Friday, June 24, 2022
Thursday, June 23, 2022
So many people- a river of them flowing down Damrak, night and day. A river of chatter in the daytime, a river of shouting at night. I walked for miles; I sat beside canals and watched: the barber shop on a boat, full of black t-shirted men with sculpted (or ready-to-be sculpted) hair; the two young women in hijabs riding identical Vespas side by side, chatting; the coots nesting comfortably in an abandoned boat. I wandered into shops and marvelled at the luridly-coloured 'clog' slippers made of nylon plush, all sizes available, and the woman with a traditional Dutch bonnet who refused to be photographed and coughed Covidly. I went on a canal trip and saw the stray cats' sanctuary on a boat, and the self-seeded hollyhocks sprouting magnificently from the quayside. I found a good café and sat there, watching the world go by, and I waited for a while next to some street people who were sharing touching stories about their families. The bicycles streamed off the ferries: ting-a-ling! Get out of the way!
Grim men did deals in clusters on the street, their mobile phones clamped to their heads. In the red light district, there is a 24 hour service. The prostitutes, tall, fierce and wary, reassembled their fishnet clothing after a punter's appointment as their eyes darted around looking for more custom. Oh, how terribly depressing it was to see them in the mornings. What an exhausting and mindless occupation. Small groups of men shambled through the streets purposefully, peering into the shop windows at the 'goods'. This was a sobering reminder of the true hierarchy that exists in the not-modern world.
I lay in the tiny hotel room at night listening to the shouting in the alley below, and inhaling the cannabis fumes that percolated through the windows. I met my cousin, who I haven't seen since McMum's funeral, and of course I interviewed punk women at OCCI: but more of that later.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Today Ruth came round and after a quick lunch we ran through the songs for a week on Saturday in Whitstable, and a week on Sunday at The Country Soul Sessions. She had really done her homework and it was really nice to sit in the kitchen and play at low volume, fuelled by coffee and blueberries, for the whole afternoon. Ruth is replacing Jonathan in the McCookerybook and Rotifer band, and we have a full rehearsal next week. If you'd like to come to the Sunday gig (Drew Morrison and the Darkwood and Paul Handyside are also playing), here's the ticket link: www.wegottickets.com/event/544144
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Imagine! McDad used to collect these tiles and I have a small collection myself. I went to the Royal Delft Factory to look round (it was fascinating) and managed to enrol on a painting session. We sat on long tables, and some people had charcoal templates of traditional designs. I chose to paint the woman downstairs who was painting a vase. I had taken a photo of her with her permission. We had two different brushes for the two different techniques, and ceramic plates with cobalt oxide to paint with. This will turn blue when the tile is fired. Let's hope it survives the journey back to London when they post it to me! I''m intrigued to see how it turns out. I have been longing to do this for years!
Saturday, June 18, 2022
Join us this afternoon at OCCII Amsterdam, where I’ll be showing the She Punks film early on, and you’ll be able to hear from four generations of women punk band members before their gig tonight at the same venue.
Thursday, June 16, 2022
Last night I had a recurring dream, in which I was trying to solve the same problem that I was attempting to sort out the last time the dream crept into my head. I was in our old house, big and magnificent (from the outside).
There was a corner of the house that was collapsing, though. It was upstairs under the eaves. You couldn't see it from the outside and sometimes even from the inside. I'd been trying to work out what to do for years, but I couldn't. I asked builders and estate agents for help and nobody else could fix it either.
I know now that I'll never be able to fix it, and I never could.
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Monday, June 13, 2022
I'm heading to Amsterdam this coming weekend to chair a panel at the Women in Dutch Punk conference, where I will also be showing Stories from the She Punks. To replace the Oh Bondage! Up Yours intro and outro, Gina and me started jamming some chords. I think we'd intended to record it 'properly' but because Lindy Morrison was in town, I spliced together some sections that fitted together and she drummed over that; this is the first outing for the film with this temporary bit of music.
More information here: https://occii.org/events/conference-women-in-dutch-punk/
Friday, June 10, 2022
Sarah Corina was bass player with The Bomb Party and The Mekons. She has recorded The Monochrome Set and lots of other people, and works as a producer, so it was great when she sent me a backing track to write a topline and lyrics to, especially since I've been so immersed in making my own 'sound'. It was good to take a break from that and do something entirely different. Sarah's done a few mixes of the song, and this is my favourite one:
Wednesday, June 08, 2022
Tuesday, June 07, 2022
Monday, June 06, 2022
Sunday Drawing Club is a great prescription for too much anything. After disappearing down the computer rabbithole yesterday, the gentle banter and the show-and-tell nature of it all was a wonderfully calming way to spend the evening and escape from the endless Jubilee TV. There was a street party here and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun; in between editing I took a cup of tea and perambled a couple of times. It did seem rather odd that people were being sent away for not living in the street. That didn't seem quite in the spirit of things, so I retreated back home. Large-scale images of Prince Andrew and Prince Charles project themselves across my internal screen too regularly. The millions of pounds paid to get Andrew off the hook came from our taxes. And of course, the food banks. Just think how much we could have provided for our poorer people if that money had been spent on them instead. Ever been swindled?
