Let’s start by a quick look back at your amazing history! In The Chefs you had a relatively short but eventful punk band career – what were the highlights of those years for you?
Getting the chance to write songs. Before The Chefs I was in proper 1977 punk band called Joby and the Hooligans – we never made any records but we did loads of gigs. That was where I learned to play bass, almost without realising it. I was surprised to be asked to form a band after that, but I realised that I had gradually become a musician. All of us in The Chefs worked really hard (we were not trained musically) to make music that we would really like to listen to ourselves. It was fantastic to make records (for Brighton label Attrix in the first place), and to meet John Peel, who up until then had just been a quirky voice on the radio.
In ‘Helen and the Horns’ your music moved away from punk into jazzier and country styles – tell us a bit about how these different styles fit in with your own personal tastes and influences.
I’ve never been much of a fan of jazz and the band was supposed to have bass and drums at first – except I didn’t have enough money to move the drum kit around so I just rehearsed with the horn players (meant to be a solo trumpet player like Ennio Morricone’s music, but somehow I ended up with a whole brass section!). I did love the Doris Day film ‘Calamity Jane’ and the idea was to write songs that might be in an imaginary musical- show tunes. The horn arrangements came from listening to Louis Jordan‘s jump jive music and early reggae like Byron Lee’s Allstars. Again, as an amateur I just had to make things up as I went along. I’d been a bass player in The Chefs and learned to play guitar when I was ‘out of action’ after the band split up (it was very upsetting). As a guitarist I loved old blues music: Big Bill Broonzy, The Reverend Gary Davis and of course Sister Rosetta Tharp.
These days I believe you mostly perform solo. Do you miss the camaraderie of having a band around you? Maybe the practical benefits of travelling solo counterbalance this?
I occasionally play with Helen and the Horns but I really like playing solo best of all. I have ‘had a bumpy ride’ through life, as my late Mum described it. I have a lot of good friends, but as far as gigs go, there is nothing more thrilling than setting off on my own with my guitar to a distant destination and experiencing life from a different perspective – there are different music scenes and music all over the UK and beyond. Experiencing that first hand is wonderful, and there’s no-one to look after!
What are you working on at the moment – any releases recently/coming up? Other shows/festivals to tell us about?
I’ve just been in New York recording four tracks which I will be releasing on vinyl very soon – as soon as they arrive in my mailbox! Vic Godard has just released a duet we recorded last year of a Francoise Hardy song called ‘Rendezvous D’Automne’ (Francoise Hardy is a brilliant singer and has just released an album herself). I’m finishing a book about women engineers and producers which has been ten years in the writing, and also just finishing a DIY documentary with Gina Birch (of the Raincoats) called ‘Stories from the She-Punks: music with a different agenda’ where we have interviewed many female musicians from our generation of punk.
What can we expect from your set on 14th July?
I’ll have new songs, plus a Chefs song played solo called ‘Lets Make Up’ which I wrote with my fellow singer Tracy when we were both teenagers, and also the songs ‘The Mad Bicycle Song’ and ‘Women fo the World’ which have been played on BBC6 music by Gideon Coe. They are from an album called ‘The Sea’ that I released last year and I’ll have copies with me or it can be listened to/bought from Bandcamp.