Saturday, April 17, 2021
Friday, April 16, 2021
This was a good start to the weekend- a review in May's issue of The Wire.
And no, I wasn't in The Monochrome Set. They got their wires crossed! (see what I did just there?)
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
It's a lovely place! I will be there, and I hope you can join me from your home. The £12.00 ticket is for a household. If you're a one person household and it seems a lot, contact me afterwards and I'll send you some music tracks to make it fair.
Here's the link:
I posted a video on the dreaded Hatebook, and a person I don't know commented about what an awful name I have. I've got so used to it now that I never even think about it, so it was a wake-up call of sorts. I can't really change it now!
The weirdest thing is that almost immediately, a completely different person randomly tweeted that I had a really great name.
The first songs that I wrote were written inadvertently when I was a teenager studying for my exams. I would sit at the table listening to Linda Lewis, who I adored (and still do), singing along and drifting into harmonies while she sang, half concentrating on my revision and half concentrating on the music.
The half brain that was listening to the music would wonder 'What would happen if that melody went off in that direction, instead of where it goes now? What made her decide to end that line on that note?'.
I had my own routes through the songs, sort of song-responses to her music that I can still remember when I listen to them now. I think everyone does this to some extent with music that they like, even if their own response consists entirely of an emotional journey through a song rather than a specifically musical one.
It was a couple of years later when I started writing my own songs, which were entirely different in genre and 'attitude' because I was a punk rocker. I found the lyrics very difficult to deal with: melodies seem to be so much easier. Now, I write the lyrics first in my head and wait for the music to match them. If I complete the tune, the song doesn't happen: fitting in lyrics feels like the ugly sister trying to cram her feet into Cinderella's tiny glass slipper. I have spare songs in the song cupboard, just melodies all sewn up waiting for words.
Because creativity is so random, I fully expect to find myself in a place in the future where I have no melodies, and only have words. At that point, I'll unlock the song cupboard and let the melodies out.
I meant to write about something completely different this morning, but I didn't.
Here is my favourite Linda Lewis song, Old Smokey.
Monday, April 12, 2021
I'm writing this post to honour and respect those of us who have lost parents, and who may be feeling pain during the celebration and veneration of a royal life. Every life is precious, no matter what stratum of society you belong to or what country you originate from. Every person has the right to grieve for people they have lost, and in particular to prioritise grieving for family members that they have known and loved. To anyone feeling overwhelmed by the national grief we appear to have been ordered to feel, and who feels a more sincere and loving emotion towards a person or people who raised them and cared about them throughout their life, let's recognise and value each other's families, no matter who we are.
Friday, April 09, 2021
Wednesday, April 07, 2021
Monday, April 05, 2021
Available on this album: https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/album/the-sea
I've joined a Drawing Club, and last night we drew from a webcam set up in a bar in Key West in Florida. Nobody was wearing masks apart from the barman. How to keep a deadly virus alive!
It was bizarre: people came and went, and the music was so awful that we turned the sound off. We saw a chat-up in progress. There were many pairs of sunglasses, perched on people's heads, and Hawaiian shirts. A parallel world played out: there is absolutely no need to visit Mars in order to encounter aliens.
Were they watching us back? Who knows.
Sunday, April 04, 2021
Friday, April 02, 2021
I woke up this morning (yes, it's going to be a blues posting) and the latest Apple update had deleted all the notes on my phone. This is the second time that's happened. I don't back up stuff to the Cloud (that's a bit like leaving your house doors open) so I've resigned myself to the fact that three months ideas have gone down the pan.
In some ways, that's a blessing. I am an ideas hoarder, and there's no Marie Kondo for overstuffed heads, is there? I have overstuffed notebooks, overstuffed sketch books and overstuffed hard drives so losing a three month overstuffed tech stuff isn't a problem. In fact, I'd been putting off backing them up because I've got years of backed up notes anyway. I just need to remind myself not to hastily type up all those morning thoughts before I get out of bed. If they're not worth fetching a notebook for, they're not worth saving.
I'll never forget Myspace just deleting everything with no warning, and starting again in an utterly useless way. I'd been using it as a sort of diary of all my very first solo gigs, and that vanished in less than a twinkling of an eye, as Rupert Murdoch's interns decided they knew what was best for an international social media music community. A bit like Santa's elves, only a very dark and destructive version.
My house smells weird. Maybe it's my mood. I'm going to open the back door, and let the ideas out.
Thursday, April 01, 2021
At songwriter dawn, I did a mix of the backing vocals for the Reclaim These Streets song and then balanced the computer on a pile of books to film Falling In Love Again so you couldn't see the radiator in the video. Last night, I'd filmed an atmospheric version with a flickering candle and a velvet curtain draped over the radiator, but by the time things had stopped falling over- books slipping off piles, everything falling off the table, tripping over the vacuum cleaner lead, the guitar falling over and having to be re-tuned, and then roaring cars belting down the street outside, the version I filmed was too dark and granular and the song was too fast because I was so stressed by my einsturzende room (I'm getting a bit Deutsch because I sang half of it in German). So I did a daylight version this morning, which is probably far too perky for such a sultry song; I tried to look a bit midnight about the eyes, though.
I also recorded a version of Women of the World in the kitchen, for another time. Then I went out for a stroll to stock up on the hay fever: the horse chestnut trees were delighted and tossed their twigs in the wind.
What have I been doing this evening? Working on tomorrow's song for Song Circle, struggling with the words until Robert sent an email with a new song for us to work on, prompted by his new guitar purchase. New guitars are always full of pent up songs, you see.
It was a welcome distraction, because Robert's idea was more difficult than the song I was working on in the first place. So I finished the relatively easier song, then did a cheeky simplification process on the Robert song, which I'll punt to him when I've got the words right.
I'm sitting next to a list of things that I should have been doing today, but I haven't. That's the best sort of day.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Wednesday is music day and I'm singing for Loud Women's Reclaim These Streets track, a version of which I've already recorded. But I have a terrible wheeze cause by Horse Chestnut pollen and it's even sunnier today that it was on Monday when I did the first version. The deadline is Friday and unless it rains, things are going to be the same. Taking antihistamine makes me sing flat- so I'm between the devil and the deep blue sea.
