Monday, April 15, 2024

Wylam Institute

When I was a child the Institute felt like the centre of the village. There was a yearly village show upstairs, and I went to dancing classes up there for a while. The village shows were a hoot- one of the primary school teachers, who ran the school choir, wore very short mini-skirts and the Dads jostled to sit in the front row. The village choir, starring Mrs Hibbert (scourge of Mr Sleightholme, whose bantams I used to feed when he was away), always sang 'I've got a bonnet trimmed with blue, do you wear it, yes I do!'. They were mega-coy, and most of them seemed to wear that bright coral lipstick so we could observe just how heartily they articulated the words. The jumble sales were brilliant: I'd buy stacks of vinyl singles with no sleeves, tied up with hairy string, and take them home to see what I'd bagged. You could only see the top and bottom labels. I bought a fencing foil once, and a wooden Robert Thompson 'mouseman' ashtray which I sold on eBay in 2018 for £95 when I was selling stuff so I could go to New York. I think it cost sixpence! I also once bought a long 1930s pale green coat with bell sleeves and a satin lining; my friend at the time refused to walk down the street with me when I was wearing that.

And downstairs, that's where I went to Girl Guides every week. Sometimes I'd take my Spanish guitar and me and my friend Anita would sing the song that seemed to be ubiquitous at the time: I think it's called 500 Miles and was released by Peter, Paul and Mary. I was the patrol leader for the Kingfishers, and we got told off for doing art stuff all the time. Weird co-incidence- I don't think I've heard that song for 40 years, and it's just appeared in an episode of Professor T that I watching online!

Much later, there were a couple of discos there and even a live gig: there was a young chap called Gabriel Schuster who wore an academic gown and played long guitar solos, as I remember. So here is a gig in the Institute, alongside Floppy Posture, a band formed by my friend Simon Brough who used to do bellringing in Wylam Parish Church as part of a young posse. I joined first (McMum told me I should because I found the bellringing practices so annoying). His brother Andy, one of my best friends, died a couple of years ago. What a pity he can't come too.

Friday, April 12, 2024


I bounced everything down last night to make mp3s of the demos, just to see how they're doing. I wasn't intending to do any recording today but one of the tracks had a few lumbering guitar mistakes which I had to re-record this morning so I can relax over the weekend. I know the next couple of weeks are going to be busy: Robert's coming round to rehearse for the support gig with Jasmine Minks next Saturday, then I'll have to rehearse my own set for the gigs in Edinburgh and Manchester the following weekend. 

I'll have to record the lead vocals at the beginning of May when the hay fever season has calmed down a bit, but I might have a go at tidying up the backing vocals before then. Half the time, I think it's sounding really good, and the other half, I don't. It's funny how the tracks that sound best are often unexpected ones. I've written a song that sounds like A Proper Song. There's another that is possibly too sweet for this record; it's sounding quite energetic! 

I think you can hear in the music that I've left my lecturing job. Working there was like wearing a concrete hat that was compressing everything bouncy and joyful in life, and a mask of insecurity that nibbled at your face all the time because nobody ever said you did anything well, or appeared to notice if something you did outside the university environment was successful. It was all one big downgrade, designed to make you feel like an impostor for not going to a posh university or conservatoire to study music formally. What an upstart I must have seemed! 

In a world of my own, where I'm happy, I can spend 24 hours being creative and another 24 being political if that's the way the cookie crumbles. I will always treasure the relationships that I had with the students, the majority of them. I miss being surrounded by their ideas.

Anyway, I think I have a poster for the gig a week tomorrow. Oh yes, I do.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Talleyrand, Manchester, 27th April


Knowle Constitutional Club, May 5th


Chefs Album Doings

In between recording and meeting friends, I've been sorting out various things with Ian from the label Damaged Goods for our Chefs vinyl release. It's going to be a double album, without the Skat songs (although Femme Fatale will be there, from our Richard Skinner session); the unreleased album will be there, warts and all (there are a few of those: almost inaudible vocals on some of the tracks), plus the track Locked Out from the WNW6 album. The email communication line is red-hot with details which have to be checked and double checked. It's incredibly useful having taught a music industry law module during lockdown, though at times like this I wish I had a manager to sort out all the advantages taken by huge publishing companies. Energy vampires, they are, gobbling up the energy that creative people put into the world and trying to leave them as dried up husks by the roadside as they prowl around looking for their next juicy victims.

Still, today I've succeeded in making a demo for what I think will be the last of the tracks for my own next album. I've rejected a few of the songs already, and may possibly invite a previous reject back into the fold, but it sounded meek in comparison to some of the others. Tomorrow will be the last day of working on them for a week or so, because I'll need to start rehearsing the McCookerybook and Rotifer songs for our gig in ten days supporting Jasmine Minks, and I also need to sort out some gig dates around some orphan venue shows. 

Tube workers, Embankment

This was last January, the day before the residency at Earl's Court started. I'd explained to the tube workers what I was about to do, asked if I could photograph them to draw, and they said yes. I spend an hour on each of these drawings, and will have to choose simpler subjects- it's frustrating to want to re-draw and finish some parts of them. Listening to Riley and Coe as usual, with an absolutely hilarious track by Vic Reeves called I Remember Punk Rock

Monday, April 08, 2024


That guitar-pickin' fingernail! I wonder if I can go into a nail bar and ask them for just one fingernail?

I want to get on with my recording; I've been editing a lot today but need some fresh playing on the songs. I also have a gig with Robert in two weeks. The offending nail grew back, but now it's splitting again. I'd think it was a diet issue, if all of my other fingernails weren't completely fine. 

I worked on one of Gina's songs this morning, and have backing-vocalled my own songs to extinction, at least to the point at which I have to stop because it's so hard to subtract music from music: you have to build it like a house of cards and not let it topple over.

It really does have to be guitar next. 

John Singer Sargent at Tate Britain

Hobnobbing with the stars (or at least, the rich), Singer Sargent had access to beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes, and became an absolute expert in conveying sumptuous wealth in all its glory. Not all of his subjects were conventionally beautiful, but he painted them all as if they were. My favourite painting is there: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Now there's a song title, if I ever heard one! I remember being really upset because I read somewhere that the little girls were actually little boys, but in this exhibition they are girls. I felt like he had painted me, outside in the greenery, concentrating. It's absolutely fantastic.

