Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The WIAIWYA Christmas Concert

A couple of days after the event, but it's not too late to write a few words about Sunday night. 

The Hope and Anchor gracefully moves from era to era, weathering all the different storms of music that tumble into its basement from the streets and unfold on the stage. Back in the day, it used to be a yellow room, with punk bands and after-punk bands. I saw the Meteors there, and Brighton band Daddy Yum Yum, whose chief fan was Jamie Reid, the Sex Pistols designer. Strange but true! He propped up the bar on one elbow and waxed lyrical about them. The Chefs played there, with the Dollymixture. I sat and talked to their drummer Hester in the dressing room. One of us was knitting (I can't remember which). 

Last time I played there solo was a Loud Women event. It's the sort of venue that people go to just on spec and for a band or artist that makes it a place to play to new audiences, which is always an exciting challenge. It's also a place for you to check out new music, playing shoulder to shoulder and cheek by jowl with other bands and hearing what's out there.

The venue was pretty full even as the doors opened for the first band, Parenthesis. Their gadgets included an electronic woodwind instrument and what appeared to be an electronic shoulder bag, from which emitted some classic-sounding, and classy, electronic pop music with witty lyrics about London nightlife and the shared loneliness of the dark hours. They started the night off with a lively and energetic bang, a positive pop experience that burst through the Sunday gloom. 

The Rhynes were a complete contrast, a duo who played delicate and gorgeous songs that were very much more than a sum of their parts. Guitar and bass sounded like a full band, and with their perfectly pitched vocals they created a unique sound that you could engage with on first listen. Good songs too. I need to hear more.

Then it was my turn. Thankfully someone shushed the audience because I was the only solo performer of the evening. And people listened. Off to one side, someone clicked their fingers to So Long Elon. I had to sing mine and Robert's contribution to the WIAIWYA Christmas album by myself and do Robert's vocals in the talking section. Apparently I sounded nothing like him. I guess our duo is safe.

After a break, European Sun took to the stage and treated us to their gentle and humorous pop, interspersed with storytelling and great bass playing from Rob Pursey, normally to be found playing guitar with The Catenary Wires. Amelia was at home looking after their daughter so the chaps shared out her parts between them, apparently only realising they needed to do that once the song was under way. Who needs The Beatles film when you can witness real things happening in real life?

Pete Astor was the penultimate artist; he was accompanied by Ian Button and Rob on bass, and he sang his perfectly crafted songs with a winning charm that invited the audience into his songs about Bekonscott model village (nice witty bantz with an audience member there), and a very touching tribute to Pat Fish. Pete's lyrics make the apparently ordinary extraordinary: he is an observer and celebrator of the details of life that pass a lot of us by.

The evening finished with Golden Spike, a band that includes members from several continents. All dressed in white (was that snow?), their first song had a hilarious moment when the band member holding up cards that illustrated the lyrics got stuck halfway through and was unable to shuffle his way out of a visual traffic jam. The faux pas only endeared them to the audience, and their vocal harmonies soared around the room as a lovely finale.

Ahem... Rob and Pete had asked me to stand in for Amelia and sing Walking in a WIAIWYA Wonderland  for John Jervis, the man behind the label. I'd agreed so long as we didn't miss the last train home. We had the time, so we sang the song, with the audience merrily singing along and not caring one bit that the lyrics had been changed. They just wanted to join in. It was fun!

So there you go. No more gigs till the New Year now: crowds are too risky for my family. There could not have been a better way to finish the gigging year, in which I've been much busier than I thought I would be. Big thanks to John Jervis for releasing the album, and to Caryne as always for arranging the whole thing so impeccably!

Here's the record: https://wiaiwya.bandcamp.com/album/24

And here's the finale:


A woman in TK Maxx engaged me in a long conversation about saucepans and casseroles yesterday. I have no idea why she asked me and not the shop assistants, and I also have no idea about saucepans. 

I have had the same ones for 30 years.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Last Gig of the Season

Review to come (it's a work day) but here's a photo from the finale.
Super-masked, distanced, not too crowded but with a great audience up for as much craic as the musicians could give them.
Rob re-worked the words of Winter Wonderland. Amelia was at home with a poorly daughter, so I stepped in to do the honours, and the audience roared along in the choruses!

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Slide Rules

In life, you have to recalibrate regularly, don't you? 

Every day that you wake up the world has changed in ways that you can't, and couldn't control, and you adjust your sights to navigate what lies ahead- or what you think lies ahead.

There are a couple of gigs I was going to do that I will sadly miss playing- the celebration of Brian Blaney's life at the Prince Albert in Brighton, which I know will be a wonderful and warm-hearted night in a venue that feels like home. The other was supporting Daniel Takes a Train at The Troubadour in Fulham, which was a lovely gig to be invited to do because Paul Davey, sax player in Helen and the Horns, joined the band when we split up.

We are, however, still in the middle of a deadly global pandemic and nobody in their right mind risks their family's health. Socialising is going to be mostly virtual this Christmas. I've excavated as many old Christmas lights as can find, and the tiny Christmas tree that lives in the back yard has been removed from the shadows and is waiting patiently to be over-decorated (it comes into the house late, so it doesn't perish because of the central heating). I'm going to stock up on piles of peculiar food, and make sure the ingredients of many cakes are in the store cupboard and fridge.

Although I won't be joining in the festivities after tonight, I have played some really nice gigs this year and have plenty of good memories. Tonight's gig at the Hope and Anchor is the last one of the year, celebrating the release of the WIAIWYA Christmas album with various artists, including Pete Astor and Amy and Rob from Swansea Sound (and many other musical incarnations, including Tallulah Gosh). One of my Christmas dresses in in the loft, and it's cold up there, and the dress is scratchy knitted red acrylic 'wool' from Primark with white fluff (see below). The other is perhaps too short, but maybe mutton dressed as lamb is 'on point', and that one's easier to access. As to the song: who knows whether I can pull it off?  And shall I play a new one? All the dare-to-eat-a-peach questions!

Below, a kitchen video of a Christmas song that was originally released on the Christmas Assortment EP in 2007.