I'm also going to sing a cover song for Kevin Younger's online night, which is a bit more laid back so I'll treat that one as an achievement award, if I make the achievement!
I hope to write some lyrics for Friday's Song Circle song, and maybe even work on Robert Rotifer's next 'starter song', but that one is like a deferred pleasure; I almost don't want to do it, because then it will be done.
The book came out on Monday, which was a surprise. I knew it was imminent but I woke to Twitter tweeting about it. A side benefit has been people that I haven't heard from for a long time getting in touch, and that has been really nice. It's my penultimate academic work. Copies turned up yesterday, and it looks good and it exists: all that work and such a slim volume! I hope to publish the actual interviews themselves one day as a standalone book, because they are so interesting.
At some point, I'll have to gird up my skirts and deep clean the house. The first little pale grey silky moths have started parking on the walls upstairs, a clear sign that there are eggs and grubs buried in my clothing and in the carpets. Huh. How can you be a pop star with moths eating your glamorous garms?
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
On the journey home, I'm positive that I saw the same couple crossing zebra crossings at least twice, possibly three times, in completely different parts of London.
Do you think that's what they do all day? Cross roads on the black and white stripes?
I've just returned from a 32 mile round trip to Offsprog One's birthday, which was a lovely affair in the garden with a cat who thought we'd come to see him (don't they all?) and of course, a day of sunshine.
Every road, large or small, had roadworks and one of those small portable traffic light systems, just too much for at least one driver in every road, large or small.
The journey in both directions was a complicated tapestry of U-turns by impatient men, regardless of their holding up of cars, buses and lorries going in both directions. Off they roared as soon as they had finished the antisocial manouvre, I'm sure to do exactly the same thing in the next blocked street down the road.
And anyway, why should they wear masks?
Sunday, March 28, 2021
I have always been angered by people who try to stop other people from wearing masks and taking precautions against Covid, but I've always know that there was nothing I could do. Maybe if they knew someone who had died, they might not be so irresponsible? But a lot of these people, journalists and the like, have very wide friendship groups so must have experienced bereavement directly. I think reading Cristina's posts about getting ill, then iller, and then a post from her nephew saying she had passed away, followed by the same with Julia Craik, followed by her husband (you see, it creeps up on people so innocently, and social media lulls us all into a false sense of security) right at the beginning of the pandemic, taught me what a vicious and terrifying thing this virus is. Then my brother's partner's Mum, and the people that I know with Long Covid.
These were the thoughts that passed through my head as I leafed through the Guardian this weekend and read an article about bereavement. Blustering Johnson pretending the vaccine has solved all our problems? Keep it! That's not going to bring people back to life, the people who have been loved so much and who are so much missed.
Abstract but deeply emotional thoughts, and then I saw the photograph of Sean Mitchell and his partner, with a heartbreaking account by his partner of the ritual of saying goodbye in full PPE: a ritual that must be so familiar to thousands (yes, thousands, Johnson!) of bereaved families.
But this photograph was of Sean, one of my favourite ever students, who I thought had returned to the Caribbean. Funny, talented Sean with a sly way of looking after himself. The guy who taught himself to play guitar in eight weeks so he could play the songs he'd written to comfort his own bereaved friend. Empathetic Sean who felt my anxiety when the external examiners were in, saying 'Don't worry Helen, you ran a normal class and it was great, as always'. Sean who smiled a lot, a real lot: a self-assured, tall young man who wouldn't stand for any racism that came his way, calm and sometimes daydreamy. He was a man who knew himself.
In all honesty, I don't know what to do with this anger. The sense of helplessness as a greedy, dishonest, amoral bunch of people help themselves to the contents of the national coffers and simultaneously try to slash and burn our civil liberties, is almost unbearable. I don't want to hear of any more lovely people being slaughtered by government incompetence. No more! That's enough!
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
I hope the trains are running by then! Here we go: a socially distanced gig in Stockton. Whoopee!
Better brush up the old songs and polish the new ones!
I've spent the whole lockdown year writing new songs- first with Robert Rotifer for our collaboration (more to come!), then with Willie Gibson for our one-off project, and then also solo weekly at our song circle. Now I have to remember the lyrics to the original ones. Some of them I play as 'old pal' songs- they are comforting, but some of them have been on the back burner for a while. The guitar parts seem easier to remember, possibly because they are part of my body in some way.
I've been teaching in three different universities since having to cancel my gigs. The Easter break is coming up and I'm going to make sure it is full of music. My professional music work, or the way people do things around simply writing songs and playing them, shines a light on a lot of what I teach, and the breathing space will be revitalising for that aspect of life too.
Back to you my guitar, my dear friend.
Monday, March 22, 2021
Friday, March 19, 2021
I didn't clap for the NHS because Boris Johnson did. That means the clapping was being used to advertise our national treasure to overseas buyers.
I want the medical workers and carers to receive a 12% pay rise: the catch-up pay rise for inflation, and a pay-rise on top of that to recognise the way that have risked their lives for a whole year to keep the service going and on top of that, care for Covid patients without having proper infection protection. I also want the government to stop squandering our taxes on their chums. That is utterly despicable, rotten to the core, corrupt and contemptuous, especially because out of the other side of their two faces they indulge in such moralising.
The only wealth very poor people in this country have is the collective ownership of the NHS, which will happily treat everyone from a tramp to a Queen (both kinds) without criticism or prejudice. That must not be sold off behind our backs, because we will never be able to recreate it or buy it back again. Oh how I detest this cruel government, and everyone who sails in it!
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
How I hate them!
This is from the forthcoming Miniatures album, brainchild of Barry Lamb by by way of Morgan Fisher, one minute tracks about everything in the universe, by everybody in the universe (almost).
Available from this label: http://www.rermegacorp.com
Monday, March 15, 2021
That's what Cressida Dick is unless she was there, in which case I think her criticism would be skewed in the favour of the women's peaceful vigil, which her (predominantly male) officers disrupted and turned into a violent one, thereby exactly underlining the point of the vigil and any other protests focused on the same issue.
