Friday, November 27, 2020

More Airplay!

This time, Gideon Coe played 'I Fly My Balloon' from our EP.

We are planning a socially-distanced gig at The Spice of Life, organised by The Country Soul Sessions, on 20th December, which means learning the songs. Which means learning to sing the German lyrics and simultaneously playing chords that were fine to play in the studio, but which will be hand-manglers to play live. I'm not even good at learning English lyric so I've got my work cut out for me.

Luckily, I've learned a lot this year, even from the things that haven't happened. I learned guitar parts for an entire set of Johny Brown's songs for The Lexington gig that was cancelled, so that I could accompany him. 

When you learn someone's songs it's a bit like learning part of their brain: every songwriter puts together different chord voicings and sequences behind their melodies. We all write different moods according to our respective personalities. 

Co-writing is even more detailed: finishing each other's sentences, a relay race handing over a baton, whatever way you could describe it. It requires a certain amount of empathy, played out on a neutral pitch: a no-man's land, in fact. As I gradually learn the parts of the songs that Robert wrote, I can actually feel my hands beginning to understand what Robert's hands play automatically. 'Aha', they signal,'The next chord is a bar chord on the third fret'. Then there are the lyrics. It's been amazing working with someone who is such a poet, especially because I have been writing a lot of solo songs this year and I'm bored with myself. Give Robert a part of a song, and he takes it somewhere lyrically that I would never imagine travelling to. I hope the same in return. He seemed intrigued by the lyrics of D-ream.

All this while teaching is going on- emotionally intense teaching, often one to one with students who frequently find things difficult. I'm exhausted- and I feel for them so much! Where is the young, empathetic, green, socialist saviour who shuns corruption and smugness and reflects how they feel? This is the politician that I want to support. And a woman, please. The pandemic has shown up some of the men who I had thought were enlightened to be just as greedy, sexist and prejudiced as the ones who wear wolf's clothing. 

It's disappointing- and yet again, I'm ashamed... of them.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Remembering McMum

I woke up last night at 3 a.m. having had a dream in which some impostors had erected a wooden tombstone in her memory in the cemetery, with their own messages and instructions scribbled on it in blue felt pen. They owned her place of rest, and they owned the memories.

In my dream, I had been searching all day for the gravestone and the dream woke me up. There is no gravestone or cemetery; McMum's ashes were scattered at Loch Tummel in Perthshire a few years ago.

I had this dream because yesterday would have been her birthday. I can't remember the exact dates of either of our parents' deaths, but I remember them on their birthdays. After your parents die, you feel rootless for a while. You realise how much your family has been bound together by shared parents, upbringing and family stories, and how your relationship with your siblings has been constructed by your respective relationships with your parents, too. I have reflected on this a lot since McMum died, and on the complexities of my own relationship with her. In this respect, losing parents replaces their physical presence with a type of wisdom that is at the same time enlightening and incredibly sad.

McMum and McDad were particularly good at being grandparents, and I am glad that my Offsprogs had that unconditional love from them.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Gideon Coe Plays 'No Man's Land' Again

I was just feeling a trifle glum after a very hard day's work. I was going to give up on the day, and head to bed with a detective novel, and then Gideon Coe played our record again. It's a big deal to me, for such a lot of reasons, to have a record out and have it played on the radio. It never loses its thrill.

I remember listening to John Peel back in the day and doing a double take every time he played 24 Hours by The Chefs. I did a lot of double takes, because he played it a lot.

I think I have a permanent case of imposter syndrome!

Steve McQueen's 'Lovers Rock'

The BBC did itself proud last night with Steve McQueen's film, one of five commissioned from the director and artist and broadcast on Sunday evenings.

It was just like being there: so absorbing!

An entire section of the film is dedicated to the partygoers singing Silly Games a capella after the track has been played on the decks, not just part of the song but almost the whole thing. That high note! One woman gets it spot-on every time, and towards the end the crowd splits into perfect harmonies. Wow.

