Thursday, December 10, 2009

You ARE Wolf - ACTION!

Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 6
Reading: Shiny magazines full of fashion and art like a big GIRL
Hair day: Brilliant - Barry has updated my purple/blonde fringe which I am currently fashioning into a sort of hairsprayed-to-the-max ski-slope. YES!

I had my first taste of music video stardom yesterday in my You Are Wolf guise, at a lovely studio in London Fields, with mate Phil (who runs Kash Creative) directing. We chose 'all things are quite silent' from my very very impending EP, as folk songs don't normally get a high-glam animation makeover. I had great fun being prodded and tweaked and sewed-in by stylist Charlotte and make-up artist Callie, doing my best to get over having my facial blemishes and super-wobbliest bits scrutinised closely by two beautiful girls. Charlotte popped me into a long grey clingy dress that made my cleavage look, well, extremely cleavage-y, , then sewed a load of peacock feathers to one shoulder strap, whilst Callie made my cheeks all autumn-leaf-like and plopped a huge brown feathery fake eyelash on one eye. I, being a fake eyelash virgin, was quite proud of being able to keep my composure what with feeling like a huge house was stapled to my lid. My second look was sort of mad-sea-mermaid-clown, with shiny dress and big neck ruff, which Charlotte added to with LED lights for extra hilarity, plus greeny sequins glued to one side of my face. Ha ha! Oh yes, and as well as being all dressed up for hours, I did actually get filmed singing to camera a lot, all the while hoping I conveyed a sense of glowery, ethereal moodiness and not psychopathic misery, whilst Charlotte was on Tummy Watch, keen-eyed on my silhouette which veered from slimmish (hoisted in, holding my breath for dear life) to 3 months pregnant (my normal look. And I'm not pregnant). It was all shot on a green screen, as most of the vid will be lovely animation/illustration; more news to come!

In other news, juice have done about a thousand gigs encompassing Belfast, Soho, Kingston (the London one) and more, all accompanied by the happy tap-tap of Scrabble letter on travel Scrabble board, which is transpiring to be our new, madly rock 'n' roll addiction. I had a nice wee You Are Wolf slot at Folk and Roots magazine's newish club night, Monday Monday, at the Wilmington Arms in Clerkenwell, on, er, Monday. You can watch two vids (and check out the hair) here and here. Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cultcha Vultcha

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: hhm, 0.
Reading: Graham Swift's rather lightweight novella' Saturday'
Hair day: Am addicted to plaiting the longest bits of my fringe and then releasing for 80's crimped look.

It's been a Superweek in terms of cultural shenanigans: I first took Andy to a Words on Monday event at King's Place, where we were treated to a brain-massage of verbosity from the esteemed panel of Simon Schama, Tony Benn, Polly Toynbee and Geoffrey Robinson QC, discoursing on the topic of 'The Art of Rhetoric'. It didn't really matter what they were saying in the end: the joy was in hearing of each of them launch forth in a probably more impressive manner than many of the politicians they were dissecting. Simon Schama was easily the most showy, his liquidy presenter's voice rolling loquaciously over such figures as FDR, Lincoln and Obama. Polly Toynbee was more measured, Geoffrey Robinson could have quite easily been lounging in an old leather armchair, swilling scotch in a thick-bottomed glass, such was his confidently relaxed, richly posh tones (well, he is used to the pressure of prosecuting war criminals) but Tony Benn knocked spots off them, impressive simply by his accumulated experience. The others weren't able to give anecdotes about what Winston said in 1942, or indeed give their initial 15-minute speech without notes, as he did, all with a voice that sounds like he's permanently sucking on a Werther's Original. A real pleasure.

juice had a trip to see jazz/soul legend Cleveland Watkiss celebrate his 50th birthday at the QEH. It was a shame not to see of his solo loop station work, but we still saw a taste of his more exploratory side, the best being a trio with Talvin Singh and kora player Tunde Jegede. Yesterday I caught another of my 'Beginning with Blobs' shows (which I did the 45-min soundtrack for), which has come a long way since the first performance. Andy and I then made our annual trip to the BBC Wildlife Photography exhibition, always an utter delight, both for marvelling at the natural world and for technical and aesthetic artistry. Highlights included a teenager's shot of a deer caught in a half-lit woodland canopy, and flocks of starlings made as abstract as charcoal flicks in the black and white category. The under-10s category is always unbelieveable, though their precociousness shines through in their blurbs which say things like: 'I took this unusual photo of a silverback gorilla eating an ostrich whilst on holiday in Uganda with my father; I was just trying to capture the beauty of the strangler fig trees when the gorilla just appeared from nowhere. I was in grave danger but the gorilla realised I was an unthreatening posh kid and carried on as normal'. I think I actually agreed with the winner this year: an incredible image of a Spanish wolf jumping over a gate, a startlingly unusual impression of a fairytale animal who looks like he's just gobbled Red Riding Hood.

Finally we caught the end of the London Phil's weekend celebration of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (the first time I heard his name was when I was a teenager at a composition course; my tutor said my work reminded him of Schnittke. At least I think that's what he said. Arf) at the QEH. He's described in Time Out this week as 'polystylistic' which is as near as dammit: the composer piles in all sorts of musical references (blues, Viennese waltzes, hymns) to a point of near-vulgarity. Still, vulgar or no, it was mostly pretty enjoyable, barring the first piece for solo viola and string orchestra, dull as dishwater. The strings were from the RCM, though all looked about 12; they remained for the rest of the first half, both for the Piano Concerto and Concerto Grosso 1. The concerto featured Boris Petrushansky, surely the Russian Jerry Lee Lewis of the 20th-century classical world, coming right off his stool on a couple of ferocious occasions. The concerto grosso starred a lovely bit of clunky prepared piano, and two violinists who were supposed to fizz with romantic tension; however, the leads lacked the necessary Brangelina vibe, though they did belt out some niftily mental Baroque flourishes. The Yellow Sound was a more convincing affair, fitting nicely alongside music-theatre works by Berio with a muttering cast of vocalists, unusual chamber ensemble and drifting soprano soloist messing about with lights. Though the Schnittke vulgarity couldn't hold be restrained, and the whole thing ended with a scream and rather doom-laden schlocky organ chords, like the finale to a Hammer Horror film. Love it!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fire Works!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Watching: The marvellous, if hilariously over-animated, Andrew Marr's 'The Making of Modern Britain'
Hair Day: fashioning new occasional trademark hairstyle of two little plaits from fringe going over like a hairband. YES!

juice did possibly their most intimate gig ever in Thursday, gracing the extremely bijou preserved drawing room of the Handel House Museum. Trust me, if you've craved the experience of real juice-spit in your eye and the deafening screech of our herding calls actually making your inner ear spin like a top in a hurricane, you missed a treat! But it was a very evocative experience, singing in the ultra-crisp acoustic of the tiny wood-panelled chamber, though hopefully the setting didn't confuse any juice virgins in the audience into thinking we were going to trill pretty Baroque shingalings - our slightly more contemporary fare, guttural gruntings et al, are a leetle more 21st-century than early 18th...

Had a rather lovely weekend of Londonness, first of all at the Kingdom of The Fireworks, the Tower Hamlets Borough Council's annual all-out extravaganza, which they must surely blow most of their budget on ('Recycling? Fresh road markings? Pah, we'll just send a load of mega-rockets into the air!'). But it does draw the hugest and most beautifully mixed crowd of multi-ethnic families and East London Coolios to Victoria Park, and every year the show is sensational. They seem to have forgone the attempts at a pre-fireworks narrative (though their near life-size recreation of a burning Houses of Parliament, the crowd baying for more as it fell apart, lives long in the memory) now, and this year's show, entitled 'Great Balls of Fire' simply combined huge flaming jets which licked the sky with a preposterously over-the-top display, all set to '50s and '60s conflagration-themed tunes. Kudos for the heart-shaped bursts and the perfectly-timed halos to Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire'! The whole neck-craning affair is like a VJ-ed mash-up of the end-of-2001: A Space Odyssey and the Death Star explosion, with a load of kids waving triumphant plastic lightsabres for good measure. Fabulous.

On Sunday, Andy and I walked the grey, drizzly North Bank of the Thames before visiting the Ed Rushca exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. This retrospective of a 50-year career merging graphic design, American typography and abstract/not-so-abstract painting was a robust affair, fascinating in its exploration of words as images. I grappled with the ideas of words having no size, of trying (and failing) to extrapolate a word from its meaning, of how the typography is as inherently iconic as the meaning of the word it's wearing. His later work was generally not so engaging, apart from strange, ghostly images of wolves and Midwest churches done only in black with spraycans. Then to the Curzon to see Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, finally, which I've been desperate to see after catching her first feature, Red Road, in all its searingly thrilling glory. Her second film was no less blazing, a tenderly raw story of estate teen life laid bare, with little flares of beauty in the grime, and featuring a quite unsettlingly sexy turn from Michael Fassbender. Arnold is a massively talented writer-director, fiercely real and -I think - inherently female, and I can't wait to see what she does next. We finished off by stuffing our bellies full of heart-palpitatingly salty, oily pasta at our fave Italian, Ciao Bella in Bloomsbury, whilst the pianist played a jazz version of The Godfather theme just in case we thought were at a Japanese joint. Tee hee.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Watching: The most disturbing tongue in the world, courtesy of the geckos on BBC1's 'Life'
Hair Day: flyweight

Bookending a quite horrific gum infection (pain level from 0-10: THREE THOUSAND, plus added beating of breast and mangled wailing through a jaw that could only open 2 centimetres) was a lovely gig and some great work. Last midweek we went to the Efterklang/Britten Sinfonia-Jaga Jazzist show at the Barbican, for some hardcore Scandi-alt-rock action. Jaga Jazzist are a slightly flexible Norwegian collective who peddle avant-math chamber-rock; they're a dash of Belle Orchestre and a pinch of Bang on a Can, with flashes of zingy electronica. Almost all multi-instrumentalists, (you don't see many girls doubling up on flute, glock, voice and tuba), the 11 musicians went at it rather full-pelt the whole time, with not enough spaciousness and rather too much reverb for me, but it was nice to hear space disco with added bass clarinet. Efterklang, recreating their last album Performing Parades in collaboration with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra here in London with Britten Sinfonia, was an unbounded joy from beginning to end. Their brand of gently euphoric ensemble vocals, unusual chamber ensemble (often including things like clogs pattering percussively on the stage and little organ) and intricate orchestration made for a heart-melting experience. With the added effect of their innocently-bright pendant-adorned costumes, it was like being led into heaven by a load of blissfully happy Danish scout leaders.