So where were we? All nice and calm after drawing club. Darren Hayman was drawing a cover for a forthcoming live album: strong lines picked out the dramatic architecture of the church, under the ceiling of which nestled him and his band. Darren Riley's drawings romped colourfully through heroes of 1960s and 1970s popular culture. Duncan drew a still life of a glass on the table which reflected the evening light beautifully, and Sarah drew a hundred-days mini comic of their motivation for banging nails into the new fence: imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg's and Price Andrew's faces on the nail heads, and it increases their bashabilty exponentially.
I drew two drawings from the imagination, which I haven't done much of at Drawing Club. I am going to illustrate two books and being asked to do the second made me realise that I have to get my skates on and illustrate the first. It's a personal book that a mother reads to her children, and the first job was to create the character. I drew one that didn't look quite right, and started again. Here they are, a wingnut, otherwise know as a sycamore seed:
Sunday, June 05, 2022
Saturday, June 04, 2022
It's taken a year but I've almost finished fourteen songs. I tried to leave it alone yesterday, but still spent two hours editing the backing vocals of one of the songs. It's still going to be a very DIY sound but it's my DIY sound. Things that ought to be easy have been difficult, and vice versa.
I'll spend much of today working on it too. I've tried to replace the vocals on a couple of songs but it's not working: the cogs are not in the right position just yet, but I know I'll get there.
Then I have to set up the speakers and invite Ruth round to take a listen. I really trust her ears because she has had the same slightly odd relationship with music as I have. It was Vic Godard who pointed it out: her upbringing was largely pop-music-free and I had that huge break while I was raising my Offsprogs. I had burned out, and resolved to pay back the help I'd had in my youth from people like Vi Subversa by helping young musicians myself, which led to an accidental career as an academic and no music making at all. It seemed pointless by then because all the young student musicians that I was working with were so brilliant. It was the magical Jamie McDermot who encouraged me back into playing again, and by then a head of writing steam had built up from not doing it for nearly 25 years that propelled me to write and write and write.
No doing it for a long spell is a really good way of doing it differently when you come into it again. There are new rules- but what the hell. Feeling like an imposter is very character-forming.
I woke in a panic at dawn. I worried about everything. Underneath it all is a fear that what I have created is not music at all, just a sequence of random noises that nobody has had the guts to tell me is rubbish. This is the definition of paranoia! I haven't 'tested' anything yet, and the actual music has been hidden away. What's going to happen when I let it out to play?
Friday, June 03, 2022
Of course I remember the last jubilee. I was in Brighton, squatting in a house with no bath or hot water- just two cold taps for around eighteen of us. We wandered around in a small group, inspecting street parties, and felt alienated by the whole shebang.There was something almost camp about that jubilee; there was just as much pressure to celebrate, but people naturally took it for granted that punks wouldn't have anything to do with it.
It was an odd thing to be a punk in not-London. A friend came to see us in 1977. 'Punk's over in London, you know', he said, as though that would stop us from being in a band; by then, I suppose, even punk had become almost establishment in the capital and embraced as a quirky 'event'. Small squads of Brighton punks still used to head to King's Road from Brighton despite it being 'over'. Big Bruv and his friend got stopped and searched by the rozzers. His friend had a pill in his pocket; it was a joke pill that you put in a cigarette to make snowflakes come out. Big Bruv's coat pockets were filled with the little grobblies that paper tissues turn into if you don't clear your pockets out (this was the same coat that a sock emerged from the sleeve of, as he swung his arms when we were walking down the road one day). That's where I saw Poly Styrene's wonderful stall at World's End, stocked with lime green and yellow Dayglo vinyl dresses, with Poly herself sitting proudly in her perfect setting, glowing as much as her dresses- Poly Regina!
The London punks were a nobility of sorts. As though in a copy of an anarchic Beano, we read about their adventures and felt liberated by them. Oddly, there was a mixture of scorn and celebration when we integrated with them on our home turf. It must have been great to visit towns and cities outside London and find like-minded people, but at the same time, people like us must have seemed a bit like also-rans who didn't have any ideas of our own. The thing was, if you rejected Malcolm McLaren's spin, we all had much more in common than not: we too had been listening to reggae music, The Velvet Underground and Hawkwind. We lived in the margins, alongside the gay community, the trans community and sex workers (it was Brighton, after all).
