Category Archives: Music

The Long Island Expressway and a Jar of Good Things

Happy New Year everyone!

Over at On The Homefront, LouAnn is hosting her second New Year’s Eve blog party, yay! As we did last year, Neil and I have again recorded a little song especially for the party. I’m posting our song here too, called Long Island Expressway, but do hop over to On The Homefront and join in with the party there! I’m only really joining in the singing on the chorus, but in between you can watch my moves…

I would also like to share a lovely idea I heard about recently, as an alternative to those pesky New Year’s resolutions. Get yourself a jar…

Empty jar

…and then starting on January 1 and throughout the year, every time something good happens to you, write it on a little piece of paper, date it, and put it in the jar. Think broadly about what constitutes good things:

– The achievement of a goal.
– Something that made you laugh hysterically.
– An unexpected phone call or visit from an old friend.
– A fun day out.
– Something great your kids said or did.
– A nice compliment you received.
– A moment of clarity.
– The pleasure you felt when someone close to you had something great happen.
– The discovery that scientists have developed a new kind of chocolate that looks, feels, and tastes exactly like the real thing but is actually just made of air and water.

So fill your jar with all these good things, and then on December 31, open it up and read them all. I know this idea is a little sappy for me, but I always tend to get a little sappy around New Year’s Eve.

Wishing you all a jar full of good things for 2014!

jar photo credit: algo_rojo via photopin cc


A polar bear, a gorilla, and a man who played piano in the woods

Vanessa in polar bear costume

That’s me in there!

“Put on the polar bear costume!” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said. And so I did. Nobody warned me though about the kids that would be coming to punch me, kick me, try to push me over and pull my head off. Oh no, they didn’t mention that. But of course those were in the minority, and there were many more that just wanted to come and get a big cuddly bear hug from me. I expect you’re wondering what I was doing in a polar bear costume right? Well last weekend, my Neil and I were Greenpeace volunteers at the Smugglers Music Festival in Kent. While I was in the polar bear costume, Neil looked like this:

Neil in gorilla costume

Thankfully we only had to do short stints in the costumes, or we would surely have passed out from the heat. Aside from the heat, and being beaten up by the kids, I also had to contend with earwigs inside the polar bear’s head at one point, but apart from that, it was a blast! When we weren’t in costume, we looked like this:

Greenpeace stand

Greenpeace stand

The main purpose of being there was to recruit more Arctic Defenders, which involved getting people to sign a petition to stop further drilling for oil in the Arctic. I’m not going to ramble on about that now, but if you want to know more about the campaign, follow this link.

We had plenty of free time to enjoy the festival, and we camped there for two nights. The kids came too and much fun was had by all. This wasn’t a festival with big name bands, but we heard some fabulous music there. Real musicians playing real instruments, imagine! One of best moments though was on the second evening, we sat around the campfire…

Vanessa around campfire

…and a man came by. He wasn’t one of the acts, he wasn’t scheduled, he just took the opportunity that was a few feet away from us, and he played piano in the woods.

Man playing piano in the woods

Do you go to music festivals? Or do any volunteering? Or dress up as polar bears or gorillas? Or play musical instruments in random places?

My Desert Island Discs

Woman on island listening to music

For those who don’t know, Desert Island Discs is a British institution. It’s a programme on Radio 4 which has been running since 1942. Each episode features an interview with a celebrity/public figure where they are asked to select eight pieces of music they would take with them if they were a castaway on a desert island, along with one book and one luxury item.

Rather like we have all planned how we will spend the money when we win the lottery, and we have all prepared our speech for when we win an Oscar (you have all prepared an Oscar acceptance speech right? If not, then I was just kidding), similarly, a lot of us Brits like to select our pieces of music ready for when we get invited on to Desert Island Discs. I hadn’t made my choices before, so I’m doing it now, just so that I’m ready when the call comes.

These aren’t necessarily my all-time favourite pieces of music, some are selected more because of the memories that go with them…

Cheer Down, George Harrison – My Neil and I often have quite different tastes in music, but we both love this song. This is a definite one for me to take…

Maria, Blondie – I love Blondie and I love that when they came back with this song in 1999, Debbie Harry, aged 53, proved that she was still every bit the cool rock chick. This one always gives me a real buzz if it comes on the radio.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (I haven’t decided which recording yet) – When I was much younger I wanted to be a ballet dancer, and this is the ultimate in ballet music. I want the complete Swan Lake here; you could argue that the complete thing is actually several pieces of music rather than just one, but you can argue all you like, I won’t hear you, I will be on my island being a ballerina.

Happy Hour, Ted Hawkins – I saw Ted Hawkins play live at a club in Camden in the late 80s. It was a great night. I’d never heard him before, but I straight away took to this song, and remembered it over the years. Recently Neil and I sang it together (some of you have seen the video of that!).

Band of Gold, Freda Payne – I’ve chosen this one because not only is it a fabulous 70s classic, but it was number one in the UK charts on the day I was born in September 1970.

Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, from Bugsy Malone – When I wasn’t wanting to be a ballet dancer, I was wanting to be one of the dancing and singing girls from Bugsy Malone. I totally could have been one of these girls…

We will Rock You, Queen – This one is a great memory for me of my trip to Corfu with the kids last year, and the three of us standing on bar stools in the evenings clapping and singing along to this. I intend to blast this one out really loud on the island.

And finally…

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, from Monty Python – I’ve chosen this one simply because I might need it to help me get through any tough days on the island.

Oh dear, I’m showing my age, there’s nothing up-to-date in that lot at all!

For the book, they give you the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a bible (or other holy book), you don’t have to accept them though if you don’t want them. You then choose one more book. After much consideration, I think I would choose a large encyclopedia.

For the luxury item, it has to be inanimate and it can’t be anything that enables you to escape or to have communication with the outside world. You can however have things that start with “Endless supply of…” I would therefore have to pick an endless supply of paper and pens. That has been chosen by quite a few guests on the programme, but I’m not seeking to be original in my choice. Other popular choices have been large supplies of favourite alcoholic drinks or food, musical instruments, or comfort items such as a bed or pillows. I did consider a lighter or a Swiss Army Knife, however I decided that I would be able to make fire myself, and I would be able to make cutting tools by smashing up pieces of rock (don’t laugh, I’m pretty sure I could do those things if I had to!), so ultimately the paper and pens would be more treasured.

Tropical beach

And there we have it. I’d love to hear what book or luxury item you’d pick. Or you can tell me some song choices you’d go for. Or can just laugh at my choices…

Picture credits:
‘Vintage Summer’ by Gabriella Fabbri
‘Paradise 4’ by Gabriel Bulla

It’s time for a virtual New Year’s Eve party!

That’s right, it’s open house over at On The Homefront‘s place for a virtual New Year’s Eve party; everyone’s invited! I agreed to sing a song at the party with my other half, Neil, which is linked to over there, but I thought I’d post it here as well to give you a taste of the party…

Now why not pop over there and join in the fun. Add your own entertainment into the comments there on the party post, or leave some positive thoughts and resolutions, or whatever you like really!

And Happy New Year everybody!

Hey Mr. DJ, play a song for me…

Song for Whoever

When I was 17 I had a job as a receptionist. One day, this rather handsome rugged guy came in. He swaggered towards me. As he reached the desk, I smiled broadly and put on my best receptionist voice, “Good morning, how can I help you?”.
He didn’t respond, he just stared.
“Can I help you?” I inquired again.
“Oh I’m sorry”, he said, “but you’re like the most beautiful girl in the world, you literally took my breath away. What are you even doing here? Why aren’t you on television or something?”.
I blushed and giggled.
He continued “Seriously, I mean it, I’m a radio DJ so I meet a lot of girls, and you can take it from me, you really are the most beautiful girl in the world”.
He handed me his card.
“A DJ?” I asked, wide-eyed, “On the radio?”.
“Yes” he said “I do a rock show on Sunday evenings. Tell me your name, and listen to the show this Sunday, I’ll play a song just for you”.
He winked and smiled. So I gave him my name, and on Sunday evening I listened…

A few minutes into the show, he said “This next song goes out to the most beautiful girl in the world…”. My heart pounded, I felt weak. “…Amy”. Amy?! It might not have been Amy, I can’t remember the name, I just know it wasn’t my name. I thought there must be some mistake, so I carried on listening. During the rest of the show he dedicated a few more songs to “The most beautiful girl in the world”, each time a different name, each time not mine. Hugely disappointed, but still naively hopeful, I listened to the show every Sunday for the next few weeks. It turned out that there were a lot of girls who were the most beautiful girl in the world, but not one of them was me.

It took me a while, but eventually I realised that this must be something he did a lot, just to try and get more listeners to the show. He probably chalked up a long list of names every week, some of them were mentioned on the show, some not, it didn’t matter. Boy did I feel stupid and gullible. It then took me several more years to realise that these type of experiences are the ones we should actually be grateful for, they are the ones where no real harm has been done, but we have learned from them – we have learned not to believe everything that a handsome man says, we have learned not to let compliments cloud our thinking, we have learned to question people’s motives, and we have learned that DJs know all the best lines.

Feel free to share your own tales of youthful foolishness!

I’ve Had Two More Articles Published

Regular readers of my blog will know that whenever I have an article published, I post it on here. I would like to point out that this isn’t just so that I can show off, no, that’s only PART of the reason. The other reason is so that I can file them all under ‘Published’ at the top of the page and then I have a nice handy dandy link to send people when I want to show them examples of my work. Shall I get on with it now?

Firstly, a music article I wrote for the Canterbury Index magazine, ‘Sounds of the City’. Note also how it is the main featured article on the cover (I’m not showing off or anything) –

Index Mag Oct 2012 CoverMusic article Oct 2012

And if you can’t read it from the picture, then the online version is available here, pages 12/13:

Secondly, an article in the general women’s interest section of Parent Guide News, ‘Beware of the Frenemy’. I have Nicola Davies to thank for getting this one. Thank you Nicola!

Oct Cover of Parent Guide NewsFrenemy article

And the direct link for that one:

That’s all folks!

