Wednesday, December 27, 2023


On Christmas Eve I nipped out to the shops to get something last minute. As I closed the front door, I heard jingling. 'No', I thought, 'That's impossible'.

But further down the street, a Santa Claus in all his splendour had strolled into the little café and was standing at the counter alongside a bunch of astonished customers.

Well I never.

On another note, my complaints about a lack of Lindt Chocolate Santas were alleviated today by the fact that they have already started stocking Lindt Easter Bunnies in the local supermarket. Bliss.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Mini Boxing Day Task

In between finishing the mint creams (any more than four and you're tasting chocolate-covered toothpaste), eating a cold repeat Christmas dinner, watching North by Northwest (never seen it before- what a fantastic film), and a bracing walk in the soggy greenery, I have been embroidering Gina's labcoat for the Beefheart musical. Mine already says 'Dr Punk' because I once thought that I was going to a fancy dress party in Whitby as a frightening dentist with a necklace of false teeth, until I discovered that it was a children's Hallowe'en party and not for adults at all! 

Anyway here it is in progress, ham-coloured and imperfect. Everything I do is imperfect, though not everything is ham-coloured. Why 'Blinking Ham'? You'll have to ask Gina.

Funny Little Chaps

These are what I gave to Offsprog One and Offsprog Two. The arm has already fallen off one of them but I think Superglue will work.

They're very small, and are supposed to look as though they were made in the 17th Century, which is what I decided when I realised that I hadn't got the skills to make them look neat and tidy!

We're All Breathing The Same Air

There isn't anywhere else to go. 

Getting along with each other has to be the only way.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Getting Ready, Rambling and Merry Christmas from Me, the Imaginary Cat, and the Moths

Yesterday I had a lovely wander around Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane, only just resisting fish and chips from Poppies. The market was in full swing and it was great to see how many stallholders were selling things they'd actually made themselves: clothes from recycled fabrics (there were some great giant anoraks made from garish floral duvet covers, for instance), and a woman with a stall selling bags made from Ghanaian fabric (including a bag made with fabric with bags printed on it, which she said was her most popular one). The most expensive stall had very stylish bags made from recycled roofing fabric from Jaguar cars. Anyway, it was fun; the crowds were nice rather than oppressive, and bumbled around as though they had just woken up from the awful Covid years. 

It's looming over us again, and I'm wearing a mask on public transport and in most shops. I never stopped, despite people staring at me, and I haven't been ill with anything for ages. I feel like I should be touching wood here! I just don't want to catch it. Although it's supposed not to be so debilitating in its current form, nobody knows what repeated infections might do to you. 

I still don't know if the illness that I had back in February 2020 was Covid or not. It was that vicious virus that, pre-testing, could have been anything but was much worse than normal 'flu. I haven't had it again and I definitely don't want it again. Three people I knew died of Covid at that time (they were all under the age of 55), and numerous people that I knew of died of it. I know a LOT of people with Long Covid. There seems to be some sort of awful shaming about this, as though by having Long Covid they are reminding people who've recovered that there was actually a global pandemic a very short time ago. 

No thanks! You can stare at me as much as you like, but I'll keep the mask on, and keep washing my hands when I get back to my house.

Ramble ramble, mumble mumble. I suppose these are pre-Christmas misery musings. The local shops are sold out of Lindt Chocolate Santas, there are no Pannetones either, and the blackberries that I got out of the freezer to make a cake with have started fermenting so the sparrows in the back yard are going to have a boozy Christmas Eve feast tomorrow. However, I have sourced (modern terminology!) a supply of lychees, so that's very good news. Eyeballs all round! 

Best of all, Offsprog One turned up this evening with a tub of Cheese Footballs that sits proudly on the side in the kitchen waiting for Christmas Day. I'll be driving to Camberwell to pick up Offsprog Two first thing on Christmas morning, sporting my Lidl Christmas Jumper from two years ago (I bought it on eBay) and listening to BBC6 on the car radio, perhaps with a cheese football or two for company. 

