Yes, the rumours were true! Watching The Sewing Bee on catch-up this afternoon, there's our song Food playing in the background! Have we got a secret fan somewhere at the Beeb?
Friday, December 31, 2021
This was truly a labour of love, just as was The Lost Women of Rock Music. What relief to finally see it published, and to good reviews as well.
We are in a state of perpetual learning as our external lives and our internal lives clash with each other, compliment each other and move on together. A major learning experience I've had this year (that is, not just being aware of something but really understanding it) has been the fact that in the music industry there are so many different political flavours and beliefs embedded in people's creativity.
Maybe this is more of a reminder-to-self than anything else. I remember just after punk how crystallised out the DIY movement became. To some people, it became about entrepreneurship and to others, it was about enablement and the sharing of skills. Both of these approaches, had it been illustrated by a Venn diagram, had in common both creativity and independence.
For creative people in the entertainment industry, we are dependent on other people to be our audiences (or indeed market, if we are more business-minded). It is this interface that has been affected by the pandemic, and it's here where divisions have formed, and where underlying beliefs have surfaced that are at odds with each other. Polarised, and triangulated by a government that is only able to see any event as an opportunity to enrich its members, the route out of this mess is streaming itself into right-hand and left-hand lanes.
On the left, there is an attempt to take collective responsibility that involves short-term pain. This is difficult because we exist in a youth-orientated profession where five years is a lifetime. Any time spent out of the limelight means that when we emerge again, we'll find a lot of closed doors and our former space will be occupied by new people who had been waiting in the wings for the opportunity to shine. Who could blame them for this?
On the right, there is frustration at the damming-up of activity, the resulting desert of opportunity, and the fog that obscures and sours the future. Why should everything stop, when it's weaker and older people who are more likely to be affected by the virus? Surely it's inevitable that there will be collateral damage and maybe it's better that everyone catches the disease, takes the risk, and then we can all get on with life untroubled by a virus that we have developed an immunity to, as part of a much stronger and more vigorous population.
And it seems that floating between the two streams of thought are those who find the whole thing exciting. Perhaps in the backs of their minds are the 'end-times' thoughts that some people were entertaining at the millennium. Everything is ending, and beginning at the same time. It's scary, but it's exciting. This is anarchy, surely? This is disruption! This is what creativity is all about: anger is an energy (sic), energy is anger, why be patient when you can be active and tip over some tables, grab some chances and be grinning triumphantly on top of it all when the apocalypse is over?
Underlying all this is money. Do we have enough to survive until times change? Politics is personal, despite being cloaked in a collective garb. Some of us find comfort in a steady set of beliefs, where for others political belief is of necessity slippery. To declare yourself as a right-wing musician can be risky, although many are secretly very much to the right (remember Adele complaining about paying taxes? Doesn't she realise that everyone else pays taxes too, and that they end up with a lot less money than she does when they've done that?). It is often expected that musicians will politically to the left: it's part of the deal. Successful musicians are sometimes called hypocrites when they don't cross the road to the other side. All the more respect for George Michael, who remained steadily principled as a left wing man, right to the end of his life.
What I have learned over the past two years is that I should not expect to be in agreement with my musical peers. I should not be surprised by them 'declaring for the right'. I can understand that we have different political beliefs, but I do not have to like this or condone this. I think it is better to know where people stand, which lane they are travelling in. I have seen musicians agree with everyone they come into contact with, condoning sometimes repellent views on both sides of the political divide just to keep 'in' with their fans. I can't do this myself, and I can't like it either. I need the steadiness of my belief in social justice and fairness, and you can't slither about politically if that is what you believe.
Leaving 2021 for a new year, I hope not just for personal wisdom but also for the ability to understand people better, especially when we do not have commonly-held beliefs. I have found it disturbing to realise that a place that I thought was occupied by allies is, in fact, just as much a reflection of the 'outside world' as anywhere else. I need to understand that a person who is not a natural ally is not an enemy; they are just a different person whose life trajectory has caused them to have deeply held beliefs that are not the same as mine.
