I'll be taking part in a debate tonight on BBC Radio 5 Live about Vinyl versus Streaming, around 11.20 p.m.
Listen in here:
Me and Offsprog One had a late Portugese lunch in Vauxhall after I'd spent the morning marking (more to come tomorrow). It was lovely. I don't think I have ever had such a fresh Pastel de Nata, warm from the oven.
Afterwards I walked along the South Bank, past the long, long memorial wall for people who have died of Covid. I found a pen in my bag and wrote Julia's name up there, Julia Craik from the Premises. For such a good, kind and imaginative person to have suffered and died last year, right at the beginning: I was asked to run another song writing workshop there but I can't manage to, at least not yet. She was so lovely. So I just wrote her name in one of the waiting pink hearts and sent her some love.
Around the London Eye, it was very crowded and smelt of chips and cooking oil. What a dump the area around County Hall has become; perhaps a statue made of consolidated chip fat would be a good memorial to the odious Margaret Thatcher, who cheapened life and brought out the worst in everybody. Further on, outside the Royal Festival Hall, it wasn't so bad. I crossed Waterloo Bridge and walked up through Covent Garden, noting with sadness the closure of the Tintin shop, and later, up Tottenham Court Road, the big, empty grey windows of former Habitat, once a beacon of British optimism and sophistication.
People were thin on the ground, this end of town. There was a man, right down the other end, with a shopping trolley, yelling at the top of his voice. As I walked down the road to Warren Street he was following behind, making people alarmed with his aggression and volume. Should I call the police?
I saw the police 'stopping' someone last Monday, five policemen and women, and one civilian, who they had flattened on the pavement. When a woman came out from a nearby house to film them, they climbed off him, put the handcuffs away, sat the chap up on the wall and called an ambulance. His crime? Shouting. I spoke to him because I heard him saying that he didn't want to get into an ambulance. I told him it would be better to do that than to stay there with those five police officers, that he needed to move the situation on. I think he understood. They would have done him harm.
The Metropolitan Police are bullies, not public servants. I didn't like the look in the eyes of those police officers. Today, I wondered whether to simply wait for the shouting man, to ask him to stop shouting in case the police were called. I could not work out what was more important, his safety or my own. In the end, I decided mine was, but I'd like to be able to calm a person down at some point.
I need to learn how to do this.
Click here for 180 minutes of one minute tracks! This is such a good show with a lot of my music pals' music on it: Lester Square, Spinmaster Plantpot, Bettina Shroeder, James A Smith, Lucinda Sieger, Papernut Cambridge, Tigersonic and Dirty Viv. A selection box of poetry, songs and electronic music perfect for a rainy afternoon. My track Little Heart-shaped People From Venus is in the first part:
Turns out it wasn't enough for today. Why (Beyer) go to all the lengths (sic) to create a good-sounding set of headphones and then give us a curly lead to attach them to the interface with? As a lifelong guitarist (half my life, anyway), I learned never to buy curly leads because they break up inside and have to be replaced much more frequently than straight ones. Is it that?
It's just that when they are stretched not even very far, they want to reduce the space between the person using them and the equipment they are plugged into, and twang and pull constantly, which is really irritating if you are concentrating on singing. It's even more irritating if you are concentrating on playing your guitar, because you have to dial up new music memory to resist being pulled into a collision with the equipment by the enthusiastic elasticity of the headphone lead! Oh, I know I'm exaggerating a little, but you don't need additional movements and tension when you're recording. At worst the curly headphone lead bounces along with the music, which is utterly ghastly.
Trust me, I'm a musician!
I'm just about to start recording, this time with different guitar which is easier to play than the Green Goddess, and has less of a fret buzz problem when I'm playing arpeggios, which is what I'm recording at the moment. I'm still having to play the song in sections, but that's so normal I don't know why I'm even documenting it.
The street outside is waking up: lorries are growling, motorbikes snarling and cars whisking past forcing grimy air through the cracks in the window and door. I have made a very strong cup of coffee so I may be racing the click track when I start recording. It's funny because lockdown and the luxury of time have affected the length of songs I've written. A lot of them are more than four minutes long, though they seemed short at the time. I'm in the process of editing them to a more reasonable and listenable length, ditching unnecessary lyrics, allowing the music to complete the meaning, and not overdecorating the music.
Meanwhile, I'm thinking about the odious Nigel and his taxi service comments. How wonderful that the RNLI has seen such an increase in donations! I had been wondering how empathisers could take down psychopaths (the very notion simply doesn't work, does it?): maybe some sort of extreme rebalancing could do the trick. How could that work with Bezos and Musk, though? How could people undo the aggressive incursions into space by billionaires who have simply lost the plot?
And watching the morning news, there's the Japanese authorities 'clearing out' homeless people from areas around the Olympic venues. This is exactly what the UK did. Our homeless people (yes, they are ours) were evacuated to Brighton for the duration, to the end of Offsprog One's street, as it happens; that's how I know about it. So let not have any British moralising about the cruel Japanese authorities. Maybe it might occur to someone one day that the huge expense of the Olympics and the glorification of the human body should extend to people we don't make films about and give medals to, as well as to those we do. Did we rehouse the homeless people in London in the Olympic village? That might have been the kind thing to do, mightn't it? And in that regenerated area, there might even have been jobs for them, too. It takes a lot of strength and perseverance to survive on the streets, a lot of endurance. Olympian skills, in fact. Hmmm.
I'm still working. The schedules we have for marking re-sit student work increasingly encroach on time we should be spending on research and relaxing in the summer, which means that the stress of one year carries on to the next. I don't think stressed teachers and lecturers can do their jobs properly.Where adrenaline helps bankers (or supposedly does), people who work in education need patience and thinking time to work out new ways to keep students interested in the things they need to learn to thrive in their respective professions after they have graduated. I have so much to say about my life as a University lecturer, and I'm looking forward to being free to say them when the time comes.
