Supposed to give current info about my gigs and recording, but has overflowed into reviews, a memoir and daily musings.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Met up with Rowen today to wander round the Wallace Collection, room after room of ornate gold clocks, strangely-formed armour (horse-armour with eyeholes and ear-protectors) rococo paintings (lots with dead hares with one leg in the air-symbolic of something highly peculiar!), cabinets full of little portraits that made both of us feel uneasy (it looked as though some of the young girls had been coerced into posing), Napoleon, Napoleon everywhere. I told her how delighted Little Bruv McCallum was to discover an American baseball star, Napoleon McCallum, as he is a big fan of the teensy Emperor. On the way there, I was intrigued by a tube station called No Smoking, until I realised I was reading the sign inside the carriage and not the one on the station wall opposite. That says it all about this week really; it's been a little disjointed. I waded through almost forty essays yesterday morning, despairing, despairing, until I came to the one that happily told me all about 'the full rectum of possibilities'. This confusion of the word spectrum and the back passage made me laugh out loud and saved the day. Luckily, I'm off to Inverness tomorrow to put a vocal on Glasgow Train, the last track of the album I've been distance-recording and writing with Martin Stephenson for the last year. Then it will be time to pursue the elusive Chefs album, I think!
Have you noticed them? Every 15 minutes or so on the commercial TV channels. The floatywalkers are everywhere: beautiful, slender, with clouds of silky hair and satin skin, they floatywalk through life, cooing 'Because I'm worth it' and 'mmm Danone' in gentle voices, peeking sideways through almond eyes as they gently bounce in slow motion, tossing their glossy manes from side to side... Poor floatywalkers! They are condemned women, never allowed to rest; they do not work, they do not sleep; they live on a diet of licked foil lids, and every time they walk past a man, he blows their hair with a hairdryer or clamps it in a twirler, or sometimes smooths a wrinkle-lift cream on to their skin. They can not escape; they are stuck, their legs sashaying them past beauticians until the end of time. How painful! Mascara is slicked on to their overloaded eyelashes that can not sleep; those legs just walk, walk, walk around the world, their dresses flutter, flutter, flutter in the artificial breeze, their long limbs are uselessly employed in an endless, gorgeous traipse through beige scenery where occasional companions sip cocktails and look on admiringly. They may be fifty, and don't look it; they may be lying, and don't realise. The floattywalkers sold their brains and souls to the advertising industry long ago, and atop each head and hidden from view is a small slot, akin to that of a piggybank, for money to be inserted when the floatywalker slows down.
'Why do you do it?', we ask. "Because I'm worth it', they reply, automatically.
What a funny turnaround last night ended up as. The promoters had asked me to get there at 6, which I did, only to find a massive pub full of football fans roaring at a HUGE screen, steaming in their own enthusiasm and beer. 'Where does the music happen?' I asked the bar staff. 'The stage is there, behind the screen, but there's no-one here yet.' So I sat like a pretentious twat working on some lyrics; I hadn't brought enough money out for more than one lemonade; eventually, the football fans disappeared in clumps, with their scarves and their red boozy faces, to be replaced by a cavernous silence. The huge screen slipped away too, and I went and sat by the stage, wondering if the whole set-up was a spoof. No, there was a young chap who appeared to be setting up a P.A. I spoke to him and he asked if I wanted a sound check; so far so good. Someone else wandered in with a guitar, and they did a little soundcheck too (competitively short soundchecks seem to be becoming the in thing these days!) A worried looking man with a beard zipped back and forth at the back of the pub, holding a mobile phone to his ear; that normally happens when acts are pulling out at the last minute. A woman with bright red hair appeared with a bag with a bass drum pedal in it; next, she appeared on the stage with a guitar. I started sulking. Why hadn't anyone said hello? Just at that point, when I was thinking about going home and watching Frost, the worried-looking man came over and said hello and asked if I'd mind going on later than planned and playing for longer. I said no, but meant yes, and then the woman with red hair got up and started to play. Well, I liked Gabby's songs; I think you could say they were kooky, and very dramatic. She has a brilliantly dynamic singing voice ( a little too dynamic for a couple of women who took their dinner plates next door) and her songs are structured like little plays that incorporate speech and waiting. But they were unusual, and interesting to listen to. Then it was my turn, and I was glad I'd gone on late because in walked someone I have not seen for probably thirty years- Paul Gilroy! Remember him, Joby? He came and tried out for guitar with Joby and the Hooligans all those years ago in Brighton. And there he was, with his partner. In the intervening time he has become an established writer (There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack amongst lots of others). Two years ago I invited him to come to talk at the University of the West but he got the message too late; and now here he was on a glum night in Finsbury Park! As soon as they walked in, everything else changed too. An audience appeared, who had come to listen. The sound was superb: it's a good P.A. I really enjoyed the gig, in the end. The promoter said he loved my guitar playing (which was great to hear as I felt I was a bit below par, having lacerated my fingers with sewing the night before), quite a few people in the audience told me how much they liked it, and it was nice not to have to get it all over with in three songs. They were a smiley contented audience to play to, the vibe was cool man, and it was lovely to play to Paul and his partner too. I hope to play there again; meanwhile the next gig is at Viva Viva (now revamped) on 13th November.
