troubled diva  
 

My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.

On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My mother doesn't know I have a weblog.

She's sitting in the next room, right now, reading the Daily Telegraph. So I must be stealthy, and quiet, and quick.

The rain has been tipping down heavily all day, and shows no signs of stopping. This does not bode well for the evening's entertainment: the Festival of Fireworks at Shugborough Hall. To which we are taking a picnic supper, complete with chairs, tables, wine glasses, and those nice Wedgewood Queen's Ware soup bowls. We may get a little soggy. But too late to back out now.

Oops, I heard movement. Catch you later.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Meet the readers #2: Homage to indexed.

Update: I've since realised that this diagram is logically flawed. Can you see why? I'll try to explain in the comments.

Damn, that indexed person is good.

Let's talk fashion.

Specifically, let’s talk about this all-devouring shift towards uniform informality, which has jammed my fashion radar good and proper. Everything these days (*) just looks like different shades of informal, and I can no longer discern between the shades, and I know this shouldn’t matter – but nevertheless, it can’t help but distress me somewhat.

I used to be good at this sort of thing, you see. Show me something that was filmed between 1962 and The Year 2000 (**), and I can usually place it to within a year or so, just by clothes and hair. (There are points in the late 1970s and early 1980s where I can practically tell you the month.)

But now, it’s just seven hundred versions (***) of the same low-slung, pre-faded, tiger-striped, boot-cut jeans that have been around since the turn of the decade, matched with the same old shoes (that trainers-meet-bowling-shoes look seems here to stay forever) and the same printed T-shirts (I stopped reading the slogans when they crossed over into total meaninglessness). Business shirts are stuck at pink, casual shirts are stuck at check.

That much-vaunted 1980s revival (which, like the much-vaunted 1970s revival before it, seems to be stretching out forever) could do with stepping up a gear or two. I want smart back, people!

(*) Do beware of middle-aged men who start their sentences with “Everything these days”. We said we’d never, etc etc.

(**) Don’t you love the way that some people still say “The Year 2000”, as if it were still something of great import?

(***) Sorry, I forgot. Cardigans are, apparently, “back”. This is hardly an inspiring development.

Marine Ices.

I was taken to Marine Ices, at the top of Chalk Farm Road in Camden, by my aunt and uncle some time in the 1970s, at the end of a Day Out in London. My eternally sweet-toothed aunt had been brightly suggesting it all day, keen to initiate me into its delights.

However, this also required a major diversion on the way home, and my mild-mannered, taciturn uncle couldn’t quite mask his annoyance at having to do the extra driving. Not that he was actually rash enough to say anything – indeed, no-one else would even have noticed – but my aunt, a wonderful woman but neurotic to her core, homed straight in on it. Her hidden guilt at caring about the ice-cream in the first place quickly converted to accusatory snappiness. Words were exchanged, and a dizzying pantomime of beat-your-neighbour martyrdom ensued.

("Well, I don't mind either way." "Well, I don't mind either." "Yes you do, you just said so.")

My aunt got her way, but the lingering atmosphere was so thick with awkward resentment that it was impossible to enjoy the ice-creams, which were hurriedly purchased and sullenly consumed.

Keeping quiet in the back seat (my chief strategy for surviving my teenage years), I felt this almost as a desecration. This was a self-evidently special place - and yet, with her awkward knack for self-sabotage, my aunt had manoeuvred us away from being able to enjoy it.

Decades later, and thanks to some wonderful news, I can now convert this dim, shabby memory into a vivid and wholly delightful re-imagining. Congratulations to you both.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Juana Molina – The Social, Wednesday August 30.

(An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.)

Argentinian singer-songwriter Juana Molina is a former TV comedy actress, who has been steadily building her musical reputation. Following support slots with David Byrne and Jose Gonzales, she is currently promoting her fourth album, Son, which has received plaudits from publications as diverse as Uncut and Mixmag.

Barring the occasional wry aside, Juana’s stage presence betrays little of her comedic past. She cuts a slightly care-worn, slightly ungainly figure on stage, darting between her array of instruments: guitar, keyboards, and various effects pedals.

Her songs are delicate, gossamer-thin creations, delivered in a style which is part Beth Orton, part Astrud Gilberto. However, their gentle folksiness is undercut by a wide and sometimes startling range of electronic loops, which are sampled as she plays, and repeated back in accumulating layers of sound. Imogen Heap used the same tricks at The Social earlier this year, but Juana aims for a more eerie, unsettling effect.