He was good at hands and ears (I noticed because I'm finding them particularly difficult to represent at the moment), and also the fact that most people don't have matching eyes. It was mildly upsetting that the only woman who didn't have a name was the Japanese one, an unfinished painting, but the fact that she didn't have a name like the Western women emphasised the snootiness and privilege of the more formal paintings.

That being said, there was a wonderful painting of Vernon Lee (or Violet Paget as she was known as), a lesbian who preferred to reject as much femininity as possible. The painting took only an hour to do, apparently.

Saturday, April 06, 2024


I've now got to the point with two of the songs where I'm thinking 'But the other songs are going to sound crap compared to these'. 

It's because I've been sitting there editing and editing on one of them (still not finished yet), to get everything tight and lined up. What started off being quirky and floppy is now sounding smart. No lead vocals yet, because of the wind blowing the pollen around so much, but...

Dammit, I've just remembered that I meant to tidy up the backing vocals of another song before I stopped for the night, but I guess I can start with that one tomorrow morning. Editing is weird: I dread it, but as soon as the song is up on the screen I get as absorbed by it as I do with playing guitar, and time just flies. It's like digging really deep into the song and coming out the other end with a layer of it on you like a tree ring or something; you're almost wearing it. And it's amazing how much difference shifting a note a nanosecond along the timeline makes in terms of sonic power.

I've got a really good 'bad girl' song but I think it might be a bit too gruesome for this album, which so far is wearing its anger lightly. That's not to belittle the anger, but more to emphasise the subtlety of the way it's expressed.

Roll on tomorrow, more vocals and a guitar part to repair. All bits, bits, bits until the lead vocal holds it all together and makes it into a song!


Well, I've been singing today, and playing guitar. What a pain in the botty to have to re-string my guitar yesterday but miracle of miracles, it was bang in tune this morning. I'm not sure if it's made that much difference, apart from a morale boosting one. 

I started with singing some harmonies for a lovely song of Gina's which I've probably sung too much on, but at least she has plenty to choose from. I thought that might be all that I did today so I went outside and did a bit of gardening, or yardening as I prefer to call it, snipping the spent yellow flowers from the small and beautiful New Zealand tree that's waiting to be re-potted in a humongously giant pot. It was me and the bees (they love it). If I was an entomologist, I'd count the bee varieties around the tree because there are loads, possibly all the bees that are missing from everywhere else in the world: honey bees, bumble bees, furry black ones. I dodged them as much as I could in case I got stung, then bottled out and did a bit of pruning instead. It looked so horrible and straggly out there about a week ago, but everything has started growing and it is my favourite garden in the universe, so small and imperfectly formed.

Sometimes I look around and think 'Why is everyone so much richer than me?'. This is perfectly counterbalanced by the times I look around and think 'Why is everyone so much poorer than me?'. I've concluded that it's so anxiety-inducing comparing oneself to other people that it's best not to do it. I have health problems, like a lot of other people. I worry a lot about the health and wellbeing of not only people close to me but also those far away. Music and art are therapy for these things. 

It's possible to be fabulously angry in a song and know you've hit the nail on the head lyrically, which is a million times more legal than hitting the person on the head literally. It's possible to be tender in a drawing and to show how much you value undervalued people. This makes you feel engaged, if not powerful.

There was a fair bit of mud to scrub from my hands, which is possibly why my fingernails keep breaking. But I went back and did some guitar repairs then the singing devil got into me and I did some backing vocals on a song that I vowed not to do backing vocals on; I should know by now that it's always the best thing to do.

Hay fever has made me wheezy and although I'd like to never stop recording ever, it's time for Come Dine With Me and a tempting pile of crisps. Looks like a thoroughly awful group of people! Tally-ho!

Friday, April 05, 2024

Wiping Tables At The Laing Art Gallery

This is last night's drawing.  There's something not right about his arm, but some drawings are made to learn from. As usual I was listening to Gideon Coe's show on BBC6, but this time a lot later than normal. Funny how you get to recognise people's music and voices immediately. He played everything from Swansea Sound to Extreme Noise Terror last night, an utterly different palette of music to the night before.

Anyway, this chap was wiping tables in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle about 18 months ago. There wasn't time to colour him (the drawings take an hour, or in this case, less). It would be lovely to go to life drawing classes again, but it's unaffordable at the moment and making drawings from photographs will have to do for now. 

Bandcamp Friday

I found this preview online of the gig we're doing at The Cumberland Arms in Byker at the end of the month: The Girl With The Replaceable Head, David Lance Callahan and me. I think it's going to be a zinger! what I like about this is that the writer acknowledges the fact that I produced the Drawing on my Dreams album, and that means a lot.

Mandy Austin told me on Saturday that Steve Lillywhite (the producer) still really likes Beachwalk and said it was one of his favourite tracks from last year. What a huge compliment! 

It's weird starting to build the foundations of the next album. I really didn't think I'd do another one, but then the songs turned up and tapped me on the shoulder. I have the tedious task of re-stringing my guitar this weekend because after recording the demos I'm ready to replace those original ones with the 'proper' versions. I have asked Lester Square to guest on one of the tracks too: I'm not sure about other guests this time around. 

The problem is, I start inventing little riffs and I've already started playing them into the songs. Yesterday, I started adding backing vocals. Because I don't like 'oohs' and have already done some 'aahs', I decided to hum instead. I'd got halfway through the second harmony and started sneezing uncontrollably, couldn't stop and had to pack up for the day. Who knew that humming triggered sneezing? You live and learn.

Anyway, today is Bandcamp Friday and here is Drawing on my Dreams, with the track Beachwalk on it. Please do invest in a copy to cheer you up on this grey rainy day!

