I glimpsed your face

In that moment it betrayed you

And split that mask you wear for the world.

As you blanched with sickness

As you birthed your agony

From the pit of fear within you

I stared, watching you unable

To hold on any more

As your inner joy crumbled

As your sweet dream shattered

In a flurry of snowflake words

Some unspoken,

Here and gone in a moment

Both sweet and bitter

As you had to look glad

As you had to pretend

That you were happy when he told you

And his arm around her shoulder

Younger than his daughter

Your courage and his folly

Cruel comedy of tragedy

He did not see what I saw

You did not see that I saw

As your jawline tightened

As your knuckles whitened

That it mattered it was not you

That he loved.

Alan Merrill and the New Arrows (Geoff Lea-Guitar, Dave Glover-Bass, Kyle Fenton-Drums) Southampton Talking Heads November 1st 2013

Filmed from a static camera on the lighting rig, this is the whole show, bar the encore

Alan Merrill & the New Arrows. Nov 1 2013. Southampton Talking Heads

1st November

Talking Heads

Portswood Road


Boogiest Band In Town

Touch Too Much

Fooling Myself

Moving Next Door To You

Automatic Pilot

Toughen Up

Miss Cadillac

Walk Away Renee

Feeling This Way

Don’t Worry ‘Bout Love

Heaven n Hell

My Last Night With You

Shake Me

Helium Hag


Always Another Train

Sands Of Time

I Love Rock n Roll

Slow Down

Book Review : “Losing My Accent” by Amy Madden Taylor [2011 on Kindle]

losing my accent

I bow down.  I fucking bow down.
This book, so unpolished and raw has more lifeblood flowing through it than many people do.

Set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the earliest years of the 21st century, this episodic first person narrative feels much as if we are reading the diary of the teenage girl protagonist. The story revolves around her dysfunctional family; the girl and her heavily pregnant mother arriving from England in the late 90s, where they had seen better days. It documents their hopes and fears and soaks in the small glories and giant tragedies of poverty’s tightrope faced with courage, humor, understanding and compassion for others.

There is true humanity here, set like a jewel in the brutal and uncaring context of the city, with its concrete, filth and civic apathy. Their struggles are keenly observed without excessive sentiment, giving it  a telling ring of truth.

The filmic narration engages all your physical senses and a full range of emotions. You will experience so many of the incidents vividly along with the characters.
This book is a testament to that family, to their courage, their frailty and their unassuming, unacknowledged genius. Their grace.

Please read this book. It maybe the best book you read this year. It may even be a book that should be required reading for everyone, so that they can get a fucking clue.

Some autobiographical things about music and synchronicity

I may be horrible at picking out boyfriends, but I have never had any worries about my instincts about music. I have always loved music, and with older siblings who took themselves very seriously I always had a consciousness that back then, music wasn’t just about something to listen to, it was a statement about who you were, and what your tribe was. I dare say it is much the same now.

Probably more than other girls my age, I felt a lot older than my years. I’d say I had almost teen sensibilities by the time I was in school. It didn’t make for a happy childhood. I was always the weird one, who saw things from a definitely oblique and rather scary angle. I watched the news every day and I was interested in politics, in Vietnam, in Northern Ireland, in the Space program long before I hit my fifth birthday and could read fluently at three. I remember the assassinations of RFK and MLK as if they were yesterday. I never was that little carefree kid that maybe I should have been. I was aware of far too much and, sadly as a consequence I’m sure the only thing others my own age were getting from me was pity and condescension. None of their games made sense to me. I preferred to sit out rather than join in, but to tell the truth maybe that was because I was never asked to join in. I wanted to be around older children always; my ideal being my sister’s friends, five or six years older who were into music and fashions. I loved to spend time with my neighbour Jayne who would play me all the hit singles of the day on her portable record player. What a neat thing that was, like a suitcase. We listened to them all and, following the lead of Jayne and my sister I became a pint-sized music nerd. I found everyone around me ridiculously out of touch, my parents most of all. I think I enjoyed the feeling of separateness

When my contemporaries were still singing Disney tunes, I was already a passionate fan of early 70′s rock & pop-rock stars. Maybe I was a pioneer of the pre-teen pop babies

It’s the hair. It must be the hair… and the music.

I was always a music nerd. I wanted to be a rock journalist, or a pop star, or a record company PA. It never occurred to me to want to be anything ordinary. What an idiot, right? I would skive off school whenever I could, just to listen to the radio and be the first with the new chart. The only person who cared was me. I would make graphs charting the rise and fall of records. I would chart how often certain “Oldies” would be played. Radio One was my little haven, and then in the evenings, Radio Luxemburg would be the night-life.

