Sunday, January 31, 2021

Post-Christmas Posting

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

Writing Songs Every Week

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

Kitchen Studio

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.

Being Part of a Loud Women Podcast

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.


Nice and quiet, before the big cars wake up.

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:

When I Am Goddess

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.

Helen and the Horns Session on Gideon Coe's Show Tonight!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Birds and Snow

The pigeons simply shouted at the snow to make it go away but that didn't work. 
Up at the ponds, the ducks were very cold, walking on ice. 
Their backs were covered in snow: water off a duck's back, snow on a duck's back. 
The Egyptian geese at the other pond chose the moment to mate, and Mr and Mrs White Goose decided to bully two poor ducks who had taken refuge on a thin earthen ledge against the back wall, pecking at them and chasing them along the ledge just for 'fun'.
End of snow news broadcast!

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

Boox, Boox, Boox

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

Another Song From The Kitchen

I have been incapacitated by what appears to be gastric 'flu, believe it or not, although I'm awaiting the results of a Covid test. Here's another song from the kitchen to be going on with.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

January in Paris

Once upon a time, we could travel to places: places like Paris, and be miserable there instead of in London.

Thursday, January 14, 2021


I forgot to check out the bread tin this week.

Recalling, a Ramble

 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.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

January Afternoon Light


Brian Player's Acoustic Cafe Radio Show

 Thanks to Brian Player for playing A Good Life with a Bad Apple on his show last night! Listen again here:

Plectrum Problem

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

Refugee Benefit Compilation

 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!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Upping the Engineering Game

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!

English Nationalism

Any sort of Nationalism. Like putting your hands over your ears and shouting "LA LA LA" as loud as you possibly can. 

Wobbly Timetables

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

New Year Mudfest

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.