Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sweet and Sour

The sweet is that the new CD will be delivered to me next week. It's out on Martin's Barbaraville Label, which is managed by Voiceprint and it's called Take One. It is very simple and very raw- the tracks were recorded as first takes (hence the title) and have no overdubs etc etc. So there are mistakes, and it's recorded in my morning voice (lots of singers don't sing till the evening) but I am still mighty proud; sometimes I feel that I hide underneath arrangements and overdubs.
It's the same as going to a party sans make-up!
It features a few songs I wrote for the Ramble-My-Rose Song Circle (Katy Carr, Nadya Ostroff and Rowen Bridler) and so it has a special place in my heart.
The sour? I am still really sick, and I can't go to see one of my most favourite singers in the Universe, Janet Kay, who is singing literally just down the road! But I have a tough teaching day tomorrow at the University of the East and I will have to get there at 8 a.m. to prepare. I went there yesterday to try to do stuff but I ended up coming home and leaving my keys behind to boot, and Offsprog 2 had to come out of school to lend me hers so I could get into the house. Meep.
Cover Design by the ever-brilliant Emerald Moseley, see for more of her work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Prodigal Embroidery

Etchings and Bantams

First day of student contact today, which I hope will be short and sweet as I don't want to poison the lot of 'em with my virus cocktail. Some time last week I bought an old mohair coat and took it to the dry cleaner's. I can't remember where or when but it's quite nice and reminds me of one I had many years ago which I wore until it was threadbare.
One of the print technicians at the Art College in Brighton has been in touch. Charlie was the etching technician and I remember trying to make paper in his office in a food blender I had been given as a 21st birthday present by McMum and McDad (I asked for a motor scooter but I think that was a bit greedy)*. I was quite upset at being given such a domestic gift when what I really wanted was some sort of door to freedom and adventure, so I wasn't upset when Charlie melted it with turpentine as he was trying to clean it. Apparently, the soggy dissolved paper ended up on the ceiling.
Best place for it!
Some time I will scan my etchings and put them on the art website. Me and my pal Mandy both had etchings exhibited in the Royal Academy. Hers was a beautiful etching of trees through a window and was commended; mine was an odd collage. I had photo-sensitised the zinc plate, and projected an image of Andy Warhol on to it, which had slipped and made an interesting accident. I drew my tap shoes under it, some old deck shoes I'd painted white with emulsion and written 'a' and 'b' on the toes of to mimic a Warhol print (these shoes caused great mirth at the Dawn Jordan School of Tap, which I attended regularly). Anyway, somebody bought my Warhol print which delighted me. I just wasn't ever able to follow up these arty things. These days, I would be put down as 'unfocused'. Actually, I probably still am in many ways.
*Martin bought me a BSA Bantam, bless him. It lives in Scotland and is the star of a little film. I will ask him for the Youtube URL and post it here. It's an ex-GPO chap and is absolutely beautiful.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bill Oldie Gets Up and Sits Down

Oh yes Zoot (comments below) I remember the Belvedere! Shabby, damp and pondering its very existence every day.
I think I've written about this before but if you were very (un)lucky, you could witness a Sinatra-a-like in a beige suit and Grecian 1000 hair, singing lounge songs to his own reflection in the back mirror-tiles, accompanied by Bill Oldie on pianner.
Bill was about 150 years old and wore a brown suit that had probably seen better days even when he bought it. Although he was almost completely bald, a thick and lustrous tuft of grey hair poked out of the top of his shirt, as though it was making a bid for freedom before Bill pegged out. He was painfully tall, and painfully thin.
'Yer Shepherd's Pie's ready!' the woman behind the counter would shout, and pop a piping hot dish on top of the piano.
'Bill wants to get up! He's getting up! Help! Help!'
Several pubfolk rushed over to help him as he slowly, slowly rose from behind the piano, peering brightly from behind his spectacles and desperately grabbing on to the piano-lid, the back of his bentwood chair, anything, to gain a bit of leverage. This was clearly an Event.
Sitting with our half-a-lagers, we marvelled at the Sunday lunchtime excitement.
'It's OK! It's OK! He's sitting down again. You all right, Bill? It's OK! He's alright!'
Wow. Sunday lunchtime on the Brighton seafront.
We won't see days like that again!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Chefs