With gum still throbbing, the juicettes drove to deepest darkest Kent for a couple of days of workshopping with our bestest artvocal chum, Mikhail, and assorted other lovely vocalists E.Laine, Ben, Conal and Amy. Mikhail is devising his 'exploded opera', Xenon: a fabulously imaginative idea in which the elements of his opera (video, installation, vocal performance, etc) are separated and performed at various East Kent venues and festivals next year. Mikhail had hired the most amazing barn for us to live and work in, a sort of 'James Bond Does Countryside' or, as Ben put it, like being on MTV Cribs. So we feasted well, watched the sheep hanging around like gum-chewing teenagers on street corners, and worked on various vocal/theatrical tasks Mikhail set us, before coming together on the last day with an artist and performer who will be reciting the Declaration of Human Rights. Great to have the time to explore new ways to improvise within juice too: it's rather luxurious to be paid to a) send a note round juice trying to make it sound like one person and b) tickle Anna whilst she's trying to sing 'Ave Maria'...ha.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Awe-tumn in London

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved today: taking a break
Reading/Watching: Time Out, delivered 4 days late via Royal Mail to my door / 'The Thick of It' - brutal, coruscatingly witty, with unbelievably obscure, only-for-the-literary-highbrow-and-not-many-of-them-neither reference to my fave poet Robin Robertson amongst the multi-swearing.
Hair Day: awight. Self-made fringe bearing up decently.

On Thursday I tagged along to a discussion on Ethics put on by Andy at Foyle's, though mostly for the prospect of free food rather than the debate (though remarkably, I kept up); after all, I don't often accompany clever writers/philosophers (eminent scholar on contemporary Muslim Britain and journalist Zia Sardar and popular philosopher/writer Julian Baggini) to dinner at their members' clubs in Soho. Funny, I thought I would be all up for swanning about, wallowing in the exclusivity of it all, but I hated just that: it seems utterly un-egalitarian to elbow out the hoi polloi just so can eat your steamed venison pudding next to Ken Stott. Though the pudding was rather moreish.

Felt much more on top of things over the weekend, going itinerary-crazy for Mother's Birthday Trip To London. Ma's incredulity at the ways of the Big Smoke never ceased to divert; Mum on the tube: 'they're all plugged into something! No-one talks to each other!'; Mum at Broadway Market: 'everyone is so stylish! It's like being on the continent!'). We managed to take in Turner and the Masters at Tate Britain (so-so; rather too old-school for moi) and then hop on the Tate-a-Tate boat (sightly regretting the ample scone just scoffed) for Miroslaw Balka's big black box, which is good for about two seconds and then is a bit silly; not dark, not scary, and the only thoughts provoked were how to trick people into colliding with the end wall. In the evening we sat amongst a hundred crisp-crunching, texting, guffawing teenagers at the Novello Theatre to see the revival of Stephen Daldry's lauded version of An Inspector Calls. Rather over-shouty, I thought, and very heavy-handed use of music, including a nicked bit from Bernard Herrmann. Over the rest of the weekend we visited markets Broadway and Columbia Road Flower (the former for Ultimate Art Toff-Spotting Championship, the latter for stereotypical East End flaaaar-sellin' comedy vaudeville), went to the British Museum (hotly busy, favourite thing was the 3rd/4th-century BC Burmese monster made of lacquer wood, all antlers and long tongue like a tie), and had a great walk down the Parkland Walk, a disused railway line which has reverted back to nature between Highgate and Finsbury Park. Add to that a smashing meal at our local Cilician restaurant, Solche, MOTD, and a spot of DVD-watching (The Reader, bit lacklustre) and you've got a zinger of a weekend. As my main man down at the DVD store said after chatting to him about Driffield, where Mum lives,:'you wouldn't imagine moving away somewhere quiet, would you?'. Hellll, NO, sir!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

International Woman Of Mystery (well, Experimental A Cappella Music)

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: NONE, hurrah!
Reading / Watching: 'The Women's History of the World' by Rosalind Miles, to continue my feminist reading. I am transforming into a empowered Female Fighter of Misogynist Crime by the day / Catching up on 'Generation Kill'.
Hair Day: Just re-done. As usual I told Barry it was a wonderful haircut then promptly raced home and made my own extra snips to adjust. Thus I am now sporting a slightly wonky purple fringe. Ahem.

Have just reached the other side, spitting sand and blood, of a Saharan whirlwind of creative activity. Man, it has been quite ludicrously busy. In the last few weeks I have:

a) Completed the soundtrack for Kazzum theatre company's 'Beginning With Blobs', including tackling the Herculean challenge of mixing 45 minutes of music in about FIVE DAYS. When I've never mixed anything before. The show is now tickling small childrens' ribs and brains around the country.

b) Made my French debut with juice, with three different gigs in three days in the Champagne region, where it would have been rude not to break my abstinence from alcohol by quaffing fine, gossamer-light bubbly after every performance with the locals. The concerts were rather marred by me being ill of the cold/throat variety and Anna being ill of the MADFLUPOSSIBLYSWINE variety, so much so she was shivering under blankets with cold flannels on her forehead mere seconds before going onstage. We were also rather too experimental for some in our first gig, but we are sticking fast to our 'anarchic Brits' label given by 'Sir' Bob Chilcott. I threw my first ever diva hissy-fit upon seeing our last venue, a boat, moving backwards whilst we read music. I can't a) travel backwards or b) read whilst travelling without feeling vomitous, so this was not ideal. In the end it turned out possibly to be our nicest gig, at least because I had developed enough confidence to ad-lib en francais.

c) also gigged with juice in Manchester and Brighton, and spent a week doing exhaustive/exhausting workshops with schools for children with disabilities for Live Music Now in Newcastle.The highlight was a very small girl interrupting our song to tell us proudly she had Tinchy Stryder on her iPod. Rock on. We also did a training sesh for Sing Up,which I meant I got to see underneath the shiny fat-rolls of the Sage Gateshead.

d) had a lovely You Are Wolf gig at Lemon Monkey (hhm, images of gnashing canines and ape-carnage abound), probably my best yet, helped largely by the crowd of friendly faces brought along by birthday gal and chief You Are Wolf photographer Dannie.

e) Had meetings for new projects like the Music Orbit team (another Gobsmack experimental night to be curated by moi in March), Music for Youth where I've been invited to be a mentor, plus the prospect of ticking other Music Education boxes like Creative Partnerships looking likely too. One day I WILL be Howard Goodall.

I have found time to squeeze in some nice arty social things too, namely: seeing Conrad Shawcross' installation 'Chord' under Kingsway in the old tram-tunnel (a joy for Londonist nerdlings like Andy and I - we were much more excited by the peeling layers of 1930s posters than the work itself); taking tea with new buddy MaJiKer, who is writing juice a piece, at the very snobby top of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, before being ferociously inspired into further Feminist Acts and Statements by their re-hanging of work solely by females in the collection, 'elles@Pompidou'. Grrrrrrrrr. Oh, and being an international woman of mystery, I intercepted my husband who was returning from Frankfurt for a gevaarlijke liaison in Antwerpen. Well, alright, it was less that than tripping about the mostly cobbled streets, looking at Rubens' buff Jesus' in the cathedral (they all looked like they'd been doing too many press-ups in Gijsbert's Gay Gym), using our in-built Cool Radar to source the three coolest bars in town, avoiding the hoardes of very clean scouts traipsing around, and liberally lathering ourselves with Warme Chocolade. Yum.

And NOW! Well, plenty more things, but at least for a few days, I can do them whilst lounging under the duvet watching 'True Blood' on Channel 4OD and scoffing at how much of a poor, haemophiliac relation it is to the supreme 'Buffy'...

Friday, September 18, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 4, in the realm of singing
Reading: Juggling 'Corvus' for erudite comfort reading and Will Self's 'Cock and Bull' for hardass tube book-time
Hair Day: Bit pink. With a small 'p', not a large 'P', though have oddly been told more than once that I look like the rage-y rockpop queen. Hhm.

