“Helen McCookerybook’s lyrics, frank and idiosyncratic, find poetry in the everyday- shards of broken glass in the ice cream.” -David Sheppard, Art & Music: the Saatchi Magazine
“… acoustically led, her songs are of love, politics and quite possibly, the kitchen sink, and her voice is pure as crystal.” -Paul Scott-Bates, Louder Than War
“’The Sea’ by Helen McCookerybook is gentle but scathing, quiet but raging, fierce but melodic.” -Cazz Blaise
Born in a village in the north east of England, Helen McCookerybook’s horizons were expanded by listening to the John Peel show. Always interested in drawing, she would listen to the show, doodle, and daydream about escaping to a place where all that music came from. After attending a Foundation Course in Art at Sunderland Polytechnic, she moved to Brighton Art College to what was then the only Fine Art Printmaking course in Britain. This coincided with the emergence of punk, and encouraged by fellow squatters she joined the emerging punk scene, her first band being ‘the worst band in Brighton’ according to a local promoter. This band, Joby and the Hooligans, was mentored by the late Vi Subversa of Poison Girls. None of the guys were keen on playing bass, so McCookerybook picked it up and taught herself how to play, which was a life-changing move. After the demise of the band, Helen formed The Chefs with guitarists Carl Evans and James McCallum, and drummer Rod Bloor, and the group brought out first two tracks on the Vaultage 79 compilation and then an EP and single on the local Attrix label. The single, 24 Hours, came to the attention of BBC Radio One’s John Peel. The Chefs recorded several sessions for Radio One before disbanding in 1981. Later that year after working with Lester Square (The Monochrome Set) and Mike Slocombe (Dance on a Telephone), on a cowboy/western set of songs, Helen and just the horn players from the new band were offered a support gig in west London with The Monochrome Set, and decided to go it alone as Helen and the Horns, with Helen McCookerybook shifting from bass and vocals to guitar and vocals, an unusual ‘no-bass and no-drums’ format. They played everywhere, from student balls at the Café Royal in London, to packed out punk gigs in the shires. Once more, they were frequent Radio One ‘sessioneers’ (recordings available here) signing to RCA in 1995 with whom they released two singles. They then released an album on their own label before disbanding amicably. Helen And The Horns still play the occasional gig
Helen McCookerybook then started writing and recording film and video soundtracks for the emerging Channel 4 amongst others; this included work on a series of stings for the documentary about Millwall Football Club, No-One Likes Us, We Don’t Care and working with video artist Akiko Hada, both with Lester Square; and for Terry Jones’ campaigning video company, Smith Bundy Video.
During a break from performing , Helen McCookerybook began lecturing at the University of Westminster on it’s pioneering Commercial Music degree course; but the desire to share and perform the songs that she continued to write was compelling, so she returned to the stage as a solo artist with a new set of songs and received the warmest welcome from followers of her earlier work, and also found a new audience which is not only interested in her music, but also the artwork she has produced to accompany it. She now tours the UK regularly and has released three solo albums.
‘The Sea’ is her fourth solo album and has received airplay from BBC6’s Gideon Coe, key indie radio stations in London and from the South Coast, to BBC Scotland Highlands & Islands radio, where she was a featured artist. She has been interviewed by indie radio and media and been featured in Art & Music: The Saatchi Gallery Magazine. The album, plus her catalogue of solo CDs, is available here.
The track ‘Summer Days’ has recently been remixed by Stuart Moxham of The Young Marble Giants and recent collaborators include The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy, with whom she recorded a version of Femme Fatale (in aid of Refugee Action), Vic Godard, and again with Lester Square.
As Helen Reddington, she published the monograph The Lost Women of Rock Music: female musicians of the punk era and is currently working on a documentary of the book with Gina Birch of the Raincoats, Stories from the She-punks: music with a different agenda, which will be completed in 2018.