Tag Archives: helen mccookerybook

Helen McCookerybook: 10 question interview

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!

Catch Helen McCookerybook live at LOUD WOMEN Unplugged on 10 July at the Old Queen’s Head, Essex Road, N1

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HELEN McCOOKERYBOOK – LIVE AND (ALMOST) UNPLUGGED… The Betsey Trotwood – 20/6/19.

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.

Stories From She Punks

44035739_2124979167751269_6834555404853182464_oGina Birch from The Raincoats and Helen Reddington from The Chefs premiere their documentary ‘Stories from She Punks’ this Saturday 10 November at the Genesis Cinema as part of the Doc’N Roll Film Festival.

If you’re in London and you’re not at GUTTFULL’s album launch at the Hope & Anchor on Saturday, this is the only place you should be – the documentary looks awesome.

Featuring members of the Adverts, The SlitsThe Au Pairs and Dolly Mixture, this is an important piece of punk herstory. A fascinating documentary built on new interviews with the women who played instruments in punk bands in the 1970s. In accounts laced with wit, honesty and insight, pioneering players including Gaye Black, Palmolive, Shanne Bradley, Jane Munro, Hester Smith and Rachel Bor, Ana Da Silva, as well as many others, we hear about acquiring instruments, learning to play, forming bands and getting gigs.

Stick around after the screening for a Q&A with she punks turned directors, Gina Birch and Helen Reddington.

In it’s 5th year, Doc’n Roll London 2018 will screen 28 music documentaries that spotlight the icons and rebels of Afghanistan, Wales, Ethiopia and Ukraine; tell the stories of the groundbreaking record labels Blue Note and Trojan; map the worlds of grindcore, blues, Detroit techno, “she-punks” and Kirtan mantras; and go behind the scenes with artists including Silvana, Sepultura, the Wedding Present, Chilly Gonzales, Badly Drawn Boy and Blondie’s Clem Burke.