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Morning Prayers

Commuters one winter morning at Embankment Station on the District and Circle Line, heading west. Nearly everyone is completely absorbed in their phone.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Rachel Love and the Lovables, Panic Pocket, and Me

This is almost difficult to review because it was such a good night. It was an absolute delight to be opening this gig, because of playing a good few gigs with the Dollymixtures way back in time, and having been aware of Panic Pocket for a long time and not actually ever having seen them. It was an early start, and that could have been a worry but audience members started showing up even before the doors opened. There was such a lovely, relaxed atmosphere, mingled in with a bit of a buzz of excitement. Amanda Austin came to do the door, and she knows us all anyway. Three cheers for my own friends and family, who showed up in force, and also a couple of surprises- Rowen, Tom and Jo, Mandy and Simon, and Alex. Hello Caryne and Dave, Damian, Isobel, Andy, James and Jenny! I felt very well supported from the start, and Tony the promoter did the perfect intro, where he actually invited the audience to step forward towards the stage.
This broke the ice straight away. Every kind of people was there: some from the Old Days, some from the New Days, and according to Amanda, a few guests from the local Youth Hostels who had come along on spec. This was a night when I could happily play Women of the World and know that it would resonate with people; and Three Maple Men, which I rarely play, had an unexpected resonance with a woman in the audience, whose Mum had moved to the USA from England when she was fourteen.

Panic Pocket's sound is unique: they have a blend of electronica and electric guitar, topped by an almost country vocal sound (with occasional girl-group harmonies). This means that they span simultaneously retro and very contemporary definitions of song writing, and they were intriguing to listen to, especially because of their very smart lyrics. They are definitely worth seeing; there are layers of meaning in their music and lyrics that make them a band you could se more than once and hear entirely different things each time.

And headlining the night, the wonderful Rachel and her boys. They were great at the Lexington, and even better here, a more intimate venue that they filled with their positive vibe. But they have also been rehearsing a lot. Indie audiences don't necessarily expect bands to be tightly-rehearsed, because sometimes this implies a slickness that ruins the feel and spontaneity of the music, but in this case the band provided a sure and firm foundation for Rachel's own playing and singing. This time you could hear even more clearly the care that had gone into the arrangements of the instrumentation and vocals. Weirdly I felt incredibly proud, not just to have been on this bill, but of women song writers, and also the women of our generation who are still out there creating music. I look at all this positivity as an antidote to the horrors of real life, which of course we are processing in our lyrics while giving people a night out. Rachel's songs are, and always have been, really special. What a privilege to share a stage again after all these years. 

Shouts out to Debsey, who was going to be singing but had a sore throat, to all the musicians, to Tony for organising it, to my pals and family for being there, to the chap who draws my portraits from photos and who brought along some more, to the woman who said I sounded like Pentagram then swiftly realised that she meant Pentangle (and  got a CD for her mum), to the woman who got a CD for her four-year-old niece, and last but not least, to the venue cook who said he really liked my voice. Now that's a real compliment.
Hear Rachel below- I lost my grip on my camera halfway through because I was trying to dance and film at the same time!



Friday, March 29, 2024

Suresh Singh Portrait

This is a portrait of Suresh Singh, who drummed for Spizz's band back in punk times. He was talking at an event last Saturday organised by the East London Women's Museum, who also put on a contemporary cockney market. They had shown a documentary about him, which we got there too late to see, unfortunately. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024


This is Aziz, busking in Barnet High Street last Sunday. When I asked to take a photo, he put his hat on and swung the tassel around as he played. What a genius- the music was absolutely great.

Recording Guitars

I've been recording for at least four hours today, just putting basic guitar tracks down. Partly, it's to hear habitual mistakes and work out what I need to concentrate on to make the parts better. One of the songs was a new one, and two of them were old. I am jealous of my own old songs- why do they seem better than the new ones?

At least I feel better about the next release. I was feeling that there was a desert of material, but there's not at all. I have three types of songs: the storytelling ones, the moral dilemma ones and the bitter and twisted ones. I can't see how they fit together so I'm just going to finish the lot and see what's there.

Gina's just sent me a song to work on too, so I'm going to load that in tomorrow and do a bit of singing. Hay fever time has come at least a month early so I'm a bit wheezy but that happens every year and somehow life manages to continue. 

I've got to do a suggested track listing for the Chefs vinyl album so I think I'll do that now. There's one more track to come back from the music hospital and then they'll all be here. I've seen the back cover (great!) and things are getting rolling!

Man Films Pigeon in McDonalds, Waverley Station, Edinburgh


Monday, March 25, 2024

Amazon, Brexit....

I wonder if we'd have needed Brexit if we'd left Amazon? 

You know, that global superpower that has destroyed retail by undercutting prices (because they don't pay tax), and undercutting wages (because they're anti-union), and that doesn't pay any attention to employment law or business ethics (because it's governed centrally, by one dictator). 

Just a thought, really.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Pop-Up Chefs: Food

Here's a little taste of what's to come. Four tracks are now completed: Food, Records and Tea, 24 Hours and Let's Make Up, all ready to be released as an EP if someone is interested enough to do it! I recorded them in my kitchen and James's dining room, and mixed them in the kitchen.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Pigeon Post

 Stop press: it's Sunday May 5th in Bristol!

Piper In Waiting

As per new habit, I spent an hour drawing along with Gideon Coe and Marc Riley last night. This is a bagpiper on Canongate, Edinburgh, waiting his turn to play. I didn't leave enough room for his feet, so I had to put them beside him. I hope he doesn't mind.

This morning, I've been recording guitar parts. I found a really miserable song that I wrote a few years ago (just while the Telecaster was out) and counteracted it by finding The Band That Time Forgot, which I wrote to celebrate Asbo Derek's non-review at a gig where all the other acts got reviewed but they didn't. Miraculously, I can remember how to play it. Just not well.

In other news, my fridge is kaput. It went a bit funny last week, so I defrosted it and it pretended to work. I filled it with nice food for the weekend, upon which it decided not to work again so everything is going off, apart from the food that I took down the road to the neighbours. It's amazing how upsetting a broken fridge can be. It smells- and this morning it's actually HOT in there!!!! I have had it for 15 years though, so it's done it's job for long enough.

Saturday 30th March at The Water Rats: supporting Panic Pocket and Rachel Love and the Lovables

Long time ago, The Chefs and The Dollymixtures shared many stages together, which makes this a particularly lovely gig to play. 

Rachel came to see me and James play our mini pop-up Chefs gig in Woodingdean, Sussex on a very stormy night last year, and I went to see her play at the Lexington, London earlier in the 2023. Her songwriting is till sublime, and she has her two sons playing in the band with her. 

Tickets here:

Friday, March 15, 2024

Woman Feeds Iceberg Lettuce To Swan, South Shore, River Thames

This one was on a dismal day last year; the tide was out and on the grimy sand were a posse of swans. We went down to investigate, and saw this woman feeding a very grateful bird. Was this a regular visit? How did she know that swans like iceberg lettuce?