I was sad to miss Jordan's celebration last weekend. It seemed apt that it happened in Brighton, because her partner was a Brightonian, and I chatted with her properly for the first time at The Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester late last year which they attended together. They seemed very happy and bouncy; what a great way to spend the last part of your life, in a happy relationship. God Save the Punks, I say!
(I'm watching Rod Stewart just now on TV talking about his 'pride in being British'. Oft-times resident of the USA, Rod. Get a grip. Sing 'Do Ya Pay Your Taxes' to the melody of 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy')).
Thursday, June 02, 2022
It's been a day of three halves (I know, I know).
The first was clearing up this morning, the second was Offsprog One and her friend coming for lunch unexpectedly, and the third was more editing and some singing this afternoon. I re-sang the song that Sarah Corina sent a backing track for a while ago, and tried to redo some vocals on a tricky song for the album. I'm not sure if it's there yet: I'll take another listen tomorrow.
With the editing, I get one bit right and then all the other bits seem wrong. I think that's always the way. The thing is, I know that I make a lot of progress and when I go back to earlier songs I have to bring them up to scratch. One of the songs had the guitar sounding like mud and I hadn't even noticed, because I was concentrating on something else. Oddly I think my hearing is getting better, at least for detail. This means that things like tube train announcements and tannoys seem brutally loud and I have started focusing in on individual birds singing in the mornings.
Fourteen songs: it's the fine tuning at the end that seems so excruciating.
I'm having a huge clearout and downsizing the furniture. I have severely upset a spider, and broken a teapot lid, which will be a bit of a project to glue together.
I have copious quantities of dust up my nose and in my hair, but it's good to have a purge. I have a HUGE pile of stuff to sell on eBay but that's a day's work in itself, photographing that and posting it, so not for this week.
Later, I'll sit down and do a bit of editing and also try my voice out. It was rather creaky yesterday but that might have been because I was thinking of something else- I spent part of the day taking a lesson in animation from Joan Ashworth and walking in Burgess Park which is unrecognisable since I moved away.
I was exhausted when I got home, because Joan is so full of ideas that my own creative brain goes into overdrive. It's wonderful, and it was a great break from editing music, which was beginning to make me feel as though I live inside the computer.
So meanwhile, I'm sitting in the middle of a pile of art books trying hard not to be distracted by them. Tomorrow morning early, I'll unearth the last drawerful of trousers before the British Heart Foundation carts away the enormous chest of drawers that has clogged up the living room since I moved here eleven years ago. I don't know where I'll put them but that's part of the fun. I think.
Live small, think big!
Yes, the Tories are indeed the party of chaos, whose Thatcher project is now playing out completely as a demo of what happens if you let market forces rule everything. Lay off the airport staff during a pandemic? Then there will be no airport staff after the pandemic. Am I an idiot to enable to see this? The idea is that companies put a bit of profit away for a rainy day (sic) and use that to furlough everyone in addition to the government scheme, so that everyone is ready to start up again when the world is ready.
Instead, they have been roughing the lot. Now all we need is for voters to make the connection between the politics of greed, and the chaos that results from it.
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Here are some pics to prove that it really happened:
So the next thing I have to think of is what to call this album. I now have fourteen songs, many of which were written during lockdown, either for Song Circle or just appearing randomly in my head. I wrote two in the middle of fields on lockdown walks, and another in the woods. One is an old one which was recorded as an instrumental, but it always had words and I've just re-recorded it with the words in place. Two are inspired by books: Underland and The Hidden Life of Trees. Part of one materialised after a conversation in Glasgow with a person who was dreaming their way through an ecstasy journey. There are two protest songs of sorts. Oh, it's a veritable selection box of musical and lyrical excursions! And what should the cover look like, etcetera etcetera. Should I do a drawing or have a photograph on the sleeve?
Oh I don't know. I'm going to watch TV now.
Monday, May 30, 2022
I'm just posting this quickly before I finish marking. It's a very expensive book, alas, but I have a chapter about Oh Bondage! Up Yours in it. Wait for the paperback!
It has a really cool cover and great contents.
Saturday, May 28, 2022
In the newspaper there was an article about people abandoning their pets, now that things appear to be going back to normal. Dogs, cats and goldfish (how can people not even manage to look after goldfish?). They simply chuck their goldfish into a local pond and leave them to disrupt the natural order of things: they are greedy and dirty and take over from the normal fishscape.
Funnily enough just two weeks ago, we saw a small shoal of goldfish (including a silver one) dutifully following a mallard in one of the ponds up at the common. They appeared to be following his orange feet, presumably under the assumption that his relatively big orange flippers were a chief goldfish that they needed to obey and parade behind, if you can parade under water. There are still at least three of them hovering about in the murky gloom, apparently having given up their obeisance. I started to draw them yesterday. The water is very difficult. I will need to complete this one in stages.
