Monday, September 27, 2021

A Weekend Of Gigs

I suppose it probably started on Thursday evening at the Rocksteady in Dalston, where I went to play a short set just to get used to being back out again playing gigs. It was noisy- it's a wine bar, and one poor chap had his own friends talking through his set. However, there was a table of lads near the stage area who were really listening to everybody, and they cancelled the loudmouths out. They were funny, at one point suggesting that I renamed one of my songs 'F*ck Barcelona' and asking if Unsung Heroine was about drugs. Ha ha!

On Saturday we drove down to Rochester in Kent, a fine town with a gorgeous ruined castle and a lovely cathedral. I had never been there before, and found it really impressive. Kevin Younger, man-about-town, had organised a gig for his band The High Span, Oldfield Youth Club and me in a comedy club called The Billabong. It was a great little place, buzzing with the vibe of a recording studio out the back where Billy Childish makes his records (reputedly). The High Span played a really entertaining set of songs, packed with my favourite chords and covering subjects like collecting football cards and the unpopular doll on Playschool, Hamble. 

I didn't like her either but I'm not sure why: the song struck a melancholy chord. They were a hard act to follow, but I'd worn a loud shirt to keep the volume consistent and it was simply great to be playing again. I managed one new song amongst the oldsters, and was delighted that both of the bar staff told me they really liked my singing. That's just the greatest compliment in the world, because the people behind the bar are the ones who are there night after night listening to it all. I grew approximately ten centimetres in height after that. 

After that, Oldfield Youth Club played a brilliant show- they are so energetic, full of wit and with a song that I am particularly jealous of. Whenever I see them, I try to disentangle the way it was written; I'll get there one day and write one just like it, only completely different. Verdict? Huge fun all round, and there were Chefs fans there too. And Beth Arzy, who pilfered a roll of bog paper from the Gents, and tactfully slipped it under the cubicle door for me. Now that's a pal!

Next thing was Sunday, the High Tide Festival in Twickenham. Again, there was a definite buzz in the air, and it was brilliant to play in Twickenham again- I remember doing a support gig there about seven years ago and really liking the audience. It seemed like a lot of those people were there at the Eel Pie pub, organising the gig and also playing. There was music coming from all six corners of Twickenham (it's that sort of town), and our bit started off with a young band called Piglet, who had heavenly voices and whose music I would describe as dreamwave: ethereal, airy, lovely. 

I was on after that, aided by a man who had planned to go to Waitrose to buy cat food, but who had been roped in to do the sound after the original engineer didn't show up. He was absolutely great, and got a really good sound for me as well as doing an introduction. Despite forgetting the words of Saturday Night with the London Set (I managed to do it later on), it was another really enjoyable gig, made all the better for Caryne and Dave travelling all the way up from Frome for the afternoon, a Helen and the Horns fan showing up, the second person in a row of gigs saying they had all the old Peel sessions on a tape somewhere, and Simon Rivers singing along to a lot of my songs (how he do that?). Like Saturday's gig, it was massively friendly, and just like on Saturday the OYC played a stormin' set, made all the better because this is really their home crowd. Simon is a very genial and funny front man and no two gigs are the same: they are powerful musicians as well as having very singable songs.Thee Moot played after them, a tight and punchy band with a definite Mod sound (although they were advertised as psychedelic in the festival brochure) and they too had really catchy songs and could bloody play their instruments: some great crunchy guitar playing there. It was a joyous festival that happened half outside, half inside, and was also very well organised. I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Back to work today- and a very lively song writing session with the new second year students: twelve of them, all collaborating to create one song in just over an hour. I can't think of a better way to spend a Monday afternoon!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

High Tide Festival, Twickenham, Sunday Afternoon

This will be fun! An afternoon festival in Twickenham, also featuring Oldfield Youth Club.

I'm on at 2.20 p.m.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Waiting To Get My Hair Cut

I am going to get my hair cut at 2.30. The appointment was supposed to be tomorrow, but it's been changed to today and I'm Not Ready.

I need a month to plan it, a week to think about it and a 24-hour cancellation period. Instead, it's going to happen in roughly half an hour. Help!

It's done: it was painless! 

I can't remember if I wrote about the last time I went, when the hair-washing woman told me about the dog grooming business that she runs alongside being a hairdresser. 

I imagine I got the same thorough shampoo as a poodle that day.

Feminist Song by Gina Birch

Amongst the bustle of getting ready for the new term at University, this great song has finally been released. Gina has a treasure trove of yet-to-be released music and this is the first to emerge, on Jack White's label. The release date is this coming Saturday and it's on vinyl with a limited number of yellow copies. I sang backing vocals on the chorus and this makes me feel like one of the original girl group singers, though of course it's more like older lady group. I think we need a new name for ourselves, because we are far too spirited a generation to be defined by the faded gentility of previous definitions of the third age. Third Age Steppers? Nouveaux Elders? Femmes Renaitres? Rebominables?