My latest published article – Stephen Hussey

You may have read the post I wrote for the Limebird Writers site last week – Interviewing for Magazine Articles. Well, here is an example of an article I have written which was based on an interview. This has just been published in the June 2012 edition of the Canterbury Index magazine. The article is about Stephen Hussey, the founder of the Urban Soul Orchestra. An extremely interesting and talented man.

Canterbury Index June 2012 coverArticle about Stephen Hussey

If you can’t read it properly above, you can go direct to the online version of the magazine here, the article is on page 43:

Jim Penfold and the Hollywood Killers

Jim Penfold pop art photo
Pop art photo of Jim Penfold by Gered Mankowitz

The year was 1976, Jim Penfold, Neil Aplin, Duncan Reid (later of ‘The Boys’) and a couple of school pals formed a band. 36 years later, on June 9th 2012, Jim Penfold and The Hollywood Killers are going to be performing at London’s legendary 100 Club on Oxford Street.

Hollywood Killers 100 Club poster
Photograph for 100 Club flyer by Will Wilkinson

An early photograph of The Hollywood Killers

I chatted with Jim, the band’s founder and front man about the early days, and the time he found himself in the woods with Gwyneth Paltrow…

So Jim, you’ve worked with a lot of well-known people over the years, could you name drop a little for us please?

Sure. When we first started the band we were called ‘The Matinee Idols’ and our early gigs were promoted by Simon Fuller who later went on to manage The Spice Girls and S-Club 7. We’ve also had a few people come and go in the band over the years, one of which was lead guitarist Rob Manzoli who went on to have great success as part of Right Said Fred. In 1984 I was in a short film alongside Jason Connery and a then unknown Jack Dee for our song ‘Teenage Dream’.

Jason Connery and Jack Dee you say? Tell me more

Well I can show you. Last year I remade a video for the song using some of the old footage…

Teenage Dream (2011), produced by Will Wilkinson at Blackboard Productions

Going back to the very early days, who were your main musical influences?

Definitely the Beatles, and particularly Paul McCartney. In 1977 we played a gig at a wine bar in Rye, and later on that evening Denny Laine and Wings came down there for a drink, and we jammed and hung out with them for a bit after the bar closed which was great. I kept hoping Paul would come down to the bar to join us too, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.

I understand you’ve also done some music for television and film, is that right?

Yes, I wrote and performed the music for Charley Boorman’s series ‘Race to Dakar’, and also the theme song and three sound track songs for a film that Charley was in with Richard E.Grant, called ‘Cash in Hand’.

Jim Penfold in a tunnel

Have you ever performed in front of royalty?

We have indeed. In 1982 we played at The Berkeley Square Ball in front of Princess Margaret. The headline act that night was Dame Vera Lynn.

Vera Lynn, wow! Next you’ll be telling me you’ve been immortalised as a bronze statue somewhere, haha.

Well funny you should say that, I have been. It was created in 1997 by Mark Coreth and sits outside the Globe Theatre on the River Thames, right next to the Millenium Bridge.

Jim Penfold as a bronze statue

What sort of radio play have you had over the years?

Quite a bit. 1978 was a good year – John Peel really liked our song ‘Goodbye Suicide’ and used to play it all the time on his show. In the last couple of years, Chris Hawkins of BBC6 Music has on three occasions on his show replayed our performance on the 1982 Radio 1 in Concert.

So what’s all this about Gwyneth Paltrow then?

I’ve done a bit of acting over the years. I had a part in ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, and also had walk on parts in ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’, ‘Superman IV’ and ‘Inspector Morse’. But it was during the filming of ‘Emma’, where I played the head gypsy, that I had to attack Gwyneth Paltrow in the woods – I’m sure she remembers the moment as fondly as I do.

And what can we expect from you at the 100 Club in June?

We haven’t played at the 100 Club for over 20 years, so I’m really excited to be going back there, I love the place. We’ll be playing all the old favourites and some newer tracks too. Neil Aplin on lead guitar is the only other member of the band apart from me who was in the original line up. He has tried to leave the band several times over the years, but I always drag him back kicking and screaming. The rest of the band are Dan Conquest (keyboards), John East (bass/backing vocals), Oli Turner (drums) and Ben Court (percussion/backing vocals).  We also have two fantastic young, up and coming bands supporting us – Trebuchets, and Theya and the Ghosts. It should be a great night.

Jim Penfold performing at festival
Photograph by Will Wilkinson

Do you think you’ll ever retire from music Jim?

I can’t see me ever retiring. Playing music is the one thing that makes me truly happy. It’s a lot of hard work, and there are a lot of ups and downs along the way, but that one moment on stage where everything comes together makes it all worthwhile.

Well there you have it folks, if you’re around London on June 9th, why not come along? I know I’m looking forward to it, and not least because my wonderful partner Neil is THE Neil Aplin on lead guitar (did I not mention that?).

Do you think we have time for one more song Jim?

I think we do Vanessa. This is one we’ll be playing on the night, ‘Hole In My Room’. I hope you like it.

Hole In My Room (1989). Video by Dominic Allen.

For more info: