Friday, January 26, 2024

Kimberley Gundle at The Gallery, Lillie Road

Kimberley is the fourth Earl's Court Development Company portrait artist in residence, and I took Gaye and Eric to the opening of her exhibition at The Gallery yesterday evening. As well as running weekly art workshops, she has been putting her ceramics work into practice by creating mugs with portraits of local people embedded into them- not just painted on to the fired clay, but the faces also in profile as 'ears', so we get a complete impression of the people she's chosen to portray. Not only that, but there are inscriptions inside the mugs, so there's a 360-degree use of the medium. Around the walls, there are also 2D drawings of people she has come across during the residency.

The mugs are presented as a beautifully-coloured community on a trestle table in the middle of the gallery. They are exquisite and tender representations, often of people I recognise well after participating in the project a year ago. They are also extremely tactile, lovely to hold, and tempting to sort into little social groupings; I suppose you could say they are a redefinition of the term 'mug shots'! The gallery is just over the road from West Brompton tube station- do go and take a look if you can!

Photos show Kimberley with some of the portrait mugs, details of mugs, Mimi with her portrait, people in the gallery with their mugs, Alba with her portrait. 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Where's Yer Troosers, Donald?

Poor chap still hasn't found them, even though we tried so hard to help him at last year's Burns Night Pop-Up Chefs gig at the Betsey Trotwood.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Bits And Pieces

I woke up at 5 this morning, after dreaming about all sorts of things from the past. That happens sometimes and I just have to wait until those moments are over...

There was something that I had to do this morning, and after that I got my hair cut. Newly sheared, I do a double-take whenever I pass a mirror.  Who's that weirdo? Somewhat distressingly, the salon owner has had so many treatments to his face that I didn't recognise him. I think he might have aged rather beautifully had nature been left to take it's course, but it's his face, not mine, and I know it's not my business.

I've knocked three songs into shape and now I'm sick of them already. This also happens when I cook: I've gone off the idea of what I've made by the time I've finished. It happens with knitting. I often give away the jumpers that I've made, sometimes taking months to create them but then... I know every stitch too well. I'm bored. How silly. I need to be more patient.

I've had an Instagram conversation with Johnny Hanna about Harry Lauder (Roamin' in the Gloamin') and Ivor Cutler (The Fairy dressed in black and blue). I've nicked a photo of a 1940 Eric Ravilious drawing of a Bomb Defusing Kit (oh, how badly we all need this!).

I've read all the old back-copies of the newspapers that were piled on the floor, and thrown them in the recycling bin. 

I've finished a thriller that was so gory that I hated it, and rather than sending it back to the charity shop from whence it came as I normally do, I threw that in the recycling too, as a punishment.

All this just not to nod off in front of Minder and The Sweeney. Small busyings, when there are much more serious things to do that my poor wee brain would mess up if I did it with today's tired head. They can wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Frustrating Fingernails

Frustratingly, an essential fingernail has broken so badly that I can't play guitar this week. I came back all ready to record a new song or two or three, and will now have to wait. 

I have, however, collected the Chefs tracks I've been recording with James together on to one computer ready for completion. I have done rough mixes; all they are waiting for is vocals from me (some of them) and backing vocals from James (some of them). The next task will be to find someone to release the EP in physical format.

Although Damaged Goods are due to release a double vinyl album that includes our unreleased Graduate tracks, I don't think this will be up their street. Let's see what they sound like. At the moment, I'd say a bit folky/Velvet Underground, if such a thing can exist!

I've sent the track Locked Out to be remastered by the engineer in Hull who's mastering the rest of the tracks, and also written a short blurb for the album. 

It's all making me feel very restless. I'm glad I've got a gig to do next week.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Meet Margaux

Gradually turning 'human', she now has features, shoes and fingernails. More to come. 

I hope her limbs don't drop off before I finish her! 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Wintery Summary

It's a strange and possibly pretentious thing to do, to take oneself away for a few days to work on ideas in solitude. As expected, I'm bored now. There's no proper TV reception here: just fizzes, blurts and jazzy patterns across the little screen. I managed to watch a detective show on my computer the other night, and have read one and a half detective novels, but the general darkness around all that has stopped appealing to me in my current mood.

