Monday, February 27, 2023

Talking, Drawing, Walking

Despite my decision to withdraw from formal teaching, the day started with an online talk about She's At The Controls for some undergraduate students, more than 150 of them. I think I've realised that an hour's not really enough to slice through the cake and show all the different layers. Ten years' research can sound superficial if there is no foundation of prior knowledge to build on. However, a female student has already contacted me for advice and that is quite encouraging.

Talking about that work is always unsettling because there are so many things that are true and terrible. I was glad to go straight to the studio and continue this drawing, an A2 sized portrait of two street cleaners, one more shy than the other. I can not tell you how proud they are of their job: I just hope there is something in the drawing that conveys this.

Of course, it fits (just) into an A3 size, but then you'd lose the big nothingness around them and that's really important.

I uploaded 14 of the hi-res scans of the drawings to be printed, and then walked along to Kensington High Street to try to persuade Cass Arts to give me a discount on 30 frames. Alas, they were not persuadable and I tubed it home, finshing a trashy crime paperback on the way.

This has been quite a tiring day, but a nice thing happened. Often, people don't want to be photographed, but the manager of the Troubadour in Earl's Court called up and seemed delighted that I want to do a portrait of their sound engineer. Hooray!

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Gina Birch and The Unreasonables at Rough Trade East

Having missed the small gig at the Third Man shop the night before, there was no missing this. 

As soon as we got there we saw Gaye Black and her companion and soon Karina, Terry, Anna and Shirley showed up. It was an exceptionally friendly and supportive audience from the start.

This was a promo gig for the album I Play My Bass Loud, and it was wildly oversubscribed. we were ready for this! Flanked by her new musicians, the songs from the album were brought to life in the most wonderful way. Records always need to sound shiny, but tonight the songs sounded rocky and powerful. The two band members took on a lot of the stress of switching instruments, which happened almost without being noticed, and sorting out the monitor sound. Intensive rehearsals had paid off and then some: this is the first time for a long time that I've seen Gina be able to just sing and perform without having to address some kind of technical issue. 

Uninterrupted, the flow of songs was nothing short of fabulous. The vocals were really well-rehearsed, lead guitar and bass duties shared out between the three of them, and the flow of goodwill from the audience was almost like an additional band member.

I heard my bass line in I Play My Bass Loud the song! There were four of us playing on the recording in addition to Gina: Emily Elhaj (who plays for Angel Olsen), Shanne Bradley, Jane Monro and me. Jane was there too at the gig.

Afterwards there was a huge queue of people to have their albums signed. I will wait for mine. How lovely to have know these songs from their inception (almost), right up until now! 

BTW I sang on some of the tracks as well as playing bass and guitar on some of them, and co-wrote a couple of them too. You can hear Thurston Moore, Anne Wood and of course Youth and more on the album. It's very good and there are plenty of really catch songs on it with very perceptive and 'now' lyrics on them. Hooray for raging elder females!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Online Gig Tomorrow



I'm watching an item on TV on bellringing and a shortage of participants for the coronation. 

I'm a trained campanologist (from when I was 14 and McMum suggested I joined what I couldn't beat, when I complained about the noise) but sorry: no way hosepipe!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

More Drawings

Yesterday I went to Point101 in Hackney to get the first 15 drawings scanned- nine A3 drawings and six A4s. I have asked for a proof for glicee printing- fine art quality, and I'm just waiting for the go-ahead with that.

The community centre closed early and so I left my first attempt at an A2 drawing and decided to start something else (actually, it's still A3 size but just has plenty of breathing space). At home, where everything topples over because of lack of space, I drew this cat 'helping' a little boy to play football. As with all cats everywhere it wasn't quite sure of the rules, but the little boy was happy for the company.

Today's drawing is the chap at the fruit stall. I can't seem to get his foreshortened arm looking right, but his face is OK. I've spent hours drawing today and I'm just having a cup of ginger tea before the art workshop. They are so motivated that a group came last week, even though it was half term and I wasn't around. That's a good result, I think: they sat and drew and chatted. Let's see who shows up today.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Profane Embroidery Group, Whitstable

A couple of years ago I went to Folkestone to show Stories from the She-Punks, and came across the Profane Embroidery Group's work. I've been aware of what they were doing for a while, and jumped at the chance to submit an embroidered duster to their exhibition in Whitstable this weekend. In the Fishslab Gallery there were lots of different takes on 'homemaking', all featuring fruity language that would make a nun's toes curl. The Twelve Taps gin bar was festooned with dusters, many of them so intricately embroidered that they deserved featured billing themselves.