Ho hum and ho-ho-ho! 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Christmas Gig at the Hope and Anchor, Sunday 5th December

Next one is on Sunday evening. What a line-up! We are all playing the Christmas songs we contributed to the WIAIWYA compilation plus a short set of our own songs. I'll be playing Takeaway on Christmas Day solo, because Robert will be in Spain.

Here it is anyway:


Here is a ticket link to the event itself :


And here is a link to the whole compilation:


Monday, November 29, 2021

The Lexington

I'll write more about the evening tomorrow; I'm just on my way to work. But what an evening. One of the best things about playing out there in the live music scene is watching the other bands!

But here is us, playing Not What I Intended.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Celebration of Pat Fish's Life, the Dublin Castle

Last night there was a celebration of Pat Fish's life at The Dublin Castle in Camden. It was a freezing night but the venue was warm, not just in temperature but also in mood. I can't write much because I'm getting ready for tonight at The Lexington, but the extent of musical co-operation was extraordinary. Jazz Butcher drummer Dave Morgan has rehearsed a backing band for many of the acts (which included Heidi Berry, who was in fine voice). Sets were two to three songs long, and master of ceremonies Jem Price threaded his good humour throughout the night and sang three of Pat's songs himself.

I met Pat at a gig with Asbo Derek in 2019, coincidentally at a gig at the Latest Music Bar. He was a gentleman, playing solo to a boisterous audience who settled down and listened with great interest once Simon Rivers (of Bitter Springs fame) intervened and told them to listen to this great song writer. I think everyone needs a Simon Rivers to do this for them at some point in their lives. And of course, once people listened, they were won over by Pat's distinctive songs.

The stage was full: bass players, guitarists, keyboards and on one occasion, two drummers, who covered not only some of Pat's songs but also songs by artists that he liked. I contributed a version of Femme Fatale helped by some very lusty backing vocal singing by the audience, who clearly needed to express how they felt in a positive and vocal way.

Returning home early because of Covid worries, we watched the rest on live stream from the venue and caught Pete Astor's set onwards. Although I believe the internet cut out part of the way through (Heidi's and mine bits: designed by men? I think so! Ha ha!), the stream will be on Facebook to watch. However' I'd prefer to share a film of Pat from the Latest Music Bar that I recorded on the night:

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Photos from Tall Trees, Cambridge

What a lovely new music pub in Cambridge with a musician host, an attentive audience and a good PA. What more could a band want for their debut gig? Here is Ian Button at the sound check with a canine companion waiting for its turn to try out barking in the microphone, and me and Robert.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Oh Yes And...

.... Gideon Coe played a track last night. That was quick Sir!

Equal Parts 2

Just in time for the gigs this weekend, here's the digital version of EP2!

If you buy the downloads you get a lovely postcard with the codes, and also a discount on the future vinyl 10", when the pressing plants aren't so busy and we can go into production. 

We just wanted to share out music NOW when it's fresh out of the oven! Take a listen, maybe buy track (or six), and sing along on Friday at Tall Trees in Cambridge, or on Sunday at the Lexington:


Monday, November 22, 2021

Different Poster, Same Gig: Sunday At The Lexington


Equal Parts 2

Surprise! A spontaneous decision was made this weekend to release our second batch of Equal Parts recording digitally in time for our gigs in Cambridge (Tall Trees, Friday) and London (Lexington, Sunday).

These will be our first ever live gigs (yikes!) and it seems so annoying to be held up by the non-availability of vinyl (cheers, mega-artists and labels for suddenly deciding vinyl is 'in' and causing a shortage) and we decided to release the digital versions of the tracks just so life didn't feel constipated. So here is the link- and you can also get a postcard with the artwork.

I hope you enjoy them. They were such fun to write, just like the first lot! We'll be playing them at the weekend, with the full band (Ian Button on drums and Jon Clayton on bass).


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Jane Bom-Bane's, Friday Night

I was delighted to come back to Bom-Bane's café in Brighton, not just to play but also to show the She-Punks film. Many members of the extended Chrisp family attended, Max from the El-Trains and her partner, my friend Kathleen from Sunderland Art College popped in to say hello (hadn't seen each other for 40 years), and despite a couple of missing people (hello Alison, Kim and June!) there was still a very nice crowd who really enjoyed the film and hung around afterwards to listen to the songs, and even to sing along: https://soundcloud.com/mccookerybook/live-at-bom-banes-cafe-19th-november-2021

Jane is an amazing host and we have a lot in common, including a lot of friends. She used to sing in a 2 Tone band in Coventry and there is plenty to yak about, plus she gave us really lovely food. It felt, just like the last time, like a night out for me as much as for anyone else. 

Next morning, at the cheap hotel with the fabulous breakfasts along Western Road, this gull tried to will our breakfast through the window so it could gobble it up. For various reasons, it was a bit of a hello-goodbye trip, but I'm looking forward to returning mid-December for more japes and tomfoolery!

Monday, November 15, 2021

When Push Comes To Shove

Every so often I feel emotional about working with young people and music. It can be such a torturous process to get a piece of music off the ground and make it fly. 

All the interruptions: being knackered after your barista job, the stress of the pandemic, people taking your rights away, prejudice, poor health... yet still the music flows. No matter how much their lives are tipped up, their creativity rights the balance and off they go. 

I've just walked into a rehearsal room and known straight away that a door has been opened that looked as though it was locked. You could actually feel the pleasure of achievement.

This is a great thing to take home at the end of the day, not just for them but also for me.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Louder than Words Festival, Manchester

What a great thing, to be invited to speak about She's at the Controls at Louder than Words! It was worth bringing out my best dress, the parachute dress, made by Debbie Little, for an excursion. Manchester yesterday was sunny, busy and excited about the festival too. 

I got there in time for Zoe Howe's interview with Lesley Chow, who was joining the festival online in Melbourne. I had been intrigued by the reviews of Lesley's book that I'd read, and the interview was such a fascinating insight into so many parts of the book that I went straight to the stall and bought it afterwards. It is a discussion of music and singing that I think the students I'm teaching will also enjoy (part of last week's lecture was on Elvis's singing style, his yarrups, and Michael Jackson's trademark hiccups). Zoe is a musician as well as an author and her interviewing style reflects her own insider knowledge of music- and also her humour. I loved the way they talked about girl fans being predictors of future success for recording artists- just follow the screams!

