Tuesday, October 31, 2023


Being of Scottish extraction, our Hallowe'en lanterns were made of turnips and not pumpkins. What a trial they were to carve out! The poor fingers, all cuts and turnip juice, the knife slipping just as you were cutting the triangular nostrils. And what a funny smell, burnt turnip!

And then, nothing happened. 

Trick-or-treating is an American idea, and although McMum was American we just never did it. Could it be that we were a Presbyterian household? I don't think so: nobody else in the village seemed to do anything either. The turnip lantern sat all lonesome in the garden, its candle flame flickering and guttering until it was extinguished by the October wind.

Bonfire night was another matter altogether, though. Have I written about that before?

Monday, October 30, 2023

Last Gigs of the Year

Managed to miss off the letter 'B', and also the dates, first time around.

I don't think I've ever got a poster right first time, but this one took the biscuit! 

Ticket links are here: http://mccookerybook.com/gigs/

Sunday, October 29, 2023


Disembarking passengers gaze at astonishing workmen.

Workmen gaze at astonishing disembarking passengers. 

Victoria Station concourse, around 12.45 a.m. Saturday morning.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Did That Really Happen?

Almost devoid of cameras, in a bubble of bonhomie a little treasure of a gig happened last night. The first part of it was like a Hollywood film- the door banging open at intervals, and shellshocked-looking, soaking-wet people, with hair askew, tumbling into the room with a sense of relief that they'd found us and that they were out of the grim and gruesome weather.

The next part felt like Time Bandits: doors safely closed, apart from the occasional forays of smokers out into The Weather again, the whole room felt like one big smile. Foldy seats were out in rows, the bar had an extraordinary selection of mismatched glasses that randomised the consumption of drinks, and after making the effort to get there, everyone seemed determined to have a bloody good time. 

No telly! No screens! Life in three dimensions with all it's happy accidents and spontaneity!

I'd been so worried about this gig; remind me not to be a promoter again. We had honourable competition (Johnny Hanna's postcards exhibition with free booze, and Swansea Sound in Hove), but we managed to pull a pretty decent crowd with a healthy proportion of young 'uns (actually, people in their late 20s and early 30s). 

Everything was set up for our sound check when we got there. Simon Hill, the studio owner, was really welcoming and even stretched James's guitar strings for him. 

James played first, and included a Smeggy and the Cheesybits song (Stuck on You) and a cover of You Get Everywhere by The Chefs. I played almost straight after, and noticed that people were singing along to the Bad Apple song (especially Kaya Kendall, Asbo Derek's drummer, who arrived with two friends and gave not only massive good vibes but also formation dancing at the back of the room). We ended with the best-ever rendition of the Bathing Pond, absolutely roaring down the storm, then James and me played The Chefs mini-set. For some reason (sibling empathy, perhaps), we managed to both make mistakes at the same time in Records and Tea, but the rest of it was fine, I think.

At the very end, I played Beachwalk as an encore, largely at Kaya's request. There was no time to hang around- the trains back to London were being cancelled left right and centre: a cab arrived, and delivered us (my nephew Alex and his friend and me) to the station just in time for the last train back. The cab driver even let us off some of the money- I'm not sure why.

The conversations: chatting with Rachel Dollymixture about song writing, and terrible press and record label people who have come and gone, and here we still are. We used to do a lot of gigs together, and I love them to bits. Sally Smith, the Helen and the Horns live sound engineer through all those gigs and adventures, brought her daughter and one of her sons. Alison, from Bradford via Brighton or perhaps the other way round, who should receive a gold star for loyalty, arrived. She is known for turning up unexpectedly at gigs in both places. Jonathan Chrisp, The Chefs London manager, came with his family. David McLean, who singlehandedly documents Brightons' music history on his page DJ Gremlin's Rocking Stompers, while the Punkbrighton website is resting, was there. Kaya, of course, and her friends cheerleading from the back. Nick Linazasoro, darting around with his camera (there must be some photos somewhere). There were lots of other familiar smiling faces: thank you so much for your good cheer, audience. You really were the stars last night. And of course, thanks to Simon Hill for volunteering his studio as a venue- and Gary, who manned the mixing desk and who runs a singing school there and got us a truly excellent sound.

