Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Recording and Mixing and Recording and Mixing

It's been a soup of a day. I started off mixing a track that me and James recorded, Let's Make Up, then took a break to record a new demo, during which time I discovered that my best microphone has stopped working. I recorded the vocal using an SM58, but the sound is not that clear and it's hard to work with. 

I moved to the laptop to quantise the guitar parts to 24 Hours, which took ages and they still aren't quite right. During that process, and after sharing my panic on social media about the non-working microphone and failing to find anyone to repair it, I discovered that it does work as a USB microphone, and I recorded an OK vocal for 24 Hours.

I went back to listen to the demo, and decided that I need to record it 5 bpms faster and revisit the backing vocals, though the guitar (the green goddess) sounds really gorgeous.

It too me almost as long to clear up everything and put it away as it did to record things in the first place- guitar leads, mic leads, interface leads, two sets of headphones and one mini jack to normal jack converter, two guitars and two microphones.

I have no idea whether it's been a productive day or not. It's been A Day. Sometimes you need Days to just get back into the groove of things, and I've certainly done that.

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Wouldbegoods at The Betsey Trotwood

I feel very lucky- I was offered a ticket so see Gina Birch supporting This Is The Kit at The Barbican tonight as well, but applying cab-rank principle, this came first!

Last time I saw The Wouldbegoods, they were a duo. You could hear how good the songs were, but the Bush Hall was swallowing up sound that afternoon, and the squashed, people-cramped, boiling basement of the Betsey was altogether a different kettle of fish. This time they had Andy Warren on bass and Debbie Green on drums and backing vocals, both of who formed a sturdy and sometimes delicate underpinning to Jessica Griffin's songs. The sound of Andy's bass is to die for: it's so distinctive, yet it never overpowers the music he accompanies. He looks alternately scared and bored on stage, but that look belies the secret strength he has, for verily he has magic bass lines that work perfectly with everything his bass touches. Debbie Green is also an ace musician. She doesn't just thump along; she plays the music with poetic punctuation, delightful rhythms that augment the meaning of the songs with imaginative subtlety. On top of this Peter's clear riffs slice through the sound and complement Jessica's rhythm playing. The songs are like puzzles: why does it do this here and that there, and how does it work? I was admiring the quality of  the writing and Razz, the manager of The Betsey, came downstairs. Sergio, one of the best engineers, was doing the sound. 'He says they remind him of Helen McCookerybook', said Razz. What a compliment!

Anyway, it was lovely to see Caryne, Dave, Amelia and Rob. It just got too hot in the end. Too many tall men came and stood in front of me to get out of the hot crush. I was baking in my thermals and duffel coat (see how Indie I am!). We left just before the end, into the cold and sparkling Farringdon air. The photo shows the view round someone's head with my arm fully extended! 

It was a really good night and I wish I'd bought their album now.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

I Saw A Red Squirrel

I forgot to say!

I had peeled off from the gang and was wandering back alone to where we were staying; as I got to the entrance I noticed a pair of beady eyes looking at me from a hiding-place in a laurel bush. 

I gasped in delight, and off ran the squirrel up into the highest tree, camouflaged in the white sky and black network of branches. I fumbled for my camera but couldn't keep up with it.

What an unexpected surprise in a lovely holiday. The social times were great and so were the alone times.

Monday, November 20, 2023


Four days in Perthshire, two of them with about 15 family members and assorted others, have well and truly blown away the cobwebs. I have eaten more in four days than in the whole of the rest of the year, and exercised the same amount, by going up and down the steep hill once a day. I've driven 1000 miles or more in a titchy little car, getting about pretty quickly, but I'm still in transit in my head despite arriving home more than six hours ago.

On Saturday night we had a wonderful semi-violent galumph around a dance floor murdering Scottish dances (I realised at one point that I'd been dancing the Military Twostep to the St Bernard's Waltz with Offsprog One). We charged up and down in Strip the Willow and Offprog Two begged it to stop. Small children dressed as fairies risked being decapitated and elders held their eyes aloft to ignore the displays of incompetence we provided for their delectation.

I always miss Scotland when I'm not there: the colour green, the rain, the humour and the food. On the way back into the hotel two days ago, a red squirrel was sitting in a bush by a garden wall. I was so delighted that I gasped, and the terrified animal rushed up a tree so fast that I couldn't photograph it. We also saw a greater spotted woodpecker and all sorts of fungi. And mist!

