Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Monday, September 18, 2023
A while ago, the designer Russ Bestley got in touch with me to ask if I'd be interested in reading Pauline Murray's autobiography, Life's A Gamble, and writing a short review for the back cover. No question of it, yes!
I suppose everyone's life is unique, but Pauline's had a particularly extraordinary journey through life. There was so much here that I recognised, especially in the odd 'world' of the north east of England in the 1960s and 1970s. Poles apart in terms of background (although I had a bit of a shock to my system when I came south to Brighton Art College in the 1970s and discovered that I wasn't posh!), there is a particular 'thing' about the north east and the way it seems cut off from everything else that makes you either give up and stay there, or have to escape.
My escape was to go to an art college as far away as I possibly could; Pauline's was to get together with a fellow musician, and make music as soon as she could- and go to as many gigs as she possibly could, too.
The book is a riveting read, and last night she talked through some more episodes of her life to a rapt and loving audience that included both her son and her daughter. In between stories of her life, she played songs from each different part of her musical journey, which worked very well to consolidate the changes that happened to her as she toured and recorded with different bands. She had a lovely guitar (I think it was a Martin) and was in very good voice, playing confidently and with a degree of strength that shows how powerful she has become as a solo artist.
After a break, Gaye Black joined her on stage and did a short interview before throwing everything open to questions from the crowd. Gaye and Pauline are long-term friends, and you could tell from their rapport in this part of the evening. It was like sitting round a table with them and having a laugh.
I hadn't planned on staying so long (still on the planet Mars with antibiotics and earache) but it was so nice to be there that we managed to stay almost till the end. There were lots of interesting people to talk to: Pauline and her Offsprogs of course, Gaye and Eric, Simon McKay fresh from a theatrical production and still missing Fenella; Chris Plummer, and Steve from Retroman Blog with his partner Mayumi. It was a slightly different crowd from normal: I suppose the Penetration and Invisible Girls fans. My favourite story, especially because of writing about the attitudes of producers to female artists, was the recoridng of Pauline's vocal in an Invisible Girls track by Martin Hannett. She sang it in the vocal booth, got no feedback from him, and the track simply started again, so she sang it again- six times. Eventually, she went into the control room, and he was fast asleep under the mixing desk!
Thanks, Pauline, for a really different and welcoming Sunday evening.
Thursday, September 14, 2023
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
Trailblazer is the name I have just given to the small slug that lives in my house. In the morning, I can see where it's been, blazing a silvery trail across the rug. It's rather confused: there are many changes of direction. In this respect it's like many human beings that I know, including myself.
Monday, September 11, 2023
This is Hamsto, a drawing to be auctioned for the Wasbo Derek new album fund. I was sorry not to be able to play their afternoon fundraiser at the Prince Albert in Brighton, but I'm singing backing vocals for Robert at The Lexington that night (cue a lot of 'shouting in a bucket', not about Robert but about something else).
Anyway- the fundraiser will be great- Vic Godard is also contributing a drawing and I believe Johny Brown is due to do a solo set, and there will be more music too. The date for that is Saturday 14th of October in the afternoon so do go along if you live in Brighton!
This weekend? I had a lovely lunch in York with Mick, June, Laura and Danny. Although it was a sweltering day, June had booked us into a restaurant in the old Assembly Rooms that was huge, airy and relatively cool. We managed to relax and catch up for a very nice three hours before I dashed through the heat to the train home. I'm looking forward to playing in Hull on the 5th of December again with Graham Beck at a record store called Wrecking Ball. I'll post the ticket link soon!
Friday, September 08, 2023
I had such a huge list of things to do. It built up over the week and became almost unmanageable.
One of the things was to paint the garden gnome. I haven't really got much of a garden, just an overstuffed back yard, but the gnome had become more and more dilapidated and really needed a coat of paint.
I cracked open the red enamel and got to it: the right soft brush, a tissue, a little stirrer...
The paint was mad: dribbly, smelly and seemingly having a life of its own. Soon, it was all over my hands and everything I touched. It splashed on to my best green shorts, and while I was panicking about that and trying to tear off a bit of tissue and open the white spirit, the paintbrush flipped over and splashed the table and the floor. And a pen. Red paint dribbled all over the gnome's neck and I had to rest it on the side of the sink and stop it from dribbling on the sink too.
I had to put the shorts in the washing machine because the tissue disintegrated all over them because the white spirit dissolved it.
This was so exhausting that I went to lie down a bit. It was so hot.
I fell asleep for two hours, and as a consequence, didn't do anything else on the list.