This morning, I feel as though I was given an amazing gift last night. Sometimes, it all feels worth it.

Review of the gig by Nick Linazasoro in Brighton and Hove News: https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2023/10/28/cooking-with-the-chefs-in-woodingdean/?fbclid=IwAR1flmbALgHJZ6yUGUgPl1_oB3bPmKUrrn39ad-swKIhqRiSqOAeM6jD8IU

Friday, October 27, 2023

Tonight's Gig

Only the second gig we've done like this, this one in a studio/community centre in Woodingdean, a suburb of Brighton, put on by Chefs fan Simon who runs the studio.

James went down a storm last Saturday, and we're recording the four Chefs songs we'll be performing. I believe James will be playing a cover of You Get Everywhere, and dammit, I'll do Northbound Train.

Stage times James 8.45, 

Helen 9.45 or straight after James, 

Pop-up Chefs straight after that.

Tickets here, will be taken off sale at noon today: 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

A Stiff Upper Lip

I went to the dentist this morning for some fillings. I was frightened. 

I didn't mind childbirth, but hurty things in my head are a no-no.

The local anaesthetic lasted most of the day. I forgot about it, and made a cup of tea which went in one side of my mouth and out of the other. 

The trauma of the drillings and fillings experience allowed me to have a really lazy day, and read three quarters of an utterly crappy crime novel that appeared to have been written to order for a focus group of Marks-and-Spencer types. It's finished now, and ready to go to the bookshelf at the tube station for a poor commuter to be troubled by it.

I've been worried that I've been lazy since walking out of my lecturing job last summer, but Champagne Friend says that I haven't, so maybe I really haven't. I used to structure each day very tightly to get everything done, but now the structures are much more wobbly. It is, though, quite amazing what you can achieve when you're not being undermined by neoliberal managers whose sole philosophy is being an underminer! How British society has changed: we used to have a strong mining community, and now we have a strong undermining one. They flit about from one University to another, managing decline and cutting budgets, leaving the academics to deal with the students' ire at not getting what they had been promised. In my last meeting with a manager, which was online, I decided to sit with a notebook and write down anything she actually said. She didn't say anything- she giggled for an hour. What a waste of time! 

I think I've been worried by not finishing any songs recently, but that is about to change. Plus I've learned/rehearsed four different sets over the past month, starting with Robert's backing vocals, then the Helen and the Horns set, then The Chefs quartet of songs for tomorrow, and my current songs.

I've also dug through tons of archive tracks, and sent off the unreleased Chefs album to Hull to be remastered, and made a bit of progress with recording me and James's duo versions of the four songs we've been playing together live.

I've been writing stories for a possible animation if I can get a story that will make sense in two minutes or less (a bit like the early Chefs songs, I suppose), and starting to have ideas for Beefheart! The Musical, which me and Gina will be writing in December, and performing early next year in Bury.

Now I have to prevent myself from worrying about whether I should drive to Sussex tomorrow, or get the train. It's so much quicker to drive, but will I feel sleepy? I bought some giant marshmallows to eat on the way home just in case and have eaten two already, even though they're disgusting. 

That's no way to treat fresh new fillings, is it?

Design for Puppet, from Sunday Drawing Club On Wednesday


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

An Unfocused Posting

Alas, there's not enough time to divide events into pocket sized postings! I have to get ready to go to James's to rehearse for Friday, and a half-hour splodge on the sofa is what's needed to gather my thoughts.

