Helen McCookerybook was bass player in Brighton punk band Joby and the Hooligans, who packed venues with those curious to see the worst band in Brighton!
After having learnt to play her instrument, she founded the Chefs with guitarist Carl Evans; the Chefs released a 4-track EP on local label Attrix, 'Sweetie', which is now very rare. Later they signed to Dudley-based Graduate Records who re-released their second Attrix single, '24 Hours' which was a hit in the independent charts, and recorded the band for an album that was never released. They recorded radio sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner, before disbanding in 1980 after a name-change to Skat and the release of a cover-version of 'Femme Fatale', also on Graduate.
She then switched to guitar, working briefly with the Monochrome Set's guitarist Lester Square, before forming Helen and the Horns. A single, 'Freight Train', was released on Thin Sliced Records and gave the band an independent top-10 for several weeks, more Peel broadcasts followed, and she signed to RCA, who released two singles. The final release by Helen and the Horns was an album on their own label, Rockin' Ray Records.
She then went on to compose music for film and TV, including the documentary, 'No-one Likes Us, We Don't Care', for which she recorded and sampled football chants by the Millwall supporters. After a period working as a community songwriter, she started working at the University of Westminster teaching on the music course there. In 2001 she toured the UK, alongside the Raincoats' Gina Birch, with a one-woman show, Voxpop Puella. A year ago, she picked up her guitar again and hasn't stopped writing songs since- currently she's recording an album, and also writing a book about female instrumentalists form punk bands in the 1970s.
'Helen and the Horns Etc' is on Near Shore records and is available from RoughTrade mail order.
Helen & the Horns Peel Session
Brighton's first lady talks again to the No Class 'reasonable chaps'. Here's what was said...
1. If life's a catwalk, what's your outfit?
Currently, anything worn by a cast member of the Edward Scissorhands ballet - male or female!
2. and your soundtrack?
Someone Else's Guy, by Jocelyn Brown
3. What 3 people would you have round for tea and why?
Billy Childish, because he's so intelligent and he does all the things a proper musician should do, most important of which is staying committed his whole life. Grayson Perry, the ceramic artist, because he's the most brilliant artist in the universe and anyone who can put episodes of child abuse on to beautiful vases has got to be interesting company. Jamie Oliver, because he could do the cooking, and you've got to have a dumb blonde, and I'm intrigued by the fact that he can drum....
4. What's your favourite guitar solo?
The one in 'The Boys are Back in Town' by Thin Lizzy. Being an ex-punk, I'm against guitar solos in principle, but for some reason I can sing that one off by heart, so it must be my favourite.
5. If music be the food of love, what's the recipe?
Guitars, reverb and a special vocalist!
6. Have you ever been on holiday by mistake and what happened?
No. But every so often I do a mad thing to give my brain a holiday- sit on the beach in Brighton in winter, go to Smithfield and photograph the ghastly meat, walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel, get the tube to a station I am curious about and explore- that sort of thing.
7. When you write a song is it the music first then the lyrics, the lyrics as a poem without music, a mixture of the two or a different process altogether?
Usually, an idea, a line of lyric, which has a melody attached to it- which I then work out a guitar riff to go with. Several times though I have dreamt a song andjust written it down in the middle of the night. The most recent one I was too tiredto get up, and lost the song. All I remember is that it was like a Dusty Springfield track
8. Do you play around with tunings on the guitar?
No, for two reasons- I don't like it at gigs when musicians retune their guitar between songs. The most important one, though, is that the possibilities with the standard tuning seem endless- I haven't finished yet with what's there!
9. What are your views on Morris Dancing?
I knew a Morris dancer once who did the dance for me with a bag on his head cos he was embarrassed by the rude bits (apparently it's all about fertility!). But I have a sneaking suspicion that the sort of people who do Morris dancing are the same ones who used to curse and grumble about what punks looked like so I sppose the answer is, great dance, shame about the dancers!
10. If you could travel to either the future or the past which would you choose and why?
The future I think, although I prefer now, with its infinite possibilities. The past must have been full of really stinky people!
Check out The Chefs interview
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