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Resting Street Cleaner, Regent's Canal

This is this evening's By Myself Drawing Club drawing. Each of these takes an hour only. I never make 'finished' drawings anyway, but it's quite interesting to see what can be done in a limited time. Sunday Drawing Club was two hours so you could usually do a bit more.

This chap was resting in the shade, feet up, looking at his sunglasses. How nice to be looking at a pair of sunglasses rather than a phone. He must have been thinking about something: ruminating. I was rather taken by that thought.

I was listening to a High Llamas session on Riley and Coe, and really enjoyed it a lot, partly because of the occasional stumbling, which made it all the more real. But also because of the great songs and the delicate delivery.

Painting the Stairwell

I've spent a few hours over the last couple of days painting the stairwell, as I may have mentioned. Today's task involved taping a paintbrush tightly on to the end of an extending roller and filling in little bits at the top where the pink plaster was still peeking through. It worked quite well. 

Stair-well, in fact (boom, boom!). There are annoying little bits lower down that I may have to patch up but I'll wait for a couple of days until it's bone dry before doing that.

I woke really early this morning which was partly infuriating, but I had a couple of song ideas that made it worthwhile and soon I was off to the land of nod again, and slept until nearly ten o'clock. This was simultaneously thrilling and unnerving. I do want to make the little adjustments to the Chefs tracks that James suggested, but maybe that can wait until tomorrow.

Yesterday's recording session was terrible. I made mistakes in both songs, just couldn't get the feel right- and washing the paint off my hands has been very bad for my fingernails. I may wait until next week: I know that I can do it, and I might be able to make one of the songs better if I rest it for a while. 

Too many things are happening: there are two exhibitions that I want to go to and I hope they don't finish before I get there. I wanted to go to Lucy O'Brien's talk about her Liver Birds book yesterday evening, but I got so wet earlier on that I felt the need to just stay at home and dry out. I took my collapsible brolly to a friend's house, left it, and it migrated somewhere else before I had the chance to pick it up. 

In the end, you have to accept that being creative takes a lot of time. You have to practice your musicianship or you get rusty, and you have to practice your artship, too. Eventually I'll get round to making an online shop and selling some fo my drawings. I'm under a snowdrift of paper, a draw-drift.

Bymyselfdrawingclub: Dog in Bag

This dog (a Papillon, I think) was sitting in a bag on the lap of a Japanese woman travelling westwards on the tube one day. Nobody minded me taking the pic (I asked) especially not the dog, who was wedged in quite firmly and didn't have the choice to refuse!

Tuesday, March 12, 2024


I went into town on a fruitless expedition to get a vacuum cleaner to replace the terrible Dyson effort that I've been pushing around the floors for several years in the vain hope that it might pick up some dust. 

Existential question: how can it constantly get blocked with dust, when it picks up no dust at all? That's between James Dyson and his God, who probably lives in Singapore along with the rest of the workforce, post-Brexit.

I was wandering around the store, unable to find any sort of assistance, when a very pleasant greeter (they were there in abundance, oddly) said 'Good morning, how are you?'. 'Fine', I replied. 'How are you?'.

Actually, things were terrible his end. He is being very badly bullied by his line manager, who is playing mind games with him, alternately giving him permission to take compassionate leave and then withdrawing it. He was beside himself with stress; his mouth was dry, and no solution that I came up with was the right one. I didn't know what to suggest, and had limited time because I was off to meet Offsprog One. Eventually after a bit of talking-through, he seemed calmer, and even smiled.

Home again, I can see that my day was not fruitless. I listened to a man with a terrible problem who needed someone neutral to talk to about his dilemma. He got it off his chest.

I came home with no vacuum cleaner, but I vacuumed up someone's stress at no cost to myself.

Good news from last night- I've been added to the bill for Rachel Love's gig at the Water Rats on the 30th March alongside Panic Pocket. I'd even bought tickets to go, I was looking forward to it so much! And now I get to play too. Tickets here:

Plus I'm playing at Annesley House in Dublin at the beginning of April. I've had my nose to the grindstone recording and writing ever since January so it is nice to be thinking about gigs again. Speaking of recording, I think I'll do one of the new ones this avo.

Bymyselfdrawingclub: The Blue Team Win Bargain Hunt


Monday, March 11, 2024

Painting And Ignoring The Rain

I've been painting the stairwell this morning: it's been a gloomy pink colour ever since it was re-plastered before Christmas. I bought a roller on a stalk, which works really well but can't get into the edges and corners, so I'm going to make a paintbrush on a stalk with a bamboo pole and a paintbrush when I get to that stage.

It was surprisingly knackering. I'm slumped with a coffee now, listening to the washing machine. I have just completed another song, and have yet another on the way, about people like J. K. Rowling who flip to being utter right-wingers after taking the same road as those of us who will never forget the bumpy road we've travelled along. This morning, I threw the Cormoran Strike novels in the recycling bin. What a pity such a great writer has such noxious views. I would have thought the tragic murder of Brianna Ghey might have educated her on the consequences of hate speech.

This is a major thing that I genuinely can not understand: how can one human being tell other human beings how they feel, and who they are? How can men tell women how they feel, white people tell black people how they feel, people of one culture or religion decide what others should feel? Surely being open and interested in humanity precludes that- and if you're a writer (or indeed any sort of creative person), shouldn't you be even more open and tolerant to difference?

Oh no- now I've started wondering if I should be writing a critical song when I should be open to J. K. Rowling's difference! Just checking the lyrics, and it's all questions. 

That's OK, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Drawing Along To The Radio

This week I've been drawing along to Marc Riley and Gideon Coe on BBC6. This is tonight's drawing, of the guy at King's Cross who cleans the chewing gum off the paving at Coal Drops Yard with a special machine.

I miss Sunday Drawing Club, but this feels similar. meandering conversation, ideas, that sort of thing. This evening, I was particularly enjoying a song that was being played, and it turns out it was Gas Station With A Bar by The Lovely Basement, my friends in Bristol. I'm playing an afternoon gig with them in Bristol in May and I'm looking forward to hearing their other new songs. They are very good.

