Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ugly Voice

Arrgh! I have never had such a hardworking year, but if you do that, things happen.
I'm taking a break from sorting out the song copyrights for Stories from the She-Punks.
Things are moving fast and there will be news on that front very soon.

Meanwhile, we were sent a recording of Helen and the Horns playing at The Calton Studios in Edinburgh in 1984. That was one of our favourite gigs- 'Ho-runs! Ho-runs!'
The band 'So You Think You're A Cowboy' had played Dunfermline with us the night before and they turned up, and so did Muriel Gray so we had a good ole booze up afterwards together as well.
My singing sounds really gruff. I remembered, though, that I didn't care what I sounded like back then.
The Chefs had insisted that I had singing lessons but they didn't make any difference, although the ritual of going to them and talking to the singing teacher's Maine Coon cat was amazing, and the songs we chose between us (Mr Pleeth and me) to sing were all from musicals, and inspired a lot of the Helen and the Horns songs.
It was all about the excitement of travelling around and gigging, not trying to be an Aretha or a Siouxsie. I suppose I gave up; the thing is, writing songs and recording them has always been more fun than playing them out, up till very recently.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Song Demo


I started recording in the kitchen (Green Gretsch: cheeky, reliable, happy-sounding) and twin domestic problems interrupted: one, the washing machine squelching in the background, so no vocals till it's finished, and two, it started chucking it down with rain while I had the headphones on and the clothes already on the line got soaked again before I noticed what was happening and rushed out to collect them.
I'm waiting.

Friday, August 24, 2018

With Tom in Queens

From earlier in the year, taken by Lisa at our recording session in Queens. It was just lovely to see Tom and Lisa again- and to meet the fantastic Elizabeth, world's bounciest baby!

Morning Greetings from the Passive-Aggressive Shop Assistant

and have a nice day!".

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Foreign Language Lessons: 1. High Barnet

This is intended to be a helpful guide for those wanting to blend seamlessly into a different culture.
Keep practicing, and people will think you are a native speaker!

This is the only phrase you'll need in High Barnet:

Monday, August 20, 2018


There was a butterfly in Carluccio's the other day. It seemed quite happy: maybe it thought it was in Italy.
Rather more darkly, an article in the Observer yesterday pointed out that there has been an upsurge in the population of bedbugs, and they are particularly prevalent in the upholstery on the Central Line of London Underground.
Wouldn't'cha know it, but I was heading over to Queen Mary University that very morning, having been a guinea pig in the testing of some new guitar tech created by researchers over there, and the Central Line was the only way to get there.
'Don't sit on the seats', advised the writer.
But I did.
On the way back, a wasp in the carriage made us 50 degrees of scared. It settled on my bag and I got up to go to the doors to hoy it oot, but it flew off somewhere less harmful.
How strange to be expecting one sort of insect, but to receive a visit from another!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Going, Going, Gone!

I have made these downloadable, and tomorrow I delete. Little sound tracks composed on a Roland JV1080 in my lunch hours at the University of the West (who made all their visiting lecturers redundant in one fell swoop in September).
If I can find the cassettes again, I might make an album release, but for today they are free to download, and tomorrow they will be gone. I know one of them is there twice- I can't seem to delete it.

Ed Sheeran is Sh*t

Swearing is one of the few things that children learn to be expert at without even being taught. I don't understand why they don't embed it in, say, the teaching of mathematics.
Nine f*cking nines is eighty-one!
Bingo- the times tables taught in f*cking seconds!

Ed Sheeran is Shit is a book by Everett True, or as I know him, Jerry Thackray. I have his previous book, The Electrical Storm, on the shelves, and I knew he had written another because Facebook told me, in between trying to sell me baggy dresses and hats and persuading me to join groups like Rubbish Art Works From Charity Shops.
I have more or less given up reviewing books and recordings due to lack of time (although i still like writing about live gigs), but the fact is that I read this book all in one go, due to the unusual circumstances of acquiring it at the At The Edge of the Sea festival last weekend, and then getting lost on the train in the south London suburbs, which meant that I had four hours of public transport journeys to make with only Jerry's book for a companion.