Gloom and despondency, I defy you! I sat last night with two old shirts and made them into one new shirt, by snipping the sleeves off one and sewing them on to the other. I was well into the second sleeve when I discovered that I'd sewn the first one on inside out. I then discovered that I'd sewn the right-way-out one on backwards. I looked at the cats for help, but they were both sitting with their backs to me sulking because I had the shirts on my lap and not them. Grittng my teeth, I removed the wrong-way-round sleeve (because it was only half sewn on and I hate sewing) turned it inside out too, and sewed it back on. Then I did the cuffs because I'd started watching Taggart and it wasn't finished yet. The result is satisfyingly rockabilly. I won't tell anyone the sleeves are on inside out if you don't! When I wash it, it will probably fall to bits but then so dies stuff from Primark. I've shredded my fingers with clumsy use of the needle and pins, but I shall be sporting my hybrid shirt at my gig tonight, complete with the totally over-the-top bolo tie I got from eBay in a moment of madness and sadness.
I went down to Diana's manor (where I played the pianner... no, no, no, get a grip!) this morning and we sat outside a cafe, catching up and watching the world go by. One of her dogs sat on top of the other dog because it felt chilly, which prompted numerous passers-by to take pictures. Meanwhile I noticed her naughty little Greek dog eating a sticky pink doughnut liberally sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands. Next time I looked the doughnut seemed to have changed to a caramel one, and it was only when I noticed an iced chocolate doughnut nestling in a nearby tree-root that I realised she'd been nipping into Tesco Metro and helping herself from the floor-height display unit. Ha ha Tesco Metro! There you were trying to get weeny children to nag their mummies for a sticky bad-for-you doughnut and you tempted a naughty doggy instead!
Anyway- sorry about yesterday's rant! I also incurred a seventy pound parking fine at work because my parking permit fell off because of the condensation on my car window, and when I tried to email them to ask for a reprieve my email bounced back three times and they never got it.
Where would I be without playjoy? I have a gig tomorrow (Sunday) which is free, and I'm on at 7.30 p.m. It's at the World's End pub at 21-23 Stroud Green Road, N4 3EF very close to Finsbury Park Tube.
Well, hello blog, and how are you? Me? well, I've had the most appalling day, largely because the cold damp weather encouraged every owner of an unroadworthy vehicle in the whole of London to take to the North Circular for a spin this morning... and this afternoon. Imagine the surprise of the owners of the not-fit-for-purpose conveyances when they broke down in the drizzle! Imagine their dumb numbness, as they gazed at the traffic jams and collisions resulting from their lopsided jaunts! It took more than an hour and a half to drive eighteen miles this morning, and more than two hours to return this afternoon, when a second batch of wreck-owners decided to take to the roads just to see if their cars really were at death's door, or perhaps there was a little mileage in them yet.
I tried public transport for a while, but after experiencing a train slipping backwards down the hill into Bank Station from whence it came, while the next train was simultaneously tootling forwards up the hill, plus numerous occasions when the Docklands Light Railway closed spontaneously for no apparent reason (tally-ho! Let's all take the afternoon off and go to Nandos for a bite to eat!), I've given up on that one, despite numerous romantic sightings of cormorants in the mist at dawn.
I'm contemplating not going to work at all any more, just staying tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle in a crocheted cover until the bailiffs come along and drag me off to Bedlam where I will spend the rest of my days doing scale drawings of broken-down white vans n the fog, topped with cormorants heads and spreading wide-spanned fully-functioning wings.
