Saturday, September 30, 2017

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards at the Live Theatre Studio, Newcastle

One of the best things about doing this tour is seeing and hearing such a variety of different music.
The Studio up at the top of at Newcastle's Live Theatre has pin-drop perfect sound, and despite jet lag and rehearsing a new double bass player, this was a really good start to the tour for Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards. Their presentation was relaxed and informal but the arrangements of the songs, and their vocal harmonies, were intricate and exceptionally well-rehearsed.
Left to right, the Dance Cards are double bass, violin/banjo, violin and cello, and sonically they are a blend of sometimes classical sounding strings, and a hillbilly flavour. I made lots of notes: Pablo Casales meets Dolly Parton (there was some great almost-aggressive attacking of the cello with the bow); the Zombies (and in particular, Colin Blunstone's say You Don't Mind, one of my all-time favourite singles); and Peter Asher's vignettes on James Taylor's first album, little interludes between the songs that add so much to the atmosphere. And Debussy, of course!
They told us that the roots of the music were in Scottish Fiddle Camp, but together they have made something that far transcends what you would imagine that to be. The harmonies (even on the songs from the new album, which have an almost girl-group thing going on) are delicate and wispy, almost ethereal. You have to listen in to catch them; they float above the string arrangements like drifting clouds of sound, adding to the atmosphere of songs that are sometimes quite dark: for instance the murder ballad Brown Wrinkled Dress which was inspiring in its traditional and chilling lyrics. Sometimes the violins are played like fancy ukes; the instruments are actors in the dramas of the songs, and take on all sorts of different characters. In between, there's some warm-hearted anecdotes about manoeuvring their huge 9-seater van into the underground car park, and other tour talk: and a synchronised swimming film is being made in Oregon to the track Skipping Stones (which was one of the top songs of a really lovely set). Everything is held together by Laura's expressive voice, which never overpowers her band but which centres the music on the storytelling in each song, and is absolutely flawless.
That audience was massively appreciative and the group came back for an encore, which they played acoustically with the lights dimmed to zero, giving us a chance to hear their immaculate sound close-up.
And thank you audience, for giving me a good reception, and for Shippy and the Jumping' Hot Club for being such good hosts. Lovely too, to see friends there. Big luv to you x
I couldn't resist the night-time shot from the hotel window, and also one of the helicopter that took off at breakfast-time.
Now that's what I call a classy experience.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Hello Goodbye Show with Dexter Bentley, Resonancefm

Tomorrow at 12 noon I'll be on Dexter Bentley's Resonancefm show with Johny Brown and more.
Link here to listen:
Review of Newcastle gig to follow, when time permits.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Bunch of Fives in NARC Magazine

I will be supporting Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Newcastle tomorrow at the Little Live Theatre. I am really looking forward to seeing them. Look/listen:

Tickets here:

Also did this 'Bunch of Fives' interview for NARC magazine:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Nasty Women: End Violence Against Women

I would like to write a really long posting about this well-attended, buzzy and brilliant evening but the Universities are back and I'm immersed in preparing stuff for the next three days. The comedy section was really enjoyable, especially Harriet Braine who did the most hilariously awful impression of Kate Bush that I've ever heard and who could also play trumpet with her lips in a way that I've only heard the Scottish songwriter Scott MacDonald do before.
Deux Furieuses did a set without the drum kit (they are playing at the Water Rats on 10th November if you'd like to see them in full flow), but their music was still powerful and energetic. Feral Five did a superb cover of Germ Free Adolescence, and just get better and better. Kat did a great job of organisation as well, which must have made it all the more rewarding to get such a great reception. DJ-ing was provided by Ms Mohammed, and all in all it was a warm-hearted and very energising night at a fantastic venue- where else could you go out the back and see a family of swans puttering about in the canal, and where else can you see upside down flowerpots hanging from the ceiling?
The whole point of the evening was never far from people's focus, and the art exhibition with the scary Trump cake was fascinating to look around. The whole weekend was a success and the organisers should be bloody proud of it.
Thank you to everyone in the audience for your lusty backing vocals on The Sea, too.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ramsgate Music Hall: Vic Godard, The Bitter Springs, Helen McCookerybook

