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Saturday, 31 July 2010

Pen Pusher

A poem from my first and forthcoming collection appears in the new Pen Pusher magazine.

What the Water Gave Me - Pascale Petit

I have been enjoying Pascale Petit's latest poetry collection 'What the Water Gave Me'.

Pascale's poems are written in the voice of the famous painter Frieda Kahlo whose work has inspired me for a long time. I have Frieda's diary, with its glut of amazing colours, and devastating, furious sketches of her pain, her amputated foot, alive in the glory of bold line and bright ink.

But Pascale's poems drew me further and toured me around the sites of Frieda's calamities and inspirations: early polio, bus crash and relationship with the promiscuous Diego Rivera.

I was moved by Pascale's interpretation of Frieda's passion for the senusual, for her intimacy with nature, in its decay as well as in its beauty, and its ability to transform: 'Little deer, I've stuffed all the world's diseases inside you', 'my twentieth year is sliced open and offered to you, ripe as a pitahaya'. What a wonderful word 'pitahaya' is. It's the fruit of a cactus, and it looks amazing. The little deer is so sweet too. I googled this wonderful picture of Frieda with her pet. Don't they both look amazing? The camera angle makes it even more strange, the deer receding into a non-human world at the rear of the photograph.

Pascale takes us very sensitively through Frieda's surreal, pitiful, blazing, transcendent universe, which I found so disorientating in my early encounters. She is sensitive to those she is guiding as well as to the subject of her poetical landscape. I had nothing to relate Frieda's work to when I first encountered her peculiar lively landscapes. I think Pascale's poetry would have helped me enormously in those days. And today it helps me return and re-evaluate the way Frieda used her difficulties to create. What an example that is to all of us who suffer. And that's all of us.

Pascale has a blog and her books are available on Amazon. 'What the Water Gave Me' is published by Seren,

Andrea Robinson (printmaker)

I asked poet and printmaker Andrea Robinson if I could put one of her prints on my blog, and here it is.

It is part of a series of prints Andrea made about her grandparents. In this picture we see the couple set against fragments of music that formed a part of their lives against lampposts which symbolise to me the excitement of modern life, moving through the city in the early part of the twentieth century.

I think the colours, and the fading are very evocative and work brilliantly. The red, blue and fading purples interpret the smiles, the diappearing piano, the snippets of rhyming song, 'Two left feet, but oh so neat' with a cheerful yet distant resonance, reminiscent of our encounter with our grandparents' lives, which is through photo, art and story, rather than through direct sharing of experience. I found myself very moved by the piece and it's inspiring me to go back and do some fine art printmaking myself.

I recommend Andrea's own blog at of artwork, photographs and poems. It has memory boxes, open notebooks, monoprints and much more.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Musical Variety Night

That was a lovely evening at The Perseverance organised by Acton Bell as a Feminism in London.

First up, Kath Tait and Rosa Conrad went on stage as (joke name) The Complicated Hormones, as Kath is getting hot flushes and Rosa is eight months pregnant. Rosa sang with Kath on each other's songs. I loved her first song about having a new life inside you, called 'Bubbles', one of the prettiest, most direct songs about being preggers that I have ever heard. I imagined the little tyke moving around in the amniotic fluid, relaxing to the plucked sweet tones of Rosa's ukulele.

Next up, Portia Winters did a most excellent experimental electronic and vocal set. My friend and I were seated right in front of her, almost 'in her grills' and got to really enjoy the process of her music making as well as the results. I loved her strange song about naive and often self-destructive enthusiasm to get married - 'maybe I'll get marry arry arry arry ed' - powerful and funny. She sometimes sang into a more ordinary mic and sometimes into a contact mic attached to an mbira. It was all so great I had to ask her to help me with my own rough efforts at using pedals and effects to create music. She suggested we attend a 'gathering', and Acton, Portia and myself made a pact to do this next Wednesday.

I went on next before the break, and sung a song I hadn't performed in public since I sang it at the folk club in Eltham just after I wrote it. It occupies a melancholic Elizabethan space, and is called 'William Kean'. I was not quite warmed up when I began and hence had a very trembly vulnerable vocal. I hope that worked. It is supposed to have a very fragile beauty. I also sang my suicide blues 'Grim Reaper' so it was a very downbeat but sensual set, played to a listening audience.

After the break, Acton Bell took to the stage in her purple veiled hats and sung her Mersey beat songs - 'Little Children', 'Ferry Cross the Mersey' etc. Her versions sound better than the originals.

I was very happy to see my poetry friend Sophia Blackwell there, who looked stunning. Sadly I had to miss her set as I had to nip off to get my train back - the curse of living a bit out of town.

Look forward to more of Acton's Musical Variety Nights in the future. This one was a great success.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Corset pome

The superfragilistic Antonionioni has risen to his latest challenge, to write a sonnet about a corset. To read it this time you'll have to check out his blog - which is brill.

