troubled diva  

My freelance writing can now be found at
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.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Singles and tracks of 2009.

As it has been a golden year for singles, I've had to expand my list to a Top 100. The vast majority of these tracks were issued as singles (as evidenced by the accompanying cover art on Spotify). As per usual, I only include favourite album tracks if they somehow took on a separate life of their own, outside the context of their parent albums. (It's a peculiar rule, but it makes sense to me.)

All but twelve of these tracks can be found on this Spotify playlist, in ascending order. What better way to spend the next six and a half hours of your life?

1. The Fear - Lily Allen
2. Bad Romance - Lady GaGa
(Joint winner of my video of the year, along with #23)
3. Remedy - Little Boots
(I danced to this on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square, along with #4, #5 and #12)
4. When Love Takes Over - David Guetta ft Kelly Rowland
5. Just Dance - Lady GaGa ft Colby O'Donis
6. You've Got The Love (Jamie xx re-work ft The xx) - Florence and the Machine
(N.B. Florence's original version is a strong candidate for my most hated single of 2009, and her album was my most regretted purchase of the year. Which just goes to show what you can do with a good remix.)
7. Bonkers - Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden
8. Wild Horses - Susan Boyle
(Oh, you can scoff. But for me, this was the standout vocal performance of the year.)
9. I'm Not Alone - Calvin Harris
10. Baby Can't Stop - Lindstrom & Christabelle
11. Did You See Me Coming? (Unicorn Kid mix) - Pet Shop Boys
12. Bulletproof - La Roux
13. Russian Roulette - Rihanna
14. Aidy's Girl Is A Computer - Darkstar
15. Raindrops - Basement Jaxx
16. Jetstream (Lindstrom remix) - Doves
17. The Howling - The Phantom Band
18. Love Etc. - Pet Shop Boys
19. Crystalised - The xx
20. Day 'N' Nite - Kid Cudi vs Crookers
21. Audacity Of Huge - Simian Mobile Disco
22. Kilometer (Aeroplane 'Italo 84' mix) - Sebastien Tellier
(I spent much of January and February obsessing over Aeroplane remixes, but this was the only one with a 2009 release date.)
23. How To Stay Alive - Gong
(Joint winner of my video of the year, along with #2. Please promise me that you'll watch this in full-screen?)
24. Daniel - Bat For Lashes
25. You Belong With Me - Taylor Swift
26. Lion Hat - Unicorn Kid
27. Umbrella Beach - Owl City
28. My Girls - Animal Collective
29. Stillness Is The Move - Dirty Projectors
30. New In Town - Little Boots
31. Tirsdagsjam - Lindstrom & Prins Thomas
(I once mistyped this as Tirdgasjam. Arf arf.)
32. Love Me Like This (Nonsense Dub) - Floating Points
33. Zero - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
34. This Momentary - Delphic
35. Fireflies - Owl City
(Absolutely baffled by the almost unanimous hipster hate for this one.)
36. Wee Monsters - Unicorn Kid
37. Islands - The xx
38. Folk Song Oblivion - The Phantom Band
39. Omen - The Prodigy
40. Empire State Of Mind - Jay-Z ft Alicia Keys
(Oh God, have I become one of those people who lists token Jay-Z tracks in an effort to pretend that he still "keeps up" with hip hop?)
41. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas
42. Tic Toc - Permanent Vacation ft Kathy Diamond
43. Runaway - Grum
44. Ready For The Weekend - Calvin Harris
45. Cannibal Resource - Dirty Projectors
46. Pretty Wings - Maxwell
47. Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
48. Basic Space - The xx
49. A Nightingale - Isolee
(B-side of the year, if there is still any residual meaning in the concept.)
50. From Africa To Malaga - JJ
51. Maybe So, Maybe No - Mayer Hawthorne
52. Moto Moindo - Staff Benda Bilili
53. Rushing To Paradise (Walkin' These Streets) - House Of House
54. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
55. Not Fair - Lily Allen
56. If You Ever Get Famous - The Duke & The King
57. These Are My Twisted Words - Radiohead
58. Poker Face - Lady GaGa
59. Hooting & Howling - Wild Beasts
60. Embers - Just Jack
61. Arrogance Ignorance And Greed - Show Of Hands
62. Get Fresh - Kid Sister
63. Young Forever - Jay-Z ft Mr Hudson
64. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
65. In The Morning - Fuzzy Logik ft Egypt
66. Take Me Back - Tinchy Stryder ft Taio Cruz
67. Lisztomania - Phoenix
68. Let's Go Surfing - Drums
69. Party Hard - Donae'o
70. One Day - The Juan Maclean
71. General - Buraka Som Sistema
72. Chasing Pirates - Norah Jones
73. French Navy - Camera Obscura
74. S'il Fallait Le Faire - Patricia Kaas
75. In For The Kill (+ Skream's Let's Get Ravey Remix) - La Roux
76. Number 1 - Tinchy Stryder ft N-Dubz
77. Make It Better - Anoraak
78. Bad Habits - Maxwell
79. Ambling Alp - Yeasayer
80. We Are The People - Empire Of The Sun
81. Story Of A Heart - Benny Andersson Band
82. Never Leave You - Tinchy Stryder ft Amelle
83. Method Of Modern Love - Saint Etienne
84. 1901 - Phoenix
85. 11th Dimension - Julian Casablancas
86. Love Story - Taylor Swift
87. Hyph Mngo - Joy Orbison
88. Animal - Miike Snow
89. Holiday - Dizzee Rascal
90. For Your Lover Give Some Time - Richard Hawley
91. Halo - Beyonce
92. Run This Town - Jay-Z ft Rihanna & Kanye West
93. Heads Will Roll - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
94. Bad Gyal - Ms Dynamite
95. Fire Burning - Sean Kingston
96. T-Shirt (+ Crazy Cousinz Vocal Remix) - Shontelle
97. It's My Time - Jade Ewen
98. I'll Keep On Loving You - Walter Jones
99. If I Had A Heart - Fever Ray
100. Restless - Buraka Som Sistema

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Albums of 2009.

Here's a Spotify playlist, containing a sample track from 33 of these albums.

1. Live In London - Leonard Cohen
2. Vertical Ascent - Moritz von Oswald Trio
3. Here's The Tender Coming - The Unthanks
4. Tres Tres Fort - Staff Benda Bilili
5. The xx - The xx
6. Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors
7. Warm Heart Of Africa - The Very Best
8. II - Lindstrom & Prins Thomas
9. BLACKsummers'night - Maxwell
10. Le Suivant - Smith & Mudd
11. Origin:Orphan - Hidden Cameras
12. Arc Light - Lau
13. Checkmate Savage - The Phantom Band
14. Yesterday And Today - The Field
15. Tarot Sport - Fuck Buttons
16. Merriweather Post Pavillion - Animal Collective
17. Troyka - Troyka
18. La Roux - La Roux
19. The Fame Monster - Lady GaGa
20. My Maudlin Career - Camera Obscura
21. The Glare - McAlmont & Nyman
22. The Middle Way - Keaver & Brause
23. Imidiwan: Companions - Tinariwen
24. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
25. Inspiration Information - Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics
26. 2032 - Gong
27. The Future Will Come - The Juan Maclean
28. Two Dancers - Wild Beasts
29. Vagarosa - CéU
30. Ready For The Weekend - Calvin Harris
31. Hands - Little Boots
32. Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast - Cornershop
33. JJ N° 2 - JJ
34. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
35. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
36. Party Hard - Donae'o
37. See Mystery Lights - YACHT
38. Real Life Is No Cool - Lindstrom & Christabelle
39. The Glass Bead Game - James Blackshaw
40. It's Not Me, It's You - Lily Allen

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Gigs of 2009.