What's happened with the music? Two new introductions to 'stuck' songs, some new lyrics to an old song which need a lot more work. A miserable song that I might reject, and a scary song that is really close to the bone- about why I travel so much. I have wondered if it's because McDad went away so much when we were little kids, and if in some way I'm trying to find the elusive part of him that went missing. He'd bring us back sugar lumps from the train, Tate and Lyle, two lumps neatly wrapped in thin red tissue, but never really talked about what he did in London. When he got old, I asked him to write a memoir. I'd hoped for anecdotes, or maybe a list of the sweets he used to like. Instead, he wrote down a list of the people who lived in his childhood street, in order of who lived next door to whom, with their names. It was just that- a list. I think he got bullied at school because he had red hair, and that's just about all we knew apart from him riding his bicycle to see Crystal Palace when it caught fire, a bomb blasting a paving slab right over their house from the front to the back, and the fact that his own father, Mac, was allergic to sunshine and they could always tell when he reached the end of the street on his way to work by the mighty sneeze that echoed down the road when he turned the corner into the full glare of the sun.

So yes, looking for McDad and never quite finding him. I know he loved us all but he loved plants as well, and spent most of his home-hours on our smallholding rather than in the house, planting vegetables and raking up leaves. I remember sitting on his lap as a small child and smelling the wood smoke on his shirt from the Sunday bonfire of garden waste. Gardeners and plants-people are fascinating, because they are often absorbed by green things to an obsessive degree. McDad would hold a growing leaf in his big hand, peering at it as though he was learning everything about it just by osmosis. Our garden was almost like a joke that only he knew the punchline to, or a secret that he would keep forever.

That's been the odd therapy of this exercise: thinking about things that there's not normally time to think about. There has been a lot going on in my personal life as well as the general catastrophe that is 'Globe 2024' and sometimes it's difficult to know where to look, and how to help. You can help people best by being strong yourself, and a week of walking and thinking has not only helped with perspective, but also will take my own anxiety out of the equation so I can be more supportive to other people when it's needed.

And procrastination's going out the window. I'm going to set up my recording gear when I get back and start to record these songs properly, fine-tuning the lyrics and the melodies and making sure that the guitar parts are spot on. I need to stop worrying about where my music fits: it's that standard thing of seeing other people and their music as complete and confident, all fitting into a music-scape that makes perfect sense, whereas I can't even describe what my music actually is. Honestly, probably everyone feels like this, and it's counterproductive to even think about it at all. Let's see what materialises. I'll pretend that they are someone else's songs, and see how they sound.

Tomorrow I'll be travelling back home to the hungry sparrows in the back yard, the greedy pigeons who line up on the gutter and give me the evil eye because I won't let them eat the seeds that I put out for the little 'uns, and to the world of ghastly politics and conflict.

I'm going to stop writing now because I've got hiccups. Aren't they old-fashioned? A bit like Imperial Measurements and Clarks shoes. Now there's a thought.

Walking and Writing

I have written a lot of stuff- I'm not sure how much of that is songs though. 

I've walked seven miles today, heard a woodpecker in the distance and saw and heard a massive khaki-coloured troop-carrier helicopter, a reminder of doomy reality. It's hiding in the branches of this sunny photograph.

Further on, a group of misogynists in hi-vis were in the railway yard, loudly mocking women by putting on squeaky voices and roaring with laughter; hi-audio too, you could say. One of them caught sight of me walking past and broke off to say 'Good Morning' in a very polite manner. Once I'd gone round the corner they carried on. How strange to be a dignified interruption of the morning's repartee!

Then a gull tried to nick my cardamom roll when I went into town. It was so chilly that I'd followed the sun into the car park, and was enjoying the feast when the gull landed a few feet away and started to stalk me. It stretched its beak open- that's how I knew it was going to make a play for the cardamom roll. Then it moved round to my side and attacked. Luckily the hood of my duffel coat (I'm so Michael Foot!) got in the way. I didn't give it a second chance. I walked back into the safety of the street to eat the rest of it. Honestly, there are still plenty of fish in the sea for the bloody gulls. I think.

