Friday, September 30, 2022
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
This, at The Con Club in Lewes. It's such a lovely venue: regulars with pints and dogs in the back bar, music punters in the front, great sound and great sightlines. I'll be on at 8 p.m.
Tickets here: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/535796
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
And today, a rehearsal with Robert for next Tuesday's gig supporting Hefner at The Ivy House, which we're doing as a duo rather than a full band. We did that in Vienna, and it seemed to work!
With my brother James yesterday. We will be playing at The Betsey Trotwood on Wednesday 16th November: a set from him, a set from me and the four songs by The Chefs together at the end of the evening.
I went to a new evening class last night (last week's one was cancelled), and because I was so early I went to a local Vietnamese restaurant for a time-killing snack. As I was slurping the Jasmine tea, the restaurant began filling up with young chaps who through it was OK to be very rude to the waiter, possibly to 'impress' the woman they were with, but possibly just because they were rude.
Suddenly a rat shot across the floor at such speed you almost couldn't see it. It was bullet-fast. The waiter behind the bar leapt on to a chair, and the other waiter had a quick look around to see who had noticed.
'Was that a rat?' I asked. The waiter came over to the table and muttered 'Yes, we are dealing with them down in the kitchen', and withdrew rapidly. The Rudes had been completely oblivious to the drama; they were busy picking fault with the paint on the panelling in the restaurant.
Was it worth making a fuss? London is teeming with rats, isn't it? Here in the 'burbs, the urban foxes crunch them up and keep the numbers down. They themselves are supposed to be pests, but I prefer them to rats.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Not only a session by The Chefs, but also a track from my new album- first airplay!
Listen here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001c40m
The song Gideon Coe played this evening was Coffee and Hope, which I'm delighted about, because it's one of the songs with a bit of a dark twist. So I'll play it on Saturday night in Lewes! Here's the ticket link; I'm on first at about 8 p.m.
Sunday, September 25, 2022
What a nice surprise to hear from Caroline, with an invitation to her private view in Mayfair on Thursday evening! I love Caroline's paintings, all the more so because when I first met her to interview her for The Lost Women of Rock Music probably in about 2005, she showed me the way that she paints: an under-layer of black, grey and white as a kind of skeleton for the colour and animation that covers that layer and brings the painting to life.
Caroline is honest and forthright, and so are her paintings. This series is a paean to west London, where she has lived for a long time, hymning the people as much as the landscape; what I used to call the 'peoplescape', that living carpet of activity that plain architecture and functionality can't capture. There's lots of humour here: the half-person marching out of the painting, and the crowds of naked men having been peeled of their business suits, presented in their birthday suits instead, without the power-play of their office uniforms.
The way she paints water and shadows: that I found positively inspiring, to reduce realism to design, yet for the water and shadows still to look real. I'm still puzzling over that days later.
Of course openings need party people, and the loyalty of London punks knows no bounds. There was Gina, herself thrilled to have acquired agents and a forthcoming exhibition of her work in London, and Paul Simonon who has an exhibition of his work around the corner. Not being of London punk heritage, I frequently fail to recognise people, but they are usually magnanimous about it. Caroline looked beautiful as always, having recently, according to Gina, been modelling Pam Hogg's clothes at her fashion show.
Here's the exhibition, and some photographs that don't do the paintings justice. Perhaps you need to go!
Saturday, September 24, 2022
Thursday, September 22, 2022
There were so many unpicked blackberries last week, fat and juicy. I had to delay picking them for various reasons, and went back this morning with a big box to put them in.
In the space of a week, they have all dried up completely. There is nothing there but little hardened black pebbles, and I returned home completely empty-handed.
I went for my exit interview yesterday afternoon. Beforehand I felt really ill, but I managed to do it. What I had to say was so damning that the HR person apologised. I apologised too, because it wasn't their personal fault, but I am also aware that by working in an organisation you represent their values. And that's why I left. The wrong things about the organisation I've been working for have been exhausting me for some time, and now I am free.
Afterwards when I go home I experienced a monstrous migraine. I slept for ten hours last night.
I have an illustration commission in the pipeline, something it is easy to commit to because I believe in the project. There is also another illustration possibility, a campaign that I've offered to add my skills to.
Meanwhile, I have gigs: an a CD release to come!
