Thursday, July 30, 2020


This song travels all over the place, and my passport needs to be renewed!


Sometimes you feel that you are standing in front of a large residential building with a plate of doorbells at the entrance.
You ring at each bell in turn hoping for someone to answer but nobody does, so you retreat in disappointment.
This week has been a week where every door bell I've pressed has rung and someone has answered.
This is remarkably rare, so I'm treasuring the experience.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


I've just vacuumed my guitars.


Little mp4 files are scattered across my laptop screen like letters spread out on a doormat: full of information to work on, and engendering the same feelings of anticipation.
First thing, I got up and finished comping the vocal for The Cutty Wren, which meant visually shifting vocal takes into time on the screen, then listening to see if they were in the right place.
What a challenge: parts of it are very high to sing, and some of the words twisted my tongue into the shape of a helter-skelter.
I went for a walk to clear my head, and the place was busy with mothers with pushchairs, all saying good morning to each other. Dog walkers at 9.30, baby walkers at 10.30! All very good natured; then back home, I rehearsed one of the songs for Sunday.
This afternoon I completed words/melody for one of Robert's songs. In my head I was seeing one of those paintings by Vermeer, all dusty sunlight through windows that you can't see through properly.
I hope he likes it; I recorded a very basic version and sent it to him a few minutes ago.
This gap in the proceedings is called 'waiting for feedback'.
I'm going to have some crisps now.
What a luxury!
Then I'm going to carry on writing the song about hotels for Friday's song circle.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Singing has been a challenge for the past few days because of the pollen. Sometimes it's best to just go with the flow, so I went out for a walk to rest my voice and found these beauties growing in a dried up stream bed. The weather has been so dry that a lot of this year's blackberries are very small, although they are sweet. These ones are quite juicy: their roots have obviously found the water down below the soil. I'm not sure why the birds haven't had 'em, but there are such a lot this year it seems there are plenty for everybody. I stopped after a thistle attacked me (entirely unprovoked) and I stepped into the stream bed because it was hidden under the bushes. It was quite deep, but I escaped with the blackberries intact.

Beginning Twice

Allow me to share my frustration. I printed out fourteen pages of an article I've been writing on Oh Bondage! Up Yours, and the printer ran out of paper.
After replenishing the paper, I pressed 'Resume' and printing resumed.
Alas, it started from the last page again, and the ink cartridge ran out halfway through.
I've now got two sets of the last fourteen pages of the article.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

White Sky Songwriting Saturday

For most of the day the sky has glowered and sulked, promising rain but delivering only a headache.
Ian Button's done a great mix of the song Michel Wallace and me collaborated on, and that was a sunny thing to receive in the inbox this morning.
By the time the rain finally squeezed itself out of the clouds a repeat of Come Dine With Me was on and I'd bought a pie in the market, so I watched that while flaky pastry fluffed about between me and the plate.
I had spent part of the morning singing The Cutty Wren on to the backing track, and managed to embed the vocal into the track really well (it's bloody fast!) but my pitching wasn't delicate enough, so I left it for another day.
About an hour ago I made the template for another song I'm working on, but this time my guitar playing was sounding stiff so I left that for another day too, although I got the singing done on that one.
I don't know if I'm getting fussier, or worse at playing and singing. I do know that I get so deeply into what I'm listening to that firstly I lose track of the time, and secondly, it's absolutely exhausting. Everything is permanently set up in the kitchen at the moment so if the mood strikes I can just switch on and... well, switch on.
We have a 'distanced' day booked in the studio in Brixton next Sunday, I've ordered some clear protective specs and I'm just waiting for Robert to do the next bits of those songs; meanwhile Jude has worked on the next section of the Desperado Housewives song, and it's Kath's turn to add something.
It's so odd, because at the beginning of this year I thought that I'd like to do a lot more collaborations; I'd already been enjoying working with Robert, and was made up that Johny Brown asked me to play on his songs for the concert-that-never-happened-but-will-in-October-I-hope. Then this virus happened, and the collaboration thing has really come into fruition. It hasn't stopped me from writing songs on my own, but it's like a wonderful added extra that has crystallised out into the vacuum left by the cancellation of all the live gigs.
So interesting to work with, all those different voices, styles, chords, ideas.....

