Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Singing, and Hay Fever

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

The Zebra Crossers

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?

The U Turnips

 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

Hard to Find a Title for This One

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!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Socially Distanced Gig in Stockton-on-Tees, End Of May

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.

Friday, March 19, 2021

We Love You NHS, And We Don't Want You To Be Sold To U.S. Asset Strippers

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

'Tis The Season Of the Moth

They're back! 

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:

Monday, March 15, 2021

Armchair Critics

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.

Imminent Book: 'She's at the Controls'

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

Near Russell Square


Too Much To Say

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

Bit Nippy Today

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

Singing, Playing Bass, Recording

What a luxury to switch on the computer, load up Logic, and start recording! I am arranging some vocals for some of Gina's songs, and I got the best microphone out to do those. Everything is being done at a distance, which is slow (it took an hour to upload five WAVs and five Mp3s to Wetransfer), but I've kind of got used to it now. After that I played about with a song I'm writing, and even got the bass out to play on it. The strings are rusty and I couldn't find decent picks anywhere in the house (I play with a medium pick, upwards, just like you shouldn't). I'm probably going to start again from scratch with that song (it's not the right speed) but I got the sound absolutely right, which I was delighted about. 
Then Robert sent me another idea to work on for our Equal Parts project, mark 2.
Now all I need is some gigs! I had more than nine confirmed gigs at the beginning of last year, and that's a good number to build a year's working on. I do have a couple with Robert playing our EP stuff (that means a lot of groundwork at home remembering those chords) and was also delighted to be offered a solo show in July supporting The Band of Holy Joy and Stuart Moxham. I will have to get to work though: being a DIY artist means you have to Do It Yourself, whether or not you feel like it.

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

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

Busy Saying Nothing

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

The Raymond Chandler Project

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.