Saturday night was about as perfect as a gig could be- minus a few people who couldn't get there either because of the torrential rain, family issues, or it being sold out. People got there early for James's set and thoroughly enjoyed it- there were quite a few guffaws at his lyrics. Poor Performer went down very well too, as I knew they would. It was nice to hear Simon Rivers sing in a higher register than normal- very sweet-sounding vocals. They did a Jake Thackray cover too- very much a man of the moment, as they commented that James's stuff has that influence and people have said that about mine too (and Robert's! The net spreads wide). All those Sunday nights spent with McDad compulsorily watching Jake, with McDad in silent fits of laughter! I bought him a CD compilation when he was in his last months, and he was quite thrilled: I think he had forgotten how much he'd enjoyed him back in the day.

Anyway: less digression, more focus... The Horns played fabulously well on Saturday. They have developed a way to blend that breathes new life into the parts. I've slowed the pace of the songs down a bit so that it's easier to hear how they work together, and that has had the knock-on effect of allowing me to enjoy singing the songs more. It just felt really good to flow through the set like that, with the occasional error that proves that live music is always the best option wherever possible. How great to be able to pick up where we left off, and just do a gig again. I think I can speak for them to say that this is a line-up we all enjoy, and we loved our audience too. Lester Square and Mike Slocombe were there, original members of the band before I realised that I couldn't afford the £5 to get the drum kit to rehearsals, which we got for free because Dave had kept a copy of the key to the jazz rehearsal room (hardly used) at Imperial College after he left. I was living on such a shoestring budget at the time that I was practically counting the grains of rice I put in my dinner! All for the sake of being an independent musician. Anyway- lovely to see lots of artists in the audience (hello Doug Shaw), Karina, who had been at the Calton Studios gig in Edinburgh where a chant of 'Ho-runs, Ho-runs' got us back on stage for an encore, and where we sat for ages afterwards drinking vodka with Muriel Gray and the band So You Think You're A Cowboy, who we'd played with the night before in Dunfermline. Oh happy madness!

Yesterday evening, I went back to The Hub in Earl's Court, where after many conversations and a lot of hard work on Mimi's part and flexibility on Kimberley Gundle's part (she's the current artist in residence), Joan Ashworth's film on Sylvia Pankhurst was previewed. I had no doubt at all that the film would go down really well, and it did. The funniest thing was the crazy descent on to the pizza slices before the screening, but once everyone was settled, the women in the group became completely absorbed. As I watched the film that I've seen grow from just a little seed of an idea ten years ago, I realised the amount of different ways it resonates with contemporary women who are left out of mainstream narratives, and how much it validates the experiences of people who have terrible things done to them because they seek progress rather than regression and control. Sylvia went to prison for her beliefs, and was force fed- tortured- to humiliate her and make her back down. This is exactly what is happening to women in Iran. And she fought against Italian fascism in Ethiopia, supporting Haile Selassie. She supported working-class women who had the most horrendous health problems because of the lack of Health and Safety regulations at the time. Bonfire of regulations, David Cameron? We all know where that led us. It was immensely moving to watch the film amongst a community of women who understand many of these things from their own cultural perspectives. Champagne Friend came with me, and really enjoyed it too.

Mimi, Champagne, me, Kimberley, Joan, Audience member

Then Dan Whitehouse, who I taught at the University of Westminster, and worked with at the (now closed) Barnet Hill Primary School running Song Club, invited me out of the blue to a concert he was doing at the Pizza Express in King's Road. He's been collaborating with retired glass makers in the Midlands, and this show had songs from that collaboration and also an improvised section with a dulcimer player, Max ZT. This was a gentle set of meditative music: there was a lot of subtlety not just in Max's playing but also in the interaction between Dan and Max when Dan sang in response to the bed of dulcimer music that Max created. Dan is in fine voice, and has been travelling around as a songwriter collaborating with working people, including chain-makers, which was a real coincidence because Joan's film features a small section on women chain-makers in the West Midlands. It was really nice to see him again- fifteen years down the line! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Sam's Clothes

Here they are! The books have arrived. 

This primary school story book was written by Jennifer Rudd, a scientist at Swansea University. It's a story about sustainability in clothing, written in both Welsh and English, and I was invited to illustrate it last year. What a blissful three months! I sat and drew for three hours a day, thirty illustrations in all, with lots of emails between us to get things absolutely right.