How I miss Dave Laing! He was such a loyal and trustworthy mentor, and I know he would have been a huge support right now. My new book is imminent, a project that has been a labour of love for more than ten years. As with the last book, I have worked really hard on using the best and most relevant parts of the interviews to illustrate many different life trajectories within music production for women producers and engineers. It's not a book that focuses on their techniques, it's a book where they tell their stories of interaction with the music industry, and the ways they got into it all. It's also a book that turns upside down the control systems within the music industry, the really obvious way that women's singing voices are detached from them and turned into commodities, from where they turn into almost self-harming weapons.
On Friday, the cover design turned up in my inbox. I was delighted, because it's very close to the idea that I had but it still fits in with the series artwork. On Friday afternoon, I chanted 'She's at the Controls' into my computer software, photographed the sound wave and sent it off to be included in the final design.
I feel such a sense of responsibility. When you write as a campaigner you want to be true to not only to the people who have agreed to be interviewed, but also true to the future of our gender within the industry.
At certain points, the exact right person has stepped in with energy and support. The woman who transcribed the backlog of interviews: her dad was helping out with some work at my house, and said she was at a loose end. So early every Friday morning her mum called round and picked up a CD with an interview copied on to it, and by Sunday a transcribed interview was in my inbox. Then there was Sarah Raine (write a book on Northern Soul, which I have to read), who stepped in to edit it; Cassie Fox, who indexed it.
Things move so fast in the music industry that the shape of everything shifts literally as you speak and as you type. I lost count of the times I thought or wrote 'at the time of writing'. It's a snapshot of certain times and attitudes, a contribution to women's history.
I've also just finished what I think will be my last piece of academic writing, a chapter on Oh Bondage! Up Yours. This is for a book called One Track Minds, a collection of writing on important tracks in different genres of music. It includes a chapter on Donna Summer's I Feel Love written by Simon Reynolds, which I can't wait to read.
Why no more writing? I timed a chapter once from research to publication, and it took 87 hours altogether. How much did I get paid? Nothing, and I never really do. Writing has been a labour of love and a labour of information. You can't eat a reputation, and I have to try to make a living and support myself as retirement looms in the future. I'm one of 'those women', and having worked part time for most of my life, I'm not exactly going to be travelling the world on a cruise liner for the rest of my life (hah!).
[Just watching the morning news before work and the gaslighting of the police behaviour on Saturday night. Cressida Dick was the officer in charge when Menendes was wrongfully shot dead by the police, wasn't she? And let's not forget that it was Boris Johnson who bought water cannon to train on demonstrators when he was Mayor of London.]
Sunday, March 14, 2021
There is too much to say about violence against and harassment of women, both physical and mental; deadly, insidious, and deeply traditional. You can start at any point, from the Royal family to street people. It's not that I'm saying nothing, but there is just too much to say.
I always wonder though: do the perpetrators realise and understand that they are perpetrators?
Saturday, March 13, 2021
At the end of the month, golf courses will be reopening in England and there will be no more illicit trespassing. No more children playing sandpits in the bunker, no more bird watchers gazing at the waterfowl, and no more 'Bob' shack visits to laugh at.
Telly Tubby land will return to its rightful use, and those bright green vistas will be private property once again. What a joy it has been to stroll across the velvety swards and look at the enormous sky, picking up the occasional leftover golf ball.
It was cold today, but still beautiful and clear. A coot got lost and wandered around by itself. Three young herons perched on a distant submerged log, one with its wings outspread like a cormorant. It was muddy, as always. Boots clogged up like Cybermen feet.
Plodge, plodge, who cares? It's fresh air and it feels good.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Tuesday, March 09, 2021
Sunday, March 07, 2021
Finally, after five months, I have a working laptop to do my online lectures with. It took hours and hours to transfer all my files to it through wi-fi (being Mac, it has yet another type of USB that isn't compatible with older ones). Overnight, just like in the old days! Thrilling!
What has been fun has been discovering that it's got an excellent microphone (nice and bassy!) and also that I can use iMovie to animate things. I haven't got it exactly right yet but I have a series of stills of an apple gradually going off, and also the embroidery of a bird's skull that I photographed in all its stages of construction. I have now roughly animated both of those, apart from some slithery embroidery thread stills that I've lost somewhere in the mists of time and multiple hard drives. It's nice to dabble in another medium and I might try to make a film for one fo the electronic songs I've recorded with Willie Gibson, the analogue synth musician (coming out on April 9th, plug, plug).
Apart from that, the weekend has passed in a gentle vaccine-induced blur. I must have eaten something. I have photographs of a walk. The weekend's newspapers are piled neatly on the floor. I am dressed. I am hoping for a bit of normality tomorrow.
Friday, March 05, 2021
A day out of action, that is: a day in reaction. Yesterday I retired to my chambers with a really rubbish spy novel and alternately slept and read and alternately shivered and perspired. My head was on holiday in the clouds, which was a rather pleasant sensation.
Like everyone else, the successive lockdowns have played havoc with my mental health and I'm normally far too agitated to relax. The vaccine imposed a peaceful fog in my head, with only simple instructions such as 'make a cup of tea' and 'make a slice of toast' swimming to the surface. I really couldn't be fagged to worry about anything, which was a welcome change from worrying about everything.
Tuesday, March 02, 2021
Tomorrow is music day but first of all, it's vaccination day. Long walk there and back, so I hope it's not going to make me feel ill. Then I have some songs to work on, two different lots. I'll fire the computer up, sit down and concentrate for a few hours. What luxury!
I'm getting used to the new work regime. Last week I was going to bed at 8 p.m. because I was so tired. This week, I'm making it through till 10, although I only slept for four hours last night. I don't know why. But I got up and opened the window and listened to the birds singing, trying to work out what they were saying to each other. You'll know I've succeeded if I suddenly start speaking bird.
Gradually, I'm getting back in touch with people who I've lost touch with during lockdown. This is a nice feeling, a bit like Rip van Winkle... not, let's say Sleeping Beauty because that sounds better, although I have Zoomface. Concentration wrinkles, facial skin like a rhino's bum, red eyes and a permanently downturned mouth.
I will have to eat a lot of chocolate cake to get over this.
Why am I even posting? I have nothing to say.
