Audrey Golden will be playing one of my tracks on her show Breaking Glass tonight at 11 p.m. on Louder Than War Radio.
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Hand-painting the last few Pea Soup miniature albums in random Christmassy colours for Bandcamp Friday. I will take some to gigs too- Bristol on Sunday afternoon (Knowle Constitutional Club) and Glasgow on Thursday 15th (Glad Café)
I was in a big club, or theatre- similar to Leeds Royal Variety Theatre, except there was a sloping floor. There was lots of cosy red velvet, and gilt decorations swagged and swooping all around the walls and across the balcony.
We were all sitting at tables with drinks in front of us, listening to a DJ play music. A ska record came on, and suddenly all the young women in the audience got up and formed a conga, dancing around the tables in a jolly, laughing line and being joined by more dancers as they passed their tables. It was wonderful.
As the music carried on, the conga line gradually started to fade. Soon there was nothing and nobody left to be seen.
'Don't worry', said my friend at the table, 'they'll fade back in again soon. They always do'.
But they didn't. We waited and waited, but they didn't.
I was so frightened, I woke up and had to calm myself down.
Monday, November 28, 2022
Sunday, November 27, 2022
What a lovely afternoon! We got there a bit early and chatted to Mark Asbo-bass and Joe Asbo-keyboards before soundcheck time. Everything ran a bit late, or rather everything was laid back, which is entirely as it should be for an afternoon gig. I didn't get to sound check until five minutes after I was due to be on stage for my set. I thought there'd be nobody there but as soon as the doors opened, about 40 people flowed in, including Pete, Lisa and Jonathan, Steve Clements and June Miles-Kingston of the Mo-Dettes and her husband. The atmosphere was so friendly you could scoop it up in handfuls, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing, with Steve the super-sound-engineer behind the mixing desk and everyone in the audience willing to sing At The Bathing Pond with me. This was supposed to be a gig shared with my brother James McCallum, who was still coughing after a bout of Covid, so our bro-and-sis spectacular with Chefs songs has been put off till the New Year, and our London date at The Bestey Trotwood on the 25th of January will now be our first together-gig.
Fortunately for me, the venue mis-spelled my name not only once but twice, and the smutty 'McCockerybook' poster was the inspiration for the ever so slightly smutty bathing pond song, which you can hear, here: https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/track/at-the-bathing-pond
I sort of wished I'd had time to work out Thrush (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRTSyKJUjQU) to play under the circumstances, or perhaps Three of Them (https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/track/three-of-them) but kept The Chefs covers to just Let's Make Up (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIIf0ihJRe8) on this occasion.
I finished with The Bad Apple song, and here's part of it:
So here come Wasbo Derek! But where was Jem?
'Downstairs!', said the audience, knowledgeably.
For a moment the band was Priceless (see what I did just there?), and Mark bravely began to sing a folk-song, solo. But Jem charged in, and the set began. They played 100% more tightly than last time I saw them, when they were just getting used to their new drummer Kaya Kendall, who I was happy to see plays without cymbals (oh so very Bow Wow Wow, and so very effective!). We clapped for Brian, who was very much there in spirit, even though the band has an entirely new set. Darcy guitarred for England, Joe boosted the sound perfectly with his keyboards, Mark underpinned the lot with his deftly-wielded bass, and Jem roared though the songs with such bonhomie that I can't imagine anyone who walked in feeling sad could possibly not have walked out happy. I love the Be Nimble song all the more for being free of Teams and it's horrible boosterish jargon now I'm no longer an academic, and the Nice song was remarkable. Jem commanded 'Sway' almost nonchalantly, and immediately the whole audience started swaying in perfect synchronisation. How that happen?
Kaya came out from behind the drums to sing a poignant song about trafficked (I mistyped that as 'traffucked', perhaps aptly) women working in nail bars, and their fellow-travellers perishing in containers on their journey to the UK as refugees. It was really effective: she has a great singing voice and it was all the more powerful for being embedded in the general silliness of some of the other songs. The new material is oh-so catchy and it was great to hear it all again. I do so love Asbo Derek, both as individual people and as a band. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend a chilly November afternoon.
Last band of the day was Dog of Man, a band bigged-up by Attila the Stockbroker today on his F*cebook page. They are a four-piece, led by an accordion player who looked as though he could have managed the whole set as a solo performer. But they also had guitar, bass and drums, really excellent players who put in a powerful set: I made mental notes along the lines of 'Prodigy meets Queen meets Black Sabbath', but I'm usually completely wrong, and will probably be corrected at some point.