And that's enough thinking for today.
Wednesday, December 29, 2021
Oh, the weather was grim! We went to the animal sanctuary to see what was going on up there.
There were a lot of different owls going on- apparently something to do with a police raid. A small Shetland pony snorted and galloped over to us for attention, again a police rescue. A poor little Muntjac deer with a bad hind leg looked very disturbed to be faced with fencing. Two young jays waited to grow their head crest feathers. A very old sheep limped about its enclosure, and another looked grumpily out of its shed at the drizzly weather. The Big Pig couldn't even be bothered with today, and slumbered on its straw, a barely visible mound in the shadows of its shed. Two little fox cubs looked absolutely miserable. There was a rabbit or two, some canaries, lots of parakeets (permanent residents because they are not natural British birds), pigeons, pheasants and doves, and a lot of geese, two of whom were creating an astonishing commotion. As we drew closer, we realised this was due to the presence of a huge and threatening-looking heron, that simply seemed to be enjoying winding them up. There were three free-range herons, all apparently up to the same tricks: just looming, hunched, looking for trouble. A different heron in an enclosure appeared to be oblivious to her team-mates' unpleasant antics.
Not many photos because it was so dark and gloomy, and I only caught two of the herons. I tried to photograph a fallow deer, but it was too shy. According to the notice on the fence, it was a goat.
Tuesday, December 28, 2021
Thanks to Wallace Dobbin for playing Takeaway on Christmas Day on his Rock and Roll Radio show last night! Listen again here: https://www.mixcloud.com/radiowinchcombe/rock-and-roll-radio-with-wallace-dobbin-27-december-2021/?fbclid=IwAR2shqzo2FXygr_vNx-019oDTE4LUf8nEe8vXkJh6aH8Q79oDJgP3cuTvKo
Monday, December 27, 2021
There were taken by my friend Carol Alevroyianni, probably in Wylam, Northumberland. The other women are Cathy Gilbert, who I have lost touch with, and Kathleen Burton (later Snowball and now Croft), who gave me a surprise visit at the gig at Bom Bane's Café just before Christmas. There are very few arty people who don't cite their Foundation Year as one of the best years of their lives. Sunderland's Foundation was fantastic. We just did everything we could possibly imagine and more, all lubricated by a lot of cheap booze and a huge amount of energy that came from being an outsider course.
I understand that one of the best lecturers, Robin Crozier, went on to become really famous as a corresponder. Somewhere I have postcards he sent to me when I went to Brighton Art College to do my degree in Fine Art Printmaking. He signed the concrete steps in Ryhope Park, just in case anyone noticed. I did.
I have some photographs of us all somewhere that I should scan.
I can't believe that I've not posted much about it about it before, especially the wonderful group of men who called themselves Four Play. One of them drew life-size realistic drawings in pencil of them all on huge sheets of photograph background paper, and hung them on their studio wall. They organised an Office Party, with room-dividers sporting dull calendars, Glenn Miller music and cocktails, to which they all wore suits. They organised a Sparts Day, where in one room there was Ping Pong Poussin (you had to play the game and yell artists names at each other while you were swiping at the ball), a Wresting Match in the canteen in a proper wrestling ring where combatants whacked each other on the head with rolled up paintings, and 'Getting In To Art College' where some of the lecturers played along. You were given a portfolio with no idea what was in it, and you had to 'get in to art college'. One portfolio had nothing but children's crayon drawings in it; the person whose portfolio was filled with Van Gogh prints was accused of plagiarism.
They used to rush around looking as though they were on a mission. As for us, we were on a mission too. Some of us formed the Creep Clique and sat around looking revolting. I know I've written about William before: he was so confident he marched into the canteen once announcing in his loud voice 'William strode into the canteen. Everyone looked round to see him', or something like that. We made all manner of things with the encouragement of our lecturers, Big Sef (who had gone to Newcastle University with Brian Ferry: we were impressed), and Ken Eightfoot. We attended parties where we were out of our depth with older students. I learned how to etch and fell in love with the medium. We designed kitchens using airbrushes and isometric techniques, did woodwork, pottery, life drawing (we thought the life drawing tutor was in love with the model), made a bit of music, visited each others homes and learned about each others lives, and talked and talked and talked. I experienced the best kiss of my life. Ah, that's enough for now!