Reviews of most of these can be found on my freelance blog.

1. Beyonce
2. Gong
3. Cliff Richard & the Shadows
4. Crystal Stilts, Wet Paint, Manhattan Love Suicides
5. The Unthanks
6. The Specials
7. Neil Young
8. Elbow, The Acorn
9. Gary Numan
10. Lau
11. Late Of The Pier
12. Bat For Lashes, Yeasayer
13. Eurovision Preview Night
14. Lionel Richie
15. Dizzee Rascal
16. Bellowhead, Belshazzar's Feast
17. White Denim
18. David Byrne
19. Telepathe, Times New Viking, Rainbow Arabia, Icy Demons
20. White Lies
21. Unicorn Kid
22. The Nolans
23. La Roux, Heartbeat, Magistrates, The Chapman Family
24. Basement Jaxx
25. Fuck Buttons, Zun Zun Egui
26. Melanie Safka
27. Buzzcocks
28. Rhydian
29. The Phantom Band
30. Slaid Cleaves
31. Ungdomskulen
32. V Festival: Oasis, Lady GaGa, Athlete, Human League, Joe Lean, Miike Snow, Proclaimers, Bjorn Again
33. Glasvegas, Friendly Fires, White Lies, Florence & the Machine
34. Doves
35. Tinchy Stryder
36. Animal Collective
37. Frankmusik
38. VV Brown
39. Easy Star All-Stars
40. Okkervil River, Dawn Landes
41. Portico Quartet, Red, Natalie Duncan
42. The Magic Numbers
43. Alabama 3
44. Keane, Frankmusik
45. La Roux
46. Maximo Park, Bombay Bicycle Club
47. Kaiser Chiefs, Black Kids, Esser
48. Alesha Dixon

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mike's albums of 2008.

Ah, what a list this is! From where I'm sitting, this has been a stunning year for albums, nudging me to conclude that 2008 has perhaps been this decade's finest year for music.

(The one disappointment has been the lack of African music - but then I did rather take my off the ball in that regard, having Mali-ed myself out by the end of 2007.)

1. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

An album I rate from a genre I hate (middle-youth indie-lite mope-rock, to be precise). Piercingly honest, palpably heartfelt songs of love, loss, loneliness, friendship and second chances. Pitch-perfect performances, exquisitely produced. You owe it to yourselves to see them live. (But maybe not at Wembley Arena in March. I can't see how the intimacy would scale up.)

2. Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel

Local boys done good (for once). Everything that the Klaxons promised, but didn't deliver. Rowdy and screechy and all over the place. Am I supposed to be too old for this sort of thing?

3. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

You have to be wary of albums which knock you out on the first listen, as this usually signifies a series of rapidly diminishing returns. And sure enough, I did reach a point over the summer where this felt somewhat played out. As it turned out, this was nothing that a couple of months of "laying down" couldn't cure. An obvious pick, but the critical consensus got it right on this one.

4. Lindstrøm - Where You Go I Go Too

Perfect travelling music: epic, expansive, atmospheric, with slow builds towards intensely pleasurable peaks. (I want to say "soundscapes", but it's such a wanky word.) Is this Cosmic Disco, Nu-Balearica, or both, or neither? It's so hard to keep track of these things. Shades of Jean-Michel Jarre and Jan Hammer along the way, and I never thought I'd be mentioning them in a positive context.

5. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair

Smart, sexy, moody New York neo-disco, from the ones who got away on the gig-going front. (Did they HAVE to come to town on the same night as Public Enemy?)

6. Portishead - Third

I have to be in a Certain Mood for it, stark bleakness not being my strongest aesthetic suit. Consequently, this is my least played album in the top ten. But when the mood is right, the effect is staggering. If I were but starker and bleaker, this would have topped the list.

7. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

I've had to vault the bar of their Springsteen-isms, and it's a bar which prevented me from getting to grips with their earlier work - but there's something new here (an expansiveness? an authority? an added depth and weight?) which keeps pulling me back, and a seemingly bottomless lyrical and conceptual richness which should keep me returning in weeks to come. In this context, Craig Finn's comment that "hopefully on someone’s 75th listen, they get something that they didn’t get out of the 74th" is most reassuring. There's no rush. Give it time.

8. Lone - Lemurian

Woozy, hazy, sun-bleached wonkiness from Nottingham's king of the wow and the flutter. An imaginary soundtrack for the summer that never was.

9. Barry Adamson - Back To The Cat

Did I just say "imaginary soundtrack"? Perplexingly overlooked film noir magnificence.

10. Bellowhead - Matachin

English folk done in a big band style, by a veritable supergroup drawn from folk's new breed (Spiers, Boden, the boys from Faustus). Jollier than its more Brechtian predecessor, and hence my feelgood album of choice for that crucial first beer on a Saturday evening.

11. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
12. Solange Knowles - Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams
13. Grace Jones - Hurricane
14. Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Ten Thousand
15. Lau - Lau Live
16. The Dodos - Visiter
17. Geeneus - Volumes One
18. Amadou & Mariam - Welcome To Mali
19. The P Brothers - The Gas
20. The Bug - The Zoo

21. Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim
22. Joan As Polce Woman - To Survive
23. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
24. Martha Wainwright - I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too
25. British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
26. Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree
27. Neil Diamond - Home Before Dark
28. Paul Weller - 22 Dreams
29. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
30. Rokia Traoré - Tchamantché

31. Estelle - Shine
32. Lambchop - OH (Ohio)
33. Jamie Lidell - Jim
34. Benga - Diary of an Afro Warrior
35. The Breeders - Mountain Battles
36. Various / Fred Deakin - Nu Balearica
37. Mary Hampton - My Mother's Children
38. Shearwater - Rook
39. Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak
40. Teddy Thompson - A Piece of What You Need

41. Drever, McCusker, Woomble - Before The Ruin
42. Faustus - Faustus
43. Kelley Polar - I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling
44. Camille - Music Hole
45. Various / Charles Webster - Defected presents Charles Webster
46. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires
47. System 7 - Phoenix
48. The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
49. Scooter - Jumping All Over The World
50. The Rascals - Rascalize

And what were your favourites? Do tell.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Mike's tracks of 2008.