The Prince Albert is a venue that, like the Lexington, in London feels like home to me. It's wonderful to be on that stage and in that company, including the little fly (probably more a midge than a fly) that always passes across the stage at head-level, every time I play there.
I wonder if it's recording little midge bootlegs to sell to its mates?
Friday, November 25, 2022
Thursday, November 24, 2022
I've almost lost my voice, but it was good to work so hard at getting them right. Here he is at the kitchen table, cooking up a musical storm. I think he's had a text come in on his phone.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Different forms of storing and sharing music are intriguing. Ultimately, sound is just movements in the air picked up by our bones and our eardrums, yet we have used our ingenuity as humans to capture organised sounds and communicate them to each other, sometimes against the odds, for centuries.
I saw this event advertised online, and because Heavenly Films events are always worth going to, and at the moment evenings need a change of gear after spending all day poring over a hot illustration or two, I decided to take a punt and go along.
The event was happening on the top floor of Foyles, which has become noticeably swankier in recent years. I wonder if they still treat their workers really badly like they did back in the day?
Anyway, the evening was introduced by the author Travis Elborough, who was accompanied onstage by a little lamp with a high-end lampshade that made it a clarsy kinduva night before it even started. The film, Roentgenizdat: The Strange Story of Soviet Music On the Bone (by Stephen Coates and Paul Heartfield) was neat, concise, packed with content, and was told by the protagonists in the peculiar activity of cutting songs on to specially-shaped discarded hospital x-rays for illicit distribution in the USSR. When a cutting machine (DIY and based on a template) was confiscated, another was put together immediately. As many as 50 of the discs themselves could be packed into the sleeves of overcoats to be sold on the street; one chap adapted a tennis-racket cover to hold his stash of rock'n'roll or jazz bootlegs. Each disc boasted the ghostly trace of someone's hand, perhaps, or a broken leg. The guys called the discs 'ribs', and told stories of bandits stealing their merchandise and/or their money: "Give us your Ribs, or you'll get a knife in your ribs". Forbidden Russian music also featured, and the whole phenomenon disappeared after the Soviet authorities gave permission for households to have reel-to-reel tap recorders. Apparently there is now a thriving trade in fake Ribs on eBay.
It was utterly fascinating, and the writer Stephen Coates fleshed out the ribs of the story in the interview with Travis afterwards. He has written two books on the subject, X-Ray Audio and Bone Music, and also presents a show on Soho Radio called The Bureau of Lost Culture.
I was so glad I went. Dorothy Max Prior had been sitting in front of me and we had a really nice chat. So many years ago, The Chefs guitarist Carl Evans used to drive her band the El Trains around town. Then I saw Daniel Rachel and had chat to him, rather a motormouth one due to my days of solitary illustration, and Paul Kelly came up to say hello, he of Birdie. It transpired that he and his mate had bought my original Hofner violin bass off me many years ago. Fancy that!
Monday, November 21, 2022
Thank you to Xqui for this lovely remix:
Sunday, November 20, 2022
So here is Beachwalk at number 34 in the Legacy Chart at 365 Radio. Big luv to Amanda Austin for suggesting that I send it to them, and to Dawn Parry and Steve Lillywhite for liking it and putting it on the playlist!
Saturday, November 19, 2022
After a couple of hours drawing, I was really for a rest from the week, so for the rest of the day (aha!) I took time off to socialise.
Gina has been working very hard and very successfully over the last few months, and as usual the traditional 'going out for lunch to celebrate her birthday' was a little later than her actual birthday. We went to Mildred's in Soho, the original vegetarian restaurant which now appears to be vegan. Quite a lot of the bits of the different dishes on the menu weren't available (I presume because of supply-chain issues, because we were very early and they couldn't have run out of them at that time), and having been scared by the waiter that what I'd chosen was extremely spicy, instead I chose fennel sausages and mash. I have hated sausages for a long time, and basically ordered them because the dish looked simple. Much to my surprise they were absolutely gorgeous and I scoffed the lot.
