with Vic Godard and Subway Sect, and although a mega-cold is looming on the health horizon like a wall of huge clouds, I'm shoving it to one side until next week.
Almost all the spare time I have has been spent writing lectures and doing other University based stuff; sometimes recently it's seemed as though the weekend is a distant concept that only other people have. I thought song writing would cease to happen but it hasn't and it's managed to carve out a tiny space in bits of spare day that used to be filled by watching TV or going to the shops for a bar of chocolate. I almost fell off a cliff when the Apple computer upgrade deleted all the Notes and in spite of trying to get them back (they had saved to a Yahoo account and weren't on the hard drive) almost all of them are missing and the rest consist of the titles only. Goodbye to them; I will just have to think hard about the information that was there, and how to recreate it. It's not the biggest disaster in the Universe.
As usual, this blog posting is being written when I should be doing something else. Everything's packed for Hull but I'm lecturing this afternoon. Kettle on for coffee, than I'll rev up the brain cell that is functioning, and get to work.
Toodle pip!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Article in the f-Word

This has just been published in the f-Word; Katy and me sat in her flat and had a talk about song writing one morning. We have often discussed ideas for songs with groups of friends as a song-circle, and we still meet up when we can even though Katy now spends a lot of time in Poland. Each of us has an entire album of songs inspired by our conversations, and it's been a great way to support our writing.
We did a gig together at The Lexington a few weeks ago (and Honey Birch played as well) and this chat happened some time around then. Big up Cazz and Jane for this!

Saturday, December 02, 2017


An Amazing Singer

This is Bridgette Amofah, who came to the University of the East on Thursday to talk to the Professional Practice students about her life as a singer and song writer. She graduated from the University of the West a few years ago and has worked as a solo artist, sung with Brian Ferry and is now singing with Rudimental. It was a completely inspiring talk and the students loved her. The vid shows Bridgette singing one of her own songs in 2013:

Stratford Nativity

It was only there for a few hours, but Saint Nicholas was watching over the Nativity Scene with one of his reindeer on Thursday in Stratford.

Friday, December 01, 2017


I'm writing a fantastically defiant hymn (or rather herm), to sing every morning, a bit like school assembly but just me and the birds out there in the frosty dawn. I've nicked the melody from a song called Don't Mention their Hands that was written for a musical pantomime version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus over a trillion years ago.
There are post-it notes all over the table and the best thing about a private song is that you can sing whatever the hell you like, as loud as you like and as often as you like.
Ha ha!😀

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Creepy Paper Doll

One Saturday morning a week or so ago, a creepy paper doll appeared on the window-sill. It disappeared for a while, then turned up on my doorstep late at night. I left it there, in spite of the fact that I thought it might be trying to get in to the house.
Next morning, it had gone and I assumed that its owner had collected it on the way to school. No sightings for a few days, then just a way down the street, it appeared again, renewed and smiling its horrible green smile.
Creepy doll, I wish you peace and tranquillity, and a return to your creepy doll mama as soon a possible!
(just stuck it in the recycling bin)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Come Down and Meet the Folks, The Horseshoe

I've just got in from the gig at The Horseshoe. Thank you to Alan Tyler for inviting me down to what was a convivial and heartening evening in a pub that seemed to come straight from the old-fashioned world before anything horrible happened. If people had been smoking, we could have been in any era from the 1930s onwards, really. Chaps nursed pints, crisp packets rustled and there was even a baby in the corner; and various Rockingbirds were in attendance.
Alan and Patrick were playing their own songs when I got there, and the regulars were singing along with them and clearly enjoying themselves immensely. I like the song about the barge in Deptford, because I have been to lots of parties on the Creek before in another life: it was an evocative and gentle song. They harmonise beautifully and play and sing as one warm-hearted whole.
How much nicer it is to wander into a pub in Clerkenwell, plug in the guitar and sing to the assembled punters, than to slob in front of the telly watching repeats of TV shows that I didn't even like in the first place! There was a great punters chorus for The Sea (one of the better ones of the tour, if not quite the volume of the Bristol crowd) and I really, really enjoyed playing.
The headline act were Alden, Patterson and Dashwood, who had travelled from Wales although they actually hail from Norfolk. They feature Dobro, guitar and fiddle and their music has that woven-together, shifting folk Americana feel with a combination of traditional and self-penned songs. Their sung harmonies were lovely and the acapella song was light and airy; they were the perfect group for an evening with loyal supporters who defied the harsh winter chill to come out and enjoy live music, trusting their host to provide them with an evening's entertainment twice a month. Here is their website; they've got a bit of tour left to do, and you might catch them:

There was a bonus, too: I had been venturing out this week to search for a venue for a gig with the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy (who have now changed their name to Arrest! Charlie Tipper). I'd looked at the Betsy Trotwood but thought they might not fit in there because there are so many of them, but Rocker said they'd played there before, so that was going to be my first stop. Coincidentally, tonight Patrick invited me to play there anyway, and said they'd had a seven-piece there a couple of days ago, so I hope we'll do a gig there together in the New Year.
As McDad used to say, it's a great life if you don't weaken; there are songs in the pipeline, Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat (but I'm not going to eat them), I made a huge macaroni cheese that will last all week, and I have a huge pile of crime novels to last through the winter.
And there is chocolate in the fridge.

Landing Gear Engaged

I have a gig late this afternoon/early evening at the Horseshoe in Clerkenwell, and after that, one more at O'Riley's in Hull, supporting Vic Godard and Subway Sect.
Then, apart from some low-key dates, I have a lot of writing to do plus finishing the film with Gina. I have a feeling that I won't be tempted to do any more academic writing after this; sitting still is such hard work and I've just been loving playing so much.
I am planning another tour next year, and very possibly another album; I have played more than 30 different places since May and have enjoyed every second of it, even the scary bits like having the brakes of the car fail on the M6 on the way to Stockport.
Look out for more kitchen videos and concerts; not playing is boring!

Saturday, November 25, 2017


On Wednesday I updated to the new fancy operating system which has obliterated four years of Notes, including stuff for my next book, details of venues across the UK, and most awfully, info from a two-hour work meeting on Tuesday night.
I don't send stuff to the Cloud because it is not a fluffy innocent wet-weather feature, but  a gigantic computer in Switzerland or somewhere that belongs to people who I don't know. So after a little private gig last night I sat for more than an hour pasting code into Terminal to try to retrieve the lost data, all to no avail. I would scream and panic, but what's the point?
All sorts of other stuff was happening yesterday including knock-on effects of the Oxford Street incident, and I'm glad it's today, today.
Tomorrow my brain might be working enough to remember most of what we said at the meeting, and write it down with a pen on a piece of paper, and if it gets lost it will be my responsibility and not Apple's.
Then I have a nice early evening gig in the Horseshoe in Clerkenwell at 6.00 p.m. at a folk evening, which will be a nice gentle end to the weekend. I'm supporting Alden, Patterson and Dashwood, and entry is by donation.
Tonight? Tea and TV, which I haven't watched for centuries. Anyone know what's on?