There's that strange sensation I used to have when listening to John Peel's show back in the day- you daren't switch off the radio because you think they'll be lonely without you.

When I was younger, I couldn't imagine myself at this age. I think even if I could, I wouldn't have imagined this life: being a gigging musician and illustrator at sixty-ahem-ahem years old. What a strange kettle of fish I find myself in, and all the stranger that there are so many others like me. 

For the first time in my life since Punk, I Fit In.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

The Frustrations Of Mixing Chefs Duo Tracks

I've got 24 Hours and Records and Tea sounding really good, I think. They are slower than the originals, and have different chords and arrangements: but I do think they sound good. I've left a bit of wonkiness, an imperfect vocal line or two, funny little noises. Perfect is boring.

The conundra are Food and Let's Make Up. I have made the guitars sound great but I can't work out where to place the lead vocal- or indeed, what it should sound like. I'm going to leave them for a couple of days and then listen again. I decided not to make the four of them fit together sonically, but I've treated them as four separate entities. Let's see what a couple of day's ears-rest does.

Then I half killed myself getting a guitar part done for one of my new songs: over and over again, get the sound-wave looking right, get the actual sound nice and round and fat. When the vocal's there, I'll probably decide that the guitar needs to be done again, but it's reached a satisfactory plateau. 

Another one (of my own songs) I tried just beat me. I'm a crap client of my own sound engineering: I repeatedly make mistakes seconds from the end of the song. Rationally I know my playing's getting more fluent each take that I record, and at least I know when to stop for the day. I've been recording in the Offsprogs' room but I think the kitchen's better; the problem is that the fridge seems to be dying and it's making a loud noise which will make doing vocals difficult. I can't unplug it as loads of knitwear is in the freezer part to kill the moth eggs. Normally they go out in the back yard for a frosty few days, but not this year. Amazing to think that climate change deniers think those of us who know it's happening are flat-earthers! This is the Tufton Street opinion, I'm reliably informed by an infiltrator of my acquaintance.

Oh what a life.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Steve Soundengineer

Steve was the sound engineer at The Prince Albert in Brighton. He died suddenly last year. I liked him, because apart from getting a good sound for people, he always looked out for me. Once, I was there with the Horns and the support act had commandeered the stage when we got there. It's bad etiquette to do that: the support band always soundchecks after the headliners. As soon as we arrived, he got them off the stage PDQ. Another time, the headliner did a sound check that took over an hour. There was no need: they were a duo with a simple setup. They were just pulling rank, being More Famous Than Me. Steve took extra special care with my own sound that night. I knew what he was doing, and really appreciated it. He's a sad loss to the live scene in Brighton. After he'd gone, everyone realised that they didn't know anything about him. Like children at primary school with their teachers, we assumed he lived in a cupboard somewhere with the spare leads and broken equipment, and was let out when the gigs happened and locked away again afterwards. I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, to be so much part of the furniture that people just expect you to be there doing your job and never think about you having a life outside that. For some people it's a good thing, and for others it isn't: I call it Mary Poppins syndrome, and used to leave any job I was doing as soon as it happened. 
This one's for you, anyway, Steve. I appreciated your kindness.

Singing with The Petropolitans

A few months ago, Robert Rotifer showed up at my house with the raw tracks from what would be his new album, and we sat for a couple of hours at the kitchen table while I sang harmonies (some sky-high ones, at that) on to a selection of the new songs. What lovely songs they are, too. We have done a couple of gigs already as a band, with Ruth Tidmarsh on bass, Ian Button on drums and Paul Pfleger on keyboards/piano. My role is backing vocals, which will always be weird because I'm just not sure what my body is about on stage without a guitar in front of it.

However, go with the flow in 2024! We had two rehearsals, and verily everything sounded good. Kindly, Robert invited me to play Ballon with him, which made me feel a lot more normal. After Sunday's rehearsal, we met up at The Spice of Life and get ready for the sound check. There was a bit of awkward fiddling (using an actual piano on a smallish stage with five vocalists is a sound engineer's nightmare), but soon we were sorted and we sat down to watch the support act, the wonderful Picturebox. I absolutely love their songs. There is no flabbiness in their sound, no pretentiousness in their lyrics, and they manage to sound nostalgic without sounding like little-Englander Brexiters. They are almost like a Ladybird book come to life; their world is of bowling clubs, with the odd speedway to spice it up and a murder lurking in the shadows. They are loads better than lots of bands who play sunshiney pop and Think They Are It. They are far too good to be jealous of; I found myself thoroughly absorbed in their songwriting and the way the storytelling happens in the musical arrangements as well as in the lyrics and vocal melodies. Robert Halcrow sings perfectly in tune for most fo the lead vocals but they share vocals and guitar duties and make sure everyone has a go at being in the spotlight; this is what Boy Scouts should sound like when they grow up and become songwriters, and probably don't (take and ex-Girl Guide to say that). I am a fan quite definitely. This was pop as therapy, introverted, pulling you gently in to a world you can trust.

How would we follow such a neatly conceptualised band? By being quite different. Robert has a strong, emotional way of singing and is 100% present on stage; we were his band for the night, giving it our all in service of his songs. I really like Robert's songwriting on this new album: the songs are almost like sculptures in sound, very three-dimensional and tactile. I had to put aside my reservations about standing right in the front and middle of the stage, and despite a couple of atrocious tuning moments I think I gave as much to the show as everyone else when I was up there. The audience was really warm: you could feel them listening to what was going on and coming along for the ride. There are no silly egotists in the band, just sound players wanting to make the songs work as best as possible. I hope Robert felt we did a good job. Robert's got a huge amount of dynamism on stage, and this underpins everything he does musically. If we'd all fainted, he'd still have done a great gig; it's quite an experience sharing a stage with such energy- terrific fun! The set consisted partly of older songs and partly of songs from the new album, Holding Hands in Petropolis. I wish Amelia Fletcher had been there to sing her lovely duet with Robert too- but another time, perhaps. Balloon went up like a feather balloon, or whatever the opposite of going down like a lead ballon is. 

The fact that this was a Country Soul Sessions gig was a big reason for the great atmosphere. I have actually been to their nights purely on spec, because it's such a nice night. Drew and Alex and their team are really welcoming and positive; most of us have played there before, whether as headlines, supports and once a sort of variety night to launch Drew's album. It's one of those clubs that feels like home and makes you feel relaxed as a performer (bloody good job for  #uncomfortablebackingvocalist).

