Thursday, August 31, 2017

Art College Days

A self-portrait project from first year Fine Art at Brighton Polytechnic, and my small section of the massive room that about 30 of us shared as a studio. It was lucky to get a bit of a wall; some people were stuck in the middle. All the boys with northern accents built themselves a plastic tent to hide away from the Cockneys who laughed at them and thought they were thick. Judy Littman, who later started the fashion label English Eccentrics, sat next to me and played Stevie Wonder's music all day on her cassette player. She made herself fabulous clothes, like cowboy shirts made from children's patterned fleecy pyjama material, and she knitted pictures of bathrooms all day. The lecturers, all men, didn't understand her at all, but she was brilliant, as well as beautiful- she looked as though she had walked straight out of a pre-Raphaelite painting. Some of us used to go dancing every night in the Art College Basement- starting at 6.30 and finishing at midnight. My friend Mandy and me did etching so we always had inky hands and enormous appetites (it takes a lot of strength to wind round those massive handles on etching presses).
I went back twenty years later for an interview and the canteen lady recognised me.
Typical dinner: cottage pie, chips and cabbage, followed by a huge dry rock bun. Yum yum gimme some!

Surrealism Is Everyday Life

A football fixer was on the ginger line, bargaining, and dealing in young men. He was a young man himself, and looked like a footballer, and he was obviously very good at his job.
If I knew more about football I could spill the beans on all sorts of third-division transfers; sorry not to be able to. It was remarkably indiscreet of him though. Imagine if I'd been a secret fixer myself! I could have swooped in and bagged those bargains from under his nose.

And someone has contacted me about the Leicester gig next week because their mobile phone fell in the toilet and they have lost their electronic tickets.
It actually made me laugh- not because I'm nasty, but because it was such a peculiarly contemporary problem.
It's made me laugh again just writing about it!
Of course she can get in to the gig!
Ha ha!

No-One Knows Us

Never got on Top of the Pops; did get on Pebble Mill At One, a deeply uncool but somehow, cool, alternative option. This was a bonus- having the mickey taking out of the music for No-One Likes Us, We Don't Care (composed with Lester Square), by Private Eye:


I've just bought two terabytes of memory; I stuck the little wire that came with it into my ear, but so far it hasn't made any difference.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Seagulls At The Baltic

I used to take loads and loads of photos of the Martin Stephenson and the Daintees on various tours; these nesting seagulls at the Baltic in Gateshead somehow sneaked into a session:


I am going through loads of files looking for old stuff because someone's making me a website. So much stuff- so much life. The girls when they were small, relationships, music, art.
This is from Foundation at Sunderland Art College, all made of paper and card.


Every year it seems so tempting, but then I remember the year the police went bad and cornered my friend Kim and scared her so much. How can you tell when they've decided that's what's going to happen? I don't think anything more than usual had happened to provoke them.
In my head, in my head, I imagine the sound systems and remember the year I saw Aswad play- what a magnificent band they were.
There were four invitations to parties this weekend, apart from that, and only so much energy. As a single non-drinker, I opted for what I thought was the closest and socially safest one and ended up making a five hour round trip, having to leave after a very short time and just as everything hotted up in order not to get stranded. It reminded me of driving Martin to all those far-flung west London gigs through endless traffic jams; wealthy people don't need public tranport, but I did!
Asbo Derek made my laugh my head off; riffs and humour together make perfect entertainment, and the silly stuff round the edges (Brian the drummer grumbling 'get on with it' in the background) made it even funnier. The party was full of Postmen, as it was Vic's retirement do, and featured a cake judging competition.
Monday was spent on a long urban walk along the Regent's Canal, and writing a song. This was only the second one this year, but that's OK because I have been out playing, recording, and making a life. It is a very intense song, which is not surprising as there is a lot saved up to say but it has to be right when it comes out. 'Write a rocky song with a riff', said the alter-ego instructor. What came out sounded mediaeval and bore the influences of listening to the harp player at The Edge of the Sea festival. And yesterday Katy invited me to Hampstead Ladies Pond, a completely new experience. I'd heard stories of kingfishers flying overhead and catching fish but they weren't about; there was plentiful tranquility, cool water with weeds tickling your toes, an elderly male voyeur pretending not to be one, and plans to co-mentor songs for each of our new albums.
Today is rest day; soon the students will be back and it will be time to give them all my time and energy (well, almost).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Random Listening

Procrastination... I have an article proposal to submit, and four o'clock's the time to finish it and send it off.
Amazing how fantastic music sounds when it's illicit listening.
Jacques Brel has rocked the foundations of the house with his 'r-r-r-r-r's, and TLC are Diggin' On You at the moment.
The voices of the schoolchildren from primary school song-club evoked such good memories. Might bung one of their songs, Fresh Air, up on Soundcloud later.
Muddy Waters has been along.
I moved along from Ivor Cutler pretty sharp.
You have to be in the mood.
Aww here's Kath Tait's song Lentils. What a tender paean to stasis!
The Crusaders. Part of me would quite like to have made music like this.
One of my arms, perhaps:

Friday, August 25, 2017


Tonight I'm being lazy and watching Shetland, or half watching it.
I like it: it feels like being in Scotland.
This was a creative week, staring with recording at Dave and Ruth's on Tuesday (Ruth put a fab bass line on Saturday Night With The London Set, and we recorded a dark song called Let Me that is sounding very Velvet Underground). Wednesday was spent recording a horn arrangement in the kitchen for Summer Days to send to the guys, and beginning another song that we are all going to do at the end of the gig at The Lexington, a cover of Curved Air's Back Street Luv. And Rob had messaged me about the gig at The Green Note (reviewed a couple of days ago), and that was a convivial and entertaining night. Thursday was art round at Gina's, followed by going back to Dave and Ruth's to re-record the vocals with Vic on Rendezvous D'Automne, the Francois Hardy song that we have done a cover version of.
Today, I went down to look at The Betsey Trotwood's stage to see if it's big enough to get the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy on to, but it's not!
There are half-written songs lying about all over the place waiting to be finished, but I've been writing some really, really short songs (songlets), because that's what's happened.
Tomorrow is pyjamas day, and so is the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that....
No, not really.

Leicester Musician

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Libby Koch and Chuck Hawthorne at The Green Note

Texan American artists Libby and Chuck have been touring round Scotland, England and Ireland for a month, ferried by that ramblin' promoter Rob Ellen in his mobile studio/home The Moose. They have played house concerts, festivals, radio shows, you name it; there are only a few more dates to go until it's time to fly back to Austin on Monday.
Rob invited me along to The Green Note last night to play a couple of toons, and then to watch the show. It was an invitation too good to miss, and after my slot I settled down to watch Chuck's short set (he is doing his own show there tonight).
He sings the Texan landscape, invoking space and drama as soon as the music starts. The life of an itinerant musicians is conjured up in our imagination; starting with Leaving Amarillo, he sets the scene and takes us to the Southern states. 'That might be the best I've ever sung it', he told us.
Well, it's a perfectly crafted song and he delivered it impeccably. He sang about the Silverline train that slices through the mountains, and Libby joined him on backing vocals. At this stage of the tour, they are both tired, but you couldn't tell and they were very much in a groove with each other; they sang as one with voices blending an a particularly country favoured timbre. Chuck has a strong, powerful voice and you're in for a treat if you go along to hear him tonight.
In a short interval, we looked around the basement of the club. There is something really 1960s Camden about it: metallic patterned wallpaper that you can see all sorts of weird faces in if you look carefully enough, red velvet curtains, little stools around wooden tables with candles. It is a charming baby version of the upstairs room, ideally suited to an intimate evening like this.
Libby was the headline artist tonight. Trained as a lawyer in Nashville, she sat at her desk one day and wrote her song of freedom: and here she is, free (and occasionally broke). She's not straight-laced country. Some songs have a laid-back swamp feel, others are immensely powerful and in-your-face.
There were some real stand-out songs and me and my chums all picked different favourites, which is surely a good thing. Her gospel-tinged song about the bid for freedom was loved by all of us: 'I'm gonna walk this road and see just where it leads', well, that definitely chimed with me because that's exactly what I am doing. I loved the idea of setting her grandfather's stories to music, and best song of all was the song about time passing, Stakes, which showed off her flexible and lustrous voice beautifully and struck an emotional chord; it was a real woman's song. I'm looking forward to listening more to their music, and big thanks to Rob for inviting us along. What a thrill to meet real Texan musicians! I think they was a reciprocal thrill (from Chuck especially) at meeting real punk rockers!

Big thanks to Rob Ellen for introducing us to each other. I hope the rest of the tour goes well, I hope we all meet again, and long live travelling music men and women!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Lots of little spiders have decided that the back yard is theirs. It is difficult to argue with them.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Crush by Violet Violet

From The Kitchen: 'Yeah Yeah Yeah' By the Wedding Present

If you listen carefully you can hear the IKEA catalogue thumping on to the doormat close to the end of the song.

Dress For Helen and the Horns Gig

Last year in Whitby I bought this fabric. I love JCBs, cranes, trucks and all that stuff, and have a date with the little boy along the road and his mum to go to JCB world when he is old enough. This dress was made by Wendy May, former Boothill Foot Tapper and now a very successful DJ and seamster. She has done a brilliant job and you can contact her here if you have a design idea that you'd like made up for you:
It will be getting it's debut at the Helen and the Horns/Katy Carr/Honey Birch gig at the Lexington on Sunday 1st October. Advance tickets are much cheaper, and the ticket link is here:
Katy is a Polish/English singer and ukulele/electronica artist whose songs translate political Polish folk tales into a different medium. She will be playing uke on the night and bringing something very special to the evening. Honey is a 17-year old emerging singer-songwriter who has previously supported The Raincoats and Angel Olsen at The Assembly Rooms in Islington. This will be only her third gig, but she has confidence and poise well beyond her years.
Come along and join us!