The book totally resonates with my own beliefs and I hope it becomes a fixture in every primary school library. Fingers crossed, we shall do another. It was great to work with Jennifer!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Ruth Miller

I need to make a posting specifically about Ruth, who started and maintained Unglamorous Music in Leicester. I found it heartbreaking to read a couple of weeks ago that she knew she hadn't got much time left; this week she died. It's so very sad.

Anyone who came into contact with her will tell you what a remarkable person she was. She brought out the very best in people, both through the zine Punkgirldiaries and the Unglamorous Music project in Leicester. She was funny and clever, and a very good musician. She was extraordinarily generous with her time and her knowledge, and was exemplary in carrying on right up till the end with her work, both loving and political, on the enabling of women musicians.

When I heard in January that she'd started a new 'batch' of Unglamorous bands, I wrongly assumed that he illness was treatable, and mentally celebrated. Alas, this was not so. How very glad I am to have met her, gigged with her, and watched her project grow successfully into a positive and celebratory articulation of the joys of being an older woman! I hope all the bands she encouraged continue to thrive; that would be a perfect legacy. 

More on Bands and Members

I suppose these things are to the forefront partly because I'm reading a biography of Captain Beefheart that includes accounts of the way he treated his musicians! 

I had a very different relationship with the horn players in Helen and the Horns because they are and were session musicians playing on my songs. I paid Musician's Union rates at the time, and sometimes this meant that I didn't pay myself. Oddly, this was rather good for me. I spent the time in between tours writing music for theatre groups and political videos; having minimal living expenses, I found that I could survive OK on that. It's just that I felt a band playing my songs and 80% my arrangements should be paid for doing it. They wrote down the individual parts that I either sang to them, or sang on to cassettes for them to transcribe; if one of the players couldn't do a gig, they'd easily put in a 'dep' because the parts were written down. They contributed extra, too. We did have a very good relationship with each other, because the relationship between us was clearly laid out.

Only problem is that now if we get offered a gig, they are all very busy. People have suggested that I get a reserve squad in particularly for gigs in the north of the UK, but at the moment that doesn't appeal: it's all the more convinced me that mostly playing solo is the easiest way to do it.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Singing with Robert Rotifer at The Lexington on Saturday

I sang on four songs on Saturday night. It just wasn't feasible to rehearse more from the album, with Paul Pfleger moving from keyboard to drums (Ian Button was away with Swansea Sound). Although the onstage sound was difficult, we managed to put on a good show, I think- I could see the woman behind the bar dancing, and that is always the Litmus test of a good gig!

I feel so uncomfortable without a guitar, though. I did mum dancing. It just reminds me that the only reason I go on stage most of the time is to play my own songs. If somebody else would do it instead, I'd be very happy! Breaking into writing, or co-writing, is a whole different ballgame that I don't know the rules of, so I guess it's me and my guitar on the train to here and there, for as long as I can go on! The events of the past few days have reminded me of the benefits of being a solo artist. Festivals aren't keen on solo artists (unless they are mega famous) apart from the odd one like Rebellion, but the churn of band members and the headache of organising rehearsals... when it's just me, it's so much easier. 

And the upset! Almost every band that I know has a steady throughput of band members who don't always feel that happy about being 'moved on'. Oh reader, you simply don't know! It's a perilous business with the most incomprehensible etiquette you could possibly imagine. 

Yet we stand up there, smile and sing our songs, and something about the lifestyle and the routine keeps us all at it. Personally, I find other people's music fascinating most of the time, like puzzles and games or something. All those sounds that speak to each other in a song, shifting the ground under your feet, with lyrics embedded into the music with a certainty that defies any sort of oddity. Then the timbres of the voices of the singer(s) who bite and chew and float glorious melodies over the whole lot, translating it all for the people who stand there, watching and listening to every detail. That itself is a magical process that drives creative curiosity into the realms of the spiritual.