Anything and everything with pop music was for me, but I was well aware when I was being talked down to most of the time. Pop shows that were for kids that included musical comedy acts or the latest West End Musical star with some horrible novelty record didn’t fool me for a moment. I knew such shows were put together by people who were aiming for the end of the pier, summer season variety, lowest common denominator. The urge for program makers to include a pop music element became embarrassing. Only Top of the Pops ever got the balance right. It didn’t pretend to be doing anything more than reflecting the current sales. You could forgive the awful rubbish on there often because you knew something good would be on next, usually. Then there was the rise of the anodyne teen idols, like the clean cut Osmonds and David Cassidy They were not for me, I wanted Marc Bolan, I wanted Slade, Wizzard, CCR and Free. I wanted to read about the Stones and Woodstock, about Jimi and Janis. I had already moved along. By the time The Bay City Rollers came along I was listening to Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and ELP with my sister and brother. I never understood the appeal of BCR… I put them in the box with Rod Stewart and stepped away from their laddish aggressive heterosexuality which seemed a world away from the delicate beauty, androgyny and finesse of early T-Rex.

When I was ten years old The Bay City Rollers had a TV show called “Shang-a-lang” that was on directly after I got in from school. My brother and I would watch it idly and without enjoyment. It was pretty horrible to be honest, it was everything we hated about music TV aimed at young people. When it is your dream to be allowed to stay up to watch The Old Grey Whistle Test, Shang-a-lang was rather a poor substitute. The production was shoddy and the guests were nothing that appealed to me until Marc Bolan went on once late in the run. It ended at Christmas in 1975.

The following spring the show was replaced by “Arrows” The show was from the same production company, with much the same aesthetic. We still watched it, my brother still mocked it, there were still a few dodgy guests, but there were also some pretty awesome ones as well, people with some real credibility, Slade whom we all loved (What a great band they were!) and Marc Bolan also turned up on one occasion. There were still a few off moments, but the standard was much higher in general and there was that one thing. The show was presented by The Arrows.

They’d had three hits already and I had liked them all, they were poppy and fun, too much so for my brother and sister, but just right for me, one of my guilty pleasures. They were very pretty boys of course, especially the lead singer Alan who had a great voice. I got all the posters and covered my walls. I got a bit over-excited when they were on and after a while my brother was so disgusted with me he wouldn’t watch with me anymore because I was such an embarrassing little girl whenever Alan Merrill was on screen I got told off for licking the screen, big time.  To him, the Arrows were no different from The Bay City Rollers, but I thought they were poles apart. I knew the show was still tacky and condescending, but there were some great people on it. It was certainly many steps up from Shang-a-lang at least, besides, there was Alan Merrill

At the end of the run of the TV show It was up to senior school for me, and to some extent, a putting away of childish things. There would be no more kids TV shows, my commute to and from school would rule all of that out. I was still obsessed with music of course, but I wasn’t able to be as plugged in as I had been before. There was still Top of the Pops.

The Arrows didn’t have any more hits. I don’t think I heard from them again. I do remember liking some songs by a band called Runner in the late 70s, but had no idea there was a connection at the time.

Years later, when I was at Sixth Form College and seriously immersed in the music of the Woodstock generation I heard a beefed up version of the song “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, one of the old Arrows hits, done by an American woman called Joan Jett, whom I’d never heard of. It didn’t make much impression on me to be honest. I hadn’t thought of the Arrows in five or six years at that point. I had forgotten they existed.

Dial forward thirty-one more years. I’d long since forgotten many of the bands I’d liked as a kid. I never became a rock star, but I had managed to stow a fair quantity of booze and drugs away nonetheless and never amounted to anything much at all on account of severe depression and substance abuse. Yay me!

Living with depression can be hard, especially if you can’t find work or any way forward out of the mess you’ve got into. Learning to cope without medication, essential if you are phobic about any kind of intervention, involves developing coping strategies that get you through. About five years ago I discovered Weird Al Yankovic. Something about him just smacked me right between the eyes. There was a dogged uncomplaining courage about a person who could carry on doing what he did and being successful at it for so long. There was something strong and steadfast in him as a person that gave me hope. I was over my childish snobbishness about comedy acts now. I “got it” finally. There could be dignity in absurdity, strength in foolishness and order in chaos. I was hooked.

