Wednesday, June 23, 2021

St John's Church Gig



Rehearsing and Writing with Robert

The past few Wednesdays Robert Rotifer has been travelling up from Canterbury to write and rehearse songs. Fingers crossed, we'll be playing in Vienna and Innsbruck on 28th and 29th July, and we are also going to record a new album with Ian and Jonathan. The ends of my fingers are shredded and I'm as hoarse as a... well, horse, of course. There is so much to learn: german lyrics, fancy chords, song structures, English lyrics, remembering the old songs (Old! We wrote them last year!).

Cheesy grins all round!



Listening to Pop Music

When I was about eleven I had a little tinny transistor radio, made of cream plastic with a dodgy perforated black plastic cover (to let the music out) that had a carrying handle attached to it. There was one headphone on a fine plastic-coated wire that plugged into it. 

Our family lived in a Northumbrian village with just enough trains and buses to get you to school (or work in a shop in Newcastle on Saturdays), but not enough to be able to have fun. There was a Folk Club in the village and I do remember one event in the Village Institute where my friends' band played, and another time a disco that was attended by a large diaspora of skinheads.

Nobody had dreams, as far as I could see. If they did, they didn't share them with anyone. There was a very narrow life route available, and if you didn't take that narrow path, there be dragons. I was isolated.

In some ways we were lucky because the world came to us: McDad's job at the University meant a constant stream of doctors from around the world who chatted to us about their cultures and laughed at my Geography homework (ten years out of date). One doctor, Shima, was Nigerian and lived with us for a year. He played African music in his room, with big swanky speakers. But that was later, when teenage wanderings allowed village youths to attend Youth Club with its pile of scratched and out of date 7" singles and a Dansette to play them on, and to share listening to forbidden albums like Frank Zappa's in each others houses.

My little transistor radio was a pipeline to magic. From the strange enclosed and claustrophobic world of the village, I could plug my ears into the radio and listen to Detroit and LA, the shape and sound of faraway studios entering my imagination and signalling an outside world where girls and women sang in sparky voices about daring lives that seemed just as normal to them as my dreary existence was to eleven year old me.

For all it's evil and horrible machinery, the music industry has always been a conduit to dreams, and dreams are evidence of the imagination, and the imagination is the route to freedom. I have never lost that thought.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Walking in the West End

London's West End is weird. Semi-deserted, it still has some life, mostly restaurants, caf├ęs and bars that have laid out their tables in neat rows for phantom customers. Sometimes there is a small group at a table having muted 'fun', but a lot of it looks like the definition of hope in adversity. All ready to go, but who has the starting pistol?

There are a lot of casualties. The Tintin shop is shuttered (I had gone to try to find a birthday present for my brother). Larger shops have large, pacing, uniformed security guards, which puts you off going in them. The clothes shops should be ashamed of themselves- utter trash is on sale, lazy designs that they thought they could shift because the Pandemic Pound was going to be so profligate. 

Also, people have forgotten how to work tills- or maybe they all have new jobs now all the European workers have been chased away by the vile xenophobia promoted by the zombie government. In one shop, I couldn't buy anything because the person with the code to open the computerised till had gone to lunch for an hour. In another, a person was being very slowly trained to use the till and was talking themselves through the steps as they pressed buttons and checked prices.

I think we have all forgotten how to do everything. I met my Champagne Friend for tea and a walk, and it was so lovely to just sit and yak at a table in a place that wasn't my house. It was so exciting! I felt like saying goodbye to everyone in the whole building afterwards, but managed to just say it to the woman at the till, who seemed really pleased to have been communicated with. 

We had a lovely walk and I managed to find my brother an alternative present, and even paid 20 pence for a carrier bag just because shopping for something that isn't food was such an extraordinary activity. Wow.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Lee Valley Nature Reserve

It's strange to live so close to a huge nature reserve and never have been there. Because everyone thought it was going to rain today and because it wasn't particularly warm, there were very few people around. In fact, sometimes, nobody.