My talk was about an hour later, and I had the opportunity to meet Roisin Dwyer beforehand, who is a music journalist from Dublin. Roisin's questions covered the wide span of issues that I wrote about in the book, and it was a proper conversation. There were some interesting questions from the audience, and it was great to see Cazz Blase there, and also Darren-from-Bolton, who I wasn't expecting at all. I played some songs afterwards chosen for their Saturday afternoon friendliness, and they seemed to go down well. It was altogether a relaxing experience, one where I felt it was worth all that stress of 'writing when I didn't feel like it', which I'm sure  a lot of authors go through. I can't believe I actually finished it, after ten years, but there you go. It got me to this lovely festival, and it was worth it just for that.

After catching up with Cazz and Darren (pizza and coffee in Home, where Gina and me showed Stories from the She-Punks a couple of years ago when Covid was just a nasty twinkle in a bat's eye), I went back for John Robb's chat with Jordan. Again the conversation was relaxed, warm and funny: Jordan spoke about the attention to detail in the forthcoming Danny Boyle film based on Steve Jones' memoirs, for which she is a consultant. She has a very clear memory of the time as well as being an entertaining raconteur; there were descriptions of the process of making props and filming in the old London Weekend Television building where 'that' interview happened, combined with a little edge of band talk that gave it a frisson of the edginess of punk times.

I wish I had been able to stay for more (I think the poetry started at 8.30 a.m. this morning so it was another full day of events). I bumped into a lot of people that I knew and it was nice to see Daniel Rachel, who is now writing book on Two Tone, but unexpectedly I had to come home this morning. Lesley's book is beside me, ready to read.

One final thing: the festival was tremendously well organised. Hats off to John Robb and Jill Adam for putting on this yearly event, to Roisin Dwyer for being a grade A interviewer, to the volunteers who were so helpful and welcoming, and last but not least, the sound engineers (of course) who were absolutely brilliantly helpful and good at their jobs.

And I finally got to eat the other half of my chocolate biscuit (in-joke!).

Friday, November 12, 2021

Mini-Comic for Tomorrow

I decided to photocopy some mini-comics that I did in 2014 to take to the Louder Than Words festival tomorrow. I used to put these in rehearsal studios (they usually ended up on the floor) and gave some to a woman who was teaching music tech to young women, when I was at a conference in Porto.

Also- what serendipity! Mojo magazine printed this article in their most recent issue. Just in time for tomorrow. I wonder if anyone will have read it!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Thick and Fast

It's busy! after Ms Melody's fantastic talk to the students at the University of the East last week, Ian Ballard from the label Damaged Goods came this morning. It's so great for the students to hear all this stuff. We had Cassie Fox from Loud Women the week before, and started with Ben Ashman from Universal Records products division.

This afternoon, I've been reading my book because the interviewer for the Louder Than Words festival on Saturday, Roisin Dwyer, sent through some questions and the answers are tucked so far into my subconscious that I couldn't retrieve them.

I did find my mini-zine from 2014 though and I'm trying to work out how to print some to take with me. there will be copies of the book there, but this is a potted version of it, minus the interviews with real people, of course.

Here is the ticket link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/shes-at-the-controls-helen-reddington-in-conversation-with-roisin-dwyer-tickets-168933323117

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

A Site Of Many Eccentricities

We suburban people have a tendency towards doing our best to stamp out difference, which presumably most of us feel disturbs the equilibrium. Hence Barnet Council's decision to rip up the beautiful painted paving stones that our resident artist Ben Wilson created about ten years ago. Here he is in The Guardian, finally achieving some recognition: 


Just think- we almost had a destination outdoor art gallery on our doorstep! Luckily, I encountered Ben in 2006 and he painted a custom chewing gum painting for my first solo album cover. I've bumped into him several times since then: he has the friendly demeanour of a proper folk artist, and he has a very relaxed approach to the destruction of his work, whether by footfall (this painting is at the top of Normandy Avenue, and has almost completely worn away), or aggressive council policy. Somewhat charmingly, he got the wrong street. I was living in Bedford Avenue at the time, next street along, but I liked the oblique relationship: it seems to fit in with the whole idea.


This morning, I conjured up spirit-of-Ben. The artist Derek Tyman contacted me to ask for a 60 minute audio cassette, which he said could be a compilation playlist of favourite songs from Youtube for an art project he is doing on a barge in Holland (more about that in another posting probably). Further down the email was reference to other sound-based things artists had submitted, and I decided to submit an Other Things recording. So I went out for a walk with my guitar, retracing the steps of the early morning  lockdown walk I made where I came across the Little Egret. I have written an odd-sounding song about the encounter, and dug out two more 'nature' songs to take with me. With the recording facility of my phone on, I talked through the walk as I ambled along, and then spread out under a tree to sing Woodwide Web. The grass under the tree was still very wet with dew but it was a sunny spot, and a dog-walking woman stood in the distance and watched suspiciously. This is an outside recording of that song from another time:


I suppose I'd thought there would be more dog walkers and possibly more panting and barking: it gets a little congested along there, but I failed to write the song about dogs that I'd meant to write, so it really didn't matter. Further along, on a park bench and to the accompaniment of the very loud Council grass mower, I sang the Little Egret song and also one of mine and Robert's, Won't You Tell Me. A woman walked past with a baby in a pram and smiled, but the audience was mostly magpies. After 54 minutes, the walk came to a natural end and I strolled home, of course passing much more extraordinary sights: identical adult twins on a bike ride together, and a man doing very 'loud' arm stretching exercises as he walked along the pathway. And I almost deleted the recording by accident, but I think it's still intact.

When I got back into town, a schoolgirl was singing really loudly to her friends just outside the church. I guess it must be a singing sortuva day, but no matter how hard I sang, the Little Egret didn't come back. The magpies will have to suffice.

Taking A Deep Breath Before...