Today and tomorrow are Music Days. I will be doing a bit of engineering of a song of my brother's that I recorded yesterday in my iPhone, and rehearsing songs for Thursday night's little singer-songwriter gig at the Rocksteady in Dalston, where I'm going to try out a couple of new songs in my set before Saturday night's gig in Rochester.

I'm not used to standing up to play a guitar and at the moment my fingers are complaining a lot. I remember when I broke my elbow in 2018 I had to learn to play guitar again standing up- the weight of the guitar affects all your upper body muscles. I could only manage to play for about 30 minutes before my arms started screaming. I had been doing a lot of drum kit playing until the pandemic kicked off, and I had become really fit. I will start again in January, lockdowns permitting, but until then I need to make sure there is time every day for standing up to practice!

If there is music time left over, I will do some more work on my own recordings. One of the songs sounds really good and I've now set a sonic standard to live up to. Rather than being daunting, this is fantastic. I know it's going to need mastering but the mix is great and I sound exactly what I want to sound like, vocal-wise. I hope I manage to get more decent vocals recorded before 'teacher-voice' sets in: that's  harshness that comes into your singing voice because of taking a lot to groups of students. I might even be able to overcome it this time around because I have been doing so much singing.

Meanwhile, our Equal Parts 2 EP is in the pipeline. It is going to be stuck in a vinyl waiting room for a while, because there is a world shortage of everything because of Covid/Brexit/Government incompetence (strike out the first two). Us DIY musicians need to invent a new recording format just for ourselves, and refuse to sell out to venture capitalists. Something like Bitcoin that they can't get their hands on. Spider's webs, maybe: I know they have sonic possibilities, and their fear of spiders might keep the greedy corporate sociopaths at bay.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Files Flying Through The Ether

The WIAIWYA Christmas album flew in today with Robert's and mine track on it plus a veritable smorgasbord of other artists. Later some music is going to flap off to my brother in Sarf London.

Those skyways are very busy these days.


From Sunday Drawing Club last night

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

'Carousel' at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

It's so easy to overlook this little outdoor theatre. I remember the first time I went there, to see A Midsummer Night's Dream, when I was amazed by the romantic setting: as the play progressed, dusk fell and pinprick lights illuminated the grass banks on either side of the stage, echoing the pale stars in the sky. You can hear London's faint roar in the background and feel its atmosphere in the air.

Since then, I've seen that play again there, and also taken the young Offsprogs to see a production of The Pirates of Penzance, through which the animals at London Zoo must have had a rollicking, roaring, chirping, growling, howling singalong each night.

Every summer it lists itself in my head as a possibility, and gets forgotten. But the imminent return to work, plus a good review of this show in The Guardian, encouraged me to buy tickets. Yesterday of course was spectacularly rainy, and I was half expecting it to be cancelled, but the rain held off and we made our way through Regents Park, marvelling at the lovely smells and the peculiar drooping mist that hung around the topiary. The roses were out in all their soggy splendour, and we took a sniff as we passed by.

A powerful persuader for going to this was also the fact that it's outside. I am not taking any chances at the moment because people close to me need to be safe; although masks are mandatory on public transport I have to constantly move to get away from people who think that covering their noses and mouths is a challenge to their own civil liberties, bypassing the fact that the risk of passing on a deadly virus to vulnerable people is much more than an offence to those people's rights: it might possibly kill them.

People were well spaced out last night and we sat together in a huddle. The sightlines there are great anyway; you can see from wherever you sit. We ate ice creams and the metaphorical curtain rose: the auditorium lights went down, and the stage lights went up. A group of brass players appeared and played the Carousel theme, and off we went.

I'm not a habitual theatregoer and I haven't been to a musical for a very long time, so my impressions are really biased. The show seemed to take a long time to get going, because there was a long music and dancing section at the beginning. I wanted to see the band during this: they were working really hard and I longed to see who was doing what and when. I know there is really limited space there, but in a real life musical as opposed to a filmed one, everything is an asset and provides an opportunity to show more of the workings of the show. On the plus side, the singers without exception put vocalists in pop and rock music to shame. They were note perfect. Every time I winced expecting a top note to be missed (I know the pattern of song writing in musicals so well), the singer hit it bang-on with headroom to spare. Not only that, the vocal tones were lovely: there was very little 'belting', and even the aural exciter (or it's equivalent) couldn't mask the fact that there were some very beautiful voices indeed here, coming from singers absolutely revelling in their craft, and being delighted to practice it again after being in lockdown.

The story had been adapted to take away the acceptance and tacit approval of domestic violence that resides at the heart of the original musical. It wasn't a send-up, more of a conscious revisitation of the original narrative. The costumes... well, again, I am biased. It did look terribly like a University arts department staff meeting, a bit of a Toast catalogue of muted tones, oversized dresses and baggy trousers. Tame hipster for the men. Again, this toning down of the razzamatazz was a comment on the glamorisation of a working-class fable which probably worked for audience members who didn't have regular meetings with East London music, drama and dance lecturers. I kept seeing my colleagues in the characters, and had to fight against this familiarity quite hard.