Monday, March 01, 2021
Gina Arnold's Raymond Chandler project has got off the ground: there is a book launch on Saturday which us Britishers can't get to due to time zone differences, but we'll be there in our dreams. I decided to record my contribution as a video on Wednesday (that's usually music day because I'm doing such a lot of lecturing at the moment). Then I realised that I'm being vaccinated on Wednesday morning and might not be feeling so well, so it was an early morning recording today between marking and lecturing, chord fluffs included. I'd also been out early to post the Cutty Wren mask to George, who invited me to do the project with him a couple of months ago. There were staff shortages at the PO on Saturday due to illness; we are all still dodging the virus. One mask, two people, three songs coming soon.
I'm kind of hoping not to be ill on Wednesday because I'd like to fire up the computer and work on the next Robert song and also some songs that Gina has sent. Lecturing is very tiring, but it hasn't clogged up my imagination so it would be great to get going on those. It's quite a long walk to the place to get vaccinated but it will be worth it to be able to come to life again!
Meanwhile, I'm excited about listening to the songs that the song writing students will be coming up with this afternoon. I have a very interesting job.
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
With my pug.
With my boxer.
With my terrier.
Feeling shit cool
With my pitbull.
With my alsatian.
With my beagle.
Treading the ground
With my hound.
Heading to hell
With my spaniel.
Having a toodle
With my poodle.
Doggies at play
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Monday, February 22, 2021
I woke this morning feeling really down- the first time for a long time. Yes, lockdown has been horrible and I have worries and fears about that, but I also have a perspective; there are a lot of people in a much, much worse situation. This was an old thing, probably common to a lot of women with a similar past to mine: nothing that I do is good enough, and never has been. It is better not to matter at all than to be found wanting.
This, of course, is the exact opposite of what women should be feeling. We should want our voices to be heard as we speak up for ourselves and for each other.
The relentlessness of no-change sometimes wears me down, though. The endless distractions, the Royalty one, the 'Boris's dog' one. The 'Black Lives Matter doesn't matter' one. The 'Extinction Rebellion are terrorists' one. The 'Exterminate Unions they are bad for business' one. The 'All Refugees are Illegal Immigrants' one. The ability of big money to silence everyone by buying their voices, because they have made us so poor we need the money, and that's the only thing we have left to sell.
The worst one is the 'We will learn so much from the sense of community that we got during the pandemic' one. Been on the roads lately? Seen people charging through red lights, U-turning, speeding? Heard people 'You didn't clap for the NHS'-shaming? In the end, we are human. White men will still go on about 'the PC brigade'. It will still seem that Europe is the enemy, rather than greedy banks who bet on failure for sport.
What set this off is watching an old version of Come Dine With Me where nobody was very nice and the men were particularly nasty, seemingly thinking their misogyny was somehow edgy. Misogyny is hatred. We sometimes forget that and more often have to, otherwise how would we survive in the workplace? I've looked all round the house for some strength and haven't found any, not all day.
No wonder so many people have dogs! Dogs think you are the queen, because you feed them. I shall conjure up an imaginary one straight away, and then not only will I be good enough, I will be the best.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
This was my contribution to Kevin Younger and Xtina Lamb's online cover-version Virtual Open Mic. It's amazing what people put together- proper video edits, and some really sophisticated music. I have to keep it simple- I'm working at 3 different Universities at the moment and I'm very tired, but doing something like this keeps my creative head above water. The sections of cat drawing kept floating off the wall (boo to Blu-tack) and it was done in one take. I hope the next one will be done in slightly more relaxed circumstances. And maybe not in lockdown!
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Once more, I'm not out walking. It's only a short while till I start teaching and in all honesty I miss the family of Egyptian geese who set up home at the pond last year. The ducks aren't the same: they seem silly in comparison, and the longer walks will take too long before I start work. So it's in my head, in my head, plodding through the mud, there and back to nowhere again.
In a few minutes I'll go out and look at the collapsed back yard. Most of the plant pots are sitting in a sea of sheared-off terracotta, having freeze-thawed their way into destruction. The waterlogged Bay tree that I've carefully nurtured into a pom pom on a stick is probably going to die. The Arum Lilies look like piles of wet lettuce and the geraniums look like appalled old gentlemen in ragged brown coats. Everything looks soggy and tired.
I was going to say I feel like that's a description of me, but actually I wrote a weird song yesterday that's been circling around in my head all night, not because it's catchy but because it's weird. I sing 'Ahhhh' a lot because it helps to sigh, sometimes. It's a frightening song. How strange to write a song that frightens yourself. If I keep singing it, I might get used to it and scare it away.
Right, that's it! Off out there in the wetness to damage limitate.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
It's raining again. I had hoped to go out for a walk before work, but instead I'm still here. It's not what comes from the sky that bothers me: it's the feet bit. It's a sea of mud with mixed in dog mess and it's off-putting. My boots and shoes are all caked with it, and it will reactivate as soon as I just add water.
I picked up my guitar. I have been writing a lot of songs, some good and some rubbish.
I'd forgotten how nice it is to sing an old song, comfortable like a charity shop jacket that's already been worn in by someone else. After time's passed, your fingers still land on the chords automatically, and although my voice is strained from working extra freelance jobs (replacement for cancelled gigs), it's not difficult to sing the familiar grooves. As I sing, my troubles leave.
I used to imagine them leaving the planet and heading off into the universe, into infinity. There's no space in space any more though, is there? It's all been littered with Musk's satellites and various debris from previous explorations, the equivalent of Simon Armitage's graffiti on the previously wild Yorkshire moors. A punch in nature's face.
So my troubles have to go somewhere else. They turn into atoms and dissolve into the atmosphere. Maybe that's what we're all doing, and maybe that's why it won't stop raining. It's our collective tears, evaporating and condensing in an endless cycle of woe.
Oh dear: I didn't mean to become so mournful. Back to my songs, because my songs are my friends. Hello again- I'm glad you're still here.
Here's one from ages ago which I really like playing. It reminds me of Scottish dancing somehow. I think that got into my blood a long, long time ago, injected by McMum and McDad. Vaccinated with Scottish heritage at an early age!
If we all lived in enormous houses, would we make louder music? If there were no neighbours to annoy with drumming shaking the walls and bass guitar booming through the floor... how many more bands would there be?
My neighbour moved here partly to get away from a situation where her former neighbour drummed constantly. She move here for peace and quiet, but I'm a musician too. I've evolved many quiet ways to rehearse, using a Spanish guitar instead of an electric one for instance, and have even worked out a way of recording loud singing, quietly.
