Friday, December 29, 2017

On New Year's Eve

Margate and Ramsgate

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Songs From The Kitchen: Christmas Queen

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

CD Review: North by Gem Andrews

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

Photo by David Wala

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Oh Well, You Know....

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Season's Greetings!

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

The Last Meeting Of The Year

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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Asbo Derek at Sticky Mike's Frog Bar

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Christmas Dress

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Shanne Bradley

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

Mike Flowers Pops

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In Support Of Musicians Against Homelessness

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

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Hull O'Rileys

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

Friday, December 08, 2017

Christmas Eve Airplay

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

O'Riley's, Hull Tomorrow

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

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Article in the f-Word

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

Saturday, December 02, 2017


An Amazing Singer

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

Stratford Nativity

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

Friday, December 01, 2017


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