Sunday, June 30, 2024

Album Finished

What a weird feeling. After working hell-for-leather for months and double hell-for-leather last week, I've more or less finished the album. I'm just waiting for a few days to let the mixes settle in, and then will have one last critical listen and do the fades and other little bits and pieces.

Apparently I've recorded too many songs for a vinyl album (there is 49 minutes of music!), so some of them will have to go on an additional CD, but that's OK by me.

I actually played one of the new ones at Scaledown on Friday, Almost There. It seemed to go down quite well. I'd intended to play London because it was the 20th Anniversary, and I reckon I played that at one of my very first solo gigs there 18 years ago. My fingers said 'no', so I played Temptation instead.

Scaledown is such a friendly club. Bettina and James were playing/doing poetry, and Jude did a set. there was a heavy metal chap, and Trombone Poetry. I wonder if he remembered playing a couple of gigs with Helen and the Horns? As always, the audience listened to absolutely every note and every word. Wonderful. 

I had a reminisce with Tim from Transglobal Underground about the Edinburgh Fringe Dr Calamari's Music Hall of the Macabre show we did, with Lester Square and a cast of thousands- well, thirty of us, anyway. I made a new friend, a woman who used to run a rock and roll record shop in Camden. 

Next up, an illustration for Laura Whitfield's poetry zine, and a remix for a Brighton band called Assistant, which I should have done ages ago.

And make the puppets for the album cover!

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

More Singing And Bits And Pieces

Oh Em Gee, I think I'm almost ready to mix! I have been very tired after a day out yesterday, but that seems to have affected my mindedness (as in 'absent') rather than my voice. I hope that I haven't deleted anything essential.

I did some more singing this morning, replacing some vocals that didn't have the right mood. I have been haunted by comments made about a certain singer that I'm sometimes compared with who was reported to sound like singing a telephone directory, but actually that's what I want! I've de-emoted one of the songs.

Every time I change anything the whole lot gets disrupted, but I do have a trick up my sleeve that I haven't used yet.

Oh, and just a bit of guitarring to add to a song, which I'll probably do tomorrow morning. I've discovered that radical mix decisions are best made just before I go out somewhere so I can't dither; it helps me be decisive. 

I chose a bass guitar take by Winston Blissett yesterday that radicalises the whole pretty song on the last note. 'Should I do this? It might be a bit extreme'. 'Yes', I said. And he did it. Of course it has to be there, extreme.

Some songs are fat and loud, and some are thin and quiet. There are a lot of different ways of saying a lot of different things, innit.

Train Staff, Blackpool with Out-Of-Service Sign Named Ken


Monday, June 24, 2024

Delivery Man Tries To Find Address; Spaghetti In Road


RCA Postgraduate Show And Making A Video

I am so infuriated by some political issues that I keep starting posts and abandoning them. Keep sane, keep sane...

So I have been twice to the Royal College of Art final show: once on Thursday with my Champagne Friend to see our friend Charlotte Worthington's wonderful textile hangings, and then again yesterday with Gina and her friend Nicole to... see Charlotte Worthington's wonderful textile hangings, and more of the exhibition. Second time around, I took a few photos of my favourite work.

Sandwiched between that was my youngest sibling's birthday party which took three and a half hours to get to, even though it's only about ten miles from here. Oh London, you irritating city!

And also in the sandwich was a rehearsal with Robert for Pop at the Lock, and the spontaneous video we made of Step Into England (last posting). Normally we do a selfie after our rehearsals but we were talking about the ghastly re-emergence of Mr Toad (you know who I mean), and decided to mime to our song instead. It was fun and serious, at the same time.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Singing Non-Stop

After and hour and forty-five minutes of singing (backing-lead-backing) it's time for a break. The voice is getting a little husky! I suddenly remembered last night about taking a break every 20 minutes from screen time, which hasn't been happening when I've been editing. No wonder it's been tiring.

