Saturday, December 31, 2022
Friday, December 30, 2022
Rest in Rumpus, Vivienne! Number one at converting anger into creative output. Bugger Twitter, knit a jumper and wear it to a noisy march!
Inspiration to so many, including these women I think: https://domesticdusters.wordpress.com
Thursday, December 29, 2022
Yesterday was my birthday, and this year we decided to go to Brighton and paint plates. It was blustery beyond bluster: we had three umbrellas when we got there and only one survived the tempestuous weather.
Before lunch in a popular Mexican-inspired restaurant staffed by astonishingly passive-aggressive staff worth a sitcom of their own, we dropped in at the museum and looked that their small but perfectly-formed collection of ceramics for inspiration. I remember going there when I was an art student with my friend Judy Littman, who later became a successful fashion designer: we used to sketch the stuffed animals, which have now been moved to another site to glare at each other ruefully through glass eyes. Apparently the museum has been a refuge for later generations of art students too!
Painting plates was peaceful, with the storm raging outside. Painting ready-formed pottery with glazes is a mysterious activity because until the pottery is fired, you have no idea what colour you're going to end up with, or even what intensity that colour will be. We'll know in a week's time when we pick them up! The helpers were very amenable, and there was a nice atmosphere there despite the two women behind us who were having a display-conversation about their wonderful lives, and how everyone else fitted around them. It was a bit like having a radio play going on in the background, the second time in one day when life had a rather surreal quality about it. It was hard not to join in; when your head is in that drawing and painting zone (and music zone actually), you forget where you are sometimes. Dreamy.
The third surreal episode was when we couldn't find the door of the restaurant that we'd booked to go for dinner. Up and down the stairs to the beach, round the building... by then we were extremely wet and cold, but as soon as we were inside we hit an oasis of calm and wonderful food, some of the best I've tasted for years. Then I was given my birthday present- a trip to see Abba Voyage. I was gobsmacked! What a lovely surprise!
We even managed a walk along the seafront this morning. The weather (who, me?) was calm and even borderline sunny. We went into shops and looked at clothes and did lazy girl things like that, and then got the train home before we started squabbling. Well, almost.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
I don't think people really believe that their dogs spend the entire time barking when they go out and leave them. Once, it was the people to the left of me who had a Springer Spaniel that barked and howled from the second they left it to the second they got back. It used to attack their letterbox, it was so desperate. I told them about it: surely their could hear it from the end of the street when they got back from work?
'Your dog barks all day'.
'No, it doesn't'.
Tempting as it was to call the RSPCA, I was mindful of the fact that the husband was very tall and very violent. That's why people don't report things, you know. Eventually they moved away, thank Dog.
Currently, I'm listening to the dog to the right of me, a yappy little Terrier who spends a lot of time outside in their back yard, desperately yapping to be let in. It's barking at a rate of roughly twenty BPMs (barks per minute), and I can tell the shape of their internal rooms by the reverberation. Given that these walls are four bricks thick, it must have a very loud bark for a very small dog.
I'm a barklistener. I can hire myself out to listen to your dogs' desperate barking for a huge fee!
The night before I'd been to the Carol Service at the local church, which I've done every year since I've been here. It's almost like a meditation, a measure of the year before and the year to come. Alas, Rees-Moggism has invaded the church, and we were treated to a reading about the creation. I think not, St John's Church. I suppose that's one way of weeding out sinners who only attend churches at Christmas! I don't understand why people pick out the hate speech elements of religion to focus on, rather than the compassion and empathy parts. All of that wonderful singing by the choir, swirling into the rafters of the church and beyond, pinned to earth by a mortal agenda that sails rather too close to misogyny for comfort. Brrr!
I spent yesterday finishing books I'd been reading. One was a new crime thriller which was unputdownable until about three quarters of the way through, and then I think the author music have ingested a tab of acid. I'd been wondering how they were going to resolve the story, which was getting more and more complex. That book had to be abandoned, something I rarely do, and so I returned to Sasha Swire's memoir, Diary of an MP's Wife. It's not exactly gripping, but it's been interesting to read viewpoints from the sidelines of politics written by a very privileged woman who is quite politically informed, but also lacking in empathy. David Cameron landing on their lawn in a helicopter for his birthday doesn't make her blink an eyelid, and she doesn't think (beyond calling Jeremy Corbyn a Marxist) why there should be any appeal to the electorate of a left wing agenda. She quickly drops her former friend Amber Rudd because Rudd is a Remainer. I was curious to read the book and I'm glad I have; the subtext of nastiness threads throughout it. Both Cameron and Osborne drop her and her husband as soon as they can. The whole shebang is really about toadying and bullying, which I know happens in politics, and I'm glad I never followed that route despite being very tempted when I was young.
I have one or two amendments to do to the illustrations that I've just completed, and then I will prepare for the next episode, which I'm really looking forward to: portrait artist in residence for the Earls' Court Development Company. I have had so many ideas that it's been like holding back a thundering team of horses and I'v head to rein things in a bit. I'm going to keep a diary of what I do so that I can evaluate how it's going.