Sunday, December 26, 2021
It's very sad news that Janice has passed away. She was a complete music enthusiast, knowledgeable without wearing badges about it sewn to her sleeve, and with a good humoured nature that was a complete breath of fresh air.
Out of the blue in the last year, I got an email from her producer asking if I'd like to record a session and an interview for her show on BBC Radio Wales. It was completely unexpected, and it was touching to be remembered after all these years. A couple of days before the show she phoned for a chat and told me about coming to see Helen and the Horns with her husband, with her baby in the pram. It was like talking to a close pal, and I vowed to visit her in Liverpool once everything went back to normal; you could feel the warmth through the phone, and I remember feeling just that when she used to do her Radio 1 show back in the day. Janice was tactful (she knew stuff about my personal life and didn't even go there) and hugely supportive.
She was really on the ball with what was happening in music, and after the show I followed up some of the other music she played. Back in the day, her show was a great launchpad for John Peel's later-evening and more esoteric musical offerings. I had just sent her a message to ask how she was, and didn't want to believe that she was ill enough not to be able to recover. Such a lovely person, and such a loss. She was one of us.
Saturday, December 25, 2021
Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this blog, whoever and wherever you are, and especially if you are alone. I know it can be a tough day if that is you. It's worth remembering that everyone is human and people tend to look ultra-happy online, even when they are not. Wishing us all peace, love and honesty for 2022.
Thursday, December 23, 2021
I spent part of the afternoon repairing McDad's dressing gown to wear, the one that McMum made for him. It is made from light-brown scratchy herringbone wool. McDad liked light brown scratchy things: maybe it was the Presbyterian in him. He had his own special plain light brown scratchy towel for years, while the rest of us moved on from threadbare holey ones to John Lewis specials. He also (sacrilege to reveal) had his own special oblong white china Izal scratchy toilet paper holder in the bathroom, which came in handy for comb-and-tissue-paper kazoo making.
Maybe that's the root of my music making!
Anyway- I put patch on a hole in the lining (Yes! A lining! That is true love!), sewed up the torn hem, sewed the button back on and steamed it to get rid of any remaining moths (it has a slew of random punctures). It's very warm and it was good therapy to fix it.
I've got McDad's gardening hat too, but I don't think I'll wear that. It's as flat as a pancake in a drawer full of used clothes that belonged to various members of my family. I'm not sure if it's an archive or a hoard. My great grandmother's wedding dress in in there, and the little jumpers that I knitted for the Offsprogs when they were little. All handmade.
When McDad died I felt it in my whole body, which was completely unexpected. I sat in the same chair for two days, looking out of the window. Then I wrote this song there by the window, and sang it into my computer. It was a remarkably healing experience to be able to describe our Dad in such a clear way. I know McMum used to play it from time to time, which is the best validation anyone could have. Merry Christmas to McMum and McDad, and also to everyone whose parents have passed away. I hope your memories are happy, or at least that you are able to remember the happy bits.
This is a recording from 2007, one of those years where life seemed to be collapsing around me, when there was no solid ground underneath to stand upon. Bendi Records of Sweden asked me to make a Christmas record, and I recorded four tracks for them. This one was my favourite, because it was so unexpected that it happened. I recruited the choir by emailing all my contacts, booked the studio and hoped for the best, without knowing who would turn up. Thus the He-mails and She-mails came into existence, and it was a wonderful reminder of how people will just be up for a laugh, and be willing to jump on a bus to an unknown destination. Music to the rescue again!
