Josie Moon

Writer, Musician and Community Artist


Mercedes Sosa: Mercedes Sosa en Argentina

Mercedes Sosa en Argentina is a double album by Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa. It was recorded live at the Teatro Opera de Buenos Aires in February 1982 and released on the Philips label. The concert and recording marked Sosa’s return to Argentina after three years in exile.

Described as the driving force behind the nueva canción movement, singer Mercedes Sosa was born and raised in Tucumán, Argentina. She began her career as a performer at 15 after winning a radio hosted competition. The nueva canción movement was a political movement of protest music that spread across Argentina and Chile during the 1960s. The movement was attacked as part of the 1973 CIA-sponsored coup which overthrew democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende.

Because of her repertoire of songs championing human rights and democracy, Sosa was treated as a serious threat by the military regime which came to power in Argentina. In 1975 she was harassed and arrested during a live performance. Audience members were also arrested and imprisoned. Death threats followed and she left Argentina in 1979, and she lived in exile in Paris and Madrid for three years, before returning to Argentina in triumph in 1982.

Over her long career, Sosa collaborated with artists as diverse as Joan Baez, Pata Negra and Luciano Pavarotti. She was loved and admired across Latin America and lived a life of extraordinary musicianship, political principle and engagement in human rights and other causes.

Here she is performing one of her signature songs, Gracias a la Vida with Joan Baez:

Mercedes en Argentina is a remarkable and moving listen. Her voice is extraordinarily rich and textured, exuding humanity, compassion and integrity. Listening to it led me to the equally powerful Misa Criolla, composed by Ariel Ramirez in 1964. This was one of the first non-Latin masses, written in the vernacular. It is a mass composed using folk and traditional instruments alongside soloists and choirs. Ramirez recorded with Sosa in 1999. It is a beautiful and haunting work and can be heard here:


Aretha Franklin: Young, Gifted and Black

Young, Gifted and Black is the eighteenth studio album by  Aretha Franklin, released on January 24, 1972 by Atlantic Records. It takes its title from the Nina Simone song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black“, which was originally recorded and released by Simone in 1969.

What a complete delight and pleasure it has been to spend time listening to the undisputed Queen of Soul. Her perfect voice, immaculate diction and sheer emotional depth and authenticity have helped me in the past couple of weeks to find some inspiration and joy.

There is a plethora of writing about Aretha Franklin and every plaudit she has is richly deserved. I am not going to add anything other than my respect and admiration for her.

I am particularly moved to learn that she held women’s rights and civil rights as central to her life and values. Not only this but she quietly and privately supported the struggle for the rights of indigenous Americans. She refused to perform at Trump’s inauguration as an act of protest from artists and musicians. She led a principled life and is a powerful role model for women everywhere, not just in music. She spoke up for Angela Davis when she was arrested and jailed in 1970 telling Jet magazine :

“Angela Davis must go free … Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”

I was spoilt for choice over what link to share, so here’s a couple. Treat your ears:

Aretha Franklin, I salute you.


World Poetry Day, March 21st 2021

It’s World Poetry Day today – a lovely thing in such dark and difficult days. I’ve posted this poem before, a couple of times, because it becomes more relevant and sinister by the day. It is part of my 2018 collection, Poems from the Swamp which explores the psychogeography of an imagined version of the East Marsh where I live; it’s material reality and the unconscious and mythic layers that exist beyond the thinnest of veils. Each poem is written from the point of view of characters I have created. These characters now inhabit the novel I am currently writing.

There are Gauleiters everywhere, enabled by their pigs. We have seen them in action recently. They are as likely to be found on the streets, violently suppressing peaceful protest as they are to be found on the benches of the House of Commons. We live in a time where pigs are handed obscene prizes by their Gauleiters, whether that is PPE contracts for equipment that never arrives or for Test and Trace systems that are not fit for purpose. The sty is certainly seamier even than it was when I first wrote this in 2017.

My thanks to Sophie Ashton for her drawing of the pig. My apologies to pigs, which in truth are lovely animals. Also thanks again to Nick Triplow who painstakingly edited Poems from the the Swamp and to who I am indebted.