Now, of course, people are wondering whether there's going to be an upsurge in the genre. The usual thing is happening; the man-thing, especially from white men, is rearing it's head. How dare there be reggae that is soft and (ahem) feminine? (even though there are loads of male Lover's Rock artists too). 

A Facebook thread praising the music and McQueen's film suddenly swerves into the more macho section of the film as more chaps start posting their comments on it. And a review of the film in The Guardian by Lanre Bakare slides into their own interest in blues house parties by the end of the article, leaving the powerful impact of the Lovers Rock section of the film behind.

Lover's Rock prioritises the voices of women in the Black community, and puts their music right the centre of British reggae. That's where their voices belong, and that's why McQueen's film has such meaning. Maybe you don't get to wear the badge, but for its fans whether from the community or not, it is not only just gorgeous music, but also a unique sub-genre that deserves a whole lot more than simply  'hear I am' recognition: it needs 'I am fantastic music' recognition too. 

Rant finis.

Loud Women Home Concert

 Loud Women have just posted this concert on Youtube- thank you for inviting me to do my first online concert of the pandemic year!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Miracles of Lockdown

In the last lockdown, High Barnet High Street was miraculously resurfaced at night when nobody was around to see them. Wenzel's Bakery materialised out of thin air (behind paper screens) just in time to open when lockup was announced (is that the opposite of lockdown?), and so did several beauty shops. There are at least two new shops miraculously appearing this time around, with non-masked, non-socially-distanced workers hard at it. It's not them that I blame, but their greedy employers who must have pressurised them on the pain of losing their jobs into working when it's not safe. 

I wonder how many people have died in the construction industry because of unsafe practices this year?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Up Early For Work

Funny, if we weren't locked down I'd be up at 6 a.m. to get to work, and something in my body-clock wakes me at 6 on work days just like normal. Although I know that lots of people are up and working already (good morning, cleaners and shift workers!), it still feels a bit like having the world to yourself.

Years ago I used to walk through central London really early, looking at all those magnificent old buildings that were worth millions of pounds to whoever owned them. Most of those buildings were there before their current owners were born, and would be there when they died. It made me ponder on the nature of wealth and ownership. Our idea that we own things isn't as straightforward as we think. Things own us, don't they? 

I was originally going to write about how boycotting Amazon (because they don't pay taxes honestly and because they mistreat their workforce to an abysmal degree) has undoubtedly saved me a small fortune during lockdown. The little things bought from online shopping own us just as much as big unshiftable buildings do. Transient things like kindness and compassion totally bypass ownership- you can't force someone to love you, even if you pay for them to care for you. I look at the huge houses on the walking routes that I take, and think about the staff that the owners need to keep them functioning. Imagine owning one of those massive properties and it containing loads of people who don't like you, under your roof. No thanks!

Morning musings, wandering all over the place. Just what I need to do, before the working day catches up with me. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020


 There's the TV over there, watching with its big vacant eye. 'Turn me on!'

Not tonight, darling.

I can hear the wind rushing in the chimney and the clock ticking, tinnitus in my ears, my clothing rustling quietly, the occasional car hissing by my window (thanks Jim!) and the gentle clopping of the computer keys.

It's so lovely and quiet. Life at the moment seems like a jigsaw puzzle that I'm compelled to assemble but it's actually cobbled together from about 15 different jigsaw puzzles, and no matter how hard I try, the picture won't make any sense.

The lamps in the room glow patiently, just dim enough to prevent activity and anxiety. It's wet and drizzly out there, so there are no people hustling past the front door, no noisy lockdown-busting drinkers, no beaten-down leafletters to stuff pizza, curry and gardening services leaflets through the door.

The TV can manage without me. Jolly TV shows where everyone tries a bit too hard, dark cop shows where people with guns stand around corners under the streetlights waiting to shoot, the news with more lies and obfuscation from the government. None of that tonight. I know what they are all doing, you see: it's what they always do night after night. 