It's getting a bit Septemberish this autumn, or perhaps the other way round. What better season and better reason than to drive down to Ramsgate in deepest Kent for a Friday night gig?
The Ramsgate Music Hall is an industrial building that has been converted into a neat and bijou music venue. The live area is small (but gets much larger when the huge mixing desk is restored to it rightful place at the back of the hall); it can hold more than a hundred people but feels pleasantly full at 50. Upstairs is a large bar area, and in the basement, a very welcoming band area with a fridge with real food in it, a proper coffee machine, and sofas that don't make you feel the you're going to catch whatever band infection is doing the rounds at the time. It's sufficiently rock'n'roll though; the drummer Neil Palmer was really excited about the traffic lights on the wall, and almost leapt into the air with joy when he realise that they did actually work. The amber light goes on when it's time to get ready, and the green one when it's time to go up the stairs and through the trapdoor to do your gig.
For bands, it's the ideal gig. There's a fantastic fish and chip shop round the corner (really fantastic: they even know which trawler caught your haddock) and Al the sound guy is really, really good at his job. Julian, the venue manager, is completely on the ball too, which made this one of the best gigs of the year so far. Ramsgate is indeed fortunate to have such a venue: it was well worth the journey behind 100 slow tractors with strange little green round things bouncing off their loads.
There was even an autograph hunter, just this side of scary.
It is so great to play a gig and be able to hear what you are doing on stage. Al made me loud, and also made the guitar sound bassy, so everything felt right. You guys in the audience, that was a rousing chorus to The Sea and bless your cotton socks Simon, I could hear you singing along to almost all of them!
The Springs sounded fab too; the music was was crystal clear and they managed their musician-morphing seamlessly before providing a scorching backup for Vic. It was a bit disappointing not to hear The Addison Brothers ( I was all ready to screech along, but will have to do that to the recording at home instead) but there is that to look forward to the next time.
Rumour had it that BobAndRobertaSmith was in attendance. I talked to a man in a hat at the bar; was that him? I'll never know. It was great to see Lee Edgington there (last seen at a Helen and the Horns gig in 1984) and all the jolly chaps and chapesses in the dressing room, smiling and band-chatting.
I had to leave a bit early to drive back because I didn't have a co-pilot and didn't want to fall asleep the wheel, but as I left Born To Be A Rebel was swirling across the car park in a joyous cloud of f*ck-everything Northern Soul noise. The happy feeling of the audience was pouring out of the door and into the street; there was something incredibly romantic about the night that summed up everything to do with getting up off our bums and going off to do gigs, despite the crap that life throws at you.
Thank you again to Mandy for doing the CDs. My next gig is Nasty Women this Saturday, then in Newcastle supporting Laura Cortese next Thursday at the Little Live Theatre.
I am happy!

Photographs all in the wrong order: Vic and Ruth; Vic and The Bitter Springs; Ruth photographed me photographing Ruth; Kevin Younger under the traffic lights (should he be going up to the stage?); Kim Rivers upstairs stands next to Simon, who is downstairs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Song

Couldn't resist arranging a new tune for these three plastic fantastics at the airport on the way home from a weekend break.

Catching Up

Review of Ramsgate to come, and remember it's loads cheepers to buy your tickets in advance for the Helen and the Horns gig at the Lexington (with Katy Carr and Honey Birch) on Sunday 1st October!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ramsgate Music Hall Tonight With Vic Godard and the Bitter Springs

Come out and join us in the amazing Ramsgate Music Hall tonight! Vic Godard with The Bitter Springs, and I'll be supporting. Three for the price of two, and lots of fun 4 U (that almost rhymes)
Tickets here, or on door:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

With Ruth Barnes on ResonanceFM Tomoz

Tomorrow afternoon at 3.30 I will be on Resonance FM talking about songs that have inspired my own song writing, and playing a couple of songs too. Tune in on

Monday, September 11, 2017

Feather Stolen In Camden; An Exciting Story

I went to Katy's to do an interview this evening. I took her a big feather to put in her hat. To keep the feather clean and flat, I put it in a little clear plastic bag to carry it.
I walked through Camden tube station, and changed on to the Edgware line.
There was a peculiar looking man on the train. I tried not to stare.
'Anyway, I look peculiar too, because I am carrying a large brown feather in a plastic bag', I scolded myself.
I looked down at the plastic bag to admire the feather.
It had gone.
Someone had nicked it at Camden!