So juice had a Big Night Out yesterday, featuring in Blank Canvas' new series at London's coolest music venue, Cafe Oto, up in E8. Many a Dalston virgin was agape at the true fabulousness of the place, whilst Andy and I of course, old hands at popping in to see off-kilter Japanese free improv on trumpet, live electronics and cutlery, shrugged smugly. BC is one of the core alt-classical family, brothers with nonclassical and Kammer Klang and second cousins with straighter classical models like the Little Proms. We kicked off the night with some a cappella bits and bobs and some choons with electronics, braving three new ones off by heart - hopefully we look like we're engaging thoroughly with our audience when in fact our brains are going into minor meltdown trying to remember whether it's 'mikatamikikaiwa' or 'mikikaiwakataki'. Ha ha. Then all-round beatboxing mastermind Shlomo, he of Bjork's 'Medulla'-album and Vocal Orchestra fame, took to the stage to improvise a megamouthful of big beats and clever vocal trickery. He's more musical than most beatboxers, and uses his loop station, the same model as mine, with rather more deftness than I! My favourite moment was an abstract looped aviary of tweeting birds; the challenge for beatboxers is creating something that takes it past an amazing novelty, and Shlomo's definitely nearer than most, though I won't be happy til there's a beatboxer who creates clever little jazz drum licks in 5/8... Am very excited about Shlo's collaboration with old York mucker Anna Meredith though - they're going to be creating a concerto for beatboxer and orchestra, and last night we heard an exciting initial sketch following their first workshop with some instrumentalists. Anna was at Blank Canvas with the Camberwell Composers' Collective, who presented a few works for 'cello, clarinet and percussion. With their riff-driven, electronica-massaged sound, they're fashioning themselves as a Bang on a Can for this side of the Atlantic. The highlight of the night for us was a wee improv with the man Shlomo himself; with the shortest of rehearsals at something similar in the sound check, it was slightly nerve-racking, but worked pretty well, in a sort of chilled, Bobby McFerrin's 'Circle Songs' kind of way... phew! All in all a fab night, full of shmoozing with the alt-classical scenesters (ha, of which we are a part!) and a few of our newer musical friends, whom it was lovely to see.

Today we popped up the road from my flat to the nonclassical studios (in a rather, um, colourful building which houses, among other things, nostril-burning-weed-smoking grime producers, a snooker club full of burly East End chaps, and the rather suspectly-named 'Holborn College of London' - hmm...) for some mic-testing and initial try-outs of material for our nonclassical juice album, to be released sometime next year. The possibilities of which pieces we use, and what new material we create, are endless: I'm getting rather excited about a kids' voice-changer (complete with LED lights!) I bought from eBay. The image of the three of us using flashing red loudspeakers live is a gleeful one and I must write us something, although mostly so far I have been using it to creep Andy out by talking dirty to him in a weird minor-second-clashing robot voice. Ha ha!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Glam Girls

Hours of creative activity acheived today: 2
Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Reading: 'Cock and Bull' by Will Self. Witty, super-erudite, challengingly masculine.
Watching: The excellent 'Red Road' finally, directed by Andrea Arnold, whose second feature 'Fish Tank' is out this week. Countering Will Self's brute masculinity with a steely-eyed feminine slant.
Hair day: just-got-out-of-bed look. Not in a good way.

juice have dived headfirst, making bubble-noises and mouth-pops all the way, into our autumn season. Last week we crammed six gigs in two days into the valleys of South Wales, putting the 'glam' in Vale of Glamorgan. We belted our way through four community gigs in the gritty districts of Barry and Abedare, and did our own evening gig, trying desperately to not be distracted by the over-enthusiastic man in the front row who tried to sing all the words to everything we did, despite the fact most was new music he could never have heard before. We were also drafted in the night after, pretending to be a children's choir in Ozzie composer Ross Edwards' 5th Symphony, alongside the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. We flew by the seat of our cute pink pants in the gig, as though our parts were easy, they were framed in bars and bars of 5/8, 3/8, 3/4, 2/8, 3/8, 3/8, conducted at hyper-speed by floppy-haired Zen-ish Andre De Ridder. It'll be on Radio 3 at some point. Blink and you'll miss us!

Today we made our Colourscape debut at Clapham Common. Colourscape is a family-friendly vast-chambered inflatable paradise - simply a load of womb-like rubber tents (and many vaginal corridors - hhm, think have been reading too many feminist books) in a field, but all so luminously-coloured that you feel like you're an extra in a never-ending Barbarella remake. We sang some bits and pieces and did a lot of improv, sometimes with a bearded, gold-caped live electronics chap called Lawrence, and sometimes with a crystal ball-toting dancer guy. It was a great experience, particularly when sitting on my own in a green room, singing with Sarah and Anna but only hearing them through a speaker; the many excitable kids clambering all over us whilst attempting to riff on Morton Feldman's 'Three Voices' made it a little tricky.

We recovered afterwards over tea in translucent china cups and macarons, tiny chewy 10p pieces of loveliness, in the patisserie in Clapham Old Town: we hooked up with MaJiKer, our vocal idol Camille's English producer, who's interested in writing us a piece. Hurrah! We also met his mate, singer Indi, and Will from cool night Blank Canvas. This week we also encounter Shlomo at said night. The creative networking fun continues!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Summer is Over (but the Autumn has just begun)

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: LOADS
Reading / Watching: Guiltily have taken hiatus on 'Corvus', lovely book on crows, to cram first CJ Sansom Shardlake series book / Sobbing to Gareth's work on 'The Choir'
Hair Day: Bit rubbish

Had another lovely cultural bank holiday weekend, as we always manage to do. We kicked off by going to Free Fridays at Cargo for unoriginal electro-indie shenanigans, where somehow Andy and I were the coolest people in there (well, I was sporting American Apparel socks with a little black number), but it was so loud my jaw almost unhinged itself and clattered around on the floor. Wandering around Shoho with our ears ringing, we stumbled upon a marvellous little bar at the bottom of Hoxton Street called Troy, where we enjoyed hilariously uncool jazz fusion, totally mud-stuck in the '70s, with all the players tossing out ludicrously virtuosic solos whilst chatting nonchalantly to their bandmates. Excellent.

On Saturday we decided to go back to my Sarf London roots, but venturing further than I'd ever been, to Morden Hall Park at the deepest, dustiest end of the Northern Line. We stuffed our bellies with Sainsbury's finest cheeses in the meadowy grounds, then wend our way along the River Wandle, managing to totally miss the feted marshlands and bird reserves and instead ending up as unlikely tourists in the districts of Mitcham Junction and Hackbridge. Still, the river was quite charming, lurching from grassy and sedate to litter-filled - with upended trolleys looking like fat dead geese - and should surely help generate a new verb ('to wandle': to amble along a river, whilst getting a bit lost and waxing lyrical on a variety of subjects from math-rock to Henry VIII). Once we'd arrived in the heroin chic of Hackbridge, we made haste up to my first London hood of Tooting, where I checked out my old house (they seem glassy-eyed and impassive when you don't know who lives in them). We were there as seasoned curry heads, seeking out the Sri Lankan/Keralan delights that the Tooting fave Radha Krishna Bhavan had to offer, before catching up with a few Southies at Brixton's always lovely Mango Landin'.

A bitter-eyed, windy Sunday saw us explore the back streets on a walk from Bethnal Green to Tate Modern. We got down onto the grimy northside beach west of the Tower of London to mudlark and make some impromptu art out of whatever we found. There were loads of old bits of white pipe and chunks of pottery, let's say Roman (hhm... probably. Or from the nearest BHS Homestores), but the highlight was picking up a big brown bone the size of a forearm. It may be my first human bone-holding experience. Gulp. Still, I happily added it to my sculpture and we went on our merry way to the Futurism exhibition, which was more stimulating for its manifestos than most of its paintings; any art movement that caused regular fisticuffs in the street has to be applauded, but only momentarily; I would throw a few punches of my own to Marinetti and co for their wanton disrespect of women, the ignorant misogynistic fuckers.

The sun finally came out on Bank Hol Monday, when we bypassed the Carnival to catch the last day of David Byrne's 'Playing the Building' at the Roundhouse. Quite literally a great wheeze, this installation hooked up an old pipe organ to lots of bits of the building, and then allowed the public to play it. Unfortunately it was full of people who weren't really there to listen to the surround-sound of clattering pillars and heavy-breathing pipes but to just queue for their go and chat, so some of the point for me was lost. We then celebrated the sun's coming out by dipping into Hampstead Mixed Bathing Ponds for the first time, an altogether bracingly gorgeous experience, most unlike the clinical rat-race of York Hall; feeling the cool, green-mud-thickened pondwater on my skin, and not knowing the depths of the pool was fabulous. Though I did momentarily freak out when my foot caught a buoy rope, thinking it was some killer pike seeking its next middle-class victim. Ha. We then lingered on the Heath as the sun drew down, the trees' long shadows like spent balloons, in a last silken sigh of summer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

S'n'M Summer School (w-psshh!)

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Hair Day: Bit manic

Phew. Am recovering from bonkers week at the S'n'M - I'm sorry, Sound and Music - Summer School (how did they not think this through? Though I rather like the thought of taking a tutor group through their paces on the Japanese rope bondage course, arf), where I was the Key Tutor on one of five courses. Mine naturally being Composing For Voices as it's the only thing I can actually do these days (I broke out in a sweat when I heard that one of my students played tenor horn). We were ensconced in the Purcell School, where I revisited my Alcuin College/York days by sleeping in a small cell complete with blue-tac stained walls in the 6th Form block. What was most amusing was the (of course always necessary) levels of discipline aimed at the 75 teenagers on the course, and their then impeccable behaviour rather outdoing the debauched partying of the staff every night, leaving the common room and outskirts of the block littered with ciggie butts and beer cans, whilst the hardcore amongst us continued into the hours of the morning with the odd outdoor rave in the football field or had clumsy snogs with fellow staff members. Classy!