We saw fleets of dragonflies swarming around the nettles, sleek cormorants doing flypasts, hundreds of Canada geese, Greylag geese, swans with cygnets, coots nesting on the weir (how weird!), a solitary Grebe and an enormous colony of Terns with their attendant smell. Silent green fishermen were plugged in to the banks on wooden platforms. Later, there was a lovely scent that emanated from... brambles.

It's great to spend a day outside which you expected to be a sitting round the telly sorta day. And back in time for the football, too!



Friday, June 18, 2021

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Writing Songs with Robert Rotifer

Robert Rotifer came round today and we did more writing, carrying on from last week. We think we might be ready to record soon- at least some of the songs. We worked hard: there is a lot to learn for both of us, but we have at least four of the ideas knocked into shape.

This is a selfie from this afternoon.



Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Elders Watch Rats

The rat family is thriving up at the pond, mummy and daddy and the four kids. Fed by bread thrown for the ducks, they are now completely brazen and can't be bothered to hide. Two people relax on the bench, watching the flock of rats potter about and dash for cover whenever a walking human appears. The rodents happily coexist with the ducks because there is plenty of bread to go round. There is even a yellow toy speedboat parked up against the duck house. God only knows which animal uses that at night when the humans have gone to bed!
If you inspect the photograph carefully, you'll see a couple of the furry fellows on the bankside.



Cuckoos

In deepest Sussex on a Sunday morning walk, we could hear two different cuckoos. Watch out, birdies! The cuckoos are coming to push your offsprog eggs out of your nests and install their own big babbies to trick you into feeding them. We also disturbed a silly skylark on its ground nest, and buzzards glided up in the sky looking for prey.

There had been bats flitting around us the night before, homing in to inspect the humans as they watched the sun set and the skinny sickle moon rise. In the depths of the night owls hooted, and a cow had a bad dream, shouting out loudly for help in cow language.

It was hot everywhere, wasn't it? The M25 was packed with dozing drivers who drifted across lanes every so often. It was nice to go Somewhere Else in good company, despite the sweltering journey.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Things That I Can't Write About, Don't Write About Or Won't Write About

Sometimes, I'm simply busy doing stuff and don't have time to post anything. Sometimes, the time is better spent upon reflection than writing blog posts. At other times, the life-revelations are simply so completely appalling that I won't write about them.

On this morning's walk, I thought about shame and how it's wrong to put people you love into a position where they have to feel ashamed about aspects of their lives. I looked up and saw a kestrel hovering above, ready to pounce on any words or thoughts that were unwise, even if they were truthful.

Further on, I thought about revelations that suddenly crystallise out things that have happened, atmospheres, not getting the memo. Suddenly I understand the wobbly branch that I've been perched on for so many years. 

Once more, I welcome music as a refuge and a skeleton to build something sane upon, despite the fact that it's an insane creative process. I am glad that I have survived and 'managed on my own' (one stalker will recognise that phrase very keenly). A simple collection of guitar chords and their resonances and relationships makes me feel powerful. I've no idea why. It's a bit like taking thoughts out of your head and making them material, so you can feel them and taste them. My hands, my guitar, my thoughts and my voice. Thank you.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Evening

In the past ten days I've seen two Munjac deers around here, one in the Nature Reserve and one just up the road not far from the duck pond. Brilliant.

Also, there is a large family of very lush-haired rats at the duckpond: mummy and daddy and at least four young 'uns supported by sliced bread donated by the public and their own young 'uns. 

It's all go, isn't it? 

Statue Toppling

Of course: the problem with the statue-toppling is that the Old Etonians all imagine themselves being made statues of! Just imagine, the Chief Blob daydreaming about his place on a plinth at Trafalgar Square, or even annexed to the stone Churchill outside the Houses of Parliament, only to have his dreams dashed by whippersnapper egalitarians. Quel Dommage!

Morning

I was up with the pigeons and took my car to be serviced. It is iced with mud from woodland excursions, but I did tip a generous bucket of water over it to wash off the Sahara sand that arrived a couple of days ago.

It would be nice to go for a walk, but the pollen is thick in the air this morning and I'm blinking through grit and breathing through soup. Maybe the antihistamine will kick in. Meanwhile, I write.

Hysterical barkydog, who lives in an indeterminate location and who signals its distress all day every day, hasn't been put outside to yelp yet, so it's quite peaceful.

