Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pretentious, moi?

This computer is on its last legs, and gasps with pain every time I challenge it; there's no way I can add the keyboard software to its heavy burden.
The parts are therefore being written and recorded using the Melodica, which I keep forgetting to blow into. It would be really annoying if it wasn't funny. When I set up to record first thing this morn, I forgot to attach the blowing-pipe thing to the actual Melodica and couldn't work out why all you could hear was swooshing air.
That's the problem with early starts, but it's work later on and everything has to squeeze around the edges. The upside is the feeling of excitement; now the basic tracks are done the arrangements are materialising out of thin air, and I have to keep stopping in the street and singing them into my phone. This has ceased to be embarrassing. I know its completely pretentious, but who cares? This is London and people are doing much stupider things everywhere, every day.
Jump in with both feet!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Plodding and Planning

I've recorded fifteen songs and that's probably enough, although another one is squeezing past and asking to be there too. Having to throw some of them overboard is going to be difficult.
I've found the Melodica (it lived for a spell in the studio manager's laundry basket, stuffed in there by his baby daughter), contacted Gill Wood who is a really good cello player, and got back in touch with Simon Walker, who is a fabulous fiddle player who could drink Dexy's Midnight Runners under the table when he played for them.
Doc'n'Roll have almost finished sorting out a short tour of the documentary (it's just being fine-tuned) and I'll post the dates here as soon as we have them all. I'm going to New York in June, fares paid, to talk about the Oh Bondage! Up Yours chapter and it would be good to do a small gig there this time, though organising that and borrowing a guitar might be challenging.
It's exhausting even thinking about it so I'm being as lazy as possible now, burying peanuts in the garden for later and cultivating thick, solid fingernails for the May/June tour I'm doing and that I haven't yet done the poster for. There are 23 essays to mark this week, so maybe after that.

Completely Infectious

Caught this off a student this morning and had to come back to the office and drum along to it. Thankfully, this time no-one walked in and caught me at it!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Sounds of Engineering

Now the drilling is outside in the road. It's Virgin laying cables, owned by a Sir who must be very grateful for the moniker which some people now use instead of his other one, 'Bloody'.
I have never been able to understand the appeal of sound installations, because we are surrounded by vernacular ones every day. You could say that this is noise, and artist-made installations are sound and that's different, and I could beg to differ because I prefer the sound of silence, and so did Simon and Garfunkel until they spoiled it by writing a song about it.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sound Engineering

I am a much more annoying sound engineer than anyone I have ever worked with. In spite of the fact that I don't pretend to alter the volume when I'm not doing it really, never forget to go into record and not record a whole 'the one' take, or be climbing into my car to go somewhere else at the allotted recording time (all true) when the client is just turning up (me), it's still annoying recording myself.
I snip off bits of track accidentally, record at wildly extreme volumes one way or the other, think I've killed the computer (but really it's just the lead of the hard drive holding down a key on the computer keyboard), make tea in the middle of a vocal take, and delete the best bits by accident.
Plus the soundproofing in the studio is crap: there's the drilling, the cars hissing by my window, the creaking chair that belonged to McDad, the central heating that clicks and whirrs with great charm (not), the washing machine with its cute tootly tune of triumph when it's finished the cycle and the dishwasher with its urgent beeps, ditto (both out of action today), and the passers-by on the way to the shops.
Roll on tomorrow, silent Sidcup, and a much more patient engineer than me.

New Terminology

Learn this. It will come in handy.
Wearing a scarf = 'Taking the moths for a walk".

The Sound of Builders

Snurrrr! Sneeurrr! Snp snp snp! Snurrrr! (an octave lower).
Me and the drill have become good pals. Sure, it doesn't have a brain but there's something endearing about it's mindless noise as it spoils my day.
I imagine what might be being built next door.
It's more than shelves; it could well be a very complex sculpture made of innovative materials that the whole neighbourhood will be invited in to gawp at in a week's time. Or it could be hundreds of bunks for refugees. Or possibly a cannabis farm, though there's already one of those just round the corner.
Possibly, just possibly, it's a bored chap just drilling for the sake of it because he likes the noise. Or a woman, or even a clever dog!
This is so exciting I can hardly sit still.
Indeed, I am going to go out for a walk!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Independent Instagram and Noted Noise

I set up an Instagram account a couple of months ago, but abandoned it because I realised that I couldn't use it without an app on my phone and I don't want apps and have also forgotten my password to the app store; a new password gets sent to an abandoned .mac account that I've forgotten the password to.
You see.
It's sweet though: the account seems to be going on without me. I'm completely unnecessary to it, which is a relief. Happy travels, Instagram account!