Friday, July 24, 2020

Great Aunt Ina And Her Banjo

Great Aunt Ina used to hang out with the sailors apparently, preferring their company to her genteel Glasgow family. Here she is with her banjo.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Walking and a Heron

Not for the first time, when I saw this huge prehistoric monster I thought it was a statue standing on the grass by the path. I'd gone for a long walk because I knew I'd be recording this afternoon and I wanted a clear head with no anxiety.
As I rounded the corner, there it was, just standing there. An elderly man walked past it with centimetres to spare, but he was deep in thought beneath his baseball cap and didn't even notice. I managed to get within about a metre and a half, although the bird had it's beady eye fixed on me the whole time to make sure I didn't fling a net over it's head. It was looking for insects and worms- it jabbed the ground really hard with it's beak at one point. The water up here is like thick green soup and I don't think there are any fish or insect larvae for any of the birds to eat. The ducks and geese up at the ponds are probably OK for a while because they get fed oats and bread by visitors (and so does a rather impressive giant rat).
Anyway, eventually I got just too close and it took off slowly, flapping its massive wings and landing not much further away. If I had been a bit smaller it would have eaten me, I'm certain.
I'm just taking a break from editing a song that I've been working on with Michel Wallace. I want to export the tracks to send to Ian Button to mix but I can't remember how to do it, so I've had to write and ask. Ricocheting in between academic writing and writing and recording songs is such a blessing but it involves wearing a lot of hats inside the head, kind of thing. You never stop learning though- I think I may become a better guitarist as a result of lockdown, and I've built a better relationship with Logic and its peccadilloes.
Funny using the kitchen as a studio. I'm on stickiness alert and I have to let as much air into the room as possible. There's no space anywhere else, no room in the back yard for a shed, and the kitchen's got the best acoustics anyway because of the hard surfaces.
This is not a problem the heron has to deal with.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Punky's Cut-Out Wardrobe

In the 1970s there was a comic for girls called Bunty which had a cut-out paper doll on the back every week with clothes that you could fold on to her. Bunty and it's sister comic Judy were both terrific. There wasn't a whiff of boyfriend trouble, make-up or anything like that- the stories were adventure stories for little girls to read, and on one of the front-cover Bunty stories she was a footballer.
I think it was Judy who had The Four Marys, a centrefold story with four girls all called 'Mary' (naturally) and two female baddies who looked remarkably punky. I have always wondered if they inspired Siouxsie's look in some way, because she might just as well have read those stories as anyone else of our generation.
Anyway- this is from the back page of Shingles, the comic that I edited in the late 1970s in Brighton. I got contributions from lots of different people and it sold in the record shop in Brighton, Attrix, although most people just read it in the shop and didn't buy it.
I believe I could call that a 'W. H. Smith hit'.

Friday, July 17, 2020


What's that crunching in the back yard? ('patio garden' in estate-agent-ese)
A blackbird!
Rummaging and thrashing a dried leaf to get at a worm inside it or something; I didn't ask.
But how nice!

Imaginary Bread, Chewing Gum and Ben Wilson

I lay in bed this morning and imagined the smell of baking bread that used to waft along early from the bakers. At the time, I had no idea what a luxury that was, and how much I'd miss it when it was gone.
There are still little moments of joy.
Barnet Council ripped up the paving stones that Ben Wilson painted on shortly after he had finished the wonderful community gallery of folk art that was a feature of our High Street. You can't really photograph the experience of walking along and seeing Ben working on a new miniature painting, surrounded by an excited child or two (he did requests), with so many people stopping to say hello and pass the time of day with him.
It was an odd sort of therapy too: just having a pleasant chap around, changing the ugly chewing gum splotches into works of art that materialised in front of your eyes. What a lost treasure, and a lived experience of the trashing of small cultural interventions by a Tory council that wants to steamroller everything that touches real people in its path, as it strives to be an efficient vehicle for capitalism.
On my perambulations yesterday I discovered a lost cache of his paintings, scuffed and muddied (it was so tempting to wipe them, but then the council might find them and eradicate them).
Look carefully at the detail and the world through their little windows, and remember that these are painted on other people's contempt for their environment, matched only by the council's.
These are works of absolute genius, and indeed the concept is absolute genius.
Here they are.