Well, I can't write all that and not put links to the music. Here they are:

Picturebox (new, but listen to the back catalogue too):

Robert Rotifer:

Au revoir!

Friday, March 01, 2024

Mansplaining in Song

Yesterday when I went shopping very early in the morning, a man in his early thirties was speedily walking through the shopping centre. As he glided past, I heard him singing in a beautiful high falsetto: 'Mansplain! Manspilaiiinnnn! MANSPLAAAIIIINNN!'

It was beautiful to hear, but also made me smile as I remembered the scene in the recent BBC series The Tourist. The rejected Australian fiancé, who has reformed his misogynistic ways and done a course in feminism, mansplains mansplaining to a hapless female victim.

It's one of those expressions that was just waiting to be invented, like coercive control. Suddenly, you see a clear vision of a behaviour that has been troubling you for many years. Where you thought there was a fault in your perception, the entire weight of anxiety and blame shifts from you to the perpetrator.

Funnily enough, some men still mansplain and obviously have never heard the term. I wonder if his partner had accused him of being a mansplainer, or if perhaps he'd been writing a song with a female artist and was trying out melodies before their session began. We will never know.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Neo-Naturists, and Gina Birch at Tate Britain

Cold and grey outside, warm and pink inside. We'd turned up at 2.30 to see the Neo-Naturists before Gina's show.
I remember them from Le Beat Route in Soho in the early 1980s. Heralded by the disco version of The Sound of Music, the dance floor cleared and two body-painted women enacted a mysterious ritual before the club started up again with its hectic music and flirty vibe.
It was interesting to hear their history. I liked the body prints, and especially liked the tartan body paint for Scottish performances! Ha ha! I liked the black and white photograph in Soho outside a porn shop advertising spanking amongst other things, but didn't like my own intrusive thought that the Neo-Naturists had freedom to choose their nakedness, but the prostitutes didn't. Am I a killjoy? Maybe. The Eric Gill nude needed a bit of contextualisation too, I thought. But overall this was a very interesting narrative, and it was also very funny. They are very entertaining raconteurs, and had the audience snorting with laughter at several points. Apart from anything else, a group of women who are still clearly friends after all these years was really inspiring to see.

Yellow, pink and blue: Gina, Marie and Jenny stood in front of the huge painting of Goredale Scar, glowing with bonhomie. Just what we all needed! They had reworked I Play My Bass Loud, and amongst other songs played/sang both a Yoko Ono song in homage to her exhibition over the river at the other Tate, and an exceptionally moving Bob Dylan Anti-War song that brought tears of sadness and frustration to my eyes. They finished with Digging Down. The set was short and sweet and much appreciated by the audience.
So is this posting. A small branch from a potted tree poked me in the eye yesterday when it blew over in the wind, and it's made me feel rather unwell today. Nice thing, a batch of remastered Chefs tracks showed up in my inbox yesterday, and I also managed to get down to Honor Oak Park to record about ten seconds of James's' missing guitar in the guitar duo version of 24 Hours.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Talk on Christine Bott at The Bonnington Café

Kate Hayes (Catherine to you, perhaps), was one of the singers in one of the best bands in Brighton- The Objeks. Right from the start, the band were overtly political and shared with The Chefs a love of the Velvet Underground. Kate's tour de force was her version of I'll Be Your Mirror. You can hear a song by the Objeks here:

Kate came along to the screening/gig that I did at the University of Westminster a few weeks ago. We went off afterwards and had a really nice chat, and she invited me to this talk, and gave me a copy of her book, The Untold Story of Christine Bott. Christine was the partner of Richard Kemp, who manufactured huge quantities of LSD back in the 1960s. Both were evangelical about its properties as an agent of change for humankind.

Of course, the authorities clamped down on them when they discovered their whereabouts, and both did jail time. Christine and Kate became friends many years later, and Christine bequeathed her diaries to Kate, who has used them as the heart of her book. More on the book here:

Up high in Vauxhall in the enclave that is the Bonnington area, we sat in a sunny room and listened to Kate talking about her relationships with Christine's family and associates. Audience members seemed to have used LSD at very young ages: twelve, and fourteen. I remembered a guy on my Art Foundation at Sunderland Art College, telling me that he's been able to buy tabs of acid for sixpence on the streets when he was ten or eleven. No-one expected LSD to be imported via Jarrow: too full of working-class thickos, he told us. 

My own memory is when I was a child, of a young woman in mourning coming to stay with our family. Her boyfriend had taken LSD and flown from the roof of his student residency in Newcastle, and he had not survived.

Yes I have taken LSD, and yes I enjoyed it. But only once: I couldn't imagine anything better at the time, but I could imagine how it could have been really frightening in other circumstances. Its advocates don't dwell on the bad trips. But that's beside the point: Kate has thoroughly researched an unwritten history and put an important figure back into it, and such histories are always to be lauded. It was an interesting afternoon, for many reasons; Kate has been entrusted with a lot of material that would not have seen the light of day were it not for her her diligence as a researcher and her empathy with Christine and her family.

Here is my story of my good trip, and my friend's simultaneous bad trip. A cautionary tale:

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Creating Through The Rain

It's been a low-energy week in some ways, but also a planning and 'feeding the soul' week. Like most people, I've been surfing the sewage of politics, both National and Global. 

About five years ago I dated a man who explained the major flaw in Darwinism: survival of the fittest inevitably means survival of the psychopaths. It is they who have the time and wherewithal to form masterplans than involve annihilating anybody or anything that gets in their way, because their brains are completely devoid of normal human emotions that might interrupt their ferocious focus on the goal of their own empowerment and enrichment.

He was an ex-prisoner, he later explained. I guess this gave him quite an insight into that particular realm of neurodiversity. He was right, though. Just look at the calibre of world leaders and tech supremos we currently have. They get to the pinnacle of their power and then start smashing things to pieces and destroying everything. Can we sue Darwin for giving us the impression that evolution will give us supreme beings that will benefit humankind? Nope, too late for that.

