My Year In Ten Bits Of Gear

Hobbies can be expensive, and metal is no exception. You can listen to music pretty much for free, but the all-consuming nature of metalhood compels you to also buy the clothes, collect the vinyl, go to the gigs etc.. Then there’s my guitar obsession: equipment, lessons… it all adds up financially. But the way I justify it, being a metalhead is cheaper than being a middle-class schoolmum.

Bottle of prosecco with the ladies? £20. Plastic cup of beer at a gig by myself? £3.

Cashmere cardigan from Boden? £80. Satanic band tee from a merch stand? £10.

A year of hairdressing appointments? £200. Not even bothering to brush my hair anymore? Zero quid.

And since I have completely changed my lifestyle, I reckon I have saved enough money to deserve those concert tickets and ever-expanding collection of black t-shirts. So here’s a rundown of the metal purchases that changed my life in 2017:

1. Vox Amplug 2 Metal mini amplifer: This tiny little battery amplifier, smaller than a matchbox, was a revelation: plug it directly into your guitar and earphones and you’re away, with distortion and everything. Why has it changed my life? Because now I can take my guitar into the bathroom and hide from the kids. Undisturbed practice = priceless.

2. Moldex Rocket Earplugs: There was a time not long ago when I poured scorn on earplug wearers. What kind of a metal pussy are you, with your, your.. earplugs? But how little I knew. Ear protection is essential and I never go to a gig without it now. In Switzerland where I now live it’s practically regulation; they hand out packets of yellow foam plugs at the doors. But much better than the bog-standard ones are these little purple guys. You can’t lose them because they go on a string around your neck, and they reduce just the right amount of volume rather than muffling everything. Now I can enjoy being right at the front of gigs, safe in the knowledge that my ears won’t be ringing dangerously in the morning.

3. Seymour Duncan Invaders: I play grindcore, usually downtuned to B, so I’m after the maximum depth and resultant tones from my sound. The Seymour Duncan Invader is the mother of all pick-ups; it’s not for the faint-hearted, and when I switched the standard pick-up on my trusty PRS to a set of Invaders, I instantly became 100 per cent more badass. You can’t really play clean any more once you have these, but who the hell wants to play clean?

4. Boss GT-1 Guitar Effects Processor: When I first started out playing electric guitar, my main goal was to build an impressive and pointless collection of colourful pedals, and build a pedalboard like the above. But since my electrical and carpentry skills are even weaker than my guitar ability, that was unrealistic. And then the other guitarist in my band recommended a multi-effects processor. This one has over 100 built-in effects, including noise suppressor. A game-changer.

5. Spiky boots: I bought these cheap in a vintage store, and they have actual spikes on the front, very useful.

6. Multiple Wallet Chains: Me and the sixteen-year old bassist in my band are waged in a long-running competition to see how many chains we can dangle from our jeans. I just don’t feel properly dressed without them now.

7. About 150 t-shirts: My collection is getting out of hand, but since I wear one every day I think it’s ok. You can’t go to a gig and not visit the merch stand. It’s just rude.

8. Battle jacket: I’ve finally collected enough patches to get sewing on something other than school name labels. Do I want to look like a middle-aged hairy biker bloke from 1983? Of course I do!


9. ESP Alexi-600 Greeny Signature: Ok I didn’t actually buy this- it was a birthday present from my husband and kids. But it’s the most beautiful, wonderful guitar in the world and I love love love it. Everyone told me not to get a pointy guitar: ‘You’ll have someone’s eye out, it’s try-hard, you won’t be able to sit down to play it’. But who wants to SIT DOWN to play metal? Anyway you can sit down, you just wedge it satisfyingly against your inner thigh. Yes it’s a lethal weapon, yes it’s so big it doesn’t even fit in my car, yes it’s got a fluorescent green skull on it, but I look totally badass with it and hopefully one day I’ll sound badass as well.

10. Roy The Reaper Bobblehead: Ok he didn’t change my life. And I didn’t buy him either, he came free with my latest Children of Bodom hoodie. But he’s so cute and I just love having him nodding about on my desk. And come to think of it, my forthcoming novel (to be published this year, hurray!) is basically about the Grim Reaper, so perhaps Roy’s inspiration did change my life after all.