Punk in the Provinces, Norwich Arts Centre

After work on Thursday I hopped on to a train to Norwich, via Stowmarket. I remember driving up there in a Range Rover Overfinch, a hyper-energetic car that couldn't manage to have the heater and the windscreen wipers working at the same time without stalling. Oh, the car adventures I could relate to you!
I went to interview John Peel who, impeccably-mannered, did the interview in his kitchen even though there was a Liverpool match on the TV in the room next door. Every so often, the crowd cheered and he shot into the adjacent room to find out what was going on.
The event took place in the Arts Centre bar, and was packed with (mostly) men of a certain age with whom I had some interesting music chats, being of a certain age myself.
Professor George MacKay and Dr Lucy Wright introduced the evening, and then Professor Matt Worley read from his book No Future: Punk, Politics and births Youth Culture 1976-84, focusing on the suburban roots of many of the bands and talking about New Towns. He quoted Steve Ignorant, who reported being locked in the high-rise flat by his mother and pacing up and down, occasionally looking out of the windows at the bleak estate where he was brought up. Oh the 1970s was an ungodly awful time!
Richard Balls and Jonty Young were the next speakers. Richard has written a history of Stiff Records as well as a book on Ian Dury. Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story sounds interesting and I think I'll read it, especially having had inside information from hanging out with King Kurt so much. He said he hadn't written about them though, but I still would be interested to read Dave Robinson's take on his label. I remember watching an interview with the producer Pete Waterman when he said that they always mixed the stiff productions too slow because Dave always wanted them faster: if the track was to be the right speed, the had to deliberately slow it down before playing it to him. The world of recording was full of such stories back then.
Jonty is the marketing director of Norwich's Lanes area and he told a wonderful story of being up all night having missed the last train (or bus?) home from a gig at Cromer, starting off on the beach with a bonfire, gravitating towards the station and eventually finding their way to a caravan park and into a caravan that wan't locked; making  cup of tea and settling down for the night, then suddenly realising they were moving. The caravan had been hitched to a car by the owners and was being towed home. It stopped at a railway crossing to let  train go through and the opened the door and ran like maniacs, only looking back to see the man driving the car looking at them with an expression  of total astonishment on his face. Brilliant!
My bit was talking about Brighton punk, which was a pleasant change from talking about women in punk, although i did talk about how the small scene there facilitated young women getting into bands. Dr Gina Arnold, who sat next to me, talked about Nirvana and the San Francisco hippy scene's contrast with New York's hardness.
It was an interesting event and it was great to chat to people afterwards- and to see Treacle and Mark and catch up with them.
Photo: Lucy Wright, me (the Norwich Nerd) and Gina Arnold (nicked from George MacKay)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ohi Ho Bang Bang

Total Music, Total Life

The last few days have involved complete immersion in music, which has been wonderful. Starting on Saturday with the chordsmithery of Lonely Tourist and the energy of the Flatmates (including a great sweary song which was the most joyful swear song that I've ever heard) and the entrancing stage persona of Lisa, their singer, moving on to Friedrich Sunlight who were the opening band at The Lexington on Sunday... wow.
Karina at work says the official name is Loungechore; it's gorgeous music. Kenji, who sings with Friedrich Sunlight, has a voice like the best honey, and his band of German musicians create a fluid and melodic background to the songs, filling out passages of music with lush harmonies in just the right places. 'We are the end of indie music', quipped the bass-player, 'That's German for "Hello"'.
One of the most appealing things was hearing lyrics sung in the German language. Later, Kenji told me what a challenge it is to sing pop music in German, and I can understand that, having learned it at school and sung some Brecht-Weill songs from time to time. But somehow, the language was exactly right for the music, and I felt like weeping for Europe. How can we possibly want to detach ourselves from our sisters and brothers across the channel? How can we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by brutes? We were holding hands with each other and now we seem to be slapping each other's faces; it's horrible.
I filmed some of it but I had to stop filming and start dancing, because my arms and legs would not stay still, and I felt so happy that I almost burst. Bang! Good job I didn't; that would have been a bit of a messy clean-up job.

Next revelation was Louis Philipe. I'd never latched on to any of his music before but there was a surge of people towards the stage when he and his band arrived. Sitting at a keyboard in a suit and deliberately uncool tie, he switched personae between being football writer, and a songwriter with an utterly angelic voice. Devoid of any sort of pretension or patting-self-on-back, he and his band pulled us on to a musical vehicle that mixed being a submarine, a train and an aeroplane, transitioning smoothly between octaves and moods without once being difficult. It was like being a baby and understanding a story read by a parent for the very first time. There wasn't a blueprint; the music just flowed across the stage and into the audience's ears uninterrupted by artifice or fakery.
I filmed a bit of this too but I'll have to sort the computer out before I can show you. If I can't do films at least I'd like to do photographs.
I bought the CDs by both bands, of course. And there the bands were, at the side of the stage singing along to The Monochrome Set who were the headliners and who had lots of new songs- as did everyone. Is it the new school term that stimulates everyone to write new songs in September and play them in November?
And on Monday, who should come to speak to the students at the University of the East? Who other than Stuart Moxham from the Young Marble Giants and The Gist (coincidentally, he had stayed at Louis Philippe's hoose the night before). Gently, he talked the students through his life in song, and even played a little for us all.
I think I detected the odd tear in the odd eye during the workshop.
Ain't that what it's all about?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Flowers in the Garden of Song