The great thing about these summer schools is of course meeting brilliant musicians with whom to teach, play and drink and plan future world takeovers with. I was lucky enough to have a totally disarming and happy-go-lucky bunch of teammates (on oboe, voice, piano and trumpet) who I basically fell in love with over the week, and who made me end up being paid for a week of laughing my head off and talking nonsense. Slightly mad with tiredness most of the time though 12-hour days and very little sleep, we called ourselves the A-Team and gave ourselves silly Captain codenames which we then insisted on being called by our kids, who probably thought we were totally crackers.

The actual teaching was exhausting but always brilliant fun, helped by a super-sweet and adorable bunch of students (the best ones actually absorbing the things we threw at them rather than writing pithy pop songs or moany choral epics which were a study in Bm7). My favourite pieces, written, recorded and performed in 4 days, were: a fantastically quirky 5-part layered riff vocal piece, a perky jazz vocal number about the wonders of the universe; a ludicrously dramatic music-theatre piece in which Sarah, Stef and I unleashed our inner demon goddesses, shouting about Medusa whilst James thrashed the insides of a grand piano; a Britten-esque chamber song with such juicy and well-considered harmonies that I blubbed throughout its rehearsal; and the best power pop piano-led ballad with added cor anglais. YES!

Was brought down to earth rather with a stupid throwaway You Are Wolf gig in a pub in Kentish Town last night. It was a poorly-organised night with four slots too late in the evening for a Sunday, and three of them being crap blues acts. With me opening. Have been lucky enough so far to perform to audiences who actually listened, so was a little demoralising to sing to a bunch of braying fools who were only there to drink frothy lager and shout at each other about the cricket. Sob. Ah well, I have learnt my lesson and shall have a clause in my contract next time insisting I only play if the audience is polite enough to listen. Or are gagged with pistols held to their heads whilst I whisper my delicate looped folk epics at them. Grrrr.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tall Tales in Yorkshire Dales

Amount of creative activity achieved today: 5 hours -check it!
Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Reading / Watching: Just finished the very marvellous 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' / 'Classic Goldie', with old Yorkie chum Anna Meredith rockin' it BBC-style
Hair Day: passable

Had a totally enriching and brilliant few days away with my mum Sue in Yorkshire - Andy and I having decided we should follow our separate passions for a small hol. So whilst he went cycling and hostelling intrepidly round the bottom end of Wales, I went a-walking, a-walking I did go on the west side of the Dales. We based ourselves in Ingleton at the foot of the famous Three Peaks walk and strode womanfully some distance every day, enough for my cellulite to just consider a little loosening of its grip on my thighs, and for my knees and ankles to throb dully like a crap club night. Highlights were:

1) The Ribblehead viaduct, 24 lofty stone arches echoing the curves of the hills. Clouds moving over the hills and getting stuck on cows' backs.

2) Going 'off-road' at the base of Whernside and discovering two little caves all for ourselves. Kept inching down into the watery depths and then freaking out, imagining that the monsters from ace caving horror flick 'The Descent' were emerging, and racing back up again. As they are only marked as 'Cave' , we renamed them, happily defacing the ordanance survey map. Clambering up onto a large scar (rocky outcrop to the untrained East Londoner), I disturbed a sparrowhawk and cheerfully watched it, wondering all the while why it was hovering so meaningfully low over me, before I again freaked out about an impending sparrowhawk attack and ran away.

3) Conquering the third (or 'the smallest' in party-pooping terms) peak, Pen-Y-Ghent, in three and a half hours. Celebrating at the windy summit, some sheep advanced and I swiftly, again, ran away.

4) On the way back down encountering the totally excellent Hull Pot, a massive canyony-gorgey-cave-fissure thing in the earth which looke like the entrace to a lost world or something. Studying my new friend, the ordanance survey map, I became so engrossed I left my camera here and didn't realise it was lost to we got to the car. Was depressed all night, dreamt I was falling down caves and being eaten by sparrowhawks, got up the next morning and walked halfway up Pen-Y-Ghent again to rescue it. The jubilation at finding it still sitting in the grass by a 30-ft stony drop was worth the nightmares.

5) Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, a rather trashy nature walk you had to pay to go into, was populated by hideous high street-types. So it seemed Pennick waterfall churned into cherry coke and lager shandy pools; Thornton Force looked like a white wedding complete with plumed ponies; Snow Falls was paint splattering in a whitewash of DIY TV shows on 'Living'; and the spray and sunshine in the air turned clubby colours of small-town Ladies' Nights.

6) The totally marvellous Inglebrough Cave, we going deep into the rocky wet earth to look at all manner of astonishing stalactites/stalagmites and ludicrously grandiose formations called things like 'The Lost City' and 'The Sword of Damacles'. Of course, once Mum and I had a look, we were renaming them 'The Land of The Joyous Penises' and 'Labia Surprise'... Arf. I came over all 'Descent' again and almost attacked Mum when the laconic guide thought it would be a laugh to show us what it would be like down there without any lights on. Hhm. Not sure I'd have made my dad's side of the family, miners all, proud...

Total notable wildlife seen: 1 sparrowhawk, 1 rabbit, many pied wagtails, red admirals, green-veined white butterflies, stonechats
Total miles walked: 25
Photo accompaniment to this blog here:

Monday, August 03, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching / Reading: 'How to be a Composer' on BBC4 - can't hurt ha ha ha / 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' which is marvellous.
Hair Day: wispy

Am far too busy to have a whole weekend free to do a festival this year, so made do with (sigh!) having to walk 10 minutes up the road to Vicky Park (oh, the fatigue and bother!) for Field Day last Saturday. In its third year, the festi has come under fire in the past for its lack of loos and bars and suchlike, but that all seemed to be under control this year. Sadly what they hadn't managed to do was have a word with 'im upstairs about the weather, so we had half a day of murksome clouds before the rains kicked in mightily. Perhaps because of my proximity to a bath and kettle, it made it easier to squelch off home, shivering and miserable, before the headliners, rather than being a tempter for me to stay. I am a super-wimpoid. And thus missed Mogwai's 'nice quiet soothing guitars NOWVERYLOUDINYOUREARS' set, plus Toumani Diabate's no doubt session of jewel-like kora joy.

I did at least manage to see SOME acts, starting with charming chamber-folkie-popsters Fanfarlo, who were very Beirut-meets-Sufjan-Stevens. Andy prefered the glacial electro artpop of the Sian Alice Group. I caught quirky friend-of-friend-of-friend Micachu and the Shapes in the Adventures in the Beetroot Field tent. They were really fun, all angular scratchy avant-pop, if rather too subtle for the very loud chatty crowd who were far more interested in using the tent as an umbrella rather than a forum for itchy math-skiffle. Then made sure I saw the rather ferociously feisty Juana Molina, who seemed permanently on the edge of fiery Argentinian fury and spent most of the set trying to kill the sound guys with her eyes, as nothing seemed to quite work for her. Still, I enjoyed her looped folk-tropicalia and it works much better live than on her rather droney second album. Then a touch of the Horrors, all doom-laden whine-rock, before the deluge really hit and I scuttled off home, full of bratwurst and pear cider to my bath and some macaroni cheese.

Yesterday I had a small gig of my own, a solo spot at Craig's Moose Factory afternoon at the rather brill George Tavern in Stepney, a scruffy artpub owned by an artist whose car encased in tiny mirrors, which once was installed outside Tate Modern when it first opened, now sits, half-smashed at the back of the garden, glittering jaggedly next to a raggedy cat who stretches out on a hospital chair in the sun. I was on first, and was fine, though have to remember to open my eyes occasionally, no matter how much I'm trying to show off my lurid turquoise eyeshadow. Had some nice comments from hardened locals afterwards, including a charming gothy artist chap who told me he wanted to paint while listening to me and made a few animal noises for good measure, and a sporty East End fellow who racked his brains for who he thoughts I sounded like and came up with... Enya. Hmm. After me were two very good bands, both giving me the ultimate 'coin their sound in three words' challenge: the first, Snorkel, I'll call freaky cerebra-funk; the headliners, Rude Mechanicals, colourful nightmare-vaudeville. And that's all you need to know....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

La Bore De Loin

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.8
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 2
Watching: 'Psychoville' on BBC2
Hair Day: Needs drastic cut-and-paste action before photoshoot tomorrow

Celebrated our second whole wedding anniversary by going to the Coliseum to see the ENO do Kaija Saariaho's 'L'Amour de Loin'. It's very rare I go to the opera, mostly because I don't like people singing all the time when they could be speaking... BUT I have liked Saariaho's delicate, exquisitely orchestrated works in the past and was bang up for it. The opening was a fabulously sensual feast of theatrical headiness, with a huge silky canvas sliding over the audience's heads onto the stage, oversized staging and opulent costumes. Oh yes, and aerial acrobatics from six great performers who writhed and twisted on hanging sheets to represent the three main character's spirits. But from then on, it was mostly downhill: the opera soon transpired to comprise the most dull story ever (high concept is too interesting to describe it): prince falls in love with noble lady he's never seen (that's the first half), he eventually travels to her, but falls ill and dies as they declare their love. Oh, and she, having been nothing more than a vacuous object, decides she's lost the love of her life, curses God for two minutes, and then - of course! -becomes a nun. Over two and a half hours, and with the principles singing the most achingly banal language possible - "'My heart aches for her', 'Oh that is a shame','It is like a burning flame', 'Oh dear, a burning flame'" - it was one big frustrating yawn. I kept hoping there'd be a few explosions or swordfights or something, but no, just interminable recit-like passages going on and on with very little motivic writing or aria-like stuff or anything. The lovely staging was nothing more than desperate padding for such a black hole of an opera; the poor singers often had to stand for twenty minutes looking ponderous. We saw plenty of friends and faces: Mikhail and Uriel, the juicettes, E.Laine, old Yorkie pal James Williams, the newsreader Julia Somerville and Kaija herself, floating gracefully around in red, oblivious to the audience's dark mutterings.