Morning thoughts drift through my head. Why isn't the Chirpomatic app called Cheepo? Did someone else trademark that? Why didn't I patent the... oh no, I'm not going to say that idea. Someone will nick it!

Would it be scary if I left courgette plants on neighbours doorsteps if they weren't in? I've rehomed two already.

Should I prepare for this afternoon's work meeting, or go out? How far should I go? Should I wear shorts? Do I dare to eat a peach?

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Sounds and Feelings

I thought I'd been one of the first people to hear a new genre of music: I could hear an unfamiliar timbre floating across Burgess Park. As I tuned in my ears, I realised that was the sound of a strimmer, wielded by a council worker along the way.

Later we sat in the town garden as it got dark, listening first to a loud neighbouring electric lawnmower, then children in a nearby playground. The noise died away until all we could hear were birds. The app Chirpomatic identified a Goldfinch's call. There really is an app for everything.

It was a very odd feeling to have had a night out, to have been a stopout. I got home after dark, bringing a flush of night air into my stuffy house. Summer has arrived: the pandemic has busted through the seasons as a timetable of our lives, which are now divided by lockdowns and vaccinations and punctuated by an occasional funeral. We breathe in and out: sadness and fear, sadness and fear. 

Government lies float about us like clouds of flies, those irritating bluebottles that you can't get out of the house: bzz, bzz, bzz. We must drown out the sound with music.

Interview with BBC Radio London's Robert Elms

Thank you for this, Robert. Another person who gets the idea behind the book:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09j3n95

Interview in Deviation Street Online Zine

https://deviationstreetmagazine.com/the-helen-mccookerybook-interview/

Monday, June 07, 2021

After A Walk In The Woods

Saturday's walk in the woods was remarkable. At one point the cacophony from the birds sounded like a tropical rainforest: there were so many different calls, and such a quantity of birds, all in a slice of woodland between two golf courses and only a stone's throw from the M25.

It was also Giant Hogweed Eradication Day- except boots aren't really enough. Protective gear is a better idea, because they are poisonous and their poison droplets spray into the air if you trample on them.

Today was writing with Robert day. He arrived with his guitar and a box of cakes and believe it or not, by the time he left we had five almost-songs in the bag. I almost didn't mind that we might not be able to play in Vienna, because Austria has banned British flights. Thanks Boris Johnson, for reigniting the flames of Covid by waiting two weeks before banning flights from India. Thanks for that.

We will be match fit for whatever gigs arrive in our inboxes. It's a workout for the hands learning another person's chord palette, but I feel so lucky to be collaborating with a song writer like Robert. He has the ability to weaponise language where necessary, or be a true poet when the mood takes him. It has been hard working day interspersed with some late marking, but the internet packed up and isolated both of us from our real lives so we ended up just getting on with it all. I've got a pile of lyrics to learn and a separate pile of chords, and so has Robert. 

Tomorrow I'm going to Joan's to work on our collaboration. My whole blood supply has been replaced by creative juices, and I'm not complaining. And here's the poster for our gig in November:



Thursday, June 03, 2021

Writing Songs

Song Circle is resting at least for the summer. But I was trying to play a cover song the other day and I found a chord sequence that is teasing me with its potential. I've been out in the back yard playing it to the ants and bees. I'm not sure what they think because I don't understand their language, but I imagined that they were listening.

Also yesterday me and Robert did a Zoom together, and started to finish some of the song ideas that we have been collaborating on by text during lockdown. I think we will have an album- next week we are going to meet up in person and see what happens when our two guitars speak to each other.

I know all this sounds terribly hippyish. It's an antidote to marking and admin. If you'd been data inputting and cross-checking feedback and moderated marks for days you'd be like this too, believe me. You keep thinking you've finished, and then a late piece of work comes in and the whole house of cards collapses again.

I'm working on something else with my friend Joan. I'm learning a lot, but more about that another time; for the rest of the day there are lots of pernickety things to sort out plus there's a huge bluebottle snarling around the room looking for food, or possibly just being irritating. Did my enemies send it? I'm going to trap it, tie a message to its back and send it on its way. I have guitars to play.