Monday, April 30, 2018

A Political Observation

In other countries, it is called ethnic cleansing. Sometimes I am ashamed to be British.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From The Archive

Commander Lonely by The Chefs


Try folding up your clean laundry to this- it's perfect.

Hayfever Fog

Through the fog of hay fever (it's those lovely pretty pink cherry trees and their toxic blossom), I finally completed and submitted an article on gender ventriloquism in recording studios. I will publish it myself if they turn it down because I've sweated blood to write it.
Sometimes I feel that I am not clever enough for my clever job. I am going out for a walk, because you don't need to be clever to do that.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Walking On A Tightrope

This is the most difficult chapter of the book to put together; it describes the extraordinary lengths some blokes have gone to to stop female colleagues from being able to work in recording studios. Pranks are normal, I suspect, but this is making me feel like crying; part of it is in sympathy for what people have described and part of it is in recognition of things that have happened in my own life.
This is the strength of the #metoo movement because it reminds people that they are not alone in their experiences, and they don't deserve to be bullied and belittled. Looking sideways and recognising that there is a pattern of activity can be hugely helpful.
It's like with The Lost Women of Rock Music; you reach a cliff face and you can't jump. I'm not an investigative journalist and I have to respect people's careers. Books and presentations at academic conferences have to retain a level of politeness and formality that simply doesn't exist for you if you're a woman in the record industry. I know some men have experienced abuse too; there is a tremendous imbalance of power in the creative industries and it's possible for a person's career to be totally trashed by someone displeased by their unwillingness to be controlled.
Sometimes, I say to people that writing histories about forgotten or under-appreciated women acts as a sort of therapy, a slow unwinding of anger. This morning, however, I feel like going out and smashing something up; its almost impossible to sit quietly reading through these women's experiences and trying to make a narrative out of them. It hurts. Watch out world.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Tedium of eBay

Photograph, photograph, photograph.
Upload, upload, upload.
Answer questions, answer questions, answer questions.
Pack and post, pack and post, pack and post....
Nothing done today, though there's a lot of stuff up there already, all being sold to semi-finance the recording in New York.
Scary and exciting both at once; stop complaining about eBay!

Swedish Cinnamon Buns

It took the entire afternoon to make these ugly beauties. I ground up cardamom seeds with a pestle and mortar, then remembered that the Turkish shop across the road probably sold cardamom. It does.
Then I used ancient yeast powder left in the cupboard by an Offsprog and it didn't froth, so I had to go out to get some more, and throw away a bowlful of yeast, milk and sugar.
It took 20 minutes of backbreaking kneading to stop the dough from being sticky. 'Add flour' meant the kitchen was full of flour fog, and footprints in the fine white sand on the kitchen floor.
The first batch were too pale and tasteless, although they swirled in a very stylish fashion.
The second batch- yum yum! Half a ton of cinnamon and half a ton of sugar.
I have eaten so many that I feel sick.

Driving Again

After a flat battery and two flat tyres (bit like me in the past couple of months) I went out for a spin. Oh how I love driving! The silence and the sky, and the quiet gliding through traffic flow.
Peace, endorphins, and mobility. Yay!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mad Moths and Peculiar People

I seem to be meeting a large number of new unpleasant people at the moment; liars, try-it-ons, and general fakes. Rather than letting this become upsetting, perhaps the best thing to do is to treat them as a specialist collection, and celebrate the fact that I have such an expanding collection of ne'er do wells. Mine is bigger than yours.
Same with moths. The house is full of them. They have been rebranded as a moth farm and zoo, and I'm putting some of them up for sale on eBay for people who want their clothes to have that genuine vintage look complete with holey areas and nibbled cuffs. You read it here first!
When visitors come, I'll wow them with room full of glittering, fluttering insects that disappear into a puff of dust at the clap of a hand. How jealous everyone will be.
There, that's life sorted out in a couple of paragraphs.


It's now nearly 12 and I've been editing since 8.30 this morning, first the writing until my head started buzzing, and now the documentary. I can hear the accordion player on the High Street. He has got more stamina than me!
The AA are coming to start my car up; I've not driven for four months and wanted to take it to get it's tyres checked out but it won't start, although I started it from time to time just to check that the battery was working.
Work, work, work, work, work.....