Still, on the plus side, it was actually great going to the opera and it makes me want to see more! Picking and choosing carefully of course. It also makes me realise my own music-theatre bent is freaking genius and should be pursued immediately. It's not about writing operas that just anyone can bellow out with the audience struggling to hear the words thorough the fog of their vibrato, but using idiosyncratic voices and mixing up styles. Mikhail will be doing it soon with his new opera commission and one day he and then I WILL rule the opera world and juice will star!!! Ha.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A month of Sundays

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Reading: 'The Whole Woman' by Germaine Greer. Am getting quite aggressive in the process.
Hair day: ungratifyingly conventional-looking

Have had gigs for three Sundays in a row, to keep me busy. first up was Metamorphic's road trip to SevenArts in Leeds, where we did two mammoth sets and tried out a few new tunes, including Laura's lovely arrangement of 'Hyperballad' which allows me to do my most uber-wispy voice and do some sea-breath loops. Last week the intrepid DOLLYman were at the Spice of Life, bang in the centre of town, for a fantastically-enjoyable set - not least because we unveiled our new secret weapon: a real live DRUMMER in the form of James' lovely Ozzie mate Pat. He'd only come in for two brief rehearsals so it's early days but, WOW. It actually makes us sound like a real band. Ha ha. Well, he did give us a real boost, and we went down a storm, with me just proud I could stand up straight in my new black and green zigzag heels bought on a whim on the way there without my knees buckling. Most fun was Lucy's newish one 'Juliet Archer Nearly Killed Me', about her near-death nut allergy experience where the Dollies basically saved her from a fate worse than death: Homerton Hospital. The number involves a spot of heavy rock and squealy improv which I added to by screaming apopletically and making lots of avant-garde vomiting noises. YES. I signed an autograph at the end, which is a first, but not sure it really counts when given to an extremely drunk and confused German chap...

Last night it was Metamorphic again, with bandleader Laura's husband Craig's Moose Factory night going all out with a mammoth 12-hour all-dayer of experimental and improvised music. I missed alt-female music chums E.LAINE and Roshi, but caught a spot of very funky and adventurous Porpoise Corpus before we were on. After us came terrifying Norwegian noisenik Stian Westerhus, who had a rack of effects so huge and complicated he probably could have manouevered a spaceshuttle with it, and who attacked his electric guitar with such angry ear-ripping venom he sent me scuttling out of the room for cover. We caught a bit of Hot Head Show, a sort of experimental funk trio with no tops on and came back for wonderful punk-jazz lot Fulborn Teversham, headed by Alice Grant, who is one-and-a-half notches more cheekboned and cool than me, featuring scary Pete Wareham who made his alto sax sound like a fluttering trumpet, and of course backed by Seb Rochford, the only man to harbour a whole other ecosystem in the form of his hairdo. I am ridiculously starstruck by Seb, which is daft as I've been in contact with him about doing a DOLLY/Teversham gig and he is as nice as pie. He's just such a big scenester. So I just about managed to go up and say hello and not fall over myself or look like a complete fool in the process. Last up was the quite incredible Bilbao Syndrome, who with their quite brilliant white jeans/white polo-neck/mirrored RayBans-look appear to be a crew of futuristic anarchic surgeons, who probably tear through the universe cruising for alien organs to harvest. Instead of that the main band stand impassively at the back playing very difficult metal while singer Andrew Plummer, with the rubbery physicality of Jim Carrey on acid, made noises like Tom Waits playing John Hurt in the memorable scene from 'Alien'. It was very cool. And gave me nightmares.

This week, and last, and the next and in fact any spare moment I get this summer I will be working on the 45-min soundtrack for 'Beginning With Blobs', Kazzum's production for 4-8 year-olds touring in the autumn. It is a huge job, both exciting and slightly gulp-making. Updates to come...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Vocal Anarchy From The UK!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Reading: Sunday papers, including excerable Observer Woman Mag, which is about as pro-independent-power-woman as The Daily Star
Hair Day: sooo getting it cut tomorrow

I recovered just in time from hellish projectile-vomity Norovirus that left my bathroom looking a little like a puce-coloured Pollock in order to make it over to the Tampere International Vocal Festival for juice's triumphant return following our 2nd prize two years ago. This time we were there to do a gig at the self-explanatory Klubi, which wasn't too bad, if not quite as barnstorming as we'd hoped, us being on at about the time everyone wants to go to bed. But it was well worth the trip, firstly to learn from the best vocal ensembles in the competition, jaw-dropping German winners Klangbezirk (means 'district of sound' apparently). The four-piece jazz/popsters were so technically accomplished, charming and brilliant, mostly for, incredibly, being able to improvise pop tunes in four-part harmony on audience's suggestions. Argh! Puts us to shame. Secondly, we networked as much as possible: we're trying to set the wheels in motion for bringing last year's winners, the very daft but totally excellent German group Vocaldente, a sort of comic ageing boy band who wear matching cheap suits and Adidas trainers, over to the UK. We have more ambitious plans to host our own vocalfest in London in order to show off all the incredible European acts that have absolutely no exposure over here because they are too poppy and not from Oxbridge. We breakfasted with choral wundergod and hopefully all-round guru for me at some point, Bob Chilcott. Mostly we had fun earning a reputation as being the slightly 'anarchic' (Bob's words), 'self-ironic' (Jenny from the jury), certainly most experimental and leftfield, probably best-dressed and undoubtedly dirtiest (we had fun explaining to all Europeans why wide-eyed German group 'Spunk''s name was so amusing) set of girls on the scene.

Went to Tate Britain today to see the Richard Long retrospective. Long is an artist I much admire and feel slightly affiliated to, what with his affinity with and use of the outdoors, plus his text work. It was a top exhibition, the crisply matter-of-fact font for his text pieces making his walks come alive. You've got to hand it to a man who can walk for a living. Though he may, with his mammoth expeditions of walking in straight lines for hundreds of miles in three hours or something, put Mum and I to shame when we have our slightly less ambitious walking hol in the Dales this summer. Not sure Mum would appreciate me making her walk in increasingly large circles whilst occasionally making her carry a stone either. So an engaging afternoon, and I was suitably inspired enough to buy a couple of postcards to display back home, which I promptly left at the Sainsbury's self-service checkout. Can't quite be bothered to walk back to look for them. Richard would be most unimpressed.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Watching: About to watch 'Changeling' on DVD
Hair Day: Superlong

Spent a day and a half in ridiculously bucolic South Devon over the weekend, for JimmyDOLLYman's wedding to the fabulous Cress. The main party was in a buttercup-sprayed field where we also camped, and others made use of the cute cream-coloured tipis laid out for them, like an arty middle-class native tribe. The village had a stonking pub, gorgeous 15th-centruy church, and not far away was a brilliant all-purpose deli, cafe, newsagent and DVD store, where many guests breakfasted, stealing all their Saturday Guardians and using up all their posh coffee. The weather was mostly blusteringly sunny, birds flittered merrily about and Cath Kidston-inspiring wildflowers peppered every laneside. The wedding was wondrous, rising comedian Josie Long was a guest, I dried my eyes several times on the hem of my dress and kept off the drink so I could sing a few numbers at the end of the night in a sort of ideal karaoke situation ('Groove Is In the Heart', 'It's Oh So Quiet'), and it was all rather gutting to have to come back to London quite early the next day in order to do a spot at Troy's Magic Piano at the Harrison Bar. Even more annoying as the weather in London had been so glorious that no-one wanted to come to a night of leftfield music and short films and Andy and I played to ooo, about 6 people.

Still, we made up for being stuck in London today by going on a bike ride which started by aiming for, ooo Clapton, and ended up being all the way to Enfield and back which is a good 23 miles of riding on my plucky shopper. Take note: this is an incredible feat for me, I who resist almost all forms of exercise quite stoically, for the main reason that I don't like being a) tired and b) sweaty. We went the whole way on the canal from Bethnal Green and then the Lea Navigation, which turns into the Lea River, taking in all the wonders secret London has to offer: the big teeth-motif graffiti of artist Sweet Tooth, the Olympic site, a brilliant perspective of Hackney Marshes' multiple goalposts, diminishing into the distance with perfect slim-white symmetry. Then there's the grimmer industrial areas, the weird outposts populated by many white working class folk and their terrifying dogs, the huge waste disposal factory soundtracked by deranged gulls' wall of screeching sound. We got bike stickers from a lady promoting bat walks; we took photos of the caramel-coloured ponies loitering under a huge electricity pylon; we saw common terns dip their ink-dipped heads down towards the water in search of fish; we cooled our feet in the cleaner, more northern bit of the river alongside barges entitled things like 'Best of Britain: Alan and Joan Fear' and a jet-black one called 'Valhalla'; we passed all manner of walkers and cyclists from a large family of Hasidic Jews wobbling precariously along (the littlest girl careered downhill straight into a dense bush of pink flowers) to a chap miraculously juggling both drinking a can of beer, smoking a ciggie and texting on his phone. The physical results of today are that my freckles have splattered all over my face, my hands are burnt on one side by sun and on the other by handlebar-gripping, and I am walking like John Wayne. And only partly out of confidence at my newfound athleticism.

