Sunday, September 14, 2014

Listening to Song Selfies from the Past

I'm heading through old recordings when I'm meant to be looking at and learning the Helen and the Horns song structures for the rehearsal on Tuesday.
Here, I find the songs that I wrote when I very first picked up a guitar to play solo without a band in around 2005 and the invitation of Jamie McDermot from the Irrepressibles, to whom I will always be grateful.
Clumsily, my fingers trip over the impossible chords that I had invented. My voice sings at a higher pitch than it's meant to and poor cello players valiantly try to play along with me.
The songs are weird, but the lyrics say quite a lot- some of them overtly political.
I'm going to try to work out the chords (which will be an uphill struggle: what the heck was I playing?)and once work has settled down for the new term, I'm going to revive these songs and have some poptastic fun with them.
Wouldn't it be lovely to go to New York in search of Tom Greenwood, who recorded them in the first place! I failed to win the lottery this Saturday (and last Saturday), but I'll keep on tryin'.


Look at these beautiful flowers! They arrived early this morning with a huge bag of apples and vegetables, from Adrian in Stockport, who grew them on his allotment. They are so gorgeous that they seem edible; and I did almost eat the cactus, which in the gloaming I thought was a strange form of okra that I hadn't come across before. Good roughage, I suppose.
Thank you Adrian. I will never forget the Allotment gig that Martin and myself played at. These flowers have brought back some very happy memories!

Friday, September 12, 2014


Alas, today I have to moan. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I worked 12-hour days trying to write the material for the University new year. One University has changed from semesters to whole-year teaching. The merging of different modules and cross-referencing to make sure it all does what it says on the tin is extremely time-consuming. I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon doing this too and I'm still far from finished.
It's my job, and so I don't mind, but my body does. My shoulders feel as though they are raging on fire because I've spent so long hunched in front of the computer. No matter how many breaks you take, shoulders don't want to be doing this. They want to be walking ten miles on the NHS march.
They liked that, even though my feet didn't.
Yesterday was rescued by a visit to Gina's; we are writing a song about nuisance neighbours, something we both have recent experience of.
Before she moved, hers did so much building work that they cracked the walls of her living room and there was constant noise. Mine won't repair their chimney, which is leaking into my loft, and they have bought a dog which barks very loudly whenever they go out (burglars, take note: it's the opposite of a watch dog). This is usually three to four hours every day.
Gina and I work in three-hour slots, and we are remarkably productive.
I remember writing my PHD in even shorter bursts, during the double-bill Simpsons on a Friday night which kept the girls busy, and writing most of the songs for Suburban Pastoral between 8.15 when I took Offsprog Two to school, and 9.45 when I left for work. Mumalicious!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Musicky Time

After a day grafting away at timetables for the new University year (seven hours today and the same tomorrow), I'm leaning back and listening to the backing track that Gina Birch has sent me. We are writing a song together about nasty neighbours, something of which we both have ample experience.
We are thinking Kinks over dirty electronica. Watch this space...
I am also rehearsing songs- some for the gig at The Lantern Theatre in Sheffield on Wednesday next week, where I'm supporting Martin Stephenson, and some for the gig at the Prince Albert, a rare Helen and the Horns gig in sunny Brighton which we will be playing at the invitation of the wonderful Spinningchilli promoters (Bad Bad Whiskey are supporting us at that one).
At times my two occupations, lecturer and musician/songwriter seem to be poles apart.

Monday, September 08, 2014


McDad could be remarkably camp. A poor unfortunate male friend had missed the last bus home and had to sleep in the spare room.
McDad appeared with pyjamas. "I've got the orange winceyette, the pink and white brushed cotton or the green linen/ cotton blend", he offered (or something like that).
The poor stranded fellow looked baffled and embarrassed in equal measure. Which to choose?

Interview in Making Waves Zine

This zine originates from Camille Lan and I was delighted to do an interview for them:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Marching for the NHS

After a sumptuous brunch of fish fingers on toast (September is austerity month and everything is served on toast to augment its belly-filling properties), I went to look for the NHS march who were supposed to be stopping for lunch in a little local park on their way from St Albans to Edmonton. I'd been working all morning on charts, timetables and other such administration, and a walk in support of something that I fervently believe in was now the priority of the day.
The Conservatives have never been able to stand the idea of something as essential as health care being in public hands. Just think how often people get ill- and just think how much money can be made out of that!
This drove me to join the Labour Party many years ago when John Major was ripping it to shreds (since lapsed, but I'm watching) but I think the best way to look after the NHS now is by signing every petition that crosses my path, and walking part of the route from Jarrow to Trafalgar Square in support of the amazing women who have walked the whole way.
A small welcoming party was waiting in the park but I walked up the road to meet them. They didn't stop for lunch but carried on. Boy do they walk fast! I'd arranged to meet Offsprog One at the next tube station down the line but we were well past there at the allotted time so we had to rearrange.
A van met us every so often to hand us piles of leaflets (I was tweeting it so I didn't leaflet but I did hold a banner with a marching fellow for part of the way). People were reading the leaflets, not throwing them away, and drivers were drawing up in cars and winding their windows down to ask for them too.
We stopped at Arnos Grove, and there was Offsprog One with her camera. A very nice Italian shop let us all use their loos, and quite a lot of people bought ice creams before we set off for the last two miles to Edmonton, walking mostly alongside the North Circular which is possibly London's most dangerous and dirty road. But the company was great and we heard every sort of car and lorry horn tooting in support; some of those lorries have the most amazing sounds: hoarse, grunting, tuneful, I'd never realised the music available in air horn form. One of our number had a bugle, too, which was a very cheerful accompaniment. Every time a car or lorry hooted, a man with a whistle mimicked their sound, and we waved and cheered. It was knackering but good fun. Sometimes the march slowed down a bit, for instance when the over-50s group joined for a while.
I'd been planning to walk from High Barnet to Arnos Grove, after meeting Offsprog One at Whetstone. But we carried on and when I got home I was surprised that our leg had been 9.5 miles.
The people who have walked the full distance deserve a massive amount of respect.
They are setting off from Edmonton tomorrow morning and aiming to be at Trafalgar Square for 3, where there will be speakers including the writer Owen Jones.
Somewhere along the way, we were wondering what the Queen thought of the NHS being privatised. All those poorly subjects, feeling to ill to sing the National Anthem. Bless.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Timetables and Taps

Six o'clock... What a fabulous time to wake up, if you're a bird. I had been hoping for a lie-in, but alas something woke me up and I thumped downstairs to put the kettle on.
Every single morning, I forget that the cold tap in the kitchen is actually a fire hose. A thick jet of icy water spurts out and drenches everything in the kitchen- floor, worktops, window, and of course, me.
Once everything was dry again, I sat down and did Timetables for an hour and a half, managing to win the fight against the table I was creating yesterday by simply deleting half of it.
'Ha ha! Destruction!', I thought nastily and put the kettle on again for coffee.
Soaking wet again, I got changed and headed down to Gina's to make music for a couple of hours. It's difficult to describe what I'm contributing but it's definitely something- lyrics here, lyrics there, vocal harmonies, a bit of programming, a bit of guitar, feedback (the talking kind, not the sound... yet) and some quite stringent editing in places. It's great fun, a different way of writing that goes against the normal rules that I've inadvertently hemmed myself in with. I think I get tangled up in structure as though it were barbed wire, and Gina deconstructs to create a forest of sound that you can get lost in; things definitely change between the beginning and end of the sessions, I hope for the better- the process is really energising, anyway.
I'd been hoping to go to an Employability Conference this afternoon but in the end I had too much work to do. Finally, a pile of 'finished with' books is starting to grow and the list of orders to myself has started to diminish with more crossings-out than instructions. Time for tea again. Toodle-pip!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bring Forth The 5USA Cop Shows!