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Graft has stalled; a student video is being uploaded and it's taking its time. An unfeasible amount of housework is getting done (it's a long time since I cleaned behind the cooker's ears: yuk), the blues is on constantly, and I've even repotted Lily, who is entering a second phase as a garden plant.
The scaffolders-out-front are taking a day's rest, but they have been replaced by drillers and bangers out back, orchestrated with Bee Vees (joke) from a herd, not as big as a swarm, of bees who are humming and buzzing out there, rendered dizzy by the aromas of sudden spring.
I have to dodge them as I vainly try to persuade dried twigs of former plants to come back to life; oddly, some grumpy buggers are thriving. The gentians, the oxalis and a clematis formerly known as 'not worth it' are positively joyous, and a clutch of pansies that seemed to be rotting in their polystyrene box (it was too cold to plant them out) are raising their little faces to the sun with glee.
The upload... grr... has gone from 55 minutes to two hours. I shouldn't have interrupted it by writing this!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Grafting Friday

We are hard at work, me and the scaffolders. The heat has rendered them less vocal this morning although they did some fantastic sonic work this morning; almost electronica-like burbling, echoes and reverbs swirled around the back yard when I went out for the morning constitutional.
I've done an hour's writing and have another hour to go before the scholarly muscle is exhausted; then it's time to watch the documentary and do a bit of restructuring all ready for next week's re-edit.
And then...
... the Herculean task of putting stuff up on eBay, mostly clothes but also one guitar which it will be a wrench to say goodbye to, but I don't play it. It gave me one lovely song, and has spent the rest of its ten years with me wrapped up in its case just waiting to be played, which is not what a guitar should experience. With any luck I will make enough money to pay for a week's accommodation in New York.
Scary and exciting both at once, but I'm so glad to have planned ahead, because my arm has almost entirely healed up. Things could have been so much worse; health is precious, worth more than any amount of money.
I have also stopped being frightened of falling over and doing it again, which is a good thing.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Go Sunshine!

Back Yard Slapback

There is a fantastic slapback effect on the yelling and crashing from the street outside front, in the back yard. Wow. Now doesn't that sound like song title?

Procrastination Break

Oddly, the noisy scaffolders across the road are quite good companions. 'Yah! Hur hur hur', they larf at little jokes, instruct each other in loud cockney voices, drill in harsh bursts; thump and clang.
'Clip, clop, clip, clop', they mock a lady in high heels walking past, oblivious to me mocking them from behind the net curtain.
Humans are snobs, aren't we?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Logging Vids

It's been an early start; I'm logging Trash's interview this morning. With a borrowed camera, lots of the film is shaky because I couldn't manage a tripod and a guitar on the trip to Edinburgh. I swapped over to the iPhone in the end, partly because the sound wasn't synching with the image, but apparently that's normal and it's something to do with buffering, and it's come out fine (apart from the wobbling).
I'm not a cameraperson, that's for sure.
Logging is incredibly tedious; it takes hours. For the earlier parts of the film, I used to sit working all day in Corbridge, glancing out at the great outdoors and wishing I'd chosen to be a gardener; but then the sense of pride when we showed the in-progress version of the film at last at The British Library made it all worthwhile.
Numbers, notes, beginnings, endings, numbers, notes, beginnings, endings....
Alas, it's a gorgeous day out there. The back door is open and the birds are tweetling away. There are what seems to be hundreds of bees buzzing around the yellow tree-that-I-don't-know-what-it-is. There are a few sad twiggy things in pots that were decimated by the double winter that happened last month- one of them looked as though it was going to survive but it was like a fight where someone gets punched in the face, decked, and then given a good kicking for good measure. It's in a sunny spot with lots of water just in case it wants to have another try, but I think it's well and truly kaput.
I can't do much out there yet because I'm not strong enough to lift heavy pots about the place, so it's probably good to have this task to do. And of course, I'm procrastinating. Every time I write a blog posting like this which is essentially about nothing, it's because I should be doing something else.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Saturday Night With The London Set

Filmed by Jane Barnes at The Cluny 2 Newcastle on Friday 13th April. Dedicated to the shared past of gig goers who simply won't give up!


It's the social side of gigging that adds to the fun. Bid was thrilled that Pauline Murray and Rob from Penetration turned up on Friday, though he'd disappeared off for a fag when I took them backstage to meet him. Pauline is recording a new solo album which will be out in the autumn- that's great to hear.
It was fab to catch up with Mick, June and Laura and to go to the cat café with them and catch up on their news.
Lastly, I enjoyed the social interaction with a freshly baked cinnamon bun at the Swedish café Dala on Sunday morning; that was little short of bliss, and I'm going to learn how to make them, and get fat.

