Live review by Tony Rounce
If you have never been to a gig upstairs at central London’s Betsey Trotwood pub, nothing will prepare you for what greets you on your first visit. With a capacity of 40 – and that’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder – it has to be one of the smallest venues anywhere in the UK. A tiny bar and an even tinier stage (holds exactly 1) on opposite corners of the room, no stage lighting at all, and bags of atmosphere as a result.
It was the perfect venue for a double-header featuring two women, two guitars and a sackful of super songs and performances. The evening was promoted by former Chefs and Helen and the Horns front woman, Helen McCookerybook. She and headliner Pauline Murray are old friends, and thus Helen was able to coax a rare solo show out of Pauline prior to the string of dates she’s playing in the next couple of weeks with her long time band, punk icons Penetration.
Of course, when you are the promoter it makes it easier to sort out support of the calibre of, well, yourself. Thus we got to enjoy not one, but two of the best singer-songwriters of the past 30-odd years.
Helen is a friendly, giggly woman with a way of making everyone in the crowd feel like she’s been our mate for years. Her melodic, commercial songs address a variety of topics, always in an upbeat way but sometimes with darkness at their heart. Among her ‘protest songs’, the attractive tune of ‘21st Century Blues’ embraced a pithy lyric about liars (and was inevitably dedicated to ‘Boris…and Donald…and…’). ‘So Long, Elon’ offered a blatant dig-in-the-ribs to the Space Race and the money wasted thereupon while homelessness is at its highest-ever peak.
Other highlights of her 11 song, 40 minute set included ‘Heaven Avenue’, a song about Helen’s first and only acid trip and the closer ‘Daisies’, which below its message that ‘no matter how often you pull them up, they always grow back’ hinted at an altogether deeper and more sinister outcome. She reached back to her days as a Chef to resurrect the witty “cosmetics advice for teenagers” of ‘Let’s Make Up’, and probably got her best response of the set for ‘London Saturday Night’, a song for all of us who have been drawn back to regular gig attendance in this new Golden Age for great bands, after sitting out a decade or two for any number of reasons.
The majority of those in attendance may have been there primarily to see a solo Pauline, but Helen will, I hope, have been pleased with the genuinely warm and enthusiastic way in which each song in her 40-minute song was acknowledged. She was charming, and we were charmed…
Helen is playing ‘Loud Women Unplugged’ in a couple of weeks from now. Get there early, get yourself a good seat on a comfy sofa, and c with what you see and hear from Mademoiselle McCookerybook.
Loud Women Unplugged is happening at the Old Queens Head in London’s Essex Road on Wednesday July 10. Pauline and Penetration have a number of shows all over the country in June and July – follow them on Facebook, and find out where.