Tony writes a sonnet a day and this is number 1422. Phew.

The Perseverance

I'm playing at The Perseverance in Shroton Street, Marylebone tomorrow evening with Kath Tait and Rosa Conrad. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and making some new ones. It's a musical variety night organised by the intrepid and lovely Acton Bell as a fundraiser for Feminism in London.

There's a Perseverance in Bloomsbury, so definitely don't go there - this is the MARYLEBONE Perseverance.

I've been sent the running order, so I may as well share it with you, tis no secret, but I don't expect you want to know the sound check times.

8.00 Acton Bell

8.25 Portia Winters

8.50 Jude Cowan

9.15 Interval

9.30 Kath Tait & Rosa Conrad

9.55 Prize draw winners announced

10.05 Catherine Brogan and Sophia Blackwell

10.15 Elizabeth Carola

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Nunc dimittis

I have been writing a little mediaeval sounding tune, singing in thirds and fourths in harmony with single notes on the ukulele.

I wanted to put some simple Latin to it, so I chose the 'Nunc Dimittis' but I'm most disappointed with the last line, 'gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel' which makes a distinction between the gentiles and the people of Israel so I will cut those words out.

As a poet whose first collection will contain material written about certain stories from the Middle East about the ongoing conflict and occupation I feel that I can't afford to be lax in regards to this kind of expression.

At the same time I recognise the great emotional power in liturgial lyric. I note that I am repeatedly drawn to Latin as a language for singing.

On Waterloo Bridge

More silliness on Waterloo Bridge. Whatever was I thinking?

I think I have clearly watched too many silent films.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Xuan and Kiran in Istanbul

I recently planned to go to Istanbul with Kiran and Xuan (best friends) but the Icelandic volcano put paid to that holiday, grrrr.

Here is one of the pictures Kiran took of Xuan buying an ice-cream. Look how happy everyone looks!

Meanwhile, I think I was at work, shotlisting. More grrrrrrrrr.

Poetry podcast - Poetry Express

On the recent poetry/music 'do' in Ireland, Poetry Express, recordings of the guests talking about poetry were recorded for a podcast. I sang a few songs. Although we're looking forward to hearing this, it won't be available for some time as there is so much editing to do. I'll post a link here when it's ready.

Dale Mawhinney, fellow poet from Belfast, made this wonderful collage from photographs of our podcast in progress. I think its amazing, and my daughter admired it as well. If you want to find out more about Dale's art, you can contact him on facebook at

My friend, Danish composer Nicky Bendix, laughed to see I was the only one not sitting on a comfy sofa.

If you read my earlier blog about the unexpected naturist, you will be perhaps interested to know that in the picture I have just returned from this encounter.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Artiste with ball

While out and about on the Embankment the other afternoon, Kiran and I saw this elegant, beautiful and talented woman doing amazingly technical feats with a pure crystal ball. The sunlight caught its path as she spun and rolled it over her body, floated it off her palms and fingers so it vibrated in the air, like a goddess with a new planet.

Kiran took the picture.

Tales from a London beach collection

Kiran and I went down town to mess about and take some pictures ... I wore corset and bowler and velvet skirt. Making them was very playful. I think Kiran's got a bit of a fashion photo eye! I rather think she deserved a better model, but it was a giggle and we had a great day out together.

If you can, 'read' the photos from 1 - 4.

Tales from a London beach 4

... and I have no idea what I am trying to do here. Suggestions welcome.

Tales from a London beach 3

I'm trying to pull the dragon out into the picture, but it's a bit shy.

Tales from a London beach 2

Hiding from something up above, probably enemy aircraft.

Tales from a London beach

The hat has a holiday on the nice golden sand.

Return to Kemptown - first collection of poetry - review

This is a charming collection by Andy Nicholson. It's self-published, but why not? I've self-published my CD, it certainly isn't something for me to be snotty about. There's a big difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing in my head, and this is a serious effort by a writer who has been working on his voice since, he says, he was ten years old. Through YTS, various jobs (I wouldn't mind hearing more about these) and a BA joint honours degree which included creative writing, he's been working his way up to this publication until the end of 2009, when it arrived, to use his simile, like a rabbit pulled out of a hat.

The layout is unorthodox for contemporary poetry preferences. Andy uses a short line, and centres everything. Everything.

I love the self-reflective, self-deprecating life snapshots, dealing with depression and disappointment. Andy is a man who claims to be on the verge of chucking everything away more than once (as in 'Ditched it'), but actually the person that comes through is incredibly determined and pig-headed, the kind of persona that battles on through despite the hardships, because the struggle is worth it for itself.

It's very romantic work, but there is alway the awareness that romance is untrustworthy, for failure is the expected outcome. Therefore resilience and humour are tools that are employed to help out when the pile of chips inevitably fall down. As in when he ends 'Love' ends with the Mancunian line 'No great loss though'. This is belied by the yearning for the beauty of physical intimacy in his work, when tender moments show themselves to be etched in his psyche as in 'July night skies'. Andy juxtaposes romantic lives with the mundane as well, as in 'Conversation on the train'. Personally I'd like to see more poems where Andy uses his raw, exposed feelings to talk about the experience of others, I love it when strong emotion is transferred onto others' stories. Perhaps he'll do more of this in the future.