Just now, a group of people were doing a ritual in the graveyard outside the window; I think they may have been re-enactors because some of them didn't look fully committed. I tried to film them but they were over to one side and now they've disappeared behind the yew trees.

I've also seen the first Archimedes Screw of my life, which I'd dismissed as random sploshing by the weir until I wandered off the path. It was pretty impressive, and was spiralling away even though there was no audience to watch it. All that hard work and nobody clapping. Sad.

What a mildly surreal week this has been. Here's an illustration plate from a lovely old dogeared book that was languishing on a wooden shelf in the café. It's an instruction manual for women, Every Woman's Enquire Within, and is full of tips and hints to keep you in your place (the home). I'm thinking of getting it reprinted and handing it out to the misogynists in the railway yard next time I'm here.

Google Recommends...

Apparently Google is recommending this little write-up in The Bury Times about Beefheart: the Musical. Isn't life grand! 

Thanks to Mike Wilson for the heads-up.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Cup of Tea

The tea is brewing. 

Will I go home fat from eating too much or thin from walking too much?

Or stupid, from wondering too much about silly things?

I've just finished a re-worked song and will be able to sing it with confidence. Instead of a broken romance, it's about toxic politicians. 

The crows in the graveyard outside my window are yarping backing vocals in the chorus. 

They've got the vibe. 

No cooing pigeons in this one.

Tea done. Back to work.

The Dark Side

Not only is it overcast today, but I decided to do a shorter walk on the dark side of the hill. There's nothing there, apart from a snotty café whose staff are shredding the personalities of mutual acquaintances, and roads with thundering lorries looking for easy prey on the faint-hearted road crossings.

However, on the way back I was guided by a sequence of robins who plopped down on the path in front of me and eyed me as though trying to divine the secrets of human life. Some robin somewhere is writing an academic paper on us, you mark my words. I followed the trail of robins up the path; on this side of the hill, fellow walkers don't say hello. They dip their heads into their scarves and look at their boots.

Suddenly, a large flock of goldfinches appeared and led the way. Whirling around between branches and ground, they accomplished their mission and spiralled off into the shrubs by the side of the path.

I walked through a beautiful worn graveyard, and have spent the last half hour writing sleeve notes for the Chefs compilation album. They've gone off to James for a second opinion, and now I'm going to get my guitar out.

Hemmed In

The place where I'm staying has filled up. Next door is a barrister with a very loud, strident voice whose phone pings every time he's not on it discussing his cases in great detail. He talks to his wife in the same tone of voice.

The couple on the other side talk quietly but bang the doors a lot. 

I've been lucky having the solitude for a day and a half. This is a different kettle of fish. 

Maybe I should write a very loud rock song to push back against the noise.

There's something very The Prisoner about this place. A tiny bit of 'Thou shalt do things our way'. It's definitely a faux pas to be wearing a duffel coat; women are clad in Joules and Brora, and wear stout boots. My feet are quite annoyed this morning. Seven miles was a bit extreme. Shorter walk today, I think.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Three Minute Rule

I have re-worked two parts of a song called Toytown that I started late last year. It had a sticky middle 8 that sounded awful; I approached it from a different perspective this afternoon, and think I've fixed it.

That means I've fixed two songs and started a new one today, which has got stuck and which I may be able to fix tomorrow.

I have a problem- I'm a three minute song writer. I remember in the Chefs struggling to write a song that lasted longer than a minute, so I suppose over all these years things have got a little bit better. Being concise has been the bane of my life. I remember my geography teacher at school being furious because I wrote an essay on a side and a half of school paper that had everything in it. I don't think the stain from the bottom of a coffee cup helped.

Speaking of which, in this cell-sized room, there's no bedside table. I've spilled the greater part of a cup of tea on the white duvet cover, tried to wash it clean in the tiny sink, and it's now draped on the radiator. The room is decorated by damp things, because I bought a nice tartan hoody in a posh charity shop and washed that in the sink with shampoo (detergent, innit) just before the tea incident, and that's currently dripping in the shower.