The film is from an archive and has been edited by Naimad to fit in the right places. We are all having an unusual Christmas this year, just as we did last year: we are discovering that we are surprisingly resilient. It's not nice, it it? But we improvise, and understand that we have often been remarkably lucky in past years. Let's hope for a kinder and more tolerant New Year, and until then, Merry Christmas, compliments of the season and as many greetings as there are people in the world.
How much we need these things! Having read about Rishi Sunak schmoozing private US healthcare firms with a view to selling the NHS to them while Omicron was ripping through Britain, I felt nothing short of despair. I was looking for hope in tiny corners, where perhaps it could be clustered in faint dustballs almost invisible to the naked eye. It is there. We are stronger than we thought.
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
The days are short- but the dawns are often beautiful. I was driving very early this morning through pre-dawn darkness, and when the mission was accomplished daybreak brought the most beautiful pink and blue skies, colours graduating from one to the other, the rising sun gilding the clouds and vapour trails. As the road twisted and curved, new panoramas blushed and gleamed above the dark concrete streams and canyons, and my heart filled with joy in spite of everything. We can't control illness, but neither can we control nature. It reminds us that we are part of it all, and it sent a Goldfinch to the white-barked Birch that I planted five or six years ago to nibble at the hanging seed pods. How very lovely!
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Thank you Gideon Coe for playing Takeaway on Christmas Day by McCookerybook and Rotifer last night! You can hear the track here: https://wiaiwya.bandcamp.com/track/takeaway-for-christmas-day
Sunday, December 19, 2021
The two Roberts couldn't come, but unexpected injuries (broken toe) and circumstances under the control of Covid meant that we had decent turnout. Duncan drew horses, Sarah drew Slade, Darren from Bolton painted Mud, Sophie framed some pressed flowers and I drew Barry Humphries. Darren Hayman was delayed on a journey to Barcelona, so he joined us from Wetherspoons at Stansted Airport, which couldn't have been more cool if he planned it. Sunday Drawing Club is a godsend. We are isolating here until Wednesday, and the online socialising was a great end to the weekend. The bantz was a combination of silly and wise as always. Three cheers for Sunday Drawing Club!
A disturbing and joyous Jingle Bells for you, rebased in aid of the Cavell Nurses Trust:
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Our local Post Office is closed until Monday, a day on which I'll be isolating before a family member's operation. Ho Hum and Ho Ho Ho!
Apparently a lot of staff have become ill, presumably with Coronavirus. How can that be?
When I went there a couple of days ago, I was greeted by two men who were flinging their arms about, one tall and in suit (managerial, you see) and one smaller but just as assertive. 'How can we help you?', said one and 'What do you want to do today?' said the other, simultaneously. They tried again, but they were just as important as each other and neither could give way to the other; they spoke in irritated unison, annoyed with each other in a smiley, passive-aggressive way.
They were blocking my route to the counter with their Helpfulness.
'Please can you get out of the way?', I asked. 'I know what I want to do. I want to post this letter'. They seemed taken aback, and they stood there for a while, stunned.
The real Post Office assistant looked at me with a sympathetic smile. It was clear that these two nuisances had been disrupting the morning ever since the Post Office opened. 'We thought it was going to be more busy today', he commiserated.
I managed to slip past them, and headed for the counter queue.
'I KNOW WHAT I'LL DO! I'LL MAKE MYSELF USEFUL AND GET A COFFEE FOR EVERYONE!' bellowed man-in-the-suit triumphantly. He'd got one over on smaller man, who hadn't had the Great Idea.
I stood in line and waited for a free counter. Meanwhile, man-in-the-suit was charging about, taking orders from the staff.
'Cashier number four'.
It was my turn to be served.
'ONE LATTE. DO YOU WANT SUGAR WITH THAT?'. Oh no! Man-in-the-suit was getting closer!
Just as I approached cashier number four to buy stamps and post my letter, man-in-the-suit blocked my way and stood in front of the cashier.
'CAN YOU FIND ME A PIECE OF PAPER AND A PEN TO TAKE THE ORDERS THANKS LOVE'.