Thursday, July 16, 2020


Yesterday I drove the circuitous route to Sarf London to visit my Offsprogs.
We sat in the park eating chips and yakking for a couple of hours, watching tiny bats flittering across the early evening sky in search of flying insects.
Busy, busy little things.
One of our company found a photograph of a giant bat in the Philippines on their phone and held it up for them to see, but the Sarf London bats weren't frightened at all.
I bought a little box tree in the vegetable shop on the main street to replace one that black and yellow striped caterpillars ate last year. I am going to guard it with my life to protect it against the little buggers- and also make friends with the lady blackbird who has taken to visiting the back yard and rummaging in the undergrowth.
Driving back, the posh brutes were out in force in their bossy cars. Almost the whole way back there is a 20 MPH speed limit, but they weren't having any of it.
I got tooted at all the way home.
The sound of money is rude and bad mannered.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Egg Fingers

It wasn't butterfingers because it was an egg. It made quite a pleasant gentle splat as it landed on the floor.
I was making a cake- a caraway seed cake.
The kitchen filled with smoke because I greased the cake tin with sunflower oil and the oven didn't like it.
It also welded the cake to the 'non-stick' pan.
The cake is delicious, actually.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


I've walked four miles just now, to exercise away the anxiety cause by trying to organise something simple with a large organisation (and failing as I knew I would, even though I crossed all the 't's and whatever the other bit of that saying is).
When my feet have stopped hurting (unsuitable shoes), I'll start recording again but until then, it's just me and a squadron of flies that has decided to do a fly-past in my living room for no discernible reason. They are all ages, all sizes and all buzzes and they would be driving me bonkers but I haven't got any bonks left to drive.
I should perhaps open the front door and see if they will fly out in formation, or even not.
I don't mind which.

Revamped Website Shop

Thanks to Damian Cosmas for revamping my website shop. There are new postal charges, and 'multi buy' deals. This is cheaper than Bandcamp, as I send the stuff out directly from home. I've had to cancel nine gigs this year and would normally sell my CDs and records on the road, which is why I've now got this. Mrs Nationofshopkeeper, or should that be Dr Nationofshopkeeper?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Blackberry Break

Lovely blackberries. In season, they have an after-kick of Ribena flavour that is absolutely lush. Excuse me for being swanky, but the first time I went to New York two years ago I half-lived off blackberries from the street corner stalls near Central Park. A box or two of those, and I was ready to roll.
In the hedgerows up here they are almost ripe, which means I'll get fat. The wild ones are so sour you have to put them in a blackberry pudding, and that means lots of picking, lots of pudding, lots of eating, lots of fatting.
This is my ears-break of the afternoon. I did some work this morning but I'm a bit stuck now because my computer is filling up with work stuff. I'm trying to arrange to collect the one from work, Big Bad Brenda, so I can stick all the work on to that one and free up this one for music.
I'm going to have to do some audio homework. To my ears, my vocals catch a certain tone at a certain pitch that is a bit like a punch on the eardrum. I can't find the Hz when I'm equalising it to stop it from happening, so I need to do a bit of research because that's not a good thing.
Likewise (or not) I need to be able to take some of the muddiness out of the guitar without it sounding thin and tinny.
Looking on the bright side, I'm finding the SM58 absolutely perfect for vocals; it fixes all sorts of things even before you get the sound on to the hard drive. I think maybe expensive microphones are made so you can mix the voice with a lot of popifying plugins.
Or maybe I'm just a cheap date. Likewise (or not, again) having a guitar with great pickups means that there's a character in the sound of the guitar without me having to add lots of things to it to make it work.
OK! Back to work. Quick tune-up of the guitar, wipe the rust off the strings.
Another 45 minutes before my ears give up and add a tinnitus twang to the song!