Saturday, December 24, 2022
Dolly Parton was a lifesaver for a member of my family a few months ago, so it was only logical that we should go along to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to see this very Christmassy and surprisingly un-camp version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Oh so very apt for these times of Scrooges-in-government who can't see beyond the money signs in their eyes, it is a natural affinity for Dolly to have reworked this story, taking us back to Tennessee in the 1930s when protesting miners were simply shot and killed when they went on strike.
Hindered slightly at first by their fake Tennessee accents, the cast were exceptional singers and belted out Dolly's signature-style songs with aplomb. She is the absolute mistress of catchy songs. My favourite was Appalachian Snow, but the audience were singing a variety of the others after the show as they left the theatre. There was a live band who sat in the shadows on stage before occasionally joining the actors, with an absolutely exceptional fiddle player who took on quite a major role towards the end of the story. The re-working of the story worked very well, because it highlighted the appalling inequality that we really should have grown out of as a world society by now.
The audience was captivated. We clapped along to the songs and the emotional hit at the end, although expected, was surprisingly intense.
Good on you Dolly. What an inspiration she is: she is relentless in her campaigning for progressive thought and social change. That's what Christmas should be about, innit.
Thursday, December 22, 2022
After missing a year due to ill health in the family, we relished this opportunity to return to Sadler's Wells this year to see Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty.
Bourne's dancers are wonderful; sometimes there are shortcomings in the narratives of the ballets themselves, but his success rate is so high it's always worth a punt.
It's always a bit disappointing when there's no live orchestra, and the recorded music was a bit loud at the beginning and a bit muffled in a later section, but that all paled into insignificance one the ballet started. The star of the earliest part was the puppet baby, a hilarious scamp that climbed the gold drapes and ran rings around the courtiers. Later in this section, we witnessed some fabulous dancing from the fairies, or vampires perhaps, who performed little cameos that demonstrated their gymnastic flexibility and poise. Then two creepy dancers with obscured facial features, males and female, joined the crew, prophetic of the darker turn that the story was to take later on. But first we were introduced to the suitor, the gardener, and his crush on the young princess.
At her coming-of-age party, she flirted outrageously with all the men, including the son of the Bad Fairy who had cursed her at birth. In drag, her reappearance as her own son was one of many sly little jokes in the ballet.
The thread all the way through was the heroine, Princess Aurora. Ashley Shaw's dancing was fresh, joyous and incredibly supple. I've read a couple of reviews of this version of the ballet, a really positive one in the Guardian, and a really negative one in The Spectator. I have to say that the guy from the Spectator must have been at an entirely different ballet. He criticised the 'jerky' (I think) movements of the dancers, where they are actually the most fluid troupe of dancers I've ever seen. Ashley Shaw was incredible, seeming to float weightlessly not only when dancing but also in contact with the floor of the stage, when she rose and fell from the challenging positions that the choreography demanded. I can say that quite honestly, this applied to all of the dancers. She was by far the most accomplished, full of infectious joy, but saying that puts her into stellar orbit. It's one of the features of all of Bourne's ballets that the dancers appear to be completely weightless. They must rehearse endlessly to do this; I've become an armchair critic of dancer interactions after becoming overly fond of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. There's a lot of charming clumsiness on that show. In contrast, to see the way the groups of dancers flowed and ebbed in this ballet was akin to someone blowing a pile of feathers and them floating gently in the air before settling quietly on the ground. I looked at their legs and feet: often black-clad, they were like spider legs, appearing to move slowly even when they were moving very swiftly.
And there was a vampire too, imparting eternal life on the hapless suitor outside the padlocked palace gates as he searched for the sleeping princess. The Bad Fairy's son was patrolling his hellish nightclub preparing to marry the reluctant princess when a last-minute rescue ensued, ending in a saucy bed scene that resulted in a vampire puppet baby. Awww!
What an entertaining night, not just in terms of Bourne's gothic revision of the story, but also in presenting inspiring dancing which can only be described as utterly lovely.
A cathartic performance, for sure.
St Bartholomew's is a very old church just across from Smithfield Market, which although it has ceased trading still smells strongly of raw meat. No such smell in the church, thankfully. My Champagne Friend had found this lovely carol service, after I discovered it was too late for us to go to Southwark Cathedral. No room at the inn there.
This was an American Carol service with unfamiliar melodies to familiar carols, and some truly beautiful choral arrangements sung by a choir with perfect pitch and such a skill for blending their vocal tones that it triggered a synaesthetic response and I imagined wood, and celery, and all sort of things. In one arrangement, a (presumably) assistance dog was moved to bark a couple of times. It was the tenor wot did it. The congregation smiled as one.
The readings were interesting too: lots of appropriate poetry rather than bible readings, all short and sweet and remarkably spiritual. There was almost a bohemian feel to the service, although the congregation seemed fairly straight. We finished off with the usual tunes to O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The familiar Christmas vocal strainers!
It was a unique and warm-hearted variation on the Christmas Carol Service theme. the boiler had broken, we were told, but woolly hats did the trick and warm hearts completed the vibe.
What a charming discovery!
Here's the church: https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/church/st-bartholomew-great-smithfield
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Terry Hall was a complete inspiration to me from the second I heard The Specials live in Brighton at The Kingswest complex, onwards.
