Friday, August 18, 2017

At The Edge Of The Sea Tomorrow!

I am honoured to have been invited to play tomorrow in Brighton at this festival organised by The Wedding Present. The Popguns and The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy will also be playing, and many more including, of course, the Wedding present themselves.
Today's drawing from the Birch-McCookerybook Artlab.

Summer Days (enjoy them while they last)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Big Yellow Taxi

Poly Styrene loved this song.


I was just typing that and the sun came out!
Yesterday evening was really interesting. It wasn't filming, it was audio recording with Zoe Howe and  Celeste, Poly's daughter. When I got there Lucy O'Brien was just finishing her interview and it was fascinating to hear Lucy's stories. It's going to be a really interesting project when it's finished. It was very affecting meeting Celeste; Poly would be very proud of her. She has that same lovely vibe about her, and it must be incredibly moving for her to hear the high regard that her mum was held in by so many people; there must be a lot of filling-in-the-gaps. We so rarely get to know our parents through their interactions with other people, just through our closeness (or not) with them, and then the more distant pull of the things that they do for work, or with their friends.
The photo shows Celeste, me and Zoe in the studio yesterday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Poly Styrene

This evening I'm heading into town to film an interview for Zoe Howe and Paul Sng's documentary about Poly Styrene. I envisage the footage being snugly curled up on the cutting-room floor at some later date, but I always think with these things that you are giving the project a positive boost just by going along and doing it. I hope I remember to sing the first song Poly wrote- all one line of it- when she was at primary school. It was a protest song, directed at the dinner lady for making the children eat meat. She taught it to her classmates in the playground.
Knowing how many people were influenced by her, and who also felt enormous affection for her, and knowing what happened in her life, I think of Vincent Van Gogh and what we do to artists and musicians. I was talking to a researcher yesterday who is working on a project about Scottish women songwriters, and thinking about how we actually fan the flames of people's narcissism to the point where they are completely dislocated from reality. I don't think narcissism is particularly rare: the potential seems to be there for anybody, regardless of their gender or occupation.
All that's needed is a crew of sycophantic people to shield them from responsibility and to massage their sense of specialness: these can be friends or even family members. I don't think Poly was a narcissistic person by any means, but I do think that people around her deliberately detatched her from reality. She deserves a lot of respect for rejecting it all and looking for spirituality in life instead, trying to seek out genuine friendships, rather than people who massaged her ego.
One of her friends asked me to go to the funeral as her representative because she was too upset to go herself. It was the most beautiful funeral that I have ever been to; I must have written about it here at the time. Lots of the London fishes were out of water (yes, I felt that too even though I don't feel like a London fish) and the day belonged to people who loved her properly: her mum, her daughter, her husband, and the proper friends that she made after being a pop star. Punk threw her into a position where her bravery and resilience were tested to breaking point and beyond. There's no-one else like her.
This was her first release (as Mari Elliott):

Monday, August 14, 2017

Dreaming of Narcissus

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lexington Times

The beer, and the sticky floor when the moshing stopped.

French Footsteps At My Door

From The Helen and the Horns Archive

The orange poster must be from one of our first ever gigs. Dave had the key to the Jazz Room at Imperial College and we used to rehearse there every week. This may have been the one where the bar was hosting a delegation of Dutch miners who did a noisy conga in front of us while we were playing. I booted each one up the bum as they went past. By the last couple of chaps they realised what was going on and escaped before I got 'em.
The article is from Smash Hits- unbelievable that we got in there! I was/am such a pop-head that I was thrilled to bits, because they print the lyrics and I love that. I still had that shirt until just a few months ago.
The Newcastle gig was a hoot. The microphone was giving off electric shocks and McMum was there at soundcheck time with her friend from church. The first thing that I said through the P.A. was 'F*CK!' as it zapped me through my upper lip. Then later there was a showing-off competition between Cleo 'Hot Lips' Silver and Little Bruv, who was totally pissed and became the star of the dressing room ('Tomato sandwiches? Why is it always tomato sandwiches? Don't they know I hate tomato sandwiches?). Cleo 'Hot Lips' had swanned in expecting to be the centre of attention but was no match for Little Bruv, who progressed to throwing slices of tomato around the place. Oh, happy days.
The stickers? Well, we obviously used them!
The Simonics poster must have been a bit later as well, when we had our own label. Maybe? The band was formed out of three Nicks and Two Simons, who recorded at Elephant Studios in Wapping, with a Simon and a Nick engineering.
Finally, that's the original Helen and the Horns logo which was later tidied up by or first record label, Thin Sliced Records.
OK, back to the box......

Friday, August 11, 2017

Barnet Turns Into Betaville

Oh dear. After a pleasant chat with Ben Wilson the chewing gum painter, who was brandishing a tube of filler, I wandered round to the Antiques Emporium. All shut up, all voided. To be made into flats, no doubt.
The car park has been tarmac'd to destroy the market (three stalls left, most of the time) so we can only shop in the supermarket, and a humungous H&M is doubling the height of the shopping centre, itself a mutated church (replace spirituality with capitalism, etc.etc.).
In the square in the centre (all mature trees uprooted and thrown away to make more retail space), customers sit and drink coffee with piped music in the background: Rhodes piano, major sevenths and syrupy male vocals stroking their ears.
What did it remind me of?
Why the Sims, of course!
The Offsprogs used to have the game. Simulated computer people with stereotyped personality traits occupied themselves with service jobs that were just the right shape for them, all to the tune of muzak; their language, Simlish, took all the rough edges even off anger, because there were no words and hence no poetry.
Barnet is turning into Betaville, very rapidly.

Helen and the Horns in Weybridge 2008

Helen and the Horns at the Lexington in 2013

Studio Day

Unbelievable: 11.54 a.m. and I normally get up at six-thirty!
Yesterday afternoon was spent at Dave Morgan and Ruth Tidmarsh's studio, recording a new song, Saturday Night With The London Set. It will be the first one for the next album, which I am hoping at the moment to do with a guest guitarist on each track.
Yesterday's guest (who introduced me to Dave and Ruth in the first place) was Vic Godard. We had already played a version of the song at the Asbo Derek album launch in Brighton a few weeks ago so it wasn't new territory.
It was written after a night out at a Monochrome Set gig at The Lexington. It's funny embarking into a community of people who lived through London punk, having done all that stuff somewhere completely different; and the 25-year sabbatical I'd had from making music when I was a Mum and Wife and a Lecturer and music making was something other people did and talked about, but not me.
But everywhere you go, people bond because of shared histories. If you move around a lot you slip into and slip out of other people's worlds, sometimes becoming immersed and sometimes just watching from the sidelines. I think it's often the combination of being there and somehow not being there at the same time that makes people write songs: you are somehow trying to link yourself to other people and be part of their narrative, while at the same time living your own life story. I don't know.
This is probably all blethers.
I was writing about the recording session.
We recorded guitar and drums first with a guide vocal, no click track which is unusual for me.  Fuelled by coffee, we got the track down in time for Vic who arrived fresh from his round, in his postman's uniform. Dave and Ruth have a Firebird (that's a make of guitar) and it sounds absolutely lush; some of Vic's parts sounded like Eddie Rabbit and some sounded like (believe it or not) Carlos Santana (or maybe that's because of listening to a CD of Caravanserai on Wednesday). There were some lovely things going on between the ride cymbal and the hi-hats and between the different guitar parts, whose sounds came to the forefront in different parts of the track (mine was Brazilian-sounding arpeggios and Vic played around and over that). Then I put a rudimentary bass line down which was challenging.
After all that it was difficult to get a great lead vocal, but I did a harmony that may or may not materialise. A coffee'n'sound migraine started to announce it's presence and we did a rough mix, and the rest of the day was Vic's to mix his album.
Last night's listening, all I could hear was wrong things. That is completely normal for listening on the recording day, when you have called into play a sort of micro-listening so you can hear the way instruments rub up against and interconnect with each other sonically.
I've just listened this morning, and that's why I'm writing this instead of just burying it in the week's other doings. It sounds amazing! Dave's drums sound great, the guitars sound fabulous and I even like the vocals. There is a pile of songs that didn't get on the The Sea and I was going to record those ones as a new album, but I think after this that I'll work on some new ideas instead.
In 2005 I made a bid for freedom , by starting to write songs again. I am so bloody glad that I did. It's like exploring outer space, except it can all be done in the comfort of your own brain. Sort of (wrote the person who has travelled 3000 miles, and counting, to play gigs on her own this summer).