I know we're not in the medical profession. I honestly don't know how they cope with the constant government carping and insincerity. My experience of breaking my elbow led to a renewed admiration for the collaborative and seamless way that A&E works. At one point, a surgeon between cases took a blood sample from me because nobody else had time. They volunteered to do it without a thought for it being below their pay grade. I could feel the pressure, but all the way through I was treated with kindness, gentleness and respect: back to empathy again. I have a million times more admiration for our NHS staff than I do for the ridiculous antics of middle aged and elderly white men and their metal space penises.
That's enough for today.
I spent a couple of hours this morning editing and mixing a song, which has rescued it from being annoyingly Wrong. I cut out a verse (economy is queen), boosted the bass EQ on the guitar, compressed it, and panned some of the additional overdubs about the place to give it a bit of space to breathe. All that remains is a lead vocal performance on a proper microphone, but it's too noisy today what with the rain outside and it being wash day inside.
So I settled down to play a rather difficult guitar part but couldn't nail it. I had fret buzz problems even though I cut my nails and could play it perfectly in time. Those chords just wouldn't sit right even after I worked out a way to do it. I guess I was just tired after the mornings session. So I've made a pie instead, and will eat that with peas, and be glad that at least the first track has worked out OK.
Every time I record I learn more about how to make things sound good, so getting things wrong is a learning experience more than a disappointment. I am 100% confident in my songs, but the difficult thing is holding back: I know the arrangements and mixing are going to be such fun, but I've got to get really good basics before that, and I'm an impatient person in some ways. But not all.
Also, playing guitar parts over and over is rehearsing. Would I sit for an hour and play just one little bit over and over to get it right? I would not! And these are songs that I haven't played live before so they're not in my muscle memory yet. I think perhaps what has felt like a not very productive day will prove to have been much more productive than I thought, further down the line.
BTW Gideon Coe played not only half a Chefs session last night, he also played No Man's Land straight after one of the tracks. That was a great thing to come back to after a seaside trip!
Gideon Coe: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000y6lz
The roads through Essex have seen better days and are busy with articulated lorries heading to Harwich, but it's worth the drive for the pleasures of Walton-on-the-Naze. It's a classic nuts'n'bolts seaside town with chip shops, a cacky pier (that you can't walk to the end of) with an amusement arcade, some basic rides and lots of serious fisherman; and sea and sand as far as the eye can sea. The beach is fantastic, with yellow sand so clean and lovely you could almost eat it, divided into family-size sections with wooden breakwaters, and lines of colourful beach huts bursting with people drinking tea, drying off, reading, smiling and generally looking happy to be alive.
You can walk around the coast, eat chips, buy an ice cream, and it was very tempting to try out some of the rides but a three mile walk in the bracing wind wore us out. We decided to go to Frinton for a cup of tea, which was a mistake. Frinton belongs firmly to the elderly in spirit, and has an air of 'keep out' so overpowering that we gave upon the cup tea after sitting for fifteen minutes at a café where the waitress chatted with the regulars, and completely ignored the incomers.
Walton on the Naze won hands down: friendly (local chaps directed us to their favourite chippy), fun and very beautiful. It even has nicer beach huts. The ones at Frinton have their backs to the sea and even the little swifts that flitted about underneath them didn't save the day. Next time I'm taking my swimming costume to Walton- that sea looked irresistible, and that sand looked so soft on the feet.
Also: Walton-on-the-Naze likes cash not credit cards!
One of the women who features in my book is Ms Melody, a sound engineer who has, after many trials and tribulations, opened a cutting edge studio a stone's throw from Kennington tube station in south London. Over the period of becoming friends, the studio has evolved from being an empty building and an idea through being a project in development, to now being open and buzzing with activities and people. It's quirky, youthful and full of potential. I have been as excited watching it develop as if it was my own project, and when I went for a visit on Monday, ostensibly to sign her copy of my book (we both forgot), I was delighted to see that her Mum really was there in the podcast room making hats. There she was with shelves of beautifully crafted headgear: I felt they alone were worth a visit. To me, that was the icing on the cake. There are rooms to meet, rooms to record, rooms to make podcasts and rooms to stream from, all clean, new and well equipped. You can even party there!
There are lots of great studios in London; we are recording our album at One Cat in Gypsy Hill and that is perfect for what we are doing. But it's incredibly tempting to record something at Mel's studio just to capture a bit of that excitement at newness that I felt when I walked in this week, and of course, get a bit of 'spirit of the hat' on the recording!
Look here to see what's there: https://mysoundbank.co.uk
Tonight in Coventry Cathedral there is a film screening of Stories from the She-Punks with free tickets. The Delia Derbyshire film is also beings screened and there is a panel with Pauline Black (Selector) and Rhoda Dakar (The Specials) talking about the 2-tone movement.
Ticket link here:
The news is utterly horrible: we are governed by greedy charlatans who have factored eugenics into their strategy for dealing with an ageing population. Behind me, I have a life that although it has many successes, I would not wish on anyone for some of the gruesome episodes that I have survived and do not talk about. Looks like I'm not going to get to Vienna or Innsbruck to play with Robert because of the import of the Delta (let's call it 'Johnson') variant of Covid (but good luck compadre, I'll be with you in spirit!).
Yesterday morning I awoke at 4.30 a.m. and naturally, tried to go back to sleep. At 5.30 I gave up, got up, and sat in the back yard enjoying the peace and silence with cup of tea. No barky dogs awake, no people awake, not even any cars roaring down the road. It was lovely: there was nothing in the air but expectation and it felt like an oasis in the chaos.
