Sunday, November 29, 2015

Weekendly Roundup

It's been rather hectic since Thursday evening; on Friday I had to go to Maplins to buy a memory card for the camera that I borrowed to shoot The Dollymixture; I thought that I needed a USB lead as well but the guys in the shop managed to find the lead cunningly tucked into the handle of the camera that I'd missed when hunting for it on the camera body.
I then had to download a manual and do some test shooting, but I was so worried about whether I could manage to do it that I cleared all the documentary film from the iPad that I took to North Carolina and uploaded it to Youtube so that I had some backup. In the end, I had such a cumbersome load that I left the iPad behind.
I never knew tripods were so bloody heavy; when I was in Brighton on Saturday, the wind just blew me in whichever direction it felt like. I did try to go down to the seafront, but decided against it as I didn't fancy being blown out to sea with only a collapsible tripod for a boat.

Thursday evening was spent at the Panic: what happened to social mobility in the arts? event at The Guardian. The panel was chaired by Jude Rogers, who is a music journalist for The Guardian (and other papers) and teaches at a very similar University to me. Stuart Maconie was another member and we were given his article for The New Statesman to read:
Ray Oudkerk (the deputy head of The Brit School), Pauline Black (yes, from the Selector and wearing such a fab pair of shoes I wanted to eat them for my tea) and James Young from Dark Star made up the rest of the members. The duo Dark Star sampled Huddersfield teenagers talking about their lives on their latest album Foam Island (listen here: ).
Pauline was about to play at The Albert Hall with Jools Holland and came out with the most poetic comment of the evening, actually in the Green Room before we even began: she compared music on the internet as being similar to a murmuration of starlings flowing around all over the sky. Lovely.
Jude was a great host; she was very even-handed and I don't think any of us dominated the panel. There was a lot of truth spoken with a lot of passion and I was able to say how angry I feel at the way young people are being treated by society (Yes, all society, not just the Government, because I don't see anyone sticking up for them, do you? It's no good going 'innit awful' and waiting for somebody else to sort it out. We have to do it).
Ray was far too nice a person for any of us to challenge him about Adele's excessively stupid comments slap bang in the most ferocious recession for more than a century, about the large amount of tax she has to pay on the sixteen (or is it nineteen) million pounds that she has earned so far in her career. I bit my tongue as he talked about the sessions they have at The Brit on social issues.
It was a panel strong on content and committed talk. Stuart Maconie used to be an FE lecturer and has done a fair bit of research on this issue; James was a beneficiary of the New Deal on Music and both Pauline and myself started off in the punk era (which wasn't anywhere near as glorious as some people make out).
The bottom line is that lecturers don't think students should be paying so much either- and we work extra hard to be worth the money. Which is why I sometimes get up at 5 a.m. to plan sessions, catch up with admin and write lectures.
Toughens you up, I suppose.

The Chefs

Thanks to Richard Cundall for posting this from Michael White's book Popkiss: the life and afterlife of Sarah Records. Vain, inneye?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Herb Alpert

McDad had two elpees that I was interested in: Melanie, and Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass (that's what I thought they were called).
I loved the bustling brass of Herb's arrangements and the clarity of the trumpet: deeply uncool I know. But I still adore the sound of it: it just sound so shiny and happy.
What a terrible pity that the only sound I can get out of my own trumpet is an awful, sad, farting sound.
I can't even toot it and imagine that it sounds good, because the effort required to blow it makes me see stars and also dribble.
The final disillusionment, though, was years before when my manager Claudine tried to get Alpert's label A&M to sign me.
'We've got a woman artist already', they told her.
I was hardly going to tread on Joan Armatrading's toes, was I?
Toot, toot.


I'll post about last night's Create event at The Guardian later today, but at the moment I'm preparing to go hunting for cables and memory disks so I can film The Dollymixtures' interview tomorrow. I'm also clearing space on my iPad to make a backup copy so there will be some footage of the North Carolina trip up on Youtube soon.
The rest of the day will be spent reading thesis drafts. At least it is raining and I won't be longing to spring out into the sunshine.
I spent five minutes yesterday singing a Barbara Windsor publicity leaflet to a student who was queuing up at the equipment store at the University. He was kneeling on the floor filling out a form and he asked my advice.
I think that was something that would have looked rather peculiar to a passer-by, perhaps.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Three Cheers For Portsmouth Jobcentre

Three cheers!
Portsmouth Jobcentre takes the prize for destroying a young person's confidence and making them give up voluntary work that included mentoring in an arts centre. Why? Because by working there they rendered themselves unable to take a non-existent job.
Thank you for making a young person cry, and making them so miserable that they trembled when they went for the job interview that they found (not the Jobcentre), for a zero hours job (actually, four hours a week, but that's pretty close to zero. Oh, wasn't that what it meant?).
Jobcentre woman, were you jealous and resentful of a beautiful and graceful young woman? What made you think you were entitled to 'put her in her place'? Is it your life's mission to embody the spite and unkindness of our cruel Government?
If so I would love to read your job description.
Anyway: calling these places Jobcentres is surely poetic licence- or maybe a violation of the Trades Description Act. They don't find people jobs; they don't even try. There is no advice on CVs, no courses, no direction to further training or education.
Rant over, but hurt and anger still simmering!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Slowest Selling Album Of All Time

Nine years ago, I made my own record label in order to release a bunch of self-penned songs that I had recorded at Tom Greenwood's student flat, mostly in three-hour sessions in the mornings on my way to work. I was not even sure if they sounded like proper songs, and I enlisted ten friends to listen to the songs and pick the ones they liked the best.
I asked the chewing-gum painter Ben Wilson to paint a picture of a lawnmower for its cover, on a patch of gum in a street in High Barnet (it's still there, though almost worn away), and asked my friend Mike Slocombe to take a photograph for the back of it and his partner Em to design the graphics.
It cost almost the same to press up a thousand as it did to press up five hundred, and at that time I lived in a big house with plenty of space to store boxes of records.
This was the time of Myspace (remember that?) and the first few hundred flew off pretty quickly. I was enthusiastic and I suppose I 'marketed' them quite efficiently before running out of marketing energy and starting to write more songs.
Why write about this now? Well, I have just discovered that I've only got fifty left.
This CD meant so much to me because I hadn't written any songs or performed with my guitar for more than 25 years, and it began a whole new phase of life during which I found a lost self that had been wandering around in a suburban desert for a very long time.
I found other women who had done the same, and who had been much more famous than me back in the day- Gina Birch, Viv Albertine and Pauline Murray, for instance, all of whom are now out there playing new songs. I found a world of open mic nights at small venues where you could play the three songs that you knew best, with and to a bunch of people who appeared not to have any problems with gender or indeed, age.
The album has crawled out there at the pace of a snail, but it has carried on doing so consistently; I still play lots of the songs at the live gigs because I like singing them just as much as I did when I first wrote them.
Two boxes left... should I press up some more? Who knows.

Hooray, Hooray, It's A Research Day

After weeks spent unravelling admin hiccups and writing lectures, I have given myself a research day.
The old computer, shiny-face, had been tucked away behind the rocking horse and it came downstairs to be rebooted, minus the internet which crashes it instantly.
I had to check an interview which seemed to end in mid-air; fast-forwarding through an interesting gabble and then rewinding, I realised that some words work the same backwards as they do forwards.
I'm now editing the interview.
I have been massively helped in this project by Sarah, who has done most of the transcriptions, but also a bit by her sister Maria and the Offsprogs.
This is interview 16 of 25; it needs to be tidied up and that's a heavy concentration job.
I'm taking a coffee break.
I had been worried about whether these interviews were interesting enough, but they bloody are; I have spoken or written to 27 female pop music producers/engineers over the past five years, nearly all of whom produce/engineer for other people rather than being self-producers (which is where people often reach a bit of a gender dead end). They have fantastic stories to tell.
I have missed out on some interview opportunities, and some people simply haven't responded to my requests; but why should they? This is a private job that is less about stars than creativity and skill, especially, I think, for women.
I have also written a supporting essay which I'm trying to edit down from 30,000 words, which covers all sorts of issues to do with the way the oral histories relate to some more theoretical issues. This has been a complete labour of love, undertaken with very little funding. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is a labour of politics, because that is what has driven it all; and maybe also a labour of sound, because of course it has a bearing on what we listen to.
I need four days to finish it all off; there is a pile of media cuttings on the kitchen floor which need to be integrated, and a pile of computer files, same thing.
When will I get four days? Christmas, of course. Goodbye social life, hello numb legs from sitting at the table writing for hours. But I am so close to the finishing-post that it is really exciting.
After presenting the research at various conferences, I have started to publish small parts and to do interviews about it, so I will post those here as they appear.
Coffee drunk: back to work.