I'll tell you later. Meanwhile, I seem to have picked up a cold, after just recovering from a throat virus that was so bad I had to take two days off work. I don't ever get colds, in normal circumstances: I'd assumed that I was immune to that particular virus. I so wish the students would wear masks in the corridors, but none of them do. 

Monday, November 08, 2021

A Busy Weekend And A Not Busy Monday Morning

On Saturday, it was the exhibition at Tate Britain of wonderful floaty techno-auomata. I found them mesmerising and a complete inspiration. They are like jellyfish, bees, dandelion seeds... so lovely. I will upload a video later.


Then on to Trafalgar Square for the climate demonstration, with a lot of inspirational speakers. They brought it local- the environmental racism of placing an incineration unit in Enfield where the population is (a) poor and (b) there are a lot of people of colour in the community. It's a vertical issue, starting in local neighbourhoods and overarched by a network of billionaires who simply don't give a f*ck, and who are so deluded by their wealth that they think they are going to be able to colonise Mars in their lifetimes- and enjoy living there. They'll all kill each other, won't they?

Last night was Sunday Drawing Club, with two Darrens and two Roberts in the room, and I drew a new header for my Bandcamp page, which I'll have to re-do because it doesn't fit! Oh dear. The bantz was top class as always. 


So here I sit, having come in to work early to see students for personal tutorials, snowed in by cancellations. Nothing to do but listen to Colin Blunstone. Ahhh! That's it!


Thursday, November 04, 2021

Rehearsing with Robert


Yes, we have two gigs at the end of the month, on the 26th at Cambridge Tall Trees, and on the 28th at The Lexington in London. This was us running through our songs together, the six from the EP and another five that we recorded during the summer.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

McCartney Fandom

There's a massive amount of McCartney fandom swirling around the internet at the moment. Call me a cynic, but still being alive allows you to write history with yourself at the centre of it. Or even rewrite it, if you need to.

The silliest stuff is about John Lennon not writing solo songs as well as McCartney during his lifetime. This is a little difficult if you were shot dead at an early age, isn't it?

Tinnitus Audio Streaming

Could I ever do it? Let people know what I hear?

Last night in a fit of insomnia, I remembered that people buy tracks consisting of the sound of white noise in order to help them get to sleep. I had a listen to the different layers of tinnitus in my head. The jangling is the loudest, followed by the whistling, which is really high pitched and intermittent. Then there's the high and constant sound that can only be described as the sound you'd hear in the background when the old-fashioned tube TV was on: ultra-high in pitch, and a sort of electrical tone. Underneath all this there is the roar and this is what I tried to tune into, to raise the level almost as though it was being mixed on a mixing desk. Sure enough, the rest of the noise fell into place around it.

What was weird was that by tuning into this low noise, I began to hear another sound: the pulse of my heartbeat. Once I'd tuned into this, I fell asleep.

I'm due to see a doctor about all this in December. Many musicians experience tinnitus, and we talk about ti a lot and know that it is permanent. We live with it, and suffer fools gladly as they recommend solutions that don't work. We can still hear though it, which is the most important thing: one of the best mastering engineers I knew, Colm O'Rourke, listened through it all and finished a lot of ace tracks despite it all.


Sunday, October 31, 2021

Feminist Song by Gina Birch

This is the first of several releases (I believe) by Gina on Jack White's record label, Third Man Records. It's such a good song and I've been hoping it would be recorded and released for a long time; it's been well worth the wait, and what a cool label to be released on too. It features electronics by Ana da Silva, I contributed BVs in the chorus, and came out over a month ago. I'm a little tardy in posting it, having been overwhelmed by work and a spell of illness. The vinyl is a good strong pumpkin yellow, so posting it on Hallowe'en seems just about perfect.

Early Sunday Morning Clockchange Walk


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Laura Knight at the MK Gallery

Sometimes it's worth making a journey somewhere to see an exhibition that is unique. It feels like all the more of a gamble when the gallery website actively repels you when you try to buy tickets in advance, and nobody answers the phone at the gallery. Will you travel all that way and be turned back at the door?

We decided to chance it, and after a quirky train journey during which the conductor interviewed all the passengers informally, and said goodbye to them personally over the tannoy ('don't forget to put the cards away after your game and before you get off the train', and 'is my dad there in his allotment today?'), we disembarked at space-station MK and walked up the wide LA-style boulevard to the gallery. It's a town for cars, quite clearly, but we found our own landing strip and passed some jolly chaps pruning the evergreen shrubs on the way up. It's quite a way, through the quiet shopping centre. The whole place reminded us of the outskirts of a European town- perhaps Barcelona, or Lisbon: there was an overall sense of the centre of things being elsewhere; and I remember reading about Los Angeles: 'There is no there, there'. It was like that.

The gallery was quite busy, and we were hungry after the walk so we sat in the caff for a bit. It was lovely, actually: children, grandparents, ladies lunching and really friendly and relaxed staff. Then we jumped into the exhibition to see what we could see.

The first room was dominated by a huge painting of an Edwardian daddy playing with his daughters. It was absolutely extraordinary. I didn't think daddies played with daughters back then. One of them was climbing a tree. I didn't think girls climbed trees back then either. She also looks rather grumpy, as though she didn't want to be photographed... hang on a minute! That kind of sums up the whole exhibition, and is really why I wanted to see it. Knight noticed things in paint that other partists overlooked. She lived with travellers and documented their lives, especially the women; she painted portraits of people of colour in theatres in New York, especially the women. She defied the edict against women painting nudes and she not only did that, she took a whole bunch of them down to Cornwall and painted them swimming outside. She lived with a circus for a while and painted the performers, and she was also a war artist. Because of the reflections in the glass I wasn't able to photograph one of the best paintings, the silvery fabric from an airship spread across the floor of a repair factory, shimmering and heavily folded, with groups of women sitting together mending it. It is such a beautiful piece of work: you can actually feel the concentration of them working. You are with them there.

And reader, she could paint vehicles!