Gina suggested that we went to Third Man Records, who she's now signed with. They are Jack Whites' company, and having missed her single launch on Friday last week, she wanted to give me a copy of her latest single, Wish I Was You/No Love. What a snazzy shop it is- all yellow and black, very wasp! Everything in the shop is in identical shades of those colours, even the turntables and the very stylish clothing. We chatted in the basement about her forthcoming interviews and releases; things are going to be really exciting for her in the next few months, and not before time. She has grafted hard on her music and art for a long time, and I've seen how both have flourished and consolidated into really interesting and vibrant work.
We went for cake in the pinkest cake shop in the world. The pink was lovely but the cake wasn't, really. It was all designed for Instagram, except you couldn't take photographs because there was some sort of light filter that made photographs come out a dull green colour. Oh dear, such meanness! No name-check for you, swanky cake shop!
I rushed back home to have a Zoom meeting with the author of the children's book that I'm illustrating, which is the first time we've spoken in-almost-real-life. It was a lovely conversation and I'm glad we did it, because I now feel I've got more insight into the book and how it should be. I ought to be working on it now even though it's Saturday, because I'm re-drawing whole pages sometimes. But Come Dine With Me is on. If the people aren't nice to each other, it's back to the drawing board.
Next bit of yesterday's social day was going to Scaledown. I haven't been for ages, and there were lots of people I knew on the bill. I was keen to see at least some of them before the later errand of the day, and I managed to catch the mini-concert on toy piano, which was fabulous, and Felix Mackintosh's experimental dub disco with vocals by Leoncia Flynn. I had a nice chat with Kevin and Mark, and almost ended up filling a space in the bill, but didn't have my guitar to do it. I missed Bettina Schroeder and James, Lucy Sieger, and Lee, Cos and Marina but I know there are more gigs for all of them that I can catch soon. Bettina gave us all a link to her latest musical collaboration with Xqui, who coincidentally has just done a dub mix of one of my own tracks, which I'll post soon. Nice to see Peter Tainsh out too.
Thanks to the Elizabeth Line, I was in Farringdon in the twinkling of an eye. I roared up the street to The Betsey Trotwood, did my drop-off, and went upstairs to the Papernut Cambridge album launch. It was very full up there, and I was nervous about the crowd, but eventually I opened my eyes and sat next to Kieron Phelan, where I noticed Judith, Oscar, two Kentish Roberts (Rotifer and Halcrow) playing with Ian, and Pete Astor and various other familiar faces. Ian was playing two sets of Toni Tubna songs mixed with his latest album songs; originally he'd asked me to sing backing vocals from the audience but I think it would only have been me (the Roberts did the stage BVs), and it was almost a relief just to be able to sit and listen. Ian is a really good song writer; all of the set was enjoyable but there were a couple of songs that took my breath away. Oddly, they had simple structures, but the melody of each of them was so divine that there was no necessity for over-decoration or any sort of complexity. After the first, Kieron leaned towards me and whispered 'Now that is a lovely song!'. I also particularly connected with the song about the American train ride. I've chatted about it before with Ian, because although his American train went in a different direction to the one that I took, we both had the same feelings of awe and excitement about what we saw of that enthralling continent outside the train window. Ian's going to send me a CD so I'll be able to share at least one of them in due course.
Rarely have I engaged in so much socialising in one day. I woke at six this morning but managed to persuade my body that six is too early for chilly autumn mornings. Hence I'm running late today: the morning I'd planned as an illustration session didn't materialise. Instead, I read The Guardian cover to cover. However, Come Dine With Me has rather nasty participants in this episode, and I feel an afternoon's drawing is in order.
Friday, November 18, 2022
Thursday, November 17, 2022
When I left my lecturing job I imagined it being a real struggle to leave behind the work routine, with several months of floundering around trying to establish something different in life. But I responded spontaneously to a request posted on F*cebook for an illustrator for a primary school children's book on sustainable clothing, and started working on that almost straight away. It's still got a way to go: I'm doing a lot of re-drawing partly in response to comments from the author, and also partly because I want to feel proud of the collaboration myself. It's due to be finished in December, and the project has taught me a lot about pacing my work as an illustrator, and when to start again when a drawing isn't working (amongst other things). It's so similar to making music: I've rejected whole tracks, and even whole songs, when they are travelling in the wrong direction.
I enrolled on a life-drawing class to feed my observation skills, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of that. I'd like to do more, because I've become a real fan of adult education. Before Covid I spent three years of learning to play the drum kit not because I wanted to drum in a band, but because I wanted to hang out with Shanne Bradley, who suggested it. I carried on because I realised the drummer's secret: drumming makes you feel great. It's therapeutic both physically and mentally.