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
After such heavy gigging and travelling the weekend before (though it was hugely enjoyable!) it was a great thing to go out to be in the audience for this really special gig. There were so many people to say hello to on the way in that we missed part of The Wouldbegoods' set, which is a pity because guitar duos are particularly fascinating at the moment. True to the spirit of The Lexington, the venue was already full for them, which was wonderful to see. I took up a vantage point to watch the last two songs, which were really well-received, and within the twinkling of an eye, Bid and crew were on stage to play the first of their sets, sans Lester Square at first. I was going to say they were just Monochrome (without the 'Set'), but they were great, and played a song that I was furiously jealous of. I started filming it halfway through because I want to find out what its called and become more jealous still, which is really healthy for a song writer (having just completed an album, I need a stimulus to kickstart writing new songs again). Bid was in great voice: the grace-notes were utterly graceful and the deadpan was full-on. The crowd was rustling restlessly, and after another short break, on came the full crew. By this time I'd slipped down to the front, and managed to peer through the 'v' gap between two chap's heads. What fun!
They roared through Eligible Bachelors and as always it was the little details of being at one of their live gigs that made it a special occasion, the banter especially. As one song was coming to a close, Bid turned round to drummer Mike, quite possibly to enquire about whether he knew how the song ended. Mike shook his head, no... and suddenly, the song ended absolutely perfectly.
A yearning voice called out from the back of the crowd: 'I love you, Andy Warren!'. Was Andy smiling, or was that a trick of the light? His bass thundered through the floor, whacking our hearts like a sledgehammer. There is no one else like him.
Lester Square, serious in spectacles, concentrated hard on his playing. I used to pretend to be him when I was nervous on stage, you know. It worked. Just him: I couldn't have managed the shoulder-revolving tic that is such an enigmatic feature of the way he plays.
'Turn Lester up!' shouted another aficionado. 'Turn that man down!' retorted Bid.
In a moment of darkness at the encore, Lester read out a satanist prayer by Anton LaVay, which summed up the current state of play perfectly. Later, he offered the original Eligible Bachelors album artwork to anyone who could identify the hit record the producer of the album had sung on.
'Gaudete!' responded a clever fellow, and he was right.
Others in the audience decided to try it on. 'Can I have your guitar when you're finished, Lester?', asked one, plaintively; 'Or your trousers: I'm not fussed!'.
How could the audience of people literally wearing anoraks back in the day have grown up to be such wags? I'll never know.
It all added to the sense of fun and madness. The music, of course, was wonderful: every member of the band worked full-on to make the album work live: it was exactly right. My photos are rubbish, but here's a song. Thanks for a great night, you absolute dudes; in the words of Bid (actually describing my first solo album, *blush*) it was 'classy!'
Monday, September 19, 2022
Friday, September 16, 2022
In two weeks time I'll be leaving my job at the University of East London. No need to go into detail here; I will be campaigning away the shame in future. Not my shame: theirs.
This afternoon, I'm doing a talk via Zoom for the University of Cincinnati on my research.
Thursday, September 15, 2022
For good or bad, your own family is your family. Our families come in all shapes, sizes and surrogates: look closest to you, and give thought and thanks (if you can) to those people, because they are the ones who matter most.
Three cheers for the people we have personally known, personally celebrated and loved through first hand experience and knowledge. Here is Gran: unconditional love-giver, bad joke appreciator, eternal child, and empathiser. Thank you for the love, and for the very high bar you set me as an example of humanity (still not got there yet!).
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
I first saw Howie Reeve play several years ago at Iklektik in London, a venue tucked away in a yard not far away from St Thomas's hospital. I was intrigued by his solo acoustic bass guitar and vocal combo and we chatted afterwards. Last year, he suggested that I should play The Glad Café in Glasgow and put me in touch with them, and this year he invited me to mini-tour with him: I'd be the driver and he'd get the gigs. That almost sounds like a children's make-believe game, doesn't it? But that's exactly what touring's like until (I imagine) you become hugely famous and glide through life on an enormous air-conditioned tour bus with your manager ironing out the wrinkles. How boring that must be!
I picked him up at High Barnet tube and we set off for Hereford. Howie did a spectacular spilled latte trick at one of the service stations (more on that later), which was quite a relief. I knew it was going to be a fun three days.
We got to Wild Hare's nest (correct term) in reasonable time. It was great to see Richard and Sas again and he'd made a lovely curry for us which we consumed with glee before heading to the GWRSA, a social club for the Hereford Railway community. I love these places with a Youth Club feel. It was a big room with a stage at one end, although we didn't play on that: behind the velvet curtains sat three enormous plush carrots on human-sized chairs. I'm serious!
