Friday, July 30, 2021

Headphone Headaches: Curly Wire Complaint

Turns out it wasn't enough for today. Why (Beyer) go to all the lengths (sic) to create a good-sounding set of headphones and then give us a curly lead to attach them to the interface with? As a lifelong guitarist (half my life, anyway), I learned never to buy curly leads because they break up inside and have to be replaced much more frequently than straight ones. Is it that? 

It's just that when they are stretched not even very far, they want to reduce the space between the person using them and the equipment they are plugged into, and twang and pull constantly, which is really irritating if you are concentrating on singing. It's even more irritating if you are concentrating on playing your guitar, because you have to dial up new music memory to resist being pulled into a collision with the equipment by the enthusiastic elasticity of the headphone lead! Oh, I know I'm exaggerating a little, but you don't need additional movements and tension when you're recording. At worst the curly headphone lead bounces along with the music, which is utterly ghastly. 

Trust me, I'm a musician!

Morning Musings

I'm just about to start recording, this time with different guitar which is easier to play than the Green Goddess, and has less of a fret buzz problem when I'm playing arpeggios, which is what I'm recording at the moment. I'm still having to play the song in sections, but that's so normal I don't know why I'm even documenting it.

The street outside is waking up: lorries are growling, motorbikes snarling and cars whisking past forcing grimy air through the cracks in the window and door. I have made a very strong cup of coffee so I may be racing the click track when I start recording. It's funny because lockdown and the luxury of time have affected the length of songs I've written. A lot of them are more than four minutes long, though they seemed short at the time. I'm in the process of editing them to a more reasonable and listenable length, ditching unnecessary lyrics, allowing the music to complete the meaning, and not overdecorating the music.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking about the odious Nigel and his taxi service comments. How wonderful that the RNLI has seen such an increase in donations! I had been wondering how empathisers could take down psychopaths (the very notion simply doesn't work, does it?): maybe some sort of extreme rebalancing could do the trick. How could that work with Bezos and Musk, though? How could people undo the aggressive incursions into space by billionaires who have simply lost the plot?

And watching the morning news, there's the Japanese authorities 'clearing out' homeless people from areas around the Olympic venues. This is exactly what the UK did. Our homeless people (yes, they are ours) were evacuated to Brighton for the duration, to the end of Offsprog One's street, as it happens; that's how I know about it. So let not have any British moralising about the cruel Japanese authorities. Maybe it might occur to someone one day that the huge expense of the Olympics and the glorification of the human body should extend to people we don't make films about and give medals to, as well as to those we do. Did we rehouse the homeless people in London in the Olympic village? That might have been the kind thing to do, mightn't it? And in that regenerated area, there might even have been jobs for them, too. It takes a lot of strength and perseverance to survive on the streets, a lot of endurance. Olympian skills, in fact. Hmmm.

I'm still working. The schedules we have for marking re-sit student work increasingly encroach on time we should be spending on research and relaxing in the summer, which means that the stress of one year carries on to the next. I don't think stressed teachers and lecturers can do their jobs properly.Where adrenaline helps bankers (or supposedly does), people who work in education need patience and thinking time to work out new ways to keep students interested in the things they need to learn to thrive in their respective professions after they have graduated. I have so much to say about my life as a University lecturer, and I'm looking forward to being free to say them when the time comes.

I know we're not in the medical profession. I honestly don't know how they cope with the constant government carping and insincerity. My experience of breaking my elbow led to a renewed admiration for the collaborative and seamless way that A&E works. At one point, a surgeon between cases took a blood sample from me because nobody else had time. They volunteered to do it without a thought for it being below their pay grade. I could feel the pressure, but all the way through I was treated with kindness, gentleness and respect: back to empathy again. I have a million times more admiration for our NHS staff than I do for the ridiculous antics of middle aged and elderly white men and their metal space penises.

That's enough for today.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Don't Mix Mixing And Recording

I spent a couple of hours this morning editing and mixing a song, which has rescued it from being annoyingly Wrong. I cut out a verse (economy is queen), boosted the bass EQ on the guitar, compressed it, and panned some of the additional overdubs about the place to give it a bit of space to breathe. All that remains is a lead vocal performance on a proper microphone, but it's too noisy today what with the rain outside and it being wash day inside.