1. If I Were A Boy - Beyoncé
2. Blind - Hercules & Love Affair
3. The Bones Of You - Elbow
4. What’s It Gonna Be - H "Two" O ft Platnum
5. Happy House - The Juan MacLean

6. Magpies - Joan As Police Woman
7. A&E - Goldfrapp
8. American Boy - Estelle ft Kanye West
9. Time To Pretend - MGMT
10. Do You Mind (Crazy Cousinz House Mix) - Paleface ft Kyla

11. Focker - Late of the Pier
12. One Day Like This - Elbow
13. Williams' Blood - Grace Jones
14. In The Air - Perempay 'N' Dee ft Katie Pearl
15. Entropy Reigns (In The Celestial City) - Kelley Polar
16. Bongo Jam - Crazy Cousinz ft Calista
17. Paper Planes - MIA
18. The Bears Are Coming - Late of the Pier
19. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
20. Viva La Vida - Coldplay

21. Spotlight - Jennifer Hudson
22. As I - Geeneus ft Katy B
23. I Decided (Part 1) - Solange Knowles
24. That's Not My Name - Ting Tings
25. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa - Vampire Weekend
26. Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyoncé
27. Ready For The Floor - Hot Chip
28. Weather To Fly - Elbow
29. I'm Right Here (Perempay 'N' Dee remix) - DJ MA1 ft Sophia
30. Space And The Woods - Late of the Pier

31. Pretty Amazing Grace - Neil Diamond
32. A-Punk - Vampire Weekend
33. Sandcastle Disco - Solange Knowles
34. Ghosts - Laura Marling
35. Blue Ridge Mountains - Fleet Foxes
36. Broken - Late of the Pier
37. Falling Again - Wookie ft Ny
38. Swagga Like Us - Jay-Z & T.I. ft Kanye West & Lil Wayne
39. Sequestered In Memphis - The Hold Steady
40. Devil In A Blue Dress - Donaeo

41. Paris - Friendly Fires
42. Skinny Love - Bon Iver
43. Oxford Comma - Vampire Weekend
44. Mercy - Duffy
45. Leviathan Bound - Shearwater
46. Veronica's Veil - Fan Death
47. Love Lockdown - Kanye West
48. Green Light - John Legend ft Andre 3000
49. Bathroom Gurgle - Late of the Pier
50. Need U Bad - Jazmine Sullivan

51. Daddy's Gone - Glasvegas
52. Divine - Sebastien Tellier
53. Stay Positive - The Hold Steady
54. He Doesn't Know Why - Fleet Foxes
55. Time To Let Go - Perempay 'N' Dee ft Cleo Sol
56. Shut Up And Let Me Go - Ting Tings
57. African Warrior - Donaeo
58. Starlings - Elbow
59. The Devil Don't Mind - littlelostdavid
60. In The Hospital - Friendly Fires

61. Wearing My Rolex - Wiley
62. Fools - The Dodos
63. Fuckaz - The Bug (ft The Spaceape)
64. Sabali - Amadou & Mariam
65. Human - The Killers
66. T.O.N.Y. - Solange Knowles
67. Great DJ - Ting Tings
68. Telephone - Erykah Badu
69. Sun Machine - The Shortwave Set
70. I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You - Black Kids
71. Jumping All Over The World - Scooter
72. Zero M2 - Benga
73. Gabryelle (D-Malice Refix) - DJ Technic
74. Waving Flags - British Sea Power
75. Put A Donk On It - Blackout Crew

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mike's gigs of 2008.

1. Leonard Cohen - Manchester Opera House - June 19th (10)
2. Liza Minnelli - Royal Concert Hall - May 30th (10)
3. Elbow - Leicester De Montfort - October 16th (10)
4. Late Of The Pier, Fan Death - Chameleon Arts Café - November 30th (10)
5. Elbow - Rock City - April 14th (10)
6. White Denim - Bodega Social Club - July 7th (10)
7. The Dodos, Euros Childs - Bodega Social Club - September 14th (10)
8. Gary Numan (Replicas tour) - Rock City - March 5th (10)
9. Lou Reed (Berlin tour) - Royal Concert Hall - June 26th (10)
10. Gong - The Forum, London - June 15th (10)

11. Fleet Foxes, J.Tillman - Trent Uni - November 2nd (9)
12. Duran Duran, The Duke Spirit - Arena - July 6th (9)
13. British Sea Power, Make Model - Rescue Rooms - January 22nd (9)
14. The Breeders - Trent Uni - April 10th (9)
15. Girls Aloud, The Saturdays - Arena - May 20th (9)
16. Yazoo - Royal Concert Hall - June 11th (9)
17. Public Enemy - Rock City - May 28th (9)
18. Duffy - Bodega Social Club - March 7th (9)
19. Holy Fuck - Bodega Social Club - October 15th (9)
20. Glasvegas - Bodega Social Club - January 31st (9)

21. Lorna Luft: Songs My Mother Taught Me - Royal Concert Hall - February 11th (9)
22. Yazoo - Civic Hall Wolverhampton - June 12th (9)
23. The Hold Steady - Rock City - December 9th (9)
24. Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Congregation - Bodega Social Club - August 13th (9)
25. Barry Adamson - Rescue Rooms - April 6th (8)
26. The Beat, Neville Staple - Rescue Rooms - March 6th (8)
27. Alison Moyet - Royal Concert Hall - January 23rd (8)
28. Laura Marling - Rescue Rooms - November 4th (8)
29. Show Of Hands with Miranda Sykes - Rescue Rooms - November 27th (8)
30. Nouvelle Vague, Gabriella Cilmi - Rescue Rooms - February 7th (8)

31. Human League, ABC, Heaven 17 (The Steel City Tour) - Royal Concert Hall - December 3rd (8)
32. Spiers & Boden - The Maze - September 15th (8)
33. The Temptations, YolanDa Brown - Royal Concert Hall - October 29th (8)
34. UK Eurovision Preview Party (Ani Lorak, Bucks Fizz, Sirusho, Nanne Grönvall, Laka, Maria Haukaas Storeng, Isis Gee, Morena) - The Scala, London - April 25th (8)
35. System 7 - Rescue Rooms - February 15th (8)
36. Faustus - Playhouse - September 11th (7)
37. Drive-By Truckers - Rescue Rooms - August 7th (7)
38. Vampire Weekend - Sheffield Academy - October 22nd (7)
39. Martha Wainwright, Angus & Julia Stone - Rock City - November 3rd (7)
40. CSS - Rescue Rooms - October 13th (7)

41. Joan As Police Woman - Rescue Rooms - December 10th (7)
42. Black Kids, Team Waterpolo - Rescue Rooms - July 2nd (6)
43. Y Not Festival (Whiskycats, The Rusticles, Esteban, The Moutown Project, The Fallout Theory, New Groove Formation, Max Raptor, Toufique Ali, Anthea Neads, Jackel) - Pikehall - August 1st (6)
44. Menomena - Rescue Rooms - February 28th (6)
45. The Twilight Sad - Bodega Social Club - March 25th (6)
46. Pete Burns - Nightingale Birmingham - April 5th (6)
47. The Rascals - Rescue Rooms - June 4th (6)
48. John Barrowman - Royal Concert Hall - April 9th (6)
49. Westlife, Hope - Arena - June 24th (6)
50. Laura Veirs - The Maze - February 12th (6)

51. The Ting Tings - Rock City - September 24th (6)
52. Here and Now Tour (Rick Astley, Bananarama, ABC, Paul Young, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Johnny Hates Jazz, Cutting Crew) - Arena - May 9th (6)
53. Heavy Trash, Powersolo - Bodega Social Club - September 30th (6)
54. Delays - Bodega Social Club - March 4th (5)
55. The Futureheads - Rescue Rooms - June 3rd (5)
56. The Orb - Rescue Rooms - May 15th (4)
57. Will Young - Royal Concert Hall - November 28th (4)
58. Seth Lakeman - Rescue Rooms - April 23rd (3)
59. Boy George - Royal Concert Hall - February 8th (3)
60. MGMT - Bodega Social Club - February 28th (2)
61. Seasick Steve - Rock City - October 9th (2)
62. Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong - Rescue Rooms - May 19th (1)
63. Dolly Parton - Arena - July 1st (1)

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Mike's albums of 2007.