Yum yum!

I found a stash of sticky old unused Christmas crackers on top of the kitchen cupboards, and have piled cheap ugly clementines from the shop over the road on to a huge vintage plate from the charity shop that I bought immediately after vowing never to buy anything from a charity shop again. The cheap ugly clementines are all different shades of orange and all different sizes, but unlike the supermarket ones they taste absolutely beautiful, and there is also something aesthetically pleasing about the fact that a lot of them still have stalks and leaves, so I know they definitely grew on a tree and weren't simply created by Artificial Intelligence, like most things these days seem to be.

Ramble ramble, mumble mumble. All I'd logged on for was to upload my seasonal greeting 'card' and I've ended up droning on for so long that I'm even boring myself. If there had been some chocolate Santas in the shop, I would have just eaten one of them and then sat here feeling guilty for the rest of the evening instead of writing a blog posting. Here is the 'card' anyway: Merry Christmas to my readers, whoever and wherever you are! Some days sixty people read this blog, yet yesterday more than a thousand did. I rather like the randomness of that and not having any advertising on it, too. 

Let's hope for peace in 2024; wouldn't it be incredible if humans learned how to live like that?

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Cult Figures, Micko and the Mellotronics and Helen McCookerybook at the Hope and Anchor

Gigs this close to Christmas are wonderful- they are celebratory for the performers, in particular, because you've got another year under your belt. That's another milestone in validating a really peculiar lifestyle, with a switchback of ups and downs that don't make any sense to anyone apart from your musical compatriots.

When Micko contacted me to ask me to open for the Mellotronics and Cult Figures, I jumped at the chance. This is a different musical world to explore; lots of them overlap and I'd seen the Mellotronics at The Lexington several months ago and enjoyed their twangling, Kinks-inspired songs a lot. I was not so familiar with Cult Figures, though of course any band with the always-engaging Lee McFadden in it is worth seeing.

I got out one of my best stage shirts and even prepared a song I'd never sung live before (Things Like This). Playing an unfamiliar song seemed unrisky, because I was first on and sure nobody would be there at the beginning.

How wrong can you be? The room was pretty stuffed right from the start, which for a support act is the best Christmas present you could possibly have. The Wine Tipster and Simon Horsemanjockey were there, disappointingly not in their diaphanous dance dresses, but forgiven for making the effort. And reader, I managed the new song fine although I played some pretty sh*t guitar in the couple of songs leading up to it, partly out of Fear Of The New Song. I honestly don't think people heard the mistakes, actually, though any musician will tell you that they remember each gig as a series of linked mistakes with a bit of clapping in between! I also had to contend with having used my guitar to rehearse lead-licks in the Beefheart project with a pick, and also a missing fingernail. But no more excuses! People seemed to really like it all, even though I left out several of my regular anchor songs and played a  slightly different set to normal. The woman behind the bar loved it, which is always a good barometer. How do I know? I could see her at the back smiling, and she told me afterwards. There were quite a few people there who had been to Chefs gigs, and someone who didn't like Helen and the Horns! Ha ha! we had a nice chat afterwards. It was great to see Tonje out again, with Pete, and also to see James out and about, and to be invited to Chris's birthday party in February.

Well its not All About Me, is it? Micko was playing with a brand new band that included the bass player from The Boomtown Rats, and they played a very tight set. Their songs are about quirky subjects: Imelda Marcos, the noisy neighbour, Holloway Road (about Joe Meek). Micko has a real star quality and enviable guitars in his collection and played some mean guitar licks. I have their latest CD here to listen to and I'm really looking forward to that. Apparently it was mastered by an analogue genius in Devon, and I'm looking forward to earwigging that too. We had an ongoing joke about the volume of the bass and he messaged this morning to say he'd turned it down! It's just that if someone is a really good guitarist you need space to hear what they are doing. It was a really neat, appealing set of songs and the audience thought so too. Cult Figures were the headliners for the night, promoting their new release as well. They started with some older songs and then played their new album. I liked the way their used harmonies, especially because you could hear relatively new member lead vocalist Fraser Gillespie singing in a Scottish accent alongside Lee's London one. I know their guitarist died recently and it must be hard to carry on, but they delivered a strong set of powerful pop songs that went down very well with the audience.