It's notoriously hard to get reviews for poetry, and nigh impossible to get them for self-published work, so I think our blogs are very important in giving feedback on each other's books and CDs. I was thrilled when Helen McCookerybook talked about my CD in her wonderful blog. Hope Andy's happy too with what I've written. I'm not really comfortable doing reviews as such but writing this one felt no great hardship.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Electrification - John Wesley by Jude Cowan (with Bryan Causton)

I really enjoyed cobbling together this video about John Wesley. My mate Billy Bad Brakes wrote most amusingly 'this is the best video concerning early electrical experiments and the leader of a breakaway christian faction, that Ive seen all year!!!'

Must do some montages for the William Blake project which is coming along nicely. Back in the studio after the summer wears itself out.


A sonnet a day

My friend Antonionioni writes a sonnet a day. They're good! And he lives in Manchester too.

I asked him to write me a sonnet for Kate Bush. I don't know if he normally does requests, but you can always ask ...

Sonnet for Kate Bush
She cartwheels her way across the west York-
Shire moors as the wind howls and the rain falls
The quiet-voiced sparrow learns to fly and talk
In high-pitched notes she makes her mating calls
Answered by males from Wales to far Cornwall
She dances with them but then flies away
Into the air, really ethereal
Not grounded. Then, like Plath, one cloudy day
She finds herself doing his washing. They
Expected so much more. It goes round. Walk
Into the sea, dear Kate; walk among shoals
Like Virginia; the lighthouse in the bay
Will light your way. There’s one in County Cork
The USA’s too far to reach landfall

Posing by the Thames

A very silly afternoon indeed spent posing on the Thames beach. Kiran and I had a lot of fun. In this picture I have just eaten an egg sandwich and a banana.

I love these big stripey deckchairs, they're really comfy.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Ukulele concentration

Pete McPartland and myself having a bit of a go at a duet during our recent meet up in Nottingham.

Photoshoot down by the Thames

Just spent a half sunny half cloudy afternoon with the lovely and enchanting Kiran Groodoyal down by the Thames taking pictures. I posed about in black corset and velvet skirt, hair in loopy plaits wearing a bowler in a deckchair, on a bridge, on the Thames beach, by the fish lamp-posts at the Embankment. A few people took pictures of us taking pictures!

We stared at a couple lost in each other kissing and kissing and kissing and kissing ... how romantic.

Pictures of pseudo-Victorian romping available soon ...

Tom Robinson, Fresh on the Net

'Doodlebug Alley' was on the show at 1am on Sunday 18 July, and it's still on listen again on the BBC iplayer for a couple of days. Thanks Tom.

There was a warning about language at the beginning of the show - only suitable for over 16s. My friend Tracey Marie laughed and said 'I bet that's Jude'! She was probably right ...

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

'I am a Kamura'

In this enervating muggy heat, I'm trying to concentrate on editing some poetry. In the background I'm enjoying Atsuko Kamura's enchanting album 'I am a Kamura' released by the Divine Agency on their own label. The range and texture of her voice is intense and subtle, very dramatic and beautiful treatments. I hope to see her live when she's back in the UK.

There's a sample of her songs on her myspace page, but the record is really worth getting.

Down upon the River Lee

Just back from a day spent on my friend's barge which he moors in East London. Lovely to spend a few hours in the company of the swan and geese families. On the boat you do feel a bit like a water bird yourself. They flock for crumbs when they see you eating; the parent swans chase the geese family off, and below them in the pecking order hovers the hopeful, hungry coot.

Great weather this summer, but the grass is so parched, all yellow and spikey. In the evening grey rabbits appear on the fringes of the path, then when some young man swaggers out of Tescos they disappear into the undergrowth. Industrial wasteland, pylons striding over fields of weeds, these make me think of the journey into Manchester which I used to do every Saturday to suffer/enjoy my piano lesson with Miss Musgrave and to spend the afternoon drawing with my cello-playing granddad.

Monday, 19 July 2010

In Notts

What a delicious evening that was in good ol' Notts. I know it well, having been to many a British silent film festival there in days of yore.

The Orange Tree turned out to be a rather salubrious venue serving iced vanilla latte - superbo.

I got to play first, and sung my one song that I could think of with a Nottingham reference, 'Lady Chatterley's Dream', for my hero D.H. Lawrence did indeed hail from Nottingham. There's something so amusing about opening a song in a room full of folk with the line 'Put your hard skinned hands on my breasts'.