So what is my overall verdict? Actually, this was a really great night out. As a person with a very low patience threshold, I never disengaged. The venue felt safe and open, even the eating and drinking areas. People were respectful of distancing. In the musical itself, there were some slow bits, but enough humorous parts to override that. And the singing of You'll Never Walk Alone was gorgeous: the woman who sang that had an entirely different voice, much deeper and more powerful than the rest of the cast. She avoided drama, vibrato, or fake emotion and sang it into the crowd as though she was singing it to the whole world. Fantastic. I remember that song being sung at Poly Styrene's funeral by Celeste, her daughter. It is a very hard song to pitch, and a very unusual song melodically that you can imaging being written in a one-off session. It was the moment of the night.

I want to go again!

On the way back to the tube station, we speculated about football crowds singing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs at matches. What would be the most inappropriate one? We settled on My Favourite Things. The thought of a stadium full of rufty-tufty men singing 'Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens..' in unison through their beer and testosterone made us roar with laughter, and one of our party resolved to apply to The Arts Council for a grant to make it really happen.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

On Being Annoyed

Life is full of myriad annoyances, at whatever stage you are. The thing is, very few of them are worth getting annoyed about. Some of them are temporary, some are too huge, and some of them need to be lived with like constant itch that has to be suppressed in order to function. Annoyances are almost a distraction from the things in life that really matter.

I realised this yesterday. Several potentially annoying things happened, but I had to move on from them extremely rapidly in order to avoid them becoming a heavy burden that ruined the entire day. Lo and behold, half way through the day the tide turned, and some of the annoyances resolved themselves without anything notable happening: just time and patience.

I don't even care that it's raining out there.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Cushions in the Church

Yesterday morning was spent partly in St John's Church, Barnet, looking at my neighbour Keith West's paintings of scenes from the Battle of Barnet. He has frequently painted scenes from the Battle and this small exhibition was part of the commemorations of the anniversary of the battle. Notably, Keith paints soldiers from a variety of different cultures in his work and by doing so, inserts truth into a historical narrative that is all too often whitewashed. 

Unfortunately our local MP, the Conservative Theresa Villiers, was in attendance and it wasn't possible to stay long. She is an entitled person, a Brexiter. I can not bring myself to be in the vicinity of a Tory MP, especially not in my home town, and even more especially in a church. I always assumed Christianity to be about compassion, and the Tories do not possess this. Their ceaseless plundering of poor people in order to enrich themselves is against the revolutionary nature of its principles; every religion is hijacked for the purposes of power over vulnerable people, and I find this utterly depressing. To see this so blatantly manifested by the hovering form of Theresa in her habitual bright blue dress spoiled the morning. I will continue to enjoy Keith's work in other locations. Sorry for the rant, but the cruelty of the Tories tips me over the edge sometimes.

I did photograph some of the kneeling cushions, though, which I thought were beautiful.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021


Alas, after a break the other guitar sounds bloody awful, but I have done some really good vocals!


When in doubt, swap guitars. A song that I was recording threatened to beat me last week, and thankfully, I deleted the project by accident. I listened back to a rough mix just now and the playing wasn't bad, but I could hear the torture. I changed to a different guitar and the playing's worse but the feel is better, so I'm taking an ears-break and going back to it in an hour's time. All this work for a piddly little three minute song, but my first one sounds so good in it's almost-finished state that I've set the bar high, and I need to keep to it and not be lazy.

The first one just needs popifying- tidying up so it's neat and not too rough round the edges. But that will be fun in itself and I'm going to finish all of them to a certain point and then do them together.

It's ideal singing weather (high pressure and sunny), so I might try some lead vocals later, if next door's dog calms down and the M25 helicopters go home for their tea. Oh, and between cars in rush hour. 

But you know.


Very often life seems surreal. A family member is in hospital, which is worrying. The night before last, I could not sleep for a long time but finally dropped off. A 'ping' woke me at 4 a.m. and I feared the worst, but it was a songwriter that I used to work with Whatsapping me from California to tell me how happy she is with what she is doing.

Last night I woke up at 4 a.m. too, my body clock having already adjusted to the new waking up time. 

The past two days I have been back at work, once virtually and once in real life. It takes a million years to get to Docklands by public transport but it's quite spectacular once you are there. The little Docklands Light Railway rattles along through construction sites scrabbling about next to newly-constructed flats with unified balconies: I have decided they are populated by fake people to make things look good.

I saw these chaps on the platform at Bank but was too late to photograph them, I thought- but then turned my head and there they were, travelling to St George's, they told me. Two Pearly Kings, not wearing masks but socially distanced. Some wag asked me if they were using Oyster Cards!

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Sketching Guitars


Sunflowers and Lavender, Off-Season

I thought lavender only grew in France, but Offsprog One discovered a farm near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. That's where we went yesterday, picking the last few sprigs of scented lavender and wandering amongst the short, huge-faced sunflowers that seemed to be hanging their heads in shame. It was cold, but we drank tea and ate fresh food in the brisk wind before heading sleepily home. Yes, lavender definitely makes you drowsy!