Stylistically, we saw early paintings where she was experimenting with pointillisme, then brash and colourful portraiture, and then detailed paintings of wartime workers, both male and female. Her palette was often rich and colourful- quite defiant. She was an excellent draughtswoman, with some exquisite etchings that demonstrated her dynamic skills with the weight and power of line.

Most importantly she was endlessly curious, and poetic in her processing of what she experienced, pondering on the travellers having only mud for a carpet yet the sky for a ceiling, for instance. 

Over and over again, she painted a section of a city street illuminated by a flash of lightning because there was no other light like it. She visited the painting again and again until she felt she'd captured the moment, with its flustered umbrella people, bicycles, trees, railings and buildings all illuminated by the harsh flash.

Knight was a woman who quite obviously lived life to the full in all its terrible and wonderful glory. A woman after my own heart and an inspiration. It was well worth the journey in order to return home refuelled, and to remember that defiance is the best and only way!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sending Postcards

Up in the loft, I have a box of postcards that were part of a constant postcard-exchange before the internet elbowed other forms of communication out of the way. Lots of us had stashes of postcards, bought at galleries, or vintage ones, or bought in bulk from remainder bins at stationers, or even home made. You didn't have to write anything important- a few lines of a passing thought, a funny thing someone said, an invitation. The address was part of it. A cheeky bloke sent one to me addressed to 'Helen McCookerybook, spinster'. John Peel was a postcard-sender, and I've still got a couple of them written in his cramped and tall handwriting that you had to tip up to read. 

Once, a friend sent one to my parents' address when I'd gone there for a few days, saying 'Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you had to run back to your Mum and Dad's'. I went down to breakfast that morning to an 'atmosphere' and couldn't work out why, until I read the card. Postcards weren't private, were they?

Last year, Andy Barding, who runs a record shop on the Isle of Wight, started a postcard club so people could communicate with each other during lockdown. It was a really nice idea. I woke early this morning and thought about it, and about how great would be to communicate by postcard more instead of always using the internet. I used to put on shows, and always got postcards printed with an image on the front and details on the back. I found a cheapish place in Northern Ireland that did a really good job and factored that into the overall costs of everything, because I felt that it was a special thing to do. I put a lot of thought into the picture on the front because of this. They did what the internet does, but in a more personal way. For all that the internet is inclusive, some of that is an illusion: it's also (dare I say it) uncaring. Andy's project was a reminder that people exist in all our many dimensions, for there in the imprint of someone's handwriting was a reminder of flesh and blood, a signifier of touch, that sensation we were all mourning in our atmosphere of infection, illness and fear of death.

One or two people still send the odd postcard, and it's such a relief from the white paper window-envelopes (bank statements, bills, charity pleas and NHS appointments) and the brown paper admonishments (is this another parking fine?). Butter side up or butter side down, whether it's the coloured picture that catches your eye first or the scribbly writing, it's really exciting to receive a postcard. Part of it is the idea that someone has chosen the card, so it's like a little slice of their personality dropping through the letter box on to the door mat. It isn't an announcement to hundreds of people on social media that people acknowledge with a click. It is a personal communication that has involved a slow-world real-world sequence of events. Purchasing the card at a gallery or shop, having chosen to go there; storing the card until the right time to send it to the right person; writing a personal message and finding a postage stamp; a journey to (or past) a post box; and finally, the thought given to the person receiving it. It's all such a bother, isn't it? But what a charming bother.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Jetstream Pony and the Lancashire Bombers at Paper Dress Vintage

It takes a big incentive to go out anywhere these days- not my own things, of course, but other bands....

However, this was an irresistible night and despite the travel problems (I think all the tube drivers on the Northern Line must be isolating because there were huge gaps between trains), we managed to get there in good enough time to catch the Lancashire Bombers, a quartet of chaps with a junior drummer who was one of the most musical drummers I've seen for a long time. He really drummed to the songs and more than held his own amongst his elders, who played rapid-fire garage pop with a Northern Soul twist. I was particularly taken by the Burns guitar which scorched its way through the set. There was a tongue-in-cheek approach to the short, sharp songs which gave them quite an edge. I'm glad to have seen them.

Jetstream Pony were headlining and it was such a joy to see them playing again. Their songs are intricate while still sounding really powerful, and they play with a commitment and a belief in their material that takes you along on the musical journey with them. They are one of those bands whose shows are like a puzzle. Why did they put this bit in the song, and how did they think of it? You'll just be drifting off on a harmony between Beth and Shaun, and then a new part of the song kicks in. As well as being really great musicians, there is an extraordinary imagination that goes into the creation and delivery of their songs. I always really love seeing them. They had a borrowed drummer last night who did a really good job, locking in neatly with Kerry's bass lines. I wish I'd bought one of their CDs but because of the train problem the night was cut off a bit short. Next time!

It is always the right thing not to stay at home sitting about and watching TV, even if it's a Strictly Come Dancing night. You can catch up on that another time. While we are between lockdowns, put that mask on and go out. Breathe in the pleasure of live music while you can!

I'm sorry about the crap photos- people were taking much better ones, and also filming- might be worth checking out Youtube.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Antoine's Photos

These photographs were taken by Antoine, the brother of Nico's companion Philippe. Antoine had a secret photographic technique that made everyone, regardless of size or gender, look like a pop star. It was taken in Nico's flat (she wasn't around- I would have been scared to meet her at that point, I think). It was the first time I'd ever been served those wafer-thin slices of raw meat. I carefully rolled them up and hid them under my knife and fork.

Home Made Calendars

It's only fairly recently that I have stopped making home made wall calendars. I started this in my bedsit in Willesden when I was 23 and the calendars were so huge, I just ripped them off the wall and threw them away when they were finished with. They morphed from gig calendars to mummy calendars and back again. I found these today- one from The Chefs days and on from Helen and the Horns days. The latter has a John Peel session scheduled.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Velvet Underground

This afternoon, I bit the bullet and went to see the film The Velvet Underground at the ICAbecause it's going to disappear, just like Summer of Soul. It has been made by Greedy-Apple-Corporation-Sells-You-Music-And-Things-To-Play-It-On, and I'm not a customer of theirs; it will whoosh on to their streaming service next week, and that will be the end of it. I was so desperate to see it, and I reckoned I could sit there in the dark by myself, and just absorb it even though I still feel crap.