I’d been aware of his existence since he had his hit song “Eat It” in the UK back in 1984.. Weird Al seemed to vanish as quickly as he appeared. I had no idea he had developed a long career and huge following in the USA. British people remembered “Eat It” but little more.  In getting myself up to speed on Al’s career I learned about the role of Jake Hooker in Al’s history. I watched a documentary. I saw Jake Hooker talking, he seemed familiar, but that was all. I knew he had been responsible for the original version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, which Al had turned into “I Love Rocky Road” early in his career. Throughout that five years I was only dimly aware that I Love Rock’n’Roll had been a minor hit for an obscure British band. I can’t really explain this. I am normally amazingly good at pop trivia. I can only think I blanked out some of the stuff I had got really very silly over. Who knows?

Anyway, Weird Al was a big deal. It was imperative that I meet him, which I managed to do within six months of becoming a fan. It’s hard to impart just how energizing and positive this new interest and direction was in my life. In the last six years I have been to the USA four times, been to 11 Weird Al concerts and spoken to him personally on the majority of those occasions. I’d go so far as to say we are on very friendly terms and there is a mutual bond of trust I think. Al has always been very sweet and sensitive towards me, particularly when my father died, and subsequently.

My life, particularly my social life is almost entirely via computer nowadays and social media has been an absolute saviour.  I like to think I’m at the vanguard of Al’s army of fans, spending large chunks of time trying to keep ahead of any breaking news about what Al is up to next, whether it’s concerts, a book tour, podcast or theatre appearance. It’s always fun to get the “scoop”

One day, just over a month ago, as I was trawling through Twitter I spied someone called @TheAleecat talking about Weird Al and “I Love Rocky Road” We got talking. He was a nice fella. He told me that it was he who had written the song “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” Then he linked me to this

and suddenly…

I remembered it all, all the words of all their songs, like it had all been in there all along. Is that weird or what?

Turns out my teen heartthrob Alan Merrill is a super nice, intelligent interesting person and we’re friends, good friends I think.  I think my love of music has turned out rather well in the long run after all, and the sheer volume quality and depth of his back catalogue of work is going to keep me entertained for years to come.  Many of his more recent songs are just phenomenal.

What a strange collection of coincidences and connections have led to me writing this piece. I felt I needed to set this all down, even if only for myself. The synchronicity is quite delightful to me and the sense of being given back something that time and a troubled mind  has taken from me leaves me so grateful both to @alyankovic and @TheAleecat two extraordinary, phenomenally talented people whom it is such a privilege that I can call my friends.

A Chance Encounter (excerpt from recent project)

The wet grey light of the lowering sky barely lit the vast room. It seemed too far for it to travel down from the high windows to the dark parquet floor and the broad hard bench which occupied the dead centre of the gallery. Here a girl sat, a young girl huddled up in a heavy coat, her blonde hair almost greenish in the poor light. She seemed so utterly alone. The man stood a long while watching her as her eyes flicked across the several pictures on the long wall before her. The pictures were watercolours of famous rock bands like the Beatles and the Stones in their heyday, ten or fifteen or twenty years before. He felt awkward, as awkward to speak as to stay silently watching. He didn’t want to intrude, and he turned to walk away. His sneakers made a squeak on the floor and the girl’s head whipped around suddenly, catching him in flight and she gasped. The man supposed he had frightened her and he was swift to offer his humblest apologies.

“No, that’s alright” she said immediately as if she wasn’t even listening to his words. “It’s amazing to meet you! The guard said you had been in the gallery today, I supposed you would have gone before now as no one is around”

The girl looked slightly flushed, breathless. Her eyes were lively and intelligent, she was neither very fat nor slim, but a little stocky; a typical English girl.

“I’m Nate” said Nate

“I know” said the girl, holding up the slender pamphlet that served as a catalogue to this modest exhibit. On the back was a large photo of Nate and a brief biography.

“I’m Sally” said Sally.

The pair shook hands, and then laughed awkwardly.

“Let’s go and find some damn coffee” Nate said and watched in wonder as the unremarkable face lit up like a thousand suns and transformed her into a beauty before his very eyes.

“Yes please! That would be wonderful”

There was a café on the corner of the street, diagonally opposite the entrance to the deserted art gallery. It was raining hard. Sally put up her hood and Nate pulled his collar high over his head trying to make a protective tent over himself with it, and they made a dash for the café.

 It was not like the cafés we are used to now, bitter black coffee gushed from a steel urn into tiny cups, there was sugar in a tall caster that one had to measure out onto a spoon and there were small steel jugs of cream. A selection of dry, rather dusty looking cakes and pastries resided on the counter under a glass dome. Sally gratefully accepted a chocolate truffle ball in a fluted paper case, her favourite. Nate sat and let the excited, slightly star-struck girl talk, and soon he had her whole history, the happy and the sad, and how she had to find a job quickly that would support her and her mother for the foreseeable future as higher education didn’t seem like a viable option. Nate was struck by her earnestness and her honesty, she was being more real in communicating with him, a complete stranger than he had experienced from most other people he had ever met. He knew how lucky he had been to have fallen on his feet with a good marriage. And felt the need to pay some of his good fortune forward.