Can you imagine what fun it is to play a gig, and then stand back and watch the next bands playing, so you've got a night out as well? That's what it was like. There was a great atmosphere in there!

The photos show Micko and the Melleoronics from close to the stage and Cult Figures from further back. Christmas gig done: now to buy the parsnips!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas Crush

Saturday involved a small peace march and a visit not only to Caroline Coon's punk photography exhibition in Jermyn Street (hello Mykaell Riley, my friend of many years) but also Don Van Vliet's paintings in Upper Brook Street, which started off as a duty visit but actually, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed his paintings. I'd had a sneery thought that he was indeed just swishing paint about like a jackass' tail (his words, not mine), but he was very good with colour and proportion and the paintings are exquisite. If I was rich, I'd buy one!

Sunday was a different day entirely: we joined Reimagine London, an offshoot of Fossil Free London, for a guided walk through Vauxhall's green and revolutionary spaces, starting in Archbishop's Park and ending in the small cluster of houses where Mat Fox from The Happy End and Pat Holland, whose feminist TV programmes I used to write music for, used to live. It's now a thriving community with two community gardens, a community café and a community centre. It was a positive and enlightening peramble, at the end of which we sat and drank hot chocolate and coffee at an outside table and chatted about things with a generation of people who have an entirely different perspective from ours. This was a rare privilege, and very entertaining, especially the young Spanish woman who'd been brought up with snails as part of her diet and who feels pangs of hunger occasionally when she sees a garden snail in England.

Monday and Tuesday, I was doing more writing and rehearsing with Gina for Beefheart, The Musical. We now have five songs and they are really complex so will need a lot more rehearsal (we have three days for that in January). On the way back on Monday, I couldn't resist a little Christmas tree from the pub car park not far from where Gina lives. It's the smell, walking past it in two directions every day and inhaling its gorgeous tang. So I took it home on the tube in its lacy condom. The family decorations we used to put on the tree are up in the loft, but I found some limping old lights in the back of the kitchen cupboard, and enough of them are functioning to be able to twinkle in a very nice retro way.

Tonight, I have the last gig of the year at The Hope and Anchor, which is sold out. It has surprised me how busy the year has been with gigs, and of course that wonderful three months of illustration. Life never ceases to amaze me, in the good ways as well as the bad ways.

There will be time later this week to hoard a few Lindt chocolate Santas and add to the shaming little red and gold bell collection. There have been no tickets left for the Southwark Cathedral carols this year, but my Champagne friend has Covid, unfortunately, so we would probably have not been able to go together. The good news is that she will be better for Christmas.

Now to post the last couple of cards...

Friday, December 15, 2023

A Little Something For The New Year

Live in the Greater Manchester area? Why not hop on the tram to Bury and come to our free screening of Stories from the She-Punks, plus the special one-off performance of Beefheart, the Musical (not a musical) by Gina Birch and me. Put the date in your diary- the afternoon of Saturday 6th January!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Outside the BBC Experience

This photo by Nikita is from Tuesday's Christmas get-together organised by the ECDC. It was a chilly night, but there were a few people there from the community art workshop and it was really nice to chat with them. There was also a supply of possibly the most delicious drinking chocolate that I've drunk for years!

Some of the portraits that I drew of local people are on display upstairs at Conversation Corner on Lillie Road. Nikita showed me this, which is on a hoarding outside the BBC Experience. I didn't know about it! I still feel that it was one of the nicest project I've done in my life, for more reasons that I could possibly enumerate. Partly, to have a project in my head and then an immediate opportunity to realise that- well, that's very rare.

Anyway, more working on Beefheart, the Musical today. We had a good working day yesterday resulting in one complete song and one to complete this morning, plus two in the pipeline and another idea to work on early next week. Because of the January deadline we're working very intensely, and I slept like a log last night.

