Helen McCookerybook is hugely inspiring singer-songwriter – formerly of English psychedelia-punk band The Chefs, these days playing regularly across the land as a solo artist. She’s treating us to a performance at the first of our new LOUD WOMEN Unplugged gigs on 10 July at the Old Queen’s Head (don’t miss!), so in the meantime we asked her 10 questions …
1. What can we expect from you on 10 July?
I will be playing tracks from my new album ‘Green’ which I released last week. Some of the songs are politically focused: an anti-fake news song and a song about massively expensive rocket travel to Mars when we have so many humans on Earth in poverty. Some are more personal. I play an electric guitar ad I’m always striving to be a fleet guitarist: I;’m a finger picker and take my inspiration from the Blues, although that’s not the genre of music that I play.
2. If you could collaborate with someone – any musician/performer, living or dead – who would it be?
A disco singer from New York called Cristina. She was on Ze records in the 1980s and I think she’s absolutely brilliant. My ambition is to write a song so good that she HAS to sing on it!
3. What are your favourite songs in your set to perform?
I have a song called Heaven Avenue which is about the one and only acid trip I ever did. I have never managed to do a perfect performance of that one but I do love playing it. I also have a song called A Good Life With A Bad Apple which is based on a relationship I had with a coercive controller. It was so difficult to get out of but I used songwriting to make me feel stronger. Many years afterwards, this song sums up just one facet of what wa as going on (these relationships are complex). It’s a non-gendered song; a friend of mine described the same situation with her girlfriend. I also have a song called These Streets which makes me calm when I sing it, for some reason.
4. Which was your favourite gig you’ve a) played and b) watched?
Last weeks’ gig with Pauline Murray from Penetration playing solo [our review here!] was pretty fantastic. I also particularly loved one in Ullapool where Sot Otter, who put on the gig, had taught her choir Three Sheets to the Wind the backing vocals to a song I wrote called Women of the World. When I sang it the whole choir joined in from their various seats in the pub. There was a gig last year in a cafe in Augsburg… it’s actually impossible to choose. I like all of them!
Best one I’ve watched? A tiebreaker between The Raincoats in Porto, Peggy Seeger at the Stables in Milton Keyes, and Black Sabbath at the O2!
5. Recommend a record that you think our readers might not have heard of
Old Smokey by Linda Lewis. She is an excellent song writer who had hits in the 1970s and 1980s with pop songs, but she actually wrote beautiful songs as a singer song writer too. This particular song is about being a second generation Caribbean woman in London, and her voice is gorgeous in it. I love the lyrics, the honesty, the poetry of the song. Somehow it really connected with me. I have Jamaican foster cousins who lived in London; the song makes me think of them, and how different and exciting London seemed from the small village in the north east of England where I was brought up.
6. What’s your best piece of advice for young musicians?
Don’t let ambition destroy your imagination.
7. Your top 3 most beloved albums ever – go.
Carmel, the Drum is Everything; The Bird and the Bee, by The Bird and the Bee; the film soundtrack to Un Homme et une Femme
8. What are your musical goals?
To write songs for other female artists and produce them in the studio. Last year I worked with a woman called Shola Adewusi on her songs; she was in the film Paddington 2 and she’s a very busy extras actor but we work together when we can. She has such a different voice to mine, which is great to work with. I also want to do more collaborations with musicians that I’ve worked with- I hope to do some music with Robert Rotifer, who is a politicially-inspired guitarist and singer, later this summer.
9. What’s the most important thing we need to know about your music right now?
That it’s a mirror to life, society and politics
10. Give your top 5 contemporary bands/musicians
Big Joanie: just completely inspiring
The Band of Holy Joy: I’ve just done part of a tour with them and Johny Brown’s stage performances are incredible
Friedrich Sunlight: this is a german band with a Japanese American singer, Kenji, who has a completely divine voice
Kath Tait: a New Zealander whose quiet witty songs lacerate smug people and their habits, but she is able to make you cry with the tenderness of her lyrics too.
Fifth: everyone that I gig with! This is such a fantastic time for live music; my head is buzzing with the amount of bands and artists that I’ve seen this year. Playing live is the best adventure you can have!