I 'slept in' this morning until 6.30 but did the same tea and garden thing, and by now at 9.30 I have finished the start of recording four guitar tracks for new songs. What I've noticed is that because of not playing some of the new songs live, I've got into bad habits of glossing over the difficult-to-pay sections. Some of them I've never played and I'm having to learn them as I go. So I played over and over, didn't get them right, but now I know where the weak points are.
What could be more blissful than sitting in the early-morning kitchen with the door open, the neighbourhood waking up, a cup of fresh coffee on the table, warm air draughting through and the sun shining outside: recording guitar tracks for a new album? The ground outside is already baking in the heat, but it's cool in here in the dark house that is sometimes so irritating in its gloom.
I recognise a moment of pure joy when I'm there, and that was it this morning. An hour of gentle and peaceful music-making, listening in for good and bad sounds as they came into the headphones in time, learning the muscle instructions, feeling the songs' meanings as I sang them in my head along to the backing track. What could possibly be better than this?
Well, I actually spent the afternoon recording mostly guitars (expecting thunder) but also some backing vocals. I was taking a break for lunch and I had an idea for a little guitar hook which has proved almost impossible to play without practising it, so I've had to leave that for now.
Here's a weird thing- it happened when I was recording with Robert last week too. You become obsessed with the detail of getting things right, and rather negative about how it's all sounding. Then you add just one little detail, and the whole track just takes off. It's never the same thing and you can't predict or calculate what's going to happen. I keep forgetting that this happens, and I spend an hour or so feeling dispirited. Why is everything sounding so bad? Then suddenly, the flavours start to work together and everything makes sense.
Oh yes, I know I have to get that little hook right, and a backing vocal could be made to work better, and I need to do the main vocal with a better microphone (not on a thundery day). But I have made a good start to a recording today. This is going to be a pensive album when it's finished.
There's no point in waiting- I have the songs, I have the voice, I have the guitar. I'm going to start tomorrow, partly because I want to learn the new ones properly for the gig in Rochester at the end of September.
Should I reschedule the other gigs I cancelled? Not yet- it's mayhem out there and there are going to be even more arguments than normal, all conducted by the head of the orchestra of misery, Mr Boris-Variant Johnson.
So while it's so hot I'll build up a song-bank in my sweltering kitchen, door closed against the headache-inducing drilling from the garden next to the dog-garden. It's all go, isn't it? And there's you thinking Barnet's boring!
Over the back fence there is a very beautifully turned-out light brown bulldog that potters about in the garden. I'm not sure whether it's a temporary visitor or a permanent resident but it doesn't bark, which is odd given the barkophonic orchestra in our neighbourhood.
However, in the middle of the sweltering night, an eloquent succession of squeals from a squeaky toy roused me from my slumbers. Every facet of expression emitted from the squeaker: appeals, cheers, pleas, whoops and whines.
How very sweet for such a butch-looking dog to use the sound of a plastic toy as a mouthpiece for its complex emotions and what a pity the toy didn't include a bark in its repertoire!
Well, that was a workout to end all workouts! Up the hill with the Green Goddess on my back (is she putting on weight?) from Gypsy Hill station for the session at One Cat Studios yesterday. It was a really good session despite Ian Button not being able to join us- he was with us in spirit however and we managed to record three songs. The magic is still there! Because we have done lots of rehearsing we were able to blend our guitars really successfully, and I think we have some lovely vocals plus all the harmonies down as well. Three songs, two more to go and another five to write before we have an album. This is just such a great collaboration! Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago who wrote the words and who wrote the chords and music, but there are no roles- we do either or both and make a collage of our ideas that you couldn't unstick or uncreate. It's brilliant to have a wordless song (or part fo one) and have someone fit the perfect lyrics to it, or be given an instrumental to discover the melody and meaning inside it. And we resolve each others musical conundrums too- where a song needs to be finished, or needs to travel somewhere else, we both do that too.
Here we are in the studio, with Jonathan who records us and plays bass, and with the studio carpet (photographed by Robert). Roll on the next time!
Later this week Robert, Ian and Jonathan and me will be recording some songs. My fingertips didn't go to soft while I was away, and in a funny sort of way I'm trying not to over-rehearse. It's a bit like the goalkeeper's fear of the penalty (apt, I know, but also the title of a Wim Wenders film). If you put too much pressure on yourself the magic just isn't going to happen.
I've stopped for today: well, I might just run through some difficult chord changes later on.
Yesterday early morning I recorded a one-minute song for Dexter Bentley's annual one minute song fest on Resonance FM. I had to keep changing the BPMs and began in the wrong direction. Shaving seconds off a song is quite good fun actually. There's no breath at the beginning, and I had to expand the display to the max to edit the very end of the final guitar chord. There is also a pop at one point on the vocal track, but c'est la vie! The song is entirely twee, and the title is Little Heart-Shaped People from Venus.
So housework beckons (doesn't it always?). There is no way any other sort of work is going to get done until After The Recording, which means next week is going to be Very Busy Indeed with University work.
It was worth travelling back a day early to meet up with the remaining members of Asbo Derek (is it rude to call them the 'leftovers'? Good!) and some other pals including Kim and Simon from Oldfield Youth Club, Joe Davin from The Cravats and Steve Clements, to commemorate Brian Blaney's life and the publication of a book of his celebrated stories. The book was put together by Jem and Mark and is a wonderful tribute to Brian's life. It only seems a couple of weeks ago that I was zipping his wooly cardy up to his chin after spending an afternoon in the bawdy company of the band at the Prince Albert (all staff apparently suffering from Covid infections at the moment).
True to form the weather forecast was entirely wrong, and we sat in the sunshine and talked our heads off. Most people drank copious quantities of booze but I and my companion ate copious quantities of chips instead (although I still managed a Mr Whippy on the way back along the seafront).
There are still good things in life despite it's grim and overcast sky, and friends are very important at this time. I was delighted to hear that the band are going to continue in a slightly altered format and with new songs. The spirit of musicians is hard to crush!