Alas, ordinary tasks like 'washing the kitchen floor' and 'cleaning the windows' and 'starting to work on next year's student module guides' will be taking up the rest of today, but at least yesterday was 100% creative.

Monday, August 07, 2017


Paul Sng, the director of this documentary, made the film Invisible Britain which followed Sleaford Mods around Nottingham's gigs and pubs, and documented them talking about their music and their political beliefs. He advised me and Gina about our funding our fledgling documentary (still parked up in a lay-by temporarily), and in a strange way I was worried about this film, in case it didn't deliver the goods, despite reading some great reviews in one of the weekend newspapers.
There was no need for anxiety. From the start, the documentary has the self-assured focus of truth, and what a f*cking relief. There is no pussyfooting, no euphemism, no delicacy: but there is no brutality either. Where there is anger, it's completely justified and more often articulated through the poetry of ordinary (yet extraordinary) people's reminiscences and their hopes for the future.
The film interrogates the local and national policies of powerful politicians of all political persuasions as they cleanse city centres of people earning below certain income levels- certain high income levels. These people have/had been living in high density, sometimes high rise, council properties on land whose value has apparently become higher than the value of the lives of those people whose homes are built upon it. Under the guise of regeneration (an architect from Architects for Social Housing debunks the idea of regeneration, which is a slow process, and prefers the term 'clearance'), whole mini-populations are persuaded to leave their homes, which have been allowed to deteriorate over decades, and promised lovely new dwellings. In reality, once these new dwellings are built, there are simply not enough of them for the evacuated residents, and compensation paid to leaseholders who were conned into buying their council properties by Thatcher's government is nowhere near enough for them to live in the 'affordable' properties that replace their original homes.
Naturally, very few of those people responsible for these policies consented to be interviewed, and  Savills, the property developers, have somehow managed to become advisers to government and councils without any sort of checks and balances- shame on you Sadiq Khan for being involved in this!
Parts of the film hit the emotions hard. It was the resident of a high-rise who talked about moving into his flat after being homeless, and watching the fog from his windows, that made me cry. As he spoke, his words were akin to a loving poem to the view from his window; it was a beautiful and touching moment. Later a Glaswegian man stood in a rubbish-strewn street in a part of Glasgow whose private landlords have allowed it to become a slum with piles of rubbish and rats (I think this may be in Nicola Sturgeon's constituency). Incredulous, he imagines the journey of a refugee form a war-torn country arriving in Glasgow for sanctuary and ending up in a sh*tty street like this, where the situation is almost as hideous. I thought of the man from Glasgow whom Emily Maitlis had interviewed and who reduced her to tears by his generosity in donating blood to victims of the Manchester bombing, and whose response was to answer hate with love.
All over the UK, the story is the same, whether Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, London...
we learned about the process of artwashing, where arts projects (even graffiti artists) form part of the first stage of social cleansing by making areas look funky and desirable. Interestingly, after the screening a resident of one of the estates in Southwark remarked that the film, in being shown at a Picturehouse Cinema in central London, was actually taking part in this process too. This was a sharp observation- but it allowed some interesting responses: the staff at the cinema who are undertaking industrial action because of their low pay were asked how they felt about the film being shown there and they gave the screening their blessing. In addition, Paul told the audience that once the screenings are done, the film will be sent out to any residents association who wanted it free of charge, so that they can use it to support their campaigns against being ousted from their own homes as the end-product of a 'managed decline'.
In the Q&A, the views expressed were frank. This is all part of the financialisation of even our imaginations; and this removal of poor people, facilitated by the myth of sink estates, is known as 'value uplift'. Ugh, ugh, ugh! How horrible!
You must see this film. The residents are articulate, funny, charming and strong: they give the message of the film such heart. The graphics are clear and the research is thorough and convincing. It belongs in the same area of truth-telling as I, Daniel Blake, although that is fictionalised truth. Despite making you feel furious at the injustice and hypocrisy of the politicians, construction industry and financiers, there is a sense of relief in the film's honesty. This is information we need. A decent life for the many is superseded by an aspirational life for the few: we can't let this continue.
See here for more screenings:

The Arts Café in Pictures

Nicked Richard Sanderson's photo to put one of me in. Words tomozza.

A Memory

Back in the day, I had a full-time job as an academic and two children under five. It took and hour and a half to get to work and the same back again; because South London was so volatile, there would be fights on the bus (usually someone unable to pay their fare), people would refuse to get off, and the conductor or driver would make all of the passengers disembark while they called the police. You'd have to wait for the next bus, and everyone would try to stuff themselves on to that, another fight would ensue, and so on. I used to be so tired that often I fell asleep standing up on the platform at Kennington tube station staying away from the edge so that if I fell over I wouldn't end up on the tracks.
We lived in a housing association maisonette with a family upstairs who didn't look after their kids. Their little boys would climb on to the roof while the parents were otherwise engaged, and throw knives and forks, their toys, and once a bowlful of dirty washing-up water into the garden below. It was very dangerous- I don't think there was a parapet. When we spoke to the parents, they would tell off the boys, not themselves, and that was difficult to listen to from downstairs. They were so rowdy that when they slammed their front door, things used to jump off our walls- including my old Hofner bass guitar which ended up with a smashed-in jack socket and had to be repaired.
I got back from work one day to find my father-in-law and the housing officer in the street. The child- minder had taken the Offsprogs to her house because the family upstairs had left a bath tap running and gone out for the day, which meant that our maisonette below had completely flooded. Filthy water was pouring into the kitchen from the ceiling and from there down through the kitchen floor into the Offsprogs' bedroom and on to their toys, books, beds and clothes. The central heating had come on to compensate and the cat was running around pleading for someone to stop it from raining inside. It was an absolute downpour of reddish-brown, stinky water: it looked like hell and it was a terrible shock to come back from work and see that home wasn't home any more.
We could only spend one night away because there were so many burglaries in that neighbourhood we knew that if we left the house for any longer, people would just break in and strip out the rest of our belongings that hadn't been ruined by the flood from above. It is the worst thing for a child to have their safe place, their bedroom, destroyed; the children were distraught. The loss adjusters took almost everything away to dry it out (we found it hard to get some of the stuff back from them) and a lot of things were so badly soaked that they just had to be thrown away.
In a day, a flood can do an incredible amount of damage.
We moved back into the wet mess and lived there while the ceilings were re-plastered and the lino replaced on the kitchen floor. Our lives were dusty, gritty and damp for weeks afterwards. Our lovely childminder and her husband repainted the Offsprogs' room for them. There was a huge pile of damaged belongings in the front garden, and each day we tripped around the rescued things drying out in the house.
The people upstairs never apologised or even acknowledged the destruction they had caused.
Funny to think of this now; I'm listening to some old music from back then and it has called the whole experience back into existence.
Now it needs to go back into the cupboard and be covered up by a better memory.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Fleas4U Says Goodbye

Somehow Fleas4U guessed that Offsprog One was heading off to a flat share and he bounced in early to say goodbye, which was quite touching. He has worked out that he can jump on to the concrete head of Helen of Troy, an ancient statue next to the fence, to get in and out of the garden. He followed Offsprog One to the forbidden upstairs and back, and even marched across the draining board while we were having a tea break in the back yard.
I had to wash the grapes again.


On post-it notes, scribbled on the edges of the daily newspaper, in a hard-backed notebook, in the 'notes' section of my phone; on train tickets, receipts, advertising leaflets: they are everywhere. And in my head, melodies, and in my fingers, riffs. How could I ever had stopped doing this?

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Green Goddess Goes To The Park

The Green Goddess and I have booking on Sunday afternoon in the Arts Café in Manor Park. It's a mere sneeze away from Hither Green station, and the venue has a sort of retro art room feel to it. It's informal, and perfect for a weekend outing after a lazy brunch and a scan through the newspapers.
The host is Richard Sanderson, he of many talents: Morris Dancing, melodeon playing and most importantly, surviving being brought up in the north-east (he's a Darlington man).
He and Mark Baby will be providing the inter-song songs.
Right now: I'm learning a cover of the Wedding Present's Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah to play at the Edge Of The Sea Festival (every artist/act does a cover of one of their songs).
I find it hard to learn words, but I thought the chorus of that one would be OK 😉

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eric Ravilious At The Towner Gallery, Eastbourne

'It's 12 o'clock', lied the clock tower at Eastbourne station. Time was standing still; rain was falling. What better day to visit an art gallery, what better gallery to visit than the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and what better exhibition to see than Eric Ravilious and Friends?
The 'and Friends' bit made my heart sink because of the sloppy exhibitions at Tate Modern with awful 'influenced by...' and 'was an influence on...' paintings, but the accompanying artists' work here (a combination of pupils and fellow-artists) was absolutely top quality and showed that here was a community of artists, all striving for the same goals.
You could focus on so many different things: the graphics, the design, the paintings, the ideas. There was so much to see and so much of the process was revealed: memory books by Peggy Angus and Helen Binyon depicted scenes such as a chimney sweep racing a bus in his horse and cart and other rEast-end scenes. Wood blocks and stencils, all as beautiful as the actual prints themselves, demonstrated the painstaking craft that went into the illustrations and book-covers that were displayed next to them. There was a lovely photograph from East Sussex records office of Helen Binyon sitting at a table, concentrating on cutting into a block of wood. She and her sister Margaret made children's books together and toured with a puppet show that they created.
Tirzah Garwood's work was brilliant. She was in a relationship with Ravilious but out of all of the friends here, her work was least influenced by his. I particularly liked a series of unpublished prints of her relatives: a crocodile of schoolgirls walking past a wall, a sinister uncle in a belted mac standing in a garden full of fallen leaves, her sister in law at a dog show, womanhandling an unruly terrier. There was work by Barnett Freedman (absolutely exquisite), Edward Bawden, Paul and John Nash and many more.
The intense blacks of the printing ink makes the prints remarkably striking and powerful to look at.
Ravilious was taken to the Alpha Cement Works by a friend and so liked it that they managed to persuade the owners to leave the arc lights on at night so that he could paint there. The colours of all of these paintings are the colours of dreams; there, almost there, but not quite there. Corporal Stediford's pigeon loft, painted in 1942, is almost comical in its rustling detail. There was a particular landscape of a Norwegian ship in water that showed his absolute genius as a painter. From a distance, it looks almost photographic but close-up there was exactly the same relationship between pattern and representation as there is in the black-and-white woodcuts. With politics thrown into the mix (for this group of people supported refugees, and cared deeply about their country and the suffering that war brought about), there is a whole added layer of emotional meaning to it all.
The joy in their creativity! Halfway through a drawing an artist would change their mind; positives would become negatives and negatives would become positives. 'Ha! I'll change my mind about a colour field halfway through a drawing!': but then it looks as though the change happened because of something inherent in the paper, because further on the colours change back again. The lettering and the decorative prints are extraordinary in their variety of lines, patterns and ideas. Sometimes the lettering looks almost embroidered, then sometimes it looks like unravelled metal tape sprawled across the page. I wanted to eat it all!
This is a wonderful exhibition.They were permitted to be war artists, and kept out of the army because the powers-that-be didn't want a whole generation of artists to be killed. Ironically, on an artist's mission out of Iceland, the plane that Ravilious was travelling in disappeared. Oh, the complete and absolute futility of war! When you see the beauty and joy of an artist like this, so unusual and so inspiring, simply obliterated in an instant because humans are too f*cking stupid to be able to live peacefully together, it makes you weep with frustration.
I left the exhibition feeling completely inspired, full of pride in British culture, but full of shame for British warmongering, past, present and future. It is a must-see show, for its beauty, for its historical value and for the underlying messages that it transmits about the necessity for us to nurture art and artists, always.

Magical Mystery Day

The wicker hamper is packed, the horses are snorting at the bit. It's a day off!