I remember being thrilled once to see him walking out of Selfridges on London, tall and magnificent, his hair sprouting triffid-like from his head, doleful eyes lined in bright green eyeliner. What a dude.
About 18 months ago before I left my job, I was playing protest songs to a group of students who were difficult to get through to post pandemic. One of the songs was Ghost Town. They fell silent afterwards, and gradually turned to me. 'What was that? Who are they?', they asked. I told them about Two-Tone, and how well it had worked alongside Rock Against Racism, to change the toxic narrative that was bubbling up after Enoch Powell's rivers of blood speech. If you read the obituaries, you'll see how he was determined to put a different model of band together, because he simply thought racism simply wasn't fair. Brave of him and his mates. Our destiny as a generation was literally changed by pop music.
Terry Hall was a really important part of that. His vocal delivery was part of the message: I often used him as an example of a vocalist who didn't 'sing': he vocalised an emotion through lyrics rather than trying to make an aesthetic statement. I loved The Fun Boy Three too. Imagine making all that music out of such a childhood lacking in opportunity. Punk did that for people too.
Much more than David Bowie or Prince, he felt like a fellow traveller. It feels sad today.
Monday, December 19, 2022
I am just so pleased to have done the gig in Glasgow. Apologies to my pals for stressing them so much with my 'progress reports'. It was actually really heartwarming to see people and catch up with them, and of course to play the show.
I want to draw, but I'm too tired even for that. I managed to go to the shops, and also do the pile of washing that I brought back. It was so cold in the Youth Hostel where I stayed in Newcastle that I slept in my clothes. I remembered that the best places to eat and drink are Art Gallery cafés and not restaurants, unless it's Blakes in Newcastle. Shame on you Zizzi and Cote, and hats off, actually, to the shop Fenwick's in Newcastle (I'd do anything to get the recipe for the broccoli with... roasted hazelnuts? I don't know, but it was lovely), and hats off to the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland and the Fruitmarket Gallery. Boo to the curry restaurant that tried to bribe me to do a good review on Tripadvisor with a pen and two chocolates. Ring-a-ding-ding to Marks and Spencer's blueberries, and to Till for his amazing salad.
Ah, home. Draughty, small, cluttered, a bit gloomy. Guitar store and archive of many drawings; tins of black beans in the cupboard, piles of unread books. Moth holes galore, indoor plants putting on growth spurts at unlikely moments. The sound of traffic speeding past my front door, whooshing in the rain.
No Christmas decorations this year, and no cards either; the postal strike has meant no letters for three weeks so far. But there is a big Lindt chocolate Santa in the drawer. At least, nine tenths of one. Or seven eighths. Or three quarters... or a half.... or......
Friday, December 16, 2022
This is nicked from my own Facebook page. I still can't believe that I got there! It was a wonderful night- big thanks to the Glad Café, to Howie and to the people who came out to see the gig. You were just great! This was my journey. I'm whacked out today, resting in Edinburgh and hoping to get home on Sunday. It was so worth the journey, though.
And thank you Kenji and Till for your kind hospitality too xxx
'Experience sent me to Newcastle Central Station two hours earlier than my scheduled train. Sure enough, it was cancelled and I got on an earlier one. Twenty miles south of Edinburgh we were told that the power lines had become damaged, and we were going back to Berwick and from there, to London King’s Cross.Then they told us that they'd make a stop at Dunbar, so people going to Edinburgh could catch a bus into town. Well of course the entire train decided to do that, and the queue for the single decker service was massive.
I already knew buses won’t take guitars, so returned to the station where the ticket guy was busy telling a group of tourists that they had got off the train voluntarily so they wouldn't help them.
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Monday, December 12, 2022
Ho ho ho!
So complicated: though I extended the journey either end of the strikes (Go RMT! I support you all!), I discovered that Avanti had helped themselves to another day at the end, thinking perhaps that the public might not notice because we are all so stupid. So I'm travelling over to Edinburgh next weekend to get a train back, and I thought everything was done and dusted until it started snowing last night! More than dusted with snow where I live up high in the suburban sky and sure enough, the tube services were suspended.
This meant a very much earlier start that I'd intended and a long lumpy bus journey, ventilated by the sighs of elders, and their mantra, 'It's ridiculous!'.
All the trains from King's Cross Station were either leaving late or cancelled. I'd had an email that my train was due to leave earlier than scheduled, but the train before that train was late, and the one before that hadn't even arrived. I heard an announcement for an Edinburgh train and belted along to the different platform, only to hear an on-train announcement that LNER passengers (or 'customers', if we use Thatcherese), would be charged extra. So I got off it again, looked more closely at my ticket and found that actually I was one of their customers.
But... travelling at the wrong time: the email had been about the cancelled train on a strike day, very possibly a ploy by LNER to avoid a refund. I was worried that the ticket inspector might insist on a fine but I also assumed correctly that he'd either ignore the mistake or not notice it. Once the train left the station, I could relax because the next stop was Newcastle, and here I am.
Naturally, I couldn't find the place where I'm staying at first, but I did find a bakers that sold genuine cinnamon buns. Three cheers for the Pink Lane Bakery! Here they are: https://www.pinklanebakery.com/shop/Cinnamon-Buns-p272615886
Despite the fact that I've just choked on my tea, I'm very happy to have got this far.