So I settled down to play a rather difficult guitar part but couldn't nail it. I had fret buzz problems even though I cut my nails and could play it perfectly in time. Those chords just wouldn't sit right even after I worked out a way to do it. I guess I was just tired after the mornings session. So I've made a pie instead, and will eat that with peas, and be glad that at least the first track has worked out OK.

Every time I record I learn more about how to make things sound good, so getting things wrong is a learning experience more than a disappointment. I am 100% confident in my songs, but the difficult thing is holding back: I know the arrangements and mixing are going to be such fun, but I've got to get really good basics before that, and I'm an impatient person in some ways. But not all.

Also, playing guitar parts over and over is rehearsing. Would I sit for an hour and play just one little bit over and over to get it right? I would not! And these are songs that I haven't played live before so they're not in my muscle memory yet. I think perhaps what has felt like a not very productive day will prove to have been much more productive than I thought, further down the line.

BTW Gideon Coe played not only half a Chefs session last night, he also played No Man's Land straight after one of the tracks. That was a great thing to come back to after a seaside trip!

Gideon Coe:

Frinton Nil, Walton-on-the-Naze Seven-Point-Five

On the map, the closest coast to Barnet seems to be that of Essex. I know the beaches are rammed at weekends so that swayed the decision to go to the coast on a weekday.

The roads through Essex have seen better days and are busy with articulated lorries heading to Harwich, but it's worth the drive for the pleasures of Walton-on-the-Naze. It's a classic nuts'n'bolts seaside town with chip shops, a cacky pier (that you can't walk to the end of) with an amusement arcade, some basic rides and lots of serious fisherman; and sea and sand as far as the eye can sea. The beach is fantastic, with yellow sand so clean and lovely you could almost eat it, divided into family-size sections with wooden breakwaters, and lines of colourful beach huts bursting with people drinking tea, drying off, reading, smiling and generally looking happy to be alive.

You can walk around the coast, eat chips, buy an ice cream, and it was very tempting to try out some of the rides but a three mile walk in the bracing wind wore us out. We decided to go to Frinton for a cup of tea, which was a mistake. Frinton belongs firmly to the elderly in spirit, and has an air of 'keep out' so overpowering that we gave upon the cup tea after sitting for fifteen minutes at a café where the waitress chatted with the regulars, and completely ignored the incomers. 

Walton on the Naze won hands down: friendly (local chaps directed us to their favourite chippy), fun and very beautiful. It even has nicer beach huts. The ones at Frinton have their backs to the sea and even the little swifts that flitted about underneath them didn't save the day. Next time I'm taking my swimming costume to Walton- that sea looked irresistible, and that sand looked so soft on the feet.

Also: Walton-on-the-Naze likes cash not credit cards!

A Visit to The Sound Bank

One of the women who features in my book is Ms Melody, a sound engineer who has, after many trials and tribulations, opened a cutting edge studio a stone's throw from Kennington tube station in south London. Over the period of becoming friends, the studio has evolved from being an empty building and an idea through being a project in development, to now being open and buzzing with activities and people. It's quirky, youthful and full of potential. I have been as excited watching it develop as if it was my own project, and when I went for a visit on Monday, ostensibly to sign her copy of my book (we both forgot), I was delighted to see that her Mum really was there in the podcast room making hats. There she was with shelves of beautifully crafted headgear: I felt they alone were worth a visit. To me, that was the icing on the cake. There are rooms to meet, rooms to record, rooms to make podcasts and rooms to stream from, all clean, new and well equipped. You can even party there!

There are lots of great studios in London; we are recording our album at One Cat in Gypsy Hill and that is perfect for what we are doing. But it's incredibly tempting to record something at Mel's studio just to capture a bit of that excitement at newness that I felt when I walked in this week, and of course, get a bit of 'spirit of the hat' on the recording! 

Look here to see what's there:

Monday, July 26, 2021

Reporting Coventry

Coventry Cathedral is nothing short of elegant. It is a testimony to 1960s design: tall, graceful and with lovely interior design right down to the tapestry kneeling cushions and sculptural fixtures and fittings. Just walking into the building felt like making a grand entrance yet there was a definite aura of defiance there too: a phoenix grown from the ashes of the Second World War.
The original panel convenor, Jennifer Otter Bickerstaffe, was in quarantine (no pinging here, please: this is a pandemic). I had been intrigued to meet her because I think she was one of the people who filled out a questionnaire for the research I did for my original PhD on women punk instrumentalists. However, the organiser, Professor Helen Wheatley stepped in, and her questions elicited some very interesting answers, notably from Pauline Black who revealed that her first inspirational musician was Mick Jagger, and Rhoda Dakar saying she was an original mod with the 'onwards and upwards' aesthetic. We talked about who had helped us as young musicians, the music industry and much more. It was a real pleasure being part of such a feisty panel, and Pauline should be awarded a Damehood for being one of Britain's most stylish dressers. Both women are very funny, especially behind the scenes.
Despite the hot weather and extremely uncomfortable seats, around 70 people turned up to listen to the intro from the Dean (a pacifist who objected to the army vehicles parked in the grounds as apart of a vintage car festival), before our panel and then a screening of Stories from the She-Punks followed by Sisters with Transistors. This has to be the most unusual and prestigious venue that the film has been screened in. Despite a 6-7 second delay in sound due to the cathedral's acoustics, and everyone baking in it's thick concrete oven, the film seemed to go down really well. Sisters with Transistors is also a very interesting film, with archive footage and sound that included interviews with Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram. 
It was great to see Andy Holdcroft (heart and soul of Coventry music), and sad to miss The Sunbathers who were hidden in the audience. Thank you everyone who came along, and especially to Helen for the invitation to show the film. Things felt almost normal, although they aren't.
I have awarded myself the patience-behind-a-wheel prize for finding the way to the car park at the back of the cathedral, which took as long as the drive to Coventry itself, and for getting back home (the entire southbound M1 was diverted via Milton Keynes), a three hour slog in a convoy with every HGV vehicle in the whole of the UK.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Coventry Cathedral She-Punks Screening

 Tonight in Coventry Cathedral there is a film screening of Stories from the She-Punks with free tickets. The Delia Derbyshire film is also beings screened and there is a panel with Pauline Black (Selector) and Rhoda Dakar (The Specials) talking about the 2-tone movement.

Ticket link here:

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Strategies for Existing in Hot Weather

The news is utterly horrible: we are governed by greedy charlatans who have factored eugenics into their strategy for dealing with an ageing population. Behind me, I have a life that although it has many successes, I would not wish on anyone for some of the gruesome episodes that I have survived and do not talk about. Looks like I'm not going to get to Vienna or Innsbruck to play with Robert because of the import of the Delta (let's call it 'Johnson') variant of Covid (but good luck compadre, I'll be with you in spirit!).

Yesterday morning I awoke at 4.30 a.m. and naturally, tried to go back to sleep. At 5.30 I gave up, got up, and sat in the back yard enjoying the peace and silence with cup of tea. No barky dogs awake, no people awake, not even any cars roaring down the road. It was lovely: there was nothing in the air but expectation and it felt like an oasis in the chaos.

I 'slept in' this morning until 6.30 but did the same tea and garden thing, and by now at 9.30 I have finished the start of recording four guitar tracks for new songs.  What I've noticed is that because of not playing some of the new songs live, I've got into bad habits of glossing over the difficult-to-pay sections. Some of them I've never played and I'm having to learn them as I go. So I played over and over, didn't get them right, but now I know where the weak points are.

What could be more blissful than sitting in the early-morning kitchen with the door open, the neighbourhood waking up, a cup of fresh coffee on the table, warm air draughting through and the sun shining outside: recording guitar tracks for a new album? The ground outside is already baking in the heat, but it's cool in here in the dark house that is sometimes so irritating in its gloom.

I recognise a moment of pure joy when I'm there, and that was it this morning. An hour of gentle and peaceful music-making, listening in for good and bad sounds as they came into the headphones in time, learning the muscle instructions, feeling the songs' meanings as I sang them in my head along to the backing track. What could possibly be better than this?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


Well, I actually spent the afternoon recording mostly guitars (expecting thunder) but also some backing vocals. I was taking a break for lunch and I had an idea for a little guitar hook which has proved almost impossible to play without practising it, so I've had to leave that for now.

Here's a weird thing- it happened when I was recording with Robert last week too. You become obsessed with the detail of getting things right, and rather negative about how it's all sounding. Then you add just one little detail, and the whole track just takes off. It's never the same thing and you can't predict or calculate what's going to happen. I keep forgetting that this happens, and I spend an hour or so feeling dispirited. Why is everything sounding so bad? Then suddenly, the flavours start to work together and everything makes sense.