The ICA is robot land, isn't it? Even the toilet is made for robots. On the way out when I went to the loo, the toilet decided that I'd finished my business and flushed anyway. I hadn't finished, but the toilet was very self-assured in its design and now I'm wondering if it was gaslighting me. It was scary.

Back to the film. As far as I'm concerned, The Velvet Underground began it all: the early version of the band, when they were swirling around in both meanness and beauty, was just fabulous. At several points in the film, my hair stood on end. Jonathan Richman, a mad uber-fan of theirs, describes trying to identify what the instruments were playing at a live performance, and discovering that quite often there were sounds happening that came from nobody's instrument at all: they were just there in the atmosphere.

Yes, they were the sound of meanness, but they were also the sound of mystery, and lyrically they turned over the stone and showed us all the bad things that had been hiding underneath it. What a relief to see and hear that honesty!

The little details: John Cale and his mentor tuning their instruments to the hum of the fridge: I know that thing! Dubulah and Simon Walker used to do that, and I always thought at Millwall matches the chants started in unison in 'G' because the fans had shaved before the match and kept that pitch, entering through their jaw bones, in their heads. Cale has really good recall, and at times the film was his; but really, it was pretty even-handed with only Sterling Morrison's story being absent, although his wife was there to tell parts of it.

We heard the Primitives' song Do The Ostrich and what appeared to be an almost country-style early version of Waiting For My Man which was talked over (sacrilege!). We heard about Lou Reed parting company with Pickwick Records where he was a staff writer because he wanted to write miserable songs that told it like it was.

Mo Tucker was really funny, saying how much they all hated hippies when they went to California, and how useless a flower is when someone's pointing a gun at you.

And there was Nico of the beautiful voice, and Andy Warhol exploiting everyone's vulnerability. It was a really absorbing and interesting movie. Then something in real life went wrong, and all we could hear was the audio, and then nothing. The cinema sorted it out and it started again, but by then I had a humdinger of a headache and came home.

On the way back I realised that I'd left Summer of Soul early, too. Maybe I don't like getting to the end of films because I don't like things ending. There has been too much 'ending' in the last eighteen months, and I've had enough of it. 

Back to work tomorrow, up really early. I think I am going to go to bed now even though it's just after 6 p.m.

Anyway- here's a Velvet Underground song I recorded (for the third time!) because I love the song so much. Of course Nico does it a thousand times better, but it's just such a gorgeous song. The Mexican zine Pintalo De Negro asked a bunch of musicians to record their favourite Velvet Underground song to go on to a cassette they're releasing imminently with a new issue, and I did it for them, with Ian Button and Robert Rotifer on backing vocals. The film is by Damian Cosmas.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Surrealism is following me around today like a lost puppy. The gas engineer phoned while I was out shopping and said I'd left a message that sounded like a Dalek on his messaging service. Juggling my bag, wire basket and a handful of potatoes, I accidentally deleted all the notes on my iPhone during the call in such a way that I can't retrieve them (I don't back them up to anything, and it was a text-delete, not a note-delete, so they are irretrievable). But I was sort of relieved.

I looked in the window of the North London Hospice charity shop on the way back, and there was a harmonium (very good condition, and quite a coincidence because I almost sold my piano yesterday), plus literally scores of white satin wedding dresses festooned about the shop and lined up obediently on hangers, as though waiting for husbands to insert prospective wives into them, waltz out of the shop to the church down the road, and marry them. A veritable production line of marriages, all in a north London suburb. Wow.

Actually, the problem with losing the phone notes is that they partially contained a list of all the things I've got to catch up on after being ill. Will I remember them all? I don't know.

We used to play a game on the train home from school. 'You've dropped your head!', pointing at the floor. Everyone got caught at least once, looking down instinctively before playing the trick on the next fool in a school uniform. I've certainly dropped my head, or the contents, anyway. 

It's quite nice. 

I think I'll leave it there on the floor and see what else turns up in the surreal world of the High Street.

Cooking and Thinking

Grounded by my malaise (pretentious, moi?) I'm cooking and thinking. I had a hankering for leek and potato soup to soothe my throat, and I don't really know how to make it, but calling on Spirit of TV Cookery Show, a pan is bubbling on the stove and it doesn't smell that bad. 

I mean, it smells nice.

I have been thinking about how powerless you can feel in life. One of the things that has always boosted my low self esteem is sitting alone and writing a song. A song is a friend that changes position: sometimes it comes from inside you and you're speaking, then it suddenly changes and tells you things itself. You concentrate, in the same way as you concentrate on drawing. There is an intensity in the moment that can't be interrupted, and that reinforces your sense of who you are and what you feel.

A good song writing session will make you feel taller and stronger, thick-skinned and armoured against the world, and glowing with creativity. It doesn't deplete your bank balance and doesn't have to be competitive. It's made of sound waves and words. Air and ideas, that's all.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Daytime Cookery Shows

Now, I am building my expertise as a watcher of daytime cookery shows. 'Amazing recipes!' they exclaim, before whizzing through a choreographed engagement with ingredients, clashing stainless steel implements, and immaculate kitchen surfaces that always involves several ingredients that I haven't got (and don't know how to acquire), and results in far too much food for me and my limited stomach capacity.

I watch the cooks frazzled by their efforts as they wrestle dough, whisk eggs and trim edges with panache. They obviously have squads of brow-moppers, sweat dabbers and want-a-glass-of-water-sirs: handmaidens to assist with their travails. Hey presto! Magnifique!

When I was young and poor, I used to sit and watch these shows while I ate a slice of bread and butter. The exotic recipes made the bread and butter particularly delicious, with the added bonus that I didn't have to do very much washing up at all, unlike the support squads for the TV chefs. Now, I think 'If I only had that one missing ingredient, I would make that magical hey-presto food, but since I don't, it's pasta for dinner again'. I am also still partial to bread and butter, which can be the most satisfying food in the universe when the bread is freshly baked and the butter is cold.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

These Streets from Daylight Music


Wall-to-Wall Detectives

I've picked up a virus (I hope not Corona) probably from being back at work. I'm hallucinating detectives from the wall-to-wall reading as I work down the trashy novels pile, as I sit unable to move due to fatigue, and nursing a throat that feels as though it's trying to swallow a hedgehog.