Wednesday, September 06, 2023
The portrait that I did for the Nurse at the Demo got lost in the post so it seemed best to deliver it personally. It was an excellent chance to return to The Hub in West Kensington, and see some of my art workshop pals at the same time. Alas, the Nurse had been held up, but I had a quick chat with my pals and said hello to the current, third artist in residence, Adam, before heading up to Earl's Court to meet Offsprog Two for a cup of tea.
On the way there, I spotted Sol, the second artist in residence, in the gallery where I'd had my own show. Nestled in his paintings, he laughed as he told of a five-year old who'd come in and told him he should do better. Children are always blunt! I love his work, anyway.
Then just outside the tube station, a tube worker I thought I recognised was having a fag break. 'Excuse me, are you the person a did a portrait of, with your colleague?'. It was! he said thank you, and that the picture was on the wall of their rest room. They hadn't been there when I'd delivered their portrait and I was touched that they had hung it on the wall.
Here's Sol with his work:
Monday, September 04, 2023
Sunday, September 03, 2023
Saturday, September 02, 2023
Thursday, August 31, 2023
I had twice as many of these printed as CDs made. The CD sold out, and now I have a whole load of these left over. To encourage people to buy them and colour them in, I started doing it myself figuring out that if I did that people would see how nice they could look in full colour. It took bloody ages to do two colours on each page. I am pondering whether to put books like this on Bandcamp tomorrow but I'm not sure yet!
I didn't in the end because it took so long to colour the pages! Here's a link to the book and download codes if you'd like to have a go yourself: https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/merch/the-sea-chord-lyrics-book-digital-album
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
For all you south coasters, Stories from the She Punks is going to be screened at the Electric Cinema in Hastings on the 16th of September, supported by a punk choir! Now that's something I'd like to see!
Ticket link here: https://www.electricpalacecinema.com/whats-on/stories-from-the-she-punks
Monday, August 28, 2023
You know what, it was a really enjoyable afternoon. Attila asked me to play for an hour and I was a bit concerned because most of my gigs are 30-40 minutes long, but it was nice to have the time to kind of 'unfold' over a longer period of time. Also, after such a long drive, it felt worth it! Big luv to Attila for appreciating my music and inviting me to fill a gap after another band pulled out. The whole afternoon was a nice surprise, and it took a lot less time to drive back afterwards.
Yesterday afternoon, Wreckless Eric was playing (along with a lot of other artists) at the Clerkenwell Festival. Last year it was Slady. Someone has a great idea of programming for the glamorous 50-something crowd who turn up for the beer and the vintage stalls. The crowd was impeccably attired in their Sunday Best and very enthusiastic. Debsey and Paul from Birdie were there, Ian Button too; Micko Melletronic, Mike Slocombe in tartan and a bowler hat, Fifi Russell, Chris Plummer, Gaye Black and Eric, Spizz, Ian Damaged and Alison Wonderland, and of course Amy Rigby. Circling, wandering, eating ice cream and finally enjoying Eric's humour and his songs, it was a lovely lazy sunny afternoon. I particularly liked the Dachsund who gently howled along, accompanying Eric's singing at a low volume appropriate for its leg-length.
And by jove, my own new songs have suddenly started appearing. They also have been on strike, but here they are, bustling through my head as I'm driving or trying to sleep. About time, too.
Friday, August 25, 2023
I'll be playing this, I'll have the CDs and some vinyl to sell, and I hope to see you South-Coasters there!
Monday, August 21, 2023
I can't believe it's been so long since I did a posting.
We have had to cancel the McCookerybook and Rotifer gig at West Hampstead Arts Club; two train strikes had knocked out 80% of people's ability to get there. It's awful to cancel gigs but there was no alternative. It took a lot of time to undo all that.
On Thursday and Friday, I went to Rob and Amelia's in Tenterden to do a two-day music production/mixing course run by Ian Button. We were his guinea pigs, along with Steve from European Sun and Marlody on Thursday and a live sound engineer called Fran on Friday. I've come back with a head full of information which I can't wait to put into practice.
After lamenting my inability to write any new songs, ideas are appearing at inconvenient moments such as when I'm driving. I think I need to complain more; every time I complain, I think of another idea. I also realised that the feeling I have that all my new songs sound the same is because I write them all on the same guitar. Durrr!
You can't really illustrate a person having ideas, but here's a drawing of some people at this year's May Day Parade that I did at Wednesday Drawing Club with Darren Riley. Just the two of us, but good bantz nevertheless. Darren was lino-cutting a fabulous and slightly creepy face with taped-up eyes.