People think that's because you're whacking the shit out of the drums, but actually if you're a good drummer you get the sound and the beat out of the skins because you control the 'bounce' and co-ordinate what your four limbs are doing. This leaves no room in your brain for worrying thoughts. Even two hours of drumming clears your head, and takes all the tension out of your upper body.
Miraculously, even though I can't read normal music, I can read drum scores. We were taught from the beginning to link the sound to the dots, and this is probably how it happened. I'm not sure if I could do it without the score, and that's the conun-drum (!).
Pupils came and went in the classes; one of the best terms was the one where the whole class was female. Being an evening class, there were lots of different standards, cultures and ages. The teacher suggested that we should work towards a concert, and we started to think about repertoire. Almost as a joke, I suggested Paranoid by Black Sabbath, and the teacher found it on Youtube. Instantly the whole class perked up, and even the beginnerest drummer (a young Spanish woman), started playing along with the 'pah-pah-PAH' part of the rhythm. The joy of it! You don't have to be a 1970s Brummie metal fan to know that Paranoid's a good song. At the show, a line of four female drummers joyously thrashed their way through it, to appreciative applause from our friends and family.
Life throws up moments when you think things like 'I could never in a million years have imagined that I'd be sitting drumming to a Black Sabbath song with four other women!'. Three unbelievables in one sentence.
This digression into unexpected drum moments isn't too much of a digression: yesterday I was accepted for an artist-in-residence post. Again it came from F*cebook, that often deservedly-maligned social media site. As soon as I saw the advertisement, I knew exactly what I would do if I was given the opportunity, and now that I have (starting in January), it's made me so excited that my creative brain has gone into overdrive. I'll be posting what I've done, but yet again it's an unbelievable moment.
So I have switched track from being and educator and musician to being a musician and artist. There is still an animation project-in-waiting, too.
I could spend a lot of thought dwelling on some terrible things that have happened to me, and some terrible people I've known. But this is the thing: if you fill your life with as much curiosity and creativity as possible, those dark things ebb away into insignificance and can't torture you any more. If you can fill your life with invention whether art, music or writing, you stand a chance of changing your mental environment from a threat to a celebration. I'm not naive enough to think that if we were at war or under threat from life-changing natural disasters, this approach would have any power. I know we don't live in The Sound of Music where we can sing My Favourite Things and suddenly the sun will shine every day and there will be world peace; we can't just Turn That Frown Upside Down. But I have seen what being creative can do for people, and how empowering it can be. This is not just for me personally, but also from the experience of 30 years of teaching, running workshops and listening to people speak about their own expressions of themselves through what they do in the wonderful worlds of art and music.
The bottom line is: any opportunity you have to try something new in these worlds of creative expression is always worth the challenge, whether as a producer or as an audience. More often than not it's worth doing just for the process, and just for the adventure. The sense of agency is quite astonishing.
End of early morning ramble!
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Sunday, November 13, 2022
There could not have been two more different gigs, but both equally fun and both equally adventurous.
We had a wander around Leicester before the gig, and I bought almost the last two-bowls-for-one-fifty satsumas and apples at the market.
Meanwhile, at the Soundhouse, multiple band members were arriving. Ruth Miller was there already, and there was an air of excitement about the venue. The sound engineer had an apprentice (first time I've seen that for a long time), which reflected the whole vibe of the night: open, friendly and enabling.
The first band on was Velvet Crisis, who swapped vocalists and instrumentalists throughout their set. Their songs were great, and contrary to what might be expected from a band so new, extremely well played. Their drummer, who I think was maybe the least experienced, had only been playing since January this year, but you couldn't tell. The between-songs talk was very funny, and the joyful energy emanating from the stage was palpable. All of the singers could sing extremely well, and the deliberate throwing out of standardised song formats served the band well too. I watched with Katie and Kevin from The Lovely Basement: I couldn't believe it when they walked in, but Katie was in Leicester for a conference and they came along and had great time.
From the stage I could see that the audience ratio was more than 50% women, which is really unusual for a gig that I play these days. I think older single women are reluctant to go out to gigs under normal circumstances, and the experience of playing to women who I knew would understand where my lyrics come from was an unusual pleasure. I had tweaked my set to include a sing-along version of Women of the World, and also The Song of the Unsung Heroine, which both seemed really appropriate. It can be challenging to play a solo set after a lively band, but the audience seemed happy, so I was too.