On another note, ever since I moved here ten years ago, neighbours on all four sides have been bashing things, drilling things, constructing things, or yelling at each other and making ominous thumps. All the time. I'd quite like to do some recording today, but there's a constant low-level gritty whine coming through the walls. The most irritating one was on a Sunday morning when I was trying to oversleep. The drilling started at nine a.m. next to my bedroom, and finished for the day at eleven.

Luckily, they can't stop me from singing (does that irritate them?) and I've got a song to finish off.

Noise backatcha, drillurz! 🙂

Saturday, February 16, 2019

300 Daylight Musics

Daylight Music is always a joy even if you're not one of the artists playing. I go there because there isn't a better way to spend a Saturday in London, whether you're an early morning walker-along-the-canal, or an afternoon-spent-in-front-of-Come Dine With Me-ist. There is a bit in the middle of Saturday, a bit of spare weekend, that can be used to re-fuel in the best way by taking a punt on what might be on offer with a cup of tea and a slice of home-made cake at the Union Chapel in Islington, one of London's bets venues.
At this special anniversary, the founder of Daylight Music, Ben Eshmade broke up the flow of awful jokes (yes, they are part of the package and some might argue, one of the best bits) by mentioning that the event started in Myspace days. Since then, they artists have travelled from as far as New Zealand to appear, which makes High Barnet seem rather slight in comparison, but on the other side of things, makes you feel that you are in exceptionally good company. This day was divided into three: Theme Tunes, Tea, and Torch Songs. I was delighted to see that The Perfect English Weather were playing, and they did the theme from Father Ted, with Wendy in really fine voice. Terry Edwards played an Alex Harvey song, The Boston Tea Party, and we talked Foreign Cats and Top of the Pops tiptoes Delilah in the dressing room. Piney Gir was there, playing an absolutely incredible sharkalike guitar that she bought in Kansas for something like $20. Fay Hallam's ensemble played You Only Live Twice, and Sarah Angliss and Sarah Gabriel played a Kurt Weill song that made me punch the air involuntarily- with a Cymbalom to accompany them that had only just been created from a Lithuanian recipe, I believe. After fourteen acts seamlessly changing over and playing one song each, the whole shebang ended with a finale featuring a three-piece horn section suddenly blasting from the balcony with The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra.
With waving phone torch episodes and a crowd that applauded to the rafters, it was ALL standout moments, just a fantastic thing to be part of. Here's to more music, cake and love for the next twenty years or so!


A tomato ricocheted on to the floor just now and there are seeds all over the place.
The maple sugar has burnt, and is dribbling out of the bottom of the cake tin.
Hungry moths are circling in the kitchen.
Four in a Bed is spiteful, and is not funny like Come Dine With Me.
The Green Goddess is not fixed yet (I was demonstrating Gretsch's poor craftsmanship, and the switch fell inside it).
I left today's paper on the train so there's nothing to read.

I don't mind.

From Far Off

Here on antibiotic island, I am cooking.
It's probably not wise. Different grades of macaroni are clumped together in a pan on the hob and I'm trying to make a Tarte Tatin with some leathery old pastry that's been hanging around in the fridge for a while, and a dried up cooking apple, ditto.
I've just floated back from Daylight Music, which was wonderful as always, and had some real highlights amongst the high. I need to check names before writing more.
Alas, my hands did not obey my brain today (they still aren't) but my head is in the clouds with a few seagulls, a drone or two and a paper dart. A fearbomb got me halfway through.
The whole event was amazing, though, and I punched the air when one of the acts did a Kurt Weill song. And the chocolate cake was to die for!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Somethink For The Weekend

And relax.

A Day Trip To Liverpool

To kick-start writing the chapter on Oh Bondage! Up Yours, I took a trip to Liverpool today, to look through Falcon Stuart's archive of X-Ray Spex materials at John Moore's University library.
Last time I went to Liverpool it was to play at the Cavern along with Charlie Tipper in 2017, which is a great memory to have. It's such a lovely city and the sun lit it up like a Parisian film and I hope to be doing another gig there soon, too.

