Saturday, January 30, 2010

Musical Variety Night

On Thursday I went to Acton Bell's Musical Variety Night at the Perseverance. I like it there and I like Acton Bell's nights. Alec Dunnachie was M.C. and told us all a long shaggy dog story with great authority, producing a pair of burnt sausages from his pocket at the end that he informed us were the fingers of a piano player who had upset his music-hall colleague by flirting with his lady-friend, prompting him to strangle the lady-friend with a piano wire and sit on the piano lid while the piano player was playing, thus chopping off his fingers.
Alex's stories are believable up to a point, the point differing according to who is listening!
Portia Winers played first, creating song-soundscapes on-the-go, short and catchy and experimental all at once- she's a very interesting performer to watch.
Trees and the Slipway played again, genial as always, and this time reminding me of Nirvana, probably because that's who I listened to last! I like the way their music bowls along; their Casio keyboard player produced a sea of crumpled paper from his bag looking for instructions for their last song, which was a new one. I liked that.
Acton Bell was serene as always, reviving those family favourite hits from the sixties. She's going to be playing at my night in February, but I'm not telling you about that just yet! (except that it's on the 24th so keep that night free!)
The last act I saw was Claire (above) whose songs I love and who plays a mini-guitar. I had to leave before the end as I was so tired. Claire is brilliant. I will put her Myspace up here when I've fed the cat.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Headphones: a Twilling

Introducing my pink headphones, fresh from Urban Outfitters this Christmas.
They are actually very good! In this photo they are whispering something secret to each other. I met the Songwriting students from the University of the West today, who seem a lively and interesting group, and I am taking them on a mystery field trip next Thursday. They are very curious about it, but I won't tell them where we're going.
The headphones know, which is why they are whispering.

One of the students told me that out of 80 undergraduate students on the course this year, only six are female.
My colleagues used to treat me like a... well... can't say the word.... Feminist when I used to point out that their student gender balance left a lot to be desired, and actually things evened up a bit for a while, even though if they'd put their hands over their ears and yelled 'I'M NOT LISTENING!!!' they could hardly have seemed less interested.
But now I've left, and nobody's watching, and it's gone back to the good old days of the unfair sex ruling the roost.

And there was a member of aforesaid gender, a student with a microphone, yes, that's right, a
How interesting! In some respects microphones are the worst invention in the world, because they lead some people to equate volume with value, and to believe that their voices and what they are shouting (a microphone is supposed to mean you don't need to shout) are very interesting, just because people turn round to look at the source of (an)noise.
Shears, shears, next time, one big snip of the microphone lead and silence will reign!

One of the studio stories from last week involved a grumpy college lecturer fed up with a student's endless widdling on the electric guitar.
After several attempts to ask him to shut up, he went to his car, removed a large pair of wire clippers from the boot, went back to his room and cut the strings of the guy's guitar with a satisfying snap!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Edwardian Household Books and Other Things

The day before yesterday when Nadya and I were browsing in the Cancer Care shop I found two fascinating books, H-J (I think) and W-Z (definitely) of an Edwardian Household Encyclopaedia.
It had blancmange recipes, information about trombones, laundry tips, suitable gas fires for different rooms in the house, lots of pinky-yellowy illustration plates and a set of photographs showing you how to give yourself elaborate Edwardian hairstyles like my ancient granny used to have.
They were £4 each and I couldn't decide which one to get (I only had a fiver) so I went off to think about it.
The shop was closed when I got back yesterday, and the books were gone this morning. Did the man lurking behind us, as I chirruped and admired, buy them?
I will know if I see him out with a lady with elaborate rococo hair curlicues, won't I!

(I have decided to name these pointless observations 'twillings').

Today, I've been at Gina's, mulling over ideas for the film.
On the way there, a snorty sniffer was on the tube; he'd been a disgust-o-sneezer complete with regular paper hanky inspections and he spent the rest of his journey gagging and gurgling like a Dickensian villain. Ugh.
Luckily, a cup of Gina's fab coffee washed away the memory and she showed me her brand new blog,
Things are moving along very positively, I'm pleased to say.
Caught philosophical on the way back, I mused about drawing: the picture is already there, hiding in the paper, and you pull it out with your pencil or pen...
... and music: the song is in the air, blowing about and you catch it and make it into music.
Ideas? they are there between the realities, if you can find them.
Can you tell I didn't get much sleep last night?
I was worried about Whippersnapper. He's back home, with a bald neck (most unbecoming) and a bald leg where they shaved him to put drips in and take blood. Yuk.
What else? Well, maybe Martin and I will go to North Carolina this summer to visit our friend, the ace music photographer Daniel Coston and play some gigs.
I have a handbag full of ideas scribbled on receipts and parking slips to investigate, and tomorrow the Songwriting starts at the University of the West; I'm planning a magical mystery tour for them all next week, and if I told you what it was, you might tell them and spoil the surprise, so I won't.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ladies' Work

Rumble, rumble, things happen, things happen..