In my head: to get from A-Z, you have to get from A-B first.
Concentrate on that, and you should be OK!
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Saturday's show with Dexter Bentley, so cold and yet so warm. Four songs played live in the very chilly, and very sunny, studio, an interview with the genial host Dexter Bentley, and a track from my new album, followed by Montague Armstrong, also live.
Engineered by Julian assisted by Mia.
A little bubble of live music in a big frozen grey city!
Do come along on Thursday to The Glad Café!
I can't believe the twists and turns I'll be taking to get there, around strike days (I support you!) and intransigent rail companies who want to fleece the public to fill the offshore pockets of their shareholders.
Here's the ticket link: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/560486
Friday, December 09, 2022
Here on Dawn Parry's 365 Radio Show:
I support the striking workers, and I'm travelling around the strikes... so that's a week's round trip via Newcastle and Edinburgh for the last gig of my live shows year, on the 15th of December at the lovely Glad Café in Glasgow.
It's going to be snowing that day, too! Put your woollies on and come down early for a chat before the gig, doors open 7.30.
Howie is brilliant- we did three gigs together earlier in the year and I'm looking forward to seeing him play again. I'll throw in a bit of back catalogue Chefs and Helen and the Horns too, if you're up for that.
Great food, great music: what else could you ask for?
Tickets here and also on the door. Doors open 7.30, music starts 8.00 and finishes just after 10.
From January to March next year, I'll be taking up a post as portrait-artist-in-residence for the Earl's Court Development Company. This is going to be my studio, sunny, light (and empty so far) in the community centre.
I am so looking forward to it and the timing is perfect, because I've literally just finished the final drafts of the illustrations that I've been doing for the last three months for the Welsh/English children's book on sustainable clothing.
My head is buzzing with excitement and ideas....
Monday, December 05, 2022
Too tired to write about it today but it was such a jewel of an event, and everything round it was warm-hearted too. Here's some photos: part of Charlie Tipper's Christmas Stocking (;), Andy Strickland in the distance, The Lovely Basement, and me, but not necessarily in that order!
Here we go!
I was so delighted when Katie invited me back to Bristol to play one of The Lovely Basement's events again. The last one was in a different part of Bristol (I think) and was just as unusual. At the Knowle Constitutional Club (a repurposed Conservative Club, ho ho!), the afternoon had started with a series of poets, apparently very good ones, but I missed them because I was in transit. I did get there in time for a very charming set from the Reverend John Kincaid, followed by Andy Strickland, one-time writer for the Record Mirror (he reminded me that he'd interviewed me back in the day) who demonstrated the 'key for the magic chord cupboard' (copyright Kevin Hewick) style of guitar playing and songwriting, complete with a spot-the-Minnie-Ripperton interlude. Andy plays with The Chesterfields, who are now, of course, on my wish-list to see. The Lovely Basement also put in a fine set, with perfect interplay between Katie and Kevin's talking guitars. Katie has a lovely voice, low and sweet and really true to pitch. I always really enjoy their sets, and although the sound set-up was very simple, you could hear everything as clearly as a Christmas bell. Next up was Charlie Tipper's Christmas Experience, presenting us with their wall of songalicious sound. Thoroughly enjoyable, and very difficult to follow! Their songs just get better and better. I was lucky that the football was on and I played mainly to the bands, which mean that I knew I could coerce them into singing along to not only The Sea but also At The Bathing Pond.
The whole thing was done and dusted by seven p.m. which meant we could repair back to Katie and Kevin's, where they had made a truly delicious Chilli and we talked band talk deep into the night. What an inspiring project, to take on and revitalise an expiring and tattered club, rebuilding it from the ground up, with music as its foundations. Aren't people strong, and aren't the government weak? Oh Bristol bands, I love you!
Looking forward to seeing The Reverend John Kinkaid's Assassination of John Kennedy Zine next year, too.
Sunday, December 04, 2022
Thanks to Dexter Bentley for playing Amazonia on his Resonancefm show yesterday.
Listen in next Saturday lunchtime for my live session on the show, and listen back to yesterday's show here:
Friday, December 02, 2022
... at The Ritzy, Brixton, tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Thursday, December 01, 2022
Available from tomorrow, Bandcamp Friday. Limited edition 7" vinyl miniature album, high quality pressing on black vinyl, with individually painted (random colours) hand-stamped sleeve. Each one different random selection,. Not many of this release left.
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Audrey Golden will be playing one of my tracks on her show Breaking Glass tonight at 11 p.m. on Louder Than War Radio.
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Hand-painting the last few Pea Soup miniature albums in random Christmassy colours for Bandcamp Friday. I will take some to gigs too- Bristol on Sunday afternoon (Knowle Constitutional Club) and Glasgow on Thursday 15th (Glad Café)
I was in a big club, or theatre- similar to Leeds Royal Variety Theatre, except there was a sloping floor. There was lots of cosy red velvet, and gilt decorations swagged and swooping all around the walls and across the balcony.
We were all sitting at tables with drinks in front of us, listening to a DJ play music. A ska record came on, and suddenly all the young women in the audience got up and formed a conga, dancing around the tables in a jolly, laughing line and being joined by more dancers as they passed their tables. It was wonderful.