A very large group of children were on the steps of the town hall chanting and campaigning for change in Government policies on global warming. They are so brave and tough and exactly what we need, because everyone has stopped listening to adults who care about the environment.
I hope they do more.
There is no point in education if there is no world; they have chosen to educate themselves by fighting for social change and civil rights. The more they annoy the authorities, the better.

The archive librarian had put two big boxes of cuttings and fanzines on the table. All I had time for was the cuttings, but they told a very interesting story. Poly had such a lot of opposition from patronising journalists who tried to outsmart her intelligence. I felt ashamed of them (I doubt very much that they felt ashamed of themselves). En masse, the journalists come across as a bunch of controlling, patronising and vicious misogynists. Poly comes across as a genius who knew exactly what they were doing but who kept going anyway.
I feel a wave of love for her, and what she achieved against such opposition.

I've come away with masses of review quotations, and I hope I do the song justice as the article develops. It was interesting to find articles in The Daily Mail and Cosmopolitan as well as the music press, and oddly they were more measured and fair in their coverage.

Back home now, and I've been rehearsing a solo version of Records and Tea by The Chefs for.....
We have all been sworn to secrecy but nobody reads this anyway, do they?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day Message

According to pigeons, other pigeons are beautiful birds. Let's not be jealous of their enthusiastic sex lives!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Magnificent printing job from UEL printers. These will be sent to Coventry (ha!) later this week.


For some unfathomable reason every song I'm writing at the moment sounds like a Disney song. No matter how serious the lyrics- the environment, Fascism, homelessness- out comes a tra-la melody.
I have no idea whether to go with this or not. In my head, I am a snarling Lou Reed.
I probably need to go on a writer's retreat which I cannot afford.
Maybe less pretentiously, I think I need a holiday!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Oh Bondage

I have been asked to contribute a chapter on my favourite punk song to an anthology.
There are loads of good punk songs but this is my favourite. It's got the whole lot: the way we were told we had to behave as little girls, and then the way we grew up to be big wild things making horrible noises and not caring about all that dainty flowery pink feebleness that everyone wanted to impose on us.
On Friday, I'm off up to Liverpool to read press cuttings in the X Ray Spex archive.
The kitchen table is piled high with books.
I'm thinking about emotion as much as gender politics, and about childhood/adolescence/adulthood and how annoying it is when you realise you're going to have to grow up and try to fit into a world that already has a shape for you, when its much more fun to be shapeless.
Good on yer Poly.
This song is a hymn for disobedient girl children, and an anti-fairy-princess rallying cry!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Housework with Betty Everett

Nothing like a bit of Northern Soul to energise you to wash the kitchen floor! You can't sit down when this music is playing. One of my friends described the production on one of these tracks as 'tinny'. Yes it is, and the bishy bashy sound is part of the deal. Plus some WILD horn arrangements which are almost impossible to untangle if you're trying to work out how (and why) they wrote them.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Threatening Threesome

So that's solo versions of:
Records and Tea by The Chefs for next Saturday (shhh! gig);
Thrush by The Chefs for The Tin in Coventry on 10th May
(once only and never again! https://www.wegottickets.com/event/462666);
Veteran's Day Poppy by Captain Beefheart for Liverpool in June (details soon).

More Glorious Procrastination

Solange, Frank Ocean, D'Angelo.... soft soul is rubbing the gritty edges off Friday afternoon.
Two more things to do!

Food For Thought

At the supermarket checkout, we were talking about the rain and I remembered that Monday's songs are going to be rain songs. We have a quiet session in the studio before the University has woken up, listening to songs on a theme: Bring a Bassline, Bring a Backing Vocal, Weird and Wonderful Songs.
The students choose songs, and we listen to each other's choices and slowly wake up, ourselves.

"Aha", said the man at the checkout, a child of the Sixties. "Rhythm of the Rain by the Cascades". Off we went, Rain Song tennis. He knew of a Beatles 'B' side, I knew Storm in a Teacup by The Fortunes. It was written by Lynsey De Paul; I told him about the man in Skibbereen from The Fortunes, who lives by the bus stop and pops out to tell the queue about his life, which he obviously misses from a social perspective.
Can't Stand the Rain, by Ann Peebles. I knew the song, he knew who it was by.