My friend Debi Withers  has a book coming out in March, Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory 
I was talking to her about the Trinity in Bristol and remembering a gig The Chefs did there. It was a monstrously huge venue for us, and all the nutty people in Bristol came along. A young chap was trying to push our manager out of the way so he could get to me in the dressing room. Jonathan was a gentle sort of chap, but thankfully strong enough to barricade the door. Later, an African businessman in an extremely smart suit came into the dressing room. 'Don't be afraid little girl', he said to me. He went on to promise me gigs at the Top Rank and other such venues, and to make me a star. All this happened in a thin cloud of ganja, but I tell you, I'm not making it up!

Another friend, Caroline Blase, has had her article for the f-word accepted; it is to be serialised and as soon as I have more news I will write about it.

Tomorrow, I'm going over to Gina's; she will be making a film covering the female musicians from punk to riot grrl and has asked me to help with research. This is something I'm really looking forward to!

There's more, but I'm signing off for today. I've spent the day checking and re-checking student results and inputting them into the computer. Whippersnapper is stable, thankfully. 
I'm kn*ckered!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Song Circle

Katy turned up first, dressed in red and blue and flustered after inadvertently riding the tube to Mill Hill East (home of the Mill Hill Beast).
We sat and ate Owl-and-the-Pussycat biscuits until Nadya arrived. Both of them loved my new house which made me very happy. Katy sang first: our subject had been travel, and her song was brilliant. She told us she'd written it this morning, and it was about a trip to Egypt she'd made at New Year. Mine was the New Year's Eve song, and Nadya's was acapella and walking, a song about being in the street in the rain.
We haven't done this for months, and it felt great to start up again. Later, we walked along to the antique market to show Katy, and we poked about and browsed; I bought a wicker umbrella stand for 4 quid. Nadya bought a beautiful wool kilt, brand new, from the Cancer Care shop, and came back to eat pistachios and grapes with me for lunch.
Poor Whippersnapper cat was looking terribly ill, and Nadya came with us to the vets. He is there overnight, with suspected pancreatitis, much to our distress, because we've just lost Old Lady Cat and we don't want to go through that again. So I sit with my fingers crossed while he is fed painkillers and water to try to stabilise him.

I read Mojo this evening, and noticed a review of the Marina and the Diamonds CD. Marina used to attend the University of the East (for about a term), and I remember her playing her songs at the Songlab, an informal songwriting group I run there. She was very talented: she had a sort of 'different' quality to her, a self-containment, and she was definitely ready to go off and make music on her own.
I hope she does really well.

Strange times,
as always.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Hmmm... one of my good friends has just been made redundant. At the last meeting at the University of the East the dreaded 'r' word was being inserted into the conversation sporadically, causing various degrees of panic, and an email-with-warnings came round from the powers that be (who never, ever make themselves redundant- noticed that?) at the University of the West.
I have been through this thing of living off pasta and tea for years.
Will it be all that again?
I don't smoke or drink, so I'm already economising.
I am an econo-miser!
Somebody said to me 'Well, what will be different? Artists never have any money anyway', and there is a lot of truth in that.
I forecast an upsurge in blogging and electronic art, followed by an upsurge in old-skool art as people's computers conk out and are too expensive to fix.

My friend Jane came round for lunch today and it was lovely to catch up with her. She is one of only two A&R people at 4AD records and she's just signed an artist called Meryl Garbis. Jane is such a good singer and guitarist herself, and secretly I'm hoping she starts up again. She guested with Shimmy Rivers and and Canal until they split up, but actually she's great on her own.

After being so busy, it's a come-down to sit still and do nothing. I have somebody's MPhil to read through, but I'm not yet in the mood (although I'm actually looking forward to it). I have eaten a million pieces of millionaire's shortbread, and I am trying not to look in the mirror because my face is the colour and texture of shortbread and I don't want to dwell on it.