Then it was the turn of my favourite duo, The Big I Am. Pete and Colin also did the backing for Daniel Carson from New York, who sung a lovely song for his wife about how it didn't stop raining on their first romantic weekend. I was thrilled with the tone and quality of their sound, and really admired the way Colin can pull sheer beauty out of his guitar. The bloke who was sitting next to me said, 'The boys can play'. I felt delightfully smug, for they are my friends.

I love the rain like Daniel and his wife, but it's awfully sunny and boiling hot here in London. I just went to try and sleep in the afternoon, but it wasn't very successful. I dribbled over the duvet cover.

Thanks to Nick Butcher from Folkwit for organising a lovely event.

Antonionioni's 'Hey Jude' sonnet

My dear friend Tony from Manchester writes a sonnet a day. I only hope it keeps the doctor away.

Here is his latest, written for the two of us! We were in Ireland recently at a poetry and music festival, and he walked into a bog. I think this is the incident alluded to.

Anyone hazard a go at the number of Beatles songs referenced?

1414 - Hey Jude
Hey Jude, it only seems like yesterday
You saw me standing there, fool on the hill
That long and winding road to a hard day
Might in the end need your bungalow, Bill
I played it cool, four thousand holes to fill
Or fix, cos I’m the taxman, oh girl, girl
Was your magical mystery tour a thrill?
You’re something to this nowhere man: the world
Is at your command. Say say say the word
I’ve got to get you in my life, blue J
We can work it out, Jude, help me, I will
Hold your hand, come together like the birds
In the trees. Don’t let me down. Here I’ll stay
Another day. From me to you, until…

Folkwit in Nottingham

A wonderful time at the Folkwit night with Daniel Carson all the way from New York, and Pete and Colin of The Big I Am from Liverpool.

Here we are on the big comfy leather sofas at the Orange Tree. We were a bit of a mutual appreciation society.

Thanks to Nick Butcher from Folkwit for organising a great night.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Jude Cowan live at Hidden Away Central 30-04-09

Singing a fragment Doodlebug Alley some time ago at the Hidden Away club. Everyone's talking! How dare they?

I left my hat, but David held on to it for me so it came safely home. Then I left it on another train. Now I have another one that I love almost as much.

Fried courgettes

I have just been eating these straight out of the pan. For me they are yum.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Jumping out of an aeroplane

An old friend of mine has done a parachute jump which he says is life-changing. I have only heard about this second-hand, but he is apparently all-consumed with the life-changingness of this activity.

Personally, I don't want to parachute jump and I don't see how it can change your life. Although it temporarily changes the life of all those who listen to you talking about how it is changing your life.

Am I the odd one out? For I have no big desire to swim with dolphins either, who I imagine have awfully fishy breath. However, I'm quite happy to swim for a bit in a cool canal or pool in the countryside, and then lie down on a grassy bank in the warm sunshine.

Look I have a new webcam

... and I can't use it ...

thought I would share my technical ineptitude with you for solidarity. Don't you both love and hate new equipment?

Folkwit Festival

I'm off to Nottingham to play in the Folkwit Festival tomorrow.

I'm playing at The Orange Tree in the evening with The Big I Am, my ukulele friends from Liverpool - I love this band.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Among the beauty booths

Today was the big day. In fear and trepidation I met Jacqui at Oxford Street. To give me a moment to gather my nerves we detoured for sarnies and cappucino. But we couldn't stay there for ever, so off we went to John Lewis.

The range of make-up there is bewildering, disorientating and even terrifying. There are all these different booths of brands - which one? After spinning around feeling like I was in a game of Russian roulette I plumped for the same brand as Jacqui and was given a make-up lesson by the lovely Ellie from Leeds. She was brilliant! And Northern - which made me comfily at home. I'm even going to see her again.

If you can bear to read the next paragraph, please try not to vomit. This is a post I never thought I ever blog.

It actually was a wonderful experience. The make-up looked really natural, things have really come on a lot, and my skin does feel hydrated. I am horrified to say that the adverts seemed to come true. Made me feel weepy. Luckily the mascara is waterproof. Expensive though.

Now I'm listening to Mary Dillon's version of Kate Bush's 'Army Dreamers'. Love the Derry accent when she sings 'purple flowers'. Fantastic.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hidden Away - Sapphire Lounge

Last night I went to play at a club that I like to return to every now and then, David Hatton Alexander's Hidden Away at the Sapphire Lounge, Victoria.

It's a strange set up, with the music in the main bar, alcoves (with TVs) and there are always some peculiar touristy drinkers. Yesterday there appeared two very wrinkly visitors from Zimbabwe, some ageing farmer and his slightly younger chum, who seemed to be trying to give his aged pal 'a good time'. I was nice to them but I couldn't help thinking 'I bet you guys have seen or even been part of some atrocities ...' so felt weird and hypocritical talking to them. They were very irritating but in a kind of post-stage stupor I found myself unable to get past them to the black guy who had clapped my song so loudly that I had been on my way to thank him. So I failed totally in my desired post-act interaction with the audience.