Saturday, July 11, 2020


I spent the afternoon recording. I like doing that. My fingers are worn through from playing the guitar, and my ears are shot from listening.
I feel quite happy about my ability to record what I need to record, but mixing is a different matter and that's what I'm trying to do: not the 'getting it technically right' type of mixing, but the 'making it sound good' type. Getting a guitar and a recorded voice to sound just right is really hard. In the headphones they sound one way, over the speakers they sound another way and on the laptop... they sound crap.
It's an interesting puzzle to solve, and I shouldn't wish it would rain so I don't mind being inside doing it. The point is that once you get going, you get so absorbed in it that it's difficult to stop. I had crisps for my tea because I couldn't be bothered to cook because I was recording. That's how much it make you concentrate. I had to make myself stop because there's a certain degree of fatigue beyond which there's no point in carrying on: you have to stop nanoseconds before it stops being fun!
I've recorded two songs, one new one, and one that is so new I haven't even really finished the words and I'll have to change them any way because I mention Amazon and also say 'arsehole', which isn't terrible poetic, is it?

Respected Doctor

Friday, July 10, 2020

Songwriting Circle

This afternoon, it's songwriting circle. Katy Carr set this up years ago, and we've been doing it intermittently ever since. It started at her flat in Marylebone on Mondays, which meant a scrabble to write a song on a Sunday night. Then it rested for a while and now it's back, this time on Zoom, with two of the other 'originals', Rowen Bridler and Nadya Ostroff, joining in last week. One year, almost a whole album came out of it (this one:, and I think k that happened for Katy too. Sometimes it's just about a creative exercise, flexing your song writing muscles and perhaps writing something that just passes the time fo day in a creative way.
Whatever, it's great to have something to look forward to: a mini project every week that stimulates that part for the brain that other things can't reach. The cabbage soup Katy made isn't there, but the humour and encouragement are, and that's much more important.
Katy has just completed Chris Difford's song writing mentor course so I'm sure she will be really fired up by that.
Got to go now and practice this week's song, and then this weekend I'm going to do some recording and remind myself of ways of working in sound. I have another project in the offing.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Songs from the Kitchen: Set in Stone

Last Night's Dream

Last night's lockdown dream was every bit as complex as the one the night before, but it slithered away swiftly like a snake as I tried to grasp it and remember what happened. I
 just saw its tail disappearing into the distance and couldn't hang on to it.
Maybe that was a dream as well.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Lockdown Dreams and Frozen Fridges

I don't normally remember my dreams but during lockdown that have been vivid, exhausting and sometimes alarming. I wake up in the morning with what feels like a headful of panicking pigeons. A couple of nights ago I had to get a coach load of tourists out of a French chateau and back into the coach with half an hour to go before their ferry left. When I went to find them the stair carpet, which was made of cloth, came undone and I had to try to fix it back again on to slippy wooden stairs, all under the watchful eye of duchess Thandie Newton. I did manage to collect up the tourists but then had to convince the tour operator that we were in a hurry, and she didn't seem that bothered.
What a relief to wake up!
Meanwhile, there's a gap in my working life where my book was. I am going to write a book chapter on Oh Bondage! Up Yours but I know I need a couple of weeks of not exactly rest, but catching up on University work stuff. Online courses, you know.
Double meanwhile after a year I have finally admitted that it's time to defrost the lump of ice that my fridge has become. It has taken more than 24 hours to not melt and people have been recommending that I get the hairdryer out.
Sounds good. I think I will, but that might mean the kitchen smells of melted and pre-rotting food.
I have scrubbed away at the top bit with bicarbonate of soda. Some dill went mouldy in there and it's been very hard to get rid of the smell. That, and half-onions.
I think this is called 'domestic bliss'. I'm looking for the bliss bit: it's probably embedded in that huge lump of ice in the freezer compartment, I think.
Postscript: I got bored with the hairdryer hint pretty quickly. It's better to just wait.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Interview in PunkGirlDiaries Zine

This is a top-quality zine, lovely paper and ink (how can you tell I used to be a printer?). I was delighted to do an interview with them.
Issue 2 available now!
Also featuring an interview with Alison Statton from the Young Marble Giants and Weekend.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Bandcamp Friday 3rd July

Bandcamp are doing a fee-free day tomorrow. This track will be up for 36 hours only. It's a song I will re-record for my next album, but this version will generate 100% of its sales income for Crisis, the homelessness charity, if you buy it this time around.
Please do listen to the rest of my music too, if you're visiting!