Friedrich Sunlight, Louis Philippe, Stuart Moxham: so much to write about and so little awakeness!
I have videos to upload, thoughts to think and much to say. What an inspiring weekend, starting on Saturday and lasting all the way through to this afternoon. I hope tomorrow.....

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Last Night With The Flatmates

Aha! Flatmates, you have a new fan! Not much time for writing blog postings today (Sunday=writing-lectures-day and technological determinism and Marshall McLuhan are taking up my brain space) but here are some photos from yesterday, to be going on with:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Finborough Arms Tonight (and The Railway, Southend last Thursday)

Tonight's gig is at The Finborough Arms with The Flatmates, Lucille and Lonely Tourist. Four acts for a fiver can't be bad! It is a small venue and it's probably a good idea to get tickets in advance. The Flatmates are on tour and there will be a lot of people there:
The gig in Southend on Thursday was great. Sundown Arts used to promote a lot of gigs but have cut down recently which is a great pity. I met them at an event a couple of years ago at Metal in Chalkwell Park, then played the Leigh Folk festival last year, which was massive fun. Offsprog One came with me and after the gig in the Scout Hut, we wandered through the festival, stopping to listen to sea shanties, watch Morris Men, eat fish and chips, plodge in the mud and just generally hang out in the atmosphere. Southend has a unique take on music that is very welcoming to outsiders like myself. Here's a link to some photos from the festival:
Jo and Ray from Sundown started the evening off with their wry poetry, followed by Simon Blackman, and then Cherry Scott, whose poetry is sharp and perceptive. After that Tom Cusack played a set of acoustic songs (his guitar sounded gorgeous: a Martin, I think) and then Tumbledryer Babies, who are a guy called Andrew who plays short songs on an Omnichord, which is an electronic autoharp hybrid. There was something emotionally affecting about the sounds of an instrument that has now been superseded by all sort of fancy technology, singing out into a room full of gentle people with no agenda apart from to support live events and enjoy what they were watching and listening to. I loved it.
At one point, sitting on a comfortable old wing chair between Zoe (thankfully out and about again after her accident) and Dave (who plays trombone for Helen and the Horns), with Rob filming to one side and the fairy lights and standard lamps twinkling warmly, it felt like being in another dimension, far away from the stresses of normal life. This was the birthday celebration of the organisation (and also of Shangri-La), and all that was missing was a cake, but I baked one of those for them in my imagination.
It was a shame to miss the headliners, Diamond Family Archive, but I will definitely go to see them in London because they play here a lot, apparently. Big thanks to Jo and Ray, and I hope to see you soon; also to Rob Ellen for filming it, and of course to the audience, especially for their lusty seafaring singing!
Finally, just in case you were wondering about Omnichords:

Friday, November 17, 2017

I Have Got A Website

This went live this afternoon. Thank you to Ross Barber-Smith for designing it:

In The Mojo Playlist!

Thank you Wendy May for letting me know about this- I subscribe to Mojo, but it was still in it's wrapper on the side.
I am now officially an ex-pun, and very proud to be one!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tonight at The Railway, Southend