The electronics verge on the ambient, but are saved from blandness by their weirdly dissonant qualities. Sometimes, the layers build up to an intensity which verges on the danceable. At other times, they fade away to near silence.

The sparse but rapt crowd lapped it all up, demanding two encores, and post-concert CD sales were suitably brisk.

Meet the readers #1.

Clapped-out has-been? Who are you calling a clapped-out has-been?

Oh. Sorry. That was me, calling myself a clapped-out has-been. I think this is what is known as The Doctrine Of The Pre-Emptive Strike - otherwise known as Get In There First Before They Say It Back To You. As in life, so in blog. 'Twas ever thus.

Anyway. Reassurance is at hand! The dear deluded fools at .net magazine (also rather confusingly known as Netmag) clearly don't think I'm a clapped-out has-been at all. Instead, they - or to be more exact, Gary Marshall of Bigmouth Strikes Again - have seen fit to include Troubled Diva in a lengthy feature on 50 "great British blogs". The article appears in the current issue, at all good newsagents now, hurry hurry while stocks etc. (This is what is known as Returning The Compliment.)

Alternatively, if all you want are the 50 links with no supporting commentary, the magazine has helpfully listed them all here. Some familiar names (Geezer, Duck, Boat, Twat), and plenty which are new to me.

Apparently, Troubled Diva is "achingly honest". Hmm, wonder if this means they've found that old post about the Fist, the Screwdriver and the Spasm? (You'll have to do your own searching; I'm wholesome family entertainment these days.)

Bonk-blogging, the whys and wherefores thereof.

Making her debut on Guardian Unlimited's "Comment Is Free", Anna writes an interesting piece about her reactions to sex-blogging, in which she posits the splendid idea of starting up a Bad Sex Blog, as some sort of necessary corrective. (via)

As my own perspective differs from Anna's in certain areas, I left a large-ish comment explaining why. Since I buggered up the last paragraph with a typo, and since it bears extracting and repeating, here it is:
But, yes, you're quite right to call people out on this tendency to over-idealise. And in any case, crap shags are far more interesting to read about than perfect shags, just as suffering makes for more interesting literature than happiness.

Sign of the times?

Now, here's a thing. After watching Juana Molina's enchanting performance at The Social last night (here's my review), I went for a wee-wee in one of the lock-ups - only to discover, amongst all the other scratchings on the inside of the cubicle door, no less than three different Myspace URLs.

I do realise that, as an unusually far-sighted music venue, The Social can be something of an industry hang-out - but surely this brings micro-marketing to a whole new level of desperation?

(In retrospect, I do feel a little bit bad about describing Juana as "care-worn" and "ungainly". If I'd broken three of my fingernails the previous day, and had to use superglue to stick them back on, then I'd be feeling pretty care-worn and ungainly myself.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A proper grown-up album review, like what proper grown-up music critics write.

I have to tell you: my inaugural full-length album review for Stylus nearly did for me. African music's a bugger to write about, as it's a genre where, for once, I can actually switch off my over-analytical brain and simply luxuriate in the sound and the spirit of the thing. It's my - it's our - chill-out music, consumed for pure pleasure.

But to describe just why the new Ali Farka Touré album is such a masterpiece, without resorting to a load of tedious blah about ngoni techniques and kora tunings? Well, my darlings, that's nigh-on impossible.

Still, I gave it my best shot - and here's the outcome.

A solemn pledge.

Look, I haven't actually stopped writing or anything... it's just that most of my writing has been elsewhere. Oh, my poor, poor neglected blog, how far have you tumbled?

But, look, here's a pledge: at least one post per day for the whole month of September, even if it's just a short one. (Fat chance of that; brevity has never been my strongest suit.)

If I succeed, then I'll mark the occasion by peeling away yet another layer of my mystique, by means of an inaugural vidcast. (First he writes! Then he speaks! Then he moves! Whatever next! No, not that!)

If I fail, then I shall change the name of this blog to Clapped-out Has-been. Just see if I won't.

Wish me luck!

Further period living.

If you enjoyed the recent Period Living photo-feature on our cottage, then you're sure to enjoy reading about the, um, remarkably similar experiences of Oddverse and Mr. Twinky. (If necessary, scroll down to "Period Living".)

Now I know what it feels like to actually retch from laughing.