Nick has co-curated Hull Noir, one of the UK’s premier crime fiction festivals this weekend. Follow this link to catch up with what’s on at the festival

The Gauleiter and His Pig


Transcribed and translated by George Lydda

The Gauleiter and his pig reside here

in the swamp, a septic, infected sty,

poisoned with wormwoods for false prophecy.

Their respectability has that stink

of swill that clings like thin grease, that chokes throats,

an insinuation of rancid filth.

They can wash their hands, insipid Pilates,

and never know what it is to be clean.

The people have spoken, so it is claimed

the people shriek their will, so it is claimed

across  this newly grim, unpleasant land

where mandrakes strike and strangle healthy plants,

spread tendrils of  fervour amidst the sane,

sanguine folk of  once fair-minded islands

made pestilential and sabre-rattling

when pigs and Gauleiters take command.

This pig and Gauleiter feed on censure ,

patrol the streets, sniff out the shunned ,

hunt the dreamers, the effete, the forceless

poison the water, spread lies, deception

that find keen reception in willing ears.

These  guardians of now lost Albion

with pig battalions in eager service

goose step, relentless over small town swamps

spreading venom and violence as they go.

People need their pigs in lipstick, panders,

apologists, pimps  and patsies.

These quiet and not so quiet fascists

impose their spurious jurisdiction,

shift the paradigm of civilisation,

spawn bleak new dawns of moral disaster,

bring terror, trauma and catastrophe.

This Gauleiter and his wallowing pig

inhabit the swamp imperiously,

belch and fart out obscene absurdity,

at which the cowed folk quake and shiver,

scuttle with truffles to please and appease,

to sate and satisfy lusty tumescence,

with  Destroying Angel, Fly Agaric,

to avoid the cosh, the truncheon, baton.

But nothing placates appetites like these

where only the hunger, the greed is fed.

The sty turns seamier, with deepening stench,

while mists from the quagmire hint and hiss,

meander in serpentine gyres and twists,

layering the space where once the light lay

with impenetrable shadows of boundless black.

Once before, in still living memory

the fair-minded folk of a place like this

thrilled in denouncing friends and neighbours,

those whose faces no longer fit.

Trucks rattled the bones of human cargo

along tracks destined for nightmarish swamps,

as pigs and Gauleiters squealed and capered,

wallowed in a surfeit of harrowing loss,

caroused at perdition and extermination,

a Saturnalia of uncountable cost. 

This Gauleiter, pig, and the onlookers 

are droghers who’ll carry the weight of the swamp,

a shipment of shame beyond all atoning

long after this tale and its tellers are gone.

Poems from the Swamp Josie Moon
Poems from the Swamp


Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaiotis: Deep Listening

Pauline Oliveros (May 30, 1932 – November 24, 2016 was an American composer, accordionist and a central figure in the development of post-war experimental and electronic music. She was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre during the 1960s, and worked as its director. Oliveros wrote books, formulated music theories, and investigated ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of deep listening and sonic awareness.

Pauline Oliveros is a real discovery for me, someone to whom I will return. I have spent some time in the past couple of weeks doing my best to listen deeply to this album and to sit with my responses to it, which have ranged from an increased heartbeat and visceral engagement to great difficulty in coping with some of the frequencies and dissonances. As I write I am listening to her album The Roots of the Moment and finding that I am equally drawn to and repelled by the discordance and strangeness of it.

This music demands concentration and attention and these skills were central to Oliveros’ practice as a musician and a teacher. Unfortunately, I have been distracted and unable to focus attention on listening to Oliveros in the way she deserves because other more urgent voices have demanded my attention.

The irony of my project title, Listening to Women has come to the fore in this most depressing of weeks. We began the week on Monday 8th March, International Women’s Day. There was the usual snarky whataboutery of when’s International Men’s day; tone deaf and unable to use Google to find out it’s November 19th, same as every year since its inauguration in 1992.