Listening to Ari

We are starting to work on the documentary again, by picking up where we left off, reviewing what we have and working out where the gaps are. Yesterday Gina and I listened to the interview that I did with Ari for the book- so this would be probably around 2005 or 2006. The interview was done in the back room of the 12-Bar (that's a bit of history in itself) and in the background you can hear the venue gradually filling up as the afternoon progresses into evening.
Tessa and Nadya are there too, and Ari's replies gradually become more thoughtful as the hour passes. She talks about how helpful the guys in the punk scene were- but also how dangerous it was to walk around in public dressed the way they were. It took The Slits a long time to get a deal that would give them control over the way they looked and the sound of their music, and by that time they had evolved sonically away from punk and more into the dub reggae influences that they later became so famous for. Keith Levene was heavily involved in the production of their first Peel session.
Revisiting the interviews is going to be very interesting in the context of the absolutely deafening silence from women in the music industry about bullying, both sexual and otherwise. You have to feel very stable and powerful to call out bullying from people who can destroy your career either directly, or through whispering campaigns. One of the best things about writing music history and documenting it on film is allowing female performers and producers to have a positive voice and speak about their own history and experiences. Some of the people we spoke to for the film have well-documented pasts, but others who have maybe retired from the music business still have interesting stories to tell. We didn't even touch on the harassment issue, actually. Who wants to be famous only for being a survivor? People have a right to thrive.
It still fills my heart with joy just to think about her: I feel like laughing out loud at her sheer defiance and originality. Ari was a fantastic person.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Old Helen and the Horns Poster

Historical Teeth

I took a group of students to The Wellcome Collection this afternoon. They have a really interesting free exhibition on medical graphics with a particularly interesting section on smoking propaganda and anti-smoking propaganda; it was also fascinating to hear how Florence Nightingale had so much to do with the understanding and promotion of statistics in the treatment of soldiers' infections.
My favourite thing, however, was Napoleon Bonaparte's toothbrush (up in the first floor permanent collection).

Telephone Box Library

Paul Eccentric came round to pick up some books last night. He and his wife Donna have bought a village telephone box that was about to be removed, cleaned out the ivy that had taken over, given it a coating of new red paint, and are setting up a miniature library for the local community. A local school is going to help out, and it's a wonderful idea. Wishing them great success, and lots of users and lots of books!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pet Plant

I bought an Arum Lily in the market today. I love them; they are so evocative. I imagine Moses floating in the water surrounded by bullrushes and the lilies growing between them, and I think of the road between Treviso and Venice, where they grow wild in the ditches alongside the houses, bustling and bursting to be the liliest lily of them all. My lily is just small, in a plastic pot. It hasn't flowered yet; I gave it some water and put it on the windowsill at work to keep me company. It's still rolled up and not ready for the sun.
My next song has got lilies in it (don't worry, I haven't turned into a hippy), which is probably why I noticed them on the stall. There were bigger, bushier, greener plants, and plants with flowers that shouted in extremely loud voices, but the lilies looked calm and collected all lined up and ready to go. They were irresistible.
I was thinking about when I go to Southend on Thursday to play at The Railway and something made me want to take the lily with me to keep me company. I wondered if I could get hold of a little red trolley, and trail it along beside me like people do with a dog on a lead. That would be nice.