Sunday, August 13, 2023
Saturday, August 12, 2023
I'm not quite sure why I felt so driven to see this film at the cinema. I'd never bought the silly toys for my Offsprogs and was quite miffed when their childminder turned up one day with a whole Gladstone bag stuffed with her own daughter's ex-Barbies. Some while later, I heard thumping from upstairs. It was Offsprog Two whacking the chest of one of them hard against her bedroom wall to flatten it's pneumatic breasts.
Because of my short attention span I went for a swim beforehand, and asked at the cinema how long the trailers lasted. Twenty five minutes was a long enough time to cross the road and read the day's paper with a coffee.
It has literally taken me 24 hours to realise that the crap lyric of the intro song was deliberate. The film is so cleverly put together that it swipes you from all sides. It's definitely not about dolls, that's for sure. It's not anti-men, either, although some people seem to have read it that way. It's one of the funniest films I've ever seen, and one of the best. It parodies so many films: Toy Story, Westerns, even, I think, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It takes a seconds-long pop at Elon Musk and Richard Branson ('Yay, Space!'), the fact that it's seconds long being the whole point.
It's very emotional in places, all the more so because those hits happen suddenly in the midst of hilarity.
At the end, I thought how meaningless Jordan Petersen and Andre Tate's diatribes are, because they can't cope with humour. There are no guns here, and no rapes. What the Kens really like is horses. And Barbie cheerily and innocently tells some construction workers who try to undermine her by commenting about her body and what they'd like to do to it, 'I have no vagina!'.
She is White Saviour Barbie, who thinks elder women are beautiful. Indeed the former Ugly Betty is here too, from the human world, being beautiful both in appearance and deed.
This is a film that has so many hidden depths I know I've missed loads of them. I burst out laughing several times and cried twice, against my better judgement. Thank heavens for Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, who held out for their principles and have created a simultaneous critique and celebration of just about everything. Wonderful.
Thursday, August 10, 2023
Yowling, howling, snarling, yapping, whimpering: it was all go out the back last night.
Fox cubs were squabbling and took their fight right across the back gardens. Finally, two of them settled on the bamboo sunshade diagonally across from my window. One was restless, and the other wanted to sleep; the restless one watched my neighbour in her kitchen, then tried to rouse the other for a bit of a tussle.
There was more scrapping, and it tried to be more persuasive with a gentle cooing whine. No deal. Eventually, it settled down to sleep too.
So did I.
Wednesday, August 09, 2023
After all the dashing around, I wanted to just sit and listen, so I went to the Literary Stage to Robert Lloyd's interview with John Robb.
I was really sorry to miss their gig on the Sunday night, but according to Attila the Stockbroker, it was incredible. I have to see them next time they are in London.
Last thing I saw was half of the Only Ones set. They were amazing. The sound was absolutely perfect, they were well-rehearsed, and I wished I could have seen the whole thing but I was really daunted by the thought of walking back to the hotel alone through the clouds of pissheads on Saturday night in Blackpool! What a pity to miss such great song writing. I would have loved to hear Lovers of Today played live.
Getting back to Old Smokey was a bit of a nightmare because of the industrial action. Don't the train companies realise that they need to settle this? It's not the workers we blame, it's the companies, for trying to run a rail service on a shoestring. I got home more than an hour late.
Next day was my brother James's birthday and I went to see him and sit in the garden quietly with a cup of tea. Bliss after all the travelling.
Then last night, I had a solo gig at the Hope and Anchor. Offsprog One and her friend came, and we were offered miniature drinks by a very friendly woman who came downstairs to watch Jack Hayter's set with us- which was really great, actually: sort of country blues. After that there were two Beefheart-influenced bands and then me, using every last scrap of energy and a voice worn out from yakking to everyone. I even managed to get an encore! Photo by Jack.
I hope to see Stephen Wood's band Trees and the Slipway again soon (he was the organiser alongside Simon Bromide and Spinmaster Plantpot, who unfortunately was ill). Amazing that Bilkis showed up, who I haven't seen for years, and one of the trio of Dutch men who came to the Helen and the Horns in Amsterdam 40 years ago! Blimey! It wasn't an overpopulated gig but what it lost in quantity it more than made up for in quality. Debsey and Paul from Birdie? I'll take that!