Lots of rummaging followed before he shot off to continue his helpful mission. I stood there waiting, the picture of patient forbearance. Was this what the Christmas Spirit was all about?
Well, neither of these two chaps were wearing masks. The local Post Office, after a blip at the beginning of the pandemic, has been ultra-cautious and limited numbers, encouraged hand sanitisation and installed clear plastic shields between staff and customers. How silly to invite super-spreaders in for the day! If I were ever a conspiracy theorist, the conspiracy I'd subscribe to would be the one where we have all fallen asleep and woken up in an alternative reality.
Or perhaps this is all a dream anyway?
Friday, December 17, 2021
When I was a very little girl, McMum and McDad told me that a very special friend of theirs was coming to stay with us. They had worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before they had children, and through McMum's job as a social worker in the Jewish Hospital (I think), had met Inky and Ed Landerman, with whom they formed a lifetime's friendship.
We picked Ed up at the chilly little station in South Wylam. He had a huge, warm personality that made you love him to bits straight away. He loved children and knew just how to speak to us. He was interested in us: in fact, he was interested in everybody and everything. I became penpals with his eldest daughter Emmy, and I used to look forward to those letters from a mythical country, with Emmy's looped handwriting describing family life hundreds of miles away.
When I was fourteen, I went to the USA with my American Grandmother. She had been raised in Vermont, New England and we spent a lot of time with her elderly friends who reminisced about their childhoods together. They were tough, charming and eccentric and I got into my gig as Granny's companion. At one point, Granny tried to buy my diary off me to see what I'd written about her friends. I wouldn't sell it, because I'd written nothing about them at all: I had examined them minutely in my imagination, that was all (and done one or two slightly cruel drawings!).
By the time I got to go to visit the Landermans, I was fairly desperate for young company, and a little bit homesick. I remember the plane flying over Pittsburgh. I marvelled at the suburban gardens, lined up in grids, each with a turquoise swimming pool.
Inky and Ed Landerman welcomed me as though I was their own daughter. They had a dog called Henry, one of those terriers with a moustache and trousers, and their daughters Emmy and Laura welcomed me into the family too. I ate the first bagel I'd ever eaten in their house (yum), marvelled at their bedrooms (they had been allowed to decorate them the way they wanted them), listened to their friends playing guitars in their basement, went to a drive-in movie and ate donuts, and best of all, went to a YWCA summer camp for two weeks with Laura. We were actually in two separate parts of the camp, but its peculiar customs and habits were shared by all the girls who went there: they woke us in the morning by blaring Seventy Six Trombones from speakers perched in the trees. There was a ritual of swimming in your clothes. We went canoeing. I learned how to play Death by Winking, and I learned American singing games.
Inky and Ed showed me a snapshot of an American childhood from the safety of their home. They were funny, youthful, a little bit anarchic and incredibly affectionate.
One by one, McDad and McMum died. Inky died. Laura and me kept in touch, and her daughter came to London with her grandmother, met Offsprog One and me at Buckingham Palace and 'did' London. Ed made his way all the way up from his hotel in Kensington the High Barnet one cold winter evening and visited me and my teenage daughters. They were charmed by him; he hadn't changed at all, apart from shaving off his luxuriant beard. It was so lovely to see him again.
Ed passed away a couple of days ago. He had spent his senior years organising tennis matches for elders, and also loving his grandchildren just as much as he loved his children. In the midst of all the current terribleness and the grimness the knowledge that it's possible for such a loving human being to reach a ripe old age, carrying on sharing his good humour and kindness, is hugely heartening.
Ed, thank you for your love across the ocean. I send love back to you and your family, and I treasure my own lifelong friendship with your daughter, Laura. Goodbye, dear Ed.
Thursday, December 16, 2021
On the way to the shops, I saw a man with a bulldog crossing the road diagonally. His gaze was fixed on... another man with a bulldog, standing outside the bank. The first man laughed sheepishly: he didn't want the other guy to think he was crossing the road to be bulldog buddies with him. 'It's just that he hates the sound of saxophones', he explained.