“How would you feel about working for me Sally? Can you type?”

The girl’s eyes grew wide.

“Yes I can type. I’m not really very fast, but I was improving all through my last term at The Grange, and I passed a few of the easy examinations”

“Good. I shall want you to learn to drive, to do some sort of speedwriting or shorthand for me, and I will want you to study for a university qualification as well… all part of the job”

Sally’s eyes grew wider still

“Do you really mean it?”

“Yes. I can’t think of anyone I would sooner trust to deal with my horrible muddle I am always in”

“You will never regret this Nate”

“I’m sure of that, or I never would have asked you” he smiled at her beaming face.

Teddy Brown: A Bear Exposed. 1928-





Teddy Brown is a venerable old gentleman. My mother was given him by her birth mother in 1934, but had been bought for her sister Jill in 1928.


Teddy Brown crossed the Atlantic several times in the heyday of the great Ocean liners alongside little Jill Jones, before settling down with Baby Jennie, adopted by her mother’s brother and his wife, in Portsmouth.


The sunny little house on Portsdown hill was full of cats to snuggle with and Teddy Brown happily passed his days sitting on the colourful quilt on the huge dark bed in the box-room upstairs, looked down upon by mawkish Victorian framed prints and Biblical texts as he faced the saucer with its night-light, and the china jug and bowl on the wash-stand.

Night time was spent absorbing Little Jennie’s tears as she cried for her new daddy, away at sea, or in China or India.


All men shave don’t they? Teddy Brown is no exception. Little Jennie helped him out with this with the aid of a cut-throat razor found in the bottom of the wardrobe in the spare room, and this was how Teddy Brown became bald and how some of his threads became raggedy.


Time moves on and the sunny little house becomes overshadowed by War. Daddy stopped coming home and Mummy and the two little girls often had to escort Teddy to the Anderson shelter which was very dark and full of damp and spiders.


None of them liked the Anderson shelter; it felt very exposed in the large hillside garden with the Blitz raging all around


Often they just crowded under the sturdy dining room table rather than go out in the dark. Teddy Brown would worry terribly about what Daddy would say if he knew his girls weren’t in the shelter. The Stoakley girls down the road had had to be dug out of their cellar, and it’s best not to think about what happened at the Carlton Cinema……


Every night the docks would take a pounding and even miles away, from the house on the hill, Jennie, Mummy, Maureen, Teddy and the cats could see figures of fire-fighters silhouetted, their shadows projected by the fire-light, like huge phantoms in the smoke and dust clouds. It was scary!


Time moves on again, Teddy gets set upon by Spitfire, the ginger and white cat, and loses the threads that marked his mouth, his paws are worn through and his right arm has come off. Jennie does her best, but she is no needlewoman and the reattached arm gives Teddy Brown a rather rakish leftward lean.


Jennie is growing up. She becomes Hampshire’s first Queen’s Guide in 1948 and has the honour of meeting Princess Margaret and Olave, Lady Baden Powell. Teddy Brown is still staring at the big green jug on the washstand, but his eyes are not so good as they were, and eventually they fall off.



Teddy is a bit confused what happened next, but he knows that Jennie got married and took her with him to live in Reading. Teddy didn’t mind that Jennie was too busy with two new babies to find him some new eyes, he was confident that better times were just around the corner.


The family moved to Winchester and another baby was born.

Teddy and Baby took to each other right away and became inseparable. On a visit to the old sunny house, a pair of “new” glass eyes was found. Grandpa had bought them a long while ago for Teddy Brown, but had forgotten. Grandpa’s days of sailing the world were done, and he made his last journey in 1970 which is when the eyes were found among his things.


Teddy Brown had a complete makeover, (admittedly lo-tech)

Fabric runs were stopped with clear nail varnish, pads were removed, legs and arms re-stuffed with chopped stockings and reapplied. A permanent new mouth was marker penned on carefully, and the longed-for eyes attached.


Every fortnight Teddy Brown would accompany his little girl and her family back to the sunny old house to visit Nanny, until she too passed away in 1978.


The next few years were quiet. The girl grew up, left home, and came back, as Teddy Brown sat patiently in an exalted place above her other jumble.


When the girl married, Teddy Brown went too… another Baby Jenny came along, and another little bear came to live with them, called Baby Brown. Teddy Brown is old now, and retired. Baby Brown is the one that now goes to Guide Camp and on Foreign Holidays. Teddy Brown is right now sitting by my left elbow, and I am taking dictation…….


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