I took ten copies of the new CD down to Rough Trade East today, which I'd been meaning to do for a while. I had taken some of the old CD down there a couple of months ago and accidentally laundered the receipt, rendering it into grey flabby flakes, but I was delighted because they had sold most of them and they paid me. We shuffled receipts for a while, theirs haphazardly piled in a big grey box, mine neatly clipped together after an evening's panic-stricken scrabbling last night. They tried to call Rough Trade West to see if they had stock left but the phone was engaged for ages so we did more shuffling and I left happy, diving straight into Rokit for a red winter cardy. Afterwards, I went with my pal to Tatty Devine. She's photographing window displays for Art College reasons, and we looked at the photos on their wall (and there was one of the beardy chap from The Duke of Uke there) and all their fab jewellery. I was particularly taken with the little mirrored angel wing earrings, and also the swallow tattoo earrings, but having a swallow tattoo anyway, I suppose I don't really need those. The girls in the shop were more stylish even than the jewellery and looked as though they had been carefully crafted by a master-jeweller themselves. We went into a fantastic hat shop, that had trilbies with fair-isle brims, pom-pom hats with little black lacy veils, and a pork pie brimmed hat with a knitted bit and a pom pom at the top. If I had £90 to spend, that's where I'd spend it. I was vaguely looking for an indoor hat for McDad, who gets cold extremities. I'd thought of a red fez with a dandy black tassel, but he has quite a large head and I'd be sure to get the wrong size. Ideally, I'd knit him a cosy cloche but I think I am too busy; my finger-exercise regime is spent on developing new geetar fingerpickin' styles. It's the trial'n'error problem that I have with knitting, really- I often have to unpick it and start again, or use unexpected gatherings and ruchings to disguise my mis-shapen botch-ups. Maybe I could sew him a nice stripy flannelette Wee-Willie-Winkie hat? His cats would probably recoil in terror, but it might stop them from pestering him.
Mikhail Karikis told me once there was a conference on humming at St Andrews University. Funny, everyone seemed to be humming in Barnet today. The grey-haired lady in the PDSA shop, in her scratchy tweed skirt and maroon cardigan, was humming along accurately to a raunchy Stones track on the radio in a rich, deep contralto, several octaves lower than raunchy whiney Mick Jagger, emasculating him as neatly as a veterinary surgeon neuters a tomcat, but with no blood and less agony. Later, I passed two school girls and realised they were keeping up a unison hum, one long note that stretched all the way from the entrance to the shopping centre to wherever it was they were going.
... apart from the ladies at the flower stall, who were cascading with laughter, oblivious to credit crunches, gloom, threatening loomings and all; they were bursting bubbles of joyful hilarity, loud, open and uninhibited, sending a whoosh of good humour through the afternoon that flushed out sinister rumblings and miserable naggings and that matched the jolly autumn sunshine perfectly.
Yesterday morning I swished down to Green Park for coffee with Lucy O'Brien at the Wolseley. We sat in the bar area, which was quiet and away from the glamorous tourists and businessmen (did I tell you about the chap with a baby sling who tenderly placed a napkin on his baby's head before chomping on a croissant?). One of the waiters told me he gets there at 6 and the doors open at 7; sometimes there's even a queue. But those early-breakfast customers are having two-hour meetings and are not at all friendly, even though they are regulars. It was lovely to see Lucy- sometimes she's busy, sometimes I am, and we meet rarely but always have a lot to talk about. Both of us are independent-spirited, which makes fierce career-climbing difficult, but in the end, what other way is there to be? If you get to where you are by stamping on other people's heads, it's not an honourable position to be in. And I am firmly of the belief that you meet the same people on the way down as you did on the way up! We had a conversation with the bar manager, who is from Sydney, about being a small fish in a big pond (Sydney) and being a big fish in a small pond (London), and how wherever and whatever you are, you hanker after the other. Lucy loves my CD and I am delighted, for she started off in a punk band just as I did, and it means a lot to me. Propelled by caffeine, I shot back to Barnet and whizzed through the afternoon's chores.
I had a successful upward learning curve with Garageband on Sunday, which was totally absorbing, and I realise that I don't need to go to recording studios to record demos any more. Last week I had a mini-rowette with the guy in Digital Village who sold me a guitar cable for 50 quid that he said I needed; later, talking to Martin on the phone, I discovered that I didn't need such a complex thing at all, so I took it back to the shop to get my money back. The guy was most pompous, saying I wouldn't be able to do what I wanted at all, and telling me that he was 'only an expert'. Well, Mr Sarky Expert, it would appear that when you looked in the mirror and decided you were the expertest expert of all, a more expert expert was getting on with recording her guitar easily, with no trouble, and is fighting back the urge to ride into the shop on a huge horse shouting and swinging her music round her head in triumph: and stamping on your head, perhaps?