There isn't a way to soundproof my house. It's too small; if I soundproofed it, it would become smaller still and start to feel like a padded cell. Sometimes I imagine either having a bigger house, or maybe a studio I could go to to play and sing as loud as I wanted without considering everyone else.
Not only that, the council has re-routed all the traffic from the High Street past my rattly front door so most recordings that I do have a lot of extraneous traffic noise on them.
It would be nice to thunder about all day long, booming my electric bass and twanging my electric guitars at full volume. I could Get A Drummer In and have a bit of a thrash. I could have a soul band! People would stop thinking I'm a folk artist! I could be loud and proud!
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
I came late to this series, but watching it has completely brightened up lockdown, in a shadowy sort of way. The episode where the terrifyingly enormous werewolf is lured off the top of a building by a squeaky bone has got to be one of the funniest things I've seen in ages.
Like a lot of good TV comedy, there is food for thought in more than just it's funniness. The episode where they all went to court for ending the life of the bad vampire (he frazzled in the sun when the familiar Guillermo accidentally opened the door, holding masses of roses he'd bought to help to disguise the smell of the bad vampire), is a case in point. At the court there was a Green Room for the familiars, with snacks and uncomfortable seating. The familiars were of all shapes and sizes. One was 75 years old. 'I'm going to be a vampire soon!', he said. Guillermo's face fell; he realised something that he was trying really hard not to realise: he was never going to be made a vampire, no matter how many years he put in as a familiar. I thought about how in real life, these relationships happen. Vampire types surround themselves with sycophantic familiar types, who live in hope of graduating to the heights of vampiredom, but they'll never get there. Just when their prized status is in sight, the vampire will topple them back down to the bottom of the pile, and the next familiar in the queue will start to live in hope. This happens so often in life that I've become quite entertained by identifying situations where it's going on.
And Colin Robinson- what a stroke of genius to have an energy vampire who even wears the real vampires out! He has a boring room in their residence, where he apparently sits at a loss waiting for opportunities to victimise people with boredom.
One of these days, the episodes on iPlayer will end. I will miss them. They are my lockdown friends and I think about them when I'm not with them. I hope they will be OK.
I love pancakes and it's been ages since I had any. Today is mega-work day and I'l be too tired to make any tonight, so I'm going to do it in my imagination instead. Thin, flat, chewy, horizontal stodge with crispy brown lacy edges... mmmmm!
A sprinkling of sugar and a good dose of fresh lemon (mind the pips!). And then... more! And more!
I think I will have six.
There, that's better.
Monday, February 15, 2021
More from Robert and me here: http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Article/9761/McCookerybook-and-Rotifer-Interview-Part-2?fbclid=IwAR0NxTXPgmVozJkcORTE46U-NMxWJQL4iLPMgUthhFIHK6KiMxdivIt0H-M
Saturday, February 13, 2021
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Today I drove.
I have done this occasionally during lockdown, but I've never seen so much traffic on the roads as there was this morning. The roads themselves are in a shocking state: drivers swerve around potholes, or crash through them, suspensions twanging. Roundabouts, once invented to make traffic flow more smoothly and presumably reduce emissions from engines idling at traffic lights, are being converted into non-roundabouts, where queues of traffic wait with their engines throbbing, pouring vile stuff into the atmosphere.
Goodbye, Old Street roundabout!
Hello, stuck buses and angry white van drivers all lined up in fury.
Goodbye, Highbury Corner roundabout!
Hello, suicidal delivery bikes and honking big-guy megacars vying for first place in the queue, and secretly thinking they can simply ride or drive right over the competing vehicle to Get There First.
And the driving! From the Trump playbook, it's anarchy out there. I have never seen so many impatient U-turns, exercised without caution and without apparent awareness of the direction of traffic flow.
Red lights? Pah! They're for sissies! Roar through them and push everyone else out of the way. Every single one!
Road rules have been burned on the bonfire of regulations that we don't hear about any more since Grenfell. Manners are a thing of the past. The louder your car-voice, the more important you feel in your rudeness and the higher your status.
Forget #MeToo: this is the age of #MeFirst!
I returned home a trembling and exhausted wreck.
Tuesday, February 09, 2021
What a great film! On a purely personal level, I miss the Nightingales. They are so open and friendly. When you see them, you sit down next to them in the pub and carry on talking as though there has been no gap between now and the last time you saw them. They are also a gracious band. I remember the first time I supported them, I think in 2014, at The Prince Albert in Brighton. Robert Lloyd chatted to me about The Lost Women of Rock Music, which he said he had read, and the whole band watched my set. What headline band does that? Not very many, I can assure you. I've still got some of their earliest vinyl releases. I've grown up with them, like a lot of other people, and always delighted in their lack of fame (a bit mean!), because they belonged to me (and people like me, of course).
Favourite bits of the film? Robert's constant surprise at everything... and the fact that he was once a food reviewer for a men's magazine... and Stewart Lee's comparison of Fliss Kitson's taxidermy activities to the preservation of old and worn out things (like, ahem, The Nightingales)... Samira Ahmed's voicing of Robert's voice as he talked through the band (absolutely hilarious, and what a sport she is!)... Gina Birch and Robert's duet at the end. The whole heart and soul of being in a band was there: not the rock'n'roll excess, but the sitting in curry houses, the bantz, the casual wandering about in a rehearsal room with a bunch of people that know each other really well and that are completely relaxed in each other's company, the dedication to a common cause that can't be explained. The No Money.
The whole thing.
Why live your life like that? Why on earth not, thinks Robert.
Monday, February 08, 2021
I've got loads of things to write about. I wake up in the morning and think 'That's a good idea! I must write that on my blog', but things are very busy round here. I'm doing a lot of lecturing (and preparing for lecturing), reading through and correcting the first proof of She's at the Controls, finishing off some music and a sleeve illustration, the Oh Bondage! Up Yours article is in the work queue with editor's comments, and I've only just recovered from a bout of gastro enteritis that completely knocked me off my feet (ha ha! I may have mentioned that).
It's all a very good distraction from the terrible virus, and actually each thing helps the other- writing helps song writing helps teaching helps writing helps songwriting... and so on. In a lot of ways I feel more energised that I usually do at this time of year. I just have to remember to eat.