The surprise of the evening for me was how well my new song 'Georgie', which is very melodic and summery, went down. David said it was his favourite. Great. So this new groove is a goer. Maybe I will write more cheery summery ditties with a laid back jazzy lilt. And earlier this year I was thinking of writing a 'gardening album'. Away with the Gothic and threatening or anxious moody stuff ... ! Maybe ...

After I played the lovely Arthur Dust came on. I particularly like his song about the chap having his windows put in by 'persons unknown'. Very Canning Town, very scary, especially as Arthur doesn't see too well. There are evil people out there.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Bell technician and a terracotta archer

Googling my name (to see if there are any new reviews, okay ... ) I have discovered I am a Bell technician in China, who is marvelling at the terracotta army.

I say, like I'm in a play (perhaps one by Joe Orton) "I've never seen such a fantastic life-size piece" . I deliver my line in front of a kneeling archer warrior with color pigment, placed in a glass case.

What is a Bell technician?

With Bryan Causton

Bryan has done a little page on his site with the songs we did together. I recorded a few (not brilliantly) and he 'pimped' them for me very beautifully, with lots of interesting sounds. Eg a fly buzzing in 'Fella in the Cellar'.

He has spelt Electrification Electriffication. I kind of like that, but it's not very riffy really so I might tell him.

Phillip Hartley - Perfect Face for Radio?

Twenty-one tracks! It's a bumper CD. It's a bumper folk CD. I'm impressed.

I was expecting a songwriting CD from Phil, but in part this is a collection of favourite recordings from the last few years which includes a good deal of traditional lovelies, such as 'She Moved Through the Fair' (which I've been covering with Andy G) and 'Loch Lomond'. And one of my very favourite tunes 'The Lovely Joan'. (Although I think The Lovely Joan should be a silver fairground horse, not than a person.)

There's a good deal of synth action among the traditional interpretation, which reminded me a bit of the wonderful Rebsie Fairholm, in its mix of modern and older styles. Although Rebsie's production is more complex and involves a fuller, band sound.

Phil has a passionate affection for traditional music which is apparent in his voice. He has such a straightforward honest sounding delivery, which relishes the lines of the Olde Worlde.

Some of my favourites of Phil's self-penned numbers came in the second half of the album. 'Emily's Song' is so tender. I was soothed by the soft tone of his voice in this sweet observational piece. A poignant ditty this about a woman who wants a new life after her children have grown.

I enjoyed the phase effect on 'Perfect Face for Radio' which fused in a pop and psychedelic manner. This was a great good time song about getting older, and we need more of them for an ageing population. I think I like it best when Phil goes a bit more pop.

It made my heart give a little skip to see he's thanked some of my internet friends for their help and encouragement in the cover notes: Deborah Millstein, Dickie Millard and the folks at Scrub Radio.

I hope to see Phil perform in person sometime.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Songs about electricity

My good friend Jim has revealed to me that electricity is a subject that I have returned to three times in song. Each piece explores an aspect of the mystical compulsion exerted by this miraculous power.

Electric Bell (To America)
John Wesley and his Electrification Health Machine (with Bryan Causton)
Tram 41

... Sings the Beatles (BBC)

I'm watching a peculiar collection of Beatles covers compiled from the BBC archives. Gosh, the Carpenters version of 'Help' is terribly bizarre, but of course Nana Mouskouri is singing 'Hey Jude' just for me.

I do love Nana's lilac eyeshadow. It reminds me that next Friday I'm being taken by a poetry friend of mine, Jacqueline Saphra, down the West End to experiment with make up. She says as a performer I should be able to use it on stage. But I have something of a phobia when it comes to feminine consumer culture.

On Friday I will face up to my cosmetic fears. As I listen to Nana, I imagine she is urging me to be brave in the face of gigantic lipsticks and eyeliners. This makes her 'Hey Jude' feel even more surreal.

White Lady

This song was written for a ghost hotel project by Danish composer Nicky Bendix who I met on myspace.

Tram 41

This demo is now available on my myspace page.

It's the last song on the player - at present the site is not allowing users to tinker with the order of their song lists.

The picture is of a tram in the Kingsway underpass. It's number 31. Close enough.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Lhasa de Sela, Tramcar 41

I have been listening to Lhasa for inspiration, and have been learning La Maree Haute. Tremendous. I can't believe she's gone.

The passion and mood in her songs is legendary. From her I am discovering how to do more by slowing the song down. I have flirted with the slow, sparse song in country style in 'The Grim Reaper'; now 'Tramcar 41' joins that part of my repertoire, adding a Spanish / reggae hint.

This new song so far reminds me, very faintly, of 'Ghost Town' by the Specials which was such a massive hit in Thatcher's Britain. I don't have Rico's trombone so I'm forming my instrumental pieces by humming very low in my register and swooping. I get my mouth close to the neck and move up and down, pretending to myself that I am a cello bow.

Tramcar 41

Ah, the final lyrical piece has arrived this morning and the secret of the song is suddenly revealed.

