Thursday, May 24, 2018

Recording With Tom Again

Tom and Lisa live out at Queens, and I probably chose the longest route there that it was possible to choose. I got the Subway to Flushing, which is a fascinating Korean suburb, and then caught a slow local bus from there to the area where they live.
There was a minor hiccup: Tom had arranged to borrow a Spanish guitar and a solid-body from a local music shop, but there was no-one to be seen when we went to pick them up. We hovered and hoped and peered through the shuttered window, but in the end Tom had to try to find someone else who would hire instruments to us- you'd think that would be easy in New York but it's not. After a lot of searching, we managed to find somewhere and we were just setting off, when the original guy phoned and said he'd opened up and was waiting there for us.
The first solid body had gravelly pots and sticky strings but the second one had a nice strong sound- Seymour Duncan pickups- and we went back and made a start. I'd decided to do electric and acoustic versions of each song, but the songs soon dictated what they wanted and two were recorded on the Spanish guitar and two on the electric. Tom has become so swift at editing and although he now works mainly as a mix engineer, he had put together a really great recording set-up for this session. We recorded the four songs on guitar, and  then because my voice was rough at the bottom end and I had no head-room (jet lag), we stopped for the day and chatted to his wife Lisa and their lovely little baby who was all smiles and who is a ball of fun and energy.
Next day was vocal day and it didn't take long to put the vocals on the songs.
I had realised the day before that coming to Queens to record with Tom again was a really good decision. Time has passed- almost ten years- and we have both got better at what we are doing, but it was as easy as anything to slot right back into working together again. If you have recorded two and a half albums with the same engineer (plus a Christmas EP with a scratch choir on it, which Lisa says they still play every year), at the end of that process you will either be great friends or great enemies, and thankfully we became the first of those.
I can't wait to hear how they sound.
Afterwards we went to a Japanese restaurant and ate ourselves silly.
It is extremely tempting to go back and do next year's album there too; let's see how the next lot of songs develop...
It felt as though no time had passed at all; I was so pleased to see him- and Lisa, who managed to survive the Harrow household where they all lived; and of course, to meet their baby. How often do we get to meet babies? Never! Everyone should have at least one baby in their life just to keep their feet on the ground; this trip, I met two: but more of that in another posting.
I have such fiendish headweirdnessfuckery because of the time zone thing that I can only manage one posting at a time. Can you imagine a night flight, a red-eye, then having to do marking? A whole day of it tomoz, then the fifth rewrite of an article that I'm trying to get published.
Oh, but New York: what a city.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

I couldn't get a ticket for the early show at eight but took the risk of the ten thirty.
It was a mistake to stop off in Times Square on the way there because I got seriously hustled and it was frightening. The idea of picking my way to and from Greenwich Village on my own suddenly lost its appeal.
However, food cures all ills and cures all fears too, apparently; although it took a while to locate the venue (going off in the wrong direction from the Subway didn't help), once I was there I joined the smug queue of people with tickets and clambered down the narrow stairs into the teensy club (no more than 123 people allowed in there, appaz) where the audience is so close to the band that they are practically in it.
What a band! Lots of greyhairs, a couple of nerdy whippersnappers, and a slick, breathing big band sound. They play as one: they are like a swarm of bees, leaning in one direction thn the other, rising and falling as they breathe together, reaching over to place microphones for the person doing a solo, the sax players putting their fingers in their ears in unison as the trombones blast behind them in a particularly loud section.
Tight, very New York tunes emanate from the cosy stage area; they explain life through music, looking blissful as they listen in between playing. One sax player even uses newsreaders 'explaining hands' during his solo. They are sure we understand their enthusiasm, and we do.
Sorry no photos- forbidden I'm afraid, although I may well try to draw them from memory at some point. They were fascinating.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