Exasperation turned to fury as UN Women UK published its report on sexual harassment; 97% of women aged 18-24 reported that they had experienced harassment and 96% said they had not reported it because they didn’t believe they would make any difference by doing so. Instead of universal outrage and condemnation and a stated will and desire to do better, to be better, our old friend systemic misogyny reared its head and Twitter was inundated with #notallmen excuses. Of course it’s not all men, but it’s enough men to have created an unsafe country for women where 97% of young women have been harassed and an unsafe world where one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of men in their lifetime. It’s not all men, but it is some men, and the trouble is, we can’t predict where or who they are.

At the same time as these statistics were causing distress to male privilege, racist male privilege was also being demonstrated in the media via the spectacular hissyfit of a bloated, entitled male TV presenter storming off because of his peculiar and perverse obsession with Meghan Markle – this generation’s convenient scapegoat for monarchy and monarchists who refuse to acknowledge the fundamental weirdness of this anachronistic institution.

Then it all took a dark and nasty turn with the devastating news of the murder of Sarah Everard, a young woman who went missing from Clapham Common in early March and whose body was found dumped in a large bag. A police officer has appeared in court charged with her abduction and murder. Sarah’s story is another desperate moment on the seemingly endless continuum of violent and fatal acts against women. Having spoken to several women over the past few days, we share in the grief, the sorrow and the rage at her death.

In private, I know I am not alone in having trawled back over the times in my life when I have experienced violence at the hands of men. It’s odd and disturbing how memories come back when you venture down this dark and frightening rabbit hole of memory. On this particular journey, I recalled being punched, hard, in the breast by a boy at the age of 12, just at my breasts were emerging. I remembered how startling, how unexpected that assault was.

I know I am not alone in having carried a bunch of keys protruding between the fingers of a clenched fist, of having taken the long way round, hesitated outside a lit shop window, felt sick with terror at the sound of footsteps behind me, broken into an unsteady run. Countless narratives are appearing on social media telling the same depressing stories to the backdrop of an abdication of responsibility in that #notall hashtag along with an absolute refusal to listen.

Last night officers of the Met bungled their policing of a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard, using heavy handed and violent tactics against women who went to Clapham Common to show solidarity and to publicly demonstrate their grief. Arrests, restraints and horrendous photographs of women being knelt on by police officers demonstrate the miserable failure in the police response and in the attitude of their commanding officer, Cressida Dick, who faces widespread calls to resign.

In an increasingly authoritarian country, with a home secretary who clearly revels in oppression and state sanctioned violence against refugees, travelers, protestors and anyone she considers troublesome and who is presenting a draconian policing bill to parliament this week, we are clearly in trouble.

In the entire history of struggle for rights and freedoms, those in power never give it up willingly. Power has to be wrested from them and there is always a fight. There needs to a be a fight now. I hope that this week, which concludes with Mother’s Day for God’s sake, is the start of a fight; one which can be won and not by those currently holding the levers of power.

Next week I will return to music. The events of this week have been too important for me to not reflect on them.

If you want to have a deep listening experience, I can recommend this – but watch out for the interruption of annoying ads.


Iris DeMent: My Life

My Life is the second album released by singer-songwriter Iris DeMent. Released in 1994 on Warner Bros, the album was dedicated to her father, Patric Shaw DeMent, who died in 1992.

Sometimes life interrupts your plans and so I have been spending longer with Iris DeMent than I’d planned and I’m not sorry. My Life is an extraordinary, tender and evocative album that is definitely worth a fortnight. In fact, several of the albums and artists I have visited thus far have remained in my head and I am looking forward to compiling a lengthy playlist featuring all of these exceptional women.

Iris DeMent came to prominence in the early nineties with her song Our Town which was used to close the final episode of the run away television hit Northern Exposure. By a strange coincidence, serendipity or just a fortuitous moment, we are currently watching Northern Exposure, a show we have chosen as an antidote to the rotten times in which we live. I wonder how many people shipped out to Alaska after watching the show in the nineties, and if Alaska is currently open to disenfranchised Europeans in search of a seemingly gentler place to live.

