Friday, June 30, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

More Mad Bicycle On Gideon Coe

This evening Gideon Coe has been playing cycling songs on BBC6 Music to celebrate the Tour De France, and he has played The Mad Bicycle Song. Someone asked me if it was an anti-cycling song but it definitely isn't.  except exercise bicycles, perhaps.
I will be singing the song at Scaledown tomorrow at The King and Queen in Cleveland Street, London, not far from Goodge Street toob station. It will be a funpacked night with lots of different artists on, including Fran Isherwood, experimental musicians, poets, Comedians and more, all presented by Shaun Hendry, Mark Braby and Jude Cowan. It starts early (and it's always worth getting there early) at 8 p.m. and goes on till 11 (I will be playing at 10.25 p.m.).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pix From Newcastle And The Surf Café

Photos show:
1. Vera hats on sale at the Quayside Market. Little known fact: Wilko Johnson can do a much better Geordie accent than Vera, because he lived in Newcastle for three years when he went to the University. He's absolutely brilliant at it.
2. View from the Millennium Bridge, Gateshead. There's a teeny drone in the middle of the photo but you might not be able to see it.
3. Quirky stuff at the Surf Cafe. Great sparkly drum stools.
4. Bored dog. Oh no: not more bloody music!
5. Laurie Shepherd sings a very poignant song about suffragettes.
6. Paul Allan and Antonio Moneva sing and play the Sunday night blues as only Novo Castrians can.
7. The Radio Set play rock glam to see the evening out.
8. Pauline Murray looking cool as ever with her nifty sports car. Thank you for the lift back to toon because...
9. Hauling the Green Goddess around became knackering. The last two photos are taken at Amen Corner, at the top of a very, very, very steep hill that I had just climbed. Perhaps this is a bit of a metaphor for what the last year has been like.
There is one more gig to go of this batch- Scaledown at the King and Queen in Cleveland Street on Friday. It starts early and just like many of the other gigs I've been playing, there are some really interesting people on the bill. I will be on later though- time tbc.
After that there are two gigs in July (Brighton and Ullapool), one in August (Brighton) and then a whole batch more in September.
I'm off to a rehearsal today. My guitar-carrying muscles are extraordinarily strong at the moment.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gig At David's Music in Letchworth

I hope you don't mind me nicking your photograph Andy! Thank you for welcoming me back to Davids, which is thriving and has expanded to have its own café and is still stuffed to the gills with all sort of wonderful records and books.
This was the first time I've stopped a gig for being too loud (out of courtesy for someone ordering some Simon and Garfunkel CDs) and started again when the transaction was finished. What a thrill to be in the same category as heavy metal! I also liked the guy behind the till reading the lyrics from the lyric book along with the song I was singing at the time. All this and back home in time for lunch; perfect. If you don't already know about David's Music shop, and live within striking distance of Letchworth, I thoroughly recommend visiting not only the shop but Letchworth itself, which despite some modern trappings ( a Morrison's and a Wilko's) still has a slight hint of Ladybird Book about it, and a general air of relaxed friendliness and quirkiness in equal measure.

Friday, June 23, 2017

No Peanuts, No Sitting

The heat conducted me through town this afternoon, and I happened to pass through Oxford Circus.
Amplified music signalled a pause in the journey: there, a fabulous sight greeted my eyes.
We are all still sinners, but the 'No Peanuts, No Sitting' man has changed his modus operandi to an infinitely more dramatic and arresting trajectory.
I'm not sure whether we are sinning more, or whether his performance art hasn't been appreciated by Arts Council England (is he serious?) but he has upped the ante considerably.
No longer is he a soberly dressed man in a mac with a little dark blue nautical cap and steel-rimmed spectacles parading piously through the crowds of shoppers. Oh no!
Probably inspired by an illustration in a frayed plastic-covered 1960s library book, he has fashioned a kind of leprechaunish costume: a hat, bright emerald-green shorts, and glaring red braces. I'm not sure where the idea for the large Star of David on his chest came from, but it's there in the mélange. All of this is topped by the sandwich board, mounted on a device to hold it way up above his hat so we can see what it's all about.
The loud music that had pulled me to a stop was a sort of improvised Jimmy Shand hybrid whose accordions tumbled out a senseless rhythm and rambling Scottish-ish melody; no-peanuts-and-no-sitting-man was bouncing around in time to the music, revolving manically with a fixed grin on his tense jaw, feet twanging out horizontally in turn from his raised knees in a parody of an Irish Jig.