Because of the swearyness (no Eminem with his f*ckery chez moi), I flipped the book open with trepidation but was soon transfixed by its pace and poetry. It might help that I share a similar opinion about not only the hapless but wildly popular Ed, but also Bono. Not so many years ago a student group did a presentation that mapped Bono's high-profile pronouncements about ecology, peace, love and whatever else, to the release dates of U2 albums. I'd always thought of them as OK up until then.
Oh deary me: or as Jerry would say it: sh*t.
There is much else here besides hotly-expressed disappointment in pop stars who are not what they seem (and even what they seem is not nice). There are detailed descriptions of gig goings, or rather, what it feels like to be a gig-goer, which not many people write about. There are sections on music making in Brisbane, and there is a section about a gig that I did in Brighton a few years ago.
Jerry likes what he likes, and despairs of the rest.

Back to the poetry: this book is a journey, and reading it in one sitting allows you to enjoy the little clusters of sentences at the end of chapters where St*rbucks and McD*nalds serve disappointing coffee, something we all know because we've all dropped in before or after a gig, even if we have sworn never to go there again, and drank bitter brown liquid and eaten pappy indiscriminate things wrapped loosely in greaseproof paper.
But it's not just that: detailed descriptions of venues, stairs, humidity and music are punctuated by explosions of fury, a page full of sh*ts, before we jump back into prose and gig and music stuff.
Devoid of artifice, the writing backs away from writerly critic-dom, cursing as it goes, and maps an oddysey of searching, fulfilment and disappointment. Bad music hurts, good music elevates the soul to toppling heights: Jerry knows this, and tells us. Emotion runs though this book.
Shit, I enjoyed it!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Aretha Franklin

It is always voices.
This is why, although the death of Bowie was the end of an era, and the death of Prince was unexpected and grim, the death of Aretha is something else entirely.
Her music was music to feel feelings to; whatever fashion or excitement was happening in the charts or outside the charts, Aretha's voice was the one to go to when you needed to remember what real emotion feels like, and to hear that expressed for you by a voice that was the pinnacle of human emotion translated into wonderful singing: a voice that actually transcended the descriptive word 'singing'.
Aretha channelled life itself; she was connected to an energy force, a mediator between the sublime and mere humanity. She could connect a room full of listeners to each other, whether on a turntable in a little grubby urban club, or on a huge stage making a political statement by even existing before the performance began.
When the opening bars of Say a Little Prayer shuffled into the room, everyone looked at each other: 'It's our song!' Everyone has a favourite Aretha song, and it's more of a favourite even than the favourite song they always have.
Bless you Aretha in all of your fabulousness, for you truly were a fabulous woman.

Red and the Rabbits

The Little Red Dog came to visit with her owners, and we went for a walk on the common.
Magically, as we walked over the grassy Big Bit, where people play cricket and don't fly kites (why not?), we could see about fifteen rabbits nibbling the grass next to the gorse bushes.
What a gift for The Little Red Dog! She is not a hunter, and not even really a chaser, but she galloped gleefully into the crowd, scattering them left, right and centre: there was a sea of bobbing white tails, then they all completely disappeared from sight.
The Little Red Dog looked baffled; was it a dream?

Friday, August 17, 2018


Last night I went to the relaunch of Lucy O'Brien's book, Madonna: like an icon. Lucy's talk was really interesting, and I have bought a copy which I very much look forward to reading. There isn't a single track of Madonna's music that I like, but what Lucy said about her and her life was so interesting that although nothing will convert me into being a fan, I want to know more about the way she works out of sheer curiosity. One of the best things about Lucy's writing is her attention to detail and (oh, that's two best things), the obvious rapport she has with the people she interviews.
The launch was held in Gay's the Word and was packed with Lucy's friends and family as well as performers and academics. Cazz was there, and so was Paula Wolfe. Gina and Mike came along, and so did Rhoda Dakar.
One book to finish reading first: Trilby, an unexpected pleasure despite being riddled with the sexism and racism of the time, the mid-1800s. Every so often a word or phrase leaps out and punches you in the gut, but I wan't expecting the narrative to be so funny and well-observed. The story is a tragedy but it is written with such poetry and has such parallels with human behaviour right now that I haven't been able to put it down.
Oh yes, and Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll's ears much have been burning last night. We were talking about City Fun, the Manchester zine that they published back in the day, and the chap who did a presentation about ti at KISMIF in Porto, and who couldn't stop laughing. I think our favourite was Pam Ponders the unhelpful agony aunt.
The world can be crap sometimes; my health is not good, and just look at the political arena. What the f*ck is going on? All sort of psychopathic Nazis seem to have got themselves into positions of power and are annihilating anyone who disagrees with them...
This has been a week full of friendship and positive conversation. I think we can survive, you know.

Photo: Cazz and Paula talk about Salford

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

At The Edge Of The Sea, Saturday

It got quite late in the day before I realised just how many women there were in the bands that David Gedge invited to play at this year's festival. As well as Amelia Coburn, who plays ukulele, there were all the women in Cinerama (two guitarists, a bass player and a keyboard player), Terry De Castro (guitar), Salad's keyboard playing vocalist Marijne van der Vlugt, Amelia Fletcher on Melodica and a woman keyboard player in The Catenary Wires, Mary the drummer in Oliver Elf Army, and Jetstream Pony, led by Beth Arzy and featuring a woman bass player, Kerry Boettcher, and a shit-hot female drummer, Sara Boyle. Half of Young Romance, I've just been reminded, are also female. Oh yes, and Helen and the Horns with a female guitarist.
Cinerama, David Gedge's other band, played a really energetic set in the afternoon and I enjoyed them even more than last year. At the end of the set, the band carried on and David came through to the audience to watch them, which was quite surreal.

Jetstream Pony were a revelation: such energy and loudness, and such good songs!

And of course we loved our bit.
Thanks so much for inviting us, David. We don't play very often but this was a great opportunity for us. From the stage, puzzled looks in the audience turned into big smiles and by the time we played our Wedding Present cover, Yeah Yeah Yeah, people were singing along. Just as last year, the audience was amazingly friendly. I love the way they move from one room to the other and support whoever it is who's playing: so open minded.
It was great to see the Augsburg Contingent, the London Contingent, the Bristol Contingent (all one of him) and The Spinningchilli Contingent from Brighton. Dave (trombone) and Paul (sax) were looking forward to seeing Everett True who they went to University with, but they didn't see him, even though he was standing right in front of them when they were playing.
That's what happens when you wear sunglasses on stage.
I had to leave early because I could not be in such a crowd because of health problems after fracturing my elbow earlier this year (very blah, blah, tedious).
I do know, however, from the reports of my spies that the evening went on to higher levels of fabulousness. Once again this was a really heartwarming day: there is no other way to describe it, really.

Kenji and Till; Rocker, Kim and Simon Rivers. H and H photo by Beth Arzy.

Yellow Duster Washing Day

Heaven Avenue

Trying To Draw Billy Childish

I am pottering. I recharged an old phone, and found lots of half written songs on it. One, called Mr Bluster, is funny and I know I have some lyrics somewhere for the whole thing, but I might have to just start again, because there are piles of little books with stuff in them. It's about bullying and applies to every bully in the entire universe.
Some of the notebooks are almost diaries, and some of the things written in those are stomach-turningly sad. I will have to have a small bonfire when the Grim Reaper turns up.
One book has these drawings. I think it was from a talk he did at the ICA, where he demonstrated making Risograph prints, but that could be wrong. I am a crap portraitist.

The Final Chapter

I have just sent the final chapter of the book off to the Editor, Dave Laing. I can't quite believe it.
Going to take a break then write about Saturday's gig. Blimey. Weight off mind etc etc etc.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Singing Tonight, Words Tomorrow

Photo by Nick Linazasoro

Heading to At The Edge of the Sea

Some solo songs arranged for the Horns, some John Peel era songs, and a Wedding Present Cover: all packed up in my head and fingers.
Off we go!

The Hairy Pig

The hairy pig (can't write his name, why add to his self-glory?) who cleverly made a racist statement in the Daily Telegraph while appearing to support liberalism, should also support banning white men from wearing sunglasses in public, because it makes them look like international jewel thieves and arms dealers.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Big Plant Upgrades Itself

Hello, I'm Big Plant.
I have been reporting my progress on other social media platforms, and I'm just visiting my slave, Helen's, blog so I can have a little boast.
Well, a big boast, actually.
I have upgraded my status to Enormous Plant, so please refer to me as that in future.
Thank you, fans.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

A Walk On The Common

Extra teaching turned up this week, but that's a good thing because it means that the students will do better in their degrees, and that's a great outcome if you're a lecturer. I saw Emmy the Great in the British Library where I was doing tutorials, and she wrote down her email but I can't find where she wrote it. Somewhere in the scribbles it's hiding.

After a hectic day yesterday of correcting galley proofs for the IASPM article that seems to have taken such a long time, there wasn't enough day left to start finishing the last book chapter, Chapter Eleven that will be Chapter Ten when I've worked out (or the editor has) how to condense two chapterlets into one. Writing to strict academic conventions has a positive side effect- there are bunches of lyrics all over the place just waiting for their music to come along.
Something inside me has started dancing manically: after years of having half-finished projects wafting around like morose ghosts, everything is being finished and moving to the next stage- its especially exciting to have finished the documentary.

I made a raspberry cake, and Offsprog One and Katy came, and we ate it almost to the last crumb. Then me and Katy went for a walk in the evening sunshine, across the common and along to the Other Bit, then back home for more talking. Talking has become a real luxury. Katy is about to start recording another album and her choice of producer is rather exciting: watch this space (it's not me BTW).


Never pay people with power: they misuse that even more than they misuse money.


There have been moths everywhere. I hit on a plan.
As they expired, I collected them and added a bit of salt.
Spread on toast, they taste just like anchovy paste.

Not really.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Thinking About Punk

Splashes of rain! Cold! Wet!
It's still too muggy to sleep so I am thinking about punk.
We had the sort of parents who didn't allow you to do anything. They were like a steamroller: if you had an idea they flattened it as soon as it popped up.
Protestant parents....
So when punk came along, it seemed three dimensional. All that energy and spikiness- and honesty.
It was almost as though everyone was turned inside out, and you could see the horrible bits as well as the nice bits.
I liked that!
I am such a crap judge of character, but during that time nobody bothered to hide anything, and the sly people who tried to manoeuvre their way in and manipulate people stuck out like a sore thumb.
If someone said or did something you didn't like, you told them and they did the same with you.
Punks gave short shrift to hypocrites and narcissists; it was almost as if those people were invisible to the punk eye. Their blather fell in a cascade of nonsense on to the pavement in front of them with a splat before it even got into anyone's ears.
Sometimes the honesty hurt, and sometimes the directness came as a shock; we were young, and young people aren't always very nice to each other. But it made reading people very easy and what I liked about that was that you knew who to avoid.
Being turned inside out by punk meant that you couldn't be shy, even if God made you that way. It also meant that if you were painfully thin like I was when I was a teenager, you fitted in perfectly because everyone was a different shape or size and nobody commented on it because it wasn't any of their business.
Coming from a bullyschool, this was bliss. At school, I felt so small and insignificant that I rarely spoke; being in a punk band not only allowed me to have a voice, it allowed me to have a loud one, and to rumble people's chests with the sound of the big bad bass. This was a completely astonishing reversal of power and at times I almost felt as though I had learned to fly.
It didn't last long, that moment in time. It was uncomfortable as well as thrilling and I can still feel it inside me like a virus that won't go away. It burned some people out really quickly, and some people are still trying to chase that thrill by looking in the wrong places for it.
The whole point is that it came from inside each of us, we saw it because we were inside out, and we recognised each other.
That's what it was all about.

Helen and the Horns

We had a really good rehearsal last night for Saturday's gig at Concorde 2 in Brighton. The guys are in full-on super horn blend mode and there was some very lovely playing, even though we were all the worse for wear for the heat- until we found the air conditioning unit. The girl, whose gender is famous for being crap at technology, noticed it and suggested that we use it.
Our sax player Paul Davey's other band, Daniel Takes a Train, are undergoing a revival at the moment and have just signed their back catalogue to a German record label. Dave Jago, the trombone player, has spent four weeks in India with The Bollywood Brass Band, and Steve Joy's band Stanley Dee, who do Steely Dan covers, is also doing very well; it gets more and more difficult to arrange gigs and rehearsals, which is why we play so rarely. It's much easier for me to be a solo artist and I do really enjoy the worry-free adventures that I have, but this makes it all the more fun when we do get together and play as Helen and the Horns. Everything just flows and it's a good feeling to be immersed in the sound of a band for a change.
Afterwards we went to the pub and Dave said that years ago when we used to MD shows with the Count of Three theatre group, our house band introduced Hamid Mantu (nee Hammy Lee) and Dubulah (Nick Page) , who then went on to form Transglobal Underground. Well I never.
We will be playing this one on Saturday. When you sing a song that you write ages ago, the lyrics become mechanical, just a part in the whole. I was singing it this morning and I remembered that this was actually the love song of a rock'n'roll widow. I had started going out with another musician who was constantly on tour, and I missed him. We ended up being together for 25 years, which isn't bad for two musicians because the music industry is a turbulent one that thrives on gossip and infidelity.
We broke up some years ago, but the song reminded me of how things felt at the time.

I also want to say that I was very sorry to hear about Ken. He was an ace songwriter and arranger and we all used to knock round together in our bands, full of hope, energy and ambition, playing on the same stages often to the same people. Rest in peace, Ken, X.

Monday, August 06, 2018

New 7" Single Under Way

The files have just gone off; I have ordered five test pressings after hearing scare stories from people about audio awfulness. So let's see... Next thing will be to organise a tour. It's going to cool down later in the week and I hope that I'll be able to think by then.
Also the toad has been being tormented by Fleas4U again. I made it a pond out of a flat tray and we sprinkled water on the cat to make him run away so the toad could escape. O things, things.
And I sent off my book, apart from the last chapter which is behaving like a heavy sack of coal.
Ice cream time.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Castle's Corner: Stix's Open Mic

By a roundabout route, I was invited along to Castle' Corner at The Castle Pub in North Acton. It's just across the road from North Acton tube, which was handy because it was so boiling hot last night that even moving 100 yards was exhausting.
I know Stix because she graduated from the University of East London last year, and she started running this night back then. In these few months, she has built the night up to an extraordinarily friendly and supportive night for performers and audience alike.
With George, her co-producer, she invites a combination of poets, bands and singer songwriters at every stage of their career to get up and have a go; the audience listens, supports and claps along, and often gives the performers a big hug when they get off stage. Last night kicked off with the band (Stix on drums and two guitarists), followed by a chap with a big bear's voice singing bluesy songs and playing a few nifty licks on his guitar. Some people played covers (a great version of Billy Bragg's New England). The night carries on till midnight, when I believe there is a mass jam session, but alas, I had to leave because at midnight I turn into a pumpkin. As I was leaving, a guy started singing a gorgeous version of Ain't No Sunshine, and people started dancing and swaying along as he sang.
You know what- the stupid, stupid brewing company Fullers is going to sell this pub and build flats on the site instead. More anonymous people-boxes in North Acton: already it looks like a giant Clark's Shoes stockroom. How incredibly silly. I don't think I've ever been in such a friendly pub: all ages, all cultures, all genders, and everyone talking to each other and enjoying the music.
If you have a bunch of songs you'd like to try out in front of a positive audience, this is the place to do it. They have a Facebook page so you can contact them and leave a message for Stix:
And not a hipster in sight!

At The Edge of the Sea, Brighton

Helen and the Horns were delighted to accept David Gedge's invitation to play at his festival next Saturday, At The Edge of the Sea, at Concorde 2 in Brighton.
Look at this line-up!
Tickets here (it's a Friday night and Saturday festival) with no booking fee:
We will be playing a Wedding Present song as well as a set of our own songs, past and present.
Toot toot!