Somewhere in the middle of this is Christmas. I walk past fir trees piled up for sale and inhale that wonderful scent. Should I get one this year? It's so tempting!

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


Last gig of the year is at The Hope and Anchor, Islington, London on Wednesday 20th December supporting Cult Figures and Micko and the Mellotronics.

Here we go!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Q Magazine Article

Q is back- I think just online.

I was contacted about this a few weeks ago and wasn't expecting to appear in it myself as an interviewee- I thought the interest was more in the book. So I'm chuffed!

Big thanks to Dominic Utton.

London Marches and Gatherings

Yesterday was the first time that I could go on a Peace March. I call it that because Suella Braverman, who is an extraordinarily divisive and unpleasant lawyer and disgraced politician, the architect of the plan to send refugees to Rwanda (where she has undeclared commercial interests), calls them 'Hate Marches'.

I deplore the terrorism of Hamas. I deplore violence and I deplore war. So I deplore the military response of the Israeli government to the terrorist attacks. When has action like this ever worked? 

I do not understand how there can be men who have the imagination and sophistication to develop technology to explore space and land on Mars, yet we can not as a human race develop our consciousness enough to resolve political, social and religious differences without resorting to murder. That is what taking a human life is called.

And I can't get the image of a tiny Palestinian toddler out of my head: she sits in the rubble, stunned and quaking with trauma and fear. She often appears in front of my eyes. No child should experience that, whatever 'side' they are on, whatever the justification of the person with the bomb. And to call this violence religious is the height of opprobrium.

How are any of these children on any side of the war going to grow up to be well-adjusted adults?

Like many people, I feel completely helpless. I have spent my life opposing racism and working through my career as an educator to ensure fairness and equality for everyone that I have come into contact with, absolutely to the best of my ability. 

There are too many fancy words for killing people. It's murder.

As we walked along amongst thousands of other people, we saw the Santa convention in a parallel street. Oh London, you peculiar city. Drunken Santas roared with laughter and screamed in excitement, in an entirely different representation of human gathering.

The streets got more and more crowded as we got towards Parliament Square; XR were there with their drums, and we'd seen a bunch of children with noisy yellow vuvuzelas. We saw the police form a line and slice into the crowd to extract someone to arrest, but actually everyone seemed fully aware of the gravity of the protest. Later, I read that there were only 13 arrests out of what looked like 20,000 people (at a conservative guess).
The final twist was at the top of Charing Cross Road as we walked up towards the tube station at Tottenham Court Road. There was a scrum of people and a phalanx of motorcycle police. As we walked up the road we saw probably 20 or 30 trotting carriages with horses blocking the road and queued up along the pavement. I've been completely unable to work out what on earth was going on there. Another protest? Another gathering? And all of this mixed up with Christmas shoppers, looking baffled. London is not a postcard city. We go out, rain or shine, and wear our hearts on our sleeves, whatever our hearts tell us.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Wrecking Ball Arts Centre, Hull

In the afternoon, I got the bus over to Barton to Yuba Studio to meet Lee, who will be remastering The Chefs tracks for the vinyl release some time next year. I found out yesterday it's going to be a double, and will feature some of the tracks we recorded for an unreleased album for Graduate Records. Lee is great, and we could have talked all afternoon about sound, music and everything around it. He gave me advice about drying out DAT tapes with silica packs, which was really useful. I've had my mini-DAT player fixed, but alas one tiny screw is missing, and irreplaceable, apparently.

Anyway, I headed back through the cold wind into Hull, checked in to the hotel and walked through to Wrecking Ball. What a wonderful treasure that place is! Big, warm, yellow light, loads of vinyl, a cassette section, a really eclectic selection of books and a café at the back. I had a great chat with the co-owner Gary, scoffed a pasty and a cup of fresh coffee before heading upstairs to sound check. 