Where are they going,
where were they from,

passengers electrified
on tramcar 41?

How to punctuate these lines causes me a bit of a dilemma - the above version makes the most grammatical sense - but the below makes more song sense:-

Where are they going,
where were they from?

Passengers electrified
on tramcar 41.

Anyone got any thoughts on punctuation when writing out lyrics as opposed to poetry?

Tramcar 41 (full lyrics)

First draft of the full lyrics - I was going to go deeper, but when I sung it, it didn't seem necessary. I will see how it feels in rehearsal with Andy G on Thursday.

I've been listening to Lhasa de Sela and now the song has slowed down and is rather influenced by her delivery.

Tramcar 41

Peer through the railings
at a strip of cobbles
leading into the dark
of a square-mouthed tunnel

Can you see, can you hear,
can you feel it come,

electrified along the track,
tram 41?

Clicks and murmurs echo
off cold stone in the dank.
The scent of an incident
lingers down the track.

Can you smell it, like thunder,
hearts that race as one,

electrified in unison
on tram 41?

A woman holds her purse tight,
staring into space
ignoring flirty chit chat
from an alcoholic face.

An orange drops from a bag
and rolls along the deck.
A boy kicks the fruit,
it bounces down the steps.

Where are they going,
where were they from,

the passengers who rattle by
on tramcar 41?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Number 41 (part two)

The Number 41 is coming along nicely ...

It just needs to be taken to the bridge. Years ago I did a songwriting class with Ray Davies (The Kinks) and he emphasised the importance of the bridge. Now it isn't always necessary but this song would benefit from one I think ...

I have verses about the passengers on the tram. And there's has been an incident of some sort that involved and linked all of them, although exactly what is not clear. I am adding symbols to increase the sense of mystery, and to emphasise the daily life of being on a tram or bus. So far I have an orange and an alcoholic.

Pen Pusher Magazine

A poem from my forthcoming first collection is to appear in the next edition of Pen Pusher magazine.

Doodlebug Alley (V1 Affair - World War Two Song) by Jude Cowan (& ukelele)

Friday, 9 July 2010

Number 41

I missed a rehearsal with Andy Gordon on Thursday due to a last-minute change of plan, but luckily I managed to use the time to write the ghosty song about subterranean London I had been promising to make for some weeks. I haven't finished it but the main verse and chorus and hook are established, as are the narrative voice and set up. It's very atmospheric and should work very well for us. Here's the first verse and chorus:

Number 41

Peer through the railings
At a strip of cobbles
Leading into the dark
Of a square mouthed tunnel

Can you see, can you hear
Can you feel it come?

Electrified along the track
The number 41

There is, of course, no such vehicle as the number 41, this number popped into my head from the internal incubator where songs are bred. The story is inspired by the old tram underpass at Holborn. The tunnel entrance still exists but the tram system was disbanded in the 1950s. Apparently the last train left Kingsway tunnel on 5 July 1952.

Here's the link which tells about the Kingsway tram underpass:

Hampstead Heath

Yesterday evening I was ambling through the strange twilight of the Heath, wandering in the gloaming above London. Lying on the grass, looking over the lights of the city, walking down darkening paths under trees ... much more beautiful and healthy than a boring table in a crowded pub. One of those magical half-times suspended in the warm dark.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Orhan Pamuk's Snow

This is my current commuting novel, and it was a good choice. I love the imaginary poems that come to Ka at significant moments.

Poems may sound better when described than encountered in their possibly disappointing construction. The idea of a poem may be a beautiful thing. Sometimes you don't want the clouds to part to reveal the mystery, especially if that mystery is not well lit and has only just got up.

This is how I feel at 5.50am, getting ready for the train to work.

Briggs / Stammers / Caley at the Betsey Trotwood

We were treated last night by three poets reading from their new collections at one of Roddy Lumsden's 'Broadcast' poetry events.

I couldn't miss this excellent selection and trotted on down to the Betsey, a classic pub and a drinking-hole that is unusually hospitable to live poetry and allows the use of the main bar for readings. I guess the landlord knows how well attended Roddy's events are, on top of liking the wordy-stuff.

I sat in the corner with Andy B Jackson and Amy Key, where we chatted and giggled and fidgeted with Amy's fan until Roddy shut us all up, and David Briggs took the microphone to share some of the intricacies of The Method Men (Salt). I like David's poems and have a soft spot for the bee-keeping poem 'In the Senior Common Room', perhaps because it turns on a rule of Roman law that 'a swarm without a hive has no master'. Back in the midst of time I studied Roman law; I remember there was a lot of tort, and I have a clear image of a toga-clad figure running down banks of the Tiber who throws a ring into the river. I can't remember who owned the ring after it was served on a dish at a banquet, but I suspect a rei vindicatio was brought. Crowd pleasers were 'Testicular Torsion' and 'What Happened to Clowns' which both caused the room to strangely shake with quiet excitement.