The Verinos were the headliners, and they burst into song with the same exciting energy as Velvet Crisis. Whereas Velvet Crisis almost had a Cramps vibe to some of their songs, The Verinos, despite their almost punky sound, definitely had a nod in the direction of the 1960s girl groups in their songs, probably due to the twin lead vocals. Again, this was a really fun set, especially when all the women in the audience were invited on to the set to sing the song 'Don't You Wish You Were In The Band Tonight'. What catchy songs and what a great sound! Real garage band keyboards, strong vocals and memorable melodies.
It was a superlative night- and to crown it all, the next morning a bunch of us had breakfast at the Holiday Inn. All you can eat! Yum! Thank you, Ruth, for inviting me to join you all for such a warm-hearted evening. The craic was as good as the gig! If the other eight older-female bands you've encouraged to get together for the Unglamorous Music project are as good as Velvet Crisis, you'll have revived the entire Leicester music scene in one fell swoop. Read more about it all here: https://theverinos.uk
And then it was off round the Leicester ring road and on to Middlewich. This was an entirely different set up: the musician Gareth Williams has started putting music on at the King's Lock pub, just next to the canal. It's a lovely location, and would be quite spooky if it wasn't for the jolly excellent chip shop across the road. Gareth played a gently witty set of songs, culminating in The Wine O'Clock Willy Waver, a person that we all recognise unless it's us! Chris Tavener followed with a set of hilariously comedic songs, my favourite of which was the one about Generation Z-ers criticism of old (er) people, which I rather wanted the Offsprogs to hear. I was last on, and it's the first time for ages that I've played to a dog, who seemed to quite enjoy it, especially Beachwalk. Kevin and Linda came along and it was lovely to see them again- first time since lockdown, and a proper fan with records to sign. Gareth seemed delighted with the evening, and there was a definite warm and happy vibe in the pub by the time we'd all finished.
Ah Travelodge! Expect nothing and get less! At least the bed was comfortable and the room was warm.
Back at home now, looking through photographs and being bloody glad that live music is back on the agenda, and indeed thriving. We have music and we have audiences: for a weekend I was able to forget the horrors of the moment and exist in music-world, which is surely a million times better than real life, yes it is!
Friday, November 11, 2022
Here's the link to Michelle Ward's Phoenix Radio show from Tuesday!
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Wednesday, November 09, 2022
So I set off early, because I knew that there might be Climate Justice demos on the M25, and I was right. I fully support them, because I know what they are doing works. I did still want to try to get to Essex though. The interview time (11.15) was approaching, and I managed to get my friend to phone the station; by a miracle, Michelle Ward actually answered the phone, and said that if I could get there by 12.30 the interview could go ahead.
In a very sticky double traffic jam (well done, Government, for eradicating hard shoulders on the M25 so emergency vehicles can't get through) on both sides of the motorway, we got diverted off into Essex towns which bore the brunt of the HGVs shuddering through the streets. It took two and a half hours to do a 45-minute journey.
The Satnav couldn't understand why I wasn't obeying it's pleas to redirect me back on to the motorway. I followed a map in my head and drove through Epping Forest in the opposite direction to Margaret Thatcher's instructions (that's the Satnav voice). The Essex villages got smaller, and the roads got windier, more wooded and more flooded. It was all rather beautiful, actually. I saw lots of quirky ancient clapboard houses, small and large. I splashed through long puddles on tiny twisted roads and eventually, with a note of surprise, Margaret told me 'You have reached your destination'.
Michelle made me a cup of tea, and I had a quick soundcheck. Her fellow presenter Bob came to hang out, and we had a good chat. She's been playing Beachwalk after hearing it on Neil March's Trustthedoc show, so I played that and All I want Is The Sun To Shine For You. What could be a better thing to do on a sunny autumn Tuesday? Michelle's a songwriter too, and we had plenty to share with each other about that.
Apart from driving down a mega-flooded road which left a satisfyingly splashy wake behind me, the journey home was effortless. As I said to Michelle, The Musician Always Gets To The Gig.
I will post the link to the show as soon as I have it.
Tuesday, November 08, 2022
Thin pork sausage, peas and beans, spaghetti, rice and tangerines; lumpy custard, crisp French fries, these are foods I idolise. Food we eat to keep us going, food we eat to make us strong: in our bellies we are stowing, eating, eating, all day long.