Playing 'Oh Bondage, Up Yours!' at The British Library, Summer 2016

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rumble and Jamboree

The Doc'n'Roll film festival is one of the highlights of the year; it allows you to see the inner workings of the music industry by exploring the lives and backgrounds of a hugely diverse range of musicians from just as diverse range of perspectives.
Last year I came away from the Ramones documentary feeling simultaneously sad and exhilarated by their story. I went with Gina and she had met Dee Dee back in the day and said he was as sweetheart. he was very perceptive, although obviously off his face on some substance or other. Personally, I fell in love with Joey, who seemed slightly astonished by their success right up till the end. He demonstrated that it is possible to be a successful musician and remain genuine, in spite of the pressures to embrace a false persona and perform it to the cameras.
Yesterday I went to a showing of Rumble, a documentary that traces the origins of Native American heredity in US rock and folk music genres. Link Wray's music introduced the film and we saw the shack where he was brought up, and heard archive interview recordings where he described the spontaneous creation of his musical style. There were a few talking heads affirming Wray's influence, but mostly it was left to the music to speak. As the film unfolded, we met many different musicians: Robbie Robertson, Rhiannon Gittens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and more), a group of women who presence Native American singing styles, Buffy Sainte Marie, Jimi Hendrix. As each person spoke, their tribe appeared on the screen beside their name.
When the English invaders flooded the continent, they sent the male members of the tribes away- to Africa, Haiti (and probably massacred as many as they sent away). As they 'imported' slaves from Africa, relationships formed between these (mostly) men and the Native American women, and many mixed heritage people in the USA can trace their lineage back to those days.
The significance of the Dockery Plantation to music is explored: Charley Patton worked there for a while and honed his guitar playing skills in the musical catalyst of the Dockery environment. Charley Patton was a showman and gave it everything he'd got as a performer (interesting stuff about the Dockery Plantation here:
Somewhere further down the line, Native Americans began to wonder if they needed to hide their origins. During the 1960s, musicians felt comfortable enough to 'come out'. Taj Mahal's guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis, was around at this time and there's some great footage of him playing. Wow. What an incredible man.
I can't tell you much more except to go to see it if you possible can. It's an amazing documentary and the festival is on tour at the moment. Details here:
I'd been feeling under the weather and not sure if I was up to doing the gig at Jamboree, but after seeing the documentary I suddenly remembered why I'm doing all this. The tubes were completely f*cked but I marched down to Embankment and met my Bruvs at the venue. There was not time for a sound check, alas, but I enjoyed playing even if the sudden influx of 50 people halfway through put me off my stride. Note to self, next time play The Sea and get them to sing it! For no real reason I was giving that song a rest last night, and you're always wiser after the event but it would have been a good thing to do.
Balothizer, the headline band, are a Cretan electric folk rock band who play traditional songs in a rock style. Their bass player plays a Rickenbacker and the bass lines sound almost punky. He also sings the bulk of the vocals, which soar over the energetic and busy music with a wistful and melancholy feel. Instead of the guitar they have a Cretan lute, a Lauto. All three musicians are ace instrumentalists and the crowd loved them. Hats off to Neil Jones for organising yet another successful event and I'm looking forward to reading the zine he gave to me, Fishin' Rod Reel Handle.
Jamboree is such a unique venue. It reminds me of Time Bandits and I have never seen a boring band there. They have a big money problem and there is a fundraiser benefit to help them out at Jujus just off Brick Lane on Saturday 18th November between 4 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.
I have a gig at the Finborough Arms with The Flatmates that night but will try to get there beforehand. More details here:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Website Soon...

Finally, after ten years, I'm having a proper website built. It hadn't been much of a priority before this year, but I'm doing a lot more gigs than I used to and although it's been a busy time, gradually things have been coming together and it's almost ready to go.
It will make things a lot easier when people ask for information. It has taken ages to decide what to put on it and what not to, because sometimes it's best to be as simple as possible. General life can seem chaotic and the site itself looks a lot more damn peaceful than I feel a lot of the time, rushing between gigs, lecturing and other stuff; then writing lectures, organising gigs and writing and rehearsing songs rather than doing the laundry and the shopping when I'm at home.
We are going to restart working on Stories from the She-Punks: music with a different agenda next week after an extended break- of almost a year, actually. It's imperative to get it finished and out there so people can see it, and making the decision to keep it's DIY feel was a sensible one. I think it has already stimulated a lot of discussion, creativity and also renewed respect for some of the participants, which is very positive. No, it's moving, actually. Bugger the corporatespeak!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Past Times


I have started worrying about reviewing gigs, after someone asked me to be kind in a review. I was just out for the night, enjoying the music and not being a critic.
A couple of years ago I decided never to review anything that I didn't like. It can be fun to be nasty, but not for the recipient, and I accidentally said something about someone that upset them. On the other hand, sometimes a review here is a person or band's first ever write-up, and sometimes people are very happy about that.
I saw Penetration the other week, and enjoyed them too much to want to write about the gig: just wanted to be there in the moment and love all 360 degrees of it all.