Next John Stammers read from Interior Night (Picador). Although I have read a good deal of John's work I'd never seen him read before and was rather surprised. I had always thought of 'Anstruthers' as an aspirational poem and hadn't imagined John's actual voice behind the carefully expansive phrases. He spoke in a more down to earth manner than the internal monologue I had assigned to his work. I feel lucky to live in London with its glut of opportunity to hear and appreciate the diverse reading styles of contemporary writers, thanks to organisers like Roddy.

And finally, Matthew Caley took the stage. I reckon Matthew is an absolute total genius. I've been a massive admirer of his work for some time. His new collection Apparently (Bloodaxe) is as fabulous as I expected. I've read 'apparently' poems in his earlier books but now every poem begins or ends with the word 'apparently' to emphasise the unreliability of the narration. The commentaries were as funny and erudite as only Matthew can manufacture; they showcased the connections between diverse cultural icons and facets within the poems which feel cut out and glued together by a man-about-town academic who constructs a specious argument out of thin association.

His poem 'Illinois' had been composed for a previous Broadcast project at which 52 writers each produced a piece about the 52 states of America; except on this occasion Matthew's had been about Utah. The author explained he had been so sure he'd get Illinois, he'd completed it before he was allocated his state. When he got Utah he just changed the name ... what a cheat. But such an elegant one.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The poet that fell in the bog on the way to the lighthouse but kept his cool

Hairy ears

Solaris Q Scuddamore has consulted the vet over his ear infection. The vet decided to sedate him in order to investigate the deep recesses of his canal, and discovered that the problem was caused by long ginger hairs. He has had the offending curls removed, and is now sleeping it off on his cushion in my studio.

I now look forward to a few days of syringing his ears with saline solution, rubbing the skin, and listening to the water gurgle inside his passages. I presume it will then spurt or seep out onto tissue, and gradually everything will be back to normal ...

... until the hair grows back. At which point I expect the vet will be glad to relieve me off my hard earned cash once more.

Y Tuesday - summer evening above the bar

Another evening of poetry and a little light music above the Three Kings in Clerkenwell. For many years this was my local, and it's an amazing pub with cool, quirky decor. The rhino head glared at me as if I had cut it off as I stepped up the wooden staircase to the little front room with the comfy leather chairs and the doo-wop jukebox where those gathered would play Fairport Convention tracks before the serious business of words and art kicked off.

The lynchpin, the foundation, the rock of Y Tuesday is Mr Steev Burgess, a great artist, a fine poet, who uses rhyme and rhythm and insight to produce gems which reflect on relationships our business of living in this disappointing and mixed-up world. His co-host, Ms Ceri May arrived with a recycled bag full of jammie dodgers and chocolate cake, looking divine in bottle green dress and yellow flower clip. In bare feet, painted toenails twinkling, she welcomed the motley crew of poets to share their work with fellow listeners.

Ceri and Steev read a couple of 'tango poems' together that Steev had written for two voices. This self-devised series were very effective. Not only did they have a rather musical dramatic presentation but Steev has, I think, a winning way with form, which enables his reflective subject matter to be digested with ease. This means that the content, which slides through emotional difficulties, encounter, challenge and changes, slips down. His bitter poison is sweetened with sugar, and the audience drink it in their ears.

Alec Bell, who read a few of his darker mediations with his rogue expression looked totally dashing with new beard and hat. He seems twenty years younger. He's running a new performance night in Richmond and I think poetry has made him a new man. I approve.

Poets who read one, two or three pieces included Cathy Flower, who gave a sinewy and forthright delivery of some fine narrative work, the talented and humorous Fran Isherwood (who I missed as I had to go catch my train) and the dedicated wordsmith Michael Wyndham, whose sister sat close by sipping a nice big glass of water.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

To the lighthouse

Welcome to the white house

On Saturday I rolled up at a little white house balancing on a rocky finger which points into the Atlantic towards America. I had come to this walker's paradise at the kind invitation of Kylyra Ameringer, performance poet extraordinaire and very generous host. Ky is amazing. Her hair is a beautiful and vibrant mixture of blonde and red, she is a beautiful woman and her voice is velvety, deep and rich. She and her brother are from Canada, I believe, but have settled in the sheep-munched farming rocks of West Cork, where she brings poets from different parts of Ireland and the UK together once a year for a delightful event, Poets Express.

On Saturday night we performed in the Bay View pub in the centre of town. I was in the acoustic room, playing my uke and singing alongside other musicians and poets. It was a great atmosphere ... thoughtful, reflective poems were read alongside the bawdy and in-yer-face songs of Dublin band the Lonely Schizophrenic whose tales about panda porn and STDs were well received. Eric the Anchorite, a locally based American poet, played host, organising the room, videoing the performers and elegantly kept the evening in order. He is himself a compelling poet, with a very composed delivery.