Either today or tomorrow, I'll edit Winston's bass (he did about 5 versions) and also my new song lyric (3 takes) version. There's a peppy lead vocal to do, which probably should wait till tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Man With Sledgehammer Bangs In Post


Bass Sorted

A long time ago I went to see a band called Bumble and the Beez; their lead singer (and bass drum and cowbell player) was Mykaell Riley, now a respected professor at the University of Westminster and one of the brains behind the current exhibition of British Black Music History at The British Library.

Their bass player was Winston Blissett, who went on to play with all sorts of people, and who is on a short break from playing with Massive Attack on their current tour. He's just been here, playing bass on one of my tracks. We had a really nice catch-up chat; we have a lot of friends in common. Apart from that he is one of the best players around, and has a signature sound and style that I can recognise when I hear him on any record. He came up trumps with beautiful playing!

That is it for guest musicians. Now, I have to do my lead vocals on a lot of the tracks, finish the words to the song with missing lyrics (I need literally three words but the right ones won't come) and record that, and then get down to final editing and mixing.

Not today! I am having a bit of a rest, then doing some drawing to wind down. It's so weird: the people playing or singing on these tracks have heard them, but not many other people have. Are the songs any good? I don't know at all. I think some of them are weird, and some of them are so ordinary they are almost middle-of-the-road songs, which makes them weird too.

The kitchen has been pretending to be a recording studio. There are grapes, pretzels and herb teas and the bathroom is spotlessly clean. What's for tea? Grapes, pretzes and herb tea, silly!

Marc Riley Plays Northbound Train By The Chefs

Marc Riley played the BBC session version of this song (link below) on his show last night. Dammit, it was one of the nights that I wasn't listening (post Covid fatigue still!) but I'll listen on catch-up later.

Saturday, June 15, 2024


I need to stop doing this- strolling past the laptop on the kitchen table, booting it up, and editing a vocal track before going out shopping.

It feels incredibly casual, but (I think) it works. 

I'm going to have to rewrite the lyrics of a whole song which was too overtly controversial, and there is still a song which swings like a pendulum from being a shoo-in to being a disaster. I'll tackle all that next week. I need some time out: the songs are playing constantly in my head and I lie awake at night and mix them, then come down in the morning and make the changes. I'm not sure that's a good habit.

Post-viral exhaustion has almost led to a personal lockdown, and it's time to force better social interactions. The good news is- I can smell coffee!!!

Friday, June 14, 2024

Backing Vocals Day

Yesterday was a day to tidy up my own backing vocals (I'm so looking forward to properly mixing this!) and today, Gina's coming to add her vocals to at least two of my songs.

I'm not used to 'being a studio'. I have snacks, sweet and savoury. The bathroom is clean, the coffee and tea canisters topped up. I have a selection of microphones (some microphones can be unnerving in their detail for a singer, and you get a better performance from a simpler one: different sound, but always useable).

Later, I'm hoping Terry Edwards' trumpet contribution will show up in my inbox. 

I'm resisting the urge to do any last-minute writing or recording. Once you unleash the songwriting fairy, a whole boxful of ideas comes flying out, and that includes for recording. I'm going to put my energy into fixing the difficult song I've already recorded, which runs all over the place like liberated mink whenever I'm not paying attention.

Pigeons, keep away. I don't want any more recordings of your flapping wings and hectic panic as you try to grab the bird feeder and gorge on the seeds that rightfully belong to the Sparrow Gang!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024


Hooray! After weeks, I can sing well enough to record! 

I did the most difficult song this morning, and another one which I may have to re-record tomorrow. It's such a relief.

The effing pigeons were at the bird feeder, and because I was so annoyed with them, my voice changed to an angry tone when I was dropping in a line, and I won't know till tomorrow if it's perceptible or not.

Early this morning, the sparrow gang put a baby sparrow in the gutter and started to feed it. I think it must have just fledged, and they were looking after it. There are probably chirps in the background of many of the vocal tracks, and possibly the odd wheezing flap of pigeon's wings. Don't tell anyone.

I may try another song this afternoon...