I left my University job because the management were tolerating hate speech from students; they were prioritising the income from students fees, their business, above the wellbeing of their staff, their resource.
The self-congratulatory things that the University was patting it's own back about, were not happening in the lecture theatres and performance and recording studios.
The final straw for me was witnessing hate speech happening to two staff consecutively, whom I had encouraged to work there. I felt responsible. I looked at the staff profile of the courses I was contributing to, and tried to address an imbalance that I saw there.
The problem is that institutional misogyny and racism have to be acknowledged before it is addressed, and there was no willingness to even acknowledge what was happening. I took the view that if you work for an institutionally racist and misogynist organisation, you are condoning what is going on simply by being there.
I was fortunate in that I have a very basic income now from a part-time pension that I can survive on before my state pension kicks in. I felt that I could take the risk and go; I understand that having principles comes at a price, and that I can afford this price where others can't.
I wonder if people even realise that they are using hate speech? I felt very strongly that with so many white male staff, bad behaviour from male students needed to be addressed by them, and not by women or staff who were from diverse cultural backgrounds and who were experiencing this aggression. We always come across as mummies or aunties or resentful moaners when it comes from us. Learn to be allies, adult men. This is not our fight, it's yours!
Like most people, I use social media, and unfortunately see a lot of hate speech there too. I see 'hate-speech-back': one person says something controversial and nasty, and the response is basically lobbing the unpleasant ball back over the net with just as much offensive content. But we have 'block' buttons and 'unfriend' facilities, don't we? My experiences over the past few months have made me realise that hate-speakers breed more hate-speakers, and create a victory for the proliferation of rage on the internet which is neither productive nor positive. I am learning to walk away and think before I respond to provocation, and will have to work harder at not sharing unpleasantness.
That can be my New Year's Resolution, starting now.
Monday, November 07, 2022
I was going to turn in with the current crappy detective novel, but a conversation with Lisa from The Flatmates reminded me that this blog is the closest thing that I have to a diary. My living room is cosy at the moment- there's a gale blowing into it from somewhere but I'm dressed for the Arctic so writing about the weekend wins over retiring to bed with a paperback.
Our gig in Falmouth was cancelled due to the promoter being ill- but I'd already bought a train ticket and the rail strike on Saturday was due to go ahead, so I decided to travel to the west country a day earlier and just wait for the Dartington gig. I was lucky enough to find a cheap night at Dartington Hall, and didn't realise till I got there how fortunate that was. It's a huge complex of art studios, accommodation, a café and even a pub, centred around the huge mediaeval hall where classical music concerts are held. There are conference rooms too, and lovely gardens and a riverside walk with deer. I managed the lovely gardens, which at this time of year were a sensory delight of autumnal smells and decaying vegetation, with rather an unfortunate soundtrack of braying women who seemed to have been imported wholesale from the posher parts of London. Most of the time they were avoidable, but it's odd how many people think that everybody wants to hear what they have to say. I slipped down some stone stairs under a tree, and soon I could only hear faint hoots in the distance.
It's such an odd place: the furniture is comfortingly shabby but it's all just been repainted in very smart colours. The lock whizzed out of the toiled door and clattered on the floor, and there was no hairdryer and no TV, but very posh toiletries. There's a cinema, which more than makes up for the lack of TVs. I watched The Banshees of Incherin, which was an entirely appropriate film for the setting, before heading back to my room and having a solo rehearsal for the following night. I'd describe it as a retreat. I don't think I've ever had such a nice breakfast. There were even roasted potatoes.
I checked out and walked into Totnes under faint drizzle which became heavier as the day drew on and eventually soaked me to the skin without me realising it. Totnes has to have the best charity shops of any town ever. I could have filled an articulated lorry and driven it home, but I restrained myself to a jacket and a t-shirt, and went for a slap up lunch of pie, cabbage and chips. I spent the afternoon trying to get dry in the Dartington Hall café, before being picked up by the very swanky tour bus that Rocker had hired for The Flatmates tour.
It was so nice to see them again! We drove to Dartington, not far, and set up in The New Lion Brewery. It's one of those venues that reminds me of being young- there's a definite Youth Club feel to it. I played first, and struggled with the chills of being so wet. I was thankful to the audience for being so supportive and singing The Sea with me for Noel, my foster Cousin Ted's husband, who died of dementia earlier this year. I think at the end of the gig we all realised we sounded better out front than we did on stage.