What a great excuse to get out to the coast. It was a grey day, but Whitstable's an interesting place because it's a working fishing port with oyster beds and all. So we had a walk on the beach, along to where we played Hutstock last summer, and had a nice plate of chips as well. 

Now that's a good Saturday!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

All The Things That I Miss

They are all, or mostly all, outside my self- administered brief. And I didn't take photographs.

The market stall woman with the hot water bottle with a pale blue fluffy cover

The man walking along with two huge and magnificent navy-blue parrots on his shoulders

The man with a folded up pile of fake grass

A man loudly throwing up as I photographed a shop window

A shaman in West Kensington dancing and giving us all advice

A number of magnificent elderly ladies in (alas) real fur coats, permed curls and pearls, behatted and generally all done up fancy.

A lovely Bengal cat, 'playing football' with its owner, a little boy.

A woman marching down the road carrying a standard lamp on one shoulder as though it were a rifle.

A nattily-dressed gentleman in a trilby on a mobility scooter.

I am thoroughly embedded in this project!

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Discworld Draft

This is a photograph of an almost finished poster for a Scottish Feeglecon.

I hope they like it. Just got the tattoos to do.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Documentary Drawings

Because I've not been at the studio (horrendous cold), I went there on Wednesday, which was simultaneously a good and a bad idea. The barista whose portrait I'd been keeping back until they gave permission for me to use it seemed to be delighted with the drawing; I carried on along the road and there was an extremely nattily-dressed African academic just on the point of going into a restaurant; I also, with permission of the repair shop manager, photographed a mechanic mending a rather nice motorbike, plus the guy in the carpet shop which sells rolls of fake grass was also delighted to have his photograph taken.

But when I got home I had to go to bed at 7.30 and alas, yesterday I suffered too. I had withdrawn on the credit card of energy and spent the day blowing my nose from dawn till dusk and feeling very grumpy even at things that weren't annoying under normal circumstances. I did manage to do some drawing though: four hours solid, but I think I should have done an A4, rather than an A3 drawing of this particular subject.

Anyway, here's a catch up of the last few drawings. They don't look so dark in 'real life'.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

The Raincoats Last Night At The White Cube

I had an art workshop to do yesterday evening, but afterwards I raced over to the White Cube in Bermondsey to see as much of the Raincoats' set as I could. They had been invited to perform by the artist Imi Knoebel, whose work was being exhibited in the huge exhibition space.

Like a large tunnel, the space where the band was playing was absolutely packed with people who gave off an air of huge warmth and celebration. Every song was bookended by a roar of approval at its outset and wild applause at the end. There should be a gig like this at the beginning of every grey, cold and dull February to add some colour an optimism to the year ahead. Anne Wood, viola player extraordinaire, was with them, weaving between Gina and Anna and commenting on their vocal performances with flourishes of energetic playing. The drums were mixed perfectly and drove the music along at a perfect tempo for each song. The sound was amazing- so much better than it had been at the gig at Earth. It was and uplifting show with a proper party atmosphere. When Gina sang No-One's Little Girl at the end, I felt like crying: it struck such a chord. It takes a huge struggle and massive effort to get to this, to survive everything life throws at you. Here was a  group of women who were at the very margins of art and music for almost a lifetime, and here they were speaking to generations of men and women who knew and know the value of their creative output.

There was more than a smattering of rock royalty about, although still befuddled by my cold I wasn't sure who I knew and who I didn't. Lee was there, and Sean McCluskey. Debbie Smith from Thee Nuns was there with Est Ella  from Big Joanie, and we had a really nice chat. There were people that various people I was chatting to wondered if they were famous, or whether we just vaguely knew them. Typical London night out or really a London party, such was the atmosphere. I missed the free fish and chips, alas, but the conversation kept flowing and kept me going. Towards the end of the evening, several large bars of chocolate appeared on the long table we were sitting around in the dressing room. Green & Blacks. Nice.

Imi Knoebel's paintings are worth seeing. Some people I was talking to were not so keen, but I do love big statement paintings in primary colours and the gallery is such a dramatic place to see them. I had always wondered why people made such a fuss about polished concrete floors and now I know why. The colour of an ice rink being refrozen, the surface was indeed glossy enough to skate on, and a beautiful artefact in itself.

Hooray for music, and hooray for older women in bands who sing what they think and bust through glass ceilings, streets full of February fog, and polished concrete floors!

Monday, February 06, 2023

The Poisonous Suburbs

Sometimes I forget. I hate to write negative things, but sometimes reality is quite shocking even in this pretty suburb that thinks such a lot of itself.