How strange and exciting to think that I'm going to be able to finish this album.

How sad that Francoise Hardy has died. I'm going to listen to her music this afternoon as well. She had a beautiful voice, and a beautiful songwriter's gift.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

The Summer Ahead

Life continues to surprise...

I'll be playing at Scaledown at the end of this month.

I'll be playing at Pop at the Lock with Robert.

I'll be interviewing Palmolive in Porto at the KISMIF conference, and also running a one hour collaborative political songwriting session. Now that's going to be a challenge to rise to!

At Rebellion in Blackpool, I'll be interviewing Palmolive, Pauline Murray and Paul Eccentric.

I'll be playing in the Wylam Institute, in the very same room that I used to attend Girl Guides in.

Then I'm headed to Ullapool to play at the Argyll Hotel.

I'll be finishing my album this month.

The Chefs vinyl will be coming out soon.

We have a Pop-Up Chefs EP to release: will we DIY it? Who knows...

I have been contributing vocal arrangements to Gina's next album.

I have a track by The Assistants to do a mix of.

I am doing an illustration for Laura Whitfield's book of poetry.

Good job I had a very lazy day today!

Sunday, After A Gig

The pre-gig chat with Rory Macleod and his friends was a pleasure; we talked about travelling, and he told me about his partner's love of bees. We talked about Glaswegian parents, and our children, and all sorts of other things.

Still fatigued from post-viral Covid stuff, it had been all I could do to walk up the steep Lewes hill to the club. Fortified by some of Rory's chips, my muscles reconnected to their nerve-endings and once my guitar was on, the gig was on too.

Folk music audiences are a big change for me; they were seated at tables, but thankfully, smiling and very receptive. Shelley and Phil came along as my guests, and I hope they enjoyed the evening. It was one of those nights that I knew I could sing At The Bathing Pond and have people join in, and join in they did, with gusto. I can't explain how much support acts like me appreciate the audience turning up and listening. I also knew they were taking in the lyrics, because there were laughs at the funny bits, even the hidden sly ones that people often miss. Thank you!

Then Rory went into the crowd with his harmonica and serenaded people one-by-one; he's a proper entertainer, and they loved every bit of it. I saw his first song before tumbling down the hill to the station and coming home; we'll both be at Rebellion and I'll see his set there. I had apologised in advance for my feebleness, and he was very gracious about it. Normally one of the greatest pleasures of playing live is watching the other artists and enjoying (and learning) from them.

Hats off to the promoter Seth for picking up Fozzy's gigs and running with them. That's a brave thing to do when you're in mourning for  a mate, but he did it.

Today, there is a glimmer of normality in my physical and mental state. I'd been hoping to go to Lambeth County Show but the thought of the crowds is terrifying. Instead, I'm sitting in front of the TV and the Come Dine With Me Omnibus with a bag of crisps. Outside there's a solo blue-tit, alternately eating a seed and tweeting about it [sorry!]. It's utterly charming.

Tomorrow, back to recording and, I hope, back to strength. The crisps will help, I know it.

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Con Club, Lewes, Tonight

I'll be heading to Lewes later on to support Rory Macleod in a reprise of a gig that I did with him about 5 years ago. Very sadly Fozzy who originally booked that gig suddenly died a few months ago. He was a thoroughly decent bloke and was respected by everyone in the live music industry who knew him. He was perceptive, too, and I will never forget the conversation that I had with him before the gig last time. Sometimes, the most down-to-earth people can be the most honest and compassionate ones. 

Three cheers for people like Fozzy!

Rory is a vibrant and varied showman and played a great gig last time- we also had a really nice chat before the gig and I'm looking forward to catching up with him.

I'm still in a state of slow recovery from Covid, which I picked up when I went into hospital for a biopsy. It's left me exhausted and with no sense of taste and smell (although I could smell the dusters that went on fire after one of the Offsprogs left a gas ring on yesterday). I managed last Saturday's gig OK, and tonight will be the same- I know I'll just have to sleep a lot tomorrow! I went to bed at nine yesterday and spent my fitful night's 'rest' mixing my album in my head, which was actually quite good fun. I do know the tracks backwards by now, and I'll send a track to Terry Edwards next week for the trumpet part to be played on it. I might even attempt a lead vocal or two on Wednesday.