1. The Unfairground - Kevin Ayers
2. Sound Of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
3. Release The Stars - Rufus Wainwright
4. The Bairns - Rachel Unthank And The Winterset
5. The Good The Bad & The Queen - The Good The Bad & The Queen
6. Raising Sand - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
7. Because I Love It - Amerie
8. Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer - Of Montreal
9. Stardom Road - Marc Almond
10. Aman Iman: Water Is Life - Tinariwen
11. Mirrored - Battles
12. The Reminder - Feist
13. Holy Fuck - Holy Fuck
14. Good Girl Gone Bad - Rihanna
15. Untrue - Burial
16. Apples - June Tabor
17. Late December - Maria McKee
18. Curse Of The Laze - The Laze
19. Cuilidh - Julie Fowlis
20. Overpowered - Róisín Murphy
21. Kala - M.I.A.
22. White Chalk - PJ Harvey
23. In Rainbows - Radiohead
24. The Miracle Inn - Euros Childs
25. Made In Dakar - Orchestra Baobab
26. Segu Blue - Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
27. Planet Earth - Prince
28. Comicopera - Robert Wyatt
29. Lady's Bridge - Richard Hawley
30. Neon Bible - Arcade Fire


1. Body Language Vol.5 (Chateau Flight)
2. BBC Folk Awards 2007
3. The Rough Guide To World Party
4. Rough Trade Shops - Counter Culture 1976
5. Box of Dub Vol.2: Dubstep and Future Dub
6. Late Night Tales (Nouvelle Vague)
7. Good Times Vol.7 (Norman Jay)
8. Fabriclive 36 (James Murphy & Pat Mahoney)
9. The Triptych (Fred Deakin)
10. Hallam Foe OST


1. Ring Them Bells - Joan Baez
2. Mothership - Led Zeppelin
3. 101 70s Hits - Various

Duds of the Year:

Fantastic Playroom - New Young Pony Club
Theology - Sinead O'Connor
Another Side - John Barrowman
Brett Anderson - Brett Anderson

Delayed But Played:

1. Back To Black - Amy Winehouse
2. Sigil - Nuru Kane
3. Burial - Burial
4. Burlesque - Bellowhead
5. Beautiful World - Take That
6. The Letting Go - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
7. Begin To Hope - Regina Spektor
8. Calcutta Slide Guitar - Debashish Bhattacharya
9. B'Day - Beyoncé
10. Song Of The Blackbird - William Elliott Whitmore

New Discoveries and Re-discoveries:

1. You - Gong
2. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight - Richard & Linda Thompson
3. Sweet Deceiver - Kevin Ayers
4. Good Morning - Daevid Allen & Euterpe
5. The Very Best Of Timi Yuro - Timi Yuro
6. On Land And In The Sea - Cardiacs
7. Odetta Sings Dylan - Odetta
8. Third - Soft Machine

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mike's singles of 2007.

1. Your Love Is A Tease - Rod Thomas

2. With Every Heartbeat - Robyn with Kleerup
3. Atlas - Battles
4. 1234 - Feist
5. Out Of Control (Song 4 Mutya) - Groove Armada
6. Going To A Town - Rufus Wainwright
7. North American Scum - LCD Soundsystem
8. You! Me! Dancing! - Los Campesinos!
9. Let Me Think About It - Ida Corr vs Fedde Le Grand
10. Boring - The Pierces
11. Hate That I Love You - Rihanna ft Ne-Yo
12. All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
13. I Found U - Axwell ft Max C
14. Love Is A Losing Game - Amy Winehouse
15. Take Control - Amerie
16. Umbrella - Rihanna ft Jay-Z
17. F**k It, I Love You - Malcolm Middleton
18. Jimmy - M.I.A.
19. Lil' Star - Kelis ft Cee-Lo
20. Shine - Take That
21. Icky Thump - White Stripes
22. No Pussy Blues - Grinderman
23. Let Me Know - Róisín Murphy
24. D.A.N.C.E. - Justice
25. Starz In Their Eyes - Just Jack
26. Fluorescent Adolescent - Arctic Monkeys
27. Let It Go - Keyshia Cole ft Lil' Kim & Missy Elliott
28. I'd Wait For Life - Take That
29. It Will Find You - Maps
30. Perfect Exceeder - Mason vs Princess Superstar
31. Valerie - Mark Ronson ft Amy Winehouse
32. The Creeps - Camille Jones vs Fedde Le Grand
33. Gotta Work - Amerie
34. Don't Stop The Music - Rihanna
35. Call The Shots - Girls Aloud
36. Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse - Of Montreal
37. Overpowered - Róisín Murphy
38. Golden Skans - Klaxons
39. I'm A Flirt (remix) - R.Kelly ft T.I. & T-Pain
40. Do It Again - Chemical Brothers
41. Tonight The Streets Are Ours - Richard Hawley
42. The Worrying Kind - The Ark
43. No Cars Go - Arcade Fire
44. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis
45. The Magic Position - Patrick Wolf
46. Take It Like A Man - Dragonette
47. Boyz - M.I.A.
48. My Moon, My Man - Feist
49. Get Down - Groove Armada ft Stush
50. Tears Dry On Their Own - Amy Winehouse
51. It's The Beat - Simian Mobile Disco
52. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani ft Akon
53. Acceptable In The 80s - Calvin Harris
54. Someone Great - LCD Soundsystem
55. Horse Riding - Euros Childs
56. Summer Wine - Ville Valo & Natalia Avelon
57. Uninvited - Freemasons ft Bailey Tzuke
58. Keep The Car Running - Arcade Fire
59. Männer Sind So Scheisse Sexy - The Admirals (ft. Seraphina)
60. Water - Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov
61. Potential Breakup Song - Aly & AJ
62. Candyman - Christina Aguilera
63. Destination Calabria - Alex Gaudino ft Crystal Waters
64. Sunday Girl - Erasure
65. I Wanna Love You - Akon ft Snoop Dogg
66. Same Jeans - The View
67. Tenderoni - Chromeo
68. Heart It Races - Architecture In Helsinki
69. Pogo - Digitalism
70. Beautiful Liar (+ Freemasons Remix Edit) - Beyonce & Shakira
71. About You Now - The Sugababes
72. Absolutely No Decorum - The Ark
73. Our Velocity - Maxïmo Park
74. Kingdom Of Doom - The Good The Bad & The Queen
75. Goodbye Mr A - Hoosiers

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Mike's tracks of 2007.