I've watched no TV for 24 hours and feel all the better for it. I wonder how long I can keep that up?

What Have I Done So Far?

Well, I've written three quarters of a miserable song. My own fault- I told someone yesterday that I'm a folk artist just because it was the easiest thing to say, and made a premonition that came into being.

On the plus side- I've made a new intro for a song that was sounding too similar to one I've already recorded. I've also decided to revive a song that I've never released because it was too bitter and twisted in its previous format. It was true, but it was bitter and twisted, and it felt undignified to release it. It's getting a new set of lyrics, and so is another song from the 'archive'.

I've walked seven miles, not intentionally, but I had to leave my room temporarily because the shower looked as though it was going to flood and I asked them to fix it. The thing is, it's beautifully sunny out there and I couldn't resist the frost and the hills. I took my notebook and rather than writing lyrics, I unintentionally gave myself a therapy session. I suppose that's the same thing, just dressed in different garb.

I think the frost is here all day in some places. I watched a couple of swans fixing their feathers on the banks of the river and took out my phone to photograph them. They wouldn't pose (they never do), and a robin showed up and perched right in front of me, wanting to have its own portrait taken. 

Yes, yes, OK!

Then an unleashed dog called Ziggy charged around the corner in a flurry of leaves and dribble and barked at the swans just as they were ready for their shoot. They flustered off into the water and floated away nervously. 

'Naughty Ziggy', cooed its owner nonchalantly. 'Naughty owner', snarled my brain. 

The robin laughed.

Walking, Reading and Sleeping

Well, that's no songs written so far. I walked into town because my room wasn't ready yet, and bought an Icelandic Noir detective novel to read. 

When I got into my room it was so warm and lovely I just lazed about and read the whole thing, and then I went to sleep. An owl was outside, hooting gently in the cold night air. It's very nature here.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Songwriting Retreat

I've retreated somewhere solitary for a week to write songs, and got so worn out getting here that it will probably take the whole week to recover!

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Guitar-Playing Hands

I realised something when I was playing lead guitar in Beefheart: the musical.

Because I'm normally a finger-picker, my left and right hands communicate with each other without me even realising- one hand tells the other hand what to do, and the other hand tells the one hand what to do. 

When I change the configuration of one of the hands (like by playing with a pick), the other hand gets confused because the pick-plucking hand isn't doing what it *should* be doing.

It's like that long piece of elastic that mothers used to string through coat sleeves in winter to link two gloves or mittens, so you couldn't lose one of the pair.

That's what it's like.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Preparing for The Chefs Vinyl Album

Some time later this year there's going to be a double vinyl album of The Chefs music, minus the songs we recorded as Skat, but plus an unreleased album we recorded (which is going to be sonically rescued by an expert engineer in Hull) and also an unspecified mystery track. That one, I've got to get off a vinyl album and I'm in the process of organising that. Next week, I'll do sleeve notes with James McCallum. I found loads of photos, posters and other artwork to send to Alison, who will be designing the sleeve. It's going to be released on coloured vinyl by Damaged Goods. Exciting!

I reckon we'll do a duo gig around about the release date in summer, just for fun. I'll have finished recording and mixing our four track EP of Chefs covers by then and I hope to find someone to release that too in some format or other. Because James does covers of You Get Everywhere and Stuck on You, and I play Northbound Train, we probably have a half-hour set between us, especially if we did Femme Fatale or even (gasp!) Thrush. Let's see how the cookie crumbles. I say that because I'm making bread!

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Racing the Charge

I want to write a little bit about yesterday evening but the laptop's running out of charge: I might get there...

I was invited to speak to a group of students from Stuttgart by their lecturer, Geoff, who has added a module on punk to their English and History course. I agreed wholeheartedly to do it, based on the idea that really January is best spent re-setting everything, and if that involves other people all the better.