Anyway, nearly time to get ready...

Monday, June 03, 2024

Back To the LP

Today's job was to put Robert's rhythm guitar strums into another of the two songs he's playing on. I'm waiting for a Hawaiian Steel part from Jack Hayter, and I need to sing Terry Edwards' trumpet part on to a track for him. Then it's some backing vocals from Gina (yay!) and some bass from Winston Blissett- then my lead vocals on most of the tracks, and some tidier backing vocals to replace the raggedy demos. 

I have a title, and an idea for the cover. I think it will all be done by the end of June, so long as there are no weird mixing blips, because I've kind of been mixing it as I go along; this involves booting up the computer every time I walk past the kitchen table, having a listen to a track and making volume and panning adjustments until everything sounds better. My aim is to make the sounds speak to each other in different ways, not always distinct and contrasting; a blend sometimes works really well. Every time you add an instrument, the whole thing recalibrates itself. "Now I do need bass guitar, even though I didn't before'. 'Now that guitar part needs to be an octave lower'. It's the best sort of puzzle, especially when you unexpectedly do something right and the sound of the whole track changes just because of one tiny adjustment.

I haven't played the songs to many people. Nobody has heard the whole thing yet. I want the opinions to come from the music before they come from listeners. I know that's weird but it feels as though the songs tell me what they want, and it seems churlish to override that with anything a human says... just yet!

Next Gig: Lewes Con Club on Saturday

 Tickets here:

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Rochester Rams Micro Brewery

Almost three weeks ago I picked up a nasty bug when I went to have a biopsy in a local hospital. I have been on Planet Weirdo for what seems like a very long time, too exhausted even to go out for a walk. But there was no way I was going to miss this lovely night in the bijou environs of the Ram's Microbrewery in Rochester.

Calm through every storm, Kevin has been promoting bands for a long time, both through the pandemic when his online Mr Unswitchable Saturday nights were a lifesaver, through the bi-monthly club Scaledown in London, and through various events in his native Rochester.

Rochester is a secret jewel in Kent's crown; it has a spectacular castle and bridge, a gorgeous view across the river, and a hearty normality to its citizens that is a breath of fresh air in these untrustworthy and facile times. It even has a seaside fox (or a riverside fox).

With assistance to carry my guitar, it really wasn't as daunting in reality as it had seemed in my addled imagination. The pre-gig bantz was superb: the smugness at the heart of Kevin's workplace, slugs, books, hymns, you name it, we talked about it.
Ruth cousin Sally turned up and we talked about lawn mowers and her friend and erstwhile Helen and the Horns fan Alan Bird-Book. And there was Robert and Judith too! What a lovely surprise!
Rachel Lowrie's set was sublime; she has a lovely, open personality and a voice to go with it. Apparently she sings in a folk band, and her voice has that assurance in it, but is also much more mellow and fresh than some of the harder-edged female folk voices. She sang of hills and the countryside and transported the audience to the places she sang about. Wonderful!
I'd decided that it was a Rickenbacker night (I needed the colour) and oddly, despite the health circumstances (and very cold fingers for the first few songs), felt very much at ease with the audience. They forgave me the most appalling onstage banter faux-pas, and for an encore I wheeled out Women of the World, which I've only just started singing regularly. How odd that the high notes were so easy to sing with a compromised system. 
Everyone under the age of 25 was out carousing in the High Street when we made our way back to the station, including some rather merry Spanish chaps, one of whom rummaged through the rubbish bin on the train platform looking for food. I should have given him the slimy quiche that I found in the bottom of my bag and forgot to eat earlier in the evening.
Anyway, I'm bloody glad that I got off the miserable sofa and did it. Charming venue, charming audience, lovely evening!