As the music carried on, the conga line gradually started to fade. Soon there was nothing and nobody left to be seen.
'Don't worry', said my friend at the table, 'they'll fade back in again soon. They always do'.
But they didn't. We waited and waited, but they didn't.
I was so frightened, I woke up and had to calm myself down.
Monday, November 28, 2022
Sunday, November 27, 2022
What a lovely afternoon! We got there a bit early and chatted to Mark Asbo-bass and Joe Asbo-keyboards before soundcheck time. Everything ran a bit late, or rather everything was laid back, which is entirely as it should be for an afternoon gig. I didn't get to sound check until five minutes after I was due to be on stage for my set. I thought there'd be nobody there but as soon as the doors opened, about 40 people flowed in, including Pete, Lisa and Jonathan, Steve Clements and June Miles-Kingston of the Mo-Dettes and her husband. The atmosphere was so friendly you could scoop it up in handfuls, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing, with Steve the super-sound-engineer behind the mixing desk and everyone in the audience willing to sing At The Bathing Pond with me. This was supposed to be a gig shared with my brother James McCallum, who was still coughing after a bout of Covid, so our bro-and-sis spectacular with Chefs songs has been put off till the New Year, and our London date at The Bestey Trotwood on the 25th of January will now be our first together-gig.
Fortunately for me, the venue mis-spelled my name not only once but twice, and the smutty 'McCockerybook' poster was the inspiration for the ever so slightly smutty bathing pond song, which you can hear, here: https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/track/at-the-bathing-pond
I sort of wished I'd had time to work out Thrush (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRTSyKJUjQU) to play under the circumstances, or perhaps Three of Them (https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/track/three-of-them) but kept The Chefs covers to just Let's Make Up (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIIf0ihJRe8) on this occasion.
I finished with The Bad Apple song, and here's part of it:
So here come Wasbo Derek! But where was Jem?
'Downstairs!', said the audience, knowledgeably.
For a moment the band was Priceless (see what I did just there?), and Mark bravely began to sing a folk-song, solo. But Jem charged in, and the set began. They played 100% more tightly than last time I saw them, when they were just getting used to their new drummer Kaya Kendall, who I was happy to see plays without cymbals (oh so very Bow Wow Wow, and so very effective!). We clapped for Brian, who was very much there in spirit, even though the band has an entirely new set. Darcy guitarred for England, Joe boosted the sound perfectly with his keyboards, Mark underpinned the lot with his deftly-wielded bass, and Jem roared though the songs with such bonhomie that I can't imagine anyone who walked in feeling sad could possibly not have walked out happy. I love the Be Nimble song all the more for being free of Teams and it's horrible boosterish jargon now I'm no longer an academic, and the Nice song was remarkable. Jem commanded 'Sway' almost nonchalantly, and immediately the whole audience started swaying in perfect synchronisation. How that happen?
Kaya came out from behind the drums to sing a poignant song about trafficked (I mistyped that as 'traffucked', perhaps aptly) women working in nail bars, and their fellow-travellers perishing in containers on their journey to the UK as refugees. It was really effective: she has a great singing voice and it was all the more powerful for being embedded in the general silliness of some of the other songs. The new material is oh-so catchy and it was great to hear it all again. I do so love Asbo Derek, both as individual people and as a band. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend a chilly November afternoon.
Last band of the day was Dog of Man, a band bigged-up by Attila the Stockbroker today on his F*cebook page. They are a four-piece, led by an accordion player who looked as though he could have managed the whole set as a solo performer. But they also had guitar, bass and drums, really excellent players who put in a powerful set: I made mental notes along the lines of 'Prodigy meets Queen meets Black Sabbath', but I'm usually completely wrong, and will probably be corrected at some point.
The Prince Albert is a venue that, like the Lexington, in London feels like home to me. It's wonderful to be on that stage and in that company, including the little fly (probably more a midge than a fly) that always passes across the stage at head-level, every time I play there.
I wonder if it's recording little midge bootlegs to sell to its mates?
Friday, November 25, 2022
Thursday, November 24, 2022
I've almost lost my voice, but it was good to work so hard at getting them right. Here he is at the kitchen table, cooking up a musical storm. I think he's had a text come in on his phone.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Different forms of storing and sharing music are intriguing. Ultimately, sound is just movements in the air picked up by our bones and our eardrums, yet we have used our ingenuity as humans to capture organised sounds and communicate them to each other, sometimes against the odds, for centuries.
I saw this event advertised online, and because Heavenly Films events are always worth going to, and at the moment evenings need a change of gear after spending all day poring over a hot illustration or two, I decided to take a punt and go along.
The event was happening on the top floor of Foyles, which has become noticeably swankier in recent years. I wonder if they still treat their workers really badly like they did back in the day?
Anyway, the evening was introduced by the author Travis Elborough, who was accompanied onstage by a little lamp with a high-end lampshade that made it a clarsy kinduva night before it even started. The film, Roentgenizdat: The Strange Story of Soviet Music On the Bone (by Stephen Coates and Paul Heartfield) was neat, concise, packed with content, and was told by the protagonists in the peculiar activity of cutting songs on to specially-shaped discarded hospital x-rays for illicit distribution in the USSR. When a cutting machine (DIY and based on a template) was confiscated, another was put together immediately. As many as 50 of the discs themselves could be packed into the sleeves of overcoats to be sold on the street; one chap adapted a tennis-racket cover to hold his stash of rock'n'roll or jazz bootlegs. Each disc boasted the ghostly trace of someone's hand, perhaps, or a broken leg. The guys called the discs 'ribs', and told stories of bandits stealing their merchandise and/or their money: "Give us your Ribs, or you'll get a knife in your ribs". Forbidden Russian music also featured, and the whole phenomenon disappeared after the Soviet authorities gave permission for households to have reel-to-reel tap recorders. Apparently there is now a thriving trade in fake Ribs on eBay.
It was utterly fascinating, and the writer Stephen Coates fleshed out the ribs of the story in the interview with Travis afterwards. He has written two books on the subject, X-Ray Audio and Bone Music, and also presents a show on Soho Radio called The Bureau of Lost Culture.
I was so glad I went. Dorothy Max Prior had been sitting in front of me and we had a really nice chat. So many years ago, The Chefs guitarist Carl Evans used to drive her band the El Trains around town. Then I saw Daniel Rachel and had chat to him, rather a motormouth one due to my days of solitary illustration, and Paul Kelly came up to say hello, he of Birdie. It transpired that he and his mate had bought my original Hofner violin bass off me many years ago. Fancy that!
Monday, November 21, 2022
Thank you to Xqui for this lovely remix:
Sunday, November 20, 2022
So here is Beachwalk at number 34 in the Legacy Chart at 365 Radio. Big luv to Amanda Austin for suggesting that I send it to them, and to Dawn Parry and Steve Lillywhite for liking it and putting it on the playlist!
Saturday, November 19, 2022
After a couple of hours drawing, I was really for a rest from the week, so for the rest of the day (aha!) I took time off to socialise.
Gina has been working very hard and very successfully over the last few months, and as usual the traditional 'going out for lunch to celebrate her birthday' was a little later than her actual birthday. We went to Mildred's in Soho, the original vegetarian restaurant which now appears to be vegan. Quite a lot of the bits of the different dishes on the menu weren't available (I presume because of supply-chain issues, because we were very early and they couldn't have run out of them at that time), and having been scared by the waiter that what I'd chosen was extremely spicy, instead I chose fennel sausages and mash. I have hated sausages for a long time, and basically ordered them because the dish looked simple. Much to my surprise they were absolutely gorgeous and I scoffed the lot.
Gina suggested that we went to Third Man Records, who she's now signed with. They are Jack Whites' company, and having missed her single launch on Friday last week, she wanted to give me a copy of her latest single, Wish I Was You/No Love. What a snazzy shop it is- all yellow and black, very wasp! Everything in the shop is in identical shades of those colours, even the turntables and the very stylish clothing. We chatted in the basement about her forthcoming interviews and releases; things are going to be really exciting for her in the next few months, and not before time. She has grafted hard on her music and art for a long time, and I've seen how both have flourished and consolidated into really interesting and vibrant work.
We went for cake in the pinkest cake shop in the world. The pink was lovely but the cake wasn't, really. It was all designed for Instagram, except you couldn't take photographs because there was some sort of light filter that made photographs come out a dull green colour. Oh dear, such meanness! No name-check for you, swanky cake shop!
I rushed back home to have a Zoom meeting with the author of the children's book that I'm illustrating, which is the first time we've spoken in-almost-real-life. It was a lovely conversation and I'm glad we did it, because I now feel I've got more insight into the book and how it should be. I ought to be working on it now even though it's Saturday, because I'm re-drawing whole pages sometimes. But Come Dine With Me is on. If the people aren't nice to each other, it's back to the drawing board.
Next bit of yesterday's social day was going to Scaledown. I haven't been for ages, and there were lots of people I knew on the bill. I was keen to see at least some of them before the later errand of the day, and I managed to catch the mini-concert on toy piano, which was fabulous, and Felix Mackintosh's experimental dub disco with vocals by Leoncia Flynn. I had a nice chat with Kevin and Mark, and almost ended up filling a space in the bill, but didn't have my guitar to do it. I missed Bettina Schroeder and James, Lucy Sieger, and Lee, Cos and Marina but I know there are more gigs for all of them that I can catch soon. Bettina gave us all a link to her latest musical collaboration with Xqui, who coincidentally has just done a dub mix of one of my own tracks, which I'll post soon. Nice to see Peter Tainsh out too.
Thanks to the Elizabeth Line, I was in Farringdon in the twinkling of an eye. I roared up the street to The Betsey Trotwood, did my drop-off, and went upstairs to the Papernut Cambridge album launch. It was very full up there, and I was nervous about the crowd, but eventually I opened my eyes and sat next to Kieron Phelan, where I noticed Judith, Oscar, two Kentish Roberts (Rotifer and Halcrow) playing with Ian, and Pete Astor and various other familiar faces. Ian was playing two sets of Toni Tubna songs mixed with his latest album songs; originally he'd asked me to sing backing vocals from the audience but I think it would only have been me (the Roberts did the stage BVs), and it was almost a relief just to be able to sit and listen. Ian is a really good song writer; all of the set was enjoyable but there were a couple of songs that took my breath away. Oddly, they had simple structures, but the melody of each of them was so divine that there was no necessity for over-decoration or any sort of complexity. After the first, Kieron leaned towards me and whispered 'Now that is a lovely song!'. I also particularly connected with the song about the American train ride. I've chatted about it before with Ian, because although his American train went in a different direction to the one that I took, we both had the same feelings of awe and excitement about what we saw of that enthralling continent outside the train window. Ian's going to send me a CD so I'll be able to share at least one of them in due course.