(As opposed to singles, which are on a separate list.)

1. The Dancing/Miss Lindsay Barker - June Tabor
2. Matadjem Yinmixan - Tinariwen
3. Our Life Is Not A Movie Or A Maybe - Okkervil River
4. Slideshow - Rufus Wainwright
5. Late December - Maria McKee
6. Hùg air a Bhonaid Mhòir - Julie Fowlis
7. Flying Over Bus Stops - Athlete
8. Over The Ice - The Field
9. Chelsea Rodgers - Prince
10. Walk On Water - Kevin Ayers
11. Race:In - Battles
12. The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men - Marc Almond & Antony Hegarty
13. Sea Song - Rachel Unthank & the Winterset
14. Us Placers - CRS (Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams)
15. Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse - Of Montreal
16. A Modern Midnight Conversation - Chemical Brothers
17. Baby Come Home - Kevin Ayers & Bridget St. John
18. Power On, Little Star - Maria McKee
19. I'm A Broken Heart - The Bird And The Bee
20. You Wanna F**k Me - Cocorosie

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Mike's gigs of 2007.

This year, I attended a whopping 58 gigs (compared with a mere 30 in 2006), and I thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of them. These were my absolute favourites.

1. From The Jam, Rescue Rooms, May
When the chants down the front changed from "We are the mods" to "Who needs Weller?" you knew Bruce and Rick's gamble had paid off.

2. Beyoncé, Arena, June
Also the winner of 2007's How Many Superlatives Can I Cram Into One Review Award. If only all Arena gigs were of this exemplary standard...

3. Cardiacs, Rescue Rooms, November
Revelation of the year! This lot have been together for 30 years, and yet I've only just discovered them. Proving that prog and punk CAN mix, and that songs with impossible time signatures can still be moshable.

4. Los Campesinos!, Social, March
In some respects, as traditionally "indie" as indie gets (shambling undergraduates in charity-shop cardigans, all very Peel Would Approve) - and as such, not something which would normally float my boat - but when it's done as captivatingly well as this, I'm not about to argue.

5. Amy Winehouse / Mr. Hudson & the Library, Rock City, March
The wheels may have fallen off Amy's wagon rather too often since, but we had it lucky: she was straight, sober and stunning. Having initially found Back To Black rather too mannered to convice, I emerged from this show fully converted.

6. Feist, Social, September
On the night that 1234 went Top Forty, the Social's consistently ahead-of-the-curve booking policy gave us one last chance to experience Leslie Feist in a suitably intimate setting. A fine performance, with no lingering traces of dinner-party-friendly Hipster Norah Jones-isms (if that's even such a bad thing in the first place).

7. Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, The Maze, November
Jollier, jokier and less austere than the second album might have suggested, but with none of their essential impact diluted along the way. If English folk is not your bag, then be prepared for a serious re-think.

8. Get Cape Wear Cape Fly / Kate Nash, Trent University, January
On the strength of this show, I had Mister Cape pegged as a major star by the summer, and Ms Nash as a Lily Allen wannabe who would sink without trace. What unfathomably strange creatures the British public can be...

9. Black Mountain / Evil Hawk, Rescue Rooms, December
Glistening Irridescent Shards Of Pure Unfettered Sound Alert! Crack open the Thesaurus, Mabel, this is a good 'un! Black Mountain's second album "drops" in 2008, and I for one shall be around to catch it when it falls.

10. Young Knives / Ungdomskulen / The Housewives, Rescue Rooms, October
OK, so the Young Knives were no more than OK - but the Norwegian prog-trash trio Ungdomskulen were a revelation, and duly pick up the Support Act Of The Year award.

11. Low, Rescue Rooms, April
One of those rare gigs where the band plays quiet, and everyone concentrates (see also Feist above). Rescue Rooms, I commend you. A truly spell-binding show.

12. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Royal Centre, November
When it comes to the restoration of his muse to 2000-era Heartbreaker levels, the number of false dawns has been second only to Prince - but now, with his demons firmly dispelled, Ryan's time could well have come at last. (That was a shit sentence, but I'm on me hols and temporarily past caring.)

13. John Martyn, Royal Centre, May
A grim start to be sure, but everything snapped into focus for the classic Solid Air album, which was played in full. What began as a dithery mumble ended as a passionate roar.

14. Euros Childs / Das Wanderlust, Social, September
Understated, self-effacing, alternately reflective and whimsical, effortlessly charming and melodically acute... no, it's not Kevin Ayers, but Euros could be shaping up as his spiritual heir.

15. Joan Baez, Royal Centre, March
But I thought she was all pious and preachy? Volte-face of the year, as I finally twig just what makes La Baez one of the greats.

16. Donny Osmond, Royal Centre, October
The second of three occasions (the others being Jason Donovan and the Arcade Fire's Win Butler) when a performer leapt off the stage and lurched determinedly through the audience, only to end up within touching distance of me. (My sister: "I've pulled Donny Osmond!") What strange, unearthly magnetism do I possess, that compels these men to throw themselves at me?

17. Andy Williams, Royal Centre, July
The last ever show of his last ever tour, we were told. And with his show-stopping rendition of Macarthur Park, one hell of a way to bow out.

18. Fionn Regan, Social, October
I didn't see this one coming at all. A quiet revelation, of the folk-meets-alt-country variety.

19. Cocorosie / Tez, Trent University, June
The French human beat-boxer Tez took the art to a whole new level, while Cocorosie turned their set around from smug aloofness to captivating brilliance.

20. Smokey Robinson, Royal Centre, July
Worth it for The Tracks Of My Tears alone, and with enough living-legend soulfulness to balance out the showbiz schmaltz (and the cheesy Miss Anglia Television 1978 backing dancers).

21. Palladium, Social, October
"They'll be back and they'll be big", I said. Fashion victim stylings tempered by incongruously musicianly "chops" and some magnificently flashy Axe Hero diddling 'n widdling.

22. Nuru Kane & Bayefall Gnawa, Lakeside, April
Playing for nearly three hours, Nuru Kane melded smoky desert blues, trance-like Moroccan "gnawa", hypnotic Afrobeat, and a rhythmic propulsion which got even this predominantly academic arts-centre crowd on their feet and grooving.

23. From The Jam, Rock City, December

24. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Rock City, January
OK, so he lost it after the first hour - but what a magnificent first hour, all the same.

25. Maria McKee, Rescue Rooms, May
Just plain enjoyable, basically. Smiles all round.

26. Erasure / Onetwo, Royal Centre, September
Being on the front row was a bit weird, but MY GOD did I make the most of it. Knocked the arty-but-dull Pet Shop Boys show into a cocked hat, that's for sure.

27. Tinariwen, Leicester De Montfort, May
More than good enough for me to forgive the repeated interview no-shows (of which there were several, CSS I'm looking at YOU).