Now back in Barnet, I will have to get used to normal breakfasts of just cereal, and also No More Sweets.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

On The Move

I spent a day in Newcastle, and visited my friend Carol in Whitley Bay. We had a walk along the stormy seafront to Tynemouth, accompanied by huge clashing waves that were battering the cliffs relentlessly. Now I'm in Perthshire, taking in the fresh autumnal air. It's good to be away for a bit; large parts of my dwelling have been re-plastered, and I'd been inhaling faint whiffs of dust for several days. I hope when I get back it's all fully dried and the dust has settled. I'm keeping the pale pink, I pale think.

Today's walk was wonderful: misty, fresh and colourful in a way that only Scotland seems to be in autumn. We saw two huge buzzards roosting in a tree, and heard wrens singing. No red squirrels though: you have to pay extra for that, I heard.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Cambridge Indie-Pop Alldayer

This was a train journey and a walk away from home, a walk through Cambridge streets of small houses like mine, with miniature pubs halfway down, and the occasional shop punctuating the terraces. It was a really nice walk from the station to The Blue Moon; there was hardly any traffic, just the occasional bicycle gliding quietly past.

When I got there, Back gave me a warm welcome and Tape Runs Out were sound-checking. There are six of them, and the line-up includes a hammer dulcimer. Apparently there used to be seven, but one of them has left. The stage was pretty full; I decided to forego a sound check because there was a lot for the sound engineer to do. He didn't mind, but there was no need to create stress. I sat in the bar and chatted to Dave Hammond, whose Cambridge Community Radio Show, Smelly Flowerpot, I'd been on several times.

Tape Runs Out have complex songs that manage to sound poppy despite that; the arrangements are intricate, and in an odd way they reminded me of very early Soft Machine, minus the quirkiness. It was something to do with the textures in the music and the thought that had gone into the vocal arrangements.

I was on next and despite swallowing a cough sweet minutes before I went on, I managed to sing OK. Unlike last Saturday in Rochester, I didn't ramble. The set length was 30 minutes and there wasn't time, although I did feel that I'd had time to showcase what I'm doing at the moment to an audience that might not be familiar with my songs (apart from Dave!).

Next were Darren Hayman and Emma Kupa, he on a magnificent Rickenbacker and she on an acoustic guitar. They sang duets, often as conversations and sometimes in unison, with Emma's three year old son dancing on stage for much of the set. I found sound intriguing; they both sing high in their vocal range, and that factor combined with their guitar arrangements made me think of early country/gospel recordings, just before rock'n'roll burst into life. Maybe Ginny Wright, or Maybelline Carter. I really enjoyed it a lot and hope to see them again.

I had to come back home early, and had the unfortunate experience of being the target of five teenage boys on the train who thought they could freak me out by screaming at me, making obscene gestures, staring at me, making faces, reciting scenes from pornography and at one point deciding to hit me before getting off the train (they didn't). I sat there thinking of Offsprog One's mantra 'Take up your space'. 

They were extremely loud and volatile and stank of weed, and I presume no-one helped me because the gang were so frightening. But then I thought 'I've just played a really nice gig. I travel all over the place, often on my own, playing gigs all over the UK and sometimes in Europe. I am brave and they are not: it takes five of them to pick on me'. So I asked them: 'Does it make you feel brave, five of you men picking on one woman? There are babies and children who have had to listen to the things you've been saying. Only one of you isn't horrible [that was true], and I feel sorry for him having you as his friends'. I think they were surprised. When, after 50 minutes, they finally got off at Bishops Stortford, the 'nice' one looked ashamed and said quietly 'Have a nice evening'.

Apart from that, I cry when I watch the news. Such cruelty and violence, first from Hamas and then absolute genocide from the Israeli forces in retaliation. And the march for peace through London is described by our Government as exactly the opposite. Our Government instead support right-wing fascists who break though barriers at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day, peace day, to fight with the police, encouraged by the Home Secretary. It is so terrible to witness the gratuitous killing of festival goers, children, babies, and now hospital patients, all in the name of opposing religions and cultures. 

Underneath all of us is a skeleton, and inside all of us is a heart. We are animals who have created culture and learning and science to understand and document our societies and communities. I have seen the graceful intersection of cultures first-hand this year in community centres everywhere. 

I do not understand why anyone thinks killing people takes the human race any step further towards enlightenment. We have the means of peaceful, if heated, negotiation at our disposal. Instead, we venerate hatred and destruction not only of fellow humans, but also of our environment. 

It is hard not to despair. I am so thankful for art and music, without which life would be utterly bleak.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Women in Revolt

It's a two-posting night, and if I wasn't missing (much to my regret) a screening of short music documentaries this evening, there would be three.

Oh this exhibition! There is so much to see, lots of it art, lots of it political expression, lots of it both. There is such treasure! 