I have been ill for a few days, bad enough to take to my bed and not go to the studio: I didn't want to pass anything on to anyone else, but also I've not felt so tired since a couple of years ago when (I think) I had a bout of Covid, pre-testing days. I've done two negative tests and had a normal temperature, but have been an addled-brained flop of a person, slouching around and completely devoid of energy.

I went to our local posh supermarket today to stock up on paracetamol and tins of beans. I bought an extra six-pack of beans for the food bank, and at the checkout I said to the checkout person that I would like to put them in the food bank box before returning to pay for the rest of the stuff. The tins were heavy, and I felt a bit post-viral feeble.

The checkout person called me back straight away. 'You've left your purse here, and there are so many pickpockets around at the moment. And anyway not the food bank!'

Then they set off on a tirade where pickpockets and their ease of working in gangs due to the proximity of the tube station to the High Street, was delivered mixed in with 'Don't Give Food To The Food Bank They Have Three Holidays A Year You Look After Yourself They Don't Need It', and all sorts of really bigoted stuff about how well off poor people really are.

I couldn't get a word in edgeways, and was honestly feeling too rough to argue with her today. So I had to carry the beans for the food bank along with my own beans in one go, because the person at the checkout didn't think I should be donating them.

I know this probably sounds pathetic, doesn't it, not standing up to such vicious and irrational bigotry. The thing is, it completely took me by surprise; all I was doing was going shopping and I came home wishing that I lived somewhere else, and not here. Alongside the staff member in the Post Office who told me that 'Boris is doing a good job' during the pandemic, the person behind the till in the Oxfam shop a couple of years ago who was complaining loudly about 'asylum seekers' to a customer, and the person in the local Rymans saying that Sadiq Khan 'ought to be shot' (I complained about that one to the company, but that staff member is still there!), you'd be forgiven for wondering if this pretty suburb is Hell in Disguise.

The worst thing about such hatred is people's insistence on sharing it as though they expect everyone to agree with them. I can not understand this in the slightest. 

It makes me afraid to go shopping again in case I have to listen to any more venomous outpourings.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

What Do I Miss?

There isn't much that I miss about my previous life as an academic. It seemed that every time I managed to get something good going, the University management took it away. I fought tooth and nail to keep the visiting industry lecturers budget, because that was the only way to inspire the students by introducing them to people who looked and sounded like them. Those sessions inspired and energised me, too. They kept trying to take the budget away every year, and every year I explained that the visitors were standing in for a co-lecturer that had left two weeks before the module started, and that they could employ someone to do that job instead of the industry speakers, but that would be more expensive. Every year they backed down. What a waste of energy it all was, but how worth it to hear the experiences of terrific speakers and watch them excite the students about their future.

One year, in the gap between the end of the lectures, their attendant tutorials and leaving work for the very enjoyable drum-kit evening class I'd enrolled on at Camden Working Men's College, I would sit in my office following all sort of Northern Soul links on Youtube down an exciting wormhole of the imagination. A passing student heard what I was listening to and came in for a chat. He was a fan too, and ended up doing a placement as a Northern Soul DJ at an internet radio station.

There was something really luxurious about sitting listening to fabulous music in solitude after a day's work, and knowing that I was heading off to drum. I drummed for three years; we had a great teacher, Alan McCullough, who was eagle-eyed and could spot a slacker or a missed beat even in a class of thirteen students whacking practice pads. Every week I used to feel too tired to go, but as soon as I got there, I'd sit with everyone else for two and a half hours, reading the drum score and playing in unison until it was time to go home. It was Shanne who first persuaded me to go, and I'm so grateful to her for that. Alas, it all was ended by the pandemic. 

What I remember best was the feeling of bliss on a Friday morning when I woke up: drumming is good for your head, not because you're repeatedly hitting something really hard (you're not, you're manipulating the bounce of the taut drum-skin), but because by the time you've co-ordinated four limbs to create a rhythm, there's no room in your head for worries.

Maybe they should re-brand drumming as 'no worries'.

Pluses and Minuses

I haven't been able to get to the studio today to draw, which has been a big disappointment. Yesterday, I spent the day in bed with a raging sore throat, and today I was exhausted. It's something going round, but the Covid test that I did was negative. 
In my head are all the plans I had to finish my drawings of the two community police officers, and Jerome the busker.
Well, there are minuses and pluses. At five o'clock this morning, I woke up with a new melody in my head. I haven't written a fresh melody for about a month and a half, although I've had lots of ideas for lyrics. 'Receiving' the melody first is weird, because it's harder to fit lyrics into a new melody than to write a melody for a new lyric, but I've just worked out the chords to go underneath it.
I might even be able to catch up on a bit of drawing tomorrow at home if the sun shines enough.