He's going to be thinking all day now.

On the way home, my scarf nearly blew off. Oddly, Offsprog One had been talking about the Aesop's Fable about the battle between the sun and the wind where they compete to make a man take his coat off. The sun won, by persuasion rather than force. I hope this was not an omen.

O the joy of procrastination! It's twenty to eleven and I still haven't started working!

Writing Songs

It seems a teensy bit churlish to complain about being woken up by streams of lyrics stampeding through my head, but that's what happened this morning. I wanted to oversleep. I am so tired that I avoid mirrors because of the reflection of a ghost that peers back.
It's because I have started recording an album, something that has given my imagination permission to let rip.
Blah, blah, blah, the words come flooding out! Blah, blah! Write us down! We are a Good Idea!!!!
At the moment, the lyrics are congregating in one room, buzzing and whirling, shaking hands with each other and deciding whether they should meet to make a verse or a chorus, or if the next phrase along would be a better fit.
In another room are the melodies and guitar riffs, fighting between mechanical and emotional territories: melodies land on riffs like bees on to flowers, then fly off again to land elsewhere to rest finally on a friendly guitar part, singing 'I live here!' at the tops of their voices.
All I have to do is to make a door between the rooms....

Alas today might not be the day; a mountain of emails and other small tasks have built up over the last two weeks, and there is no food in the house.
I am the opposite of a Brexit hoarder: I'm  cupboard evacuator, a past-it's-sell-by-dater, a last soggy biscuit in the packeter, a poor sad carrot eater, a cut the green bits off the cheeser.
I am going shopping with a big bag and a big purse then coming home and eating Big Food.

After that, the email mountain will seem like a mere hillock and the fog of small tasks will sort themselves into neat piles.

After, after that... a song, perhaps?

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Talking of CDs...

I have copies of this: £10 including postage and packing if you Paypal helen_mccookerybook@yahoo.co.uk (it's not on Bandcamp).

Sleeve notes by the wonderful Lucy O'Brien.
Track listing:
24 Hours: The Chefs
Femme Fatale: Skat
Freight Train Demo, featuring Lester Square on guitar and Mike Slocombe on drums (very rare!)
Helen and the Horns:
Lonesome Country Boy
Girl Versus Boy
My Black Rose
Oh Boy
Northbound Train
Two Strings to your Bow
Southern Belle
Pioneer Town
Freight Train
Helen McCookerybook:
Monday's Mood with Paul Davey on sax
I'm in Love for the First Time with Paul Davey on sax (this track was covered by The Daintees)
Helen McCookerybook and Plato Page:
Leaving' You Baby
Mad Mix 2
Truckdrivin' Girl
Riding High
Helen McCookerybook:
Shelf Lives (film soundtrack)
Blue's son (with Gillian Wood on Cello)
Hermitcrab (from Voxpop Puella)
The Past is just a Dream (from Voxpop Puella)

Speed Dating

Helen and the Horns: Vinyl Japan Bootleg

This CD was deleted when I wrote and asked for my royalties (something that happens surprisingly regularly). It is a bootleg, and I've just bought it from Japan. It came beautifully wrapped, and was difficult to open. It was expensive, but for some reason I feel like archiving everything at the moment.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Heard At Waterloo Tube Station The Neet

'Good evening, Ladies and gentlemen, Boys and Girls and Train Enthusiasts. Happy Tuesday, and welcome to Waterloo Station this evening'.