Somehow, we went twice to Hadrian's Wall, wandered on the Solway Coast and climbed through huge elephant-skin rocks and ran on the sand, went to Ullswater and watched the cows wandering on the lake beach and saw the penny tree where people slot pennies into the bark, saw Jonny Hanna's exhibition in Hexham, and explored Kielder Forest with Kenji and Till, cheating in the maze with our umbrellas. And on the last night, Saskia and Russ came over with a huge chocolate and courgette cake. It was so awful that Offsprog Two got contacted by test'n'trace and couldn't come along, but we sent her loads of photos and tourist observations. Bloody Johnson and his variant!
It was so sad to drive south. I almost cried.
It's been windy and rainy, and I don't think I have ever seen so many wild flowers in one place in one day in my life before. Wild strawberries, thyme, purple vetch, red and white clover, orchids, bacon-and-eggs, so many I couldn't name. Tiny little white blossoms, papery yellow snapdragon types, fluffy cream coloured ones, swathes of miniature yellow stars....
We are watching BBC Alba, and there's a banana cake in the oven.
As a child on the Solway Coast we could find what we called ice cream cone shells: elongated swirls of pale shell that looked just like miniature cones. Alas, this must have been a thing of the 1960s; the colony must have departed. But you can still find what McMum called baby's ears.
I realised that nobody likes anyone's shell collection, apart from the person who has collected them themselves. Resisting the urge to look for the perfect cockle, I stuck to collecting a handful of these tiny things. They seem so mysterious: what is the point of being so beautiful if you live under the sea where the sun can't catch you?
When we went for breakfast in Brampton yesterday (that sounds rather like the title of a smart New York novel, doesn't it?), we wandered round the closed-for-Sunday town and noticed women in hi-vis jackets with three dogs. They told us that they were training them to be rescue dogs, so they could find lost people with dementia, for instance, and showed us the way they let a dog sniff a piece of cloth that smelled of the person they they were looking for. The dog then searched, pulling their walker along by its lead. False alarms... and the dog realised and turned back.
Later, they bounced past us in the distance. 'She did it!', they shouted. 'Good dog!' from us. The dog perked up it's head, ears alert, and wagged her tail. She knew what those words meant.
Where is this place? The football still managed to get here, through the screen of the pub down the road.
At the time were playing Racing Demon and Happy Families and all the better for it, even though there was a card missing from one of the packs. More tomorrow. I'm tired. That was a steep hill we climbed today.
I am sitting on a very squashy sofa in a large old building a tiny hamlet in the borders, looking out of leaded windows at a white sky and listening to a cacophony of sparrows. We made our escape yesterday, and despite my having a horrible headache all the way up the road, we got here in good time with our rain gear (do reindeers wear rain gear?), board games for bored days, sketchbooks (one each), books (I've almost finished mine) and tins of tomatoes. I love driving and it was great to be on the one road with no traffic lights, although big motorway traffic (gigantic commercial vehicles that pull out into your lane at the last minute when you have nowhere to go) appears to have colonised the A1 for some reason.
Here, it's huge, quiet, peaceful and satisfyingly lost off. Kenji and Till are coming later, and Offsprog Two is coming on Sunday. There is room for us all and even a swinging cat, if we were interested in such activities.
I couldn't pack my guitar and I was reluctant to leave it, but I think I need a break from that too. I just need a break from everything to do with normal 'me'.
I had to stop myself this morning, just get up and get on with the day. I was making a list of all the terrible things that the Conservatives have done, do and will do. I won't call them Tories- that's them pretending that there has been some sort of break from their awful policies, which have basically carried on for far too long. I'm not going to list them here because I left them upstairs and with any luck when I go back up to get dressed the list will have dissolved and drifted out of the upstairs window, which is what I wish would happen to the Conservatives in all honesty.
So this is a conservative free sofa, with the anticipation of a cup of proper coffee in a minute or so.
The past few Wednesdays Robert Rotifer has been travelling up from Canterbury to write and rehearse songs. Fingers crossed, we'll be playing in Vienna and Innsbruck on 28th and 29th July, and we are also going to record a new album with Ian and Jonathan. The ends of my fingers are shredded and I'm as hoarse as a... well, horse, of course. There is so much to learn: german lyrics, fancy chords, song structures, English lyrics, remembering the old songs (Old! We wrote them last year!).
Cheesy grins all round!
When I was about eleven I had a little tinny transistor radio, made of cream plastic with a dodgy perforated black plastic cover (to let the music out) that had a carrying handle attached to it. There was one headphone on a fine plastic-coated wire that plugged into it.
Our family lived in a Northumbrian village with just enough trains and buses to get you to school (or work in a shop in Newcastle on Saturdays), but not enough to be able to have fun. There was a Folk Club in the village and I do remember one event in the Village Institute where my friends' band played, and another time a disco that was attended by a large diaspora of skinheads.
Nobody had dreams, as far as I could see. If they did, they didn't share them with anyone. There was a very narrow life route available, and if you didn't take that narrow path, there be dragons. I was isolated.
In some ways we were lucky because the world came to us: McDad's job at the University meant a constant stream of doctors from around the world who chatted to us about their cultures and laughed at my Geography homework (ten years out of date). One doctor, Shima, was Nigerian and lived with us for a year. He played African music in his room, with big swanky speakers. But that was later, when teenage wanderings allowed village youths to attend Youth Club with its pile of scratched and out of date 7" singles and a Dansette to play them on, and to share listening to forbidden albums like Frank Zappa's in each others houses.
My little transistor radio was a pipeline to magic. From the strange enclosed and claustrophobic world of the village, I could plug my ears into the radio and listen to Detroit and LA, the shape and sound of faraway studios entering my imagination and signalling an outside world where girls and women sang in sparky voices about daring lives that seemed just as normal to them as my dreary existence was to eleven year old me.