The Phil Wilson Combo includes members of The June Brides, who certainly haven't lost the ability to write good songs. They were a well-rehearsed trio and were the perfect jam in the sandwich between my set and The Flatmates.
As always, The Flatmates pulled it out of the bag. Lisa and Matt are energy bombs, and flanked by Rocker on keyboards and Martin on guitar and driven by Jamie on drums, the upped the positive vibes and played a storming set of short and sweet songs.
Afterwards there was a bit of time to chat to people. A woman in the audience told me that she works with refugees and I was glad to have sung the song. I'd almost put it away in the cupboard for later, but the horrible toxicity of the refugee debate in the UK at the moment means that it hasn't lost its meaning. And who would have thought So Long, Elon would revive itself? Elon Musk is the awful gift that keeps on giving. Oh deary me.
We stayed in a beautiful old house that appeared to have thousands of rooms. At last I could dry out. My fingers during the gig when I was playing had felt like metal skewers that wouldn't bend, and I resolved to have warm hands at all costs the next day.
So off we drove to Oxford with a short stop on the way. We talked about horses, donkeys and guitars: just normal band talk, really. The venue, Port Mahon, transformed itself as the afternoon progressed to evening and the promoter Aidan turned up with tubs of chilli and rice. The sound engineer Beth was lovely and had a simple mixing desk; the night before had been rather challenging to mix, I think.
The first on was Emma Hunter, who creates soundscapes with looped vocals, guitar and drums. Her music is dramatic and atmospheric and was a perfect start to the evening. Next up was Moogieman and the Masochists, who even with a missing member had a rally intriguing sound driven by vintage synths, sax, bass and guitar, plus almost sprachgesang vocals. I really loved their stuff.
For some (very nice) reason, a small and enthusiastic clutch of Chefs fans turned up independently at this gig. They didn't know each other and only said hello just before I went on, but I was charmed by this and because I'd kept my fingers warm (gloves and double jumpers), this was a much more fluid gig to play and I felt really at home on the stage and in the room, which always feels good.
Bang! The Flatmates were off again! Immediately the energy levels in the room rose, the beer slopped on the floor and they launched into their set.
I only saw three songs because I had to leave to catch the bus back to London, which luckily left from just outside the venue. I could still hear them while I was waiting, and I sent them good vibes from the bus stop for the rest of their tour.
So four buses later (one homeless man wanting money, one young guitarist wanting to chat music, one small Romanian gang at the bus stop trying to cadge cigarettes), I was back home in my bed. Big luv to the bus driver who let me travel back from Oxford despite the fact that I hadn't paid enough for my ticket.
My Doctor Martins were still a bit wet, but they didn't win: I did, because a potentially challenging weekend turned put to be a great one. Long live live music! We play for you, we love it, you come to see us play and we hope you love it too. Thanks to Rocker and the gang for a lot of fun and goodwill!
Wednesday, November 02, 2022
Gradually I've managed to persuade little birds to come to the bird feeders in my tiny yard. A large flock of sparrows has the feeders on their radar, but I'm not always around to replenish the seeds.
The sparrows have a strategy: every so often, they send out a scout to see if the feeders have been refilled.
Sometimes I hear the routine.
The scout sparrow has clocked that the feeder's now full of seeds. A few minutes later, the first sparrow returns with a second, the verifier.
'Cheep cheep!', confirms the verifier.
Very soon, the whole flock arrives, taking turns to fill their feathered bellies. Down below, two clumsy pigeons waddle, gobbling up the discarded seeds and trying to work out how the world of feeding works. They clump about, sometimes hoisting themselves wheezily up on to plant pots, grasping the soil with their clumsy claws and uprooting the poor plants willy-nilly. They stare needily into the kitchen window with gimlet eyes, willing me to come out and feed Just Them.
On a separate trajectory, a small set of blue tits find something delicious on the small tree next to the kitchen window. I'm at a loss as to what it is, but they fly diagonally back and forth from the birch tree at the back of the yard to the small tree, narrowly missing the sparrows who fly on a different diagonal.
Occasionally, a robin appears. 'I was always here', he notes. 'Yes, I know', I reply, 'but there's plenty for everyone'. I think he's after the worms that burst out of the compost bin.
During the summer drought, I was putting water out in a round galvanised tin tray, and the sparrows used to drink and take a bath, standing in a circle gripping the lip of the tray with their tiny claws. I went out to refill it one morning and trod in some fox poo: I'd obviously been providing a drinking supply for a thirsty fox too. Such a tiny garden, so much wildlife!