28. Diana Ross, Arena, May
A bit all-over-the-place, but endearingly so - and when she hit it, she HIT it. The Boss! Ain't No Mountain High Enough! ShizafookinSTAR! I can die happy!

29. Alabama Three, London Astoria, October
Not just a gig, but a mini-blogmeet to boot, as I twinkled my toes off down the front with Zoe and the Twat. ShizafookinSTAR! Et cetera, et cetera!

30. Foals, Rescue Rooms, October
Once you factored out the Trendy Wanker seen-em-on-Skins faction, who were more bothered with being seen in the right place than actually paying attention (and believe me, that took some doing), what we were left with was a rather promising little band. Impossible to tell whether the recordings will match the intensity of the live shows, but I'll be keeping an optimistic ear out.

And these were the duds:

53. Manu Chao, Rock City, November
The only show this year that I walked out of - although to be fair, it was also one of the most deliriously ecstatic audiences that I've ever witnessed at Rock City, in 27 years of going there. God knows what they saw in him, but there you go.

54. The Sugababes, Arena, April
Characterised above all else by the total and utter lack of rapport between the three women on stage, each of whom performed in their own little bubble of disinterested disconnection.

55. The Verve, Arena, December
WHADDA FAKKIN LIBERTY! Sloppy, under-rehearsed, shit sound, duff vocals, bad attitude both onstage and off.

56. Bucks Fizz / Brotherhood Of Man, Royal Centre, June
Until you have seen the Brotherhood Of Man perform a "Seventies Medley" which includes the likes of Shang-A-Lang, My Ding-A-Ling and Remember You're A Womble, you don't know the meaning of true suffering.

57. The X Factor Live, Arena, February
Leona was fine, the Macdonald Brothers were tolerably entertaining... and the rest was desperate, exploitative, bargain basement shite, even down to the taped backing vocals and the pointless, milk-em-dry, text message competition.

58. Siobhan Donaghy, London Popstarz, June
Painfully off-key, lousy sound mix, zero charisma, and no-one even bothered to get rid of the software error message on the DVD backdrop. At least I could enjoy hating the X Factor show, but this was just dismal and depressing.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Twenty-Five Things I Want To Do Before I Die.

(Post title actually suggested by Zinnia Cyclamen.)
Nonono, Mike, while I appreciate the time and effort that's clearly gone into this, and not being jealous of your lovely sunny holiday afternoon at all - one title is aspirational, beautiful, a window to your dreams and a catalyst to our own imaginings, the other is merely unprompted advice and the gateway to TMI.

Do the other title instead! The other one! Do the other!

- anna
Now then young Diva, you may think it's clever to change the title of your assignment, but we do not spend hours carefully thinking up titles that will both stretch you and entertain your readership for you to wilfully ignore them. We will therefore expect the set version to be completed and handed in before the end of the month (like wot Anna said) or There Will Be Trouble and You Will Be In It. Do I make myself clear?

- Zinnia Cyclamen
OK, enough already! For I am nothing if not eager to please. The list which follows was compiled this morning, sitting out in PDMG#1, on the second gloriously scorching hot day of our 11-day holiday (which I think I might have briefly mentioned before, in passing).

Unlike its predecessor (see below), the order of which was jiggled around with for "artistic" purposes, this list is presented strictly in order of the thoughts which dropped into my head.

OK, let's catalyse those imaginings!

1. Visit Australia.

2. Visit New Zealand. That's two separate trips, and hence two separate items on the list. No, I don't consider this cheating.

3. Go for an overnight trip on a traditional rice boat on the backwaters of Kerala. (Thanks for the suggestion, z.)

4. Interview one of my heroes. This year to date, I've already missed out on Neil Tennant (holiday-related communications cock-up) and Boy George (UK tour cancelled, and stretching the definition of "hero" in any case). But the time will surely come, won't it?

5. Meet some of my most long-standing readers and/or fellow bloggers in person. To redress the imbalance of #1 and #2 above, I'm going to condense six items into one: asta in Canada, Peter in Leith, Gordon in Glasgow, Zed in Belgium, Joe in New York City, and the eternally elusive DG in Bow. Amongst others, naturellement...

6. Leave Nottingham. Sorry, Nottingham. It's not you, it's me.

7. Give up full-time paid employment, well in advance of the official retirement age.

8. Dance the Hustle.

9. Dine at El Bulli.

10. Attend a Nick Cave concert. To the best of my knowledge, Cave has only played Nottingham once. I bought a ticket, and then FORGOT TO GO, only realising several days later. This had never happened before, and I intend to ensure that it never happens again.

11. Win a f**king blog award for just once in my f**king life, rather than just being nominated and short-listed and long-listed for the f**king things all the f**king time, I mean I know I should be grateful and all that, but to have the carrot repeatedly dangled and snatched away, well, it needs a little resolution is all, and then I can be all gracious and self-effacing and oh-but-these-things-don't-really-matter, but not before, OK?

12. Host a radio show. Preferably one in which I get to play music. I loved doing those summer podcasts in 2005 and 2006.

13. Throw a 25th anniversary party. (There's less than three years to go on that one.)

14. See the Northern Lights. Or aurora borealis, if you will.

15. Become a god-father. (As distinct from "Fairy Godmother of British blogging".)

16. Write an article for a nationally distributed print-based publication. (Time Out London came closest, but not quite close enough.)

17. Get to the bottom of the Beatles mystery, once and for all. (I had a really good lead on this last year, but the trail fizzled out.)

18. Re-visit my home town; it's "a cocktail of urban and rural where the delights of a modern bustling town centre are complemented by picturesque villages, historic market towns and unspoilt countryside", apparently. Not having been back since my grandmother's funeral in 1992, I can only conclude that the old place has seen some fairly massive changes...

19. DJ, for one last time, in an end-of-High-Fidelity kind of way. The old tunes, to the old crowd. I'm not fussed about no swanky venue or nothing; the village hall would do just fine.

20. Finish transcribing the second half of my mother's memoirs (aka The London Years). Cracking good, they are.

21. Re-establish contact with a certain long lost cousin; I was a page-boy at her wedding in 1970.

22. Get a funky pied-à-terre in London Town.

23. Throw a 50th anniversary party.

24. Ensure that my mother is properly looked after in her old age.

25. Create something which people can remember me by; or, as K put it, "leave a lasting legacy". Ah, how we feeble mortals strive for the eternal...


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Twenty-Five Things To Do Before You Die.

(Post title almost suggested by Zinnia Cyclamen.)

(Except that Zinnia actually requested "Twenty-Five Things I Want To Do Before I Die". As our teachers used to tell us, but did we listen: ALWAYS READ THE QUESTION CAREFULLY.)

(Unfortunately, I didn't spot the slip until the list had been compiled, with a certain amount of assistance from K, as we hung out in a gloriously and unexpectedly sunny PDMG#1, on the first day of our 11-day holiday.)

(So here's a list of things that, if we might be so bold, we think that you should do, before you die. We've done most of them. But not all of them.)