The plots blur into each other, female and male detectives transitioning into one ultra-detective that solves everything on the last two pages. The simple act of imbibing soluble aspirin is undertaken in faux-policing vocabulary, and the hypernosmia (I could smell the pages of the books from my bed, probably because of a bout of Covid last year) has vanished to be replaced by deafening tinnitus that jangles along as an irritating soundtrack to my woozy worldview.

Go with it, go with it, it will pass. Don't worry about all the pending things that you simply can't do. Pick up another novel, prop up your elbows, and peer into the grey type littered on the thick corky yellow pages. There you will find the USA, all laid out in all its poverty, unfairness, danger and corruption, all appearing imminently on our own horizons. I am forewarned about people with dementia being kept alive with heart-drugs just so the chains of care homes can continue to fleece their families; people beaten up having to pay their own medical fees, and then having to sue the perpetrators for the money; the oil industry destroying entire Appalachian mountains and polluting the land, water and air just because making money is more important than anything else. People with guns shooting innocent people and then living with it for the rest of their lives, because they carry guns and that's seen as a sign of freedom. 

Corruption too in the UK, taken for granted as something we always will have to live with, perpetrated by people who apparently live in an entirely different astral sphere to normal people. 

This swamp! Somehow it chimes with how I feel. More books to go before I get better.....

Friday, October 15, 2021

Customised Shirts

I have always been a long-sleeved checked shirt sortuva person. In the 1980s I bought lots of my shirts from Flip, but I also bought lots of cheap size small shirts from men's shops. When I got fed up with them I used to cut the sleeves off one shirt and sew them on to another. Hey presto! A new shirt (and a lot of spare sleeves because alas, I was too lazy to sew the discarded sleeves on to the other shirt, although I did sometimes wear that one as a cut-off).


Yesterday, I was walking behind a tall schoolboy and he suddenly sneezed.

I walked through a schoolboy's sneeze. Bring back lockdown!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Learning The McCookerybook And Rotifer Songs

We have our first two ever gigs coming up at the end of November, and it seems sensible to start learning the twelve songs in our repertoire, especially since a lot of them have alien chords to learn, and (even more challengingly) lyrics in the German language. Little and often is the prescription. Chords first, lyrics later. If I can get my body to deal with the music, my head can follow on with the lyrics. I hope.

I had an unexpected conversation with a blues guitarist on Monday morning, which was such a cheering thing to do. Guitar nerds aren't usually on patrol on Monday mornings! He's going to come in and talk to the music students, and they are going to love him. On Thursday, an ex-student who now manages vinyl output for a major label is coming in, and last week I spent 150% of my time scurrying around trying to find a room to teach them all in. Now I think I have, but I won't be able to relax until the lecture is over, when I will deflate with relief like a balloon at a children's party.

On Monday afternoon, I played the songwriting students a selection of political songs, all the way from Billie Holliday through Woody Guthrie, Marvin Gaye, The Specials, X-Ray Spex to Pussy Riot and beyond, finishing with the Tokyo Complaints Choir, who always go down a treat, and shine a light of sunny happiness on drab Monday afternoons. I have to introduce them to Lord Kitchener, Pete Seeger, The Last Poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Charlie Gillet's book The Sound of the City which is possibly out of print. There is so much they haven't heard!

The Milk Bottle Depot

Back in the 1980s, when you rounded the corner on the top deck of a Number 36 bus at Vauxhall, you were rewarded by a glimpse into the milk bottle depot where tight queues of clean milk bottles wobbled on a conveyor, past the industrial-glazed windows on their way back into circulation. For some reason, this was a mysterious and oddly romantic sight. The lines of bottles seemed to be heading on a longer-than-necessary journey, backwards and forwards, through gleaming chrome machinery that was curiously complex. And they were clean: so sparkling clean! The glass positively twinkled under the fluorescent ceiling tubes, the contours of their lips etched out sharply in gleaming light. Oddly, you never saw a human being. It was as though the bottles had found their way there independently and lined up patiently, having made the decision themselves to be recycled. I think this was the most riveting thing of all.

Monday, October 11, 2021

From Drawing Club Yesterday

Yesterday I carried on the Children's TV theme with a drawing of Belle and Sebastian, that black and white children's programme from France, and then revisited the Delft tile idea (watch this space) by drawing a Delft punk throwing a bit of a wobbler.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Being A Darkroom Technician

After I left school, I had a temporary job at the RVI hospital in Newcastle as a darkroom technician. I spent my days in a large cupboard with a dim red light. There were smaller two-way cupboards set into the walls. A radiographer would put an exposed X-Ray film into one from the wall outside the darkroom, and bang on the cupboard door when they had closed it. That was your signal to open the internal door, take out the cassette with the film in it, and feed it into the developing machine, which would then spew it out into a room next door to be collected and taken to the radiologist for diagnosis.

I've written before about reading Mills and Boon paperbacks that had been left there by a previous technician: it was just light enough in there to decipher the text. Waiting between films was desperately boring and even Mills and Boon was better than nothing.

Occasionally we'd mix massive plastic tanks of developer and fixer, bending the stinky chemicals with water to the correct concentration. In other parts of the department there were rooms where we'd have to develop and fix the X-Rays manually, which was daunting. X-Rayed teeth (occlusal) were processed this way and I remember seeing tiny grey and white films clipped into chrome frames having in the tank of fixed waiting for diagnosis.

The colonoscopy area was disturbing. Woozy drugged people in hospital gowns were wheeled in and out of the camera rooms, and often their prognosis was not good. One day I saw blood in my stools and was horrified. I went into work the next day and whispered my fears to one of my workmates. 'Ha ha!', she laughed. 'What did you eat last night?'. Lots of tomatoes. Yes, it was par for the course to self-diagnose with dreadful bowel complaints when you worked in that part of the department. 