Rosetta Tharpe: Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pure Escapism For A Rainy Tuesday

Forgive Me For A Sinister Thought

We have a generation of young people who are being, and have been, completely ignored by the current Government; they might as well be invisible.
They are lost in a fog of zero-hours jobs, semi-dependence on their parents, fabricated Jobcentre disgrace (how can they be guilty of the lack of provision of jobs?), and chronic low-level stress illnesses caused by lack of self-esteem and, dammit, boredom.
Next to this, put a Government plummeting downwards in terms of coherent policy about anything, caught tightly in the clutches of bankers and other industry moguls who conduct their business with their trouser leg rolled up, mouthing inane stuff about 'All in it together!' for the Daily Mail readers who voted for them.
Suddenly, upon the horizon, appears a solution to the Government's problems: a traditional one to boot, that always guarantees to raise the spirits and standing of Governments the world over.
For a country that produces so many armaments, it's a no-brainer.
Promise those young people food, and a purpose!
They have been learning how to shoot at targets since they were babes in arms (sic). Simply swap the computer games for real weapons, tap into the depression and nihilism that has been festering within them (and that you have cultivated by turning a blind eye to them), and hey presto! The perfect ingredients for war.
Just don't tell them that death will happen to them, too.

Something For Thursday At The Guardian: Stuart Maconie, Pauline Black And More (And Me)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Orange Tree Last Night

The pub was cosy, and a warm refuge from the big chill outside. Foolish Girl was already there- that's enthusiasm for you! Stephen and Katy had just set up the PA and chairs when we got there; it was lovely to see them both again.
The bouncer was a new boy, all smart and smiles in his huge navy coat. We hoped we wouldn't cause any trouble.
After the sound checks, Stephen took to the stage; he was full of beans and treated us to a song he'd written for the primary school children he supply-teaches, called Put A Name On It. This was a simple introduction to perhaps copyright law for children who produce beautiful work, dated and titled, but without their name at the top. We sang along obediently, remembering all the times we hadn't put our names on our work.
The memories!
Much of Stephen's repertoire is sharply articulated political comment, served up on a bed of mad jazz-inflected punk. Somebody needs to be bloody doing it, and I made a mental note to try extra hard to write my political feelings into my songs- it is just so difficult to do without sounding trite. Stephen is a master at avoiding this. He has just released an album on a USB drive in matchbox which I will be reviewing in due course. Tonight he did a genius thing- he mimed to one of his own songs pretending that he was on Top of the Pops....
The waggling leg!
The finger-pointing at the sky!
The low bass note that almost ended in a dribble!
The lurch towards the PA on the table to adjust the volume!
The grab for the fiddle and the frantic effort to keep up with the pre-recorded string section!
We all roared with laughter; this was a cathartic moment, especially for those of us who live in the Smoke and have been expecting to be blown up all week.
Oh Stephen, thank you for a welcome release of tension.
I had the difficult task of following him, but I can only be myself, and thankfully the audience seemed perfectly happy to listen to my songs, and laugh at the inter-song quips. It's great to play the Telecaster again; it feels like a long-lost pal that has come back again, and it plays itself while I sing. Stephen came up to play fabulous fiddle on Sugarhill, and Martin played great guitar on Heaven Avenue.
Finally, Martin strapped on his guitar and took the audience on journey through humour, sadness and poignant observation, mixing some rare live performances of songs alongside his more regular repertoire. The audience and the artist were as one, as always at Martin's gigs. It was lovely to hear I Can See and Synergy, punctuated by ragtime and some Daintees classics including Boat to Bolivia. The cream of the crop, however, was Left Us To Burn which was met with a roar of approval. If even Essex man and woman hate the Tories, what are we doing letting them rip our future to shreds?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gig Tonight in Chelmsford

It's Martin , me and Stephen Foster-Pilkington tonight, advance tickets only because of licensing issues. So if you live in Essex and want a respite from..... yes, if you haven't opened your curtains yet, snow, come along to this:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

And Something for Sunday.....

Here I go, organising your social life for you! Offsprog One has a stall at this DIY fair in Dalston, London on Sunday where she and her friend will be selling art, zines and all sorts of other stuff.