On that cheery note, I've been hunkered down most of the week hiding from the rain. I've done a bit of tinkering with Margaux, the puppet who will be telling a story not-yet-written. She has proved to be remarkably strong minded, and leapt off her perch a couple of weeks ago, which was pretty unnerving. I tried making two separate hats for her, neither of which looked right, although one of them suited her. I tried making silky paper hair but that didn't look right either. She is therefore going to remain bald, with a little skull-cap that I painted on her. I was going to make her a lovely cartridge paper blouse, but she looks quite good with her clumsy fuse wire hinges. Once she had her voile skirt (sorry, net curtains!), she looked complete. Now I have to move on to other things...

I also made a start yesterday at recording songs for my new album. As usual I have more than enough songs, but not necessarily songs that fit together or feel good enough to put together as a collection. I've recorded four guitar tracks, straight off. The guitar tone is lovely and I don't think I'll have trouble with the playing of them at all. I'm going to write a song today as soon as my brain wakes up. I had a sleepless night last night because of politics, and I suspect that a lot of other people did too. 

I thought I was having a terrible uncreative day, but then I misremembered a song (about memory) and made a melody that works much better than the original one. It's hard to leave it for another day but sometimes that's the wisest thing to do. Listening back to the guitar tracks from yesterday, the tone isn't lovely, but it's well-recorded. I'll have to change the tone settings to make it sound right and give it the full sound it needs to underpin everything. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Granny's Typewriter

American Granny had a little folding typewriter that I used to type my fanzine and the odd letter to John Peel on. It's been on a shelf for a while in its neat black box. The ribbon doesn't move any more, the type is worn and it's showing its age. It's very sweet though.

The musician and DJ Tom Robinson put a call out on Twitter for someone with an old typewriter so his graphic designer could use an originally-sourced typewriter typeface to do his tour poster with. I responded, and typed out an alphabet and set of numbers, moving the ribbon along manually and whacking the keys really hard to get as dense a black as I could. Capitals, lower case, numerals...

I think Granny would have been delighted that her typewriter has contributed to a 21st Century tour poster. She was fun!

Saturday, February 17, 2024


It's such a long time since I've been ill that I'm not used to it. I'm an impatient patient, straining at the reins to feel better. I think tomorrow at least is cancelled; today definitely has been.

I don't even want to watch TV (too loud and juddery), so I'm sitting here listening to my tinnitis and the cars hissing by my window (rock lyric reference). I am also wearing a dress.

I managed to pack a bag of DVDs into a box to put up in the loft, which I thought was quite clever considering how feeble I am today. Luckily, I sourced (!) some decent hot cross buns after being furious with Waitrose for shrinkflating them. With the latter, you open the packet and inhale an aroma, and that's it. Iceland has nice stodgy sticky ones that taste of cinnamon and work well with the 50% butter/50% HCB ratio.

I did such a lot last week that I'm not feeling that time is being wasted. I've been lucky not to succumb yet to the ten week cough, the fifth-time-around (for some) Covid, and the various other evil ailments that have been slicing through the population recently. It's annoying not to be able to go out to town (but I have a proxy doing that for me), not to be able to walk on the soggy common and visit the furniture ducks (little brown ones that look like bedknobs), or even to the shop to buy more tea. Let them drink coffee, or even water. I'll stick to the hot cross buns for today.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Ladies And Gentlemen Who Lunch

Ah, just relaxing with a cup of coffee. The tracks that I did for Gina wouldn't upload (only the other end of the street has Broadband, and apparently I never will), so I took them down there this morning along with croissants. Gina made the coffee, and we transferred them to her computer. Natasha is going round this afternoon to put cello on some of them. I can't wait to hear what they sound like next time I'm there!

Tom Hardy a.k.a. Lester Square emailed me out of the blue last week, and it seemed like a good idea to meet up with him and Mike Slocombe, the original Helen and the Horns, and have lunch together. 

Here we were, when Dave (trombone) and Paul (sax) had just joined, recording at Cold Storage studios in Brixton, playing the first version of our song Freight Train in all it's glory:

Music leads people into such interesting avenues. Tom is now writing on environmental issues for Byeline Times, and Mike continues to run the non-profit site and also the Brixton Buzz (again, non-profit) as well as DJ-ing in Brixton to packed houses. We went to Mildred's in Soho and squashed ourselves into a corner. It was very noisy, but we ended up making our own noise and carving out a noise-space for our own conversation. Probably some of it I can't recount (the Priti Patel thing), but we talked about music industry and band behaviour, finding archive songs, and hierarchies in families until home-time. 

I was delighted when I got home to have an email from James to say he likes the mix of 24 Hours that I sent to him. Now I have to go through all four Chefs tracks we recorded, and check for unwanted noise, then match them up to each other sound-wise. 

But not today. 

I may need to go out for a bit to escape from next door's perpetually-yapping terrier, or I may just tune it out and slob about with this coffee all afternoon. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Yet Another Music Posting

How boring these postings must be if you're not a music recorder-er!

Today, I erased the vocal that I did for 24 Hours. It wasn't good enough and I couldn't re-sing it (tired voice), so I'm saving it for later in the week. I finished one of Gina's songs and almost finished another one, but I'm in a non-Broadband area unfortunately, and they wouldn't upload to Wetransfer to her so I'll have to take them round there. Old-fashioned! A person goes to another person's house and gives them something!

I opened a project for one fo my album songs, then realised that the guitar I needed for that is upstairs and I was too lazy to go up to get it. I did work out the correct speed, though. 108 BPM, FYI.

On Sunday at the Small Label Fair at The Betsey Trotwood I bought a couple of CDs, and one of them had a bitter and twisted song on it that made me realise that bitter and twisted songs aren't a good idea after all. I looked at the new words I'd written for my own previously bitter and twisted song, and decided that they would be OK to sing instead. I tweaked a couple of words and will probably record that soon, when I've been upstairs and collected the different guitar that I record with.

I think it's been one of those days where it seems that nothing as happened, but it actually has. I'm going to Dublin in April: that's all being planned. There are gigs in the pipeline, and I'm trying to be sensible and clump them together in a vaguely 'tour' formation, but let's see how that progresses. I'll be singing backing with Robert Rotifer in his band at the Country Soul sessions on the 3rd of March. Right up there in the sky of my head, trying not to squeak. Serves me right for seeing how high I could sing on his record! It's worth it for Robert's gorgeous songs though, and for the craic of hanging out with his band of buddies.