Rarely have I engaged in so much socialising in one day. I woke at six this morning but managed to persuade my body that six is too early for chilly autumn mornings. Hence I'm running late today: the morning I'd planned as an illustration session didn't materialise. Instead, I read The Guardian cover to cover. However, Come Dine With Me has rather nasty participants in this episode, and I feel an afternoon's drawing is in order.
Friday, November 18, 2022
Thursday, November 17, 2022
When I left my lecturing job I imagined it being a real struggle to leave behind the work routine, with several months of floundering around trying to establish something different in life. But I responded spontaneously to a request posted on F*cebook for an illustrator for a primary school children's book on sustainable clothing, and started working on that almost straight away. It's still got a way to go: I'm doing a lot of re-drawing partly in response to comments from the author, and also partly because I want to feel proud of the collaboration myself. It's due to be finished in December, and the project has taught me a lot about pacing my work as an illustrator, and when to start again when a drawing isn't working (amongst other things). It's so similar to making music: I've rejected whole tracks, and even whole songs, when they are travelling in the wrong direction.
I enrolled on a life-drawing class to feed my observation skills, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of that. I'd like to do more, because I've become a real fan of adult education. Before Covid I spent three years of learning to play the drum kit not because I wanted to drum in a band, but because I wanted to hang out with Shanne Bradley, who suggested it. I carried on because I realised the drummer's secret: drumming makes you feel great. It's therapeutic both physically and mentally.
People think that's because you're whacking the shit out of the drums, but actually if you're a good drummer you get the sound and the beat out of the skins because you control the 'bounce' and co-ordinate what your four limbs are doing. This leaves no room in your brain for worrying thoughts. Even two hours of drumming clears your head, and takes all the tension out of your upper body.
Miraculously, even though I can't read normal music, I can read drum scores. We were taught from the beginning to link the sound to the dots, and this is probably how it happened. I'm not sure if I could do it without the score, and that's the conun-drum (!).
Pupils came and went in the classes; one of the best terms was the one where the whole class was female. Being an evening class, there were lots of different standards, cultures and ages. The teacher suggested that we should work towards a concert, and we started to think about repertoire. Almost as a joke, I suggested Paranoid by Black Sabbath, and the teacher found it on Youtube. Instantly the whole class perked up, and even the beginnerest drummer (a young Spanish woman), started playing along with the 'pah-pah-PAH' part of the rhythm. The joy of it! You don't have to be a 1970s Brummie metal fan to know that Paranoid's a good song. At the show, a line of four female drummers joyously thrashed their way through it, to appreciative applause from our friends and family.
Life throws up moments when you think things like 'I could never in a million years have imagined that I'd be sitting drumming to a Black Sabbath song with four other women!'. Three unbelievables in one sentence.
This digression into unexpected drum moments isn't too much of a digression: yesterday I was accepted for an artist-in-residence post. Again it came from F*cebook, that often deservedly-maligned social media site. As soon as I saw the advertisement, I knew exactly what I would do if I was given the opportunity, and now that I have (starting in January), it's made me so excited that my creative brain has gone into overdrive. I'll be posting what I've done, but yet again it's an unbelievable moment.
So I have switched track from being and educator and musician to being a musician and artist. There is still an animation project-in-waiting, too.
I could spend a lot of thought dwelling on some terrible things that have happened to me, and some terrible people I've known. But this is the thing: if you fill your life with as much curiosity and creativity as possible, those dark things ebb away into insignificance and can't torture you any more. If you can fill your life with invention whether art, music or writing, you stand a chance of changing your mental environment from a threat to a celebration. I'm not naive enough to think that if we were at war or under threat from life-changing natural disasters, this approach would have any power. I know we don't live in The Sound of Music where we can sing My Favourite Things and suddenly the sun will shine every day and there will be world peace; we can't just Turn That Frown Upside Down. But I have seen what being creative can do for people, and how empowering it can be. This is not just for me personally, but also from the experience of 30 years of teaching, running workshops and listening to people speak about their own expressions of themselves through what they do in the wonderful worlds of art and music.
The bottom line is: any opportunity you have to try something new in these worlds of creative expression is always worth the challenge, whether as a producer or as an audience. More often than not it's worth doing just for the process, and just for the adventure. The sense of agency is quite astonishing.
End of early morning ramble!
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Sunday, November 13, 2022
There could not have been two more different gigs, but both equally fun and both equally adventurous.
We had a wander around Leicester before the gig, and I bought almost the last two-bowls-for-one-fifty satsumas and apples at the market.
Meanwhile, at the Soundhouse, multiple band members were arriving. Ruth Miller was there already, and there was an air of excitement about the venue. The sound engineer had an apprentice (first time I've seen that for a long time), which reflected the whole vibe of the night: open, friendly and enabling.