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
After a morning's work I met Lindy Morrison, who was inspecting the imposing red steam train, Robert, on its sad little bit of rail outside Stratford station. She was in good spirits and after a quick lunch in the Ukrainian café in the Stratford Centre we headed off to the University studios to put the drums on Things Like This. It was remarkably quick, and we also managed to record the drums on the instrumental that Gina and me did, and a drum solo just for fun. Lindy really enjoyed being behind the kit and Jono made a fabulous job of recording. It's now up to me to mix them into the track which I reckon will be a ten-dayer of a job, because I've never done it before.
I also have three takes of the whole thing, and have to choose the best bits of each one to edit together; that means listening out for sound, feel, timing, velocity and style in each one. But this is such a new journey (hate that word).... experience, that it's really quite a thrill even though it's also utterly knackering.
I dreamt about lofts last night, and a chair upholstered in Laura Ashley fabric.
This is obviously life's attempt to bring me down to earth but it won't work, life. Sorry.
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
It's hard to think of a title for this post. For some unfathomable reason, I felt a bit down yesterday. There are lots of good, good things happening and I'm a glass half full person most of the time. It might have been the insidious misogyny in a piece of work I had marked that afternoon (I'm marking for several universities at the moment so it's not a betrayal of confidence). Irrational hatred is impossible to process. Or it could have been the weather, or delayed pandemic-shock. The evening just had dark edges around it like a mourning-stamp.
Anyway, this morning I woke to a message from an ex-colleague who I have always valued a lot. They were telling me of an exciting career move they were making, and for a start I felt both touched that they contacted me to let me know, and thrilled that they are going to work for such a great employer. But we then went on to have a concise and mutually supportive conversation that at first made my eyes well with tears, but now has left me with what can only be described as a warmed heart.
Our friendship from afar has made me feel it's OK to act on principles, and also that sometimes a moment's conversation can change the course of your mood quite significantly. The world is not all bad people- it's just that they have loud voices and too much power. We must never stop opposing them!
Sunday, May 22, 2022
On Friday afternoon I didn't care about the rain- I hopped into my car and buzzed up the A1 to Ruth and Dave's to record double bass on one of my songs. Emma showed up shortly afterwards and in the twinkling of an eye we had a really nice bass line recorded and sat down to a picnic lunch under the gazebo in the garden. what a relaxing was to spend and afternoon and to come home bearing a bass line on a memory stick!
This morning I listened through some guitar (me) and bass (Gina) doodling that were almost uniformly 130 BPMs. I cut out the slightly out of time bits and spliced together almost two minutes-worth, so when Lindy records the drums for my album song on Tuesday, she can also put some drums on that, which we will then use as an intro and outdo for the She-Punks film instead of Oh Bondage! Up Yours. The film with then become legally showable, rentable, sellable or whatever after all the time.
And the album: well, one, possible tow replacement vocals and a Spanish guitar overdub, then its mixing and matching so it all sounds as though one person did it. Then it can go off to be mastered by Ian Button, and then I have to find a manufacturer, sort out the artwork and get some photos done.
Saturday, May 21, 2022
Gaye Black has an exhibition of art, some of which she did during lockdown) at The Lamb in Holloway Road. I went along to take a look and I particularly like the lockdown work. One pictured here, but it has a bit of reflection from the glass. Her work is darkly humorous and very punky, collage-based and always strikingly contemporary, like visceral snapshots from a bad dream.
I bought one of her bottle-cap badges. I bought some as presents from the Punk Art Exhibition and hankered after one for myself. Alas, this one is an ideal present for a friend, so I'll have to wait for Rebellion and get another one for myself.
Friday, May 20, 2022
When I started this blog, I didn't even have a Myspace account, let alone a Facebook one. It was started at the suggestion of Emerald Moseley, a sculptor and dancer, after web designer, drummer and social activist Mike Slocombe set up the original website for me. It works as a kind of disposable diary, simultaneously spilling the beans, clearing them up and paradoxically, spilling no beans at all.
Much is same of creating content for social media postings, almost as a way of proving you exist in the big competitive world of social media postings. I know I exist, independently of ethereal zeroes and ones, and a lot of my time is spent just Being, some of is spent Interacting, and much of it, Creating (without the word 'content' appended to it).
The latter one takes ages. I have been recording this album for a year now, off and on. I work and I am also a mother, even though my Offsprogs have grown up. Things happen in my private life that mean that creativity has to take a back seat and it's been like that, always.
I was panicking this morning because I have nothing to say on social media. Yet this whole week has been occupied by doing good things: hours of writing feedback for students, the occasional social interaction (so important), and hours of recording and editing music. I have found time to exercise and eat, and to pursue the never-ending moth problem that plagues my house. I have been in 100% practical mode, and have housewife hands, with guitarists fingers on the ends of them.