1. Go for a balloon ride in Cappadocia.

2. Eat in a three-star Michelin restaurant.

3. Cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct by narrow boat.

4. Sunbathe in the nude, in public. It's not exhibitionism; it's liberation.

5. Meet one of your heroes.

6. Become a god-parent.

7. Sing karaoke.

8. Do a stint of regular voluntary work.

9. Attend a performance of Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians.

10. Visit the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

11. Buy an original work of art.

12. Overcome a fear.

13. Pick something that you're good at and do it really, really well, to the point where you achieve public recognition for doing it.

14. Become good friends with someone at least twenty years older than you.

15. Become good friends with someone at least twenty years younger than you.

16. Experience an anal orgasm. (See #12 above.)

17. Forgive those who have wronged you; it will set you free.

18. Watch 12 Angry Men.

19. Listen to June Tabor's And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

20. Read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.

21. Order the petit pot au chocolat at the Bibendum Oyster Bar (after lunching on their oysters, naturally).

22. Visit the site of the My Lai massacre.

23. Descend into the Valley of the Kings on a donkey, shortly after daybreak.

24. Drink a pint of Marston's Pedigree.

25. Eat a slice of Passionate Carrot Cake from the Chatsworth Farm Shop.

How many have you done?

And which ONE (repeat ONE) thing would you add to the list?


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mike's favourite 36 tracks of 2007 thus far.

(Originally compiled for a non-blog related reason. It seemed a shame to waste it.)

(No more than one track per artist has been permitted. This is especially harsh on Amerie, LCD Soundsystem, Marc Almond and Maria McKee.)

A Modern Midnight Conversation - Chemical Brothers
Late 1983/early 1984 Italo-disco rattles and squelches meet the bassline from underground psychedelic-disco classic "Crystal World" by Crystal Grass. And that's just the first minute...

A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger - Of Montreal
Sugar-rushing indie-pop from, um, Athens Georgia actually. The wags!

All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
After their disappointing debut album, I didn't see this masterpiece coming at all. Following their stunning appearance on Later, this is now the band that I most want to see performing live in the whole wide world, yes even including YOU The Arcade Fire.

Ankle Injuries - Fujiya & Miyagi
The one that goes "Like pixelated scraps of jazz mags in your headlights". Oh, you know the one.

Atlas - Battles
The one with the chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka glitter-stomp beat and the Ten Pole Tudor chipmunks. Nice proggy influences on the rest of the album, but this one stands alone.

Boring - The Pierces
"Sexy boy... girl on girl... menage à trois... BORING." Bonus points for the whistling and the trumpet impersonations.

D.A.N.C.E. - Justice
"D.A.N.C.E. undoubtedly qualifies as the best use of a children’s choir in dance music (yes there’s the Go! Team, but the kids there were sampled) this side of the Smart E’s deconstructing “Sesame Street” on TOTP back in 1992." - Marcello Carlin.

Elephant's Parade - Minilogue
Proving once again that great music can be found in the strangest of places, even cover-mounted mix CDs on the front of Mixmag.

F**k It, I Love You - Malcolm Middleton
Yes, him out of Arab Strap. Plaintive yet uplifting.

Herculean - The Good, The Bad & The Queen
All that press hype at the beginning of the year was a bit off-putting, wasn't it? Seven months later, the album stands as 2007's slowest grower. The dilettantism of Damon Albarn: it's a Good Thing, isn't it?

Hùg air a Bhonaid Mhòir - Julie Fowlis
Bouncy-pigtailed Outer Hebridean folk. 2007 has been nothing if not varied.

Icky Thump - White Stripes
There's life yet in that thar bass-less rock. Killer riff an' all...

I'm A Broken Heart - The Bird & The Bee
Lesley Gore-lifting winsome prettiness, and surprisingly English-sounding for a Los Angeles act.

I'm A Flirt - R.Kelly ft. T.I. & T-Pain
Oh, I shouldn't. But, irresistable. And quite quite bonkers.

It's The Beat - Simian Mobile Disco
Cookie-crewed-up neo-electro, with a canny Marshall Jefferson synth stab. You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?

Late December - Maria McKee
Me mate Maria! Here's a live version, in the same outfit as when I saw her in Nottingham. Wonder if she fixed that rip?

Let It Go - Keyshia Cole
Love those rhythmic nods to Mtume and The SOS Band.

Lil' Star - Kelis ft. Cee-Lo
Talk about a change of style. Who would have thought that such tender humility would suit Kelis so well?

Männer Sind So Scheisse Sexy - The Admirals ft. Seraphina
Silly Teutonic-electro, which ticks all my easiest-access boxes. If loving this is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Matadjem Yinmixan - Tinariwen
Andy Kershaw chose this on Desert Island Discs, you know. Here's a seriously good live version from the Montreux Jazz Festival, featuring Carlos Santana. I urge you all to click.

No Pussy Blues - Grinderman
"I sent her every type of flower, I played her guitar by the hour, I patted her revolting little chihuahua, but still she just didn't want to." Nick Cave does funny, with a scuzzier, gnarlier sound than we've become used to.

Out Of Control (Song 4 Mutya) - Groove Armada ft Mutya Buena
Yet another monster monster juggernaut of a neo-electro riff, and a much better showcase for the ex-Sugababe than all that George Michael & Lenny Kravitz nonsense.

Over The Ice - The Field
Minimal techno that I can get with. Oddly soothing, and more so over time. It's all in the texture.

Overpowered - Roisin Murphy
The continuation of Goldfrapp by other means? Ooh, she'd hate that.

Perfect Exceeder - Mason vs Princess Superstar
More Cookie-crewed neolectro juggernautism, which rocked our collective worlds during this year's Which Decade Is Top For Pops, didn't it guys and gals?

Potential Breakup Song - Aly & AJ
Autotuned automata deliver synthetic synthpop goodness. Massive earworm, this one.

Sideshow - Rufus Wainwright
The show-stopper from Release The Stars, whose emotional fulcrum pits a winningly abstract Richard Thompson against thrilling deep soul horn stabs.

Starz In Their Eyes - Just Jack
Came into its own when some bright spark at the Nottingham Arena bunged it on during the interval of the X Factor tour. (Not that anyone noticed, which made it all the more poignant...)

Take Control - Amerie
The absolute highlight of the stunning first half of her second album. That cheeky En Vogue steal is just the icing on the cake.

The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men - Marc Almond ft Antony Hegarty
Me mate Marc! I've never been much of an Almond fan, which made Stardom Road all the more revelatory. Has he ever sounded quite this accomplished, acute and true?

The Creeps (Fedde Le Grand Remix) - Camille Jones
See also Simian Mobile Disco, Groove Armada, Justice, Roisin Murphy, Mason, The Admirals. Why don't I go out dancing more often?

The Dancing - June Tabor
The current heavy rotation power-play in our household, courtesy of my Born Again Folkie Life Partner. Tears in the eyes, almost every time... and I choose not to analyse why.

The Magic Position - Patrick Wolf
There's something very Spring 1983 about this.

Umbrella - Rihanna ft. Jay-Z
It took the full ten weeks to appreciate its majesty, but I got there in the end. Nice weather we've been having since it tumbled off the top last Sunday...