Two Gigs Coming Up....

September gigs- Ramsgate Music Hall supporting Vic Godard and the Bitter Springs this Friday
Newcastle Studio at Live Theatre supporting Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards next Thursday 28th September

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Musician, Leicester: with Vic Godard, and Bitter Springs

This was the first of two gigs I am playing with Vic and Bitter Springs (in fact they are playing tonight in Brighton with the fabulous Asbo Derek supporting them); the next one is at Ramsgate Music Hall next Friday.
I met Vic in February just as I started booking the tour; by September, I reckoned that touring on my own would become lonesome, and so I booked these gigs back then. Actually, touring has been the opposite of lonesome, but after recording and gigging with Vic and seeing Bitter Springs live a couple of times, this was bound to be fun. The Musician was a surprise; I thought I'd played there before with Martin Stephenson but actually, that was a pub called The Donkey (someone told me later).
The sound guy on Thursday, Malcolm, was incredible. He really knows the venue, and got the band sounding really good. Some good friends turned up and the general atmosphere was great from the outset. It was fun. Lolly turned up, having chucked her mobile with the e-ticket on it down the loo. It makes me laugh every time I think about it; the plaintive email! I really enjoyed playing in spite of Simon heckling for Thrush every five minutes. No way, hosepipe! I did play Let's Make Up for Lolly (there were some other Chefs fans there but I didn't realise till the end). And peeps sang the backing vocals for The Sea magnificently. Thanks to June for the vid:

Bitter Springs next; every time I hear their songs, I like them more and more. They were playing at the Lexington a couple of weeks ago, but have gained a guitarist and Kevin-the-keyboards since then. It is impossible to mentally map these bands. At Vic's retirement do, there seemed to be about a hundred drummers pacing up and down itching to get at the sticks. At this gig, Simon broke a multitude of strings, but they carried on and played a a storming set with Love Rat being a real stand-out.
After a short break, Vic and the band started up; soon, Vic was down to his vest (inside out, as a member of the audience shouted). The microphone was collapsing, lyric sheets were spread over the stage, anecdotes were spilling out of everyone (The Wizard used to be the fattest, but he left, and now Simon is the fattest, or possibly Paul, the drummer). Vic told us about writing a song called A Challenge For Robin Hood because he knows no-one's written a song with that title before (except me. I'm writing one tonight to beat him to it. He's gigging tonight. I'll get it finished by midnight!). The singalong songs came thick and fast: Born to be a Rebel, The Addison Brothers (sung with Simon, and with much ado about harmonicas).
I've just remembered Simon's impersonation of Vic answering the phone at the Royal Mail when he found out that Vic was also a postman! Pure Dot Cotton! Ha ha! It was so funny! And then the story of the club with the revolving stage with an awful covers band, and then the stage revolved and there was an even worse covers band. It was like being at one of their rehearsals, except it was a gig with proper songs going on. I think they felt that too. 'Someone fucking start!', shouted someone, and they fucking started the next song. They finished the set with Retirement Day; by this time Vic was showing us his dance moves (what a mover!) and Simon was sporting a very fetching Benny hat. They got a deserved encore; it was a really great night with such fantastic songsmithery from both bands. I am so looking forward to Ramsgate!
After we'd all had a good old yak with audience people, the band all packed up and drove home; I stayed in a hotel as I was worried about falling asleep at the wheel. There was an unfortunate acoustic effect caused by the hotel courtyard. I could hear every single bonking couple amplified to full volume- an orchestra of orgasms- followed by every Loud Bloke argument in the car park in the cigarette corner. Then after what seemed like five minutes sleep, a mega, mega, mega loud bin lorry started wheezing and clashing at maximum volume. I looked at my phone: 5.30 a.m. Nearly just got in my car and drove home, but finally nodded off. Not staying in Ramsgate under any circumstances!
Ticket link for Ramsgate Music Hall next Friday:

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Leicester Musician, Tonight

In case you missed it, I'm heading to the Musician in Leicester tonight for a support gig with Vic Godard with the Bitter Springs. It will be a really good night, on of the first nights of Vic's autumn tour, some of which he is doing with the Bitter Springs and some with Subway Sect. He will be playing in Brighton on Saturday (with the hugely entertaining Asbo Derek) and Ramsgate a week on Friday (that's another one I'm doing).
A bientôt!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Lovely Loos