Oh yes, I know I have to get that little hook right, and a backing vocal could be made to work better, and I need to do the main vocal with a better microphone (not on a thundery day). But I have made a good start to a recording today. This is going to be a pensive album when it's finished.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Starting To Record Next Album

There's no point in waiting- I have the songs, I have the voice, I have the guitar. I'm going to start tomorrow, partly because I want to learn the new ones properly for the gig in Rochester at the end of September. 

Should I reschedule the other gigs I cancelled? Not yet- it's mayhem out there and there are going to be even more arguments than normal, all conducted by the head of the orchestra of misery, Mr Boris-Variant Johnson.

So while it's so hot I'll build up a song-bank in my sweltering kitchen, door closed against the headache-inducing drilling from the garden next to the dog-garden. It's all go, isn't it? And there's you thinking Barnet's boring!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Squeaky Toy Bulldog

Over the back fence there is a very beautifully turned-out light brown bulldog that potters about in the garden. I'm not sure whether it's a temporary visitor or a permanent resident but it doesn't bark, which is odd given the barkophonic orchestra in our neighbourhood.

However, in the middle of the sweltering night, an eloquent succession of squeals from a squeaky toy roused me from my slumbers. Every facet of expression emitted from the squeaker: appeals, cheers, pleas, whoops and whines.

How very sweet for such a butch-looking dog to use the sound of a plastic toy as a mouthpiece for its complex emotions and what a pity the toy didn't include a bark in its repertoire!

Solo Gig in September!

More detail to follow! Too hot to write anything

Friday, July 16, 2021

Gypsy Hill Is A Hill

Well, that was a workout to end all workouts! Up the hill with the Green Goddess on my back (is she putting on weight?) from Gypsy Hill station for the session at One Cat Studios yesterday. It was a really good session despite Ian Button not being able to join us- he was with us in spirit however and we managed to record three songs. The magic is still there! Because we have done lots of rehearsing we were able to blend our guitars really successfully, and I think we have some lovely vocals plus all the harmonies down as well. Three songs, two more to go and another five to write before we have an album. This is just such a great collaboration! Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago who wrote the words and who wrote the chords and music, but there are no roles- we do either or both and make a collage of our ideas that you couldn't unstick or uncreate. It's brilliant to have a wordless song (or part fo one) and have someone fit the perfect lyrics to it, or be given an instrumental to discover the melody and meaning inside it. And we resolve each others musical conundrums too- where a song needs to be finished, or needs to travel somewhere else, we both do that too.

Here we are in the studio, with Jonathan who records us and plays bass, and with the studio carpet (photographed by Robert). Roll on the next time!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Preparing to Record

Later this week Robert, Ian and Jonathan and me will be recording some songs. My fingertips didn't go to soft while I was away, and in a funny sort of way I'm trying not to over-rehearse. It's a bit like the goalkeeper's fear of the penalty (apt, I know, but also the title of a Wim Wenders film). If you put too much pressure on yourself the magic just isn't going to happen.

I've stopped for today: well, I might just run through some difficult chord changes later on. 

Yesterday early morning I recorded a one-minute song for Dexter Bentley's annual one minute song fest on Resonance FM. I had to keep changing the BPMs and began in the wrong direction. Shaving seconds off a song is quite good fun actually. There's no breath at the beginning, and I had to expand the display to the max to edit the very end of the final guitar chord. There is also a pop at one point on the vocal track, but c'est la vie! The song is entirely twee, and the title is Little Heart-Shaped People from Venus.

So housework beckons (doesn't it always?). There is no way any other sort of work is going to get done until After The Recording, which means next week is going to be Very Busy Indeed with University work.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Celebrating Brian

It was worth travelling back a day early to meet up with the remaining members of Asbo Derek (is it rude to call them the 'leftovers'? Good!) and some other pals including Kim and Simon from Oldfield Youth Club, Joe Davin from The Cravats and Steve Clements, to commemorate Brian Blaney's life and the publication of a book of his celebrated stories. The book was put together by Jem and Mark and is a wonderful tribute to Brian's life. It only seems a couple of weeks ago that I was zipping his wooly cardy up to his chin after spending an afternoon in the bawdy company of the band at the Prince Albert (all staff apparently suffering from Covid infections at the moment).

True to form the weather forecast was entirely wrong, and we sat in the sunshine and talked our heads off. Most people drank copious quantities of booze but I and my companion ate copious quantities of chips instead (although I still managed a Mr Whippy on the way back along the seafront).