I realised today that one of the reasons I say 'yes' to everything, why I'm so busy, is fear of redundancy and unemployment dating back for years.
People of my generation became all too familiar with rejection letters, the dreaded call to the office for a meeting with a person with a grave demeanour, and, in my case, appointments in the Unemployment Exchange with bullying men in pale blue nylon shirts trying to fit square pegs into round holes behind locked doors.
It's amazing what They can get away with, with people that They think have fallen off the bottom rung of the ladder.
Expect lots of affronted articles in The Guardian and The Independent from sacked professionals who are suddenly treated in the same way as the Long Term Poor and think it is Just Them Getting Treated Like This.
And yet more in The Daily Mail and The Express blaming the unemployed for their own predicament, instead of those members of the banking community who have gambled our money away by betting on non-existent ghost-horses.
And The Times and The Telegraph will cross over to the other side of the road with a shudder, looking away and tucking their tenners into their socks until its all over, just in case a hungry beggar dips into their coat pockets!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Day at the Cluny Studios

The Cluny Studios is in Byker, which is to the East of Newcastle (the cold end), tucked on the hill nest to the Ouse Burn.
Martin's aim was to give me a day in the studio to play a set of songs live, to see if I could 'do a Nick Drake', or my equivalent, anyway, at my lower level, but in that spirit. There were to be no overdubs and wherever possible I was to sing and play the song together, ideally in one take to sound as spontaneous as I could.
We'd arrived 2 hours late by accident, but the engineer, Sean, was there smiling and ready to go.
After breaking the ice with a few mild studio stories, it was time to start.
I wasn't nervous- either I do myself justice or I don't. I know sometimes that I can start with the the best of intentions, in good voice, rehearsed, and end up with a pile of rubbish, and other times against the odds I can get the perfect version of a song.
I decided to start 'uppy', and recorded Gotta Have a Heart, Three Maple Men and The Song of the Unsung Heroine all in one go, vocals and guitar together, first take.
Then things got a bit sticky so we had a coffee break and I did a few more songs guitar first and then vocals: Summer Days, She Will Fly, The Song of the Landsman's Soul and Degas (the songs with the high-up vocals).
We noshed some paninis and then I did another couple live (Champagne Friend and Daisies), then I did Little England and Two Little Girls and Me, the two low-down singers, to finish off with.
In between, we told more studio stories and looked out of the window at the tourists with hard hats by the burn. Sean told us they have discovered old pit tunnels between the Town Moor and the burn and you can go in them.
We had started at 12 and finished, mixed, at 7.30. Sean was great- really calm, and Martin was supportive in a very subtle way; he knows the songs and the way I sing very well so he knows when I can do better.
I am messing about with track orders now, and wondering which one to dump- the idea is to have an album of ten songs and I recorded eleven. I have put three of them on Myspace.
The working title is 'Take One', a pun on the first-take ethos but also because it's a totally solo album. It also sounds a bit 60s and there is a bit of that  in some of the songs (but not Daisies which is straight out of the 1920s).
It's over a year since I've been in the studio and I really appreciated the chance to do some recording in a proper professional setting again- what luxury!- and the company was good too. When the listening has settled (it takes a few days before you can listen objectively) I will know whether I should re-record any of them. If I do, I will try to go back, because it's a brill studio!

Old Christmas Tree

I have loads to write about the recording on Thursday. But after a seven-hour journey back from Novo Castria last night, I'm taking it easy.
But after checking my mail when I got home I found a letter from Barnet Council saying that if I put my old Christmas Tree outside the front door before 6.30 this morning they would take it away.
So this is why at midnight I was dragging a massive, spiny, needle-shredding, rain soaked tree skeleton though the house, sloshing water and spraying needles everywhere, catching branches on the furniture and twanging green spikes all over the whole living room, before finally sliding it on to the pavement.
It's still green and had actually started growing some new bits, so I almost planted it.
Except there is no soil in my yard, only paving slabs.
Goodbye tree.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dropping Names

On Myspace, users have a little window called 'status' where we write our current mood and little notes about what's going on.
Nile Rodgers of Chic fame wrote and said he was suffering from writer's block and that Paul Simon had always warned him that this might happen.
So I commented back and gave him a bit of advice: start a song-circle, (like Katy, Nadya, Rowen and me) and the ideas will come flowing back.
Giving advice to Nile Rodgers? that's something I never thought I'd do!
I had a small discussion once at a conference about Chic, because the academic presenting a paper on them was drawing a time-line between James Brown and D'Angelo and putting them there in the middle.
But I have always felt Chic owed a lot to punk rock and it's on-the-beat hurry-up style.
Mykaell Riley (once of Steel Pulse) told me that Nile Rodgers liked punk rock, so maybe I was right.

Listening to those old disco records, like Ladies' Night by Kool and the Gang, Ain't No Stopping Us Now by McFadden and Whitehead, and Best of my Love by the Emotions, you can hear where about 2/3 of the way through, the BPMs are revved up just a fraction to push the record towards its finale.
I used to start dancing at six and end at twelve, just about every night of the week at the Art College Basement Disco in Brighton, and then walk a mile and a half home.
My favourite record from the 1970s disco era is Number One Deejay, by Goody Goody.
I still have a very scratched copy of this, which must be very rare (I did read that it might be the first 12" single but I don't think it was).
I have not found the track anywhere online, but wherever and whenever I have the space to fire up my record deck, it's the first one on and I go bombing round the kitchen and back to the disco in my head.
I had a green and yellow budgie who use to like standing on my head while I was dancing at home before I went out, gripping on for dear life with his little claws and flapping his wings in panic when he lost his balance.