I sent scans of all my old Chefs posters to Peter Lyell, who ran a website dedicated to the band.
You can look at them here
The Brighton Punk Alldayer seems to be selling out fast- maybe there need to be more shows next year. Offsprog 1 won't be able to come as the afternoon tickets have all gone, and nor will Joby as he cannot get up the stairs.
I'd like to see the Objekts (I'm still in touch with Dawn Sanders and bumped into her in Edinburgh in July), Dick Damage, Nicky and the Dots, Fan Club and yes, Joby and the Hooligans (Ricky the drummer lives on London and has been to a couple of my gigs, I'm still in touch with Joby and I'm sure we could find Steve Beardsley).
I can remember loads of Joby and the Hooligans songs!
A Vandal Ain't No Scandal
Skateboarder, Rollerballer
Mary Bell
Looking Through Gary Glitter's Eyes
Seeboard Gas
Got Myself a Girlfriend (this wasn't the real title, I can remember the lyrics though)
And of course, we did covers of Jonathan Richman's Roller Coaster and How Can I Leave by Dennis Brown, because I loved the bass line and I could play it, and our then drummer, Dub Duncan, was a reggae nut.
Heady times, escaping from the Teds up the back stairs of the Buccaneer (we were wearing plastic sandals and they hated that) (actually, they hated everything: any excuse for a fight!); drinking in the Windsor Tavern with its two little-old-lady owners who had a cage of budgies on the wall, and the deaf people across in the other bar who used to take the mickey out of the punks in sign language and roar with laughter; the fence who came in there drinking regularly and who tried to sell us stolen bananas; the good old Resource Centre with its printing facilities upstairs, Dawn Jordan's School of Tap crunching away next door, populated by ladies from Vokins department store, frighteningly voluptuous in their black nylon leotards, fishnet stockings and winged spectacles on chains draped round their necks and singing The Good Ship Lollipop in little-girly voices!
Brighton back then was a totally and unselfconsciously camp place.
If you were a lady over 40, you had a solidly-sculpted rococo hairdo, sprayed and coloured to the solidity and hue of antique mahogany: your boobs poked threateningly and sharply to left and right under a pastel merino cardigan with pearl buttons, done up to the neck. Your skirt was tweed and knee length, and you wore beige tights. Your shoes were patent-leather and pointy, and your face was hidden under a thick, thick layer of orangeish foundation, just on the point of crumbling: your lips were drawn on in coral, and your teeth were gleaming greyish-yellow, varnished by nicotine and set by gin and tonic.
The evening streets were populated by caricatures of gay men, some of whom would actually hiss at you if you looked nice, but some of whom were completely au fait with punk and who would be loyal and kind at the most desperate times of life. I remember a friend from Art College used to go to London clubs, as he found the Brighton ones so full of stereotypes.
There was a boxing subculture (many of whom, word had it, were drug dealers) and an antique dealers subculture (ditto); old men thwacked little boys on the bus with their walking sticks ('Let that be a lesson to yawh!'). In summer, the streets were full of young French and Italian students in bright-coloured clothes, running and shouting as if they were in a playground, oblivious to the sinister undercurrents that flowed beneath them.
There were sharks everywhere, waiting to gobble you up: and everyone from back then knows who the worst shark was.
I remember wondering where all the children were. Occasionally, you'd hear them shouting from behind a high wall but you would rarely see them. I imagined that the Pied Piper had been through and taken them all away, perhaps freezing them and turning them into dolls in an antique shop window.
There were mad things: the toucan who wolf-whistled when you walked past the pet shop in Gardiner Street; the cork shop; the budgies in so many pubs: the King and Queen in the Old Steine had a gigantic outdoor cage full of them. The damp houses! Someone I knew came in to college one day and told me the front was falling off her house.
There were romantic lives. One young man lived in a house draped with bronze coloured chenille and kept a dovecote with white turtle doves in his back garden. He dressed in green velvet to complement his red-gold hair and showed us a box where a mother Egyptian cat was lying with a litter of tiny elfin brown kittens.
There were nasty lives too. I went to a party once where (pre-punk) a giant swastika was hung from the wall and everyone was dressed in authentic Nazi uniforms, posing coldly with their drinks and one-upping each other. I couldn't wait to get out of there.
Partying could be dangerous. We were all leaping up and down ('dancing') on the upstairs floor of a squat in Bedford Square when someone pointed out that the central support of the house was missing and the floor might simply collapse at any minute.
I worked as a cook, and later, a coat-check girl, in a big nightclub called Sherry's. There were regular handbag fights at closing time, and young itinerant workers used to stand at the counter and sell each other girls. If a girl liked one of them and he didn't want to get off with her, he would sell her to his friend, telling the girl that his friend fancied her and he did not. They seemed to think that I was some kind of not-girl, and they simply did not care what I thought of this at all.
I made extra money when I was sent out glass-collecting. The clientele got extremely drunk, and every time I took a bunch of glasses back to the bar I could find a couple of quid in change on the floor that had fallen from the men's pockets as they fumbled for change to pay for their drinks.
I worked in a shop called Gallery 57 in The Lanes with Alison, Little Claire, Steph, Linda and Andrea, having some of the best times of my life and writing to John Peel surreptitiously when I should have been working. Nigel used to come in regularly, in his cups and always ready to show us the neat little rows of transplanted hair he had paid for out of the royalties of a South-American hit song he had penned. He got narked one day and grabbed me round the neck, bashing my head on the thick layer of brown sheets of wrapping paper on the counter in full view of the customers with the ever-present Twin Guitars of Don and Juan plinking away innocently in the background. The customers carried on serenely looking at the postcard racks and leafing though the posters. This was Brighton, after all.
Ah, memories, memories. I have far too much thinking time at the moment as I am still too knocked out to leave my room. Back to the book (Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre, which I ended up buying because my library card got stolen and I simply didn't have the energy to go through the process of getting another one on Friday, alhtough I did make a donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee as I said I would).