Here's a pic.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nearly howling at the moon

Level of conviction in own genius: 7.8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 4
Listening: Bobby McFerrin's 'Circle Songs' and the new Alasdair Roberts album
Hair Day: Needs cutting bad

We found a fab new local-ish pub on Thurs night, the newly-spruced The Britannia at the north end of Victoria Park, and ate poached egg and asparagus salad with thick handcut chips whilst taking in a night run by wonderful indiefolkers The Local. The first two acts were nothing to write homespun about; Nancy Wallace, along with JennyMay from the Elysian Quartet on violin and ukelele', then did a set of traditional-sounding originals which were somehow nothing compared to the last actual folk song, 'The Drowned Lover'. It's the same reason I love singing them almost best of all: they speak so honestly, tunes so stark that the words are laid bare as old bones. I was there to see the headliner, the fabulous Olivia Chaney, all tumbling tresses and shabby Shoreditch chic, who possesses a fantastically supple, hearty voice. Playing either guitar or clutching away on a hand-pumped harmonium, she sings folk ballads, Purcell pub songs and lullabies by Monteverdi, all in this classically/jazz-trained, darkly graceful voice. A total inspiration. All of which gets me jiggly with excitement about my ever-impending EP, under new name You Are Wolf. I am planning a launch of sorts, but have to wait until the final track is recorded, the photos taken, the artwork done, first. But THEN alt-folk-world-domination will follow!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mood Music

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 2
Reading/Watching: 'The Interpretation of Murder' by Jed Rubenfeld, bit silly/The end of series two of 'Mad Men', the best slow-burner ever
Hair Day: confused

Have been so creatively busy it's just silly. In the last few weeks I have :
a) exploded onto the formal chamber music scene by debuting juice at Wigmore Hall and getting THE best Times quote ever for our troubles ('makes Stockhausen and Berio sound prehistoric'; Richard Morrison we LOVE you)
b) sampled the cultural/drinking delights of Berlin on hol, including excellent sound installation, much walking of entire city, dinner parties with artist acquaintances in cool studio apartments with drills and bits of wire and drawings everywhere, excitement at going to smoking bars and reeking exotically of tobacco smoke the next morning
c) sung at the Macbeth in Hoxton for nonclassical and possibly nailed small record deal for juice
d) been recording/mixing my solo EP with soon-to-be-revealed new moniker
e) whipped up live vocals and slightly silent-movie-piano-esque music in 4 days for Kazzum Theatre Company's R'n'D week on a Darwin-inspired work for kids using clay
f) coached kids, students and adults on the usual vocal stuff in Derry
g) Met composing honchos Jonathan Harvey and Cecelia McDowall at London premiere of my 'dusksongs' and vocal/educational honchos Gabriel Jackson (sporting right cool cowboy moustache and arch wit) and Mike Brewer (seasoned beyond all seasons) at the meeting for a new educational vocal project for teenagers

The heaviest time was the two-week period where I was required to sing for several hours a day whilst grappling with some kind of (non-swine-fluey, though it burst out at just the same time) ghastly throat vileness, which didn't go away even when I had to do three gigs in three nights with three different bands. The culmination of this was DOLLYman's rather hilarious outing at the City Showcase's unsigned London bands showcase and competition, the nearest I'll ever come to being on X Factor. Amidst 7 other mostly half-decent acts very much of the pop persuasion, we came on and did our part-instrumental, part-sung punkjazz thing and awaited the panel of four judges' verdicts. Having already sampled their ludicrously banal quotes for previous acts, we couldn't wait to see what they might be able to say to us. We'd already been introduced, marvellously, as 'they're all MUSICIANS, they're all composers' (somewhat suggesting to the previous 4 singers that they were nothing of the sort), so we knew what was coming. We had some wonderful compliments first off, and I was very pleased to be told I had a 'gorgeous, beautiful' etc, voice (I'd really gone for it, wrapping myself around the mike stand and being as glowery as possible), and looked as sincere as I could to the comment that I'd 'really given a part of myself to the audience tonight'. Then we looked bashful as we were told how it was amazing that we created MOODS, not just through a voice but through our INSTRUMENTS and how AMAZING that was. The northern soul singer girl told us she didn't like the instrumental number as she was a singer, and so, y'know, she only really liked ones with, like, singing, in them? Panjabi Hit Squad Man dissed James' usual 'cello histronics and best of all, the journalist woman was mean about our tights! We didn't win, felt kind of cheap and used, but overall it was a good experience and we were really well received. Quite amusing sharing a stage with a) a group of 13 year-old boys with the same haircut playing basic rock, their Dad loping about after them with guitar cases and b) one of my old students from the BRIT School, Sarah Williams White. Also challenging to keep a straight face when told by a judge that he understands us as he, like, knew some jazzers once, when all four of us have MAs in Composition or Performance and two of us are Doctors. Imbeciles. RedmanRed, edgy shouty Brighton-based indie, were deserved winners though, and I reckon we could've come 2nd or 3rd had there been more prizes. We did get a couple of contacts out of it, which is the main thing.

Finally, Wycombe Wanderers are making a triumphant return to the grand and lofty third flight. OK, in truth it was as haplessly ungraceful as it could possibly have been, with WWFC - needing a draw to breeze through - conceding a goal late on and Bury probably only not going past us on goal difference because their supporters miscalculated the points and staged a pitch invasion when they scored a penalty, which was actually still one goal away from an promotional victory for them. Ha. Fools. But who cares, we're through, go the mighty Wyc!!! Am SO looking forward to the London games, particularly at Leyton which is only THREE tube stops away from me!!!!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

31 Year Old Woman's Hour Has Come!

Level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3.5
Watching: The final episodes of 'The Wire' season 4.
Hair Day: Nicely bedheaded

So I am now 31, and marked the occasion on Sunday fairly quietly with a stroll and huge morning nosh-up at the marvellous Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park, sitting in chilly sunshine whilst watching the lake, followed by a rehearsal, then some tea and cake at Franze and Evans on Redchurch Street with some pals and an evening in with 'Persepolis', sausages and the footy. A very downbeat affair for moi, lover of large parties, but will make up for it with Andy and my joint knees-up at the weekend.

But it's been a pretty damn good start to being 31. On Monday, juice got up very early to get to Broadcasting House as our agent Jill had got us on 'Woman's Hour'. WOMAN'S HOUR! The most popular programme on Radio 4 after the news! I was only slightly disappointed that Jenni Murray, everyone's ideal Mum, wasn't presenting, but rather Sheila McLennon, but they're all mums of a mumsness. I mean much of a muchness. All half-moon glasses and big scarfs, and the air that they could whip up a big cake in seconds while enjoying a large glass of hearty red and discussing the latest play at the Royal Court. We met a rather formidable, super-pro Maureen Lipman in our waiting room, she being on the show before us: the first thing she said to me was 'you wouldn't get run over in the dark with those', referring to my super-neon-green new American Apparel legwarmers form my bro. She can obviously do this sort of thing - chatting with seasoned wittiness about her work, doing the subtle plug - standing on her head. We did two live numbers and a wee spot of an interview, in which we were mostly sold as crazy girls who take any sound they hear off the street and turn it into vocal. Not entirely true but we had fun demonstrating our half-arsed versions of Mongolian and Inuit throat-singing. Hee. It was fine, and I tried to not think about the 1-2 million people listening to us as I rambled away - talk about the biggest exposure EVER!

In the evening we made our Wigmore Hall debut, via the Park Lane Group series, sharing it with a sax/piano duo. Under some duress, I'd bought a long dress to match the other two's outfits, but really liked it in the end - I sported a sort of Jane-Austen-dosses-in-Bethnal-Green look with a grey empire line dress plus spiky short hair and tattoo. Tee hee. The first half was slightly shaky, although started really well with my 'luna-cy'; the rest was harder music on stands, which cut us off from the audience a bit and was way too long. We gave the first airing to our commission from Gabriel Prokofiev: 4 a cappella movements using different languages to explore elements of modern life. They will be good but we need a while to warm into them I think. The second half was much more US, ridding ourselves of scores so able to stand at shoulder-rubbing distance and belt out 5 more classical/folk/jazz/percussive numbers. There were lots of smiles in the very substantial audience; we're crossing our fingers for good reviews as there were certainly a couple of scribblers there, including our fan from The Times, Richard Morrison, who gave us a glowing report in '5 to Watch' last Friday. Hurrah! We celebrated backstage whilst Hannah the sax player finished off the concert (including a cheeky encore, hhm) by stuffing our faces full of cheescake and glugging warm sparkling wine, then held court with our coolest pals and family at the nearest pub afterwards. Marvellous.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Betsey's Salon and other weekendartadventures

Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1 Watched: The fantastically intruiging, disturbing Werner Herzog docu 'Grizzly Man' on More4.
Hair day: rockin' a nice short new look yeah!