Monday, August 07, 2023
I'm going to write in two parts because I'm tired, and some of my photos are still on my phone. I got there on Friday, having lost almost £100 on what looked to be an incredibly dodgy hotel, booking into another one that was also incredibly dodgy. But they all are, in Blackpool. The next day someone told me about pulling the curtains in their hotel room and the whole lot, rail and all, fell to the floor. Last year, Gina and me were crammed up against the pool table for breakfast in the recreation room. This year, well they served mile in the china teapot and water in a stainless steel one with teabags alongside, and I had about a teaspoonful of cold baked beans for breakfast on the second day. There's a research project for someone: find a decent hotel in Blackpool!
Conversation in the street is usually about rehab (and rehab not rehabbing) which is tremendously sad in a town throbbing with bars and boozers, with no obvious money to spend on anything. Blackpool council needs a hefty boot up the arse. They could do a lot more to divert the profits from the tourist trade (which must be HUGE) towards the town's poor people and give them a better quality of life. A huge Sainsbury's has quite obviously drained the lifeblood from many smaller shops and businesses, and has rather meanly closed it's café. You can't make a town middle class by building a huge Sainsbury's. That comes with good education and proper sports and recreational features that local people can access cheaply, and maybe a bit of culture too.
I heard that the local businesses much prefer Rebellion to the numerous stag and hen parties that descend on the town, mainly because almost all punks are courteous, respectful and tolerant. The whole of the gorgeous Winter Garden is turned over to the festival, an amazing camp and opulent setting for the peacockery and exuberance of the punters who show up in droves to participate either as audiences or performers. I've lost track of the people who said 'See you at Rebellion', and then I never actually saw them. Joe Davin, Molly Tye; I know Shanne was there because I saw her photographs. I saw the sound guy from last Sunday at Bannermans in Edinburgh going down an escalator. We'd said 'See you at Rebellion', but I couldn't remember his name even though we spoke for ages, and I couldn't remember what stage he was working at either. He was simply too far away to call over to. I went to watch Cassie Fox and her band I, Doris in the opera house, then saw Attila the Stockbroker's set on the Almost Acoustic stage in the incredible Spanish Suite. I spoke a bit to John Robb who was signing copies of his book, and chatted to Gaye and Eric at their stall in the stall bit. Then I spotted Dorothy Max Prior, who I was to interview about her book 69 Exhibition Road, and went to say hello. After that, I went for a walk on the seafront and scoffed a Mr Whippy but it was cold, so I returned to the heaving punk refuge of the festival. Exhausted by all that, I had a cup of tea then was just heading back to the hotel to collect my thoughts, when I heard some great music emanating from one of the ground floor rooms. It was a band called Noah and the Loners, fronted by a trans guy with an immense amount of energy. They were so good that I stopped to watch them for about six tightly-played and powerful songs before my ears told me it was rest-time, and I headed back via Henry Rollins at the Opera House, whose relentless staccato delivery of tales from his abusive childhood finished me off.
Next day, I had a lot to do. I'd rehearsed the routes the day before, and had roughly half an hour to get between venues. I started of with Max's interview, which went very smoothly largely because she has done a lot of these things; this was my first public interview, but we'd talked about what she'd like to focus on, and I was particularly keen on her talking about the nightclub Louise's where she'd hung out for many nights back in the day. There's no detailed description of it anywhere else, probably because music journalists weren't allowed in, and the whole scene was so reminiscent of life at The Alhambra in Brighton (although I didn't mention that), that I was keen for her to talk about it more. She read a passage about it from the book, and read again later when we finished off by talking about Adam and the Ants first gig at the ICA, which was actually hilarious.
I then had to hotfoot it to the Spanish Suite, where I heard Charlie Harper finish his acoustic set with the song Streets of London. Just like last year, when I followed a wild and popular band, the crowds melted away after he'd finished, although a surprisingly large number stayed and... Here come the Nightingales! Here come Gaye and Eric! Here come Damian, Mandy and her partner! Here come Herman and Gerie! Here come Darren and Becky! What a nice surprise to feel so supported and applauded; last year felt much tougher for some reason. I got plenty of applause too, and newly energised I raced back to the backstage area of the Literary Festival where Jenny, Dominic and Deia, (the former two the instigators of this whole thing) were chatting with Max, Tara Rez and Cathi Unsworth (who I'd never met before). Some genius of a stage manager had made coffee! Hooray! We started conversing before we even hit the stage, and then ably guided by Deia we talked about all things from finding your way through life as a female, to memoirs and mapping (essentially, psychogeography). It was an very interesting panel to be part of: we all have such different life experiences, but have survived and thrived regardless of the ways that other people have tried to define us (and often, shut us up).