The first band on was Velvet Crisis, who swapped vocalists and instrumentalists throughout their set. Their songs were great, and contrary to what might be expected from a band so new, extremely well played. Their drummer, who I think was maybe the least experienced, had only been playing since January this year, but you couldn't tell. The between-songs talk was very funny, and the joyful energy emanating from the stage was palpable. All of the singers could sing extremely well, and the deliberate throwing out of standardised song formats served the band well too. I watched with Katie and Kevin from The Lovely Basement: I couldn't believe it when they walked in, but Katie was in Leicester for a conference and they came along and had great time.
From the stage I could see that the audience ratio was more than 50% women, which is really unusual for a gig that I play these days. I think older single women are reluctant to go out to gigs under normal circumstances, and the experience of playing to women who I knew would understand where my lyrics come from was an unusual pleasure. I had tweaked my set to include a sing-along version of Women of the World, and also The Song of the Unsung Heroine, which both seemed really appropriate. It can be challenging to play a solo set after a lively band, but the audience seemed happy, so I was too.
The Verinos were the headliners, and they burst into song with the same exciting energy as Velvet Crisis. Whereas Velvet Crisis almost had a Cramps vibe to some of their songs, The Verinos, despite their almost punky sound, definitely had a nod in the direction of the 1960s girl groups in their songs, probably due to the twin lead vocals. Again, this was a really fun set, especially when all the women in the audience were invited on to the set to sing the song 'Don't You Wish You Were In The Band Tonight'. What catchy songs and what a great sound! Real garage band keyboards, strong vocals and memorable melodies.
It was a superlative night- and to crown it all, the next morning a bunch of us had breakfast at the Holiday Inn. All you can eat! Yum! Thank you, Ruth, for inviting me to join you all for such a warm-hearted evening. The craic was as good as the gig! If the other eight older-female bands you've encouraged to get together for the Unglamorous Music project are as good as Velvet Crisis, you'll have revived the entire Leicester music scene in one fell swoop. Read more about it all here: https://theverinos.uk
And then it was off round the Leicester ring road and on to Middlewich. This was an entirely different set up: the musician Gareth Williams has started putting music on at the King's Lock pub, just next to the canal. It's a lovely location, and would be quite spooky if it wasn't for the jolly excellent chip shop across the road. Gareth played a gently witty set of songs, culminating in The Wine O'Clock Willy Waver, a person that we all recognise unless it's us! Chris Tavener followed with a set of hilariously comedic songs, my favourite of which was the one about Generation Z-ers criticism of old (er) people, which I rather wanted the Offsprogs to hear. I was last on, and it's the first time for ages that I've played to a dog, who seemed to quite enjoy it, especially Beachwalk. Kevin and Linda came along and it was lovely to see them again- first time since lockdown, and a proper fan with records to sign. Gareth seemed delighted with the evening, and there was a definite warm and happy vibe in the pub by the time we'd all finished.
Ah Travelodge! Expect nothing and get less! At least the bed was comfortable and the room was warm.
Back at home now, looking through photographs and being bloody glad that live music is back on the agenda, and indeed thriving. We have music and we have audiences: for a weekend I was able to forget the horrors of the moment and exist in music-world, which is surely a million times better than real life, yes it is!
Friday, November 11, 2022
Here's the link to Michelle Ward's Phoenix Radio show from Tuesday!
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Wednesday, November 09, 2022
So I set off early, because I knew that there might be Climate Justice demos on the M25, and I was right. I fully support them, because I know what they are doing works. I did still want to try to get to Essex though. The interview time (11.15) was approaching, and I managed to get my friend to phone the station; by a miracle, Michelle Ward actually answered the phone, and said that if I could get there by 12.30 the interview could go ahead.
In a very sticky double traffic jam (well done, Government, for eradicating hard shoulders on the M25 so emergency vehicles can't get through) on both sides of the motorway, we got diverted off into Essex towns which bore the brunt of the HGVs shuddering through the streets. It took two and a half hours to do a 45-minute journey.
The Satnav couldn't understand why I wasn't obeying it's pleas to redirect me back on to the motorway. I followed a map in my head and drove through Epping Forest in the opposite direction to Margaret Thatcher's instructions (that's the Satnav voice). The Essex villages got smaller, and the roads got windier, more wooded and more flooded. It was all rather beautiful, actually. I saw lots of quirky ancient clapboard houses, small and large. I splashed through long puddles on tiny twisted roads and eventually, with a note of surprise, Margaret told me 'You have reached your destination'.
Michelle made me a cup of tea, and I had a quick soundcheck. Her fellow presenter Bob came to hang out, and we had a good chat. She's been playing Beachwalk after hearing it on Neil March's Trustthedoc show, so I played that and All I want Is The Sun To Shine For You. What could be a better thing to do on a sunny autumn Tuesday? Michelle's a songwriter too, and we had plenty to share with each other about that.
Apart from driving down a mega-flooded road which left a satisfyingly splashy wake behind me, the journey home was effortless. As I said to Michelle, The Musician Always Gets To The Gig.
I will post the link to the show as soon as I have it.