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.