Oh London, your joys are ever bountiful!
If you don't believe me, go and see for yourself.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

New Poster, New Dates

Juts as I finished this poster I got another date offered to me, in Bristol in November with the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy. A good excuse to make another poster in a  couple of weeks' time.
So this weekend: lunchtime at David's Records in Letchworth (playing at 12.00) and then early evening at the Surf Café in Tynemouth (playing at 6.30).
Please do come along to say hello and listen too!
I will not be travelling by dog cart.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hot Cross Bunnies

I am not going to email anyone else at work until the heatwave is over; the replies in scolding tones to quite innocuous communications are getting quite tedious!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Days, Oh Sometimes They Get Too Warm!

Helen and the Horns Gig, 1st October at the Lexington

If you like(d) us, put the date in your diary while I sort out the ticket link (might take a week to do).
It will be a special gig and I'm looking forward to dusting off the old songs and giving them a blast, and I think The Horns are too.
We don't look like this any more, but we do sound like this:


My smartphone isn't that smart. It's decided that my fingertips aren't fingers and it no longer accepts instructions from them, unless I use the sides of them, which are covered in proper skin and not guitar-player's calluses.
In some way this feels like a triumph, but in some ways not.

Pigeons, 2017

'Stupid bugger, you steooopid bug-ger, you styoopid bugger...', chanted the wood pigeons from the bushes as I struggled up the hill in the heat with my guitar.
'Am I?', I wondered out loud, but I don't think they heard me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Barnsley Festival

After playing what must have been the coldest day of 2017 for the Hoxton Radio broadcast at Spitalfields Market earlier this year, Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far (exceeded by today) and Barnsley town centre was thronging with people with a drink in one hand and various glowing areas of sunburn that I think were going to make their Sunday rather painful.
The Live in Barnsley Festival takes place in most of the central pubs in town, and music was flowing from what seemed like every single hostelry when I got there mid-afternoon, including plenty of punk covers; it was easy to tell what was close to this town's heart.
Barnsley is a lovely place, dominated by a Town Hall that looks as though it has been borrowed from Berlin, and a rusty iron pronged sculpture that local music expert Kevin Osborne, who invited me to play at the festival, described as The Nit Comb. Children were frolicking in the ornamental fountains and the streets were spotless: there was no litter anywhere and it was almost like walking into a film set.
The White Bear pub was where I was due to play; a band called the Magic Flute played before me and I really enjoyed their music- their sound was a sort of hearty, beefy heavy metal with a bit of Bellowhead thrown in to the mix, all delivered through proper songs, and obviously greatly enjoyed by the crowd.
Thankfully I have given up being fazed by following on from entirely different genres of music (or comedy, poetry, whatever) partly because of playing such diverse nights in London over the years. I could tell the sound engineer had good ears and that's all you need, really. The pub remained noisy but it was their afternoon out, and there were enough people down the front listening including a posse of lick-stealers who I caught in the act, some appreciative children and some very smiley people in general. I just thought there was a great atmosphere.
Thank you to Kevin for putting my name forward and for all his help, and for the photo. I think it's Heaven Avenue I'm playing.

Lagging Behind

I'm not doing that well on keeping this updated, am I? It's not only busy at the University of the East but I'm rehearsing for the Asbo Derek launch (mostly unfamiliar songs) and trying to keep abreast with gigs stuff too. Later I'll post some photos that Kevin Osborne sent me, of the gig in Barnsley but for now I am an office body sitting waiting to do some tutorials and with a reference or two to write.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dusk In The High Street

Live In Barnsley

I am delighted to have been invited to play the Live in Barnsley festival tomorrow. I will be playing at The White Bear pub at 5.30 p.m. and I'm looking forward to it very much!
Here is a link- there is loads of music happening and it's all free:


I read a review of the film that really made me want to go; then I saw the people in West London helping each other with food, clothing, accommodation, friendship and love and I thought, 'We don't need fantasy wonderpeople because they are around us anyway'.
This is the absolute antithesis of Tory self-reliance. Who is going to rescue you, who is going to cure your illnesses, who is going to educate you, if you have no money?
On the news broadcasts, we are seeing resistance through kindness, and through example, ways of being that are beyond description in mere words and far, far beyond political policy.
This is deeply moving.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Photos: Sunday