One viewer less won't do any harm.

Here's Our Video!


McCookerybook and Rotifer Video

We have a video for our song 'No Man's Land' which is going to be made public at 3 p.m. today.

It's a total Lockdown video, shot on our phones and iPads and edited together by Ian Button, who has performed a task akin to knitting with string, wire and cotton thread because none of our devices shoot at the same quality.

It was still fun to do it. 

Such terrible things have happened this year. Just as I start to feel normal again after hearing of the death of a friend, another friend tells me of their own grieving and loss. It's like some terrible relay race of sadness, with illness and sorrow haunting us all. This makes it seem all the more important to create things: there is nothing like the consciousness of a mayfly to force you to realise you have to do all this stuff right now and not wait until you're no longer walking the earth.

Lots of people I know have been pushed to finally do things they have only ever dreamed about- Laura Whitfield, who used to sell CDs for the singer songwriter Martin Stephenson alongside her parents, Mick and June, is now a fully fledged recording artist in her own right. This is wonderful to see!

I'm not going to dwell on the downside, the snakes and rats who are showing their true colours just because they can: I'm looking at you, Government, corporations, institutions and corrupt big business deals, and immoral and ferocious behaviour.

All we can do is fight back in our own way, making positive and powerful interventions whenever our voices are heard. Singing is shouting in tune, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Art Wall



The one thing that completely does my head in is gaslighting. I didn't even know there was a word for it until about six or seven years ago and as soon as I heard the definition of the word, I had something to explain several relationships that I've had in my life. Crystal clear.

Whenever you come across something in a person that you don't understand, you normally try to think yourself into their situation, see things from their perspective, and get some sort of idea about how they feel and why they behave in a certain way. Gaslighting, I can't understand at all: does the person know they are doing it, and they simply don't care? Is it deliberate? Or are they fooling themselves, as much as they are trying to convince other people?

Somewhat like Sherlock and his three-pipe problems, I try to sort things out in my head but by walking rather than smoking pipes. Since September there have been a number of five mile problems, at least one six-miler, and quite a lot of three-milers as I try to work it all out. I still can't fathom why people do it, although I have tried to stretch my mind to the sky and beyond. I had therapy once, and felt that I'd been taught to tidy difficult things on to shelves in my head. The most recent gaslighting episode is going to have to go into one of those cupboards, although it's monstrously large and it will be difficult to shut the cupboard door on it. I'm trying, though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


Many years ago through the dark mists of time, I got engaged. The engagement ring was a little Georgian ring with random diamonds set into silver foil to make them sparkle. It was bought one misty dawn from a nice lady at a stall in Caledonian Market in Bermondsey; it was delicate and discreet and looked fine on my bony fingers.

A few months later I was working as a cleaner for an agency, and one of my jobs was to clean a house where elders with learning difficulties lived. It was a gentle house, and comical in its way. When I vacuumed the living room, the line of old people on the sofa lifted their legs in the air in perfect synchronisation so that I could clean under their feet. They had their own chef and I was allowed to eat lunch with the staff around a formica table in the kitchen. It was curry, since you ask. It was nice.

It was a whole day's cleaning, and alas when I got home three or four of the tiny diamonds were missing from the engagement ring. They were replaced by a jeweller, but they were set without foil behind them so they look different to the others: they shine yellowish and the others shine silver. The thing is, it's all the more beautiful for being imperfect.

The marriage came and went and the ring is in a box waiting to be given to one of my daughters at some time in the future. It has it's own honourable history now, added to the life it had before it became mine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

'Underland' by Robert McFarlane

Unexpectedly I fell ill last week, and I'm drugged up with antibiotics and don't feel like singing or playing, which is unusual for me at the moment.