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Joke

Q. What sort of trousers do you wear to join in with something?
A. Partici-pants.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

At The Edge Of The Sea

For a person travelling on legs, Brighton's Concorde 2 was surprisingly far from the station, but it was a beautiful sunny and breezy day, and once the crowds of town had been negotiated a blast of fresh sea air provided an energising lift that was a precursor of everything that was to come.
The opening act was Ellie Ford. She has a lovely open personality and a clear and unaffected voice that flowed through her songs like a stream picking its way through the landscape of arpeggios and staccato chords that she plays on her harp. It is a luxury to see and hear a harp player who writes their own songs. Living in the 'burbs means that every so often that bloke sits outside the supermarket with his backing tracks, box of CDs and cheesy harp tunes, doing the instrument a massive disservice. Rescued by America's Joanna Newsom and England's Serafina Steer, the harp has become a setting for respectively, wildness and suppressed fury; here, however, the harp is part of a conversation which is partly sung and partly played by an artist whose gentleness belies an ability to draw the audience into her own emotional space and make them really listen to her. It could be very difficult to be the opening act for an exciting and busy day like this one, but Ellie carried it off with aplomb, and I think everyone who watched her felt the same delight at being there early enough to catch her set.
And of course, The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy had arrived. Whenever they arrive or depart from gig, I am reminded of John Peel's description of Captain Beefheart's band getting off the coach at Eastbourne the first time he met them, when he was there to do a DJ set. He described them clambering off the bus one by one, each one a different character, and being mesmerised by the quantity of people in the band. There are seven Charlie Tippers and they are a bit like an enormous family always at risk of losing one member, or leaving one behind (coming from such a family, I know what I'm talking about). They have their own world, the Charlie Tipper world, and every so often you see one of them drifting off on a mission, always mysterious but never evil. As soon as I saw them on Saturday, I stopped being nervous about playing and felt that everything would be OK, and it was.
The festival was really well-organised: band in the big room, followed by a band/artist in the small room, with the audience getting into a rhythm of moving between the two.
In a strategic coup, David Gedge had scheduled his band Cinerama to play next, and we flowed into the big room into an atmosphere of 1960s film music, a huge soundscape of female harmonies with flourishes of organ and punctuated by David's authoritative voice. There was no chance of slipping away for fish and chips: the music was far too good to leave, and at the end of the set there was a funny little section that was almost showbiz (maybe I'm sensitised to this because Bruce Forsyth has just died), where the raffle was announced and a chap called Andy, who had won the raffle last year but not stuck around to collect the prize, and who has apparently never forgiven the band for re-drawing the ticket and awarding the prize to someone else, was reminded that if he won this year, he would have to collect the prize in person. Ha ha! The informality was really endearing, and you could feel the crowd relaxing and getting into the spirit of the afternoon.
I can't write about everything that happened and every band I saw, but here are a few highlights. The Popguns, on the big stage in the afternoon, were great. Years ago, I did a gig with an acoustic line-up of the band at the Prince Albert, and earlier this year in Congleton played on the bill with just Wendy and Simon as a duo. I had never seen the full band before. They are a proper 'songs' band and Wendy sings absolutely flawlessly and with complete honesty and lack of affectation. She has a truly lovely voice reminiscent of Sandie Shaw; there was not a note out of place, yet she sang with a huge amount of passion. 'Bugger off, Britney', I thought, perhaps rather uncharitably, but there is nothing like hearing a singer who is authentic and strong and devoid of fakery.
It must be noted here that the sound engineers in the venue deserve a prize. It would have been so easy to mess things up faced with such a different array of line-ups and instrumentation, but boy have they got good ears! Back in the day we used to suffer a lot from engineers who had what our driver called 'ears of cloth'. Add that to crappy PA systems with bust speakers (it was the era when heavy metal was giving way to punk rock), it was a miracle if you ever sounded good live. At Concorde 2 we had in-house engineers on a mission to make the sound work, and they made it work for every single act or artist who played.
Let's move on to the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy. Sound-check time was necessarily short, but probably after the experience of the 15 minute sound check at The Cavern for a band with seven people, the business was done in nanoseconds and they went on to play the best set I've ever heard from them. The audience loved them and I felt a sense of sisterly pride from the sidelines! We had all been asked to cover a Wedding Present song and they did a cover of Dalliance (the Popguns had also done a version earlier) and the audience sang along which was incredibly endearing. Their guitarist was wearing a pull-on hat and was the butt of an 'Edge' joke as he looked suspiciously similar to U2's guitarist. Luckily I had a similar hat that I could wear to sing Femme Fatale so we were double-edged (sorry).
Flowers played next, in the big room, and it was possible to catch a tiny bit of their set after a sound check. Through the doors I could see the audience listening with rapt attention; I want to go to see them properly soon because their sound was wide, sparse and very exciting.
So we start up as the band next door finishes; I was ready, and despite finding that it was for some songs one of those occasions where somebody else's fingers attached themselves to my arms, I really enjoyed it. What a friendly crowd! Even the guy with the mohican was tapping his feet, everyone helped out with Yeah Yeah Yeah (my cover) which was good, because I bloody needed it; and when it came to The Sea I took Jerry Thackray's advice (he had come along as my guest, only the second time  he'd been out to a gig this year) and invited people to sing. Whoosh! They charged in, in full voice! Oh, it made me so happy! It is scary going to do gigs on your own with no 'infrastructure'; in the morning I had been so anxious I'd almost decided to give the whole lot up and just be a person living in a house and watching TV and eating. I am not an extrovert and I have no idea what drives this urge to go out and sing to people. But on this tour I have experienced such friendship and support that the adventure, in spite of flat tyres, late trains and alarming bunk-shares with male French cyclists, has been hugely positive. I plod into unknown venues with the guitar on my back and never know what is going to happen; what happened on Saturday has filled my heart with happiness so much that I'm still smiling.
To cap it all, the Wedding Present played an absolutely storming set. Bravely, they started with two songs that were really soundscapes, and that again showed off the vocal harmony skills of the group. They played their 2016 album Going, Going... in its entirety (more about the album here: and proved their authority as one of Britain's leading indie bands. They are well-rehearsed without being so slick you can't catch them, and hugely powerful sound-wise yet they can switch from that full-on rock sound to absolute delicacy in moment. There are so many ingredients to play with: those voices, two guitars, keyboard and drums: and songs!
You got the impression of a great sense of playfulness behind the arrangements, although this never materialises as quirkiness; it's more that observation of life has translated seamlessly into music and song without cleverness kicking in and spoiling the show. Somehow David drives the whole experience, without overpowering the band with a rock-star's ego, which is a skill in itself. By this time there must have been more than 600 people there and the atmosphere was electric, even at the very back of the room. I loved the encore-that-wasn't-an-encore. It was such a pity that it all had to end!
Thank you so much to David Gedge for inviting me to participate, and to the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy for putting my name forward, and thank you for the friendliness everyone, from Jessica who does the Wedding Present's merch stall, through the staff at the venue, to the other bands and to the wonderful audience who came with open minds and happy hearts. It was an unforgettable day, and nice to see Jerry out and about too: I hope the good start of a new phase in your life.