Moth Wrangling

Probably I should keep a much more formal diary rather than spilling on to a blog.
I actually do: about feelings, which I don't want to share with people I don't know in Japan and the Ukraine.
Sometimes it's cathartic to just spill though, and because I'm going to spend the morning writing, clearing last night's stress out of my brain seems like a really good idea.
We had been talking about moths and how it's great to stick all your clothes out there in a bin bag when it's frosty for a few days to kill the grubs. Last year was too mild to do it, but this year I thought I was in with a chance, and was planning to stick McDad's rugs out there for a while, covered in plastic so the rats didn't nest in them. They have been rolled up under the bed for two years with regular sprays of moth killer and those little sticky papers to catch them.
Catalysed by reading an article about a stately home that was completely infested, I started to bring the rugs down into the kitchen to vacuum them (forbidden by McDad when he was alive).
Alas, two of them have been completely eaten. There are just threads left, and a horrible brown gritty sludge, which must be moth excrement. That's all that is left. The rest have holes and moth cobwebs, and I spent two hours frantically vacuuming them to try to get rid of any eggs that might be in them.
I won't roll them up again: they will have to be piled up on top of the ones in the living room and cleaned twice a week to protect them.
Moths have crept into everything to escape: the bed, crevices in the wall, the washing bag. I haven't got any more energy to pursue them. The daddy moths are so huge and resistant to being thwarted that I've christened them 'bull-moths'.
On reflection, I've concluded that we share our world with a lot of living things: out there in the yard there are sizeable rats, an occasional fox that presumably gobbles up the sizeable rats, little birds, Magpies that eat the baby birds, squirrels, a cat that catches and kills the squirrels. There were two toads that something has killed (one of them bounced into the toilet when Offsprog Two's friend was sitting having a wee, and gave her the fright of her life). There were wasps living in a hole in next-door's wall, and there are bees in summer visiting the flower that looks like Viper's Bugloss and isn't. A Wren has been visiting the annoying bush that grows too fast and there are Coal-tits that eat the peanuts before I get up in the morning and start crashing about in the kitchen. There are those two robins that came to watch me playing guitar once when I was standing at the kitchen window playing the electric guitar to get used to its neck (different from the Spanish), and that old blackbird that came and sang along when I was sitting out there playing the acoustic guitar one evening. There are Wagtails out in the street (wtf!) that run away from the cars on their spindly little legs.
Then there are us, the humans, clearing a space amongst all this, and carving out territories with fruitless cleanliness, and marking boundaries with walls and fences that mean nothing to nature's creatures.
There. That feels better. See you tomorrow.

Friday, February 01, 2019


I don't know why this feel like a gamble: it's probably because it's February.
I am writing about Oh Bondage! Up Yours (yes, blah, blah, I know I've said that already), and I'm going to go to Liverpool to look at Falcon Stewart's Archive at the University Library some time in the next couple of weeks. But that's not it.
Part of the deal is to go to New York in June, and present the completed paper at a venue at the Lincoln Center, which will be paid for. So I've just bought my flights, just inside the budget; they have gone up £200 in the last week! I have decided to go a couple of days early and might try to play a small gig. Getting any sense out of the travel agent about whether I can take a guitar or not on the flight was impossible; they only seem to be able to deal with machine-generated questions.
So I may have to borrow one... And I have to find somewhere to stay as well. I am getting a flight back that loses a day and gets me into Manchester on the day of Kevin's all-dayer. F*ck sleep when you're a rock and roller! To make up for the lack of sleep I'm going to have in June, I've been sleeping most of today. It just seemed like the most sensible thing to do, somehow.
I can't believe that I went by myself to New York last year, because I am so unbrave.
I have to do scary things to stop myself from just sitting in my house with the curtains closed reading detective novels, and in fact the reason that I haven't got a cat is that if I did, I would only go out to buy it cat food and that would be that. Instead, I rampage around the country doing gigs far and wide, in a dangerous vehicle that plots my demise from the pavement outside. It's mechanical brain is sizzling as we speak. What a b*stard car!
Somehow though, songs keep crystallising out in my head and they drive me out of the front door, leaving the latest poor sad detective novel face down on the floor, weeping that it's next chapter hasn't managed to be exciting enough to avoid being deserted.
Yet more flimsy plans, but all plans are mere ideas until you push them into reality, aren't they?
In between, I've been playing the Green Goddess, because tomorrow is another recording day, lots of songs from ages ago which I've never considered for an album before, but which need to be heard objectively in the cold light of now.
Rolling along in the background are film screenings- in Leamington Spa on 11th May before the Hull house concert, and in Nottingham the following weekend. I'll publish details of the whole lot soon; there are one or two gigs still to be confirmed as well.
It all chunters along, and having been spoiled by Michael's sandwiches in Belfast all wrapped up in foil, I want sandwiches all the time now. Yes plz!