Yesterday afternoon, I went to tea with the Teaists in the cafe at the Wallace Collection, my all-time favourite London museum; it's stuffed with Majolica plates (such beautiful colours!) rococo paintings, ornate gold clocks, Hilliard miniatures, bizarre silver armour with bird-encrusted helmets, you imagine it, it's there! The thing I like best is a little brooch in the shape of a leaping hare. Anyway... I digress... The Teaists are a group of burlesque performers and artists who meet up regularly for tea in posh places, and this was the first time I had been invited. It was terribly exciting and I found them very friendly and welcoming. It was Lawrence's birthday; he was dressed in Edwardian splendour, and sat surrounded by hes and shes all beautifully turned out and made up. Jamie and Jacob had invited me and we sat under the glass roof, sipping Earl Grey tea and basking in the glow of the pink walls. A feature of the afternoon was the absolutely appalling service; it took two hours for tea to arrive (imagine that!) (how????). But meanwhile we chatted; I sat opposite Dickon Edwards, who is a performer and flaneur, and it turned out he is also a Monochrome Set fan and played with Bid in Scarlet's well for a while. We all had the same diaries and notebooks with little checkered pages. I found the four-leafed clover that I was given in Ross-shire and told how the person who gave it to me didn't seem to have much luck; it was decided that he must be a conduit to other people's luck, rather than having any himself. I chatted about kind bus-drivers to Sebastian, who is studying at Oxford. Later, some of the assembled Teaists went to Selfridges to look for a wig, and others went to Primark. Jamie, Jacob and I went to the Office Sale Shop and browsed there for more than an hour, trying on about 40 pairs of shoes between us. I regret to say we all came away with rather a lot of eccentric shoes, having discovered that the chap behind the till gave us bigger and bigger discounts the more we chatted to him. I had an irritating carton of pomegranate juice that was leaking and getting stickier by the second, so eventually we walked down to Covent Garden and cooked dinner. Jamie copied a new Irrepressibles track to take along to Sin,the club they were going along to later; Jacob showed me how he lowered their bin bags down to pavement level using a rope and a hook from their upper window, potentially knocking a cyclist off his bike in the process. It had been a lovely day, and I retired home to my suburb feeling urbanly contented and replete with footwear.
Here is my present to you this Saturday morning: a virtual apple puff, calorie free and cholesterol free, from the Victoria Bakery in Barnet. First fold back the paper bag: you need it to hold the apple puff in case you lose any delicious bits! You bite the nearest corner, through a layer of crunchy melted granulated sugar, some still granulated and grating beneath your teeth, some melted into a sheeny hard crust on top of the pastry; next is compressed edge-pastry, the puff pastry clenched tightly to hold in the filling. There is the merest tang of apple, for this is just the edge, and the doughy base is almost unpleasant, but not quite. Next mouthful, you bite through cloudy moist layers of pastry just under the crunch, and you hit the apple big time: sour, sweet, cold, juicy, deliciously slimy; your teeth come to a halt on a layer of pastry solid with apple juice and syrup at the base of the apple puff. More,more, more... the proportion of apple to pastry swings in favour of apple at the centre, and back pastrywards as you approach the final corner. At the end, you have to decide: do you want to end on a note of appley pastry, or a note of pastryey apple? Personally, I savour a final corner of just puff pastry with s tiny hint of apple syrup glueing it together. Or rather, I used to. Every time I pass the baker's shop, I long for my former cholesterol-rich diet as I head back home for a bowl of lentil soup!