There were workplace romances: one of the surgeons was regarded as particularly desirable, and I had the impression that he was taking his pick from the lovely young radiographers in their starched white uniforms. The radiographers were fun. One fo them couldn't afford to go on holiday so she found a French radio station on her transistor radio and sat sunbathing in her mum and dad's back garden for her two weeks off, pretending that she was in the south of France. 

We all had to wear little rectangles of X-Ray film pinned on to the skirt part of our overalls to make sure we weren't getting over-exposed to radiation. The Radiographers had heavy rubber aprons that they put on when they were posing a patient, and we had to stand back from the doors when the machine was in operation, just in case..

One of the radiographers had a father who was a jeweller, and one day he secretly came in and pierced everyone's ears at a reduced rate. There was a heatwave that summer and I remember walking through Marks and Spencers to get the train home (it was the only air conditioned shop in Newcastle), and gingerly touching my tender ears. What a strange sensation it was, metal and skin! I don't think McMum was delighted when I got back home.

The X-Ray department was a world of its own. Apparently a senior radiologist had allowed a vet to bring in an anaesthetised pig one weekend; and  I bought a length of tweed from a salesman who turned up in our rest room one day (and later sold it to one of King Kurt's guitarists to have a suit made, because I couldn't find anyone in Newcastle to adapt a tailor-made man's suit so I could have one made for myself). I earned enough money to get my hair cut, but it looked awful. Thankfully, it all grew again.

Such hot weather, baking in the dark in a tiny room deep in the heart of the Royal Victoria Infirmary for a whole young summer. Isn't it funny where life takes you?

Saturday, October 09, 2021

24 Hours

I had the strange experience yesterday of being tagged in a Twitter post by a record label that is releasing a version of 24 Hours by The Chefs. Last week sometime, I had inadvertently 'liked' a similar post in passing, thinking at was a radio show but actually it's a reissue label that seems to have got hold of several people's tracks (including one by the Monochrome Set), without them knowing anything about it, and who plan to release them all next year.

Their Twitter followers are really excited, and one admonished me as though I was being churlish for noting that I didn't know anything about it.

Think about this: if you had been in a band that made very little money despite being professional for years, how would you feel if the songs that you had spent months writing, rehearsing, playing and recording were completely detached from you, and people were allowed to repackage and sell them, alongside merchandise that they have created themselves, and pay you nothing, without even asking if that was OK? Somewhere out of sight, a bunch of businessmen have exchanged contracts, shaken hands, had a beer and gone back to their huge houses in Surrey or Islington or wherever (and you can bet your bottom dollar they vote Labour), patting themselves on the back. And the people who will buy the records (known as 'the market' buying 'units') will feel as though they are interacting with the artist by buying another record for their collection.

Quite possibly some of the bands and artists don't mind, and in fact are delighted to be remembered. I am completely aware that I am not famous, and should also probably be feeling incredibly grateful for all the attention. I don't- I just feel as exploited as I always used to until becoming completely independent and DIY, or at least as much that as one possibly can be. 

Have you ever tried to buy a loaf of bread and offered to pay with gratitude? 

Or a bag of tomatoes and offered to pay with self-importance?

Friday, October 08, 2021

Terminus Two, One Through

There was a new Central Line tube station being tried out, and I'd ended up there on my way to Stratford. We'd all had to get off and change and people were grumbling. At first I thought I'd mistakenly got a train in the wrong direction, but I hadn't. The station was semi-open to daylight, with distressed pink brick walls that had once belonged to a factory or warehouse of some sort. We drifted towards the other platforms, all on a level: our through train had gone back where it came from, and the other two platforms were terminals; another train would be along soon. 

Sure enough, one turned up, driven by an excited trainee with their instructor in the cab beside them. There were other trainees crammed into the confined space, and as he drew the train up to the end of the platform, he bumped into it. I kind of knew that was going to happen, and I burst out laughing, and so did the other trainees, their hands over their mouths so they instructor couldn't see their glee. 

I started to explore a bit. There was a tabby cat sitting between the rails on the third line. The end of its tail was missing and I advised it to move, because it would lose more than just its tail if it stayed where it was.

What was the name of this station? High up on the wall were painted four words in old-fashioned capital letters: 'St .... .... Manor' or something like that. The paint had worn off and you couldn't read it properly. The back of the station had obviously been a wine bar at some time, and I walked through to the ticket hall. There, there was a waiting room with chairs with walls of emerald green. They were covered with paintings in gold frames, but in close inspection the 'paintings' were cheap and garish prints.

I started taking photographs and filming. Nobody was going to believe this; the other passengers had disappeared on to a train that had drawn in while I was exploring. On my phone screen Dad appeared, smiling and laughing. At that point, I knew it was a dream because he died more than ten years ago. 

I woke up.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Weird Day

What a weird day. On one side of it, so much stress has landed in my life that it's seemingly impossible to be able to move forward. On the other, the stress has resulted in an afternoon of dogged editing (removing the sound 'K' from numerous vocal takes in order to tidy up a song, and re-doing a guitar groove in tiny fragments in order to fit it into the drift from the metronome that gives the song a lovely feel). 
I have also put down a demo for a new song, which I forced myself to finish just because of the medicinal effect of making music. The song is about a Little Egret I saw down in Dollis Valley one morning early when no-one was about. It was a chilly and rather hostile morning in the summer: the dog walkers were obviously having a second cup of tea, and the cocaine-buying joggers were probably shuddering under the covers, and giving it a miss for the day. 
The treatment worked, but I'm very tired, having been pulled between these two poles, the creative north and the cruel south.
A long time ago, Lester Square told me about an Army musician he knew who had a mental breakdown because he couldn't cope with the schizophrenic act of being a creator and a killer rolled into one person's psyche. I'm not in the Army, obviously,  but sometimes I do fail to understand the license granted to those who are allowed to pontificate about one thing, while practicing an entirely different scheme.

I need to get over myself. I have just found out that Pat Fish (the Jazz Butcher) has died. Pat was a total gentleman, and had just completed an album with Dave Morgan and Ruth Tidmarsh. He was in the middle of gigging, due to play in Bristol this week. This is terribly sad news.