So on Sunday, I drove down from Newcastle to Congleton, through some beautiful countryside. I arrived just in time for the Catenary Wires, Amelia Fletcher's duo with her partner, Rob. Through the airy atmosphere of the marquee and through sunshine and heavy showers, they performed a charming set of memorable songs; my favourite was the new one (sorry, I don't know the title) which had chords to die for, and despite Amelia saying it was difficult to play, was absolutely exquisite. It was great to see Amelia's melodica centre-stage in the performance. It's much-underused instrument and hasn't appeared with such prominence in much music lately although it was very much a feature of reggae bands in the 1980s.
Next were Wendy and Simon Pickles, from the Popguns, whose duo is called the Perfect English Weather. The weather provided percussion and breezy harmonies; Wendy provided a beautifully flowing vocal style supported by Simon's chordsmithery. Again centred on songs, this was an absorbing performance perfectly suited to Sunday afternoon.
I plugged the Green Goddess in, and set off on my own musical journey. I thought how nice it might have been to be a duo, but that's not how things have panned out for me and a songwriter; having supportive audience really helps and again, everyone sang along to 'The Sea' and the massed backing vocals felt like a big wide band. Apart from a motorcycle convention roaring past during Feathers (sent by the bullies that the song is about, perhaps?), there was something lovely about singing outside as the British summer weather went through its paces: akin to singing in the middle of a cl
Finally, M J Hibbett and the Validators took us out smiling; my fave song was My Boss Was In An Indie Band but this was a whole set of gently humorous and self-deprecating songs that had the audience fist-pumping (rather limply in my case because I'm a novice). Michael is funny and charming, and the afternoon ended on a high; wandering dogs and cycling children wound down, the marquee was dismantled, yet somehow songs still floated around in the wind even as people started to go home.
It was lovely to catch up with The Sunbathers: maybe some gigs together when the album is ready?
Kevin Birchall and Linda Yarwood have been organising these Going Up The Country events for five years, and this was the last one. They were inspired to support Sarcoma UK after the work by Carey Lander of the Scottish band Camera Obscura who died from osteosarcoma, and who campaigned tirelessly towards the end of her life for funding for the charity. Thank you both of you for inviting me to be part of such an inspiring line-up and to support such a vital charity. I know we'll meet again (shared love of Northern Soul) and I hope you carry this on in some other way in the future.
Going Up The Country: The Catenary Wires, The Perfect English Weather, M J Hibbett and the Validators.

Photos: Friday and Saturday

I was so worried about the drive after last week's tyre blowout. I spent the week trying not to think about what might go wrong. In actual fact the drive up the A1 was perfect. I love driving and I've got fave Services to stop off at, in this case Peterborough. I checked in to the hotel and went to the venue, where the promoter Andy Richardson was waiting with a highly competent sound crew (used to work for Kanye West, no less) and Barney the DJ- and Graham Beck, who was also playing.
Mick, June and Laura came and so did Rich Cundill with an enthusiastic posse who stood at the back and gave off good vibes the whole way through.
Graham was great- a sort of lateral thinking showbiz madman who sang about a clog tree (that was my favourite song), dressed as a fig roll (with a matching fig roll headpiece for his toy monkey), and also as a urinal for a song about, well, urinals.
There was a very happy atmosphere- Furley and Co. is a funky wine bar with an upstairs where the gig was; a breeze from the open windows took the edge off the muggy night and cool light filtered in through the blinds. Barney played all sorts of music in the interval and complemented the eclectic night. Andy had done a great job of promotion because the room was full, and everyone was up for everything; there was a great audience chorus of 'The Sea' during the song, and afterwards I sold not only plenty of my own CDs and lyrics books but also six copies of Femme Fatale, the most ever at a gig so far (I've almost sold out). I think there was a lot of post-election joy there, and I was really moved by the fact that so many people are thinking beyond the weird politics going on in the UK at the moment, and caring about the plight of displaced people. I met a woman who worked with refugees on a dance project in Calais, and had some other great conversations afterwards.
The one odd thing that happened was my guitar stopping working when I tried to play Freight Train for an encore. But Sound Guy 2 held a microphone to the guitar, and I sang the song unplugged, accompanied enthusiastically by Rich's friend at the back who knew all the words! It was such a laugh! Big thank you to Rich for suggesting the contact, and supporting the gig in invisible ways, as well visible ones. Free entry to Helen and the Horns if you come down in October.
On Saturday I got to Newcastle early and went to Brian's shop to see if he could fix my guitar. Brian was away on holiday, so I was sent to Guitar Guitar where Neil took a look and said that the problem was that the metal part of the jack lead was a non-standard size and it simply wasn't long enough to sustain the connection inside the socket. So I bought a new lead, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.
Jason's Argyle Rooms in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea was an entirely different gig; he has set up a quirky stage in his living room, gently patrolled by his cats and featuring a selection of groovy guitars, a piano and a small jazz drum kit. I really enjoyed Jack Common's songs: he has a unique voice, flexible and moving through many different timbres and pitches. Lots of Northern Soul chords in there too. In an intimate setting, I sang a slightly different set to a group of friends and neighbours, and again had some great conversations afterwards. It was a lovely evening, and thank you Jason for putting me on; you were one the first people to give me a gig on this tour and I really appreciate your confidence and support.
Graham Beck dressed as a fig roll; texting ghoul, Grainger Street, Newcastle; Millennium Bridge; gull eggshell at The Baltic; puffins at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea; Jason Thompson at the Argyll Rooms, filming Jack Common.