Like Julie Andrews charging up the hill with her guitar, I am about to go charging down the hill with mine to King's Cross and the train to Newcastle, ready to record the album-in-a-nutshell (I have four hours)
Will I succeed?
Watch this space!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Goodbye, Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty spectacles case has got to go in the bin.
 It's lost its snap, like a retired alligator, and lets the fluff and grobblies in the bottom of my bag in to besmirch my specs.

I bought it in Claire's Accessories for practically nothing and it's lasted remarkably well, considering my clumsy lifestyle.
Goodbye, Hello Kity.

Parcel from Anne

I got a lovely parcel this morning from Anne, with lots of little exciting things in it, including some wine coasters she'd made and a ball of multi-coloured wool.
The best things were some hand-dyed wool that I think she made herself, and a hilarious book of knitting patterns for pets clothing, including knitted earmuffs for pugs who are afraid of fireworks! Anne is the most consistent commenter (is that the word?) on my blog and I was delighted to receive this assortment of surprises from the Scottish Borders: thank you so much Anne!
Her blog, which is focused on textiles but also has a welcome whiff of country air in it, is
Apart from that, I've been at a two hour meeting at work today, preceded by a one-hour meeting, and that's more or less drained the life out of me, although I will rehearse my songs later on, as on Thursday I'm recording an album live acoustically in four hours in Byker!
My fingers will be creeping to the phone to dial for a curry later on: no matter how much I try to disguise my voice, they always know it's me, even before I ask for the same food that I always ask for.
Until then I'm parked on the sofa, which is tilting rakishly to one side as it's leg has broken off it for the third time, with Whippersnapper cat trying to shove the laptop on to the floor so he can discuss whether I'm up for making him a knitted dog-jacket with flowers on it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Radio Joy at the Foundry (part of it, anyway)

After returning from the North, I decided to reacquaint myself with the ways of the South again, and drove down to Old Street to experience Radio Joy's first outside broadcast.
The Foundry is a quirky place, containing as it does the raw ingredients for an episode of Dr Who before they have been scrubbed, edited and baked for mass consumption.
Like the great Radio Joy itself, it's a shopping basket of the weird, the dark, the humorous, the clunky and the gauche, nestling in an aura of error and gentle wonder.
A paper Daddy from Daddies Sauce peels from the wall above the stage, its manic grin reassuring us of our insanity. Two orange semi-deflated halloween balloons dangle upside-down from the ceiling in a deadly embrace.
Earnest men in furrowed conversation clutch trendy beer bottles to their black woollen chests, part of an audience of loners and the lonely that sprouts like weeds between assorted TV screens and electronic sound paraphernalia. Johny Brown pops up now here, now there; a man prepares a theremin, his right hand clutching a wire strung with small blue lights.
Two of the screens glow orange with nasturtiums: how did they know I liked nasturtiums?

They provided me with a constant supply of little caterpillars to keep in jam jars when I was a little girl; they danced optimistically in the West-country sun at my ex-honeymoon; they flowered heroically through the deadly weeks when I was packing up our big house and getting ready to move on, exhausted by it all. 
Their happy morning song of shades of orange, sung through autumn frosts and dismal rain, reminded me that life can be beautiful even when it is disguised as a nightmare.

The band, Stasis73, interrupted a vintage Kurt Weill recording and began to loop everything: the sounds of the room, an accordion, the theremin, mobile phone messages, and even (was it an accident? I'm not sure) the sound of feedback from the microphones, the layers of sound gradually decaying to be replaced by clarinet and de-tuned guitar. The TV screens played images of processed light.
There was something very calm in their chaos.
After half and hour they drew their set to a close and Johny asked us to mingle. I was one of the loners, so I sat still till he beckoned me over to introduce me to a woman called Sukie, who is also a singer and performer. I liked her and I am going to listen to her music later, when I have listened to the students songs I'm marking. But I had to go: being a Mum beckoned, as it does sometimes, and I headed home to the little house on the hill.