This afternoon I'm going to Ruth and Dave's, where we will be recording Emma Goss playing double bass on one of my tracks. This is the penultimate thing to do. Emma plays with Sarah Vista: it's almost like having a tea party and inviting your friends along. I don't have a huge budget to record with, but usually manage to add the energy of a great musician to one or two of my songs. Fingers crossed for this avo!
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Today I've been marking student songs; I've almost finished and I'm just waiting for a member of staff to try to disentangle a download, so to speak.
At dawn (why did I wake so early) I made another attempt at learning the German lyrics to one of mine and Robert's songs. It's actually quite a good time to try to memorise things because I'm almost there after the early start. I just need another dawn awakening, and to be able to sing it at the speed of the song. Then there are three more to learn! I am determined not to have a music stand by the time we do our gigs in July.
I'm not going to do any editing today, because I go in there so deep that I end up in Zombie land for the rest of the day. Instead, I'm doing bit of sparrow-listening. After ten years living here, they have finally discovered the back yard. I can't bear to cut any of the tangled greenery back because they are having such a lovely time. The robin even feeds it's robinette on the garden bench, which they have pooed all over. I know I'll toughen up eventually but at the moment I'm enjoying the din and the activity.
Here is a lovely peony. Just one bloom, but it's so huge I'll forgive it.
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Editing became so absorbing today that it's unlikely I'll record the Spanish guitar, which may have to wait until next week. I cured a weird-sounding problematic vocal that had really been bothering me on one of the tracks though: it sort of sounded lovely, but by the time you got to the end of the track you just wanted her to shut the f*ck up. And her is me, so I had to do something about that.
One of the songs I recorded right at the beginning has more pops than I can get away with on the vocal track, so I'll have to re-record that vocal too, which is a pity. The rest of it sounds good. Maybe it's an edit thing, but I'll have to see about that.
After three hours of marking this morning I went for a walk. The cut behind the back gardens, tarmac-ed, dark and decorated with weeds and rubbish, smelt like heaven all the way down. Some hidden blossom scented the air and made the walk absolutely blissful for the first time ever. I kept expecting the perfume to stop, but it accompanied me all the way down the path.
On the Dollis Valley Green Walk, a ride-on mower and a tractor mower performed elegant curving dance moves across the grass, spraying clouds of clippings into the air in greyish-green arcs. I marvelled at their co-ordination, and thought about motorway driving, which I absolutely love. The choreography! The director of movement is our mutual agreement to abide by the highway code: we drift and glide to our destinations, overtaking, joining, leaving, lines of vehicles heading to the imagined spot in the future where we will greet our families, meet our holiday head-on or in cases like mine, get to the gig. What a beautiful collaborative artwork we make, without even recognising it for what it is. A celebration of human co-operation, even though we all appear to hate each other sometimes.
Back to the walk. I was hoping for a sighting of the Little Egret but it wasn't there. A flock of starlings were having a mass disagreement and I did see a bullfinch by the tennis courts. A cross council worker, who I naively thought was waving at me, was actually gesticulating furiously as I tried to take a photo. For the rest of the walk I was frightened in case he found me and took it further, because that's what it's like being a woman. Might as well tell you that.
There's a huge fly in here, the size of a bomber aircraft. I open the door to let them out sometimes, but they are usually too intent on crashing into things to notice. ZZZZzzzzzZZZZZ, then silence.
I'm going to put the headphones back on.
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
I spent all the long morning marking student work- it's going to take all week to finish it all, but I have given myself the afternoons to work on my album.
Anne Wood, the violin and viola player, sent some string parts last week and today I imported them into the song and started playing around with them. I realised the track needed bass guitar on it. I'm a bit rusty and I spent most fo the afternoon editing my clumsy playing. It does make the song sound better, and because the music is better the singing's going to have to be better too. Next week for that!
Tomorrow's post-marking activity will be putting some Spanish guitar fills into a song that has a missing piece. I think Spanish guitar is the missing piece: let's hope so.
Friday will be recording double bass on another song in St Albans with Ruth and Dave, with a picnic in their garden first. That does sound nice.
Next week I'm hoping to record Lindy Morrison drumming on one of the tracks and on a little piece of music Gina and me are working on to replace Oh Bondage! Up Yours at the beginning of our documentary, so we can actually show it properly again.
I am going to miss recording. I have got so deeply into it that I can't imagine stopping- and I have no idea any more whether the songs are any good or not. It's a strange mixture of really dark, depressing songs and really perky ones. There may even be thirteen tracks on the album.
I need to start thinking about artwork and a title.
Fleas4U, the wandering neighbourhood cat, appears to have left the area: I think his foster parents have moved away. Tentatively, I filled the bird feeder, and the back yard is now a mass of chirruping tiny birds: sparrows, robins, blue tits and even ( I think) a wren. They get really cross with each other and squabble and argue and they are often so busy that they don't notice I'm there too, and rush off in a flap when they see me. There are so many of them I've had to get two huge sacks of seeds to cater for them.