I did a little solo turn at highartpals Mikhail and Uriel's informal performance/debate night, Betsey's Salon, which has gradually moved from living rooms and small pubs to, this time, the Royal College of Arts, or should I say, the Office of Real Time's (hosting a temporary exhibition within the RCA) 'space within a space within the space of an institution'. Or something. Mikhail is the kind of guy so counter-cultured that the time an underground event turns into something successful is the time to terminate it, so this might have been the last one! Last night focused on the voice and words, hence it being a good forum for me. The poet Cherry Smyth, also involved in running the salon, read an ongoing poem about the womb (not as hyper-feminist as it sounds, actually wryly incisive, especially read in her dryly contemplative Irish tones), followed by my acquaintance, avant-soul improv diva E.Laine and her pianist hubby, the frowny Leon Michener trying out some new stuff. Then the sweetly bonkers Richard Parker read some stuff, and Mikhail transformed into Dizzy Gillespie for the beginning of his ridiculously puffed-cheek number, 'Promise'. I ended the performances with two numbers, the now more-developed storytelling version of 'shamansong' and 'catalunyanpoemsong', with my loop station not conking out like last time, mercifully.
Then followed a rather too formal discussion, with the artists seated starchly in a circle, and me feeling both disinterested and not clever enough to debate the separation of voice and text and meaning... I just do it, y'know? PhD an' all, what an unacademic girl I am. But I feel I'm growing in confidence every time I perform, and can't wait to do more.
Had a lovely hiphoppin' time at Jamm in Brixton on Saturday - we were there to support our favourite white-jazz-hip-hop friends, Lazy Habits, and grooved a bit amongst a friendly crowd to them and beatbox buddy WanDan who did a short set with the camply scary Nathan 'Flutebox' Lee doing his beats/flute thang. Followed this up on Sunday by renewing our Tate membership and seeing the cracking Rodchenko/Popova exhibition, which made my brain work so hard at contenplating the nature of art (Constructivist, functional vs something purely aesthetic and on a higher plane) I actually crumpled into tears. That doesn't normally happen... The early paintings of both artists (later rejected by them as 'useless') were beautiful explorations of shaded lines and forms that seem to boldly pre-date Abstract Expressionism; these segued into the more well-known propaganda posters and advertising collages, though also included the more interesting theatre set designs and fabric designs. Imagine wearing dresses emblazoned with New Labour roses - hhm, a different, headily (and misguidedly) politicised time...
Finally DOLLYman returned to the Ritzy Cafe for another Sunday night set. Rather unhelpfully, the heating was kaput in the entire building and so we played (badly) with our coats on, fingers as dextrous as sausages, cello and clarinet seizing up occasionally. Not our best gig by a long way, though we did get to air the new DOLLYclassic, Lucy's deranged piece about her horrible experience being ignored in Homerton hospital even though she had anaphylactic shock and how we, the other three Dollies, basically saved her life. YES!

Monday, March 23, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 8 (but probably should be higher)
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 0, but just you wait!
Reading: 'Winter in Madrid' by C.J.Sansom - marvellous, intelligent wartime-spy-thriller/ Watching: 'Red Riding' - unbelievably dark, brilliant series featuring our most local actor, Sean Harris as a devilish bent copper.
Hair Day: quite good, actually

The project that has mostly consumed my working life for a few months has now been and gone: Connecting Across Difference, in which I worked with three totally diverse classes in three schools in Tower Hamlets over many workshops, writing/devising them a piece on the way for a final multi-media, theatrical performance at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The project posed a completely insane amount of challenges for me, demanding a feat of juggling fit not even for the best fire-eating sword-tossing etc Covent Garden busker: I had to meet the needs of not only 50 kids with a wide array of abilities and access requirements, but teachers and three associate musicians/trainee workshop leaders, compromise with a wonderful but oft-differing-of-opinion 2nd composer, squeeze in a visual artist's physical/musical installation way too late in the day, and make it all work in a public museum with a daft acoustic and bleaching amount of light. And the kids didn't even meet until one session before the day! Bonkers.

I think I did pretty darned well considering, waking up only once or twice with cold sweats and heart-clutches, and thus 'The Spell', a 40-minute piece was performed last Friday, all very close to the bone but just about there, with the kids and staff rising to the occasion beautifully. It had a questing, magical narrative written by me and inspired by the imagery the kids came up with; tried to draw on kids' strengths in a very personalised way; and used a marvellous cornucopia of technological delights, created by wide-eyed mus-tech wunderkind Nick. I felt pretty proud of the result and rather gutted that the artistic director didn't ask me to take a bow! But man, am I glad it's all over. Now it's all onto fun things: working on my solo EP, writing a few little pieces, preparing for lots of juice work namely Wigmore Hall, and exercising/eating only seeds in order to fit into the long dress I've bought for it...

Had a nice Ma's day weekend which highlighted the wide gulf between my hood and our opposite end: the evil and horrible West. Ha. On Saturday night we went to our fab local curry house, Al-Amin on Cambridge Heath Road, for sharp hot fish curry and rubbed shoulders with the shouty East End locals. On Sunday we couldn't fail but to rub shoulders with the locals as we squeezed past grotesquely broad poshos heaving great long shiny rowboats into the glittering Thames for several races at the start of a knee-throbbing walk from Putney Bridge. The rowing fraternity (Andy slightly offended by my ogling of 50-year old men in gumboots and revealingly high tight shorts with, as Mum said, 'remarkably impressive physiques') are an irritating lot, all scrubbed, smug faces and what-ho's, and it was good to at least get onto the more rural tow-path. Star-spotting a rather hefty-looking Matthew Macfayden jogging past on the way (he slipping in our estimation as he must live in the hideous environs), we crossed to Hammersmith and through a sea of white rugby-loving middle-classes drinking lager next to the river, past ludicrously posh houses and onto Barnes and more rowers. Ugh. Back home for the evening it was a different story: to the seedily theatrical Palm Tree pub in Mile End next to the canal, we sat on stools drinking St Clement's and thick ales whilst three extremely cool sixty/seventy-somethings, jammed into a tiny corner, crouched over their piano, bass and drums, seemingly not even thinking about the fantastically deft, dextrous trad. jazz and brilliant they were tossing out. They were occasionally fronted by a very square, boxily-jacketed smoothie who crooned some standards whilst nodding and winking to the locals, a mix of 70-year old men and women dressed up for the evening, European girls dancing in front of them, and hardened artsters. YES! The East rules.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Like the echo of a...

Level of conviction in own genius: 8ish
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Reading / Watching: 'Amsterdam' by Ian McEwan / 'Red Riding' on Channel 4
Hair day: Long bit at the back has got so silly I've starting plaiting it.

Went to the rather lovely Toynbee Studios at the beginning of the week to see something rather unusual: Paper Cinema with Roger (bruv of Brian) Eno. Two people manipulated cutely drawn cardboard marionettes to create a beguiling live piece about people's dreams in east London, with nothing more than hands, paper, a video camera and a couple of cleverly poised lamps. The film, populated by idiosyncratic animals and humans bobbing on buses, bicycles and cars, was not without a little of 'Belleville Rendez-Vous''s gothic quirkiness and had some remarkably deft jumps in perspective. Eno's piano/synth/accordion accompaniment was a little 'Amelie'-lite in places but matched the charming mood and helped in turning an arty adult audience into delighted children. A rather fanciful miniature delight for an ordinary Monday eve.

It was my turn to perform last night, doing three solo looped numbers for Music Orbit to open one of spnm's monthly Sound Source shows at King's Place. Pretty marvellous to be able to perform in Hall 2 to 200 people and with a crystal, confidence-inducing sound system which made me sound actually quite good. The night was called 'Crazy Wisdom' and was supposed to marry film, dance, music and words, so I did a storytelling introduction to 'shamansong' followed by some drowning Inuit gasps (very specialist technique, you know...), then 'trainsong' with Andy playing glowing guitar, then 'catalunyanpoemsong'. It generally went very well except for two hiccups: well, one technical hiccup where my loop stopped but I got it in again very quickly, and a rather larger phlegmy belch when, in my last tune, I went to add another loop to my atmospheric coda and for the first time ever, my loop station screen said 'Sorry, too busy!' and cut out rather dramatically. Oops. I did get it back in but that was a rather glaring mistake. Whatever next from my up til now reliable Boss RC-50? I press a pedal and it says 'Sorry, have gone out for a fag. Back soon!'? Most amusingly, in the interval a very polite and very posh lady came up to me and asked if one of my lyrics had been 'like an echo of a cunt'. I had to take a second to remember it is in fact 'like the echo of a gun'. She seemed rather relieved as my subsequent lyrics had been about the sky being knifed and bleeding all over the place and thus I wasn't a militant sex-is-rape feminist. My laughter echoed all the way up the five floors of King's Place's atrium... ha ha ha!

I have to say the rest of the show (we escaped after the lengthy first half proper) was not so great. Whilst promising a relaxed, walk-in, walk-out atmosphere, you could do anything but, the seating was terribly formal and restricted viewing for most people, the musical performances were waaaay tooooo lonnnngg, and there were silent films with no music at all which thus had the air sucked out of them. Must do better. And appoint me as freelance, drift-in-when-I-want-to-and-offer-nuggets-of-advice, producer.

Connecting these two events, besides Andy and myself, was the presence of a larger than life character we once saw on train: a rotund chap who only wears bright pink, orange and yellow from top to toe, right up to his oversized spectacles. Sort of like looking at Christopher Biggins having eaten too many lollipops whilst you're on acid. But who is this mysterious rainbowish artman? And at what high-art mixed-media event will we see him at next? The story continues...