For all it's evil and horrible machinery, the music industry has always been a conduit to dreams, and dreams are evidence of the imagination, and the imagination is the route to freedom. I have never lost that thought.
London's West End is weird. Semi-deserted, it still has some life, mostly restaurants, cafés and bars that have laid out their tables in neat rows for phantom customers. Sometimes there is a small group at a table having muted 'fun', but a lot of it looks like the definition of hope in adversity. All ready to go, but who has the starting pistol?
There are a lot of casualties. The Tintin shop is shuttered (I had gone to try to find a birthday present for my brother). Larger shops have large, pacing, uniformed security guards, which puts you off going in them. The clothes shops should be ashamed of themselves- utter trash is on sale, lazy designs that they thought they could shift because the Pandemic Pound was going to be so profligate.
Also, people have forgotten how to work tills- or maybe they all have new jobs now all the European workers have been chased away by the vile xenophobia promoted by the zombie government. In one shop, I couldn't buy anything because the person with the code to open the computerised till had gone to lunch for an hour. In another, a person was being very slowly trained to use the till and was talking themselves through the steps as they pressed buttons and checked prices.
I think we have all forgotten how to do everything. I met my Champagne Friend for tea and a walk, and it was so lovely to just sit and yak at a table in a place that wasn't my house. It was so exciting! I felt like saying goodbye to everyone in the whole building afterwards, but managed to just say it to the woman at the till, who seemed really pleased to have been communicated with.
We had a lovely walk and I managed to find my brother an alternative present, and even paid 20 pence for a carrier bag just because shopping for something that isn't food was such an extraordinary activity. Wow.
It's strange to live so close to a huge nature reserve and never have been there. Because everyone thought it was going to rain today and because it wasn't particularly warm, there were very few people around. In fact, sometimes, nobody.
We saw fleets of dragonflies swarming around the nettles, sleek cormorants doing flypasts, hundreds of Canada geese, Greylag geese, swans with cygnets, coots nesting on the weir (how weird!), a solitary Grebe and an enormous colony of Terns with their attendant smell. Silent green fishermen were plugged in to the banks on wooden platforms. Later, there was a lovely scent that emanated from... brambles.
It's great to spend a day outside which you expected to be a sitting round the telly sorta day. And back in time for the football, too!
I am very grateful for this. Writing the book took more than ten years, and was a very bumpy ride at times.
Robert Rotifer came round today and we did more writing, carrying on from last week. We think we might be ready to record soon- at least some of the songs. We worked hard: there is a lot to learn for both of us, but we have at least four of the ideas knocked into shape.
This is a selfie from this afternoon.
In deepest Sussex on a Sunday morning walk, we could hear two different cuckoos. Watch out, birdies! The cuckoos are coming to push your offsprog eggs out of your nests and install their own big babbies to trick you into feeding them. We also disturbed a silly skylark on its ground nest, and buzzards glided up in the sky looking for prey.
There had been bats flitting around us the night before, homing in to inspect the humans as they watched the sun set and the skinny sickle moon rise. In the depths of the night owls hooted, and a cow had a bad dream, shouting out loudly for help in cow language.
It was hot everywhere, wasn't it? The M25 was packed with dozing drivers who drifted across lanes every so often. It was nice to go Somewhere Else in good company, despite the sweltering journey.
Sometimes, I'm simply busy doing stuff and don't have time to post anything. Sometimes, the time is better spent upon reflection than writing blog posts. At other times, the life-revelations are simply so completely appalling that I won't write about them.
On this morning's walk, I thought about shame and how it's wrong to put people you love into a position where they have to feel ashamed about aspects of their lives. I looked up and saw a kestrel hovering above, ready to pounce on any words or thoughts that were unwise, even if they were truthful.
Further on, I thought about revelations that suddenly crystallise out things that have happened, atmospheres, not getting the memo. Suddenly I understand the wobbly branch that I've been perched on for so many years.
Once more, I welcome music as a refuge and a skeleton to build something sane upon, despite the fact that it's an insane creative process. I am glad that I have survived and 'managed on my own' (one stalker will recognise that phrase very keenly). A simple collection of guitar chords and their resonances and relationships makes me feel powerful. I've no idea why. It's a bit like taking thoughts out of your head and making them material, so you can feel them and taste them. My hands, my guitar, my thoughts and my voice. Thank you.
In the past ten days I've seen two Munjac deers around here, one in the Nature Reserve and one just up the road not far from the duck pond. Brilliant.
Also, there is a large family of very lush-haired rats at the duckpond: mummy and daddy and at least four young 'uns supported by sliced bread donated by the public and their own young 'uns.
It's all go, isn't it?
Of course: the problem with the statue-toppling is that the Old Etonians all imagine themselves being made statues of! Just imagine, the Chief Blob daydreaming about his place on a plinth at Trafalgar Square, or even annexed to the stone Churchill outside the Houses of Parliament, only to have his dreams dashed by whippersnapper egalitarians. Quel Dommage!
I was up with the pigeons and took my car to be serviced. It is iced with mud from woodland excursions, but I did tip a generous bucket of water over it to wash off the Sahara sand that arrived a couple of days ago.
It would be nice to go for a walk, but the pollen is thick in the air this morning and I'm blinking through grit and breathing through soup. Maybe the antihistamine will kick in. Meanwhile, I write.
Hysterical barkydog, who lives in an indeterminate location and who signals its distress all day every day, hasn't been put outside to yelp yet, so it's quite peaceful.
Morning thoughts drift through my head. Why isn't the Chirpomatic app called Cheepo? Did someone else trademark that? Why didn't I patent the... oh no, I'm not going to say that idea. Someone will nick it!