Back at Ky's house next day, her brother Tor efficiently set up a recording system in the lounge for the group of writers to make a podcast, some of which might be partially broadcast on County Sound, West Cork radio. It was part discussion, part performance. Poets talked about poetry and read pieces, I sang a couple of songs from Doodlebug Alley.

It must have been a lot of work to organise this event in such a remote location - so it's hats off and thank yous to our friends from Kilcrohane.

Dunmanus Bay

On my little walks I kept seeing the same poster attached to different posts and walls. They had a big cross and said something like 'No to Marine Harvest', and I later found out it was in opposition to a proposal to salmon farm in Dunmanus Bay. I thought the bay was so beautiful but am ignorant of the environmental arguments. You can discover more about the protest at

The unexpected naturist

I don't know whether I would call it a 'highlight' of my recent trip to the Sheep's Head, but it was one of the more memorable moments.

To escape the indoor fug I sauntered to Doonin pier, a very pleasant short distance from my kind host's house, where I began to chat to a friendly fisherman about normal things, eg fish. He pointed out a small shoal of grey mullet. The conversation turned to swimming, and he told me how he couldn't swim but would like to do so. I shared my thoughts on my own learning experience, after which he volunteered to show me a few interesting geographical facets of the rocky outcrop. At first we had a very pleasant walk around the bog, over the granite, past the sheep bones etc, then onto the most picturesque tiny secluded bay imaginable. The colour of the blue-green water was phenomenal, and the way it framed the sea and the land beyond was dreamlike. Gorgeous.

This is a very secluded bay and the fisherman (who is a builder by day) told me that it's a place for naturists. I could well believe it. It seemed a terribly peaceful spot, only disturbed by the birds, who sounded angry we were too near their homes. He asked me if I minded if he took off his clothes and vacant-me thought he just meant his shirt. Unfortunately, he meant more than that. I tried to ignore his lack of apparel for a few paces, suppressing my urge to giggle which I feared might have given him a wrong signal. But after a few moments, I summoned up the courage to tell him to put them back on again in my best English voice: 'I'm sorry, but it's freaking me out, do you mind ... ?'

Trying to forget what I had glimpsed, a rather difficult task, I concentrated on the amazing rock formations, the cavernous drops, the displaced boulders, the two white bollards marking Concorde's flight path for America. It was very educational.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Tin Pub, Ahakista

On my Ireland trip I had the Tin Pub on Ahakista recommended to me as a good place to play on the Sheep's Head. Anyone been there? Apparently there's also a stone circle there from the bronze age. I do like to mix amateur archaeology with song performance. The combination makes me feel like a character in a 1970s children's television series.

Pie on the peninsula

Have rolled in sweaty and suntanned from my long weekend with sheep and poets.

Highlights have been: a geography trip with an unexpected naturist, cuddling a baby lamb that nuzzled my hand, getting lightly spotted by short-lasting raindrops and dried in the hot sun by the deep blue ocean and taking a strange Wicker Man walk to a lighthouse at the end of the world sustained by a homemade apple and rhubarb pie.

More details over the next week, which I'll be dispensing in dribs and drabs, now for a shower.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Running after foxes

Last minute packing has been interrupted by dog walking, or rather, dog running-off-into-impenetrable-undergrowth. When I need every second to get ready for my trip to Kerry tomorrow morning, I have to dice with timewasting. I'm pleased to be able to announce that Solaris Q Scuddamore, after a spate of nosing among dark tree roots, has finally returned to the safety of the garden/house.

Moral: don't walk a fidgety dog off the lead on a foxy summery evening when you haven't properly packed for an international music/poetry jaunt and have to get up at 5am.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Tom Robinson, Introducing, Radio 6

So my track Doodlebug Alley will be played on Tom Robinson's BBC Introducing show Fresh on the Net on Radio 6 this weekend.

I suspect the show goes out late enough for the producer to feel unperturbed by my singing 'arse' and the light swearing that helps create the song's swinging wartime chic.

Here's my preamble: 'It's the Second World War, 1944, and there's a new beast in the air. They call it the V1, the flying bomb, the doodlebug. It's a strange bird and it makes a strange sound; a long, low, farting sound. If you can hear it, you're in danger. If it stops, you're in the blast range.'

It will be available on a podcast afterwards.

Kilcrohane here I come

This Saturday I'm off to the last coastal village on the Sheep's Head Peninsula for a poetry and music festival. This might be my only trip to Ireland this summer so I shall make the most of it; I'm going to run down to the sea and breathe very deeply.

I'm playing on the acoustic stage on the Saturday evening. As I have to get up VERY EARLY to get my flight from Luton airport I shall have to nap in the afternoon, or maybe shame myself by falling asleep during 'Future Dialogue' or 'The Lonely Schizophrenic'. Oh the delights of being a modern troubadour.

I'm very much looking forward to meeting Kylyra Ameringer, poet extraordinaire, who is hosting the event, and putting me up on her couch. She's a musician too so we should have lots in common.