More recently, the title track of My Life was used in another hit TV show, Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel that took on extraordinary resonance during the Trump years and which stands as a terrifying imagining of the horrors of authoritarianism combined with extreme misogyny. The song was used for the opening sequence of Season Two Episode Seven, when the handmaids attend the funeral of other handmaids, killed during a failed attempt to overthrow the regime. The sight of a trembling and tearful Aunt Lydia wishing for a ‘peaceful world’ when she herself is a weapon of state-sanctioned violence against women brings bile to to the throat: Iris DeMent’s beautiful, haunting music juxtaposes the horror of the moment, a sweet, life-affirming and poignant song against a backdrop of blood-soaked horror.

Iris DeMent’s voice is pure country, dripping in sorrows and heartaches, simple living, family, home and of course love. It is unsentimental, cracked and honest, reminding me of Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch. She has worked with Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and John Prine and is an artist who seems intent on her own authentic path, pursuing her truth and telling stories in her songs with profound resonance; stories of the reality of being, of love and death.

Here’s something special to finish, Iris and Emmylou. I defy you not to cry:


Oumou Sangare: Moussolou

Oulou Sangaré recorded her first album, Moussoulou (“Women”), with Amadou Ba Guindo, a renowned maestro of Malian music. The album was very successful in Africa, with more than 200,000 copies sold initially on tape. The album was released in 1990 when Sangare was twenty-one years old.

In the midst of a bleak week, Oulou Sangare’s voice brought shafts of sunshine and warmth. Listening to her debut album, its rich rhythms and feisty vocals, I was lifted out of the challenges of the days for some bright and beautiful moments. Prior to listening to this album I knew nothing of Oumou Sangare. Part of the point of this year is to listen to more diverse women’s voices and to educate myself about the cultures these artists come from.

Moussolou means women and in the album’s title song Oumou Sangare speaks to the women of Mali about their lives and their positions. She has written extensively since her first album about women and the low status that women endure in society. She is an advocate for women’s rights, and is critical of child marriage and polygamy, having experienced the effect the latter had on her mother when Sangare was a child.

Sangaré has worked as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, but when asked about politics says: “While you’re an artist, you’re free to say what you think; when you’re a politician, you follow instructions from higher up.”

Oumou Sangare has performed all over the world since her success with Moussolou and has worked with numerous artists including Herbie Hancock and Bela Fleck. She is a vibrant and inspiring artist with a captivating voice and commanding musicality.

If you want to get a flavour of Oumou as she is now, then watch her here, live in London in 2019:


Ms Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the debut solo album by American singer and rapper Lauryn Hill. It was released on August 25, 1998, by Ruffhouse Records and Columbia Records.

In 1998 Ms Hill exploded as an artist in her own right after extraordinary success with The Fugees. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is an opus, a personal and political album that combines soul, hip-hop, reggae and R&B. The album is rich, complex and full of detail referencing Ms Hill’s religious sensibility, her struggle as a woman to assert herself in a musical culture towered over by men, her influences and her personal experience of young motherhood.

Ms Hill’s struggles and scandals have been well documented, including her battle with New Ark (her band for the Miseducation sessions), her notorious lateness to performances and considerable diva-ish traits. In truth, I knew little about her and haven’t followed her career or paid much attention to her work. Coming to such a lauded album twenty- three years after its multiple award winning success, reading about her life and career and considering the culture in which she was working I have found considerable respect and admiration for Ms Hill. She was so young in 1998 and made an enormous impact with her work which was described as genre bending. She left a lasting mark on the scene she was so much a part of with her soulful voice, clever rhymes and spiky content.

The album launches with the excoriating Lost Ones and then weaves through changes in mood and style for one hour and seventeen minutes. The album has a huge cast of musicians, singers and producers including Mary J Blige and D’Angelo but is universally acknowledged as Ms Hill’s vision in action. Stand out tracks for me include the cautionary tale Doo Wop (That Thing) which mixes doo wop with R&B creating a clever groove fusing past and present. The video is illustrative of the theme. Watch it here: The song is hypnotic with its sample piano chords, layered vocals and brass.