Would it be scary if I left courgette plants on neighbours doorsteps if they weren't in? I've rehomed two already.
Should I prepare for this afternoon's work meeting, or go out? How far should I go? Should I wear shorts? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I thought I'd been one of the first people to hear a new genre of music: I could hear an unfamiliar timbre floating across Burgess Park. As I tuned in my ears, I realised that was the sound of a strimmer, wielded by a council worker along the way.
Later we sat in the town garden as it got dark, listening first to a loud neighbouring electric lawnmower, then children in a nearby playground. The noise died away until all we could hear were birds. The app Chirpomatic identified a Goldfinch's call. There really is an app for everything.
It was a very odd feeling to have had a night out, to have been a stopout. I got home after dark, bringing a flush of night air into my stuffy house. Summer has arrived: the pandemic has busted through the seasons as a timetable of our lives, which are now divided by lockdowns and vaccinations and punctuated by an occasional funeral. We breathe in and out: sadness and fear, sadness and fear.
Government lies float about us like clouds of flies, those irritating bluebottles that you can't get out of the house: bzz, bzz, bzz. We must drown out the sound with music.
Saturday's walk in the woods was remarkable. At one point the cacophony from the birds sounded like a tropical rainforest: there were so many different calls, and such a quantity of birds, all in a slice of woodland between two golf courses and only a stone's throw from the M25.
It was also Giant Hogweed Eradication Day- except boots aren't really enough. Protective gear is a better idea, because they are poisonous and their poison droplets spray into the air if you trample on them.
Today was writing with Robert day. He arrived with his guitar and a box of cakes and believe it or not, by the time he left we had five almost-songs in the bag. I almost didn't mind that we might not be able to play in Vienna, because Austria has banned British flights. Thanks Boris Johnson, for reigniting the flames of Covid by waiting two weeks before banning flights from India. Thanks for that.
We will be match fit for whatever gigs arrive in our inboxes. It's a workout for the hands learning another person's chord palette, but I feel so lucky to be collaborating with a song writer like Robert. He has the ability to weaponise language where necessary, or be a true poet when the mood takes him. It has been hard working day interspersed with some late marking, but the internet packed up and isolated both of us from our real lives so we ended up just getting on with it all. I've got a pile of lyrics to learn and a separate pile of chords, and so has Robert.
Tomorrow I'm going to Joan's to work on our collaboration. My whole blood supply has been replaced by creative juices, and I'm not complaining. And here's the poster for our gig in November:
Song Circle is resting at least for the summer. But I was trying to play a cover song the other day and I found a chord sequence that is teasing me with its potential. I've been out in the back yard playing it to the ants and bees. I'm not sure what they think because I don't understand their language, but I imagined that they were listening.
Also yesterday me and Robert did a Zoom together, and started to finish some of the song ideas that we have been collaborating on by text during lockdown. I think we will have an album- next week we are going to meet up in person and see what happens when our two guitars speak to each other.
I know all this sounds terribly hippyish. It's an antidote to marking and admin. If you'd been data inputting and cross-checking feedback and moderated marks for days you'd be like this too, believe me. You keep thinking you've finished, and then a late piece of work comes in and the whole house of cards collapses again.
I'm working on something else with my friend Joan. I'm learning a lot, but more about that another time; for the rest of the day there are lots of pernickety things to sort out plus there's a huge bluebottle snarling around the room looking for food, or possibly just being irritating. Did my enemies send it? I'm going to trap it, tie a message to its back and send it on its way. I have guitars to play.
Three cheers for Kevin Younger and this partner Xtina Lamb for organising these monthly online cover version events. They have been saving graces during lockdown for a lot of isolated musicians while our active communities have been curtailed. There have been some fantastic performances and videos (Tiger Feet is number one at the moment). Here is mine from last night. I have no video skills, but I do have paper!
You get used to not seeing friends who play music for long periods of time because the nature of making music is that it's episodic. You have intense, focused relationships with other creative people, you make a tour or a gig or a recording. You share jokes, you eat together, travel together, get on each others' nerves. You need clean clothes or you should have had a shower. Things that are not funny seem hilarious because they... are. Collectively, you meet people at venues and in audiences. If you're lucky you become part of a loose network of people who will say 'yes' to anything musical in any of it's forms. Amongst you there are people of supreme musical talent, people with basic skills but who always turn up on time (so valuable, those people!), people who know how to bring an audience, and people who seem to who entirely consist of ideas, mostly really good ones. Some people can read music, most can't. Some people's egos overflow out of a room and hallway to pour down the road: others are so self-effacing they seem barely there, until they pick up an instrument and let rip so uproariously you wonder where they were keeping all that energy.
So many people you come across, in a lifetime of making music. You get used to saying 'See ya!' and then it's a year, five years, ten years. You meet again and everything is the same because you have been bonded by all that I've just written about. It's called 'knowing the score' in slang that everyone uses but because it's music, it really is a score, only not the one on paper with dots and instructions about sound that people generally associate with the word. The score is not something you can teach at any of the University courses I've lectured on over the years. The score is to do with being able to recognise an experience almost before you experience it, to understand not only what your role is, but also what your more-than-a-role will be. To see the gap in a group of people that exactly fits your shape and sound, and to alight there with a feeling of belonging.
At Nick's funeral on Thursday, this is where I realised all this. Some of us have known each other musically since our very early twenties, others later. We had all connected through one musician, and we were knitted together by those experiences so a deluge of memories rained down. A group of us even laughed, when the very loving and solemn formal part of the afternoon was over.
Nick was very brave. At the end of last year he must have been very ill, but he still did the 'voice of Fatberg' and didn't say what was happening to him. He probably never heard the finished track, although I sent it to him. I was sure I'd see him again, just as so many other people at his funeral were. He was a big part of our musical landscape, our musical peoplescape.