There was a hopeful sax-playing busker playing carols outside the North London Hospice furniture shop.
On the way to get a pizza after dark, I saw a very elegant woman walking a Pomeranian that was sporting a thick leather harness adorned with festive lightbulbs. It looked rather swanky, and I think the dog knew it.
It's all go dogs-wise, on Barnet High Street.
Wednesday, December 15, 2021
A few years ago I ran some songwriting weekends at the premises Studio in east London, managed by the wonderful Julia Craik, who died of Covid last year. The whole thing was her brainchild: songwriters would come in on Friday and leave at the end of Monday with a fully recorded and mixed song that they had written over the weekend. They would have a masterclass (Green Gartside twice because he was so good, Piney Gir, Ed Harcourt, Chris Difford), advice from the PRS, and mostly lots of creative stuff from me.
One time, the group looked rather glum on the Friday night. 'We always write miserable songs', they said. 'How can we get out of the rut?'.
I asked them each to notice five beautiful things on their way to the studio the following morning. One by one they appeared and shared their beautiful things. There was such a variation. One chap was besotted by his wife; another person noticed a special tree. One person noticed sounds, another colours.
Sometimes it's good to take a taste of your own medicine. Beautiful things are always there, but we don't always take note of them. We carry pain and ugliness in our heads, often for very good reasons, but there is nothing wrong with the occasional reprogramming of our brains to notice beauty.
On the walk yesterday, it was interesting things that aroused my curiosity, more than beautiful things. But everything I noticed was an inspiration in some way, or a trigger for questions about nature. I took photographs so I wouldn't forget. Another time, I'll write songs. There is always so much to see out there; we walk around with our eyes open, often seeing nothing but the frightening images in our heads. Our brains can celebrate as well as mourn, and it's good to remember this.
Sunday, December 12, 2021
Every so often, life gives me a break and I dream a nice song. Last night, I dreamt I was consoling a very sad singer. He looked little bit like Cat Stevens, but also a bit like Zack Condon from Beirut. He was playing a very sad song about a friend of his that he was meeting up with, that he'd written because of his mixed feelings: partly happiness to see his friend, and partly sadness because his friend was having a hard time.
The singer was an empathiser, who was feeling his friend's pain. The song was all about having two hearts, a happy one and a sad one. I keep the music in my head until I got up, then I sang it onto my phone. The friend had an odd name, Miljuda, which I have discovered is Lithuanian. Remembering the name was the hardest bit- and I can only remember the 'punchline' of the song melody, but that's enough.
I have half a mind to write a song every other day in January from all of the fragments of music and lyrics that swish about my house on scraps of paper and phone recordings, but I also have an album to finish, with a benchmark song that sounds exactly the way I want to sound. My feet on the ground and my head in the heavens, that's the sound.
I've been recording and mixing something radically different to that this weekend, but more of that later in the week.
Saturday, December 11, 2021
Friday, December 10, 2021
Although I know as well as anyone else that people say just as many stupid things in real life as they do on Social Media sites, Nextdoor takes the biscuit. What shockingly horrible interactions!
I think, therefore I am.
Oh so you think, do you? Your sort of people are invariably wrong when they self-diagnose like this!
Who are you to say you are, anyway? Surely that's for other people to decide, not you...
Idiott! I dont like psotings like tis!
Leave him alone! He has a right to say what he feels!!!!
But what she feels may be wrong, you snowflake!!!!!
Can anyone recommend a good plumber?
Tuesday, December 07, 2021
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
Sunday, December 05, 2021
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
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
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
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
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.
Friday, November 26, 2021
Thursday, November 25, 2021
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
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
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!
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Monday, November 15, 2021
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, November 09, 2021
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.
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
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!
Friday, November 05, 2021
From the cupboard under the stairs: unplayed vintage Helen and the Horns albums:
Thursday, November 04, 2021
Wednesday, November 03, 2021
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?
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
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.