The room upstairs is a miniature theatre with wooden floorboards and a great sound. It's didn't take long to set up, and Graham Beck showed up and sorted his sound out quickly. We'd not sold many tickets but Mick, June and Laura came and sat in the front row, and the small audience was thoroughly committed- they joined in Graham's song with gusto, and gave me the support of four times the number of people. 

I'd been hoping to play Things Like This, but messed it up in the sound check so kept the set fairly straight and normal, though we did have a good Bathing Pond singalong. The sound was superb. Hats off to the staff for being super patient and friendly! What a lovely venue- a little slice of New York in cold, grey and rainy Hull!

After the gig, Mick, June and Laura dropped me off at the hotel. we sat and talked for ages in the car when we got there. It really was nice to see them again.

Here's one of June's videos, Woodwide Web. Two of the women in the audience recommended another book about trees but I can't remember the author or the name. And there was a man there who had seen Helen and the Horns at Imperial College in the 1980s. So there you go!

After a day recovering from the chilly travel, I went to Gina's on Thursday and we began writing stuff for Beefheart, The Musical, which we'll be doing on Saturday 6th January in Bury. We'll have to work out ladybollocks off to do that, but we have the work ethic and we have the guitars. Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Nest Gig: Wrecking Ball Arts Centre, Hull on Tuesday with Graham Graham Beck

I'm looking forward to this one, to seeing Mick, June and Laura too.

This is the ticket and info link: 

Barnet Christmas Fair, A Joy To Everyone

I felt so sorry for them, out in the cold and rain far too early on a Sunday morning for teenagers to be up and about! They quite obviously felt sorry for themselves too. Why couldn't they be in the shopping centre like the brass and woodwind band who played later?

Ping Ting!

It was fun though. There was even a House of Fun this year, so it must have been. There were so many rules about what you couldn't do, it might have spoiled the fun if anyone read them.

There must be a lot of people who do crafts who are hiding away in the streets here... I hope they come out next year.

We made friends with the Hadley FC people who were mega-enthusiastic, so I guess we'll have to go and see a game this season, up there by the Windmill. 

At the end of the street, there was a stall big coloured plastic bins full of toys and tat. I did wonder if the bins were for the tat you'd bought at the beginning of the street, and now regretted. You could pop it in the bin on your way back to the tube station. When the bins filled up, they are taken to the start of the street for a new lot of people to buy and later regret. Perfect recycling.

Small town living: doncha just love it?

Friday, December 01, 2023

Shane MacGowan

The world is flowing with Shane stories at the moment, unsurprisingly, because he was a profoundly social chap. Our musical careers ran parallel to each other and Helen and the Horns supported The Pogues at The Mean Fiddler in Harlesden one time. Rumour has it that Van Morrison was in attendance.

I used to go to the record shop that he worked in in Hanway Street in the West End of London and just chat. When the shop premises moved to London Bridge, I went there too. I used to get him to recommend records (the shops stocked lots of old-school rockabilly and hillbilly music), and I always walked out with a couple of great albums under my arm.

Years later, I was in The Boogaloo Bar in Highgate and he was standing at the bar. He recognised me immediately, and complimented me on my fluffy black jumper. I was taken aback (but very pleased) to be remembered, and felt very respected as a musician. Not all male musicians are like this, but he was. We talked about music, and then he disappeared into the bowels of the building; the owner was, apparently, his PO Box address.

It's a miracle that he lived as long as he did. He lived life more than to the full, always alongside large quantities of alcohol (as many people do). Not many people can be so creative with booze as their buddy. I understand that he let people down sometimes- his bands, especially. 

Over my lifetime so far I have come to the conclusion that all musicians are mad. How we deal with this fact can be very taxing. The fact that we are able to collaborate with each other at all is a miracle that involves our madness synchronising temporarily. Sometimes, this creates wonderful musical outcomes, and Shane definitely had his share of these, in particular with Kirsty MaColl.

Our musical world gets smaller as the years progress. I still think we have been the luckiest people alive to have been born at that strange time that gave us a vacuum to fill in the late 1970s. It felt so depressing and awful- but look what came out of it!