Poetry: Beuys will be Beuys (I liked this scary poem)
Images: Adventures in a Suburban Garden by Nicola Jayne Maskrey
Radio Joy broadcasts every Sunday at 8 p.m. and they will be at the Foundry next Sunday too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Train Journeys

I like travelling.
The train up to Scotland was pleasantly underpopulated and I wrote out some lyrics (I thought it would help me to learn them but it didn't) and gazed out of the window.
Lots of green fields had rotund lumps of pock-marked and gristly snow in them, ex-snowmen, and one field had about five. What is the collective noun for a bunch of melted snowmen, I wondered? I settled on the word 'bowlings', because they are round and the word 'snow' is hidden in there somewhere.
There were scars in the mud where sledges had been, and the hedges silhouetted against the white sky looked like many-legged bony animals grazing in the cold.
I remembered when we were little, getting sent round the allotments to cool off after a row. The heat generated by the broccoli stalks had melted little discs of bare earth in the snow around them, as though their bunched green fists had just punched through from underground.
I think about people who live in hot sandy countries. Some British people hate the snow and the cold. It's not there all the time, and in exchange we get beautiful green grass, majestic trees, fields with a plethora of wild flowers, and a love of change, as the seasons pass through wet, dry, warm, cold, windy, still, sometimes all within the space of a week.
We are so lucky to have all this colour and all these weather moods being stirred up by our peculiar climate, for our entertainment!

On the way back I read the book Pilgrim State by my foster-cousin, Jackie Walker.
Her book actually came out two years ago, but I am not a voracious reader and I needed some peace in my life before I read her book, as I knew it would be very affecting for a lot of reasons.
As a child I idolised Jackie and her big brother Ted ( I wrote about him many postings ago), especially since they used to arrive as Londoners in our Northumbrian village with no Southern airs and graces, and would swap stories and be as intrigued by our lives as we were by theirs.

In the book, Jackie understands her mother through writing about her and shows how strongly love can survive distance, parting, abandonment, but also how much misunderstanding there can be around feelings and loss.
One of the things I connected most with was Jackie's feeling of the mother/daughter chain (something I have written about in the song Les Deux Fillettes et Moi), which was something I never expected when I gave birth- my mum gave birth to with me, her mum gave birth to her, her mum gave birth to her, and so on and so on, back through time to a mysterious beginning somewhere impossible to understand.
It is a very strange sensation, strangest of all the strangenesses associated with conception, pregnancy and birth, and the suddenness and surprise of the thought almost made me laugh out loud at the arrogance not only of the Creationists but also of the Atheists, the Darwinists, all of the 'ists' (almost all of them male, by some extraordinary coincidence), and the feeling that the secret of all this was hidden in the links of our woman-chain, if only anybody could be bothered to look.

Her book is a lovely, maturely-written story, and I could feel the catharsis between the pages, along with a plea to her birth-father, the big question that loops throughout the book.
I liked reading about the childhood of my foster-cousins, who arrived with my Uncle and Aunt as naturally as breathing one day; that was the funny thing about childhood.
It didn't seem at all out of the ordinary to suddenly have three more cousins on the horizon, and I feel very proud to be foster-cousin to such a warm and accomplished author.


Sorry for a few days silence- I have been in Edinburgh helping McMum pack books and ferrying clothes to Oxfam: she is moving house. The computer in her flat (as always) is broken.

I am back home and Whippersnapper cat is pleased to see me, as he has managed to convince himself that I am going to decant the entire contents of the fridge into his bowl.

Johny Brown is doing a live broadcast of Radio Joy from the Foundry tonight, which should be interesting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Relaxing! How rare! I made a banana and blueberry tea loaf, and I've been vanity searching. I found a ringtone from the Poetry and Rhyme album (nobody asked me!), the song I Feel It

Link to Knitted Poem Facebook Page

Art Website

Martin is making me an art website! It is really nice of him to do this, and I've been sending artwork for him to upload.

Meanwhile, the Skifflecat Guitars are getting a very good review in Guitar and Bass magazine!

Phibbers, Empty

Odd, odd... I walked into the venue and there was a student from the University of the East who had insulted me last term and whom I'd reported for his attempts to bully. But the gig was upstairs in this cavernous venue, obviously home to throngs of Arsenal fans at weekends.
I sat and chatted to David Dirickx, another last-minute booking, while the other songwriter, Tom, sat at a table with his girlfriend.
There was no audience at all!
Me and David chatted about fingernails. the Carter scratch, the fact that his girlfriend in Inverness, and eventually the promoter asked him if he'd go on early.
He is inspired by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, but actually has one of those big bold voices like Johnny Cash. He plays fluidly, all over the neck of the guitar, and plays harmonica too.
The song Matilda reminded me of a country version of Peter Sarstedt's Where Do You Go To My Lovely, and his other songs displayed a penchant for tense, driving folk. His powerful vocal style came to the fore in Blue Eyed Son, where he accompanied himself with his foot in a flip-flop attached to a half-tambourine.
One to watch, because he has one of those long-lasting voices and a definite style of his own!