In the freezing back bar of their hostel near Tavistock Square (and completely unprepared), I talked a bit about my book and about what it felt like to start up a punk band in the 1970s, and to do that from the perspective of being female, a female who didn't feel like an woman and who couldn't relate to the second wave of feminism at the time (while appreciating it's campaigning), because I didn't see myself as a woman-body.

The students asked really interesting questions, and the talk drifted into all sorts of other areas, covering fear, abuse, the importance of creativity and the imagination, and the use of hope as a pushback against control and oppression. And of course, communities and intersectionality.

There was something really cathartic about being in the room with a bunch of young learners and their curiosity. Bundled up in thick jackets they sat at long tables, and I stood in front of them. But it felt as though we were exploring something together, rather than me talking and them listening. They asked so many great questions! The best one was at the end: 'Where did you get those shoes?'.

I know they are at Reading University meeting the punk scholar Matthew Worley today, and I hope they have the same effect on him. I felt gratitude to Geoff for inviting me to meet his students, and I wish them all the best for the rest of their studies and the exciting lives they are going to lead with all that knowledge and curiosity!

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Beefheart, the Musical at Bury Art Gallery and Museum

We had travelled up the night before, which took a layer of stress out of the equation. Avanti trains are in nothing less than turmoil at the moment, disguising the fact that their train staff are refusing to work the overtime that the understaffed company depends on, with various explanations that have ceased to be plausible. Now, they just cancel trains seemingly at random; luckily, we were guests at the Premier Inn in Bury for the night. Clean, big beds and hot bath water: just what we needed. Gina has been really ill and we actually made this event by the skin of our teeth.

I went out for a walk on Saturday morning. It was sunny and cold, and I saw the town at it's best. The people of Bury are friendly and relaxed it seems, and I admired the big Victorian buildings that are remnants of an earlier, more confident and perhaps brutal era. I bought a paper, a slice of cake and a coffee before scoping out the gallery which is literally five minutes away from the hotel.

Once we got there for a run-through at twelve, I knew it was all going to happen. Kat, the gallery manager, plied us with coffee and food and found a quiet office for Gina to rest in. The staff seemed really excited, one and all, and Derek Tyman, the driving force behind the project Rooms To Live 11, was waiting for us to arrive. In conjunction with fellow artist Andy Webster, he'd constructed Trout House Replica, an installation that exactly matched the dimensions of Captain Beefheart's house in LA where Trout Mask Replica was devised. Throughout November and December, there have been musical events in 'the house' that have included band rehearsals, concerts and workshops. We had chosen to perform in January, and we'd needed the time because Gina has a very busy and successful year last year. There are events going through until February- check out here if you're in the area:

It had really been my decision to write something especially for this, rather than just each playing a few songs. I think you have to keep your imagination alive, and hats off to Gina, she went with it straight away. I suppose I felt that it would be good to put the time in, since this project has taken such a lot of tenacity to get off the ground and has managed to rise from the ashes of the pandemic into fruition, as only true art can!

The gallery started to fill up, which we were quite surprised about. Lots of people I'd invited along couldn't come because of illness or other reasons. When Paula Chambers started her performance, a fascinating memoir/installation about her life on a barge in the 1980s, the gallery was pretty full. She had a rapturous reception, and we were ready to go straight afterwards.

It was all a bit of an intense blur; we made a few mistakes but I think it was OK. I'm glad we had rehearsed it a lot because when one of us got lost the other managed to cover. By halfway through, I was really enjoying it, and could scan the audience to see what they thought. They didn't look nearly as baffled as I'd expected, and some of them were even smiling and... nodding their heads along in time with the... yes we had made MUSIC! Ha! We finished with everyone in the audience joining us in spelling out B-E-E-F-H-E-A-R-T at the tops of their voices. 

Maybe this was a pantomime and not a musical?