They lay all over the grass, sparkling and twinkling in the autumn sun; next door's pear tree leaves, challenging me with a cheeky nudge. I tried to ignore them; been at work, no energy for raking, starving hungry, too lazy, etc etc etc. But every time I passed the window they were staring back in at me, giving me evils and messing with my head. So reluctantly I wedged my feet into my elephant-hide gardening shoes with their well-worn treads, plodged across the muddy grass and clumbered the wire rake out of the shed from its tangled pile of garden implements. 'Pring!' exclaimed its musical prongs as I extricated it from behind an upturned lawnmower, redundant vacuum cleaner and two grubby cat-baskets. 'At last I can be useful! It grappled playfully with the mower lead that was hanging from the back of the shed door in a knotted lump. Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape and endless scrape... Two piles of soggy, leathery pear-leaves were heaped on the lawn, finally. I put the kettle on. As I looked out of the window while waiting for it to boil, little wisps of wind played breezy little tricks on my leaf-piles. 'Hee hee hee', they snickered. 'We're gonna make her do all that work again!' Leaf by leaf, they started to dismantle the leaf-piles, placing the dislodged leaves just far enough apart to be a nuisance. 'Merde!', I said in English. Back to the shed to fetch a rusty shovel, round the side of the house to drag the Green Bin up on to the grass. Shovel-plop, shovel-plop, shovel-plop, into the bin go the leaves. Except for the last shovel-load. Do you know what? I just couldn't be bothered. Let the wind have 'em!
Today, I awake in a familiar state: Fear-of-Tomorrow. There's a James Brown symposium at the University of the East today that I was wildly excited about and all ready to go to, and then I looked at Tomorrow in my diary. 9 a.m. lecture to more than 100 students 10 a.m. to 12 seminar for twenty 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. 'nother seminar for twenty 5.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. Songwriting for indeterminate number of students. Oh dear. Neither of my cats understand; they are still stamping about on my computer (my old cat pulled the letter 'G' out of my first laptop and reduced me to tears). The dog can't understand why I don't take him out for a walk in the rain. 'It's all about Tomorrow', I tell him, but he couldn't care less because he has a golf ball where his brain should be. I have lazed about, but I'm unable to go back to sleep because of Fear-of-Tomorrow; I will plan, plan, plan: what to say what to wear what to eat when to eat but until I remember the way I deal with it, it will all be useless. How do I deal with it? I deal with it by thinking, 'Tomorrow evening, it will not be tomorrow daytime any more. I will have done all the fearful things, and I will be tired and relieved, and all ready for.... Fear-of-Friday!
I was watching this awful programme with Toyah Wilcox and Leslie Ash. Toyah was talking about jaw lines and how she has had her facial skin dragged up behind her ears and sewn there in order to rediscover her jaw line. Her phone hasn't stopped ringing since! How horrible. But she said it made her look so much younger! I went to the mirror, and dragged my skin up behind my ears, and lo! there was my jaw line! I hit upon a fantastic wheeze, and a way of saving the thousands of pounds and the months of agony incurred by a facelift. Now, whenever I approach the mirror, I drag my skin up behind my ears and I look ten years younger. As soon as I walk away and I can't see myself any more, I let it drop back down into its usual comfortable folds. Bingo!
Yes, little old me is playing at Church House, Wood Street, Barnet tomorrow at two and three. I will have some of the new CD to sell. It costs a quid to get into the fair, and it is really good fun! I may have a special guest with me, if he is passing through town.
THE! Monochrome Set Monochrome Set Monochrome SET! I heard through a thousand grapevines that The Monochrome Set were playing at the Cherry Red Records 30th Birthday Bash, and determined me to get a ticket. Lester Square had given all his away, having thought nobody would be interested, but a couple of days later, he emailed to say he had a ticket for me. I dressed as Helen McCookerybook from 1979 (checked shirt, jeans, hair in pony tail) to get into the spirit, and went to the now-changed Dingwalls. I found Lester in the dressing room; he'd gone out for a curry with the others and found, on their return, that they couldn't get back in again. Bid got in, promising to get the rest of the band in, but he didn't come back. Lester was shocked to see that me, Mike and Em had managed to get access, when he'd found it so difficult. He'd found a cowboy shirt, he said, whose poppers stretched across his chest, and he was anticipating bursting out of it at some exciting point in the concert, a bit like the Incredible Hulk. Andy Warren lurked in the crowd. "I'm really looking forward to this!', I gushed. 