This evening, I have taken on the Lego 'writing shape person' attributes. I've been sitting at the kitchen table planning teaching schedules and battling the general grumpy feelings that come along with trying to make grids in Microsoft Word that disappear as soon as you try to fill them with anything. I've still got a grid with no line at the end of it, so I abandoned ship and transferred my attention to another professional endeavour.
I'm trying to write as much as possible this year. There are reasons why, but not that I want to share at the moment. It's hard work, but also very interesting. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Chantal Epp, who runs this fledgeling company
Before we met I had no idea that cheerleading music even existed and it was fascinating to talk to her, especially as she is so enthusiastic about what she is doing.
I am writing a chapter for a book on entrepreneurship in the music industry, and I'm devouring books about the creative industries as fast as I can eat them. The sofa is covered with piles of books that have scribbled notes sprouting out of them at unusual angles.
It's just like writing music in some respects. You dig deeper and deeper into it and suddenly it's dark outside and you haven't had anything to eat for ages. It's not good for the body: your shoulders stiffen and your feet get cold, but you feel that it's good for your mind to flex and connect different ideas from different places.
The cop shows are on TV- I'm off for a tat break!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Brighton Gig Coming Up!

On 28th September Helen and the Horns will be playing at The Prince Albert in Brighton with Bad Bad Whiskey supporting us.
It's one of Brighton's best venues and it would be lovely to see some old friends there. We will be playing a new song I think, and I'm really looking forward to it.
Phil (formerly of Brighton band The Lillettes) runs the punkbrighton website and has done a lovely write-up:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kitty Finer's Night At The Horse Hospital

I'd had a text from Gina to say that she was playing a few songs at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.
Well, it had been a fulsome day, starting at seven witha stop-start journey round the M25 to brighton, pre-loaded with Offsprog One's belongings. All was fine, until I got into Brighton itself (accessed via Hollingbury Racecourse, an extraordinary but quite beautiful route). The Satnav swore blind that Offsprog One's road simply didn't exist. I tried all sorts of tricks and eventually broke into mild perspiration after several stressed phone calls to her through clenched teeth. Rename: Satan-nav.
A tough looking man (who had obviously done so much teeth-clenching that most of them had fallen out) had baggsied the parking space outside Offsprog One's house, but somehow we managed to unload and I even found a space further down the footpath-masquerading-as-a-street and had a quick cuppa in her pocket handkerchief garden.
Then it was time for Offsprog Two. We tried loading up from the next street (she was moving from only a street away from Offsprog One to the Big Yellow up the road), but eventually settled on a double yellow line with hazard lights (cue more mild perspiration) and then had a comedy-film hour of the wrong person being at the storage facility to sign the papers, no padlock, the trolley ran down the hill with the house contents on it, etc etc.
Back in London, I sighed a big sigh and thought that at least I'd done a bit to help and nobody looked too miserable even though homelessness was impending (maybe that's changed today).
I felt I deserved a night out in fantasy land and I was not to be disappointed. I got there just in time to see Gina play (did Kitty play too? I'm so sorry if I missed her). Gina was looking exceptionally glamorous and played four songs, including my fave, I Do Not Want To Wear Stilettos. She got a very good reception and was closely questioned by one audience member about her lyrics, and gently mobbed at the end.
There was a chap called Sebastian Willan (I think) who according to Kitty (who was a very charming and funny mistress of ceremonies), wasn't called Sebastian at all, but was really Sam. Sebastian/Sam sang four very funny and simple songs nestled within anecdotes, with an appealing DIY simplicity about them. The best one was his song about the Chairoplanes at Carter's Steam Fair where he had worked for a day, apparently becoming bored after the first half hour. He'd obviously been mildly indoctrinated during his day's employment as his eyes glazed over slightly when he told us the ins and outs of the Chairoplane. He wore super shoes and a shirt that he claimed looked good on the shelf but on the person was a little too like something Noel Edmonds would wear.
Emma Bennett, wearing double headphones, sang, spoke and chirped along to recordings of herself responding in that way to birdsong. It sounded like Dada or Savant poetry until you realised what she was doing and then it all made sense and took on a more beautiful aura, shifting from Joyce Grenfell to Laurie Anderson in one fell swoop. Very aurally interesting and nice to see a committed performance of something so detailed in its dedication to the transcription of birdsong.
Finally, Molly Farquar (?) appeared, telling us about living in the same street as David Bowie, who painted his house black when he moved in, while Molly's family's house had been black and they painted it white. Molly had a box of records and she played firstly Cliff Richards' Summer Holiday followed by a seemingly random series of vinyl singles that got us all up dancing for the grand finale. Funny coincidence of the finale was Molly picking out Jimmy Cliff's You Can Get It If You Really Want It, followed by The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want.