Anyway, after we'd packed up our stuff we took up our places on the 'veranda' of the house, and David Wilkinson conducted a Q&A with the three of us. Although a few people had left after the performances, most people seemed to have actually decided to make a day of it (the Stories from the She-Punks film was showing upstairs in the morning), and we talked about gender, class, music and squatting. Somehow we managed to talk about a lot of other things too, and it was simultaneously relaxing (a nice come-down after the adrenaline of the performance) and stimulating. I remembered David from the KISMIF conference in Porto: I'd not been at his presentation but Gina had, and she recounted him creasing up with laughter while he was delivering his paper on City Fun, Liz Naylor's punk-era zine. Gina introduced me to him afterwards, and he still seemed to be laughing. Imagine that at an academic conference! But KISMIF is far from normal.

So we did it despite Gina's illness (she was a trouper throughout) and although the train back was cancelled, we managed to get on to an earlier one which was a Result.

What a great start to 2024! January can be a dump of a month, so to spend the first proper weekend in a lovely gallery surrounded by welcoming people and a warm-hearted audience (someone even photographed the embroidered pockets of our lab coats)- well what could be better than that? 

Big thanks to Derek and Andy for organising it, to Kat for being such a brilliant facilitator, to the museum staff including Steve the technician for lighting up our lives, to Paula for a fab performance, to Dave for being a dude... and to Darren and Becky, and Ian and Dave, for coming along on a cold Saturday afternoon. And to Chardine Taylor-Stone formerly of Big Joanie, who had been part of an event in the gallery late last year and who came along to watch.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Pop at the Lock, 6th July 2024



That's two more rehearsals under our belts. We are both ill and have half-brains, which is a shame because we'd got really synchronised before Christmas. There's another rehearsal tomorrow and then we travel to Bury on Friday, ready for the real thing on Saturday afternoon.

I realised that we might have spent months on this and still ended up with the same result- just under half an hour of quite challenging music that is completely thought through from beginning to end. The songs have taken on lives of their own and have a logic that belongs to December 2023, multiple sheets of paper, a computer and Gina's kitchen.

After Saturday a different sort of year begins: I will start to sort out the Chefs album, finish the recordings with James (they are waiting for my vocals, mostly) and then start writing songs. I have a few gigs floating around, notably this one in central London at the end of January that includes a film screening of the She-Punks film. It's daytime for all you hibernators, so come along and sit in the warm, and I'll serenade you afterwards!

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Hansel and Gretel at the Royal Opera House

It's amazing how long you can live in London and never go to the things that visitors to London think are really important. I suppose I'd always thought that the Royal Opera House was Not For the Likes Of Me, but curiosity got the better of me and after a jolly lunch party at Big Bruv's, me and the Offsprogs +2 sat on a soggy 172 bus and went through the glamorous portals of the enormous building that hides between streets in Covent Garden. Of course, you walk past a shop first, which isn't very impressive, and then through a bar area which also isn't very impressive, but the deeper into the building you get, and the higher you find yourself, the more twinkly and ornate it becomes. We were up in the gods, which being goddesses was completely appropriate, so found our way up to the 5th floor where we had a spectacular view over the original entrance. Some opera-goers were dressed up proper posh, but others like us made do with Best Clothes and felt just as important. 

The vertigo-inducing height was daunting at first but we managed to plaster ourselves against the seats and had a very good view, if rather reminiscent of seeing the Abba show where the 'band' were absolutely tiny. What the production lacked in swanky staging (that has to be the world's most disappointing gingerbread house!), it more than made up for in musical prowess and accessibility. The orchestra was exquisitely rehearsed- you could see the bows of the string instruments in perfect synch with not only each other but also the conductor's baton. As far as I know, there was no amplification: those voices had to carry across the orchestra and way up to us in the gods. Most of the songs were recognisably songs, and I particularly liked the gingerbread children who came on and sang their parts in normal street voices, thus showing up the greater artifice of admittedly beautiful operatic singing. As an opera it's very much skewed towards soprano singing, and the male voices were very welcome when they appeared.

What an interesting evening! Offsprog Two gets tickets for a tenner that are held back until the last minute. I'm going to go again, definitely. There was so much to be inspired by- even the two singers singing against each other, which is what me and Gina will be doing on Saturday at our Beefheart Musical not-a-musical!