I started off by going into Bobby Baker's prefab to inspect her family of cakes. There weren't a lot of people around yet (this was a press day) and so we had a really nice chat. It transpires that she knew Helen Chadwick, and that Helen did a really great job of supporting Bobby earlier on in her career. Good. Helen was a dude.

In the main gallery, I bumped in to Everett True, Billy Reeves and Cassie Fox, who had brought a bunch of students down to see the exhibition. Samira Ahmed arrived and we went around the exhibition separately, although she was so delighted by the photographs of Shirley Cameron, pregnant with twins and dressed as a bunny girl and guerilla-exhibiting herself amongst the real rabbits at agricultural shows, that she pulled me over to see them!

There were some really humorous articulations of fury here.There is a short film of Linder in her meat dress, singing a great song, then revealing a giant phallus as she rips her dress off- apparently inspired by Buck's Fizz's similar disrobement at the Eurovision Song Contest!

The Marxist Wife Still Does the Housework byAlexis Hunter also has a humorous spin- a series of photos of Karl Marx being dusted, with the word 'Man' being smeared in the final frame.

The overwhelming feeling in the first room- and also parts of the others- was of the value of ready-reachable, cheap, accessible materials. There were tons of pamphlets, zines and mags full of collaborative content. I particularly felt an affinity for the postal art project of Femisto, where a group of women artists, fed up with being ignored by an impossible-to-penetrate (sic) male art community, decided to post each other small pieces of art on a regular basis. What a catalyst this exhibition is going to be.

There was art by many people I knew here: Jini Rawlings (who I used to work with), Suzy Varty (who I've been in comics with), Roshini Kempadoo (who taught at a University where I once taught), Gina Birch whose 3-minute scream is at the very heart of the show; Caroline Coon and Helen Chadwick, of course. Black and South Asian artists are well represented, and Lubiana Hamid's life size racist white man with weapon dog (I can't remember the name, but I'll find it) was a chilling articulation of how it feels to be a black woman in a racist white neighbourhood.

This is a very truthful and emotionally-wrenching exhibition. The series of photographs of women who worked in a metal box factory alongside their daily schedules shows just how harsh life can be for women. There are no angels here, and there's very little artifice. Lots of the work is literal, and all the more powerful for it. I was there for three hours and didn't even manage to take in the films (apart from Linder's).

Here were very many examples of group activism, exhibited alongside individual statements, curated as a massive and powerful collective statement of twenty years of campaigning. I know everyone who sees this will have a personal internal discussion about this period of time. Greenham Common looms large, yet I didn't go at the time. I'd find it hard to explain why not, but I didn't.

I came away buzzing with ideas, went home for a few hours then to Front Row (link in earlier posting). Then, believe it or not, I dropped into Ian Damage's packed 60th birthday celebration at the 100 Club, where I bumped into Dec Hickey who I haven't seen for yonks.

This morning I did a podcast interview which I'll post a link to as soon as it's ready. And this afternoon, the plaster came. He's just sweeping up now. The heating has been off so I'm swathed in woollies. What a busy few days it has been.

Scroll Back to Saturday

Kevin Younger is a quiet supporter of oddball and marginal music in a lot of different ways. During Lockdown, he arranged the weekly online Mr Unswitchable cover-version sessions, where a large group of musicians performed a themed cover version each Saturday sometimes with very professional-looking videos, sometimes much more amateurish (me!). Kevin cued them up one by one as the evening progressed and we were able to watch and comment on each other's versions. I was telling him on Saturday that real friendships emerged from this: Saskia and Russ travelled down from Dumfriesshire in thei VW camper to a gig I did in Stockton in that weird between-lockdown period, and months later I invited them to play with me at The Glad Café in Glasgow.

It was a delight to be invited to play at his latest venture, the 12 Degrees micro-brewery in Rochester, alongside Dave Goggins, alias Little Storping in the Swuff. The trains looked encouraging too- I'm trying to drive as little as possible as an environmental commitment.

The music venue is in the basement, a low-ceilinged space with a dartboard, amps (it's a rehearsal space a lot of the time), and artfully-arranged beermats on the wall. The PA was a Roland busking amp, which gave out a surprisingly lovely sound. I guess you can get about 50 people in there- and it was sold out, apparently. Dave's music is quirky, part played on guitar and part played on keyboard (the more serious songs). I particularly liked his random song Cheese Bible, which he made up on the spot after asking for two random words from the audience; it was very funny. He also sang a song with a paper bag on his head, which gently floated off perfectly on cue at the end of the song.

