Thursday, 21 June 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Helen McCookerybook interview (Part Two)

Yesterday we posted the first part of an extraordinary interview with Helen McCookerybook. It was supposed to be about the rather lovely CD she has made with Daintees frontman Martin Stephenson. It is called Cafe of Tiny Kindnesses and it is one of the most delicate and beautiful things that I have heard in yonks.

But the conversation didn't end up like that at all. We spent a long time discussing our shared background in the DIY Punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s.

This probably means that I shall be returning to talk to Helen again soon, to do the proper interview. I am looking forward to it already...

HELEN: The first time we ever made any records, it was probably a good thing, there’s this promoter in Brighton who told us that we were the worst band in Brighton and he said he would always book us because we packed his venue out, which is true. I think we were quite sort of eccentric because after the Poison Girls drummer, we got a reggae drummer who was great and we actually did some reggae songs in our set as well, but then we got a drummer who was a transvestite so that was quite interesting. Our lead singer used to perform wearing a gas mask and women’s tights under a posing pouch

JON: Did you sound like Doris Day back then?

HELEN: No, I just shouted.

JON: It sounds wonderful.

HELEN: It was great actually. I mean it was great but it was controversial. We had a combination of ... I mean our lead singer was quite outspoken and people used to object to him, and people used to say to me I was singing sexist lyrics, but I couldn’t see that I was because if it was me that was singing them I was taking the mickey out of them wasn’t I? There were all kinds of controversy sort of followed us around and we kind of expanded – you do learn how to play an instrument and we kind of got a bit better at what we did and started writing proper songs and expanded into a bigger band and then the personal relationship things collapsed and I sorted of ended up with a post-punk band called The Chefs which has just released a compilation on Damaged Goods actually about two months ago or something.

JON: What was your first band called? The punk band.

HELEN: That was called Joby and the Hooligans.

JON: What a brilliant name. I wish there was some of that which had been recorded

HELEN: Well we did a radio ... we went to the University of Sussex once to record a radio show and we did a version of 'Oh me oh my'. We did a version of that and there was a dog there and it just barked all the way through so the only recording of us is doing a cover version of that song and a dog barking and so it‘s not very high quality to say the least.

JON: I think that sounds incredibly avant garde.

HELEN: There are hardly any photographs, because people didn’t .. people sort of document things madly now don’t they, everything is videod on YouTube, everything is photographed, but back then everybody was so into just doing it that hardly anybody thought to document anything unless they had secret ambitions to be superstars which a distressingly large number of the punk bands did.

JON: They wouldn’t have admitted it.

HELEN: No, not at the time, but then suddenly when you work out who has got film of themselves you think ‘oh yeah, they must have had a plan’.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I found some pictures here:

JON: I suppose these days people have their cameras on their phones and they can carry a camera around in their pocket and it doesn’t involve any sort of effort, but when you buy a roll of film and have it developed, and make sure light is in the right way etc, it was much more of an effort.

HELEN: The other thing though is if everyone is taking pictures all the time and making recordings like they are now, sometimes I don’t think they actually listening to the music, because they are so sort of frantic about making a record of it, and you just think, well back then when you went to a gig you went with a 360 degree intention of enjoying it. Being part of the crowd and listening to the music and if you had gone with a camera or something to record it...I mean I remember when people recorded things, they always seemed really nervy and you always thought well that is not a person who is going to enjoy themselves tonight because they are going to make a tape of it or something for their collection and I think maybe now that everybody is busy filming and recording things, we have become collectors rather than an audience.

JON: I had never thought of that – it is a really, really interesting idea. I publish books – that is my day job, and I have often thought that the fact that now anybody can write a book and anybody can get a book into the shops, in many ways it has de-valued the act of having a book. Once upon a time you wrote a book and you knew if it was published that it was going to be good. But now anybody can. And most of them aren’t.

HELEN: I’ve actually got a PhD which I did about 12 years ago and that is actually – was made into a book and the actual PhD took me 6 years to do and re-writing it to make it into a book took another year, so I really sweated over it ... I suppose it depends on what sort of book doesn’t it? I’m quite interested into researching things and finding out why things happen and also trying to find the truth at the bottom of things so I don’t think I would like to write about any old thing.

JON: What is your PhD in?

HELEN: The PhD was about the female – I was trying to read good stuff about people like me who play bass, guitar and drums, women who played in punk bands and nobody had written anything, and that is why I did the PhD. And the book is called The Lost Women of Rock Music and I went and interviewed people like Tessa Pollitt from The Slits, Gina Birch from The Raincoats, The Au Pairs, all kinds of people. And just to ask them why they felt they could suddenly get up on stage, and actually interviewed Vi Subversa from the Poison Girls too. Just why they got up on stage and why they stopped. A lot of them stopped at the beginning of the 1980s. It was really interesting talking to them all. Probably about twenty people I think I spoke to.

JON: I’ve got to read that.

HELEN: It came out in paperback in ... it came out at the same time as The Chefs compilation actually. Really strange sort of twist of fate. It came out in paperback about two months ago I think. It’s an academic book, but I also think .... I was doing a gig about a couple of years ago and I was talking to somebody I met about it and the next time I saw her, she had bought it, and she wasn’t like an academic person and it was really funny because I had written about the way the punk scene ended in Brighton and she said that when she got to that bit she cried, which I found completely touching because you don’t expect that type of reaction from an academic book. So I thought it must work on different layers then.

JON: That’s really sweet.

HELEN: It is isn’t it. But I think the chapter that actually talks about the Brighton scene goes into a little bit about the bands I was in at the time. It is almost like a template that you could apply to any scene that happens anywhere. I wrote about because I thought it really facilitated people like me getting into bands, because it did, you know, small town thing.

And so part two comes to an end. Part three will be with you tomorrow. In the meantime check out her Gonzo Artist pages, solo and with Martin S:

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