Yes, and most of those disgruntled band members pick themselves up and jump straight into the river again, throwing off their grudges as new excitements come their way. I feel so lucky to have experienced this adventure in my life, or these adventures, because no two seconds are the same.

Anyway, maybe after all that you'd like to hear one of Robert's songs! This is Man in Sandwich Board, from Saturday.

Friday, October 13, 2023


Already Friday! It's been such a busy time... on Monday I went to Gina's to start to talk about Beefheart the Musical, which is going to be performed at a big Captain Beefheart event in Bury in January. Tuesday, I went to Walton on the Naze with Offsprog One and we paddled for about three hours and ate chips. Wednesday afternoon was a three-hour rehearsal with Robert Rotifer and his band, and evening was the launch for his album at The Betsey Trotwood, which went without a hitch. Here's a little film of Amelia Fletcher singing her duet with Robert. Robert's songs on this new album, Holding Hands in Petropolis, are lovely: a bit Kevin Ayers, a bit Simon and Garfunkel, and even a bit of Santana bubbling away in there. Oddly, a couple of reviewers have referenced Jake Thackray, which people keep saying to me about my songs: maybe Jake's having a 'moment'.

There's all sort of other stuff going on, some nasty, some nice: but then, life's like that, innit?

Friday, October 06, 2023

Rehearsing Backing Vocals

Yesterday the musician/producer Ruth Tidmarsh came over and we rehearsed for Robert Rotifer's album launch next Wednesday at the Betsey Trotwood. We have a band rehearsal in the daytime that day, but Ruth wanted to do the backing vocals together first which was a really good idea. She brought her acoustic bass over too, and worked out what she's going to play (Robert's asked her to play bass for the gigs).

We were texting questions to Robert all along, who was at Vienna airport. Oh, the joys of jet-setting by default!

Today, bits and pieces. Must get on with that now.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Music, Art and Dennis Severs House

On Tuesday I went to record James's guitar part for our guitar-duo version of 24 Hours. I'd set up a guitar project on my laptop for the first time, and we managed to get it done fairly quickly, which was good. It's the most difficult of the four songs we've been recording, for some reason. Responsibility, perhaps.

Afterwards, I went for a walk along the South Bank in the sunshine, with everyone else. I sat on a bench to read the newspaper for a while and two women approached me asking if they could do a video interview. They asked me about what makes me feel beautiful, which was a completely perplexing question. I realised that nothing makes me feel beautiful, and that's what I said. It's not in my vocabulary at all. They didn't seem to mind. They asked me something about love as well, which was an equally difficult question to answer, and they didn't seem to mind that either.

After I'd killed a bit of time by the river, I headed off to West Kensington and the third artist-in-residence, Kimberley Gundle's, first art workshop. It was great to see everyone again and the workshop was fun. We had to pretend that we were on a tube train and observe the people sitting opposite us. What I found hard was not wanting to make unflattering portraits of people, but nobody seemed offended by any of the portraits. It was very interesting to see how some people made likenesses with very few lines, and sometimes with a lot of similarity between their portraits. It's always so good to draw, and it's fun to be challenged to draw real people in real time- I've spent a lot of time drawing people from photographs, and this was a real change. 

Yesterday, I took my friend Joan-the-filmmaker on a magical mystery tour to Dennis Severs' house in Folgate Street, east London. It's a charming fossil of a house, originally built in 1724, part ancient and part craftily restored, and there was an exhibition of Delft-inspired pottery made by his boyfriend Simon Pettit, who was a ceramics student when they met. There was a strong smell of wood and candles (it's totally candlelit), and it was dark and peculiar. Oddities were everywhere: three clay pipes embedded in floorboards in the Smoking Room, plastic roses at junctions in the hand-painted panels on the walls. The best thing Pettit did was Delft-inspired tiles in one of the fireplaces, some of which depicted characters like Gilbert and George.

Afterwards we had custard tarts and cheese straws. Rather nice couple of days, I have to say.