The sound checks were over at the speed of lightning. We said hello to Steve Ashley who was also on the bill, and to the people who had come to see us. Oh how lovely to see you Alex, beautiful as always! Howie set up, and off he went. He has a musical language entirely of his own, and takes his listeners on a mad journey of hairpin bends and precipices, with his bass speaking to his voice and vice versa. I find his songs completely absorbing, which makes it difficult to do what I usually do when I'm at gigs: work out the schemes, tricks and mentality behind it all. As a lyricist, he also has a unique vocabulary that pulls you into his poetic world, a world simultaneously feral and sophisticated. Swooping, zooming notes are punctuated by the most beautiful of bass chords that sometimes sound medieval (or the way I imagine that to sound). I can imagine his music connecting with people across timelines and territories.
Then it was time for my set. The room had its own lovely sound, and it felt good after the drive to do what I'd come to do. I felt confident and happy, and managed to play a couple of the new songs. What a nice audience they were- they had sung along with Howie and they did the same for me. Thank you!
Steve was the final performer, a proper entertainer who was very much of the folk tradition as a guitarist (although intriguingly, he plays his guitar upside down). It was a real education to hear someone play an acoustic guitar in such a detailed and fluid way: I was mesmerised. He finished his set reluctantly (or perhaps not) by singing a hilarious acapella song about a jealous dog and it brought the house down.
We stayed at Richard's and the next morning chatted over tea and toast, and wandered around his wonderful garden, which includes a Bonsai beech tree they'd been given as a wedding present that he had liberated. It was twisty-trunked, but enormous. We ate windfalls, took a breath or two, and set off for Sheffield.
It wasn't a bad journey and a wedding was just finishing at The Bishop's House when we got there. Up high there on a hill, there was time and space to breathe and admire the Tudor beams and quirkiness of the building and the room where we were going to play: a low-ceilinged, beamed beauty of a room. Our host Paul turned up, and with an even shorter soundcheck (expecting negative equity soundcheck soon!) we awaited our audience. Elodie of Da Da Da zine showed up with one of her daughters, and so did Duncan from the Lantern Theatre. It was an intimate gig, andsuch fun. By the end of it we were all mates talking about Sooty and Sweep (a particular love of Paul and his partner Gail). I professed my true love for Sweep, and one of the women at the front of the room knew of the person who owned the original Sweep puppet, and found them online! The night felt like a cocoon of warmth. The woman who found Sweep, and who'd been sitting with her partner at the front, both completely engaged with the music, declared with huge pride as she left the venue, 'We're both autistic!'. I think that sealed the deal on the night.
We stayed at Paul's and he helped Howie in with his suitcase. Paul was rather merry, and in a very funny moment he plonked the case wheels first into his hallway, lost his balance and went charging helplessly down the corridor right to the end. Ha ha!
Next morning we folded ourselves into the car again and off we went. Rather nastily, when we stopped for a coffee I told the barista to be careful, because Howie had spilled his latte all over the floor the other day. Fate got me back. As soon as I sat down, I kicked the table and almost my entire cup of coffee spilled all over it, and Howie joined in with the milk. Oh deary me.
So the third gig was in Shipley, upstairs at the Triangle. The omens were good as soon as we got there: two of Howie's friends were there. It was a light and airy room, and because this was an afternoon gig parents with children showed up. No Bathing Pond then: too rude. Then in came Mick and June! Just like the old days! We had chips (oh irresistible smell!), and then Alison showed up too, who has been to my gigs as far apart as Leeds and Brighton. The intimacy of an afternoon room, children, daylight: this was completely different from the other two gigs and I found myself very aware of the lyrics of my songs to the point that I couldn't sing All I Want Is The Sun To Shine For You. I did sing verse one of Three Little Fishes though- and told them about the benefit for Ugandan orphans in a church in Notting Hill where Mick Jones's son's band was playing, and someone mistook Mick Jones for a vicar!
After I'd finished, who should show up but Johna! Now that's someone I know from way back in the day, when I was going out with a member of King Kurt and he was one of their most loyal fans. Now that I come to think of it, it was Johna who caught me skulking at the back of a King Kurt gig trying not to get mucky, and splurged a handful of goop all over me!
Howie put in a great set again, and Mick and June really enjoyed his stuff. What a great trio of gigs! Big thanks to Howie for suggesting this in the first place, to Richard and Paul for putting us up, to the promoters and most especially, to the audiences that came along and made it all so worthwhile. And oh, the conversations!