His audience member came in halfway through; mine managed to turn up in time for my set (hi Dave!)
Meanwhile, Tom was performing his catchy songs on a very beaten-up graffiti'd guitar with a plastic rope strap; I have his CD to listen to.
Singing to six people is just as important as singing to sixty, six hundred or six thousand; the PA system was good and next week I'll be attempting to sing and play a totally acoustic set in the studio in four hours to release as my next album so I need all the practice I can get.
And, I have to say, I enjoyed it.
It was better than sitting in the house watching the telly: doing these things makes me feel alive and excited, and always will.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yesterday's Coincidences

I was just getting ready to go out for dinner with Diana to celebrate her birthday, when I heard noises outside.
A woman had fainted on the street outside my door, and a kind man was phoning for an ambulance. We helped her into the house to keep warm.
'Hey, it looks really different in here' said the man.
"Have you been here before?' I asked him.
'I sold you the house', he replied.
I hadn't recognised him without his spectacles!
Once the lady had been safely taken to hospital, I set off.

The Lorelei is an odd little restaurant in Bateman Street, Soho, devoid of decoration apart from a large greying wall-painting of a mermaid. It's very cheap, however, and the food is lovely. The prawns in the 1970s throwback prawn and avocado starter were proper fresh prawns, not the corky little maggots you sometimes get, and the pizzas were crusty, yeasty and flavoursome. We were an odd bunch of film-makers, musicians and artists.

I sat opposite Judith, whom I have sort of known for years, and she mentioned that she was the Director of the Poetry Society. A dim light bulb (obviously a long-life one) started to illuminate my brain.
'Wasn't there a knit-a-poem competition an few months ago?'
'Yes, that was my idea. I have got the poem rolled up in my car. We are exhibiting it at the moment'.
'Oh yes, I knitted a letter for that but it wasn't very good and I've always assumed it was never used'
'What letter did you knit and what did it look like?'
'I knitted a letter 'H' and it was red and white on turquoise'
'The one with little white dots on it? That was our favourite letter out of 2000 of them, and we used it as the 'H' in Dylan Thomas's surname'.

Stunned and speechless, I set off home on the tube. There was the external examiner of the University of the East getting off the tube at Camden with a cheery smile on his face.

What a funny day.

Waltzing Away From Winter

I have just recorded a demo, nice'n'cheesy, for you to skate along to.
Alternatively, tie some dusters to your feet and polish your floors while pretending to be skating indoors (doesn't work on carpets).

Monday, January 11, 2010


It all needs to be tidied up, doesn't it.
Life, I mean.
Today I started finishing all the unfinished business from last year, sending off CDs and soon making phone calls.
Arthit from Thailand's Esquire magazine got in touch, asking for a playlist and some artwork and I have done that. I have still not found the lost Chefs badges (sorry Wilky, I'm still looking!).

Dentist this afternoon, ouch!, and Diana's birthday dinner tonight.

Before all that, I am Mrs Scrubbit. The house is grubby from lack of fresh air and overheating; dishes like a diary of the past week are on the draining board waiting to be rebooted, and corners of the kitchen floor look like a horror movie in miniature.
That's because I went with the ever-grumpy Offsprog Two to see Nowhere Boy last night. I loved it. Genius, especially since the words The Beatles were not mentioned once in the whole film: very clever. It's a film like a sculpture of different emotions and relationships and it's extremely well cast with a really good understanding of the suddenness of a teenager's dedication to music and the uncalculating way that they relate to each other; and the accidental ways that families work and don't work.
Lots of things really, and I will go to see it again.
I saw Sherlock Holmes in Dublin and I liked that too. It has had some mediocre reviews but that's possibly because it's directed by Guy Ritchie and the reviewers were expecting a taste of nasty violence. It's not there: this is an entertaining and witty take on the hackneyed subject of good old Sherlock, glittering and dark and dirty too, just like my kitchen.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tuesday 12th January

I have a last-minute gig on Tuesday evening (12th January) in Islington:
I will be on stage at 9.30 p.m. and will be playing a half-hour set. Entry is £3.00 Phibbers, 203 Holloway Road, Islington, N7 8DL (close to Holloway Road and Highbury & Islington tubes).
Please come along and support me if you can!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Chewable Toothbrushes

Ah, Dr McCookerybook was up before the frozen lark this morning, to drive down to Crouch End to pick Mr Stephenson up for his early flight to Inverness.
He'd done a brilliant gig last night, sold out, warm and friendly and funny, with lots of good singers in the audience who joined in the choruses and more. For Southbound, Jim Morrison's fiddle playing was augmented by a talented harmonica player.
A kindly punter stood at the door, stopping it from slamming and spoiling the music as people piled in.
Yes... Barnet Hill, Muswell Hill, Crouch End Hill; at -3.5 degrees it was a wonder I managed to get to Crouch End given the ice factor. But people were up and driving, carrying motorway salt with their tyres on to the suburban roads and dodging the deep potholes at Muswell Hill.
On the M1, a mad driver shot on the the carriageway just in front of us down a sliproad, crashing straight into the barrier at the central reservation and bouncing across the outside and outer middle lanes. He must have been driving very fast and had hit a patch of ice; Martin called the police, as it looked like a pile-up in waiting.