Jumble Sales and Perfume

Wish I hadn't gone out yesterday: at least I can take it easy today. It was interesting having a Man-'flu competition with three guys on the tube. Needless to say, I won. The first cough was the deepest....
I also detected people amongst the crowds with the same virus; we have the same trade mark cough, a deep bray that means business. Not for us the discreet hiccup and sniff!
Anyway that's enough of the self pity for today. I have been blog-browsing, and have realised just what a mess of scraps this one is.
I put this down to the fact that I have lived a life of jumble sales and charity shops, from the sixpenny stacks of scratched vinyl 7" singles tied up with hairy twine that I used to buy the the Wylam Institute jumble sales, through the cornucopia of 1930s spectacles and shoes in the Brighton Oxfam, to the current discarded silks and mohairs of the wealthy London suburbs. Bits and pieces, random and disposable.
I don't have a blog-bar or 'subscribe' because I feel that blogs are about freedom and not commitment, but I have started to do a lot of roaming and browsing and it's fascinating to see what people enthuse about.
One of my favourite blogs is Anne's ( I am charmed by her graceful life in the borders and the creativity of both her and her partner. I also heard from Vanessa yesterday, whose blog is part of a whole perfume community that I knew nothing about. Vanessa is a Monochrome Set fan and had been at the first-ever Helen and the Horns gig at Kingston Polytechnic, where we supported them.
That was the gig where we decided to be just Helen and the Horns; the plan had been to rehearse just the Horns, and then Lester Square would join us on guitar and Mike Slocombe on drums. The Monochrome set offered us a gig and much to our surprise, the audience gave us a fantastic reception just the way we were (and there were only two Horns at that gig, too).
The Monochrome Set did the same with Bananarama, who then went on to outstrip everyone, which of course we applauded (while licking our wounds at the same time).
Ah well. I'm surveying the dust balls and dirty dishes, unable to stir up any energy to do anything about them. Offsprog 2 is listening to somebody whinesome upstairs (Rufus Wainwright, possibly) and I'm unable to counteract with blasts of good cheer as the downstairs CD player is broken. Radio? All too silly apart from Radio 4 which is often unbearable due to the quantity of people who seem to have taken elocution lessons from Stephen Fry. I'm tuning in to the happy chirrupings of next door's baby instead. My next song will be entitled 'Baby Talk'.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Art Hate

Somewhat like Madonna (but infinitely less annoyingly), Billy Childish is a re-inventor-of-self. He was in the bands Milkshakes and Thee Headcoats, he was the chief Stuckist, and then he was him for a while. Now he is the conductor of the Art Hate campaign, and he has the extreme moustache to prove it!
He came twice to talk to the songwriting students at the University of the West, most of whom responded to him with a combination of one-upmanship and arse-licking (something I am frequently guilty of myself actually, but not this time). They could not cope with him saying "I am going to show you how to play guitar badly really well", and then going on to do just that.
I had been hoping to go to the private view of this exhibition with my Champagne Friend on Tuesday but was too conked out to make it. After about 14 hours sleep last night I dragged the bones down to Cork Street this avo as I felt I had to see it, and it closes this evening.
After walking through Burlington Arcade, where exceedingly rich people saunter exceedingly slowly (they can, after all, buy as much time as they like with their millions), the Gallery at 28 Cork Street was a welcome relief.
I absolutely loved the big posters which had a real Russian Revolutionary feel combined with a bit of 1950s England circa 10 Rillington Place. My fave was this big horsy that looked far to silly to trample on the faces of the artisticly weak, but maybe that's just my own failed anthropomorphism.
There were also some fascinating teeny little sculptures, all with a direct lineage back to Marcel Duchamp via punk and the army-surplus version of the First World War. This is the version of Britain so much loved by the League of Gentlemen, engendering the sort of horrible curiosity you feel when following up a bad smell.
I bought a vinyl single which I won't be able to play until I've saved up for a jukebox, but the Gallery Assistant told me it was Pretty Vacant sung by Billy and KLF Cauty and blank on the other side, although I'm sure it's not because that's not what it says on the cover. I told him about Paul Jones' easy-listening versions of Pretty Vacant and Sheena is a Punk Rocker, all lush strings'n'things and it turned out that he was a big Manfred Man fan!
There is a book associated with the exhibition, at 35 sheets too expensive for me. But I think some of the artefacts are exhibited in their place in the East End. It's definitely worth going and following up this link to see what it's all about
Another member of the Art Hate collective is Jamie Reid, who invented what you could call Blackmail Typescript, which was used to effectively by the Sex Pistols.
He used to come to Brighton a bit years ago, and was once Sophie Richnmond's parner (she used to work with the Sex Pistols a lot at the beginning). Their children were naughty and I came into my room to find they had wedged one of my giant plastic pigeons through the door of the budgie cage, much to the consternation of the budgie, who didn't know whether to laugh or cry ( I think) at the sight of his huge, shining and immobile pigeon visitor.

Bored, Blissfully

There is something blissful about topsy-turvey time.

Warehouse clearance of jewellery? 
Pull the other one, TV channel! Those tiny weeny sliver charm necklaces wouldn't take up any space in a warehouse and wouldn't need to be cleared. 
They are from the map-pocket of your dodgy white van: be honest! 
Where did you nick 'em from?

I went out to post a letter: it started raining as I opened the front door and stopped as soon as I got back.
Did I actually post it? 
I can't remember, but I didn't have it when I got home.

I spent part of the day bidding for things I didn't want on eBay and then feeling glad I didn't win them.

I sacked the milkman for delivering the milk at 11.30 after I've gone to work, so passing burglars know the house is empty and the milk is warm and sourish when I get back. I did apologise for sacking him though. 
I think he doesn't like getting up early. He looks like a hippy.

I did a drawing of a vase full of upside-down amputated feet, then a sad person looking at it with a foot missing, and now I don't want to open the book and look at it because it frightens me!

I missed my cats, who used to curl up with me when I didn't feel well.

I opened the chest of drawers that used to belong to McDad. 
It has in it about five clothes brushes, four shoe-horns, three pairs of binoculars, two bow ties and numerous magnifying glasses in little pouches, all smelling of a mixture of mothballs and lavender. I imagined an era when people had time to brush their clothes, ease their feet into their shoes with gentle leverage, stand in front of a mirror and take on the mysterious challenge of the bow tie; and peer at faraway things through binoculars, and nearby things through magnifying glasses. 
How gentle that time must have been!

I grazed on Twiglets and tinned Li-Chis all day then Offsprog 2 and myself had breakfast at about 7.30 p.m.