Back Street Luv

Learning this:


After an 800-mile round trip adventure, I am home. The plants in the pots in the back yard drank 8 watering cans of water just now, but it's a beautiful miniature jungle and there's a sweet soundtrack from the goldfinch who lives in the neighbour's tree, over the back of the fence.
Proper tour posting later (or tomorrow).
I am so glad I'm doing it!

Friday, June 09, 2017

Thank You, 'Young People Nowadays'.

A Tory MP this morning talked of groups of young people at the polling station in his constituency. Groups, that is: not gangs.
We have a fantastic, wise and caring younger generation that we disrespect at our peril; we hear so much negative rubbish about them that simply does not represent their intelligence and wisdom.
I hope they build on their power and build on their dreams of a fairer future.

Heading North!

Suddenly small symbols have become very important.
Buddie, my paternal grandmother, was a talented concert pianist; as the eldest of gazillion children, she was never able to fulfil her potential and lost her sight just at the point where she could have blossomed in later life.
I wish I had her feather-light touch and her instinct for making those little dots on the page into beautiful, airy music. I haven't- but I have the chance to travel and play music with a sense of freedom far beyond that of the women of her generation.
I am wearing her wedding ring on a chain round my neck. I'm taking her with me this weekend: to Hull, to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, and to Congleton. She will come to Barnsley, Brighton, Tynemouth, Leicester, Ramsgate and beyond. I hope even to Glasgow, eventually, where she was born.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Gideon Coe Again

And something by me!

Gideon Coe

Gideon Coe is playing The Chefs later tonight!
Listen here:

Getting Ready

Hotels booked, routes not planned yet. Shirts ironed. Songs being rehearsed. Car smiling and promising not to explode a tyre this time, because I'm not heading up the lumpy western motorways, but the smoooth eastern ones.
Thoughts thunk.
I am so glad that I am doing this; I thought that I had disappeared, but I haven't. I am singing my way around the country, swimming through songs, learning so much about everything and everybody.
The dialogue is fantastic.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Review in Louder Than War

Thank you Paul for this amazing review!

Good things are happening in the middle of an exhausting adminstorm at work (100 emails sent out yesterday morning with student feedback, 30 sent out this afternoon).
Largely I suspect due to the persuasive tactics of The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy not only will I be singing Femme Fatale with them at The Wedding Present's Edge of the Sea festival in Brighton on the 19th of August, but also playing a set of my own.
I'm taking a big deep breath before the mega-drivings of the upcoming weekend, and hoping for no more tyre blowouts. I had a cup of coffee catch up with Gina this morning, who has filmed an interlude for our documentary in which she appears as a convincing skinhead (but she doesn't scare me with them red braces and bovver boots!), and a rehearsal yesterday afternoon for the Asbo Derek LP launch. Stuart Moxham has done sterling work on the mix of Summer Days. A Helen and the Horns gig is afoot for later in the year too.
However, right now I'm having a cup of tea and some Doritos.