The whole album is worth a proper listen, and if you’re a listener who wants a truly deep dive, check out Dissect, a podcast that takes apart great albums track by track:

In 2019 Ms Hill contributed the track Guarding the Gates to the Queen and Slim film soundtrack. The film is exceptional and the track gives us a mature, confident Ms Hill full of soul. You can listen to the track here:


Madonna: Ray of Light

Ray of Light is the seventh studio album by American singer-songwriter Madonna, released on February 22, 1998 by Maverick Records.

I was looking forward to revisiting this album, the only work by Madonna that I ever liked. Back in 1998, I played it to death (bar the track Candy Perfume Girl which I never liked) and I particularly loved the William Orbit production. The album won four Grammys and universal critical acclaim.

Did it stand up? Did I dive back in and find it as exciting and engaging as I did all those years ago? The short answer is no. The more interesting answer is that I have spent time this week thinking about the album, about Madonna and why I find her problematic.

The album deserves the accolades it received on its release. It marked a sea change in Madonna’s career and changes in the pop world, particularly the advent of electronica. William Orbit’s production is sublime in places. My ‘deep listen’ happened, lying in bed in the dark, listening to it on a good quality speaker. I heard all the nuances and tricks of Orbit’s style, the subtle segues between songs and the unifying motifs of minor keys and melancholic tones. The album does have beautiful moments, no doubt, and Ray of Light, the title track is still a corker of a high octane dance number.

The album provoked nostalgia. I found myself reminded of a different time in my life when I was a different person, living a different life. I was able to sit with that difference, with some of those memories and rather than pushing them away, I stayed with them a while and then released them back to where they belong.

Madonna is problematic for me. She burst onto the music scene in the early 80s. Her presentation was provocative and sexual. She was unafraid to use sex and to be a highly sexualised performer. My feminist sensibility was burgeoning at the time and I simply did not like her or what she was doing with her image. I didn’t find watching her or listening to her empowering. I still don’t. I admire her for having had a stellar career, in which she has clearly been in charge of her creative destiny, transforming with the times, controlling her image and her business. That has to be a positive achievement for a woman in an industry that chews up and discards artists, especially women, on a daily basis. Madonna made it in a man’s world but used tactics that left many feminists uncomfortable. Madonna said of her ‘regressive’ image in Cosmopolitan that ‘they didn’t get the joke’ and told Newsweek in 1985, ‘when someone like Prince, Elvis or Jagger does the same thing they are being honest, sensual human beings,’ failing to acknowledge the persistent and pernicious objectification of women in patriarchy and the uphill fight women have to be both taken seriously and not degraded through sexual objectification.

Ray of Light marked a departure, a more interesting Madonna, at least to me, but watching the accompanying music videos again, there is a lot of preening and posing and focus simply on her. The most interesting video is for Frozen where she seems to be channeling a version of The Morrigan, goddess of death. Other videos feature erotic chess, moping, running away from the paparazzo press or vaguely Sado-erotic imagery that doesn’t really cohere and is uncomfortable to watch.

I am pleased to have revisited the album, but I won’t be going back for more or exploring any of Madonna’s other work. She is a great entertainer, a woman who has earnt her place in the canon of iconic pop artists, but she doesn’t speak to me.

Check out Frozen here:


Pearl: Janis Joplin

Pearl is the second and final solo studio album by Janis Joplin, released posthumously on January 11, 1971, three months after her death on October 4, 1970.

A Woman Left Lonely, track three, is the song that says it all. It’s the one I was least familiar with when I returned to this album, and it’s the one I’ve played most.

A woman left lonely will soon grow tired of waiting,
She’ll do crazy things, yeah, on lonely occasions.