Personally, I've never regretted the diversion into music that punk knocked me into. I looked round at all those characters on Thursday, who were also looking round at each other, and thought just what a turbulent and volatile 'career' you have as a creative person. Money evades you (it always seems to be being counted in the next room, and escapes like a shot as soon as it moves into view); fame lasts as long as a tissue in a washing machine. Your skills vanish unless you constantly refresh and rehearse them. Your playing is replaced by someone more competent on a record. Music industry people tell you to sack your band (has happened twice). People claim credit for your music (has happened countless times).
But it's a world that I understand, that has given me adventures, that is exciting, that has great and lasting camaraderie, understanding, laughter, and most of all, constant variety and change. The meaning of all this flies beneath so many people's radar, in particular that of powerful people in the music industry for whom the meaning of life is money and cocaine. It flies beneath the radar of the political class, until it's convenient to call it 'the creative industries'. It evades definition and the scales and measures used to quantify and qualify value.
They just can't put their finger on it all.
Good, because if they could, they'd squash it.
Something we all have to get used to: things changing all the time. Thanks to Boris Johnson, the Austrian Government has banned flights from the UK. We were/are supposed to be playing there in July. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed. I almost bought the flight tickets last week, but was waiting to see if it was three gigs or two. I am trying to give up being annoyed with the Government. It's an utter waste of time and energy engaging with mass psychopathy, especially when it's been voted for. They will all destroy each other in time, because psychopaths only care about themselves and regard anyone who isn't them to be an inferior being. I just hope the destruction of other people's lives stops sooner rather than later. I know that sounds trite under the circumstances, but I can't express in words the disgust and anger that I feel.
It could have been a disastrous journey, if I hadn't checked the Transport for London website half an hour before I was due to leave and discovered that there were no tubes at all running on the Northern Line branch from High Barnet that I needed to travel on to King's Cross. I hopped on bus to Arnos Grove, that 1930s-splendiferous tube station, and travelled without incident all the way to Eastcliffe, where the promoter Stephen Harland picked me up and drove us to the venue. The NE Volume Bar is small and perfectly formed, and was just perfect for a socially distanced gig on a Sunday evening. Charlotte Grayson and Steve McCormick were the other artists playing, and after the soundchecks we tucked in to Wendy's vegan hotpot and (wait for it) Blue Ribands! I didn't know they still existed.
Charlotte is 21 years old and has a worldly wise way with lyrics. She is already recording her second album and she is confident, with a classic Sixties-style voice that will take her far. Steve is a self-confessed stomper, singing sunny good-time songs that warmed up the room no end. Good job- the dressing room was chilly, and I was a bit worried about having a repeat performance experience of the St John's gig where my fingers were so cold it was like playing with Twiglets instead of fingers. By the time I went on stage the audience were well-lubricated, but not so much that they weren't listening to the lyrics- there were a couple of guffaws at points in the songs that people don't always get the twists of. And of course, there was the burp that I mentioned in yesterday's posting! It was a very friendly and lovely crowd, and I was massively flattered by Saskia Holling and her partner Russ Wilkins, two Medway scenesters, travelling down from Dumfries in their camper van for the gig. Of course we had a bloody good distanced yak, partly about Kevin Younger's monthly cover versions gigs, which we all do.
There could not have been a better gig to emerge from lockdown into. Stephen and Wendy are so interesting to talk to- they have promoted so many different gigs, often people that I really like: the Nightingales, Vic Godard, and of course Pellethead, the local heroes. I couldn't stop smiling. It could have been difficult- at one point I thought I was going to lose my voice because of all the chatting but all those months of four-seminar Tuesdays saw me through.
The green Goddess also behaved, and did not give me too many bad chords. If I don't treat her right, she sulks and throws the spanner in the works. I have realised though, that she is bloody heavy to carry around to gigs if I'm travelling by train.
Anyway- Steve and Wendy very kindly put me up, and I met their two rescue labradors, the boisterous one and the quiet one, before conking out entirely. It was a long way to travel for a gig but it was so worth it. The gig the night before in Beverley had been cancelled because the venue wasn't ready to open, so it was a bit of a punt to travel so far just for a one-off but I'm so glad I did. I am still buzzing today and had to go for a long walk to come down to earth again.
Heading home... after spending half the train journey listening to a distressed woman describing her boyfriend's cocaine-induced seizure at the wheel of his van, fighting the staff at A&E, being constantly drunk, borrowing money off her friends and relatives, and spending the money she was working 15 hour shifts as a nurse to save for their holidays on taxing the van he'd just crashed, I decided to take earplugs next time. She was travelling to see him after taking a day's holiday from work, and it was so tempting to tell her to turn round and go home immediately!
Suddenly being social is intense, isn't it?
Today is vocals day for Femme Fatale. I've just remembered that I haven't really eaten anything today so I suppose I'd better do that first. I've already rehearsed half my songs for tomorrow night in Stockton and I'll do a bit more of that later.
It's daunting, the idea of replacing all the gigs I had to cancel from last year, and once everything seems to have settled down I'll get to work on that. Everyone's a bit shell-shocked still, but I can sense people coming out fo hibernation. Part of it's the travelling: living under house arrest, or at least town arrest, for a year is a weird thing.
There's not much to say. I'm just writing this because I'm waiting for the potatoes to cool down to make potato salad with, and I've read the newspaper from cover to cover. The house needs cleaning, but that honestly doesn't appeal. I wonder if I could persuade the garden snails to do it?
I braved the bluster this morning, walking four and a half miles there and back for vaccine number two. I pretended that I was in Ullapool and lo, when I returned home I had a shiny Ullapool windface!