The next posting will feel like a break from everything, whenever it appears.
Friday, February 05, 2021
Wednesday, February 03, 2021
Robert passed by at a distance today to drop off my equal part of the Equal Parts E.P.
I've got boxes in the front room! We can't tour it yet, but we have sold a few on Bandcamp (thank you, if you're reading this and you bought one).
Meanwhile, Willie Gibson and me have just finished an E.P. too: Electronica Botanica, if you want a genre. It's analogue synth and singing, and has been a wonderfully different project to work on and should be released later this month. Apparently he put Fairlight parts on to one of the Madness albums. Isn't it odd to work with someone you've never even met? We spoke on Skype once ages ago, but everything on our project has been done by exchanging files.
And Robert and me have more songs in the pipeline. If we get to gig this year, we will have a full set of songs. I'll have to get to work on those bloody awkward chords again but boy, I've learned a lot through these collaborations! I've had to really work hard at my playing, and I've also had to learn to record my vocals so they leave the house exactly as I want them to sound. The powers of concentration have never been called up to such an extent as during these lockdowns, and I have bought two sets of headphones: one for recording and one for mixing. Fancy that! Maybe I should become a dedicated vocals producer.
That's it for now; I'm under the weather again today, propelled along by anti-emetics, and I've got admin to do. I remember working for Southwark Council once and looking out of an upstairs window. There, on the flat roof, was a huge sheaf of files fluttering in the rain that my predecessor had filed exactly where they thought they belonged.
I thought that was funny, in a rather awful way.
Monday, February 01, 2021
Coming out on the 26th February- take a listen here. The release has loads of fantastic music and includes Feral Five, friends of mine for a long time, and one of the best electronica bands around at the moment. My track, Coffee and Hope, is one that I recorded for Janice Long last year.
I didn't take a photograph of the frozen rosebuds, but I did take this pic of mudurn art on yesterday's early morning walk. Crashing through thin ice glazing, my boots plunged into deep, cold mud puddles that oozed over my ankles. It was a great walk- the sun was really bright and there weren't too many people around. There were so many little birds in the bushes tweeting away that I didn't care that I didn't have any in my hands; it was worth it.
Every stage of the year has shone a new light on the same walks; there is so much to see that I never even knew existed before the pandemic narrowed everyone's horizons. I can set off thinking that I'm going to see the same old scenery but everything will have changed, even the birdscape. I was thinking back about the Egyptian Geese and their fantastic parenting skills, raising six goslings out of eleven, when lots of the ducks lost entire flotillas of ducklings to the marauding fox. And Mr and Mrs White Goose!
I've been working, not walking today, and will be doing the same tomorrow. Next walk will be Wednesday. I hope it doesn't rain.
I'm just starting work for the week. My inboxes are full of academic spam created by bored lockdown academics, little opinion triggers that set off muscular discussions and knowledge displays. They would be interesting to engage with, but I'm busy. Of course, I have to check each one in case it is relevant to the things I'm teaching, but it's hugely time-consuming and the delete bin is looking like a virtual charity shop. It's a stressful time for teachers of all stripes and I can see that this is an effective therapy: there is a surfeit of knowledge. We want to lecture, but students need emotional support at the moment, not information, so we're sharing that with each other.
Maybe I have a surfeit of analytical thought, and should just get on with my job.
Sunday, January 31, 2021
The streets are bristling with discarded Christmas Trees, more than a month after the event. Their ex-owners are living in faith that 'someone will come and take them away'. Dried-up trees lurk in alleyways, next to bins (in twos and threes- there's obviously a bit of surreptitious dumping going on), and outside unfortunate non-tree-owners' garages. Maybe they see it as a battle of wills, between them and Barnet Council.
There is no battle of wills. Barnet Council doesn't care about the local environment, unless it lines the pockets of their construction chums: there are more backhands in the council than an octopus has legs. If it's not to do with resurfacing a road or rushing through a building demolition under cover of Covid, forget it!
In the summer, perhaps, small birds will welcome the prickly brown branches as nesting habitats, and instead of wading through dog crap (also left to fester by the council) as we walk past Christmas Past, we will be greeted each morning by a chorus of delighted birdsong, every branch redecorated with scrappy nests taking the place of tinsel, with red breasts, bluetits and goldfinches taking the place of baubles.
Now we just have to think of a re-purpose for the dog crap. Leave it with me, and I'll see what I can do.
Friday, January 29, 2021
The amount of music time that I have is shrinking, because I'm doing extra teaching work. Why? Because when the pandemic is under control it would be nice to have a holiday- a big empty cottage on the Scottish borders or in Northumberland for a week. Go on, Central Scotland then! Not just for me but for the Offpsrogs, their friends and of course, my friends.
It's great to have the pressure of writing a song every week for Song Circle. I've written my share of crap songs, but it's still good to do it because you learn from writing the crap ones just as much as you do from writing the better ones. This week I had the idea of taking a melody for a walk. It's an old Art College joke that one of the first things you do is to take a line for a walk, so I've applied that to music. The tune has been lost a couple of times, but in my experience that's usually a good thing. My song is woefully short this week, but I'm not sure that matters much.
In my head I have a fantasy band. In my head. I'm not sharing too much at the moment after spending an evening dwelling on the most barefaced stealing of a musical idea that happened about 20 years ago. It's best to put these things behind you, but they do surface from time to time and it's actually quite a funny story about just how cheeky a fellow musician can be, so maybe it's about time I told it!
Not now though. Got a song to polish.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Past couple of days I've spent a few hours parked at the kitchen at Great Aunt Dolly's old Glaswegian table, a generic 1930s chunk of wood that survived a flood in Camberwell, and that has had many purposes in its long life. These days, it's heaped with music tech stuff, much of which I haven't used much because I'm mostly working in audio rather than programming.
The computer keeps overloading and I have to burrow into it from time to time in order to delete the big files that are taking up space, especially if I get sent a big loud track to work on. I've discovered that my SM58 microphone compresses the vocal really nicely, whereas the posh one is so lively it blows my eardrums out if I'm not careful.
I'm working out good tricks to get the vocals sounding good, and a subtraction method of editing- not having too much on the track. This is all very absorbing. My focus now is on getting a good Spanish guitar sound. Partly what would help would be playing it properly, so I'm off to practice that right now.