Late Addition Gig

Jamboree is a fab venue and Neil's DJ-ing got me straight up and spinning about on the dance floor last time. Looking forward to seeing the headline band, Balothizer, too. This is an East London gig; Wets London gig next Saturday!

New Song from the Kitchen: At The Bathing Pond

Katy Carr invited me to the Hampstead Ladies Bathing Pond in the summer. I hadn't been freshwater bathing since I was 14 years old; we decided to write songs about the experience. She saw this chap too (without giving too much away). I missed the kingfishers, but Offsprog One met them when she went there. It's a unique place, but I think they need to block up the hole in the hedge.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Busy Times

These are busy times, but good times. A group of Creative Entrepreneurship students are selling their art on eBay (that's the musicians) or their music on Bandcamp (that's the artists), all in aid of the charity Crisis. Because it's unfamiliar territory, everything's #outsiderart and I will put the links up to their stuff, once it's all there.
At the other university, the songwriters are writing in response to Paul Sng's film Dispossession, which is a heartrending and truthful exploration of social cleansing and what it means to real people in real homes in real communities. The contrast is stark between the meaningless jargon of the officials both in business and in local and national government, and the warm-hearted ways that the people speak in Nottingham, Glasgow and London about their love for their neighbourhoods.
The students are writing thoughtful songs and have clearly been very affected by the documentary.
Meanwhile, I'm trying to see as much live music as possible, as well as playing as much as possible. This is because I think you have to be able to be in an audience watching and listening, as well as being on stage; not just to learn from other people, but because it stops you from thinking that your world is the only world. When Helen and the Horns split up, I couldn't cope with the vacuum; somehow I had got used to performing to at least 200 people applauding what we did night after night. You have to understand where you fit in the greater scheme of things: we're not NHS doctors, we're entertainers. Necessary, yes, and possibly vital to some people, but we're not in possession of the secrets of the Universe. I love the idea of a river of creativity which you jump into and join in the flow, alongside other people doing similar and different things. It flows throughout history and has lots of small fish as well as lots of big'uns; there is room for us all and it's better to be in it than on the banks wishing you could join in. That's what I think, anyway.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sour and Sweet

Like some sort of poisonous fumes, the tendrils of political scandal seep under our doors and pulse at our ankles in a horrible fog. The Government is held up by nothing; they have as much meaning as the Pardoner's relics. The worth of politicians as super-people who have the right to rule us conferred on them by our votes has become completely undermined by things we knew already but had to have spelled out to us. I have been working every day for ten days, and today is the first thinking day there has been. With friends, a discussion about it all can't change anything, but it helps to hear some sensible conversation and there is some sort of catharsis in conversation.
Strangely, I feel happy.
Thursday had looked like it would be a disaster; the tube to work that day was incredibly slow because someone had been taken ill on a train further down the line. It seemed I would be late, and of course I had sent an email to the students underlining the importance of never being late about two days beforehand. I did get there on time, but one of the speakers who was supposed to come didn't turn up. However, Colleen Murphy of did turn up, and the students loved her talk. Colleen was mentored by the late David Mancuso, whom the students had been learning about in their cultural studies class, so they were well impressed.
In Paddington Station there was a band of soldiers in busbies playing poppy-day music; men in business suits with laptop bags lounged about waiting for their trains. Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, whisked past with a sense of purpose.

The gig at The Thunderbolt was really good. The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy had a clutch of strong new songs; Karen played a punchy set of catchy indie numbers with some wild guitar punctuation; the sound was really good for my set and that always feels good. There were lots of people there, and we finished with Femme Fatale, played challengingly slowly, but people seemed to like it anyway! Many thanks to Jane Barnes for being a fab promoter and also for giving me a lift back, with her husband. Jane has uploaded a whole load of vids of the evening to Youtube.
The next morning, Bristol was beautiful and the maze of roadworks, pavement works and bridgeworks that had baffled me the night before made perfect sense; the station was a mere sneeze away, and the journey home was easy peasy lemon squeezy thank you, and goodnight 😊.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