I spent a long time trying to scrape a piece of baked-on raspberry cake off the cooker. 
When I finally decided to give up and leave it, I saw that I had managed to scrape off no baked-on raspberry cake but quite a lot of cooker instead, and there are scratch marks all over the stainless steel. 
Whoopsy daisy!

I hope the 'flu flies away tomorrow. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Inspired by Mike Slocombe's rainy bus window photos on his blog today

Chefs Songs

After discovering that my library card had been nicked when Offsprog Two got mugged, I had to abandon my plans to get out a library book.
The silver lining to this was that I have made a decision to learn to play some Chefs songs for the Brighton Punk Alldayer in Brighton on the 17th of October (see for details if you want to go).
I already play Northbound Train as a Helen and the Horns song on the rare occasions when we play as a band, but I've decided to adapt Records and Tea (probably my favourite Chefs song and a collabaration between Rod Bloor, Carl Evans and myself), Let's Make Up (a collaboration between Tracy Preston and myself) and 24 Hours. They won't sound the same as the full band versions but I will give them my best shot. Phil Byford has asked me to play some of my 'now' songs too.
That weekend is going to be a busy one- the Desperado Housewives are playing in Stoke Newington on the Saturday, and I am doing a Billy Bragg night at the Boogaloo on Monday (one BB song and two of my own). It will be blissful to wallow about in so much music!

Lady Lykez

There's a lot of Hip Hop I don't like but this girl is brilliant

Man Flu

Yes, I've got Man Flu.
It's the moaning that goes along with it, you see. I suppose it's logical that this strain of the virus should follow on from Avian Flu and Swine Flu; this particular mutation involves a desire to share the misery verbally.
I feel thoroughly ashamed of my rich western moans because this morning I thought of those poor flooded people in Pakistan, bumped out of the news by the bad behaviour of their cricket team.
They are still struggling, and so are the people of Haiti.
I will go to the library to borrow a trashy crime novel later on and donate the money I would have spent on a new one in the bookshop to the Disasters Emergency Committee instead.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Games to Play While at Home

1. Trying to find an item of clothing I actually like in the Boden Catalogue.
2. Entering online competitions.
3. Looking deep within the blogosphere until I find something so horrid I have to stop.
4. Reading the sports pages of yesterdays newspaper even though I am not interested in sport.
5. Trying to tune the piano by thought-waves alone.
6. Making a virtual selection of library books that I won't draw out when I am better.
7. Assembling inedible dishes for tea from the rancid contents of the fridge (imagination only).
8. Going upstairs in search of interesting things to do.
9. Going back downstairs, ditto.
10. Writing pointless lists on my blog.

The End

Jolly Thatcher Jape

Oh how wearily familiar it sounds!
Stigmatise the Unemployed,
Make them into hate figures...
Make thousands of people redundant, unemployed, stigmatised as a consequence
Say it's their fault.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Have you noticed that the black keys of the piano are the same shape as sticks of Kit-Kat?
Sort of?


A fiendish virus has descended on me. A porcupine lives in my throat and a horse's cough (not quite the same as a horse voice) has moved into my chest. I cancelled Thursday's gig just now, as this feels like it's heading somewhere horrid.

Monday, September 20, 2010

News Book

According to the Equinox website, The Lost Women of Rock Music will be out in September 2011 and not January as I had hoped. However, the good news is that it will be affordable (I hope!) at £14.99 and will have photographs too.
This takes the pressure off me for a while as I have a conference paper to write for the Art of Record Production conference in December, and I am also doing a short graphic contribution to a book called Punkademics, which needs to be finished by then as well.
I will be relying on the therapeutic nature of music making to see me through the next couple of months. On Thursdays I have to leave the house at 7 and won't be back till 7 in the evening, with two three hour seminars of rookie students. Then I teach a three-hour songwriting/production class on Friday mornings.
So no gigs on Thursdays until December, apart from the one I have already got with the Desperado Housewives.
At least I still appear to have a job. For now....

I've just got back from a grocery trip and patted myself on the back for not charity-shopping.
The house has had that rather sweetish-stale aroma of second hand clothes for quite a long time, but Mary Portas* has finished off the charity shops in Barnet: they have been well and truly Portassed!
Savvy experts have come in and re-priced the last-season designer clothes and the vintage finds 'more realistically', so the chance of finding a gem hidden in the tons of nylon, faded curtains and stretched-out babygros has vanished.
Someone should have told her that part of the joy of using charity shops is finding something really fabulous at a fraction of its cost, precisely because the ladies behind the counter are more used to arranging flower displays in the Church than searching eBay for the latest price for some 1960s Lego.
If a pair of shoes costs £20 in Oxfam, we will all go to Primark instead and destroy the environment while encouraging slave labour of children at the same time.
Not so clever now, Mary, are you?

*For my non-British readers (pretentious, moi?) Mary Portas is the star of a TV series that revamps tired and failing independent shops and doubles their profits as a result. She recently applied her skills to a thrift shop in South London, upsetting a lot of the staff in the process. I didn't realise how upset I was until I started writing the rant above. No more cheap recycled clothes for me!

Finally, here is another Helen and the Horns video

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Question

Carl from The Chefs had a girlfriend called Fiona Russell who went to the London College of Printing in the early 1980s. She organised a session where someone made a video of us playing. Does anyone know who that might be, and crucially, whether I could get hold of a copy of that video? I've got a still from the session, and that's all.


DJ Sonny sent me this- it is from the Thai Esquire magazine and he says it's all right to show you. Thanks Sonny!


Phew- it's been a busy few days.
Thursday night was a house concert in Battersea with Martin, a long drive but I did enjoy the gig, which was lovely.
Then Friday, I started worrying like mad about whether everything would be OK for Friday night.
Fin and Lou turned up in Enfield (Martin's percussionist and bass player for the night) and I sent a casual, unflustered text to Alex telling him where we were going to meet. He called from London Bridge to tell me he'd gone down the wrong fork of the Northern Line, but there was enough time to get him a sandwich and a cup of tea in Ray's Jazz Cafe at Foyles before we went down to the Borderline for the soundcheck.
The staff there are really friendly and welcoming and remembered us from last year, and we were done in a trice: the Daintees had already finished. It was nice to see John and Kate (guitar and drums) again.
We had an early start- we were onstage at 8. It worked brilliantly having Alex there; we all made small mistakes, but generally for a band that never plays, I thought the rehearsals paid off and we did pretty well. I heard some little extra tootlings from some quarters, and given a minor dispute about extra tootly bits during one of our rehearsals, I had to comment that the Horns have worked out a way of measuring the quantity of parts they play, and were making adjustments upwards during the gig!
I really enjoyed singing the old stuff again and hats off to the guys, the feeling on stage was great. They have embraced Alex's youth and in turn, he fitted in with them really well, something that is quite hard for a young person to do sometimes. We sang Happy Birthday to him on stage for his 21st birthday and he loved that. This was the first time the Offsprogs had seen us and I was delighted because they were impressed!
The Daintees had a fantastic night too; the audience sang along right from the start. I was going to say 'roaring along' but actually it sounded rather tuneful and good.
This incarnation of the band had not met each other before; the audience probably thought Martin was joking when he introduced them to each other on stage!
There was an electric atmosphere, and it's funny to say that a lot of Helen and the Horns fans became Daintees fans that night, because normally its the other way round!
I do want to say to the people who came to see us, thank you for turning out: we had a really good showing and that made me very happy. And thank you to Martin for sharing his London show with us again this year. Alex loved it and wants to do more Helen and the Horns gigs!
Last night, I was roadying for Martin's wedding gig in Surrey, for a lovely couple called Terri and Graham. Jim the fiddle player came along, and Martin played a load of  Daintees favourites with a slightly old-timey flavour. I got up to sing the Charlie Poole Airship Song and noticed Terri singing along so I invited her up- she has a great voice! I dropped Martin off at Luton this morning and now I am slumped in a heap for the rest of the day.
Yesterday, I had a lovely surprise: Martin and the guys met up for a coffee with me and on his back, Martin had a gig bag. He has bought me a Spanish-style guitar to say thank you for the roadying I've been doing. It was a dream come true, because I had to sell mine when I moved house, which was sad even though I liked the young girl I sold it to: she looked arty with a red beret and I told her the guitar was full of songs, because most of Suburban Pastoral was written on that guitar.
So now I have a lovely instrument to get to know!
BTW if anyone filmed the Horns of Friday I would love to see it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Well, you know it was a pretty fabulous night: can't go into detail right now as I am roadying today and have to check a Pope-free route through town, but will fill you in tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Last Interview

I had a lucky strike today; an interview I'd been trying to set up for weeks suddenly cropped up with an hour's notice. I snaffled a mouthful of Twiglets for lunch and headed on down to Camden's Parkway to a wonderful record shop called No Hit Records at number 88, which is packed full of rockabilly vinyl (including the Bison Bop series which I had no idea were still in circulation), and loads of CDs of really interesting music: old soul, horror rock, surf music, all sorts.
While I was waiting I browsed and bought a CD for my little brother's Christmas present of rockabilly songs all dedicated to girls and named after them (don't tell him if you are reading this, Sarah!).
My interviewee turned up; she had been away for four weeks in Cyprus and had come back with a poorly ear, so I tried not to exhaust her.
She has a head full of interesting stories and she's going to take part in Gina's documentary too. I could have spoken to her for weeks but I could see she wasn't feeling well and even after half an hour she was looking pale. I remembered being interviewed for a German Radio Show and three hours later feeling as though a vampire had drained my red corpsuckles dry!
So that's another one to transcribe, I hope this weekend.
What a pity Chrissie Hynde is not going to be in the book! There are too many silly myths about her floating around, the silliest of which being that she's not a good guitarist. She's very good indeed: she's just not Eric Clapton or another one of those twittish widdlers.
I am left wondering if she was the victim of anti-American racism at the beginning of punk; it probably did her favours in terms of her career to feel eventually separated from it, but her beginning was very much embedded in mid-seventies germination of British punk .
The pic (sorry about the quality) is from an elpee cover- I thought they looked like a family band. I couldn't work out who they are- anyone know? The woman is playing a double-necked guitar. Amazing.

Cancer Link

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Art Site

Martin has revamped my art site and put all the Medea drawings there as well as some other new stuff:


I grew these in my tiny and quite sunless yard. I think there are enough quinces to make quince jelly.
I've got some tomatoes which are big but still green (the garden over the back has a greenhouse full of bright red ones) and also some olives which are too tiny to ever ripen. There is a small lemon tree which I thought had died and it was too difficult to throw it away: I was chopping bits off it and putting them in a bin bag week by week when it suddenly came back to life. I grow parsley, thyme, bay, chives and rosemary but you're never going to get fat on a diet of that! Next year I will plant the tomatoes and courgettes earlier; I have never managed to grow tomatoes from seed before and I feel quite proud. I might also try potatoes and maybe get one of those apple trees that is just on one stalk and try to grow cooking apples. The problem is the lack of light, but I remain optimistic.
Years ago I grew carrots in a plant pot. Their ferny foliage was a beautiful bright green and when I picked them they were tiny and delicious. And in our old house we spilled some parsnip seeds in a flower bed by accident. I looked after them and we ate the monsters for Sunday lunch when they were big enough to pull up.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Tomorrow's the last Helen and the Horns rehearsal before Friday.
Will we crack it?
We're nearly there!
Tickets £15 plus booking fee etc.
Supporting Martin and the Daintees


People ask what sort of music I make.
It's not folk.
It's not jazz.
It's not rock.
It's definitely not hip hop.
It's not soul or R & B.

On the social networking websites, there's a choice called 'Other'.
From now on, that is me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rock'n'Roll Jamboree Artwork

New Shouts and Ranties

I started reading Cordelia Fine's book, Delusions of Gender, last week. It is currently being rubbished but I am finding it interesting and funny.

Here are some facts I know:
1. The 11-plus used to be passed by more girls than boys. Girls' marks were therefore downgraded to give an even gender balance in grammar schools. This type of thing is still happening: note Gareth Malone's experiment with teaching boys outdoors in a primary school. I dread to think what will happen if teaching of boys and girls becomes more separated, or rather, I can tell what will happen: the boys' way will become the superior way!
2. My sister wanted to be an air traffic controller when she left school in the 1970s. She was very logical and good at maths. You are only allowed two attempts at applying.
On her first attempt, she was rejected, because the interviewers felt that they would train her up, and then she might leave to have a baby.
On her second attempt, she was rejected, because the interviewers felt that they would train her up, and then she might leave to have a baby.
3. My mother got a place at Oxford. She was made to give this up, because after the war the returning soldiers were entitled to places at University and people like McMum had to get out of the way so they could take up their entitlement.

On the other hand, I know very many empathetic men, in particular those whom I know best, my two brothers. They have not been brought up in a feminist household, yet both cook for their spouses (they taught themselves), and the elder brother paced round all day when I was giving birth to my first child, as he was so worried.
My partner is one of the most empathetic men I have ever met, and so is my sister's partner.
I also know many ambitious and focused women who put their friendships second to their careers!
But of course, I am not a scientist, and the things I have mentioned above are not part of a scientific study, they are purely personal observations.
This is one of the criticisms that is currently being levied against Cordelia Fine's book. The scientific community say that although she uses accepted academic studies, her research has not appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
From what I know about peer reviewed journals, their panels act as gatekeepers to what enters the public domain and what does not.
And the personnel on most of these panels?
Men, of course!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trolley Bullies

The underground platform was muggy and crowded at Euston.
A train drew in and we surged forwards towards the doors.
A large and fierce woman pushed straight to the front of the crowd, using her tartan shopping trolley to barge through so she was in premier position to be me-first into the carriage.
The doors opened.
There stood a large and fierce man, with an identical tartan shopping trolley which he used to shove her out of the way so he could get off.
Politely and triumphantly, we entered the carriage in our original order.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Also- Take One has been sent off to the pressing plant!!!
The Lost Women of Rock Music has gone off to be scanned so I can finally start working on it!!!
Off to a rehearsal with Alex to get those trumpet parts squeaky clean.....

Frog Morris's Cowboy Night and Coincidences

Down to the deep, deep South I headed: a passenger on the packed train to Peckham helpfully pointed out the luggage rack for my guitar so she could stuff her shopping in the footwell.
Serenity became necessary.

I sat at a bus-stop eating yesterday's quiche; the pub did not open till seven and a selection of energetic twelve-year-olds skidded about hazardously on bikes on the pavement. I mused on my chance meeting with Tom Perchard, a former colleague at the University of the West, who was just returning from work at Goldsmith's. We'd had a therapeutic laugh at the lot of the academic, skint but feted in their field.

Once inside, I picked a slightly less sticky seat and table to sit at. The pub is pitch black inside and lit by fairy-lights to gloss over the grime. The tapestry seats are darkened and stiff with age and I dread to think what else; glowing copper vessels hang from the ceiling and a zebra and wildebeeste ride a static stagecoach, bound for a selection of board games, including Trivial Pursuit.
Everywhere, more stuffed animal heads peer into the gloom, angled like closed-circuit cameras with gimlet glass eyes watchful lest normality should enter the door.
I was conscious of many drunken nights, frequent beer-spillings and a temperamental cleaner. Behind the bar two extremely ancient and dignified bar staff glided along as if on rails, fetching strange-flavoured lagers for the curious clientele.

Frog Morris introduced the night and a competition began; the audience was unwilling to yodel at high volume but painfully slowly, a group of semi-finalists was selected.
My Champagne Friend had come along and for some reason we had a conversation about how horrible goat's milk tastes when you put it in tea.

The Desperado Housewives took to the stage, starting with When a Cowboy Met a Cowgirl and finishing with Dan McGrew, taking a tour of Cowboyland in between. We all sang: Kath played concertina and harmonica, I played guitar and sobbed in Old Ned, and Jude yodelled. We made a fine, if ramshackle, display.

Frog got up and did a sketch about how horrible goat's milk is. What a strange coincidence (and not the only one of the evening!).

We watched a couple of songs by a very good duo, two girls who had a 1920s sound. I will find out who they are and tell you.

When I got home, I put the rubbish out and locked the door, only to discover that a frog was standing on the door mat! It looked a bit embarrassed, as though it had been sent by fate to provide another coincidence in spite of its personal reservations.
Yes, the night the Desperadoes play for Frog, a frog makes a midnight visit.
I let it out; it could have been one of those 'Kiss Me And I Turn Into A Prince' frogs, and I don't need one of those.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Sarah Clarke's Photo

This photo is from a whole lot taken by Sarah Clarke at the 12 Bar the other day. She is a friend of Jude Cowan's and she took some lovely ones of Jude on the same evening.

Trumpets and Cowboys

Busy times, busy times: back to work, and a reminder of the joys of jobsworthiness.
The happy smile as a member of 'support staff' tells you that something or someone is not available, or describes the torturous route to doing something very small and insignificant that involves a firewall of yet more smilingly unhelpful 'support staff'.
Yesterday's Helen and the Horns rehearsal went very well although the puffing, blowing and hollerin' took its toll and we were well and truly blown out at the end. The seasoned hands were patient and supportive of Alex, who is positively blossoming as a section player although his confidence leaves him just at the cusp of brilliance.
I described my four failed driving tests, during each of which I thought 'I haven't made my terrible mistake yet', and then proceeded to make my terrible mistake and thus fail.
I passed the fifth when I was nine months pregnant with Offsprog Two. I was huge, round and grumpy and had nothing to lose. I was so surprised that I passed that I burst into tears.
Alex understands this self-sabotage (Martin's words!) and picks up his confidence again. He is classically trained and has the most beautiful trumpet tone.
I have just been up in the loft and extracted two lovely cowboy shirts for Kath and Jude to wear tonight at Frog Morris's cowboy night at the Montague Arms in New Cross. It starts at 7.30 and there are all sorts of things happening, including the Desperado Housewives doing a cowboy set.
We will be singing harmonies on each others songs as well as crying, I believe.
If you want to hear some Helen and the Horns stuff go to
And if you'd like to listen to Martin's Scullyville album, up for one week only, go to where you will also see the drawings I did for the songs.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


I've just spent half an hour typing a posting, hit a key and deleted the lot.
No energy to re-do it; please imagine its contents!

Ship Hell

I am tempted to grump about work, especially about some rather unwelcome changes that have appeared on my menu east of the horizon.
Then I remember a friend of mine from many years ago who had a job in the Faroes, stripping and painting the inside of ships' hulls.
The hulls of tankers are made of a double layer of steel, both of which have to be maintained inside and out.
His job was to slip between the layers of steel, remove the old paint and re-paint again.
What a hellish occupation!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Conversational at Reel Rebels Radio

Yesterday p.m. I braved the Givusachoons (give-us-a-tune, love!) and the looming Tube strike and legged it down to Stoke Newington with my guitar, where an unfriendly 106 bus driver dropped me off a stop too early.
In a strange little Arts Centre, one of two number tens (there are four number twelves as well in Manor Road) lives Reel Rebels Radio, staffed by the friendly Alicia and operating from a room stuffed with bottled water and orange juice, just in case of a National Shortage.
The Desperado Housewives are to be part of a broadcast on National Poetry Day, 7th of October, alongside some very charming and eloquent poets.
The interviewers were Jude and Naomi, and we perched on various chairs and couches waiting for our cue.
The poets were Raymond Antrobus, who runs a night called Chill Pill and whose poem addressed people's attitudes to deafness; Zena Edwards, who did a fantastic poem about laughter; Jiffa, whose poem was about skin; Matthew Caley whose work centres on a fantasy University; and a guy called Nathan who has written a show based on Uri Geller that the great spoonbender apparently insisted on coming to see.
Nathan read a dreadful poem from Geller's memoirs. For some reason, I found it rather endearing that he's a lousy poet!
Jude, Kath and myself each played a song live and Naomi read one of her poems too.
I will let you know when it is broadcast: I love live poetry and rarely get to see/hear it, so this was a real treat, especially as the poets had such different writing and performing styles. Quite inspirational, in fact.
On the way back, an even more unfriendly 106 bus driver dropped off his passengers and roared off without picking anyone up although his bus was empty. What a rotter! I walked halway to Finsbury Park before giving up and waiting for the next one. It took two hours to get home, but it was worth it!
Pic shows Jude and Naomi (presenters) and Alicia (technician).

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ramblepost, Ramblepost

I'm afraid that last posting was a bit of a ramble, wasn't it?
I have been taken surreal, in the grip of tiredness!
Tomorrow promises to be a practical day; I will excavate the cowboy shirts that lurk in the loft, so the Desperadoes are properly attired for the gig at the Montague Arms.
The cowboy shirts think they are in the Wild West, and may be rather disappointed to discover when they are unpacked that they are actually in cold and rainy north London with no pistol packin' papas (but plenty of nostril-pickin' grandpas).
I haven't even got any cacti any more, because when I was moving house they kept stabbing me with their spines so I abandoned them as a punishment.

I got
No Tequila
No Mexican Bandits
No Cattle (or cats)
No Guns (one water pistol)
No Desert (or desserts)
No Hosses (does a rockin' hoss count?)

I got Beans (baked)
I got Cowboy Boots (2 pairs, one plain, one fancy)
I got Bolo Ties (a handful)
I got a Buckskin Jacket (knackered)
I got a book of Cowboy Songs
I got a Cowgirl Guitar
I got a Cowcar
getting surreal agin!
Time fer some shuteye!


Yarooh!, squealed Billy Bunter, all the time.
I've just Done a Bunter.
There was a fragment of glass on the bathroom floor and it lacerated my foot.
I left a satisfyingly crimson trail behind me as I searched vainly for a plaster; they had all gone and I am sitting with a scrap of loo roll stemming the flow.

Anyway, that wasn't what I meant to say!
I've had a busy day. the afternoon was particularly pleasurable but more about that tomorrow when I have processed it properly.