That as a really nice Zoom- the Dorises and guests. More to come- but we talked about song writing, recording, all sort of things, in a really relaxed and funny way. Thank you Cassie for inviting me along, it was a real pleasure to listen to what everyone had to say, and there was a lot of food for thought there which is still feeding my thoughts this morning. I will post a link here when it's edited and available.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Coming very soon- a fabulous set of one-minute songs. Read this article to find out all about this project started by William Hayter in homage to Morgan Fisher's original project:
It is churlish to whinge about a two-week bout of gastroenteritis in the middle of a pandemic, so instead I will use the whinge-energy to moan about other things. These are the things that will change when I'm Goddess:
1. People who buy pandemic dogs will have to demonstrate their willingness to pick up the poo in a little plastic bag, and carry it around with them until they find a dog poo bin. No more Just Leaving It Where It Is, The Rain Will Wash It Away. No more hanging little bags from trees to scent the morning air. They will be reminded that dog poo is crawling with germs and carries disease, a bit like bat meat does. If you can't take the crap, get out of the kennel.
2. IT 'support workers' will be forbidden to say 'Well, it works when I do it', and will be forced to apologise when they realise that the problem is their end, and not ours. We will not need to wear our own IT experience credentials on our sleeves like Boy Scout badges. IT 'support workers' will show a bit of grace, and believe us.
3. Big Cars will not be allowed to drive more than ten miles an hour through residential streets. No cars will be allowed to drive through residential streets, actually. Unless they belong to the people who live there. HA!
I'm sure there are hundreds of other things to complain about but I can't think of anything else. Oh yes!
4. People sharing accommodation will not think it's OK to go on holiday to Covid hotspots, and become aggressive with their flatmates when they object that their lives are being put in danger.
That's enough moaning, Ed.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021
Icy puddles on the common today, cold ducks, a pile of gull feathers (they don't have foxes at sea). Seas of mud, though; floody puddles, restless little children in fat brightly-coloured jackets, aimless lockdown dogs and people shambling through the cold air, faces bound in too-tight masks. Cars have grown, in the last year: they are huge, white and aggressive, and they roar through the little one-way streets aggressively. They think they can drive away from the virus, if they only go fast enough and make enough noise. Accelerate like a rocket! That's the answer! Then they squat outside in the street, blaring one-sided private conversations across the road and into the living room. I know all about their money.
In the evening, cop show after cop show. They all get mixed up: today's cop is tomorrow's robber, and accents slide from one story to another, bolted on to cop-show specialist actors. Whodunnit? Not me.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
I could literally fill a bookcase with the books I've had to read in order to discount what is inside them before writing about related issues in my new book. I have also spent a fortune on second hand books to beef up my own historical knowledge. If I ever write anything again, it's going to be something I can at least imagine making some money from.
On the other hand, my house is full of really interesting books, and I have come across some inspiring radical writing from people who know how to express their anger really articulately and persuasively. Sometimes I think my book will be too radical for readers, and at other times I think it won't be radical enough.
Every day, more subedits turn up in my inbox. I have been so unwell I can't even go out for a walk, which is probably ideal for meticulous detective work, so long as I don't do too much of it. I am signed off work sick: the idea of communicating with anyone verbally is right out of the picture at the moment.
As soon as the book goes into production, at least half of these books will go into the loft, catalogued in case I should need them. I wish I could teach more of this stuff in my job, but on the other hand working on the production side of things has kept my ideas sharp because yes, I really do see overt sexism being put into practice every day. It's almost woven into our professional life as musicians, from education to the most high-end marketing. I remember once being involved in a project in a special school, and the teenage boys literally made a ring around the electronic keyboards to keep the girls out. The girls sat despondently on chairs around the edge of the room; I got them up, broke into the circle to let them in, and the boys shouldered them out again and closed the gap.
You can become fatigued with being angry at injustice, and then it can re-ignite again. I am not a good politician, so I hope that writing can do my politics. I call it 'slug politics' because it's been such a meticulous process- eleven years, now. I've struggled against being backed into a punk corner: you write one thing about that, and that's all anyone wants. In between writing this book (on women producers and engineers), I've written numerous articles on punk. It's been an honour to be invited to contribute to that discourse too, but my mind is that of a magpie even if my processes are slug-paced, and it's much more stimulating to work in different areas and fill in different holes in the history of gender and the music industry.
I'm missing writing songs: I haven't picked up my guitar for more than ten days now and my fingertips are becoming worryingly soft. Tomorrow I will. I've got a prescription for efficient anti-emetics. All I need now is a bit of energy from somewhere so I can sit up straight and start to sparkle. What a nice thought.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Thursday, January 14, 2021
I have been laid low this week, and as always have been visited by memories from the past and had a lot of time to think them over. I can look at my life and say how wonderful and exciting it has been, or look at it from an entirely different perspective and say it has been utterly awful.
I am certain that this is the same for everyone, and most people opt for the former of these two choices if they can.
Most of the punishing things in my own life have been the result of having an independent spirit, which is something I cannot help because it is the way I was born. Being born into a Presbyterian household, this was determinedly crushed whenever it raised its ugly head, but also because it is the way that I was born, it reared its ugly head again immediately. I became a secret artist, and hid behind a chair drawing and reading and speaking to the offending parent as infrequently as possible.
The internal world is a saviour. That's where creativity grows: you make a world that is your own and that can't be destroyed by anyone else. You reinforce your identity through the creation of this world and populate it with creatures that you can understand, and that understand you. Your drawings (or songs, or paintings, or poems, or writings) become your friends, your maps, your explorations, your justifications, the place where you tidy your scrambled mind and feelings. They give you a sense of peace and calm, a control over a tiny universe that can't be trampled on or invaded by other people's rules, anger, jealousy, violence or whatever it is you find disturbing in your life.
A piece of paper is a curiosity. I used to sit there with a pen or pencil on the page and the drawings seemed to just emerge on their own, pulled out by the touch of the nib or the lead on the surface of the paper. Now that I write songs, the songs appear to be floating in the air, always there, just waiting to be noticed and translated into words and sound. The world is therefore an endless set of possibilities.