We had a really good rehearsal last night; the guys are on top form and the arrangements for Summer Days and Back Street Luv seem to work. All that blowing and singing takes it out of you! We are talking about maybe recording an EP early next year with some of the new songs on it, but let's see which way the wind blows.
Or the horn blows!
Don't forget to come and see us at the Lexington, with Katy Carr and Honey Birch, on the 1st October. Rumour has it that we may be joined by a special guest on Back Street Luv.

Left to right: Dave Jago, Paul Davey and Steve Joy. We haven't played together since 2014, we discovered. As rare as hen's teeth.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Weird Dreams With Sound Tracks

I have been having weird dreams with sound tracks.
One was about an annoying baby in a highchair. It wasn't my baby, which was a relief because it looked a bit like an old man, and may have been an impostor.
I woke up to get away from its annoyingness and I was singing the sound track to the dream, which was a reggae song (completely inappropriately).
By the time I thought to record it on to my phone, I could only remember the first line.
This keeps happening, and there are a few first lines there. I'm hoping to remember a whole song one of these mornings.

Accordions, Camden, Sunday

A chance meeting with Anja McCloskey at Katy Carr's on Tuesday led to an invitation to this very unusual concert at the newly-refurbished Diorama in Camden today.
Anja plays in an accordion orchestra, the London Accordion Orchestra, and this afternoon's concert also featured the Akkordeon-Landesjugendorchester Baden-Wurttenburg, who you may have guessed, are from Germany.
The sound of the two groups was really different; the Londoners sounded lyrical, and their arrangement of the Venus movement of Holst's Planets was exquisite. Delicate traces of sound fluttered between the players like lacy birds, and you could see that the players knew they were making beautiful music; they floated along on their sea of sound. Their final piece was written in four days by the director, Ian Watson, after the original composer was offered a Hollywood score and pulled out. They were joined by Eliza Marshall on flute. It was also a lovely piece of music.
After the interval, the young German players took their seats. This is their first visit to the UK although they have been to many other places in the world and by rights they should have been tired, after travelling from Ireland in a bus. But they were strong players, and their conductor, Fabian Dobler, was full of energy. They started with a Frtiz Dobler composition, Ballade. Dobler wrote especially for accordion, and I enjoyed this. However, the most exhilarating pieces were those by Astor Piazolla, which hit an emotional spot that almost brought me to tears. I started to think about awful Brexit, and how we might close our stupid little island off from all the wonderful culture, people, and even food that being part of Europe has brought us.
As soon as Douglas Yates, the all partially-sighted baritone who sings with them, got up to sing, everything felt better. He was humorous and it was intriguing to hear a classical Texan voice after meeting Chuck and Libby last week. He sang Britten's folk songs, and finished the afternoon off with a rousing version of Joshua by Mark Hayes, a song that I used to sing at school.
It was a really uplifting afternoon- what an unusual sound, and what great musicians, both the Londoners and the Baden-Wurttenburgers! Music can make you feel just great sometimes.
Who cares about the rain on the way home? Not me!
(it was lovely to see you Jacob)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

From The Kitchen: These Streets

Grayson Perry at the Serpentine Gallery

On the way there, a black squiggly shape in the distance on the water seemed incongruous. Not a cormorant, surely? But it spread its wings to dry in the early morning sunshine, and sure enough, the most peculiar of sea-birds had found its way into Hyde Park, probably to try to visit this exhibition.
It is a small, sweet exhibition that doesn't take long to go round. You're met by a piggy bank with different slots that allow you to self-define. You can be us, them, female, male, rural: there are various choices. I chose 'HOPE'.
There are some enormous woodcuts, with gorgeous design and contrast, and of course the familiar pots. The textiles are fantastic, and after seeing Dispossession, the Red Carpet seemed particularly appealing, with it's insincere-slogans-of-the-times and map of gentrification. The Durham banner was brilliant. Me and the Offsprogs love Trade Union banners; I felt like jumping up and down with excitement.
And the motorbike! Ah, bliss!
It's on till 10th September; it will inspire you. Go!