I guess I’ve already blown most of my 2018 metal budget on tickets for Hellfest. But I do have my eye on a Morbid Angel box set…. happy shopping metalheads!

Desperately Seeking Something


‘Guitarist wanted for female black metal group. Must be ok with a bit of corpse paint’.

Am I ok with a bit of corpse paint? I don’t really know what I am these days, but I think I’d be ok with a bit of corpse paint. A more pertinent question is whether these black metal ladies would be ok with a 38-yr old who is not that good at the guitar and can only come to rehearsals if she finds a babysitter.

I am trawling the small ads on my local version of Craigslist. My youngest child is about to start nursery, which means it’s time to think about going back to work. I have plenty of qualifications and experience, but I’ve been out of the workplace for nine years so the prospect is pretty daunting. And in any case, all I really want to do is join a metal band.

I have barely ever played with another musician before; the piano is a solo instrument, and as a young pianist I had only myself to rely on. There were a few gigs as an accompanist, and a disastrous evening as a last minute stand-in with the Liverpool Chamber Orchestra, performing a Brahms Quartet unrehearsed- despite counting furiously, I somehow finished about 20 seconds before the other instruments, and will never play Brahms again- that was the longest and most sheepish 20 seconds of my life. Consequently I never reached the dizzy heights of playing a piano concerto with a full orchestra.

The electric guitar is the opposite of a solo instrument; it yearns for accompaniment. Sure I’ve been thrashing away to backing tracks downloaded from the internet, but that’s starting to wear a bit thin- I need the visceral kick of a live drum beat, the thrill of an audience.

‘Just put out an ad looking for bandmates’ my guitar teacher suggested, as if it were that simple to start a band. And perhaps it is- after all Metallica were famously born when James Hetfield responded to an advertisement placed by drummer Lars Ulrich in a local newspaper.

I decided to start small, and a couple of weeks ago I put an ad in the school newsletter to start up a parents’ rock band. I wrote it after a few glasses of wine and sent it to the PTA president on a drunken whim, so I was mortified to see my text word-for-word in the newsletter the next day, replete with over-enthusiasm and exclamation marks.

‘You have basically humiliated yourself in front of your entire community’ said my husband helpfully. ‘The only solution really is to move out of the area’. I have yet to receive a single response to my ad. Tumbleweeds fill the ether, and people avoid my eyes in the school carpark.

This is a huge relief to my husband, but it’s also something of a relief to me; I don’t actually want to fill my garage with dads, nodding our way through Journey covers, making knowing guitar faces, arguing with the school bursar over who gets to play Slash’s part in Sweet Child O’ Mine. That scenario is the apotheosis of the midlife crisis I am pretending not to have. I want to be in a proper band, with original songs and tour buses and sex and drugs and vomit and hotel-room-smashing. Ok maybe not all of those things.

But let’s face it, I’m not ready to start my own band; name any standard metal riff and I can play it, but I haven’t a clue how to co-ordinate with other musicians. And anyone who has read my blog knows that my ‘original material’ is abysmal. I need to join someone else’s band, with someone else in charge. What I secretly want to do is join my guitar teacher’s band, because that would avoid me having to make any effort whatsoever, and he could carry me through any difficult guitar parts just like he does in our lessons. But since he is a highly technical mathcore virtuoso who has devoted his life to music and is about to go on a big European tour, and moreover probably finds my existence the most embarrassing aspect of his life, this idea is typical of the spectacularly wishful thinking which has yet to get me anywhere.

So here I am looking through the classifieds.

We are two fifteen year old boys hoping to start a metalcore band. Influences Korn, Slipknot, Bullet For My Valentine. Please get in touch if you play guitar or drums’. Sure, and perhaps after band practice I can make them a snack, help them with their homework and then drive them back to their parents’ houses.

We are FUCKWHORE!!! Brutal hardcore punk. We need a fucking sick guitarist, fucking losers need not apply!!!’. I may be a fucking loser but that’s not why I won’t be applying to your band, gentlemen.

Soft rock cover band needs rhythm guitarist. Bon Jovi, Heart, Whitesnake. Wedding gigs etc. Contact Greg’. Greg, you are my nightmare.