'I'm glad somebody is', he responded drily. First on was Attila the Stockbroker, who told us he did indeed used to be a stockbroker's assistant; then the cheerless Jim-Bob. Then Iain MacNay came up and did a little speech about Cherry Red, during which Bid could be seen behind him at the back of the stage, sticking two fingers up in a rather rude gesture from between the curtains. You could also see Lester Square wandering first one way, and then the other. Later, he said he was having trouble getting organised; lead, guitar, set list, towel- he'd remember one only to forget the other and have to go back and get it. At last! there they were, thundering through The Monochrome Set; there was Andy Warren, dressed all in black and with legs crossed tidily at the ankles, glowering, looking younger than he did twenty years ago. The drummer, borrowed from Scarlet's Well, Bid's day-band, made a good job of it as she tribal-drummed through the set. Bid was drunk and very wry. Lester needed to tune his guitar. 'The little needle needs to be in the middle', advised Bid unnecessarily. The Creature of the Black Lagoon! My feet just started dancing and I was amazed to discover that I knew the words. How come? I can hardly even remember the words of my own songs! 'Attila, you've been spitting into the microphone', scolded Bid, before a female singer joined them on stage. They began the next song. 'Stop!', commanded Bid.'I've just remembered something! Where's Alex?' 'She's here on stage with us', said the others. Oh yes. So they carried on. They were completely brilliant- that deep, loud, powerful bass sound, the dueling, clanging guitars, the wandering vocal melodies with their eastern feel, but still catchy choruses, the idiosyncratic backing vocals, delivered tersely by Andy and Lester; Bid's rich, strong voice, out-Lou-Reiding even the Catholic Poet himself, to say nothing of their stage presence. They are total stars; no clever stylist could have invented their personae: Lester Square, tall, angular and making shapes, Andy making an art out of Standing Still, and Bid, head bent over the microphone, explaining odd glib-sounding lyrical thoughts into its mesh as though torturing it with concepts it couldn't get its little silver head around. At the end, he announced 'See you in twenty years' and they all vanished, very quickly. Attila got up. 'Lets get them back!' 'MORE! MORE! MORE!', we yelled. They came back. "How did you know we'd rehearsed an encore?', enquired Bid. 'It's on the set list', Attila replied, and we were treated to one more song. Later, Lester confessed that he had forgotten how to play their songs, and so he looked on Youtube and found nerdy guitarists' instruction videos showing people how to play his guitar parts, and that's how he re-learned them.
I went to see the Monochrome Set play last night, believe it or not. I will review them tomorrow, as I have been at work today from 9.15-7.30 and there is a large grey piece of stone where my brain should be. I might forget to tell you, the back-of-the-hand stamp when you went in was an earplug dipped in ink! I won't forget to tell you that they were absolutely, absolutely brilliant, and I remembered how to dance, and grinned until all my teeth fell out.
I know nothing about Hollywood films, but lots about films my friends make. Running with Mum is a film by my friend Martin Greaves about his mum's experience as a little girl in a German town, Dormstadt, that was bombed by the Allies and turned into a firestorm. It is a beautiful film which shows the distant tenderness between a mother and her grown son, and a sense of living alongside the terrible experiences of the past with a combination of stoicism and forgiveness. It's showing at the Raindance Festival in London on 12th October. Festival details:
Yee-ha! I'm going to busk at the Doodlebug Vintage Fair in Barnet (!0 Wood Street) this Sunday 12th October; one set at two and another at three. I did a posting about it a few weeks ago; I'd seen it advertised and not bothered to go because I thought it would be a glorified jumble sale. One morning I went in anyway and was amazed, not just by the clothes but also by the stallholders, who were dressed in the gear- Forties Woman and Forties Man with their Forties stall, French Cowboy-Woman and Fifties-Man with their stall, and so on. And the clothes are just amazing (especially if you are really tiny but they do have some large sizes) It costs a quid to get in, and I will have some CDs there, and will be ravaging the racks in between sets
A bit like Sherlock Holmes and his two-pipe problem I post a lot when I have something that I am reluctant to do. It's Friday's lecture for the University of the East, Vocals and the Songwriter. I know what I want to say, and how I'm going to say it. But it's just the sitting down and writing it. So there I was, in the garden, raking leaves, and thinking about how Gyms secretly link to the National Grid and sell the electricity that everyone generates while exercising. I was trying to get rid of some bits of fox poo that studded the grass, and before I hit on the idea of kicking it into the bushes at the side of the garden, I got some on my white gardening gloves, which meant I had to put them in the washing machine. I put my pink Timberlands in there too to try to get rid of the coffee stains, and listened while they booted the insides of the machine like bodiless Skinheads. Later, I noticed a little black seed from one of those plants that has pointy pods that explode and ping seeds all over the place; this one had lodged in the corner of my eye and I debated leaving it there to grow a plant, just to see if anyone said anything or everyone was just too polite. By then, it was far too late to start writing my lecture, and I simply had to put it on to tomorrow's to-do list instead.