These Streets, Filmed at the Thunderbolt, Bristol, 2/11/2017

Filmed by Jane Barnes at Bristol Thunderbolt, a cautionary tale about serial dating:

Sketches from Scaledown

Scaledown was packed last night and the quality of artists was amazing. I have to work today so no words, but here are a couple of sketches instead:

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Wednesday, November 01, 2017


In Transit

The Atlantic Baptism

The sand was buttery and grainy, yellow. There was no breeze and the waves lapped quietly at the shore.
The sky was a deep blue, but not a hot blue.
It was a dreamland beach.
Oh, but the water was cold. It hurt her feet; it really hurt them when she tried to paddle.
She ran back to the cotton sheet they had spread out on the beach.
Her feet felt alive.
Fifteen minutes later, she tried again. This time, the water reached her knees before she had to escape and run back to the warmth radiating from the autumn sand. Her legs tingled.
A Norwegian couple strode into the water and started to swim, but they couldn't stay long in the water; once their costumes were wet and their hair soaked, they abandoned the gentle swell and lay down together.
But she couldn't stop.
Waist-high, the water numbed the lower half of her body completely; she tried to stand there as long as she could to beat the pain, challenged by the Nordic bathers.
It was too cold. The water fought her legs as she strode back on to the sand, but the feeling was exhilarating.
Next time, the water reached her her shoulders, and the time after that she swam tentatively, forcing her arms and legs through the bitter cold of the water that threatened to drag her into its icy embrace.
Less than five minutes, but when she lay on the beach again it seemed as though her entire body had woken; the grey, sticky cobwebs that had clung to her for the last year had finally been washed away.
It was time to go, but there was one last thing that she had to do.
As the strength of the tide increased, she walked taller into the Atlantic, fighting the fear of drowning in the numbing cold. She stood as part of the sky, the sea and the sand, a creature made of atoms; she sunk her entire body into the ocean, her head, and her hair.
She let the sea take her, cleanse her, refresh her, recreate her. She let the sea take the dust of despair away from her and wash away the chalk marks that had damned her, and take away the oil streaks left behind by broken machines long ago.
'This is the beginning', she said.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Thursday Night at the Thunderbolt, Bristol and MyEighties Broadcast

On Thursday, I'll be playing at The Thunderbolt with The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy and Karen. Tickets from (cheaper in advance though there will be tickets at the door).
Charlie Tipper will join me on the stage at the end to play our version of Femme Fatale, which we recorded last year in aid of Refugee Action:

Also on Thursday night, there is a Wasp Radio broadcast by Sarah Lewis, where she interviews people who were active in bands in the 1980s about their five favourite tracks; this starts at 9 p.m.
Sarah writes a lot of books about the 1980s music scenes; many of them are interview-based and give you a great insight into the people behind the music. He website has a list of what's available:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Desperado Housewives at The Harrison

So much happens, it's hard to keep up, but in a good way. I have spent a large part of today writing a lecture and wishing I knew more about philosophy, but at the same time feeling glad that I don't, because of a suspicion that it might make me argue my way out of doing anything apart from sitting in front of the TV with a tub of vanilla ice cream. Only just catching up with last week, and this picture is of Kath Tait at the Desperado Housewives gig on Thursday evening. It was a very low-key affair but there was something very heartwarming about it all the same. We sit in a row and take turns to sing a song, so the mood changes gear every three or four minutes. Jude Cowan, the other one of the three, has a new repertoire of songs about animals in India. I particularly liked the one about seagulls following the boat across the sea; all of them stimulate your imagination, and you can picture the heat and the atmosphere as she sings them. Kath's songs are poignant and witty; it was seriously worrying to hear about the diminishing count of old-lady-sisters at the 252 bus-stop as winter progressed. I almost cried with relief when she sang the punchline: they had been hibernating! Phew!
It's an intimate venue, so the audience were close by and gently heckled and sang. Lovely to see Snezhina and Karen and friend, and quite a crew from Scaledown too. All three of us left with a  glow in our hearts, and some idea of doing a small tour of Ireland next year. Yes, let's.