I had been hoping to get a cat at some point, but at the moment these little creatures are really entertaining (and very noisy). I have let the plants overgrow for now. It's rather nice out there, for a little dull yard.
Monday, May 16, 2022
Look at these beautiful paintings on silk. They are even more lovely in real life.
We went to see them on Saturday, and it was well worth the hot and humid journey to the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, where Taplow House has now become an art school.
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Up yours, Johnson! We are still European.
I had lovely email out of the blue from a French secondary school teacher whose class has been writing political punk songs. Would I judge their finalists? Of bloody course!
She sent me the two songs, one of which was anti-racist and the other, feminist. The songs were bristling with anger and bristling with ideas. It was incredibly hard to judge, but in the end I decided to go with the one with the most singable chorus, so I got my guitar out and sang them both. The anti-racist song won by a very narrow margin.
What a heartwarming thing to do, a heartwarming finale to an unusually good week.
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Weeks don't normally start this well. When I got to The Lexington, Paul Handyside (ex-Hurrah) was soundchecking and Taff's son Rupert was hanging out with his girlfriend unpacking the CDs and albums at the merch stall. When I'd done my soundcheck, Little Bruv showed up in his hat-of-all-hats, and there was Geoff Travis, who I hadn't seen for a long, long time. It was very nice to chat to him before the early-doors start, and also to Delia for a while too.
Midway through my set someone's phone rang and the audience halved (joke). It actually wasn't a bad crowd at all for a Monday night post-pandemic. There were assorted Geordies in the audience: nice to see Simon McKay out and about, still missing Fenella Fielding but getting into the music.
Paul Handyside was on fine form, channelling Johnny Cash (and even Frank Sinatra in his more showtunes numbers). He was aided by Rob Tickell on slide guitar, who provided deep and atmospheric flavours to the songs. It was a very powerful set.
By the time TGWTRH took to the stage the room was full. With Lindy Morrison on drums and Mick Porter on bass, they animated the room with their melodic and sometimes quite spooky songs. The vocal arrangements are exquisite, possibly because Taff and Sylvia often perform as a duo, and have worked on using their voices to the maximum effect. They have a unique almost film soundtrack sound, which is at the same time really accessible. Sylvia has a strong voice with a sixties vibe, more Sandie Shaw than Dusty Springfield, and Taff wrings some mean licks out of that Fender Jaguar. It's a stroke of genius to immortalise the Bigg Market in Newcastle: that song triggered not only thoughts of Viz Comic but also a memory of me and my friend Kathleen being chased down the street by a bunch of guys straddling a long pulled-apart cardboard tube like a huge wobbly willy. Oh Newcastle, you disgraceful and wonderful city!
I remember the catchiness of their songs from all those years ago, my first ever out of London gig. They had driven down to Shipley from the north east and I'd driven up after work from Docklands with the instructions about how to get there written on sheet of A4 paper in orange felt pen. Of course, under sodium street-lighting the writing became totally invisible, but somehow I managed to get there just in time, and I drove back after the gig to be tucked up in bed by 2 a.m.
Oh, I enjoyed their set so much! They have a completely other-worldly sound. I recorded a video of one of their songs, but an enthusiastic chap kept moving his head directly into my line of view. I'll take a look and maybe post it later in the week. Towards the end of the set, we spied Stewart Lee down the front. The man has good taste.
As a finale we all joined each other on stage, including Rupert who'd guested on one of the TGWTRH songs, and played Apology Accepted, the Go Betweens favourite. Aww, it was fun!
Paul and Rob turned in another fine set. It was good to see them play again because the songs have become familiar by now. There is one in particular that is so strong that I need to find a recording of it- it's the sort of song that I could never write in a million years; it was fascinating to listen to.
The hippy was becoming ever more drunken and assertive and he was over-delighted by the singalong song that Paul ends his set with. More of the assertive hippy in a few lines time...
TGWTRH were on form again, and this time I could hear them better (I'd been very close to the bass stack at The Lexington and was losing some of the nuances in the singing). The dynamics of the songs came across really beautifully and Lindy's drumming was spot on. About four songs in, the hippy was stamping very hard on the floor with great enthusiasm and ignorance. Lindy stopped. 'Excuse me! these songs have been worked out really carefully, and you're stomping all over them!'. 'I didn't realise anyone could hear me!', protested the hippy unconvincingly. In the end he stomped off into the sunset and left the band to finish their set. We joined together for Apology Accepted at the end like on the night before, and by the end of the song we'd pretty much bonded for life.