Here is an up-to date gig list; sadly the promoter in Falmouth is ill, and we can't play there this time around. Starts with Dartington on Bonfire Night! Looking forward to hanging out with my friends The Flatmates again- they are gigging round the country at the moment, so do try to catch them if you can!
5th New Lion Brewery Dartington, with The Flatmates
6th Port Mahon Oxford, with The Flatmates http://www.wegottickets.com/af/17/event/557508
11th Leicester Soundhouse, with The Verinos and Velvet Crisis
12th King’s Lock Middlewich with Chris Tavener, Jasmine Allen Estate (pay what you can)
16th Betsey Trotwood London, with James McCallum (The Chefs)
26th Prince Albert Brighton, with James McCallum (The Chefs), Dog of Man and (W)asbo Derek
4th (afternoon) Knowle Constitutional Club Bristol, with Lovely Basement and Arrest! Charlie Tipper
15th Glad Café Glasgow, with Howie Reeve
Tuesday, November 01, 2022
So this is what it feels like to live in a fascist country: free speech equated with hate speech. My head has been buzzing with disappointment, fear, and anger. Time out in Whitby helped, but the Nazi memorabilia in too many of the antique shops didn't. What happened to ethical trading? Verily, the love of money is the root of all evil, as Geoffrey Chaucer pointed out in the Canterbury Tales.
Circling in a grey mood, I received a message from Kenji. Was I going to any of the Chickfactor gigs at the weekend? The whole festival had passed me by: I've been living in a world of organising gigs, stopping the weather from joining me on the sofa in front of the TV or getting into bed with me, and days of drawing. The band I most wanted to see was Rachel Love, and thankfully I was able to get a ticket.
After surviving masks-make-me-cough syndrome (I think it's the hypo-allergenic washing powder), I was able to chat to Kenji and Till a bit before the gig. How great to see them! Then I went upstairs to see the last part of Artsick's set. They are fronted by a duo of women who sing very tightly-arranged vocals, which gives them a distinctive sound of their own; their songs are short and punchy, and they pleased their many fans in the audience.
Before Rachel played, we had a very quick chat. She has her sons in the band, one playing bass and one playing guitar. We remembered that the last time I'd met her eldest son, he was a baby in the dressing room at the LSE where his dad, Captain Sensible was doing something for the City Road Drugs project benefit. So was Robbie Coltrane, and so was I. So much water has gone under the bridge, much of it very dark and turbulent, though some more tranquil and beautiful.
Speaking of beauty, Rachel has become more beautiful as she has got older. She has an elegance to her that is all the more poignant because it isn't artificial. Flanked by her sons plus two of their friends, they embarked on a set of delicately crafted songs, a mixture (sic) of Dollies songs, a couple of covers (Velvets and Margo Guryan) and a handful of songs from more recent recordings, which were simply wonderful. Her song writing has only got better. How can I love someone else's songs so much and not be jealous? Because I could not have written them myself, and I'm so glad they exist.
This was joyous music to listen to, yet I stood and cried through almost the whole set. Why? Because I know Rachel as one of the sweetest women alive and a great mum and because fate has been too cruel to her. Yet here she is, playing her songs surrounded by the love of her sons and their friends, and embedded in a loving audience who are with her every second of her performance as she fights back against it all gently and persuasively. Yes, life is worth living despite it throwing poisonous spears to disrupt our contentment. Not only a great songwriter, Rachel is an inspiration, and I'm so glad to have seen her play. Props to Kenji and Dita, who encouraged her to play live at the Glasgow Popfest this year, leading her sons to understand that she has an audience wherever she chooses to travel.
Debsey joined her for a couple of songs at the end and the affection between the two of them was palpable. Apparently Hester was around at the sound check and I'm sorry to have missed her, and also Debsey's gig with Birdie the following night.
Oh those times: The Chefs were offered a residency at The Moonlight Club and we chose the Dolly Mixture to be our support act. we did a lot of gigs with them, and those friendships forged back in the day don't evaporate. They run through our memory bloodstreams, because they help to forge our personalities. This was a very moving evening, a cathartic gig that realigned my jumbled cells and made me feel strong again. Swimming against what seems like a tide of sewage, you need an island to rest on and take stock: yes, I remember who I am now! Thank you Kenji and Till, Rachel and Chickfactor too for a great evening.