We wandered around and heard some amazing music coming from the Empress Ballroom: it was Rumkicks, a charming, loud and tight threesome of South Korean women who had absolutely nailed their sound to a tee. They were really, really excellent: energetic, tight, tuneful and sharp-shooting their music and their repartee to a stunned and appreciative audience.
Later, I watched Rob Lloyd's interview with John Robb, and went to see the Only Ones.
But more tomorrow!
And thanks to Cassie Fox for this! https://www.punktuationmag.com/15-bands-not-to-be-missed-at-rebellion-festival/
Wednesday, August 02, 2023
Tuesday, August 01, 2023
Three cheers! More gigging coming up.... I'll be at Rebellion doing:
Interviewing the enchanting Dorothy Max Prior on the Literary Stage: 3.20- 3.50
Playing the Acoustic Stage: 4.20- 5.00
And generally hanging out to see and hear things at this wonderfully colourful festival!
Glasgoespop happens in an old part of the University of Glasgow that is perfectly matched to the music and the audience that land there on this temporary weekend. I'd say that the majority of the audience, and probably the band members, are at least educated to graduate level, whether at a traditional university or a red-brick former polytechnic, so this would feel very much like home. Wood panelled, stained glassed, with an air of permanence and stability: what's not to love? It's a gorgeous place.
A very large group of musicians, and an extraordinarily large group of people who came to see us play, were accommodated comfortable in a series of different bars, a green room and a beautiful chamber with a balcony where we all played.
There was so much music- and it was all great! I'd decided to see just a few performances so my ears didn't get worn out, but the thing was, you met people and then wanted to see them play. The BVs were great, Jeanines were just as wonderful as I'd expected (see later), and Even As We Speak were a revelation. The Loft were really on form. By then, I was exhausted and went back to the hotel for a rest. I was sorry to miss Stevie Jackson and Friends, but I simply hadn't expected to be so absorbed by it all.
On Saturday me and Robert kicked off the music for the afternoon, after the Hungry Beat book chat. I was scared, but I needn't have worried: I think we did OK. That's us above (photo by Lee Grimshaw)
I was particularly charmed by UK Highball, especially as one of them had a home-made Chefs badge. I loved their unison singing and their pippity-poppity drum machine. The Luxembourg Signal (hi Beth!) were fabulous, James Kirk (formerly of Orange Juice) was guitartastic, and Birdie: well, what songsmithery! I didn't last till the end and missed BMX Bandits and Robert Forster (who I'd directed to the cafés on the Great Western Road after he got lost).
Oh boy, Kenji and Tita, what a great time we had! So much talking, listening, socialising. And the security staff were sweethearts, and the sound and stage management crew were lovely. It's amazing to play such a huge gig and experience so little stress. That is down to your organising, you dynamic duo of indie angels! Thank you for inviting us to play!
On to Sunday (and this is why I was conserving energy, for verily I'm ancient). I travelled over to Edinburgh on the train for a gig at Bannermans with Jeanines and their friends Mt Misery. There was a mix-up over their accommodation that had to be sorted but everything turned out OK in the end. Mt Misery are a charming guitar band with judicious use of occasional keyboard; apparently they have been touring with Jeanines. Not a bad crowd in for a Sunday. This was a solo gig for me, and I was very happy that people showed up to see me play, including a chap who'd been at the Ho-runs gig many years ago, and Neil Cooper and Duncan and Sarah from Sunday Drawing Club. It was fun! The sound engineer was a dude and gave Jeanines a great sound. They sing like mermaids do- lovely harmonies, and very, very short songs that say it all in a few well-chosen words with an economy of very catchy pop music. The songs are so short that half the set seemed to be taken up by people clapping, which they did a lot.
There's so much more to say: staying in student accommodation with the Edinburgh Tattoo and breakfasting with the Swiss Army and the Scots Pipe Band; being told off all the time (yes, I'd forgotten the Scottish penchant for scolding). Scottish humour, an example at the open mic before our gig: Singer/songwriter 'I'm just going to take a short break'. Audience member 'Why not take a long break?'. Wondering why the Teeside University's Centre for Professional and Executive Development has a full-size skeleton at one of it's windows (seen from the train). That sort of thing. Gigging is tremendous fun, even if it's exhausting. Time for a rest.
Photos in wrong order: Mt Misery sound checking; Robert and me at the merch stall; Robert Rotifer photographing Robert Forster; dog walking class in Kelvingrove park on Saturday; man practicing putting in the front garden in Glasgow; Kevin and Linda honeymooning; Jeanines signing records; Till, Kenji, Robert and Judith; with Dave and Andy from The Loft; playing under our Big Sign; with Amelia Fletcher.