Sunday, June 04, 2017


During a period of insomnia last night, my brain started riffing about loo handles.

When I was little we lived in part of a converted Victorian pub and we had a very old toilet with a pull-chain handle. It was utterly terrifying, but you had several seconds to escape after yanking the wooden chain-pull. Ear-splitting mechanical wrenchings started up, metal screeching against metal, a few seconds of watery-sounding thought, and then a deafening cascade of water would crash into the toilet-bowl, splashing like Niagara Falls and making you think that the dam was going to burst and the house would flood.
While all this was going on, you had the opportunity to race back to bed with your heart thumping like the clappers, get under the covers and lie there puffing and panting while the whole frightening auditory experience completed itself.

So: young toilets nowadays.
Gone are the simple grip handles that you pressed down; now we have a confusing array of mechanisms that are difficult to understand.
What about those big-button, small-button ones?
Does the big button mean 'more water' and the small one, 'less water'? Or does the big one mean 'I'm big, please press me for more common use', and the small one mean 'Don't use me often, I'm small?'.
Even worse, the divided ones. Press both at once? Only one? Which one for which function? My fingers are too fat for the skinny little one on its own. Do I commit the heinous crime of wasting water because of this physical shortcoming?
An anyway, the button press things often don't operate properly, activating only a sad dribble of water for all that effort. Fail.

By far the worst ones are the automatic ones in stations and airports. If you're not careful and you lean back, you activate them accidentally and get showered with cold water which can be a terrible shock and can spoil your day. The facility appears to have made a decision on your behalf, which is deeply worrying. A toilet with a mind of its own is the stuff of waking nightmares.

Thank goodness I fell back to sleep.

Just For the Record

I will be voting Labour.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Wednesday's Gig At The Whitaker Museum

On the M62 an ominous thwack sounded the alarm; a massive pothole in the narrow 50 MPH lane had flattened one of the front tyres of the car-both of which were new ones fitted by the garage on Friday.
I had to pull off the motorway and sit in a Brookside-type crescent just outside Warrington while first the AA and then a tyre replacement chap came. Bang went my relaxing afternoon in the hotel before the gig.
And then, of course, the Satnav proudly announced that I had reached my destination. My destination was over there, beyond those trees and behind a fifteen foot high concrete wall with no slip road.
But I didn't Almost Cry. I found my way there, had a quick cup of tea and drove on to the Whitaker Museum,where Paul Hiapop was waiting, and Mick and June too.
Everything was set up so I went with Mick to buy a dried up sandwich from the garage and bumped into Amy, who had taken three buses from Bolton and was just wandering up the road.
Back at the venue, the room was filling up. Ian Gosden was there, proudly bearing a box of four melted orange-juice ice lollies. Trystan and his partner had driven down from Lancaster, and there was a good sprinkling of Helen and the Horns and Chefs fans which was a lovely surprise. I even signed a grey vinyl copy of Freight Train that someone had found that afternoon.
The museum is an old Victorian building run by volunteers that has music, comedy, film shows and other events as well as a permanent display of stuffed animals which is not to everyone's taste, but Amy disappeared in there in a state of great excitement.
I sang with a background view, through tall old painted shutters, of a bright green hill covered with growing wild stuff. I could see night fall as I played, which was incredibly romantic. People sang along with The Sea and chatted with me for ages afterwards which meant the burst tyre stress flew out of the window, over the hills and far away to the space dustbin where all the useless stuff is thrown away.
It was a lovely evening and I hope I sang my best for them and made it worth coming out. The Green Goddess sounded very beautiful, and I gave her a couple of biscuits when I got back to the hotel.
I particularly appreciated the effort people made to come along to see the gig.
Thank you Paul for inviting me to play, I loved it.
The drive home was uneventful; I stopped off in Sheffield see Bambos and Jane and collapsed into bed at about 9 p.m. to snore through till this morning. Work today, but I came home to be greeted by the unusual song of a goldfinch that was perched on the highest branch of next door's tree, tweetling away and flying off every time I sneaked to the window with the binoculars to see what sort of bird it was. Eventually I hid behind the curtains and managed to identify him. I think its the same one that used to fly into the garden last summer and nick the coconut fibres from the hanging basket for it's nest.