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....