I have been reading this book sporadically for a few weeks and it's been a godsend during today's inertia. There are some irritating things: the friends all have very posh names and unlimited sources of money (ho hum) and there's a tendency to over-use the word 'glittering', but who am I to criticise when the general drift of the book is so intriguing? The author exposes all things underground- deep underground- encountering extensive mining networks, space exploration stations (yes!), cave paintings, human debris (abandoned boats and so on), makeshift prisons, and most importantly, atmospheres. He describes the feeling of underground air, the sensitivity of deep airflow, and spiritual changes that happen when you are at the mercy of the realisation that our time on earth is a mere nano-tangent in the greater scheme of things.

I hate being underground so I'm delighted that Robert McFarlane has explored this part of planet Earth on my behalf. With explorer's gusto, he approaches every subterranean adventure with fresh eyes and the occasional aside and acknowledgement of other explorers in the field, both past and present. He does not ignore women explorers, though his in-person bonding is usually with men (I know such men, and I'm glad it's McFarlane who engages with them and not me).

You could say that explorers do as much to endanger our fragile environment as those liner-loads of cruising tourists, and I couldn't disagree with you. I wanted to visit some of these places just because they are hidden; not the tunnels and caves, but the wonderful parts of the world that are described so beautifully in all their natural glory. Scrubby mountains, dwarf trees, hovering birds, insects and more all casually acknowledge and then ignore the trespassing human and his backpack. The weather, too, is a complete star, sandwiching this overland trekking chap between rough terrains with sometimes merciless beatings.

Imprisoned by a combination of Lockdown Two, drug-fuelled sleepiness and drizzle outside the window, this book is a fantastic escape for the head, not least for its putting of contemporary toxic politics exactly into its small-minded place. Mountains, caves, plateaux: rock on!

Sunday, November 08, 2020

'Moths' from the 'Miniatures' Album

 This album will be released next year and features more than 100 musicians.

This has just been released today:

Punks and Friends

 This book will be out shortly, proceeds to NHS.

There Be Witches

 On yesterday's walk, through the witches' woods (conifers, yews and soundless leaf mould), there were twisted paths of a new sort of fungus trailing away into the distance: big jumbled clumps of pale-brown saucer-sized discs leading the babes in the woods deeper into the gloom. Where the deciduous trees had lost leaves and let sunlight into the copses, the darkness still pervaded in the scary columnar turns of the evergreens.

A tipped up trunk drew us over, roots scrabbling the still air like devil's horns. A tiny gate had been made, and on the lees-de of two of the surrounding trees, little bad-fairy houses had been constructed,  probably 'drops' for evil spells and incantations.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Bandcamp Friday

 It's Bandcamp Friday today, and here's my page URL which has some releases that are now digital only and not available from my website. Click on the link below for more details:

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Voting For Scarecrows

Sitting watching the USA election results being reported, I was astonished by the fact that the Latino population in Florida came out to support the man who half-built a wall to keep Mexicans out of the USA. A privileged old white man has set people against each other as a form of sport, and they have voted for more of it.

Then I thought about us. We (if we are a society of interlinked people and not a fractured bunch of self-seeking idiots) voted for a known liar, an opportunist, a racist, and a man who has brought six children into the world, betrayed their mothers and then deserted both the children and their mothers. All wrapped up in one disgusting package. He has squandered our money (if we pay tax, which I do) by giving it away to incompetent friends of his to set up companies form scratch to test for a deadly pandemic, after the pandemic has already taken hold, and when the expertise was already there in the public sector. And yet he has refused to give public money to feed children who by the end of the year will be not only physically malnourished but also educationally and spiritually so.

What is wrong with the human race? Is it fear, hatred, spite... a mixture of those things? I honestly could not have invented two such men in my wildest dreams.

I begin to think that there is a form of double gaslighting going on- giving and receiving. These awful scarecrows tell us lies, and we believe them because we want that subservience: it stops us form needing to think for ourselves.