This morning I checked through the recordings for Take One to make sure they were in the right order, and a funny thing happened.
When I draw, I often have the TV on in the background and the flavour of the TV programme gets embedded in my memory so that every time I look at the picture I feel the atmosphere of the time I drew it.
Exactly the same thing happened when I listened to the recordings- I could almost feel the pressure of the headphones on my ears and see Sean and Martin through the glass in the control room, and beyond them the Ouseburn and the white January sky outside.
The memory was as clear as a bell, and I realised that most times when I make recordings, there are layers and layers of sound, whether backing vocals, a guest guitarist, cellist or sax player, that often get added to the recording on different days and sometimes in different locations.
Each layer has its own memory of the day it was recorded: sometimes I can disentangle them, sometimes I don't bother.
But as a listener to my own music, I 'hear' the whole recording experience.
The music comes along with the memories, and the more layered the music, the more complex the memories.
Because the tracks on Take One are all spontaneously-recorded single performances with no overdubs at all, they sound to me as though I recorded them yesterday and I can even hear the colour of the studio walls and see the music-stand in front of me with the doodles and scribbles decorating the lyrics.
I imagine the seconds before recording and the seconds afterwards, when time stands still, and the world inside your head when you are only conscious of 'now': each sound, each note, joined to the next one in a tension of hope that you aren't going to make a mistake, the song progressing in milliseconds, 'heard' in infinite detail by the recording equipment.
And that rare funny feeling when you know you have got it just right.
And the awful feeling when you know you can't get it just right.
Steeped in sound, your life is measured out just for a few minutes as a song rather than as a human being.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Trip to Yorkshire, and Budgies

Jim, Jimmy and Martin sit outside the Church Hall at the Wombwell Festival, working out keys of songs so the banjo didn't need to be re-tuned too much.
I so wish I had recorded them; the sound of the three instruments blending on a gentle breeze was beautiful. Next time, next time...
They are not competitive players so their styles complement each other: they do sound good amplified but they are even better unplugged.
They played a great set, hilarious and full of bouncy ragtime. They went on a walkabout and ended up on the balcony with the audience craning their necks to see them. Martin invited me up to play Freight Train and The Airship Song, and Jim did a splendid job on converting the trumpet solo of Freight Train to a fiddle solo. Mike and June were there, and the other acts included the former guitarist of Wet Wet Wet playing guitar for his daughter, who has a lovely voice.
Afterwards when we went to eat, the conversation turned to budgies, and Jim told me that a man called Mr Jepson used to visit their estate in Harrogate in a Robin Reliant and sell budgies; his parents bought a couple from him, apparently.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Tinned Peas

Memories spring up at strange times. I was driving Offsprog One to the storage place at the Hyde in Brighton and we went down a little street- I remembered going to a party in one of those houses 30 years ago.
The talking point was a huge stacked pyramid of tinned peas; every can was a different brand, and had a different picture on it.
The party-goers were divided in opinion, which made it a very successful talking point.
We stood in front of it.
"Pretentious rubbish!" snarled the pretentious amongst us.
"Weird" puzzled the 'straight' amongst us.
It had a fascinating presence; I wished I'd thought of it!

Stephenson's Rocketts


... the Devil's critturs.
Fast as you get rid of 'em, new ones spring up to replace them.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Mysteries of Myspace

I've just been doing a little tour of Myspace to see who has stayed and who has gone; it is changing so rapidly and with great uncertainty.
I have a feeling they are unleashing hordes of work experience programmers on it, in a gigantic sprawling experiment, changing little bits here and there in a totally random fashion.
All our past gigs have got lost, and it has become more and more difficult to post new dates.
Still, musicians are using it more than any other social networking site to promote their gigs, I think, and it's still a major communications route, in spite of the fact that using it seems rather like trying to ride a rusty cycle uphill.

Smoove Move and Crusty Fingers

It's done, it's dusted, and all after three hours sleep.
Serves me right for seething with rage all night at everyone who has ever annoyed me, past, present and future! I couldn't believe it when I went down for a glass of water and saw that it was 5 a.m.!
I can't slob in front of the TV because the mini-living room is full of Offsprog Two's teenage friends debriefing themselves on the first day back at school. They had to draw a circle round something, show it to someone and then come home, apparently.
Loud voices, legs, pizza and perfume.
I hover on the stair like a wraith (not hoover the stairs like a wife, which fortunately I'm not any more) and  plan how to assuage my starving-ness with the minimum of effort and maximum of food.
The move went smoove, but I've still got crusty fingers like parrots' claws and shoulders that feel like I left the coat hanger in my clothes.
Stuff it though, I'm glad it's done. I didn't manage to meet up with Kim though.
Now to tackle finding a rehearsal studio for the Horns: the temporarily mislaid trombone player has reappeared and we need to get organised, don't we!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Gathering Strength

I have been gathering strength, harvesting shreds of forgotten muscle-power, aligning my brain-waves in a positive and sturdy direction, flexing my fingers....
Offsprog One moves back to Uni tomorrow, and Mother (that's me) is Official Driver and Mover (not Shaker).
One quarter of her possessions are here, under my feet and tripping me up, and the rest is in storage: up above head height in a rickety tin cupboard in the cheapest storage facility in the Universe.
Tomorrow we load up the patient little car, sit in traffic jams till lunchtime, unload, and then do relay journeys with the rest of her stuff from the high tin cupboard into her new room, praying that it's not damp like the last one.
Halfway through, my muscles will refuse (like a steeplechase horse at a daunting jump) and I will have to force them to complete the task in spite of the fact that her books and bedclothes will have mated and multiplied in the month or so they have been in storage, and there will be twice as much to move in as there was to move out.
Oh, think positive, think positive!
It will all be lighter, easier, smoother, jollier, and gentler and I will NOT arrive home tomorrow evening a trembling exhausted heap of spent muscles, barked shins and dusty hair like I did the last time.
I will NOT!