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

Aziz

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.

https://helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/track/amazonia

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: wegottickets.com/event/604611
 

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

Ears

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: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/604611

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): https://picturebox.bandcamp.com/album/mobile-disco

Robert Rotifer: https://robertrotifer.bandcamp.com/album/holding-hands-in-petropolis

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 fiancĂ©, 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.