Janis was certainly lonely and she certainly did her fair share of crazy things, in a culture that was hostile to women in general but dangerous for women like Janis. Her hedonism, unconventional behaviour and appearance along with her desire to be accepted as a woman and an artist meant she was trapped in the age-old virgin/whore dichotomy for women; or good girl/bad girl if we take the religiosity out of the notion. Janis did not want to be just one of the boys and had some hateful experiences that must have hurt her deeply- being voted ‘ugliest man on campus’ at her college and being mobbed by misogyny and stupidity. She chose the ‘bad girl’ paradigm, but it didn’t make her happy. Fellow musician, one time boyfriend, admirer and friend Country Joe McDonald said of Janis:

Sexism killed her. Everybody wanted this sexy chick who sang really sexy and had lots of energy. People kept saying she was just ‘one of the guys’: that’s a real sexist bullshit trap, cos that was fuckin’ her head around. She was one of the women. She was a strong, groovy woman. Smart, you know? But she got fucked around.”

Her nearest contemporary was Grace Slick, a woman who played down her own talent and played up her allure and femininity, as was expected of women at that time. Grace, conventionally sexy and more acceptable to the male-dominated rock world survived the excesses of the counter culture years and re-emerged into middle of the road mainstream success in the 80s. Janis died alone in a hotel room from a heroin overdose, aged 27. She was waiting for her friends to show up and truly was a woman left lonely.

So many of the tracks on Pearl deserve the plaudit of iconic and many of them endure in popular culture; perhaps especially Mercedes Benz and Me and Bobby McGee. Listening anew this week, every song felt fresh, raw and exciting. The Full Tilt Boogie Band matched Janis, giving her the quality musicianship she deserved. Watching grainy YouTube clips of Janis performing, I witnessed her talent and vulnerability. That cracked, brilliant and unique voice, brought forth Euterpe herself, a muse making herself heard to a generation and beyond of strong women in an industry that has been so dominated by men.

Janis Joplin’s star burned bright and fell too early. Her legacy endures. She laid a path for other women to tread and deserves her status as a legend. She opened up a space for women to enter and be more fully realised as artists. She was a sister too, raising half the funds required to purchase a tombstone for her idol Bessie Smith.

Here is Janis with her sublime version of Gershwin’s Summertime. Totally unique, totally Janis.


Hollowbone: Kathryn Tickell and the Darkening Hollowbone is the 2015 album from Kathryn Tickell and the Darkening.

My original choice of album this week was Strange but True but it didn’t grab hold of me and so I went in search of more Kathryn Tickell and found Hollowbone which I’ve been listening to since the middle of the week and which has weaved its magical way into my psyche. It blends the contemporary and the traditional with vibrant arrangements and has a potent, stirring energy. I particularly love Hushabye Birdie/Hexham Lasses:

I’ve long admired Kathryn Tickell and her impressive career as musician, teacher, musicologist and curator of valuable tradition. I enjoy listening to her shows on Radio 3 where she displays an abundance of warmth and knowledge and sheer love of music. She is central to the cultural life of the North East both in her work at Newcastle University – she was one of the founders of the Folk and Traditional Music BA course and where she still teaches – and through her foundation for young musicians. She also works with The Sage in Gateshead.

Over a long and luminous career, Kathryn Tickell has worked with many musical collaborators including Linda Thompson, Andy Shepherd and The Penguin Café Orchestra to name a few. She has an extensive discography and continues to innovate and explore the music of the North East and Borders, bringing new and subtle layers in her arrangements and performances of traditional songs and tunes.

I am five days older than Kathryn Tickell. We are Summer of Love children, born under the sign of Gemini in 1967. I was destined to pass through Newcastle and the North East between 1985-89, my university years, which I reflect on as truly golden and formative. I lived in Gateshead, Fenham and Heaton and enjoyed making music in the pubs and folk clubs of that time- particularly upstairs at The Broken Doll on Wednesday nights It was a marvelous pub, famous for the blues but hospitable to enthusiastic students running a small folk club. Sadly it was destroyed in the interests of town planning and progress. It was a wonderful place.

It broke my heart to leave Newcastle and for some years I vowed to return. However, life takes us on our own paths and it was not to be. I have a wistful and happy remembrance of those years and I have visited a couple of times since; occasions imbued with the bitter/sweet emotions of retracing steps.

The vibrant presence of Kathryn Tickell, igniting passion for music, playing so magnificently and being a true Queen of the North lifts my spirits. The North East is an enriched and fortunate place for having her in it.