New York

New York is foggy tonight, and has been rainy all day. It was a nightmare getting here because the flight was delayed by more than four hours, and part of that time involved the Norwegian Airlines staff trying to reorganise all the seating for the whole enormous planeload so that we could fly in a jumbo jet run by a Spanish airline.
The good bit was that I got to sit in the lump on top, which was something I never in a million years imagined that I'd ever do. It was impossible to sleep though, partly because of turbulence- not enough to make you afraid but enough to wake you up if you nodded off, and partly because the huge seats had all sorts of mechanical gadgetry; you could slide them into a flat position bit by bit, lifting up the footrest and lowering the headrest, you had folding down little reading lights and a folding table in the arm rest, and so much legroom. But all night long the whirring of the mechanisms gently whined as people adjusted their positions; it was a unnerving as it was exciting.
Then at JFK (cheers, Norwegian), I ended up being the only person from the whole flight waiting for transport into town- at 11.30 at night. That was frightening, but the shuttle bus eventually turned up and lots of other late passengers crammed at another terminal.
So I got to the YMCA at 1.30 a.m. and checked into this Spartan room, which has a fabulous view across Central Park.
I can't upload photographs at the moment because this is an iPad and mostly doesn't work. It's horrible to type on too because your fingers feel like spider legs tippy tappying on it.
The recording part of the trip has been perfect. It was fantastic to work with Tom again, and meeting his little baby was amazing. We got four tracks down, and he's going to mix them.
Tomorrow, I have a long trip to visit Laura, who I haven't seen since she was twelve and I was fourteen. On the way, I'm going to get some work done: I printed out a very basic version of my book to read.
So this is a working visit, but at the same time I've walked the (Hi) Line, been to Williamsburg, visited the amazing Folk Museum and just generally wandered around using both my feet and the Metro Card.
Time for a shower- a competitive business because we share bathrooms at the YMCA, and there aren't enough to go around. I mistakenly allowed a soaking wet cyclist to go before me, this morning, which meant that I missed out on things. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Dear Gran

I am sorry not to be visiting your birthplace this time around, but I will come back another time.
I remember hanging out with you and your friends; you were so worried about what I would write about them in your diary that you tried to bribe me with a dollar, to show you what I'd written that day. But I hadn't written anything; I found them fascinating, just as you were.
You had so many adventures and there were so many layers to your personality. I understand how you always saw the good in everything and everybody and how important it was to you to do that, in order to keep the darkness away. You saw cruelty, and you experienced it too. But you were a fabulous grandmother and you never lost your ability to play or to understand the child in people, no matter how sophisticated they were. You also rather liked baddies because they were exciting, although you didn't want them around us, your grandchildren.
Whenever life kicks me in the teeth, I think about you and your survival strategy of always to be positive and always to be interested in other people and their stories.

Sending you love from Planet Earth,

Your granddaughter Helen xxx

Monday, May 14, 2018


Just bought a little compass- a metal adventure's compass- from the bookshop, so I can navigate around New York without getting my phone out, because it's a north/south/east/west city.
It says on the box that it's a metal adventurer's compass, so that must mean that I'm a metal adventurer.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Punks Wait For Their Guitars To Arrive

Alpacas from yesterday; more to come, after (another) graft day. Tina, their boss, is out of the picture. She has magnificent fluttery eyelashes, dark brown fur, and can spot a camera at a hundred yards.
These are therapeutic alpacas who belong to the organisation Animal Antiks, and they visit troubled children and autistic children who need something more than complicated human company to make them feel safe and comfortable.
Not only can these clever chaps play guitar, but they also spit at each other when they are annoyed like proper punk rockers. Llamas spit at humans more often, apparently, because they have nastier temperaments than alpacas; alpacas only have teeth on their lower jaw and have hard gums on the upper one.
You learn a lot at Literary Festivals.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Guitars Located!

I can't believe that next weekend I will be in New York recording with Tom Greenwood again. Tom recorded both Suburban Pastoral and Poetry and Rhyme, plus some of the tracks on Hamilton Square.
Norwegian Airlines don't carry fragile baggage and I've been worried about taking a guitar but Tom has found a friendly music shop to hire some at minimal rates.
This is so exciting!
The beginning of this year was terribly dark: a fog of painkillers, and the shock of realising how things can suddenly happen that make a huge impact on everything in your life.
Trying to edit an academic article with a curdled brain and an ability to type with only one finger.
Months of sleeplessness because of the relentless pain (never break an elbow- that funny bone feeling is with you constantly, 24/7 and painkillers wear off after a couple of hours).
Taking days to be able to bear to wear a guitar and stand up to play (they are heavy buggers).
An unbearable feeling, the feeling of being sorry for myself.
Sitting with my hand in the air for hours at a time to stop the swelling and bruising from becoming really frightening and dramatic.
Drawing a very painful, powerful drawing that summed up the feelings of being dumped two years ago which made a friend cry when they saw it.