Photo of David Gedge, and H McC, by James McCauley. I took the photo of Ellie Ford and the crowd; a kind person took the one of The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy, At The End of the Edge of The Sea.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Temptation, by Helen and the Horns

And Another One For Slushymushy Friday: Where Is the Love

Thinking About Attacks

Fear has stopped me from writing about terrorist attacks, that and the impossibility of putting into words the feelings that they engender. From the old flat in Camberwell, we heard the bus explosion perpetrated by the IRA around 25 years ago, and London life has never felt safe. Even before that, a neighbour had lost her husband in the Victoria Station bombing and her little girl used to come round to ours to draw at the kitchen table, because after her daddy died they had no money and the bailiff had taken everything, even her crayons.
Now I have two adult daughters living in the middle of the city and it's not a good thought.
Over the past few years Barcelona was a favourite holiday destination, and it always seemed like such a dreamy place; once the layers of tourists like us had gone, it would revert back to Old Ways, with the hidden Spanish Guitar shops, hat shops and toy shops blossoming again, and a population of artists flowing back into the streets.
Barcelona stimulated two albums of lovely songs, and the sight of parakeets popping their heads out of upside-down nests in the palm trees in Gaudi's garden, still makes me laugh.
I feel for the people of the city, and the tourists alike, and I am so sorry that this terrible thing has happened.

At The Edge Of The Sea Tomorrow!

I am honoured to have been invited to play tomorrow in Brighton at this festival organised by The Wedding Present. The Popguns and The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy will also be playing, and many more including, of course, the Wedding Present themselves.
Today's drawing from the Birch-McCookerybook Artlab.

Summer Days (enjoy them while they last)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Big Yellow Taxi

Poly Styrene loved this song.