Monday, April 16, 2018

So Saturday....

Because I haven't driven for ten weeks (the second last thing to be reintroduced after cracking my elbow on the NHS march), I got the bus up to Newbiggin by the Sea to play The Argyle Rooms. Jason Thomson and Rebecca, his partner, host these monthly house concert in their living room, and they are convivial and warm-hearted hosts.
Beccy Owen was also playing and I had been intrigued to listen to her singing her songs; she runs pop-up choirs all over the north east and also writes songs for theatre groups. I was blown away by her voice, which is truly gorgeous. Her pitching is absolutely spot on and she has a sort of huskiness that lots of pop singers aspire to, but don't get anywhere near to. I have her album (we did a swap) and I'm really looking forward to hearing it. She is coming back into music after taking a break, and played some new material on Saturday which augurs well for her next gigs. I hope to get to see her again- especially if she forays down this way, which I have a feeling she might do in the not too distant future. Brilliant. And thank you Jason and Rebecca, and your lovely friends. The craic was a good as the music!

So Friday...

Start again.
Hello Cluny 2- I remember you!
The stage has moved to a better place and the Monochrome Set were checking when I got there.
Rupert and Phoebe from Big Pink Yacht were there already and it was really nice to see them again and yak with them in the dressing room.
Caryne and Dave had set up the merch stall; the Monochrome Set have a new album out, Maisieworld on the German label Tapete (home to Friedrich Sunlight and Louis Philippe, amongst others) and are touring to promote it.
Big Pink Yacht did a neat set of songs that somehow pulled in influences both from California and the Celtic world; they sing wonderful harmonies together. Their lead singer Imogen plays the fiddle and guitar, Rupert plays electric and acoustic, Phoebe plays bass and John plays drums.Their music is positive and joyful, and they opened the night with a set of catchy, well-arranged songs. I can't wait to hear their first album.
After regaining confidence at last night's gig, I was really looking forward to playing. The audience seemed to be in good spirits and I liked the heckled requests- I did play Let's Make Up, but I'm not ever going to play Thrush again, chaps! I felt very happy afterwards and played some new stuff. Thank you for the friendly reception, Newcastle Monochrome Set audience; it meant an awful lot to me to have a good gig in my home town.
The Monochrome Set took to the stage and roared through their set, mixing up older songs with brand new ones. They had leaping fans down the front who knew all the words and sang along with great dramatic gusto. I couldn't help singing along with The Monochrome Set (I have to, its automatic), and Love Goes Down The Drain sounded brilliant; Maisieworld sounded great too. Basically, Andy Warren is one of my all-time favourite bass players; I remember seeing them at The Moonlight Club in West Hampstead when I was in The Chefs and thinking 'When I grow up, I'm going to have an Ampeg bass stack like Andy Warren's'. I never did, but the bass playing is still up there with the gods. They have 'That bloke from the Blue Orchids' as Vic Godard calls him, on keyboards; he favours an organ sound and after Fay Fife's gig yesterday, what can I say? Organs are big this year.
Bid was in great voice in spite of having a cold (he refused a Fisherman's Friend) and they got a well-deserved encore.
The Monochrome Set gave Helen and the Horns one of our first gigs, at Kingston Polytechnic and Vanessa was there- hi Vanessa!- originally Mike their drummer was going to be in the band, and Lester Square too although rehearsing just with the horns ended up with playing just with the horns.
What an odd turnip for the books. I've just sung on Lester's album (another good 'un) and was sorry to miss the 40th anniversary gig at The Lexington when he returned to the band for the weekend.
Mega thanks to Michael Clunkie for inviting me to play on Friday. It was a really good night for everyone and I was so excited that I couldn't sleep a wink when I got back to the hotel in the armpit of the Tyne Bridge.

So Friday...

Friday night was Newcastle night. On the way from the station, the bumhole cab driver not only didn't put his meter on and double charged me, but he also subjected me to a rant riffing on the fact that "women shouldn't play the guitar" because of our small hands and bodies. I looked at my hands. they are big.
I mean.
In the morning I'd gone to buy some guitar strings in Edinburgh; I asked for a packet of Ernie Ball tens. ''For an electric guitar, yeah?'"
I mean.

So Thursday...

On Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to interview the fantastic Trash, of all-female Edinburgh punk band the Ettes. Trash had loads of great stories, and this gives Gina and me a chance to include her in the film.
Later we went on to The Depot in Leith for the Refugee Benefit organised by Liz Tainsh. Liz puts on these events every month and it was great to have the opportunity to support displaced people at a concert like this.
The headliners The Pitiful Few were sound checking when we got there; they play blues with a boogie-woogie feel, led by a keyboard player in a snazzy hat and sharp suit.
First on was Andy Gunn, playing solo (he normally plays with his band). He is a great solo artist too- his guitar playing is absolutely superb. He plays an acoustic guitar, and has a resonant and mellow voice that glides effortlessly through the blues scales in his self-penned songs, a lot of which came from his latest album. I think he will be playing there again with his full band some time in the near future.
I was on next and the audience was in good voice to sing along with The Sea. This was the first proper gig since the fractured elbow and I was actually shaking with relief when I finished. It was such a nice audience though- it couldn't have been a better place to return to it all.
Next was The Countess of Fife- that's Fay Fife to you and me. Boy, was she in good voice! She plays an keyboard with an organ sound and is accompanied by a guitarist who plays searing riffs on a Strat; the two instruments sound amazing together and Fay's 1960s-sounding voice fits into the sound perfectly. Her songs are dark and have a hint of The Cramps about them, all swampy swirls and snarly guitar.
The guitarist told me that his band had supported Helen and the Horns years ago in Dunfermline- yes! I remembered them: So You Think You're A Cowboy. They were really good, sort of rockabilly, and great fun too- they came over the Forth Bridge the next night to continue the festivities at the next gig we did at The Calton Centre;Muriel Gray came along and we drank many a vodka (that was in my drinking days).
I missed some of The Pitiful Few's set, but enjoyed what I saw. Liz is brilliant for organising these gigs and although it was absolutely miserable outside, enough loyal souls came out to make it a good night.
Boy was I glad that a taxi slid by when I left the venue- it was absolutely horrendous out there!

Barmcake Magazine

It's a great honour to appear in Barmcake Magazine this quarter:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Mad Bicycle Song at The Cluny 2

Filmed by June Whitfield: stuff about The Leith Depot, more on this concert, and the Argyle Rooms tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On The Road

Leith Depot tomorrow, a refugee benefit; Newcastle Cluny 2 on Friday supporting the Monochrome Set; Argyll Rooms on Saturday with Beccy Owen. First rufty-tufy gigs since broken elbow; a bit of  challenge! Keep your fingers crossed please!

Monday, April 09, 2018

Up Trumps

Songwriting students at the University of the East, thank you for a wonderful afternoon! Thanks also the Mike, Stuart and Bridgette. Lecturing can be tough stuff sometimes then you have an afternoon like this one, listening to the most sublime music, and the sun comes out.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Band of Holy Joy at The Ivy House

The Ivy House is straight outta Time Bandits, just like Jamboree in East London. Quarterlight, a band from Gateshead, were on stage, two thirds of the band wearing large caps, and one third wielding drum sticks. Their weird instrumental soundscapes were intriguing; worth checking out again.
Richard Strange sat at the side of the stage and while Holy Joy set up, he tried to disentangle something- a lead perhaps?- from under one of the tall PA speakers. As he tipped the speaker, the fake potted plant on top of it tumbled straight on to the keyboard on the other side of the speaker. It was very funny to watch, especially because it appeared to happen in slow motion. Missing a branch or two, the plant was soon restored to its position. It gave credence to the saying 'A disaster waiting to happen'.
Who puts pot plants on top of PA speakers? Terry Gilliam does, actually.
The Band of Holy Joy are a modern-day beat group, and Johny Brown is a real on-the-edge pop star who flies around the margins on a magic carpet. He sings with passion and authenticity and looks like a Dionysian preacher, ploughing his way through moral wastelands (the list of baddies was very familiar; how horrible corporate-speak is, and those who speak, or usually email, it!) and directing a fierce gaze at truth through the clouds of daily crap that clog up life. Occasionally wielding a tinny red cowbell, and sometimes a lone drumstick with nothing to hit, in for instance Don't Stick Knives in Babbies Heads, he roared, crooned and pleaded his way through a set of emotionally powerful songs. The Band of Holy Joy inhabit a unique world conjured up out of an oblique take on indie music, which sounds pale and watery in comparison. The bass playing is powerful, the guitar cuts like a choppy knife, the keyboards add comments and textures and the drummer doubles on backing vocals. Inge's projections add a whole other dimension, sometimes inscribing random words across Johny's suit, and at one point what look like Turkish Freemasons spin around the screen. Bands with strong songs like this are a real treat to see. The Aspidistra House sounded great, as always, and Funambulist We Love You was a perfect encore, so they got another one.
This was a loving gem of a night; what a superb band they are.
[nice to see you Kim and Simon!]