Somehow I found pelicans on Youtube and spent about 15 minutes being really disappointed in their behaviour. Because I like them so much, I expected them to be nice, but they're not. Every video was called 'Pelican swallows.... whole' or something like that. In one, a brave little cat got very near to the deadly beak, but shot off at a rate of knots very close to being eaten alive. One pelican was trying to eat a capybara alive and didn't seem to realise there was no chance. It had a bloody good go at it, though. I have no idea how I got lost down this wormhole, apart from clicking on a vid of a capybara farting in the bath last week. Oh how to waste time.
This afternoon, I'm going to mix in Ian and Robert's vocals to the Femme Fatale recording, and also do some work on mine and Robert's songs. I've literally been waiting weeks to do this, but there has been so much marking to do that I haven't had the opportunity. Headphones at the kitchen table three days in a row! How extraordinary!
But first, a good read of the newspaper and a cheap sell-by-date lunch. I'll miss out the first few pages because I'm heartily sick of mawkish royals moaning about everything in the middle of a global pandemic. Talk about choosing their moment! There is nothing more completely tedious that narcissism, unless it's people who pander to it and keep it going. Best cure is to go into a hospital and work there: I think that might inject a little reality into things for them.
Spirit of Nick, it's 8 p.m. and I've been editing and recording most of the day and part of this evening. I have a decent backing track demo of Femme Fatale with some guitar overdubs that are slightly out of time but (I might completely change my mind tomorrow) in a really good way that might become permanent. Very Velvets-sounding.
Tomorrow morning early I might put a guide vocal on it for my (male) backing singer(s). I hope to have two but I might ask more: I've only asked one so far. This moment has come around quite quickly.
I'd meant to do more rehearsing today for the gig in Stockton on Sunday, but I can do that tomorrow and Friday and Saturday.
On the cassette that I was digitising this morning I found fifteen anti-advertising feminist jingles that I wrote in 1983. They are strangely relevant right now, which is a bit depressing. Listening to all the tracks we did I can hear Simon Walker talking in the background between tracks, and imagine us all there at Elephant Studios in Wapping with the engineer Simon Tassano behind the desk- he actually showed me what it did, which was great because I was so curious. We had big glass panels dividing us to separate the sound, and endless tea and coffee from the ubiquitous stained mugs that still collect in studios and reproduce silently when no-one's looking.
I remember at one point, when the music was finished, walking down Coldharbour Lane in Brixton with two grand's worth of tapes in a supermarket carrier bag. That was a genuinely surreal moment: a whole TV series worth of music on quarter-inch tape reels carried by a scruffy twenty-something who lived in a semi-squat. The glamour!
I have dug out a cassette of music from a documentary series called Pictures of Women that a whole bunch of us made in 1983. It was made by a women's film collective and provided satellite employment for lots of young film and arty women in our Camberwell community and beyond. At a party, I'd said 'Yes' to doing the music, and from then on began a journey of what is commonly called a 'steep learning curve', writing the music, finding people to play it, and ultimately overseeing the recordings, something that I believe is commonly called 'production', although if anyone had described what I was doing as that at the time, I would have fainted with surprise.
Alas, the cassette has deteriorated a bit and there's some odd phasing on the drums, but I'm going with it because on a lot of the tracks you can hear Dubulah's guitar parts. And Lester Square from the Monochrome Set, for that matter, and Mike Slocombe who currently drums for that very band, plus Simon Walker on fiddle. We were a bouncy lot, full of youthful energy and you can hear it in the music.
I've definitely NOT got archive ears, which you really need to engineer these things properly. I'm running it from a knackered Sony tape machine too. Probably I should take the original masters somewhere and get them converted, but at the moment my budget is covering the future, not the past. I'll put these on Soundcloud later this week, just for the craic. And I'm also going to put our version of Leavin' You Baby up there too- just for the energy blast!
I've missed Bargain Hunt because I was so absorbed in what I was doing. I thought it was going to pour with rain this afternoon but it's not looking like that. However I'm also going to do what I meant to do, which is record a version of Femme Fatale for a Mexican fanzine, and rehearse for Sunday's gig in Stockton. The studio tan is well on its way but who cares? I got to hear my pal again and I have to say that I don't think any of us have lost our bounce, and Nick definitely didn't. I'm so glad to have him as the voice of Fatberg!
Just posted on Soundcloud:
It was so exciting! An actual day out! I met Gina at Tufnell Park tube station, just like in normal times... except we were wearing masks. We went to see Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch at the Royal Academy just like in normal times, except we were wearing masks.
It felt like an entirely new experience, to be in an art gallery. All that space, and all those paintings. Gina showed me some of her own work when we were having coffee in the courtyard before the exhibition, and I could see the correlation: the idea of nakedness and exposure of women not for the male eye, but from the female feeling and experience. Taking back control mate, innit?
I worked out that Tracey Emin works on some of her paintings upside down, which was intriguing. I do a similar thing, though not the same, with drawing. I particularly liked seeing the different pressures of the paintbrush on the canvas. And the most amazing thing? It wasn't mediated through a screen, and the paintings were big... huge, some of them. Even the smell of the gallery, and the sound of the gallery attendant humming, and it reverberating gently around the space and merging in with the quiet chatter and clumping footsteps. An art gallery, and art. Real.
I'm listening to Gideon Coe at the moment and have been moved to tears by hearing him play a Dub Colossus track. Such strange times of illness and death, yet Spring has arrived and is paying no attention at all. Everything outside is green and rainy and fresh and exuberant. I have planted courgette seeds, and they have positively burst into life out from the constriction of their husks. Out of prison, no longer confined! I know just how they feel, actually.
Hats off to Loud Women goddess Cassie Fox for writing and organising this track. 64 of us contributed from our kitchens, studios, streets and various rooms of our own, and the track has been released today. I am honoured to have been invited to contribute vocals (and a backing vocal arrangement!) to the song alongside so many brilliant women musicians.
Listen again here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000vymm