I was just typing that and the sun came out!
Yesterday evening was really interesting. It wasn't filming, it was audio recording with Zoe Howe and  Celeste, Poly's daughter. When I got there Lucy O'Brien was just finishing her interview and it was fascinating to hear Lucy's stories. It's going to be a really interesting project when it's finished. It was very affecting meeting Celeste; Poly would be very proud of her. She has that same lovely vibe about her, and it must be incredibly moving for her to hear the high regard that her mum was held in by so many people; there must be a lot of filling-in-the-gaps. We so rarely get to know our parents through their interactions with other people, just through our closeness (or not) with them, and then the more distant pull of the things that they do for work, or with their friends.
The photo shows Celeste, me and Zoe in the studio yesterday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Poly Styrene

This evening I'm heading into town to film an interview for Zoe Howe and Paul Sng's documentary about Poly Styrene. I envisage the footage being snugly curled up on the cutting-room floor at some later date, but I always think with these things that you are giving the project a positive boost just by going along and doing it. I hope I remember to sing the first song Poly wrote- all one line of it- when she was at primary school. It was a protest song, directed at the dinner lady for making the children eat meat. She taught it to her classmates in the playground.
Knowing how many people were influenced by her, and who also felt enormous affection for her, and knowing what happened in her life, I think of Vincent Van Gogh and what we do to artists and musicians. I was talking to a researcher yesterday who is working on a project about Scottish women songwriters, and thinking about how we actually fan the flames of people's narcissism to the point where they are completely dislocated from reality. I don't think narcissism is particularly rare: the potential seems to be there for anybody, regardless of their gender or occupation.
All that's needed is a crew of sycophantic people to shield them from responsibility and to massage their sense of specialness: these can be friends or even family members. I don't think Poly was a narcissistic person by any means, but I do think that people around her deliberately detatched her from reality. She deserves a lot of respect for rejecting it all and looking for spirituality in life instead, trying to seek out genuine friendships, rather than people who massaged her ego.
One of her friends asked me to go to the funeral as her representative because she was too upset to go herself. It was the most beautiful funeral that I have ever been to; I must have written about it here at the time. Lots of the London fishes were out of water (yes, I felt that too even though I don't feel like a London fish) and the day belonged to people who loved her properly: her mum, her daughter, her husband, and the proper friends that she made after being a pop star. Punk threw her into a position where her bravery and resilience were tested to breaking point and beyond. There's no-one else like her.
This was her first release (as Mari Elliott):

Monday, August 14, 2017

Dreaming of Narcissus

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lexington Times

The beer, and the sticky floor when the moshing stopped.

French Footsteps At My Door

From The Helen and the Horns Archive

The orange poster must be from one of our first ever gigs. Dave had the key to the Jazz Room at Imperial College and we used to rehearse there every week. This may have been the one where the bar was hosting a delegation of Dutch miners who did a noisy conga in front of us while we were playing. I booted each one up the bum as they went past. By the last couple of chaps they realised what was going on and escaped before I got 'em.
The article is from Smash Hits- unbelievable that we got in there! I was/am such a pop-head that I was thrilled to bits, because they print the lyrics and I love that. I still had that shirt until just a few months ago.
The Newcastle gig was a hoot. The microphone was giving off electric shocks and McMum was there at soundcheck time with her friend from church. The first thing that I said through the P.A. was 'F*CK!' as it zapped me through my upper lip. Then later there was a showing-off competition between Cleo 'Hot Lips' Silver and Little Bruv, who was totally pissed and became the star of the dressing room ('Tomato sandwiches? Why is it always tomato sandwiches? Don't they know I hate tomato sandwiches?). Cleo 'Hot Lips' had swanned in expecting to be the centre of attention but was no match for Little Bruv, who progressed to throwing slices of tomato around the place. Oh, happy days.
The stickers? Well, we obviously used them!
The Simonics poster must have been a bit later as well, when we had our own label. Maybe? The band was formed out of three Nicks and Two Simons, who recorded at Elephant Studios in Wapping, with a Simon and a Nick engineering.
Finally, that's the original Helen and the Horns logo which was later tidied up by or first record label, Thin Sliced Records.
OK, back to the box......

Friday, August 11, 2017

Barnet Turns Into Betaville

Oh dear. After a pleasant chat with Ben Wilson the chewing gum painter, who was brandishing a tube of filler, I wandered round to the Antiques Emporium. All shut up, all voided. To be made into flats, no doubt.
The car park has been tarmac'd to destroy the market (three stalls left, most of the time) so we can only shop in the supermarket, and a humungous H&M is doubling the height of the shopping centre, itself a mutated church (replace spirituality with capitalism, etc.etc.).
In the square in the centre (all mature trees uprooted and thrown away to make more retail space), customers sit and drink coffee with piped music in the background: Rhodes piano, major sevenths and syrupy male vocals stroking their ears.
What did it remind me of?
Why the Sims, of course!
The Offsprogs used to have the game. Simulated computer people with stereotyped personality traits occupied themselves with service jobs that were just the right shape for them, all to the tune of muzak; their language, Simlish, took all the rough edges even off anger, because there were no words and hence no poetry.
Barnet is turning into Betaville, very rapidly.