One of the weekend papers, I can't remember which, does a feature on stars' shopping baskets, which comments on the healthiness or not-healthiness of what's within. I'm sure they just make it up! Well, in an absence of an invitation to divulge my own buying habits, here is the McCookerybook diet for today. This is what really was in my wire basket, mostly because of what was on special offer: Giant White Bap, filled with Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and Mango and Bleach'n'Catfood Dipping Sauce Yum! Can't wait! Betcha wanta come round mine for lunch! Bring a bottle of Nail Polish Remover to wash it all down with! Actually I should be bigging up the CD which is officially out today but I can't remember how to program a link. I've got Mike Slocombe's book on my lap, and I'll do it later. Also: Get well soon Joby. I liked your missive about the Carry On Hospital experience, which managed to be both funny and not funny at the same time. How I wish we had some recordings of Joby and the Hooligans! Do you think they recorded that live broadcast we did for Radio Falmer where to dog took such an exception to Steve and his ukelele?
Four years ago I was an Crieff in Scotland. The Highland Games were on and it was chucking it down, nasty cold knife rain, and I thought about buying a warm waterproof jacket. In the warm waterproof jacket shop I saw just the thing, and I tried it on. 'Ewan McGregor tried that on five minutes ago', said the sales assistant smugly, assured of a sale by this provenance. I looked impressed, but the jacket just didn't fit so I took off and returned it to its rail. I told lots of people the story, and watched how excited they got; I didn't dare admit that I hadn't a clue who he was. A couple of years later I learned that he was a Hollywood film star, who had been born and brought up in Crieff, and he was there because he had been invited as the Highland Games Chieftain by the organisers, a courtesy title that they bestowed each year on somebody grand.
After an intense morning at the University of the East, I went home and made a chocolate cake for Gina with two dinosaur-shaped candles, which I took over to her and her girls in the evening. we were both tired, but we sat and made juggling balls out of felted wool, a soothing way to spend an evening. You tease out wisps of dyed wool, make a cloud of white wool enclosed in a thin veil of coloured wool, and then roll it between your palms, dampened in warm water, until it compacts into a solid sphere, which you rinse in cold water and leave to dry. You end up with a folksy-crafty juggling ball, or even a giant felt bead sortofathing. It was a relaxing way to spend an evening and made me want to start knitting again. I woke this morning to a call from Diana, suggesting a morning dog-walk. I felt far too lazy; I was slobbing about with a huge cup of tea and the newspaper avoiding doing anything that might make me feel awake. So we are doing that this afternoon; I've been to the market to load up on black grapes, tomatoes and bananas, and I'm listening to 'Groovy' Joe Poovey and contemplating bleeding the radiators, something I've never done and something that appears terrifying. Perhaps I've watched too many Laurel and Hardy films that end up with Stan trapped for ever plugging a ferocious leak with his thumb, but I've been spending a lot of time planning disaster-management strategies and imagining carpets sodden with rust-coloured splobbly gungey glob. What's more, I've no idea where the radiator key is; I've looked and looked in my imagination and just can't find it anywhere. Oh dammit, gonna wait till after dog-walking. I'm going to have another giant cup of tea and lace on my stout boots, gird up my loins, kilt up my kirtle, hoist the mainbrace, tack against the wind, stem the running nose, and march to a different drum across Highgate Woods. If only the dogs knew they were walking me, instead of the other way round!
Katy texted me yesterday afternoon, 'Can you come to Robert's night in Bounds Green?' 'Why not?' I thought, even though I was tired. We were about to write a song in the Songlab. After whizzing home for a plate of pasta, I slung the axe into the vehicle (the evening axe; the daytime one was back home) and took off to the Ranelagh Arms, where there was a boisterous crowd listening to a man playing a red ukelele. The night is called the Toybox, and is a night of music, poetry and other stuff. Robert apologised for the low microphone volume 'He hasn't got a very nice voice', he whispered. Katy was full of energy and was sporting an enameled bird badge a bit like mine; I'd missed her set but we threw ourselves into the proceedings anyay. The next act was Simply Grey, Robert's Uncle Lawrence who gave him his first ever guitar, and his mate. They played a stormin' grey-haired set of Chuck Berry covers and the like, and got everyone up dancing; a tall Tibetan-looking chap with a hat sat calmly playing drums in the background. The stage area was crowded with instruments and leads, and people sat at the back tucking into huge plates with potatoes, gravy and other filling-looking stuff. It was a bit like a big, wild, living room. When I got the Gretsch out, Robert's uncle Lawrence had to come over and talk nerdy-talk for a while; his Country Gentleman was in a case at the back of the stage but we couldn't get to it, as it was hemmed in by a keyboard, mixing desk, sundry leads and Robert. I played a little set: Bad Day, Memento Mori (which the crowd seemed to really like) Heaven Avenue (with Robert on drums, Katy on BVs and the drummer chap on tambourine), and Love on the Wind. It was the Wild West, like Offline used to be at the Dogstar, but fun, and a really good ending to a day when nothing went wrong, unexpectedly.