Next Week's Gigs

The Dream That Stayed All Week

Some dreams nag at you for days.
Earlier in the week, I dreamt that the cat was on the floor rummaging about in the foil wrappers of Easter eggs, desperately gobbling up the chocolate. I felt really guilty because I had forgotten to feed it for weeks.
It was only when I woke up that I remembered that I haven't got a cat.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Coffee-break Musings

Odd: for a 7000-word article I'm having to continually edit down (it's 7,600 words at the moment so I have to lose at least 200 words), but for the book I'm having to edit up (31,000 words has to become 80,000).
You need an elastic brain for this lark.
I'm taking a break. Normally, I'd sing but I've got cold so it's just coffee and cracking open the Doritos which I've been trying to resist, but hell it's Friday!

Thursday, April 05, 2018


Tweenage crush, MJ!

The Other Man's Grass

Go, Petula!

French Footsteps

I would love to play in France!

The Sun Is Shining!

.... and I have finished the article! (Well, I have to cut 100 words but I can do that).
What an effing struggle against dyslexia (not always there but creeps up and gives the odd shocking thwack from time to time), arm injury (impossible to type for weeks) and cowering low self-esteem (definitely not a traditional type academic).
Now it just has to be submitted
... and then I have to finish the book.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Pursued by Writing

Tossing and turning last night, I gave up and came downstairs to do more writing. Just before two, sleep overcame me and I went back to bed.
I have almost finished; the ferocious referee may not be appeased by the re-write, but I've got an 'It's finished' feeling and I just have to check the style and the bibliography tomorrow and then it's off to the journal to be accepted or rejected as they see fit.
Despite the fog of lack of sleep, most of today has been spent recording vocals and guitar for a song of Stuart Moxham's which has been whizzing around my brain whenever I'm not actively working on it. He definitely has a way with a tune.
These are strange times, in a no-man's-land of emotions, buried under huge pit-heaps of work. I can't wait to get on the road again next week and nor can my guitar. Hello clouds, hello sky, hello Scotland, and hello Geordieland!

Monday, April 02, 2018

The Reggae Choir At The O2 Academy, Islington

Fola Philip, the choir director, leapt across to the floor to the front of the stage, the MC Amen Noir introduced their first song, ‘Enjoy Yourself’, and we were off on a journey of secular joy.
There is something wonderful about untrained voices; unlike the Brit School croon, they have not had the enthusiasm steamrollered out of them. That is not to say this choir sound like amateurs; they are extremely well-rehearsed and their harmonies are tight and very tuneful. These singers know how to blend like the best of them.
There were some great songs here, some that I was familiar with (and we were encouraged to sing along so I did, and so did everyone else), and some not so familiar.
Most enjoyable? ‘I'm In The Mood For Ska’, and also the almost-rude one, ‘Shaving Foam’.
Lovers of The Specials repertoire will love this lot; they sang ‘A Message to You Rudy’ (which was originally a Dandy Livingstone song) and ‘Too Much Too Young’ (a Lloyd Chalmers song re-worked by Jerry Dammers). They sang Horace Andy, they sang Bob Marley; they sang their hearts out with energy and authenticity. Finishing on an original song, Ska Fantasy, they bounced off the stage and left us all with huge grins on our faces.
I would really like to hear these songs recorded. There are some gorgeous voices in there, and the very variety of texture is what makes their sound so special; they know how to call-and-response, they now how to take it down, and I reckon they could melt a few hearts by going acoustic from time to time too.

I needed to smile, and I did. Thank you, flowers of East London, for brightening up a miserable rainy day!


I suppose they darned my elbow bone, didn't they? ('Vee sewed it up viff ropes', said one of the surgeons)
Suddenly, sewing changes its meaning.
The cheap trousers whose hems were sewn badly and unravelled completely as I walked across the kitchen, leaving my feet tangled in a thin nylon zig-zag web. Horrors!
I've also had an urge to darn my holey gloves, made more of hole than glove, rather than throw them away. What better music to darn to than Brazilian electronica?