Why I Am Writing A Book On Female Producers And Engineers

Slug politics: writing a book over eight years to try to make a difference.
Everyone else is often out having fun (obviously I know how to do that too). But as everything is being tidied up and I gather energy for the last part of the last chapter, if anything was going to re-energise me it would be this joke:

Friday, August 03, 2018

Sublimeness and Ridiculousness

Ah... an afternoon spent doing horn arrangements for a Wedding Present song, for the At The Edge of The Sea festival a week tomorrow at Concorde 2 in Brighton.
I didn't think we'd be able to do the cover version, because I have had such a lot of tussles with health problems, but the parts are off to the lads so let's see what we can do at the rehearsal on Monday.
Before that I wrote for two hours; I'm halfway through the final book chapter and plan to finish it and send it to the editor on Monday; meanwhile the proofs for the article came back so I'll have to do those too this weekend. It will be too hot to go out and the kitchen isn't too bad to work in; I still went to the supermarket to shop s-l-o-w-l-y to enjoy their air conditioning today, though.
It was empty, so I stayed chatting for a long time to the woman at the till, about air conditioning and other cool things.
Late last night, a former student invited me to perform at an open mic in West London tonight.
Well- why not? I've written out a new song and if my slot is early I'll get a chance to try it out.
What to wear in this heat? Strips of torn up toilet paper just covering the rude bits?
Something like that, anyway: the flimsy clothing's getting a lot of wear this year.
What is the ridiculous bit? The plug getting so stuck in the sink in the bathroom that I couldn't lever it out, no matter how hard I tried, and I had to go to Robert Dyas and get a little plunger. That worked, but it's yet another thing that has gone wrong, including having bought a car last year whose tyres regularly completely flatten, randomly, whether or not I use it; the parsley being completely eaten by snails; moths rampaging through all the clothes; and a hole in the window frame which I keep forgetting to fill in because I am busy.
But I saw Emmy the Great in the British Library yesterday, as well as my McNiece on the way back, and it was air-conditioned too which helped the three-hour tutorial along somewhat.
Now where's that cup of tea?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018


I heard frantic squeaking from the back yard while I was on the phone to Katy. It was Fleas4U, persecuting a little toad.
I marched Fleas4U to the back of the yard and encouraged the toad to hide behind a plant pot until the cat lost interest and stalked off.
It's fantastic to have a toad again! There used to be Old Warty Toad and Young Shiny Toad in the garden, and I haven't seen either of them for two years.
Young Shiny Toad hopped into the bathroom once when Offsprog Two's friend was having a wee, and scared the living daylights out of her.
This is a new little feller so I'm going to make sure there are plenty of damp corners for it to hide in when the weather is hot.
In fact I'm going to put a dish of water out there right now.

On Marc Riley Tonight, from The Chefs Peel Session

Much Ado

Shanne, Gina, Emily and me have just done interviews for Bass Magazine about playing bass, as a spinoff from Gina's track I Play the Bass LOUD. That's a turn-up for the books and very much a reflection of Jane's imagination- thank you!
Slowly, the 7" single is materialising on the horizon too: it's got as far as talking barcodes. You certainly learn a lot when you DIY, and thankfully there is a network of musicians who all talk about where it's good to get stuff manufactured and all that jazz.
I have had to cancel the Hastings house concert at Dave's because a combination of health stuff and being stranded in Munich have meant that I have not been able to publicise it properly- it's postponed till late autumn, so the next gig is Helen and the Horns at David Gedge's thriving festival, At The Edge of the Sea at Concorde 2 in Brighton. I think it sold out quite  awhile ago, which isn't surprising because it's two days of utter joy; we are delighted to have been invited (I'm a poet and I don't know it).
After a frustrating day of trying to claim compensation (what a surprise- the Easyjet web page stalls when you try to submit a claim- what a surprise, what a surprise!) I'm having a day off before starting again. The Norwegian Airlines compensation scheme did exactly the same thing and their tech support people are angry parrots: "WE DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!". Ho hum: how silly to have lost my fear of flying, only to be stymied by budget airlines' attempts to reinstall it. No way, hosepipe! By hook or by crook, travelling is a must. After losing two months of 2018 in a fog of painkillers, I have fallen behind with booking gigs; that's another thing I will have to sit and do over the next couple of weeks.
I have an online singing session in the pipeline too. Thankfully, the enforced sojourn in Munich put paid to the hay fever that has dogged me all summer and I can sing again.
Tra la!