We all stayed in the same hotel, and there was something heartwarming about that Geordie and Australian breakfast together. Their tour manager Tony Raven Porter (the man in the hat) was part of the gang too and got them all back to Newcastle in time for the van curfew. I travelled back to London on the train with Lindy and hope to see her again before she jets off to New York. I've got the CDs to listen to so I can relive the gigs at my leisure.
Best week-beginning I've had for years, actually: I wish they were all like this.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Sunday, May 08, 2022
That came around quickly! Taff and Sylvia had invited me to open for them and Paul Handyside at The Lexington tomorrow evening , and at The Pipeline in Brighton on Tuesday.
My first ever solo gig outside London was supporting The Girl With The Replaceable Head in Shipley, Yorkshire. Tomorrow they will be joined by Lindy Morrison from the Go-Betweens on drums.
Saturday, May 07, 2022
Well, today I'm responding to the copyeditor's queries for the chapter on Oh Bondage! Up Yours that I've contributed to the One Track Minds anthology of significant records, which is coming out in the autumn (I think). I've got three more corrections to do. Everything I do involves panic. The night before last I woke up at five a.m. panicking in case the Tories did well in the local elections, and had to get up and check the results. With this piece of writing, it's 'Have I mentioned....', and of course I have (I've mentioned everything, or tried to).
I have enjoyed academic writing because of the research and the detail, but not the slog. The books took ten years each and an article or chapter takes more than a week, spread out over months. For this particular chapter, I travelled to Liverpool at my own expense to look through Falcon Stuart's X Ray Spex press archive. I write in between lecturing and gigging. There are amazing upsides: part-subsidised travel to other countries to discuss and talk about my research (New York, Porto, Vienna, Aalborg, Oslo, Limerick, Edinburgh), and meeting an international community of music academics and writers. It's great for self-respect too. Like a lot of people I have confidence problems and suffer from imposter syndrome, probably because of harsh parenting and cruel schooling. But there are books on the shelf that I actually wrote myself, and this is something I never imagined doing. The same with making records. At school, I was all set to disappear because I was so quiet and introverted. Thanks to punk's violent yet inspiring lessons my life changed completely, and that feeling still runs through my veins, even all this time afterwards.
Friday, May 06, 2022
I woke in a state of high anxiety in case the Tories won lots of seats in the local elections.
It was 5 a.m. and the birds were chirruping with excitement.
I grabbed my phone. Labour has won Barnet council! After all the cruelty of the past almost 20 years, the local community has made a statement about it. I did wonder: the usually-smug local MP was not at the Polling Station yesterday.
What a pleasant change to the headwind.
Thursday, May 05, 2022
Sometimes lately it's seemed as though people have formed protective shields around themselves, occasionally quite aggressively. To burst these bubbles without injuring not just the people themselves, but also those around them, seems like an impossible task.
Wednesday, May 04, 2022
While I'm mixing, I'm also trying out different running orders. It's a good way of seeing if the balance between vocals and instruments work. I have marked up two songs for 'further work' and they are not the ones I'd expected. I need to do a heavy editing job on one of them, or maybe even re-record the vocal depending on external circumstances.
I've just arranged a session at Dave Morgan and Ruth Tidmarsh's studio in St Albans to record the double bass. It's all go... apart from the fact I should be learning the Go-Betweens song Apology's Accepted for Monday and Tuesdays gigs with The Girl with the Replaceable Head and Paul Handyside at the Lexington and The Pipeline in Brighton. I already know I'll be able to play it, but will be unlikely to learn the lyrics by heart before Monday, because I have never been able to remember the lyrics to my own songs, let alone any else's. I'm not sure how stressed to get about this.
The lyrics are here on my desktop winking at me!
Of course, the day I decided to record Spanish guitar is the day a neighbour booked builders to do their roof. It's Ok actually- the thumping and banging is mild and sparse. It's the pealing and honking men's voices that carry the most, which of course they need to do on site. However, I am my own worst enemy. Halfway through a take, my phone dinged with a text: I'd forgotten to mute it. Stupidly, I checked the phone again during playback when the text rang out loud and clear from the recording!
I deleted the Spanish guitar in the end, and just whisked a few overdubs into the background. Actually it was more blooming editing that the track needed, and I spent an hour chopping and shifting sections of vocals to the right places. It might sound better. I've no idea. I sank so deeply into listening that there has only been one possible remedy: Bargain Hunt on BBC 1. Such cheerful and pointless babbling! It's a tonic for an overworked brain.
I'm starting to miss recording already. I'm just waiting for the violin part to float down from Scotland, and to organise the double bass session, and then I'll be on the final strait. DIY is difficult- have I just created box of turds? Have I mixed the tracks well? There seems to be no logic (in-joke) to it all; I'll try to copy a vocal template on to another track and it simply doesn't work with that particular configuration of instruments. I have had to go with instinct and what I listen to in tracks when I'm audience rather than producer.