What a wonderful NHS we have; they were proud of the work they did in fixing it up.
The surgeon smiled with delight at the mobility of the mended arm and relayed a message from the operating surgeon to ask if I'd managed to do my gigs (I only cancelled one, in the end).

Travelling light and light-hearted! What better thing is there in life?

The Bardaid Literary Festival

The Bardaid people continue their good work creating libraries in phone boxes and schools with this event today in Hertfordshire. I will be there as part of a panel in the afternoon at about 2 p.m. and will be selling copies of the Lost Women of Rock Music later on.

Friday, May 11, 2018


Up at eight for the builders, I started writing.
By eleven thirty, I was a spent force and they were finished.
The rest of the day has been occupied in answering University correspondence, shoving unfeasibly heavy furniture back into place, washing the floors, taking things upstairs, taking things downstairs, laundering dusty things and generally exhausting every muscle in my body.
Trying a siesta was fruitless; the goldfinch was trilling at maximum volume.
I looked for my black lyrics book.
It wasn't in the Usual Places.
I remembered leaving a book full of lyrics on the tube once and never getting it back.
Had I thrown the black lyrics book away in a fit of cleanliness when I was clearing the house so the builders could smash the damp plaster off the walls?
Had it been recycled this morning when the bin men came?
Are the dustmen singing their way through my songs right this minute in their deep dusty voices, accompanied by a battered guitar that a disinterested child has thrown away?
No! Here it is, midway through an unlikely pile!

Relieved, I sing every single song as a prayer of gratitude.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

'Summer Days' Mixed By Stuart Moxham


I've sent out more than 60 pieces of student work today. They have worked hard and done well and I feel proud of their achievements. Big thanks to David and Bridgette for helping out with the teaching and marking while I've been on sabbatical.
The book writing feels like a mountain to climb. All the information is there, but it's not in the right order yet. I have done so much research but the publisher wants integrated interviews, which has meant going back to the drawing-board. I'm not the world's most patient person: I just want people to be able to read it right now. Academic books don't work like that though, and I can't say I should have been a journalist, because I shouldn't have been. Being a writer happened as a different sort of accident and wasn't intentional.
After this, its strictly songs (and crime novels).

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


In a deep hole excavated in the piled up furniture, the microphone met the interface and the interface met the computer.
We were doing BVs and a unison vocal for a Stuart Moxham song called The Hill, which is exceptionally catchy.
It was one of those subtraction jobs. A few weeks ago I slathered the poor song with vocals; most of this session was spent taking them away.
On Sunday I will climb over some furniture and retrieve the guitar to put a bit of jangle on to the song.
Tomozza and the next day, they are Writing Days with Robert Dyas Orange Ear Protectors, as the builders smash the damp plaster off the walls downstairs.


The damp in my house has finally got to the point where it needs to be sorted out; cue much moving of hefty furniture, piles of paper that can't be thrown away yet because they belong to the book project, clothes, guitars and general stuff (actually, General Stuff commands a Dustball Army).
There were lots of photographs buried in the heaps, including this one that Jacob took for Myspace back in the day. I quite miss Myspace; it had an innocence about it. When it started, somebody told me about it and said you could make lots of friends.
'What's the point of that?', I thought, 'I have got friends anyway'.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Washing Machine

The old washing machine became increasingly independent, rather like an adolescent.
You had to press buttons again and again, and it would decide on a whim whether it would do the things the button were telling it to do.
The washing machine repair man is very nice and very patient, but when he moved his toolbox in I decided I'd had enough.
Now, the new washing machine (very cheap and with rather a large scary eye) works like a dream. It is quiet, reliable, efficient and when it has finished it plays a jolly little tootly tune.
As soon as it's legal, I'm going to marry the new washing machine, for all the above reasons.