My heart leapt as I saw a Walnut Whip 3-pack tucked under my car seat. My heart sank as I realised it was empty. My heart leapt as I realised that, had it been full, I would not have been able to eat them anyway, as they are forbidden under the no-cholesterol regime.
Here I am at my desk at the University of the East, surrounded by toys and photocopies, and eating Floral Gums. Luckily, I am not required to speak to anyone at present, as I have shovelled a mouthload in, and my teeth are currently stuck together, albeit fragrantly. I was expecting a terrible day yesterday; things spun a little out of control and my guitar gently wept for a while. I woke this morning with a case of rampant pessimism, all ready to have a Huge Fight Because I Had Not Been Allocated A Parking Permit This Year. Alas, this morning when I went to the help desk to ask, there it was waiting for me. All the other anticipated problems are melting away (am I speaking too soon?) with Grumps being uncharacteristically cheerful, and a consequent overbudget of time. Shall I go to TK Maxx? I haven't got any money to spend but rummaging is good bicep exercise in this day and age of bingo-wing fear. Or I could plan this evening's song writing workshop; but I sort of have... I bought today's Daily Mirror to harvest a headline from in order to work up a song. My 'to-do' list is at home sunbathing on my makeshift desk by the window. I could tidy the office but then it wouldn't be fun to rediscover lost papers. Actually, I have a guitar here, and I'm going to get it out and play it until someone knocks on the door to tell me to shut up. See ya later!
Well... the album is out officially on Monday. But Amazon calls it Poetry and Rhyme now... by Helen McCookery Book Borders calls it Poems and Rhymes by Helen McCookerybook Voiceprint calls it Poetry and Rhyme by Helen McCookerybook Wot the heck! I've got three names anyway myself, what's wrong with sprinkling a few album titles and variations on the theme of McCookerybook about the place? I am delighted to say that I now have an agent to book gigs, Bob Paterson, and I am very, very happy about that. His website is http://www.bpa-live.com
What the Well-Dressed Squirrel will be Wearing This Autumn
On the way round to Gina's this morning for coffee, I spotted these scary guys who look suspiciously more clued up about the economy than Britain's bankers do. Gina was in fine form, though a little sad that one of her two-kitten set was gobbled up by an urban fox recently. Only the little black chap survived, and he nestled sweetly on the back of the chair as we chatted and yakked our way through two and a half cups of coffee each. She showed me her latest pop video, which has some lovely lighting effects:; she builds little devices to get what she needs to dramatise her films. She is very creative: one of her films has her riding her bicycle through central London, with a camera on each toe of her boots! I dashed back home for an appointment at the bank, only to discover that the woman had written it in the wrong day in the diary, but I fought back the desire to snap at her in irritation and bought a USB guitar lead instead so I can set up the computer in the kitchen and record riffs while stirring the ravioli. I may be busking at the next Vintage Clothing Fair in Barnet Church Hall on 12th October, and I can't decide whether to do it old fashioned and just yell and thrash, or whether to take the technical route and buy a practice amp to play through. Yelling in the stairwell, which has a mega-echo, is the most tempting and cheapest option, and I think I'll go for that probably. I'd better go downstairs. I made a cup of tea 20 minutes ago and it must be getting cold.
I can't decide what I want to be. I thought I was an illustrator and then I turned into a musician by accident. Along the way I've wanted to be a fireman and HGV driver and it's getting too late now! I can't stop writing songs, and if I did, I'd not be able to stop drawing pictures. I wish I could play piano, trumpet and accordion. I always used to long for long blonde hair until I dyed my hair blonde and I looked disgusting. I nearly bought a motorbike (BSA Bantam), but spent the money on a bass amplifier instead and joined Joby and the Hooligans in 1977. I can't resist going into charity shops and buying clothes which I often take back the next day.
I eat Magnum Classics all summer long, and mini-poppadums all winter. In spring and autumn, I don't eat anything.