It was a friendly crowd, augmented by a very nice surprise- Pete Fender, Vi Subversa's son, who I haven't seen for 45 years. He'd seen a posting that I put on Facebook and living locally, he showed up. At the age of somewhere between 12 and 13, he'd played drums for Joby and the Hooligans, lent by his ever-accommodating mum. It was really great to see him again; I couldn't quite believe it was him, but it really was. He honestly doesn't look that different! I had a really nice chat with Kevin's partner Xtina about mushrooms, too. And one chap who was heading off to a reading by Billy Childish, promised to come back for the gig- and did.

Well I did ramble on a bit (the story of Pete and Joby and the Hooligans), but it was a thoroughly enjoyable gig to play and seemed to go down pretty well too. I played Three Maple Men, which I rarely play these days, but it felt right to do so. No Chefs or Helen and the Horns songs this time: I stuck to 'now'.

Pete very kindly gave us a lift to the station and we accidentally got on the express train to London. It was anxiety-inducing at first, but the guard at the gates was in a good mood and kindly let us through without surcharge or shame.

It almost seems a pity to be coming to the end of this year's gigs- only three more to go. Gigging remains a glorious adventure, full of surprises and affection. I love it.

Front Row With Samira Ahmed: Women in Revolt

The 'Women in Revolt' exhibition at Tate Britain is an absorbing and inspirational collection of political artwork and communications from a period between 1970 and 1990. 

I went yesterday to report back for BBC Radio 4's Front Row. I'll write more about it tomorrow (and of course will catch up on writing about the Rochester gig). There is so much to say about it all but the house is topsy turvey with a half-finished plastering job. The poor guy got really ill on Monday and wanted to come back today to finish it but I'm talking to an Irish podcaster later this morning, and then will need a bit of time out. I was at the exhibition for three hours and still didn't see it all.

Until then, here's the link to Samira's show in case you'd like to listen:


Monday, November 06, 2023

The New Beatles Song

I was a very wee thing when I was given my first Beatles single- my first ever record, in fact- by a friend of McMums. She was a genius present giver. It was a copy of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, from Shepherd's of Gateshead, and I've still got it in it's original cover. I preferred the 'B' side, This Boy. I thought the way the Beatles sang 'I wanna hold your hand' sounded like 'I wanna hold your hen'.

I grew up with them as a sound track. I bought a silver-grey plastic guitar brooch with my pocket money; it had a bubble of clear plastic in the middle with George Harrison's photograph in it. He was my favourite, and John Lennon next. I didn't like Paul McCartney- somehow I thought he was an actor, and the others weren't.

I watched their films: Magical Mystery Tour on TV one Christmas, and I took my baby brother to see Yellow Submarine at The Tatler Cinema off the Haymarket in Newcastle upon Tyne. He loved it, but was scared of the Blue Meanies (so was I, and I still am). I knew the band travelled to India and came back fascinated by sitars. I wasn't wild on their hippy phase because by then I realised that they were older than me, and I didn't want to grow up to be a hippy lady, all flowery and decorative and pretty. Their music started to sound congested (I suppose that must have been the George Martin phase), and I started to prefer bands that sounded simpler, like Slade. Then they split up and everyone was Terribly Upset, but I don't think I was. It just seemed logical that they would grow out of themselves, just as I'd grown out of them.

Afterwards, I quite liked George Harrison's records and some of John Lennon's. I admired Paul McCartney for making the banned Give Ireland Back to the Irish, but hated Mull Of Kintyre, which just sounded fake to me. I was upset when George got taken to court over My Sweet Lord, but then completely understood when I got into girl group music when I was fifteen, and heard He's So Fine properly in context. 

I cried when John Lennon was shot. What a pointless thing to happen.

The experience of punk rolled everything back to zero. A lot of music from before that time started in retrospect to resemble a house of cards, ever-closer to toppling over with its self-importance. I started listening to a lot of reggae and later, a lot of rockabilly and hillbilly music.

I revisit Beatles songs occasionally, but I prefer listening to Northern Soul or the new offerings of my contemporaries. No-one has made me listen to The New Beatles Song, so I haven't heard it. Ethically, it all seems a bit suspect: a bit like finally obtaining control of John Lennon and George Harrison when they can't talk back and say 'no'. I think if I'd had an urge to seek it out, that factor alone might have put me off. 

But having watched aghast as Cliff Richard (yet again) complained in a recent TV interview about his records no longer getting played on the radio, I also think 'How much fame do you need, famous musicians?'. Part of the appeal of music and bands is their mysteriousness. If you know everything there is to know and hear everything there is to hear, where is the unanswered question that keeps you curious?

It could be that I'm missing out on the Listen Of The Century, but I am perfectly able to live with that. The Beatles as a quasi-religion, I'm perfectly able to live without.

Au revoir!

Little Clip of Woodwide Web from Rochester on Saturday