Yes I have to go to work, call the plumber, get dressed, eat... but it's all there, just waiting to be discovered. Knowing this has helped me to survive through some enormous crashes and made the good things in life massively better. This is why I have worked so much in a field where I can help other people to establish their right to exist as creative people, not to capitalise on their 'skills', but to actually live their lives as creative people. The imagination is freedom.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Friday, January 08, 2021
Wednesday, January 06, 2021
Thanks to Brian Player for playing A Good Life with a Bad Apple on his show last night! Listen again here:
I've been recording a song for a compilation that's being put together by Bob Grover from The Piranhas. Every song needs it's own distinctive flavour, and to add spice to this one, I'd decided to do some lead guitar overdubs. In order to do that I needed a plectrum, but somehow in the lockdown/stand-down changes, my small bag of Dunlop Mediums has vanished from my bag. Although I live in a small house, the bag of plectrums is so titchy that there's no way I'd find it in time to remember the part and record it.
In my head I searched for spares. I've been so tidy recently that every time I came across a stray plectrum I sought out the bag and put it in there, which in retrospect was not wise. But I know myself. I have a container with old earrings, small toys and ancient make-up: sure enough, there were two Dunlop Lights floating around in there. Not ideal, but it was a much better solution than the small sliver of cardboard that I'd been using to make up the riff. Sometimes it's the small things in life that matter.
Tuesday, January 05, 2021
These events were set up by Liz Tainsh in Edinburgh at the Leith Depot to support refugee charities. You'll see by the track listing that the music was top notch and as well as supporting the charities, as a musician you got to see and hear some really good music. There are three CDs here that showcase a real variety of music and capture the spirit of those nights: well worth a travel to support!
Sunday, January 03, 2021
Saturday, January 02, 2021
Gradually, I'm upping my engineering game. I have worked out exactly how to get a good vocal sound- mostly by just relaxing and letting my ears do the work, but also partly by getting a good singing performance in the first place. I also have a 'trick of my trade' and it's really brilliant doing it. It makes a Logic recording sound just like a Protools one; there is probably a plug-in that does exactly the same thing, but it is fun putting it together in the first place.
There is so much still to learn- changing tempo within a track... that doesn't matter if you're playing without a click just for yourself, but if you're playing to pass a track on to someone to work on then you need to be really accurate with that. And compression, I need to learn more about that as well.
As I start to record the songs, I can hear what needs to be done to them. Songs I like playing or that I'm attached to because I've learned a new 'lick' are sometimes not the best songs. Then there's that odd thing of a song that you wrote quickly in passing suddenly sticking in your mind and you realise it's a good 'un. And sometimes the structure you thought was just right seems to flatten the whole thing out when its recorded, and you have to wield the editing shears. It's so absorbing, like eating the best food in the universe, and still having room for more.
Working with Robert Rotifer has given me a lot of confidence, because he isn't patronising. Nor is Ian Button, who I have done a lot of recording with, and who has mastered things I've recorded at home. Being patronising is a very clever way of putting people in their place and stopping them from making progress; I remember that from art college.
Last year was a good year creatively, even when everything else was upside down: what a lucky gamble, making our record!
It's an amazing feeling to wake up in the morning and not have to get up. Work begins again on Monday and I'm trying not to think about the awful predicament of the students, all isolating at a time when they should be at their most sociable. And imagine, that strategy of barricading them into their halls of residence in Manchester with the virus. Surely that is akin to a war crime? The worst feeling is powerlessness, hearing them speak in online sessions and not being able to fix the big picture, which is affecting everything they think and do.
This means that whenever possible, I'm embracing laziness. Sometimes I've made a timetable, but it's quietly vanished, largely because quite a lot of it involves housework. I have managed to start recording, and the wobbly plan today is to do some more of that. There is more 'book' to do, but the sub-editor is on a break and I need to write to her with some questions, and also wait for a secondhand copy of Margot Shetterly's book Hidden Figures to arrive, having given away the first copy to someone and neglected to note down a page reference.
I think Offsprog Two is going to have the piano we had in our big old house. It will be sad in some ways to see it go- it was hugely important when I moved here to have a room big enough to put it in, and I've written some songs on it. But every plan I have to play it is in the future, and has been since I moved here eleven years ago. Maybe when arthritis takes my hands, I'll get another, smaller one, but for now it would be nice to fill the space with the guitars which are languishing upstairs in their cases. I might have a bit of a play on it before it goes, safe to do because my neighbour works for the NHS and normally I try not to make too much noise (the walls here are only one brick thick), but everyone is working flat-out, beyond their speciality, and she is not there much at the moment.
It's quiet out there, so quiet I can hear the birds in the back gardens. Cars have been roaring past the front door in recent weeks, trying to drive away from reality. No matter how enormous your car is and how offensive your driving, you're still in the same boat as the people you normally look down on. You can't drive out of this predicament in your Range Rover, and most people can't get to Antigua like Lady Haw-Haw of the Offensive Tweets. Maybe everyone's just having a lazy morning.
Friday, January 01, 2021
I reckoned that going on the muddiest walk would provide the most solitude on New Year's Day. One of the routes that is most deserted in normal times was teeming with people the other day, all with new dogs. The dog walkers had not learned to be dog owners yet: the retractable leads weren't being retracted, and the weaving dogs wove their leads across the path and made the walk into an interesting obstacle course. Lots of the dogs were unsure yet who their owners were, too: they flirted with potential new walkers and looked hopeful.
So this afternoon, I plodged through fields of mud skimmed with broken, glassy ice, other people's deep boot-impressions filled with yellow muddy water. New streams had sprung up and were chuckling over the torn grass, and older ones that were supposed to obey specially-laid pipes had found their own routes over and around them. The little birds were delighted to welcome a new year: they skidded from tree to tree in little collections of twitterings, busy doing bird-things. Every walk has a different birdscape; the other day, I saw a flock of redwings on the walk through the park, and the next day on a a friend-walk, we heard a woodpecker's rapid chopping at trees up high in the distance.
My walking boots have layer upon layer of mud on them. There is no point in cleaning them; the dry mud falls off on the pavements and is replaced with wet mud as soon as you walk on the muddy grasslands. On these walks, muddy thought falls from my head and is replaced not by more mud, but by clarity. I think this may be called nature therapy: it definitely works as a way of weathering life's storms.