And now, I'm going to watch Bargain Hunt.
It's such an odd life. I got back on Sunday night from Shipley quite quickly, but my brain was still heading down the M1 at speed and so I didn't go to bed until around midnight, whereupon my brain insisted on reliving the past three days in great detail. Why, why, why? Yesterday, I treated myself to a day of Nothing. Barely any TV (who wants to, anyway? It's literally hideous) and an early night reading a scary book. To get its revenge, my brain played reveille at full blast at 5 a.m. and although I tried to fall back to sleep again, I gave up at 6.45 and the day began.
I have been writing a talk for Friday which I'm doing on Zoom for the music department at the University of Cincinatti. I have felt a bit dislocated from my research lately because 'issues' to do with why I'm leaving my job have interrupted my connection with it. The early morning start was good: I was tidy-headed and I'm going to do the same tomorrow to make sure it flows neatly, and to write a narrative alongside the Powerpoint presentation I created today. I have no idea how many people have read my book on women producers but I think everyone should, because of course it's about much more than that.
Here it is, in case you haven't: https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/shes-at-the-controls/
The brain energy got used up fairly quickly and I needed to go to pick up my new spectacles. What a disaster! I can't see through them. Thankfully my old ones are still perfectly good and all that's required is a bit of complaint-energy to get the new ones replaced. Why are the simple things in life so difficult?
Monday, September 12, 2022
So much to report for such a busy and nice weekend. But I went to bed at midnight after driving back from Shipley's gig (and driving to Shipley from Sheffield, and driving to Sheffield from Hereford, and driving to Hereford from London), and I woke up at seven all curious to be back home and had to get up... so it will be a later-in-the week blog posting, unless I manage to go back to bed and have a nap, but I'm not very good at that!
With Mick and June, Shipley
Friday, September 09, 2022
Thursday, September 08, 2022
I've just filled my car with expensive fuel ready for the trip to Hereford tomorrow with Howie Reeve.
I'm rehearsing now, and looking forward to a very busy weekend!
9th With Howie Reeve, Hereford, GWRSA Club www.wildhareclub.com
10th With Howie Reeve, Sheffield, Bishop's House https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/howie-reeve-and-helen-mccookerybook-tickets-387426221257
11th With Howie Reeve, Shipley, The Triangle
Wednesday, September 07, 2022
Tuesday, September 06, 2022
Monday, September 05, 2022
Sunday, September 04, 2022
Despite the hangover from Covid affecting advance tickets sales and indeed attendance, we decided to go ahead with this gig, and I'm really glad we did.
This was the best show I've seen from Arrest! Charlie Tipper, who have a whole clutch of ace new songs and who were incredibly well-rehearsed. The sound was really good and you could hear everything clearly, which is great for them because they put so much work into their arrangements and harmonies. In particular their drummer, Simon, who has been really ill, was really on form and put a crisp and rhythmic underpinning to it all. Brilliant. I bought their new album. I never do that. (Well, hardly ever).
It was one of those nights when you feel that the crowd is really on your side. It wasn't bursting with people, but there were plenty of people there and the audience went with the flow even when I was mortified to forget the words of my newest song. They were a proper listening audience, and laughed at the funny bits in the funny songs and empathised with the more serious ones. So Long Elon went down particularly well; he just keeps on going, doesn't he? Thank you to the friends who came- Mandy and Simon, Joan and Martin, and Valeria who had made the journey from the deep south, and who enjoyed every single moment of every single band. I am setting off on tour from next weekend (Hereford, Sheffield, Shipley) and it felt great to be holding the guitar again and singing my songs: just the right thing to do. Weekends gigging, weekdays illustrating. What could be better for the soul?
The headliners were Karen, who also have new music out. They were loud, Bolan-esque and also full of beans. I am sorry to have been so pleased that Davey Woodward, their lead singer, also forgot the words of one of his songs. It was funny, though, and the audience thought is was too. Davey discovered that someone had travelled from Berlin to see the gig, and rewarded him with a can of beer, checking at various points to see if he's drunk it yet. Michael Tiley Evill was there from Shambotic recordings and there were CD, badge and t-shirt freebies being handed out as though it was Christmas (actually the last time I'd played here). Karen went down very well, and could have played a multitude of encores but the event had to end for a 10.30 curfew.
We all sold records, we all enjoyed each other's sets and it was a very warm-hearted night like a lot of Caryne and Dave's shows are. You get a lot of good craik before and after the gig, and crisps and chocolate biscuits too. What's not to love?