There are still good things in life despite it's grim and overcast sky, and friends are very important at this time. I was delighted to hear that the band are going to continue in a slightly altered format and with new songs. The spirit of musicians is hard to crush!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Goodbye to Cumbria

Somehow, we went twice to Hadrian's Wall, wandered on the Solway Coast and climbed through huge elephant-skin rocks and ran on the sand, went to Ullswater and watched the cows wandering on the lake beach and saw the penny tree where people slot pennies into the bark, saw Jonny Hanna's exhibition in Hexham, and explored Kielder Forest with Kenji and Till, cheating in the maze with our umbrellas. And on the last night, Saskia and Russ came over with a huge chocolate and courgette cake. It was so awful that Offsprog Two got contacted by test'n'trace and couldn't come along, but we sent her loads of photos and tourist observations. Bloody Johnson and his variant!

It was so sad to drive south. I almost cried. 

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Wild Strawberries

It's been windy and rainy, and I don't think I have ever seen so many wild flowers in one place in one day in my life before. Wild strawberries, thyme, purple vetch, red and white clover, orchids, bacon-and-eggs, so many I couldn't name. Tiny little white blossoms, papery yellow snapdragon types, fluffy cream coloured ones, swathes of miniature yellow stars....

We are watching BBC Alba, and there's a banana cake in the oven. 


Baby's Ear Shells

As a child on the Solway Coast we could find what we called ice cream cone shells: elongated swirls of pale shell that looked just like miniature cones. Alas, this must have been a thing of the 1960s; the colony must have departed. But you can still find what McMum called baby's ears.

I realised that nobody likes anyone's shell collection, apart from the person who has collected them themselves. Resisting the urge to look for the perfect cockle, I stuck to collecting a handful of these tiny things. They seem so mysterious: what is the point of being so beautiful if you live under the sea where the sun can't catch you?


Holiday reading is a book by Donna Tartt, which is having the unfortunate effect of making me recognise characters from the book (or very similar ones) in everyday life. Oh deary me!

Monday, July 05, 2021

Happy Birthday NHS!


Rescue Dogs in Training

When we went for breakfast in Brampton yesterday (that sounds rather like the title of a smart New York novel, doesn't it?), we wandered round the closed-for-Sunday town and noticed women in hi-vis jackets with three dogs. They told us that they were training them to be rescue dogs, so they could find lost people with dementia, for instance, and showed us the way they let a dog sniff a piece of cloth that smelled of the person they they were looking for. The dog then searched, pulling their walker along by its lead. False alarms... and the dog realised and turned back.

Later, they bounced past us in the distance. 'She did it!', they shouted. 'Good dog!' from us. The dog perked up it's head, ears alert, and wagged her tail. She knew what those words meant.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Out of Office Reply

Where is this place? The football still managed to get here, through the screen of the pub down the road.

At the time were playing Racing Demon and Happy Families and all the better for it, even though there was a card missing from one of the packs. More tomorrow. I'm tired. That was a steep hill we climbed today.

Friday, July 02, 2021

Nowhere, Middle Of

I am sitting on a very squashy sofa in a large old building a tiny hamlet in the borders, looking out of leaded windows at a white sky and listening to a cacophony of sparrows. We made our escape yesterday, and despite my having a horrible headache all the way up the road, we got here in good time with our rain gear (do reindeers wear rain gear?), board games for bored days, sketchbooks (one each), books (I've almost finished mine) and tins of tomatoes. I love driving and it was great to be on the one road with no traffic lights, although big motorway traffic (gigantic commercial vehicles that pull out into your lane at the last minute when you have nowhere to go) appears to have colonised the A1 for some reason.

Here, it's huge, quiet, peaceful and satisfyingly lost off. Kenji and Till are coming later, and Offsprog Two is coming on Sunday. There is room for us all and even a swinging cat, if we were interested in such activities.

I couldn't pack my guitar and I was reluctant to leave it, but I think I need a break from that too. I just need a break from everything to do with normal 'me'.

I had to stop myself this morning, just get up and get on with the day. I was making a list of all the terrible things that the Conservatives have done, do and will do. I won't call them Tories- that's them pretending that there has been some sort of break from their awful policies, which have basically carried on for far too long. I'm not going to list them here because I left them upstairs and with any luck when I go back up to get dressed the list will have dissolved and drifted out of the upstairs window, which is what I wish would happen to the Conservatives in all honesty.

So this is a conservative free sofa, with the anticipation of a cup of proper coffee in a minute or so.