Getting things wrong in the guitar playing has been a remarkably good rehearsal technique. I now have a grip like a strong-man and biceps like a weightlifter. I daren't even think back to 2018 when I broke my funny bone, and my elbow was literally hanging off by a thread. No, don't think about it!
Tuesday, May 03, 2022
Walter Sickert is one of my favourite painters. It's everything about his work: the colour, the application of paint, the subject matter, the viewpoint. It's an absolute pleasure to see these wonderful artworks together and feast on all of those things at once. He was a frequent attender at music halls, and many of these paintings are inspired by what he saw on these outings, but from a quirky perspective: a forest of oboes and bassoons from an orchestra painted from behind, or a view from under the curved balustrade of the theatre balcony.
He was an unforgiving observer of body size but had the skill to paint weight which is the true measure of an artist. It's so hard to make marks on a surface indicate heaviness and gravity: perhaps the most difficult thing.
There is something almost onomatopoeic about his brush technique; it's often spiky like his name (although his signature isn't). He had an affinity with Dégas, whose work I also really love.
I wasn't so keen on the cityscapes or the soft porn, but you can't have everything. And yes, I know he was a candidate for being Jack the Ripper but on balance that appears to have been disproved, apart from by people with books to sell. Looking at you Charlotte Cornwell. How can anyone possibly know if they are right or wrong so long after the events? He seems to have been in Europe a lot of the time and I think I might look in Venice and Paris to see if the same crimes were being committed there before I made a decision.
Meanwhile, the paintings are lovely and I'm going to go again. I feel that as an illustrator I can learn a lot from him when I am confident enough to loosen up my style.
Sunday, May 01, 2022
Friday, April 29, 2022
I have replayed this gig so much in the telling that I didn't write about it- and now it's a week later!
What fun this was. I'm only going to write about them quickly because I'm just about to head off somewhere and this post will be replete with spelling errors #dyslexia no time to check.
Well, the rowdies in the audience were up and running before the band even came on stage. The Thunderbirds theme tune heralded the event, and arms aloft and Hawaiian-shirt-clad, Paul Baker strode on to the stage and off they went.
This band are 1980s sound encapsulated (the better bits) and what they really excel at are singalong choruses. This is what the rowdies came for, and it made for a tremendous atmosphere. Dancing, leaping, gurning and hugging at the front the rowdies waited and waiter for the choruses, trying to mime the verses and then ... BANG! There they were!!
Paul's a fantastic front man. He went into the audience and sang along with them, completely unfazed by their joining-inning. Further back, older fans also sang along, some discreetly filming. The other Paul, who used to play sax in Helen and the Horns, played some fabulous sax solos and looked to be at the peak of joyful exuberance. The guitarist and bass player are full of beans, and I have to say that the drummer is absolutely excellent. Before lockdown, I did three years of drum kit classes and it has now made the role of the drummer (the drum roll, as one co-learner quipped) really fascinating. The musicianship of the band is superb (which maybe passed the rowdies by), but you can't deliver such seemingly effortless choruses on a broken-down vehicle.
It was such an enjoyable evening, not just because of the music, which rocked The Troubadour, but also because of being right in the middle of Fun with a capital 'F': an audience of young rowdies who added themselves to the mix and sealed the deal on a really great night out.
Later this weekend I'll post a video and you'll see what I mean.
Had to post my own little video fragment:
Thursday, April 28, 2022
Oh, the man in a hi-vis jacket with headphones in Stratford wailing along to his iPod: 'You were always on my miiind, you were always on my miiind', oblivious to the commuting crowds heading in one direction and the shoppers heading in the other. The look of blissful happiness on his face! Perhaps he has just fallen in middle-aged love!
Meanwhile, one of my songs has flown to Ullapool for Anne Wood to contribute a violin part. I have such a great memory of walking up the hill with her, and there being a rainbow at the top. It must be difficult to be a mountaineer- probably like driving a long distance and being so busy concentrating on the job in hand that you can't appreciate the journey. Whereas climbing a hill is such a concise version of getting to a lovely view.
Geography was one of my favourite subjects at school- the landforms sculpted by ancient glaciers, still showing their history despite the ravages of mankind. I found it comforting. But we have learned to split atoms, haven't we? We are now clever enough to destroy everything, and instead of playing God we are playing the Devil.
It is preying on my mind, it is preying on my mind...
So sometimes a little bit of happiness in front of your nose realigns your mood. I have learned to recognise these moments, and highlight them each day. A rose petal, a pine cone, an urban fox with lush fur scampering through the darkness on a mission. What a thing it is to be a human being. We have so much responsibility for our species network,, and we don't appear to know how to manage it. We can watch ourselves f*cking it up and tell each other we're doing everything wrong and try to fix it, but the unfortunate thing is that psychopathic people rise to the top and manipulate the lot of us.
Up yours, Darwin! D'you think he was one of them?