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 0
Reading: Just finished Ian McEwan's pert, beautifully concise 'On Chesil Beach'
Hair day: the asymmetrical long bit at the back has got so long I've started to put it in a wee plait

Gosh have been so busy and haven't blogged a darned thing. Have done a number of gigs at nice churches to beamingly gratified oldies with juice, unassuming jazz bars in Stokey with DOLLYman and metamorphic, been heavily embroiled in my educational project with local schools and the Museum of Childhood, and eaten lots of curries. But, fighting the frequent urge to curl up in a ball in front of BBCiplayer every night, I've also been out to some great gigs of late:

1) Tanya Tagaq at Cafe Oto, Dalston
Oto is such a great venue you forgive it even when it programmes dismally introspective muted-trumpet improv on a Saturday night. Sarah and I, flying the flag of experimental vocal music high, went to see the sometime Bjork-collaborator and Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq. Our most high-art pal and general friend to the stars, Mikhail (on whose new album, Morphica, juice features) was there to introduce us to the Canadian vocalist, who had the most frighteningly disarming, bonkers manner, insisting she'd met us before before swerving onto telling us about her ex-boyfriend who was currently 'fucking his way through Europe' with electrodes attached to his body in the name of art. She then proceeded to perform a kind of highly-sexed snake dance along to increasingly tribal-trance leanings from her laptop and drum boys. In truth, the music got a little samey, but there was no denying her incredible array of vocal utterances: she seemed to pull seagulls and tigers screaming from her throat, and veered from breathy tunes to earthquake-starting rumbles. Afterwards, she explained to Sarah and I, after we'd come to congratulate her, that the reason she was so good was because she had a pussy. We retreated gently as she shouted at us how much she loved her pussy, grinning and nodding, wishing we weren't so inhibited and.... BRITISH.

2) Firefly at the Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
At a loss on a Friday night, Andy and I decided to go to the nearest place we could, the beguiling Gallery cafe, so near we can basically fall into it from our window. We caught the end of the open mic at one of their Organic Nights, before I realised that three of my workshop-leader acquaintances had brought their band along to headline. And darn it but they turned out to be one of my new favourite bands, a gorgeously goosebumpy mix of folk, jazz, improv and contemporary classical subtleties. They're another band, like the excellent Stravinsky-meets-folkfunksters 7 Hertz, who DOLLYman recently played with, who I feel a genuine affinity with. Hhm, I feel an askew, avant-everything collective coming on...

3) Beatabet Collective at the Shunt Lounge, London Bridge
The Brighton-based arts collective Beatabet, who count loop-vocal queen Bunty who I've programmed at Gobsmack in the past, and Nick, mus-tech wizard who I'm curently working with in schools, among their number, were curating a four-day artsfest. Unbelievably, I've never graced the underground chambers of the Shunt Lounge before, and dang that was worth the ticket price and the 30-minute queue alone! Cavernous brick arches, musty corridors, a shadowy theatre, boho bar areas, coupled with the video and sound art, installations, music and occasional trapeze artist, made us feel like we were slouching around in early 90s Berlin. We watched my 'cello-blues-avant-garde diva pal Laura Moody play a set above on of the bars, played some glockenspiel in a cupboard, avoided the gaze of weird actors and manipulated a sort of sensor-piano-gramaphone thing. It was easily the most happening event I could possibly have been at last night. London rocks, baby.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

of the snow

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Reading: Just finished Owen Sheers' 'Resistance'.
Hair Day: nae bad

So BBC London's ENTIRE 30-minute report yesterday was on the snow and the CHAOS it cause to the transport network and WHAT were the head honchos doing about it apart from failing to grit the drives up to the bus depots, whilst Boris, his hair the colour of snow just lightly pissed on, made light-hearted remarks about having nice snow but too much of it. Aforementioned stolid transport honchos repeatedly droned no about adverse 'weather events'. WEATHER EVENTS? It's SNOW!

Frankly Andy and I watched the flakes cascade down, as if we were being seasoned from above with vast amounts of Maldon sea salt, with absolute glee and wide-eyed pleasure on Sunday night, and marvelled at the twilighty, not-darkening sky as the streelights reflected the thickening snow below. We opened the curtains on Monday morning to see what we'd hoped for, our road caked, the big trees laden wantonly, and not a car going by. We marvelled that there would be a day where the roads were not thick with buses, when most of the tubes had shivered and got stuck. Of course, my meeting was only a mile down the road, which meant I positively ACHED to get out, clad in my never-worn-in-London walking boots and silver parka, crunching on the pavements. I crammed with my artist colleague Nick into E Pellici's for a red-cheeked late breakfast and then we walked to the Rich Mix. That so-satisfying chomp of boot on snow! The turfed-up snow that looked like flour, sugar and butter rubbed together: the beginnings of shortbread. My meeting consisted of experimenting with a Wii controller wrapped in a scarf and put into a hamster ball, and rolled around to pitch-shift the string sample it picked up through bluetooth; and singing into a tin can with a stretched bit of balloon on the end and a reflected laser, the laser twisting into circles on the wall as I sang. Such is the good end of my huge educational piece/project, happening in March. Then back through increasingly slushy gunk to Museum Gardens to meet Andy, fall straight down onto my back to make a flailing angel, chuck lumps of finely sifted snow at him, watch the Muslim family in hijabs do the same, and a pair of 12-year olds hold onto high tree branches in order to perfect the top of their snowman. Who CARES if no-one could get to work? Why did you BOTHER!? We have days like this once a decade so why can't the government declare an National Snow Day, turn off every engine and let us all go sledding?

Hhm, it is rather funny that juice cannot get together today to rehearse Elizabeth Lutyens' hardcore serialist-ish vocal trio, 'of the snow', because of... just that.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Exceedingly Fine Lakes

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Amount of creative activity achieved today: 0, am on admin time today
Reading: Just finished the elegaically heart-wrenching 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly'
Hair Day: flyblown

Last week we blazed down our very own Route 66 (well, the A66), our ticket to the Lake District for a week-long escape from London's Burning Bonkersness. I made us miss a turning when I looked sidelong and yelped as a ridge of stonking mountains appeared from nowhere, the colour of peaches and cream; you couldn’t tell where the rock ended and the opaque clouds started. Our self-catering cottage - lurid tartan carpet, log fire, no central heating (agh!) - was in Braithwaite, an unassuming village looked benevolently down upon by layers of fells, with the nearest of 4 pubs a rather hazardous 10 whole steps away.We spent the whole week rising spectacularly late, pulling on voluminous layers of clothing and braving the freezing but thankfully beamingly sunny weather, then collapsing at home for DVDs and long games of outdated Trivial Pursuit. Highlights were:

1) A walk up to Winlatter Forest, our breath-clouds expanding with every ascending step, the cold air giving me an ice-cream headache. We came down the other side through mossy trails past rocks glazed with ice and icicles good enough to lick like lollipops. Which I did.

2) Climbing the rocky paths of Skellgill Bank on the west side of Derwent Water, our nearest lake, and awakening muscles that had until then been in a blissfully unaware slumber. We descended on a path so treacherous with frost and loose stones that we scrambled our way down mostly in an incredibly inelegant human sled position, tumbling down into Brandlehow Park, where the moss was a stately Georgian green in the frost, where old trees failed at hurdling each other, and becks fell over themselves to get to the lake. The lakeside was a Hollywood epic of lumbering fells and vast silken water.

3) Trailing up the far western Solway coastline, a dead-end landscape of tumbleweed villages, stoic houses and factories, all leached of colour by the wind, mist and frozen sun. The eerie, resolutely unglamorous beaches that were a treasure trove of skimming stones: Andy, Winter Olympics Champion Skimmer of The NorthWest, plimplamplettered one as thin as a 10p piece a world-beating 12 TIMES!

4) Leaving behind chocolate-box Grasmere village for a circular walk around ‘Wordsworth Country’ lakes Rydal and Grasmere, passing monumentally dramatic granite caverns which would make perfect amphitheatres for adventurous juice concerts. By the time we got to Grasmere the day was fading fast and it was if the lake, a pale gunmetal colour, was holding its breath; a huge ghost.

5) Wearing paper hats and eating a five-course NYE menu at the only local restaurant that could squeeze us in. After our amuse-bouche of bucks fizz sorbet etc, we hot-tailed it to The Royal Oak, so close you could take three Ministry of Silly Walks steps and be in our cottage, for the bells. We were ushered outside for absolutely hilariously over-the-top fireworks, lit nonchalantly at an incredibly close distance by the landlord, and were served cheap sparkling pink wine as the detritus rained down on us. Hurrah!

6) Hosting my Mum for a night and walking by Bassenthwaite Lake in my spanking all-new-oh-yes-I-am-definitely-30-and-not-cool-anymore walking boots, purchased in hikers' shopping mecca, Keswick. Bassenthwaite was iced rigid, bordered with thick gorse and snaking boardwalks, and offered up plenty of harking-back-to-childhood larking about trying to be amusing using only ice and sticks. Yay.

'Tis now crashing back to about a million London things once more, but here's two poems to leave you with:


moss swallows sound in one gulp

it presses close the raven’s confession
hoards the whole-tone song of the ice as it forms
and the low samurai groans of the rowans as they fall
the tree shakes itself loose
its scattered jet-shards use the wind
to unhook their shadowed corners
folding out leaf over edge,
turning on the air, unblading
until they are little black deaths
gashing their throats to pull out
cursing tongues, cries like sparks
as they dart devildark
flick knifing the sky
as the light looks back
the fells are just-made bruises
bruises they wanted
back inside
the fire will not let me forget
the fell-blush, the crow-spits
and the great cracking trees


with his back to England
he tries to stare out the sea
until his eyes prick

the air is so still
but life is wizening from everything

there is weeping behind windows
as the pigment is quietly lifted from houses
and the ruddy farm-reek fades to old roses
there is a sigh as the sea finally leaches to ash
and seeps into the sky

only one boy snarls fuckyous into the sand
on his cheap motorbike, scudding dirt
in the face of the rheumy-eyed sun
as it spills its own last last rites

he watches wheeling reaper gulls,
the thought-stealers, unravel his dreams
until they are webs waltzing above
the waveless water; still the gulls pull
until he begins to loosen,
loosen and unwind
threading into the pallid air
over the mute sea
thinning to nothing