‘Established 80s Hair Metal tribute band seeks new shredder, age unimportant but must look the part’. God, that would be my dream- to wear spandex leggings, leather bustier and a huge perm, and play blistering solos with abandon. But even if I was a better shredder I would never have the balls to apply for this, because although the ad doesn’t mention it, what they really want is someone with actual balls. 80s Hair Metal was all about the misogyny- can you imagine a female member of Motley Crue, Poison, Guns N Roses? Nope. Perhaps if I was twenty years younger they might hire me as a groupie, but they wouldn’t let me near a guitar.

So the search continues. Any band that sounds remotely metal tends to be looking for a drummer or vocalist- there is very little demand for guitarists, because everybody around here seems to play the guitar already.

There’s a spectre looming; the spectre of Last Chances. Last chance to change career, last chance to climb the corporate ladder, last chance to make a name for myself other than ‘Mummy’. Last chance to escape the fate of becoming a permanent housewife, resigned to gym classes, bake sales and school runs. And behind that spectre lies the encroaching world of work- the 9 to 5, the office politics, the suit and heels, the water cooler gossip, the deadlines.

Last chance to become a guitar goddess. Maybe I will give Fuckwhore a call…..




Metal Breastfeeding

You can do a surprising number of things while breastfeeding. You can work- I racked up hundreds of hours as a postnatal counsellor while feeding my own baby, either sitting on the phone at home, or at baby groups in the Children’s Centre. You can study- I qualified as a personal trainer, a counsellor, and an infant masseuse, all while holding a baby. You can exercise, go to the toilet and cook when required. You can even play the piano. However, for just about every reason- health and safety, ergonomics, volume- you cannot play the electric guitar while breastfeeding a baby.

Here was a fairly fundamental stumbling block which I hadn’t considered- when would I have time to practice? Scheduling in a weekly one-hour lesson was hard enough, finding time to practice in between was going to be a huge challenge. There is no shortcut to musical prowess. Talent counts for something, and practising effectively, rather than just playing the fun and easy bits, is important, but putting in the hours is key.

I practice when I can, carving minutes into the day here and there. I eschew the accurate tuning with which you are supposed to start a practice session, so I can get playing as quickly as possible. I set up my breastfeeding area right next to the guitar and amp, with my laptop at hand so I can study the tabs and learn the notes off by heart, so that as soon as the baby is finished I can put her in her Fisher Price bouncy chair for a few minutes and plug in, without the constraints of reading the music.

I practice while the baby was in her Jumperoo bouncer- once she’s strapped into it I can have a five-minute window of her rocking happily before she gets bored. Its tinny calypso tune accompanies my Megadeth riffing, but no matter. And as long as I’m smiling at her and making eye contact, I can still tell myself that I am parenting even though I am also playing a song called ‘Mandatory Suicide’.

And there is always more time to be gleaned from the day. Four hours a week, split into two two-hour sessions, I volunteer on the National Breastfeeding Helpline as a trained breastfeeding counsellor. This involves waiting for the phone to ring and then helping callers with anything from sore nipples to postnatal depression. Some sessions involve back-to-back long and emotional calls, while others you can sit back and get lots of other things done in between callers. I’m far less diligent than some of the other ladies on the team, but I do my four hours a week and feel good about it. However now I have other things on my mind; I decided that these sessions would become the perfect opportunity to practice the guitar in between calls. Previously I would set myself up for the counselling session in my home office, baby sent out for a walk with a babysitter, phone, laptop, notebook, useful phone numbers and medical textbooks at the ready. Now I set all this up on the floor in the basement, next to the Peavey and with my trusty Ibanez all tuned, plugged in and strapped on.

When the phone goes you only have four rings before it hits the helpline’s answer machine, and while this may not be disastrous for the majority of callers who just want to chat about a breastfeeding issue, it could be a matter of crisis or not for the odd caller who was really in a desperate situation. So we are morally obliged to answer, and as soon as the phone rang now there is a farcical dash- first I have to actually hear the phone over the racket I’m making, then I have to get to the amp, switch it off, and quickly turn my frame of mind from axe-wielding metal goddess to caring, empathetic health professional. There’s not enough time to unwind myself from the guitar so the Ibanez remains on my lap throughout the call.