Helen and the Horns in Weybridge 2008

Helen and the Horns at the Lexington in 2013

Studio Day

Unbelievable: 11.54 a.m. and I normally get up at six-thirty!
Yesterday afternoon was spent at Dave Morgan and Ruth Tidmarsh's studio, recording a new song, Saturday Night With The London Set. It will be the first one for the next album, which I am hoping at the moment to do with a guest guitarist on each track.
Yesterday's guest (who introduced me to Dave and Ruth in the first place) was Vic Godard. We had already played a version of the song at the Asbo Derek album launch in Brighton a few weeks ago so it wasn't new territory.
It was written after a night out at a Monochrome Set gig at The Lexington. It's funny embarking into a community of people who lived through London punk, having done all that stuff somewhere completely different; and the 25-year sabbatical I'd had from making music when I was a Mum and Wife and a Lecturer and music making was something other people did and talked about, but not me.
But everywhere you go, people bond because of shared histories. If you move around a lot you slip into and slip out of other people's worlds, sometimes becoming immersed and sometimes just watching from the sidelines. I think it's often the combination of being there and somehow not being there at the same time that makes people write songs: you are somehow trying to link yourself to other people and be part of their narrative, while at the same time living your own life story. I don't know.
This is probably all blethers.
I was writing about the recording session.
We recorded guitar and drums first with a guide vocal, no click track which is unusual for me.  Fuelled by coffee, we got the track down in time for Vic who arrived fresh from his round, in his postman's uniform. Dave and Ruth have a Firebird (that's a make of guitar) and it sounds absolutely lush; some of Vic's parts sounded like Eddie Rabbit and some sounded like (believe it or not) Carlos Santana (or maybe that's because of listening to a CD of Caravanserai on Wednesday). There were some lovely things going on between the ride cymbal and the hi-hats and between the different guitar parts, whose sounds came to the forefront in different parts of the track (mine was Brazilian-sounding arpeggios and Vic played around and over that). Then I put a rudimentary bass line down which was challenging.
After all that it was difficult to get a great lead vocal, but I did a harmony that may or may not materialise. A coffee'n'sound migraine started to announce it's presence and we did a rough mix, and the rest of the day was Vic's to mix his album.
Last night's listening, all I could hear was wrong things. That is completely normal for listening on the recording day, when you have called into play a sort of micro-listening so you can hear the way instruments rub up against and interconnect with each other sonically.
I've just listened this morning, and that's why I'm writing this instead of just burying it in the week's other doings. It sounds amazing! Dave's drums sound great, the guitars sound fabulous and I even like the vocals. There is a pile of songs that didn't get on the The Sea and I was going to record those ones as a new album, but I think after this that I'll work on some new ideas instead.
In 2005 I made a bid for freedom , by starting to write songs again. I am so bloody glad that I did. It's like exploring outer space, except it can all be done in the comfort of your own brain. Sort of (wrote the person who has travelled 3000 miles, and counting, to play gigs on her own this summer).

Alas, ordinary tasks like 'washing the kitchen floor' and 'cleaning the windows' and 'starting to work on next year's student module guides' will be taking up the rest of today, but at least yesterday was 100% creative.

Monday, August 07, 2017


Paul Sng, the director of this documentary, made the film Invisible Britain which followed Sleaford Mods around Nottingham's gigs and pubs, and documented them talking about their music and their political beliefs. He advised me and Gina about our funding our fledgling documentary (still parked up in a lay-by temporarily), and in a strange way I was worried about this film, in case it didn't deliver the goods, despite reading some great reviews in one of the weekend newspapers.
There was no need for anxiety. From the start, the documentary has the self-assured focus of truth, and what a f*cking relief. There is no pussyfooting, no euphemism, no delicacy: but there is no brutality either. Where there is anger, it's completely justified and more often articulated through the poetry of ordinary (yet extraordinary) people's reminiscences and their hopes for the future.
The film interrogates the local and national policies of powerful politicians of all political persuasions as they cleanse city centres of people earning below certain income levels- certain high income levels. These people have/had been living in high density, sometimes high rise, council properties on land whose value has apparently become higher than the value of the lives of those people whose homes are built upon it. Under the guise of regeneration (an architect from Architects for Social Housing debunks the idea of regeneration, which is a slow process, and prefers the term 'clearance'), whole mini-populations are persuaded to leave their homes, which have been allowed to deteriorate over decades, and promised lovely new dwellings. In reality, once these new dwellings are built, there are simply not enough of them for the evacuated residents, and compensation paid to leaseholders who were conned into buying their council properties by Thatcher's government is nowhere near enough for them to live in the 'affordable' properties that replace their original homes.
Naturally, very few of those people responsible for these policies consented to be interviewed, and  Savills, the property developers, have somehow managed to become advisers to government and councils without any sort of checks and balances- shame on you Sadiq Khan for being involved in this!
Parts of the film hit the emotions hard. It was the resident of a high-rise who talked about moving into his flat after being homeless, and watching the fog from his windows, that made me cry. As he spoke, his words were akin to a loving poem to the view from his window; it was a beautiful and touching moment. Later a Glaswegian man stood in a rubbish-strewn street in a part of Glasgow whose private landlords have allowed it to become a slum with piles of rubbish and rats (I think this may be in Nicola Sturgeon's constituency). Incredulous, he imagines the journey of a refugee form a war-torn country arriving in Glasgow for sanctuary and ending up in a sh*tty street like this, where the situation is almost as hideous. I thought of the man from Glasgow whom Emily Maitlis had interviewed and who reduced her to tears by his generosity in donating blood to victims of the Manchester bombing, and whose response was to answer hate with love.
All over the UK, the story is the same, whether Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, London...
we learned about the process of artwashing, where arts projects (even graffiti artists) form part of the first stage of social cleansing by making areas look funky and desirable. Interestingly, after the screening a resident of one of the estates in Southwark remarked that the film, in being shown at a Picturehouse Cinema in central London, was actually taking part in this process too. This was a sharp observation- but it allowed some interesting responses: the staff at the cinema who are undertaking industrial action because of their low pay were asked how they felt about the film being shown there and they gave the screening their blessing. In addition, Paul told the audience that once the screenings are done, the film will be sent out to any residents association who wanted it free of charge, so that they can use it to support their campaigns against being ousted from their own homes as the end-product of a 'managed decline'.
In the Q&A, the views expressed were frank. This is all part of the financialisation of even our imaginations; and this removal of poor people, facilitated by the myth of sink estates, is known as 'value uplift'. Ugh, ugh, ugh! How horrible!
You must see this film. The residents are articulate, funny, charming and strong: they give the message of the film such heart. The graphics are clear and the research is thorough and convincing. It belongs in the same area of truth-telling as I, Daniel Blake, although that is fictionalised truth. Despite making you feel furious at the injustice and hypocrisy of the politicians, construction industry and financiers, there is a sense of relief in the film's honesty. This is information we need. A decent life for the many is superseded by an aspirational life for the few: we can't let this continue.
See here for more screenings:

The Arts Café in Pictures

Nicked Richard Sanderson's photo to put one of me in. Words tomozza.

A Memory

Back in the day, I had a full-time job as an academic and two children under five. It took and hour and a half to get to work and the same back again; because South London was so volatile, there would be fights on the bus (usually someone unable to pay their fare), people would refuse to get off, and the conductor or driver would make all of the passengers disembark while they called the police. You'd have to wait for the next bus, and everyone would try to stuff themselves on to that, another fight would ensue, and so on. I used to be so tired that often I fell asleep standing up on the platform at Kennington tube station staying away from the edge so that if I fell over I wouldn't end up on the tracks.
We lived in a housing association maisonette with a family upstairs who didn't look after their kids. Their little boys would climb on to the roof while the parents were otherwise engaged, and throw knives and forks, their toys, and once a bowlful of dirty washing-up water into the garden below. It was very dangerous- I don't think there was a parapet. When we spoke to the parents, they would tell off the boys, not themselves, and that was difficult to listen to from downstairs. They were so rowdy that when they slammed their front door, things used to jump off our walls- including my old Hofner bass guitar which ended up with a smashed-in jack socket and had to be repaired.
I got back from work one day to find my father-in-law and the housing officer in the street. The child- minder had taken the Offsprogs to her house because the family upstairs had left a bath tap running and gone out for the day, which meant that our maisonette below had completely flooded. Filthy water was pouring into the kitchen from the ceiling and from there down through the kitchen floor into the Offsprogs' bedroom and on to their toys, books, beds and clothes. The central heating had come on to compensate and the cat was running around pleading for someone to stop it from raining inside. It was an absolute downpour of reddish-brown, stinky water: it looked like hell and it was a terrible shock to come back from work and see that home wasn't home any more.
We could only spend one night away because there were so many burglaries in that neighbourhood we knew that if we left the house for any longer, people would just break in and strip out the rest of our belongings that hadn't been ruined by the flood from above. It is the worst thing for a child to have their safe place, their bedroom, destroyed; the children were distraught. The loss adjusters took almost everything away to dry it out (we found it hard to get some of the stuff back from them) and a lot of things were so badly soaked that they just had to be thrown away.
In a day, a flood can do an incredible amount of damage.
We moved back into the wet mess and lived there while the ceilings were re-plastered and the lino replaced on the kitchen floor. Our lives were dusty, gritty and damp for weeks afterwards. Our lovely childminder and her husband repainted the Offsprogs' room for them. There was a huge pile of damaged belongings in the front garden, and each day we tripped around the rescued things drying out in the house.
The people upstairs never apologised or even acknowledged the destruction they had caused.
Funny to think of this now; I'm listening to some old music from back then and it has called the whole experience back into existence.
Now it needs to go back into the cupboard and be covered up by a better memory.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Fleas4U Says Goodbye

Somehow Fleas4U guessed that Offsprog One was heading off to a flat share and he bounced in early to say goodbye, which was quite touching. He has worked out that he can jump on to the concrete head of Helen of Troy, an ancient statue next to the fence, to get in and out of the garden. He followed Offsprog One to the forbidden upstairs and back, and even marched across the draining board while we were having a tea break in the back yard.
I had to wash the grapes again.


On post-it notes, scribbled on the edges of the daily newspaper, in a hard-backed notebook, in the 'notes' section of my phone; on train tickets, receipts, advertising leaflets: they are everywhere. And in my head, melodies, and in my fingers, riffs. How could I ever had stopped doing this?

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Green Goddess Goes To The Park

The Green Goddess and I have booking on Sunday afternoon in the Arts Café in Manor Park. It's a mere sneeze away from Hither Green station, and the venue has a sort of retro art room feel to it. It's informal, and perfect for a weekend outing after a lazy brunch and a scan through the newspapers.
The host is Richard Sanderson, he of many talents: Morris Dancing, melodeon playing and most importantly, surviving being brought up in the north-east (he's a Darlington man).
He and Mark Baby will be providing the inter-song songs.
Right now: I'm learning a cover of the Wedding Present's Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah to play at the Edge Of The Sea Festival (every artist/act does a cover of one of their songs).
I find it hard to learn words, but I thought the chorus of that one would be OK 😉

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eric Ravilious At The Towner Gallery, Eastbourne

'It's 12 o'clock', lied the clock tower at Eastbourne station. Time was standing still; rain was falling. What better day to visit an art gallery, what better gallery to visit than the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and what better exhibition to see than Eric Ravilious and Friends?
The 'and Friends' bit made my heart sink because of the sloppy exhibitions at Tate Modern with awful 'influenced by...' and 'was an influence on...' paintings, but the accompanying artists' work here (a combination of pupils and fellow-artists) was absolutely top quality and showed that here was a community of artists, all striving for the same goals.
You could focus on so many different things: the graphics, the design, the paintings, the ideas. There was so much to see and so much of the process was revealed: memory books by Peggy Angus and Helen Binyon depicted scenes such as a chimney sweep racing a bus in his horse and cart and other rEast-end scenes. Wood blocks and stencils, all as beautiful as the actual prints themselves, demonstrated the painstaking craft that went into the illustrations and book-covers that were displayed next to them. There was a lovely photograph from East Sussex records office of Helen Binyon sitting at a table, concentrating on cutting into a block of wood. She and her sister Margaret made children's books together and toured with a puppet show that they created.
Tirzah Garwood's work was brilliant. She was in a relationship with Ravilious but out of all of the friends here, her work was least influenced by his. I particularly liked a series of unpublished prints of her relatives: a crocodile of schoolgirls walking past a wall, a sinister uncle in a belted mac standing in a garden full of fallen leaves, her sister in law at a dog show, womanhandling an unruly terrier. There was work by Barnett Freedman (absolutely exquisite), Edward Bawden, Paul and John Nash and many more.
The intense blacks of the printing ink makes the prints remarkably striking and powerful to look at.
Ravilious was taken to the Alpha Cement Works by a friend and so liked it that they managed to persuade the owners to leave the arc lights on at night so that he could paint there. The colours of all of these paintings are the colours of dreams; there, almost there, but not quite there. Corporal Stediford's pigeon loft, painted in 1942, is almost comical in its rustling detail. There was a particular landscape of a Norwegian ship in water that showed his absolute genius as a painter. From a distance, it looks almost photographic but close-up there was exactly the same relationship between pattern and representation as there is in the black-and-white woodcuts. With politics thrown into the mix (for this group of people supported refugees, and cared deeply about their country and the suffering that war brought about), there is a whole added layer of emotional meaning to it all.
The joy in their creativity! Halfway through a drawing an artist would change their mind; positives would become negatives and negatives would become positives. 'Ha! I'll change my mind about a colour field halfway through a drawing!': but then it looks as though the change happened because of something inherent in the paper, because further on the colours change back again. The lettering and the decorative prints are extraordinary in their variety of lines, patterns and ideas. Sometimes the lettering looks almost embroidered, then sometimes it looks like unravelled metal tape sprawled across the page. I wanted to eat it all!
This is a wonderful exhibition.They were permitted to be war artists, and kept out of the army because the powers-that-be didn't want a whole generation of artists to be killed. Ironically, on an artist's mission out of Iceland, the plane that Ravilious was travelling in disappeared. Oh, the complete and absolute futility of war! When you see the beauty and joy of an artist like this, so unusual and so inspiring, simply obliterated in an instant because humans are too f*cking stupid to be able to live peacefully together, it makes you weep with frustration.
I left the exhibition feeling completely inspired, full of pride in British culture, but full of shame for British warmongering, past, present and future. It is a must-see show, for its beauty, for its historical value and for the underlying messages that it transmits about the necessity for us to nurture art and artists, always.

Magical Mystery Day

The wicker hamper is packed, the horses are snorting at the bit. It's a day off!