Meanwhile, the stress of my own life has taken it's toll. Like everyone, I have a complex set of problems to manage. I had a completely sleepless night last night because of a major cock-up that should not have happened and that seems impossible to resolve. I am taking some time out today to collect together the pieces of my brain that appear to have scattered themselves all over the place. Till tomorrow!

Monday, November 02, 2020

Empty Head For Drawing

I have been writing so many songs: it has been the year of the song. As well as collaborating with Robert Rotifer and with The Desperado Housewives, I've written with Kenji, Michel (both lovely songs that will remain hidden for a while until the other two collaborators are ready), George Barker (ha! just wait till you hear that one!), Jem Price from Asbo Derek, and Shola has just been in touch to say she is using the song Fog that I helped her to finish in a film pilot she has made in LA. Every week we do song circle: Katy, Rowen, Nadya and me, each of us with a song completed ready for Friday the effort of which is pushing us to the limits of our creativity. 

I've learned to record (almost) radio friendly quality songs on my home computer, and to speak many different song languages, both technical and emotional.

I've been teaching song writing, pulling song writing practice to bits and putting it back together again and hoping the students hiding behind the neutral initialled discs on Microsoft Teams at least have some understanding of what I'm on about. 

My guitar is like a third arm just there with the other two, and ready to be commanded into action.

One day, I'll return to the call of drawing. I have had such a good idea, and I've tried to draw it, but really it's a film, an animation of a macabre children's ritual that will literally last 15 seconds. I can't animate for toffee: I've been doing the same embroidery and photographing it for animation for more than ten years. I know animation's slow, but that's positively glacial. So the poor sad children's nursery rhyme will never see the light of day: or rather, the dark of night.

All of my creativity seems to have poured itself into music. Maybe the type of grief that's around every corner at the moment is assuaged more by music than by visual art. Almost everyone that I know has lost someone this year. Some people want to talk about it, some don't, but the noise of the loss is deafening, regardless of which of those two avenues they choose.

Last Dash To The Charity Shop

While other shoppers were sensibly (or stupidly) fleecing the supermarket shelves of their toilet roll multipacks, my sense of urgency took me to the local charity shops.

I bought three books by the same crime author. I already made a mistake a few weeks ago and sent a pile of too-violent books back from whence they came, so I'm hoping I haven't made the same mistake again. Two nice, colourful, huge old painted plates followed them, four tiny ancient books about ballets and plays (Christmas stockings) and a striped dress, midi length for cold lecture days.

On the way out of the second shop, the handles of the carrier bag gave way and everything went crashing to the floor. Miraculously, the plates are still in one piece. 

I may have made totally impractical shopping choices just pre-lockdown, but it was a damn sight more fun than trawling for a lockdown tissue hoard.

Online Teaching

I lie awake at night trying to devise ways of making online lecturing as interesting as possible for the students.

I'm going to try something out today and I'll let you know if it works!

Sunday, November 01, 2020

The Trainspotters


Two very excited and hectic young men bustled ahead of me at the station, crashing through metal gates on to the non-functioning platform (I'd always assumed that those gates were locked).

At first I though they must be railway employees, but their behaviour was quite volatile. They were so excited! 

A train shot towards us on the middle line. The tallest of the two clenched his fist and moved his elbow rhythmically downwards making a frantic pulling motion, up and down. The train driver duly hooted his horn, and the two young men shouted in delight.

Soon, the tallest of the two was on the phone, where a third person was being treated to a live feed of the excitement. Every train that passed through was greeted by the same gesticulation: frantic, frantic, pulling down of the clenched fist, and then cheers and leaps when the drivers responded by tooting. Closer to the edge of the platform they moved, and their disappointment when they weren't acknowledged flooded across the tracks to us who were waiting for our through train. 

We were with them: the anticipation of the hoot, the thrill, the disappointment. 

'Are you all right?' shouted a fellow traveller across the rails to them. 'We are train spying!' shouted the tall chap back.

'We got three!!!' he yelled into his crackling phone, 'Better than Alexandra Palace and there's no-one here to tell us off!!'.