It’s very difficult to put yourself into some tearful new mother’s head space when you’re annoyed with her because she interrupted your rather excellent rendition of Dissident Aggressor (Slayer version). It’s also difficult to sound convincing when your guitar is still feeding back on your lap because you haven’t switched it off properly. And it’s difficult to talk expertly on the finer points of which antibiotics are compatible with lactation when you’re sitting cross-legged on the floor with a guitar strapped around you.

I have found myself signing up for the graveyard helpline slots, when I know there will be fewer calls coming through. I find myself mentally swearing at the caller when the phone rings, and daring myself to let it go to the answer machine. That’s when I realize that my proficiency on the guitar, as well as being inversely proportional to my parenting standards, is also inversely proportional to my dedication as a counsellor.

How To Embarrass Your Family In 5 Easy Steps

Embarrassing your offspring is one of the delightful consolations of parenthood. They may have taken your sleep, your body, your career, your sanity, but the power you have to make them cringe is a weapon to be wielded with glee. Embarrassing your husband is an added bonus.

These are tried-and-tested methods; the older the child, the better it works, although I am very capable of embarrassing a two-year old.

  1. Wear a studded leather choker to school sports day. In fact wear metal clothing at all times, especially at school functions. Maintain your uniform of band t-shirt, biker boots and pointless chain hanging off your jeans. For enhanced effects get an inappropriate tattoo.
  2. Remember to practice your guitar during playdates. For extra points, teach their visiting friends how to windmill, mosh and headbang.
  3. As they open the car doors at school drop-off, turn up the volume on that Iron Maiden you’ve been making them listen to. As they slope away with heads down, wind down the window and call out a goodbye while making the devil horns hand sign.
  4. Buy your kids metal tour t-shirts, and dress your baby in metal onesies only. As you see, I can even embarrass a six-month old.
  5. Play your favourite Carcass album at breakfast, and sing along in your best Jeff Walker rasp.

‘Mummy, I’m going to kill you’
‘Mum, I’m going to kill myself’
‘Mama, I not like it’
‘Seriously, I am so close to divorcing you right now’

Watch them squirm!




The 10 Heavy Metal Albums Every Schoolmum Should Know

 ‘Mummy can we have some of that Judith Priest again?’

‘Judith Priest sounds like a retired geography teacher. Judas Priest are one of the greatest metal bands of all time’

‘Whatever Mum. Actually can we have just have One Direction’

You may think that a battered Chrysler Grand Voyager- crammed with booster seats, empty crisp packets and Dora The Explorer DVDs, and with a lingering aroma of vomit- is the least metal vehicle imaginable. But you would be wrong, because my school runs are seriously Metal.

I spend about two hours in the car every day ferrying the kids to one thing and another, and although for half of that time I’m forced to listen to the Peppa Pig sing-along CD or some other tinny nightmare, my beloved Chrysler starts blasting distorted guitars the minute I can offload the children from it. Until my metal renaissance, the beep of the electronic key as I approached the car would trigger an involuntary inner sigh, the knowledge that I would have to waste another half-hour of my life sitting in traffic. But now I looked forward to these musical interludes as my favourite times of the day. Our went Radio 4’s Today programme, out went the audionovels and improving podcasts, and in came the heavy metal canon.

If you want to metal-up your school run, try these for starters:

Ozzy Osbourne ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ (1980)

The kids will love Crazy Train


Slayer ‘Reign In Blood’ (1986)

Nasty, vicious, required listening


Carcass ‘Heartwork’ (1993)

The birth of melodic death metal


Exodus ‘Blood In Blood Out’ (1985)

I love thrash, and you will too


Iron Maiden ‘Powerslave’ (1984)

Hard to pick a favourite Iron Maiden, but this has some of my favourites including Aces High, 2 Minutes to Midnight and Powerslave


Judas Priest ‘Painkiller’ (1990)

That’s Judas, not Judith, kids. A classic.


Metallica ‘Metallica’ (1991)

A controversial choice, as it’s their ‘soft’ album, but let’s just admit how good it is


Megadeth ‘Dystopia’ (2016)

Dave Mustaine’s 30-year revenge campaign against Metallica continues apace, and he hasn’t changed the formula


Meshuggah ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’ (2016)

Who knew 23/8 was even a time signature? Challenge yourself with the Swedish mathcore innovators.


Rotting Christ ‘Rituals’ (2016)

Mystical Greek black metal. For dark days



Happy Listening!