Later, in the airport I went the the Ladies.
I noticed the little spherical balls of chewable toothbrushes jiggling and rotating in their dispenser on the wall next to the drier as I dried my hands.
How exciting! They had a special jiggler to make people want to buy them!
But no.
As soon as the drier stopped, they stopped too.
So I tested it again... hands under the nozzle, on went the drier... 'Whoooosh!'
Jiggle, jiggle, twizzle twizzle, went the little balls of chewable toothbrush.
It was the vibrations from the hand-drier that were agitating them.

Sorry. These tiny things in life never cease to amaze me.
Do try it, next time you have a few minutes to spare at Luton Airport.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Snowjoke, Martin!

Raw Poetry night: pictures

These are from the Raw Poetry Night on Monday: Jazzman John, a singer/songwriter (I'll have to tell you his name later) whose songs sounded like a young Bob Dylan, and documenting the night, CT Ringell and an unidentified cameraperson.
The hit of the night was the poet Indigo, who hailed from Brixton. Her poetry was funny, perceptive and direct, half entertainment and half skilful politics. I can imagine her going far; she far outshone one of the other poets who tried to get us all to chant along to some audience-participation obscenity that you could see coming a mile off. When people do that I feel that they are sidling dangerously close to the power of Hitler, who sailed crowds of people into frighteningly mindless territory that they were too afraid (or sheep-like) to jump ship to get away from.
I don't care how loud a person's voice is or how persuasive their stage persona, comparing people's faces to c*nts (even the word is horrible) is, well, horrible.
All in all, though, it was a refreshingly interesting night with people performing that I've never seen before and a very welcoming vibe from CT and her partner in the band Us!, who unfortunately I missed, but will make sure I catch next time, when I get there early to do the poetry workshop that kicks the whole evening off- what a brilliant idea!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Been Away

Been Away a couple of snowy days- review of Raw Poetry Night to follow- and Martin's gig at the King's Head in Crouch End tomorrow, I'll be playing a couple of songs too.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Elders 2

Of course, no sooner had I made that posting than a small feature on BBC News aired the views of several very grumpy older people.
C'est la vie!

Monday, January 04, 2010


In the streets, people walk round with thunderous expressions, wrapped in the latest winter fashions, mouths turned down and collars turned up.
It's a different story in the Post Office. The old people are positively bouncing. Their cheeks are rosy beneath their pulled-down knitted hats and they clutch their pension books and bank books in inflexible thick-gloved sheepskin hands.
Their eyes twinkle and they laugh and joke with each other. Winter? Snow? The least of their problems! Ice? Who cares about moving at a snail's safe pace!
 They have all the time in the world, and they intend to enjoy every second of it, even the extraordinarily cold and snowy winter.
The normally grumpy Post Office staff have been infected by their good humour, and pause to make conversation with those people who have had to venture out and queue.
This post is dedicated to the old and wise, whoever and wherever they may be!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Skies, Birds, Lovely in January

Yesterday I drove Offsprog One back to Brighton, where her room was dribbling with condensation and colder than it was outside.
I did take this picture of the view out of her living room window, as seagulls arced through the sky and jostled for a chimney-pot perch. I gave her a fan-heater and drank tea before reluctantly leaving her to the chill and damp, an unsuitable studying environment but all too similar to my own Brighton experience years ago.
Beautiful houses, made of paper tissue!
Today's trip was to Oxford, to visit my cousin and his partner (inspiration for Autumn Love) and a large family gathering. The  journey was beautiful, a drive past thousands of fanned-out tree skeletons against the cold blue skyline. Up above, planes drew sharp lines in the cloudless blue of the sky like creeping daytime shooting stars, and hefty buzzards with dangerous-looking beaks and tremendous wingspans hovered in the thermal eddies from the motorway, joined occasionally by hungry little kestrels.
January can be a beautiful month; an exciting electricity crackles in the air.
Anticipation, anticipation, a better year ahead, always better!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

First Gig of the Year

on MONDAY THE 4th of JANUARY at the


corner Balfe Street/Wharfdale Road


Kings X station (exit Pentonville) – Caledonian Rd (keep on the left side of the street), pass Tesco – Balfe Street (no more than a minute to ‘CS’)

Poetry Workshop upstairs – 7.30-9pm
Theme this month: ‘What animal would I be and why?

Prebooked Open Mic – 9pm
Fantastic acts of the spoken and song word!

Not booked? Come 7.45pm for a spontaneous slot or see if you can squeeze in ;-D Just remember
the only rule of RAW‘Be original’

And as usual – in no particular order – the prebooked acts so far:

James Hunt & Tom

Two very talented parts of ‘The Black Sparrows’ formerly known as ‘Spitting Feathers’. Look out for their EP which is out in 2010. Here given special 20 minutes!

Tanya Marshall

Deep thinking child of the winter with a heart for all. A Shamanic poet with ancient wisdom and wit.

Dr Focus

Insurp this poet as he comes: blunt, funny, explosive, full of surprise and very much himself!

Pauline St Marie

Girl with the clues and the frankness to share them! Cultural, topical, observant, openminded with intensity…

Indigo Williams

From Brixton to Kings Cross, passing many haunts there between; - honest, truthful words with full stop punch-lines that might not be what one expects... Composed and passionate pieces that touches where they should.

L. Adekunle Salami

A self proclaimed ‘goof’ with a story to every note; but a very stylish ‘goof’ playing his strings with great charisma.

Helen McCookerybook

Bringing fairy dust to the stage with her beautiful songs…


Soundman and Promoter takes to the stage for a moment of indulgent, guitar-driven voodoo rock.

The 4th of January is a celebration welcoming all wonderfully real people to these brilliant new premises!


texts to 07908 472 908

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Eve

All night long, delayed text messages bleeped... I was waiting for one from Offsprog One, made up as a lion, to tell me whether she was coming home or not.
Outside, a howling fox complained about the cold to the full extent of its vocabulary.
'Staying at S's' came the text at 3.45 so I went to sleep. Two hours later, subtle crashings and thumpings came from downstairs, and I programmed 999 into my phone and advanced below to confront the burglar.
It was Offsprog One, who had changed her plans and was foraging for food.
What a funny night! On the way to the gig, two young boys-from-the-hood, or rather, boys-from-the-burbs, kept the entire tube carriage entertained. They were wearing headphones and were oblivious to the volume of their conversation. One had a box of chips and the other talked nineteen to the dozen: they bounced around like jumping jack fireworks.
Everyone had innocent-looking bottles of Coke, with not-so-innocent bigger bottles tucked into their coats to top them up with.
Booze ban? Boris, I don't think so!
There were fancy dress parties galore. At Euston, two stocky ravers stood rather mournfully in fluorescent garb, with blue faces. At King's Cross, three little Goths with purple and blue hair sported spiky black fascinators atop their garb (always get them mixed up with amuse-bouches for some reason. Pretentious, moi?) and they huddled around a Plan.
There were lots of loud groups of teenage boys, looking for something but they weren't sure what.
I returned to Barnet alone, and sat with a mince pie and a cup of tea watching Jools Holland.
Have you noticed how he states the obvious? 'Tom Jones has got a face'. Well, I exaggerate... 'Tom Jones, who has been a successful artist for many years'...
Sorry, I'm burbling... but I became a Paolo Nutini fan, because that guy can sing!
Finally for today, love and best wishes to Martin, and Happy New Year to anyone who passes by and trawls through my daily gibberish!

The Home Office at the Hope and Anchor

Tonight's New Year's Eve treat was a trip to the Hope and Anchor to see The Home Office.
Nadya was a little drummer girl in dark blue sparkly knee-length boots and a dirndl dress that Ari Upp bought her in Stuttgart, with an army hat perched on her head to match that of her partner-in-guitars Peter.
A lone rockabilly stood amongst the punters, and a girl with what appeared to be a carrier bag of breadcrumbs. Was she planning on feeding the ducks?
First up was Domestic Animals, performed in front of a film of static traffic jams and Japanese dolls; it sort of reminded me of the Flying Lizards by way of Daniel Miller. This was catchy!
As a duo they are quirky to look at: Nadya has Audrey Hepburn's cheekbones and childlike aura, whereas Peter has a serious and committed air. Peter looks a little like a German film star, and probably ought to be in black and white. Their humour is sideways and they are exceptionally well-rehearsed, which makes them entertaining to watch. There used to be a lot of little bands like this in the 1980s and they were a joy to see.
I think my favourite song was Nadya's hypnotic Russian-language song over an Adrian Sherwood backing track, which fitted surprisingly well into their light electronica sound.
I also enjoyed It's Not Over, which featured unison singing, All About Love and  Artschool, which cocked a subtle snook at Kraftwerk. Last (for me, anyway, because I wanted to avoid the drunks) was a Metropolis-inspired song about work: 'nine till nine to five, five to nine till five', went the lyrics, and the pair jerked like well-oiled machines that finally went wrong at the end of the song. Very funny, deadpanned and sinister!
They are charming and fun, and all of their songs are good. And they are not a replica of anybody else, either, which is pretty hard in this day and age.
I recommend!