Monday, February 12, 2024

24 Hours

I've got the backing track sounding really good, and I've had a couple of goes at the vocal and simply can't tell if I've done a good enough job. It might not be a Monday track to sing: I'll take a listen tomorrow and see what it sounds like.

I sent Gina one of her tracks this morning to listen to as well.

I really feel like eating a ton of chocolate but I'm sure that's not a good idea. I'm going to do some drawing later on (a vinegar valentine, just for a laugh), while listening to a couple of purchases from yesterday's small label fair: Treasures of Mexico and Broderick and Turner.

There is only horrible tea in the tea bag caddy. Maybe that's something that needs to be rectified first.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Propaganda Textiles at The Fashion and Textiles Museum, London

I had a break from it all yesterday; this exhibition is due to close on the 4th of March and I swerved away from the Jewish Tailoring exhibition at the Museum of London because there was disruption on the Elizabeth line, and that one's on for longer.

The London Bridge area was thronging with tourists, which I suppose is a good thing. I was intrigued to see a container restaurant covered in giant red ants made by a member of the Mutoid Waste Company. I remember them from the late 1980s; they were often present with their customised buses and lorries at festivals and demonstrations, and my friend Saffie Ashtiany commissioned an upside-down bathtub light fitting for a video that she made. During the shoot, they all parked up outside to watch. I was a runner for her videos at the time, but on that particular one there wasn't much running and I could stand outside and wonder at the feats of creativity that they'd undertaken to construct their vehicles.

Once I'd got to the museum, I was appalled to have my photograph taken. No other museums do this, and I was so taken aback that I didn't protest (this time). But I'm not going there again, because it's an infringement of people's civil liberties. Having this happen in the same week that I was told I had to use the NHS app to order future prescriptions, then watching the app connect to my doctor's surgery, all ready for the information to be sold off to the corrupt multinational Palantir, I've had enough of data-gathering for one week, and indeed a lifetime.

So I suppose it was apt to be seeing in exhibition that concentrates mainly on propaganda and textiles. There were some truly beautiful examples of prints made to promote often macabre Communist, Western Allies and Nazi principles, and a triumphalist Boris Johnson We Got Brexit Done tea towel. There was a red pro-Trump kippah exhibited next to a red Pussy Riot beanie. By far the best exhibits were the prints, because of the fact that they were designed to graphically and ingeniously illustrate wartime escape routes, political dogma, and positive depictions of heavy industry. There were also dresses made from farm-feed sacks, and Japanese clothing with factories printed on them in subtle greys and silvers.

There was a lot missing (I've been interested in this subject for years). There wasn't any Soviet agricultural propaganda fabric, for instance, and there was a gaping hole where the curators couldn't see Capitalism because of being in the middle of it. Every single branded garment that we wear is an advertisement not just for the brand but for our stifling (and lethal) embedded-ness on the Capitalist system and the way it drains our creative energy and physical resources. This is propaganda, right in front of our noses, and is just as significant as a Chairman Mao tapestry or a Third Reich headscarf.

Anyway, as you can see, there was a lot of food for thought at the exhibition. I regretted never being able to make the NHS headscarf that I designed probably ten years ago- it was simply too expensive to manufacture, and I wanted to make something that people could afford to wear. 

Water under the bridge, water under the bridge.

So I came home with a head full of angry bees and wound down by replacing all of the vocals that I did on Gina's track yesterday, this time using a much better microphone. I will put a little bit of guitar on it later and then do a mix, either before or after I meet Kath Tait for a cup of tea. Heading in different directions, we bumped into each other about a month ago in Clerkenwell, and it was she who asked expectantly if I am going to release a bitter song. Well thanks Kath, yes, now I am since you asked, and I have been thoroughly enjoying re-learning it before I record it. Sometimes you need to shove dignity to one side, and just go for an empowering and cheering slab of revenge. Yay!

Friday, February 09, 2024

Laptopping Again

After a lovely day catching up with Joan yesterday, I got up early and started work on 24 Hours again. At least an hour's editing was wasted by the fact that I don't properly understand the way that this upgraded version of Logic, the music program, works. But I'm getting to the point where I think the track is sounding quite good. When you're mixing, your aim is to get all the sounds talking to each other, and that's just beginning to happen. In some parts of the song you have to be subtle, and in others, much more radical. A little section of it is playing in my head even now that I've stopped for the night: scritchy, scratchy, scritchy scratchy...

And this afternoon, Gina sent me a different mix of one of her songs to work on. For expedience, I plugged in a brutally simple microphone and just improvised probably far too many things on to the song. Tomorrow I'll take a listen, and maybe weed a few of them out then replace the keepers with vocals recorded on a proper microphone.

In between all that, I've been rehearsing some of the songs I'm going to record for my next album. Some of them are stretching my technical abilities as a player, but that's the name of the game. I know from experience that difficult things to play become easy suddenly, and you don't have to think about them any more.

Oh yes, and two mastered Chefs tracks turned up in my inbox from the studio where the album is being rescued. You could hardly hear the vocals on one of them but the guitars sounded amazing, and I guess I just have to put my ego aside and acknowledge that there is more to a song than the vocalist.

When we recorded the album, I was very ill with a duodenal ulcer. The whole idea of releasing it reminded me of that time, but listening back to the songs, well: nobody else wrote songs like we did, and I do feel proud of what we did. We were total amateurs, a group of self-taught and not very sophisticated young people who spent as much time fighting between ourselves as we did writing songs and rehearsing. We were completely naive about the music industry and rather prone to friends, family and music industry people interfering in what we were doing. I remember going to meet Pete Waterman, and the Moody Blues' producer being interested in us. As a musician I've probably got several hundred near misses to my name, and I definitely have several hundred dark stories from the underbelly of life as a musician. Unfortunately, they are not at all entertaining! On the plus side, we had a great relationship with John Peel, and I reckon we were the forerunners of Twee and of course, checked-shirt-and-fringed-jacket band couture (pretentious, Moi?), a style that I wear to this day. We also learned to play quite well through rehearsing all day, every day, for weeks on end. And I can still conjure up a harmony from thin air.

So it's time to release our vintage Chefs songs and set them free from the attic!

Everything is set up in the kitchen ready to start up again tomorrow morning. I'm going to have a weekend of singing, guitarring and mixing, which is exactly perfect for early February, doncha think?

La la la!