Here's a video of Arrest! Charlie Tipper, who are just about to rechristen themselves in a race to anonymity, a photo of Karen, and a photo of me. Long live live music, long live olderpersonartists, and long live loving audiences who make us feel that it's all worth while!
Friday, September 02, 2022
It has been an intense week. On Wednesday evening, I had the opportunity to attend the RMT rally against cuts to the London Transport network at which Senator Bernie Saunders was speaking. It was held in the TUC building off Tottenham Court Road, and the queues were already forming an hour before it started.
The event was riveting. There were speakers from several of the unions representing working people in the travel network, and the way they communicated the facts and figures behind the government manipulation of the 'crisis' in funding was completely absorbing. I can't describe how powerful it was, but there was something almost comforting about being in an environment where the room was full of normal people, and where I didn't feel as though I was swimming against the tide for being a person who has gone on strike to support attempts to plunder our own pension funds, and attempts to create working practices that make my own job impossible to do.
A properly populated transport system is a safe one: it's a basic reality. It's not just vulnerable people who need staffed stations; humanity is simply too flawed to be trusted with machine-controlled trains (and potentially buses). Living at the end of a tube line has become more and more frightening as the staffing has decreased, because one night I was unable to walk down my street after being followed by a really frightening man on my way home. If there had been someone at the tube station to report him to this would not have happened. Ticket machines break- often- and although it was really darkly funny to watch a businessman screaming at the broken machines in Paddington when I was on my way to Heathrow, if I hadn't been able to walk into the ticket office and sort out the problem directly, I would have missed my flight to Vienna. Staff are first-aid trained, and able to help disabled people. And as several of the speakers said, it is the poorest people who use the transport systems to get to work and socialise: if you remove their ability to travel safely and cheaply, you imprison them in their houses.
I didn't agree with everything that every speaker said, but Mick Lynch was great (as always), and the woman from the UCW (who had never spoken in public before) was wonderful. It was particularly interesting to read a copy of The Evening Standard on the tube on the way home, where Sadiq Khan ('fined' seven million pounds from the transport system that had been given to his predecessor as mayor, Boris Johnson, and who had got the completely unsubsidised system into profit before the pandemic) had written an article, and so had Grant Shapps. Shapps' article consisted entirely of a nasty personal diatribe against Khan. There is never any information in hate speech, which perhaps the Tories should have learned when Zac Goldsmith attempted to become mayor of London himself.
I left the rally feeling informed, supported and stimulated. I can't understand why such a lot of people don't understand the value of the work done by people in transport, health and education, and the importance of their work to the economy in general. Not at all, I'm afraid. The reliability and skills of these people underpin the vagaries of business, and economic volatility. It makes no sense for a government to attack them and downplay their value. Nobody likes strikes, and I can tell you from personal experience that nobody likes going on strike either. It's a last resort, isn't it?
Needless to say Bernie Saunders was inspirational. He basically underlined the amorality of money-is-no-object hyper-capitalism. It's so simple.
On to yesterday, when I travelled to Brighton to contribute an interview and some songs to an updated documentary about the Brighton punk scene. It was an overwhelming experience, partly because going back in time to those days is extremely bittersweet. In a nutshell, it was violence mixed with camaraderie and creativity in an immensely powerful subculture that resulted in some significant social changes, notably through the punk and reggae bands' involvement with Rock Against Racism. Music is not a safe lifestyle even for classical musicians, and for rock musicians it's positively dangerous. So many people from our clan have died, often quite suddenly. Darris Golinski was there yesterday, himself a survivor. The last time I saw Darris, Bob Golinski was still alive; he was such a sweet person. And of course Joby, who really was quite legendary in Brighton, also died a couple of years ago. On the other hand I was delighted to see Phil Perfect from the Lillettes, who set up the Brighton Punk website. Johnny from The Piranhas was there, Rosie from the Mockingbirds, and Dave from the Depressions. Stuart, who managed the early version of The Chefs was there, and David McLean who runs the Brighton music Facebook site. It was great to see Attila the Stockbroker, who was whistlestopping for an hour or so in the middle of an enormous tour, and I'm looking forward to playing Glastonwick next year.
And on to today, when the Kylie covers album in aid of Macmillan has been released. It's here, in case you'd like a copy. My contribution was Can't Get You Out Of My Head, surely one of the best songs ever! https://godisinthetvzine.bandcamp.com/album/come-into-my-world-a-collection-of-kylie-minogue-covers-2