You! Me! Dancing! - Los Campesinos!
Anthemic indie-pop air puncher. I love everything that they stand for.

Your Love Is A Tease - Rod Thomas (BUY!)
My 7-incher of the year. Actually, my only 7-incher of the year. Breezy soundtrack to the summer that never was (but still might be). Anyone else remember The Lotus Eaters?

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

SwissToni's Earworms.

I've been doing a spot of guest-blogging over at SwissToni's Place, as part of his excellent "Earworms of the Week" series. The concept of the series isn't necessarily to list your ten current favourite tracks; it's more about listing the ten tracks which have been occupying the most space on your internal jukebox. It's a subtle but significant difference...

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Friday, January 12, 2007

This week's pre-occupations.

1. Once again, K and I have become Big Brother's bitches. Once again, Grace Dent provides the sharpest commentary. Also on the telly tip, I was able to identify the precise moment when the hitherto flawless Shameless jumped the shark: namely, when an unconscious Frank Gallagher was dragged from his burning kitchen by his pet dog. I mean, really.

2. As the Hellen Affair rumbles on, Zinnia Cyclamen provides a neat rebuttal of his rebuttal.

3. Much to my surprise, since I'm not exactly Mister Gadget Man, I have been completely sucked into the Apple iPhone hype, and now find myself pining for ownership. Engadget has the most thorough explanation. Unfortunately, K's plans to surprise me with a Blackberry on my birthday now lie exposed and in tatters. If only he was going to Florida in June...

4. ...rather than today, six months short of the device hitting the shops. In preparation for this, my valeting services have been in great demand this week. We had a lovely time picking out fresh shirt-and-tie combinations for him a couple of evenings ago (does pink scream "Spring 2006", or can we get away with it for a while longer?), and I have never been far from an ironing board. Oh, I do have my practical uses.

5. Alarmingly, K will still be out of the country when the kitchen fitters arrive next week, thus leaving me as de facto Site Manager. But what if they ask me technical questions about, I don't know, angle brackets or something? I shall be all at sea. Thankfully, K's business partner's wife E - who is something of an expert in this field - has volunteered her services as Relief Manager. She knows her way round kitchens, does E. I don't usually stretch much further than the fridge, the kettle and the microwave.

6. Facing the prospect of being home alone with no working kitchen for a few nights, I intend to be Out and About as much as possible next week. Owt good at t'flicks?

7. My intensive pre-interview research into the Life and Times of Will Oldham/Bonnie 'Prince' Billy is yielding rich dividends. In particular, his most recent album The Letting Go is a quiet revelation. I don't have many alt-country moments these days, but this is one of them.

8. With the Amsterdam weekend imminent, blogging might be light, but Twittering will hopefully be moderate-to-heavy - so keep your eye on the newly expanded "we twitter" box on the sidebar. (I am SO PROUD at having hacked the code around for this, although it has rather buggered up my archived unordered lists.) In the meantime, why not refresh your memories with details of my previous visits in 1991 (in which I found myself the unwitting star of a Benny Hill sketch at a *cough* "men-only event") and 2002 (in which cracks appear in my carefully constructed professional facade)? Ah, for those heady devil-may-care early days, when Troubled Diva was still a byword for Too Much Information...

9. Preparations for Which Decade Is Tops For Pops and Post of the Week have taken up most of the rest of my spare time - and at the time of writing, there is still one more vacancy for another member of the Post of the Week editorial team. More details below.

10. If spin the list out to a nice round ten, I'll make myself late and miss my plane. Have a good weekend!

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nice Things that have happened in the last few days.

1. Towards the end of our New Year’s Eve “safari supper”, the six of us were joined by J the church warden (who had missed his flight to Pisa due to the massive security queues at Gatwick airport., but I’m not here to talk about that; “return to work” day is grim enough as it is, so let’s focus on the Nice Things). At five minutes to midnight, glasses in hand, we traipsed out of OldEngland and NewEngland’s cottage, through the church yard next door, and into the village church itself – where J unlocked the door, climbed the stairs to the carillon, bonged the bells for midnight, and knocked out a quick impromptu rendition of Auld Lang Syne into the bargain, as the rest of us chinked and hugged below. Best NYE midnight moment ever!

2. “Dressage Diva” A and I have settled on three pieces of music for her forthcoming competition, subject to final approval from the horse. Professional confidentiality forbids me from disclosing our choices – but I can reveal that we have chosen a jazzy, swingy, Blue Note-y direction, with all electronics and drum machines firmly ruled out, as metronome-strict rhythms don’t suit this particular horse’s swishy, sassy gait. The next step is to re-edit the music to match the floor plan, and to sequence it into a seamless five-minute suite, with as little abruptness as possible between the tempo changes.

3. Out in the PDMG, a local woodpecker has started nibbling our nuts on a regular basis (we hang them from the malus tree which faces the kitchen window). Never having seen a real life woodpecker before, I have been getting VERY EXCITED about this. Wide-eyed child of nature, me.

4. Congratulations to my darling sister, whose Suzi Quatro impersonation won her the New Year’s Eve “Stars in Their Eyes” competition in her local pub. Apparently, there is a video clip. No, you can’t.

5. All those long, lazy lie-ins. Cups of tea going cold beside the bed, as we read, or doze, or surf, occasionally making well-intentioned but half-hearted muttering noises about Getting On With The Day. Given half the chance, I reckon we could cheerfully live like that indefinitely. Sigh. January the second's a right bugger, intit?

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Seven successes in 2006, and five things you don't know about me.

As you may have noticed, I almost never get "tagged" with memes - probably because you all consider me much too grand to be bothered with such trifles. Yes, that must be it. However, when a member of my company's management team tags me with a meme, then I guess it would be prudent to comply, and to comply pretty sharpish at that. Because I'm just so damned good at taking instructions and keeping to deadlines. Oh yes I am! Watch me!

Seven successes in 2006.

1. Covering Eurovision for Slate, backstage at the Olympic Arena in Athens. This caused me more pressure and more stress than any piece of paid work I have ever undertaken in my life (for several reasons, including a broken laptop, four hours' lost work, and the small matter of the sudden hospitalisation and death of K's sister) - and hence more attendant fulfilment when the work was successfully completed.

2. Helping to arrange a truly beautiful and special funeral for K's beloved sister M, and delivering the main eulogy on the day. I've never had to deal with death in a practical way before, and shall be all the better equipped to deal with it on subsequent occasions.

3. Registering my civil partnership with K, after twenty-one years together as a couple. This was the last time that either of us saw M, who died just over three weeks later, and I'm thankful at least that our last memories of her were such happy ones.

4. Becoming a freelance music writer for the Nottingham Evening Post (and occasionally for Stylus), and learning how to deliver copy to fixed word counts and tight - extremely tight - deadlines. I love writing my little gig reviews when I get home from the venue (the copy deadline being at 6am the following morning), and then seeing them printed in the paper the following lunchtime. It still makes me tingle, every time. Same goes for the album reviews. My next immediate goal is to tackle some interviewing work; it just needs the right act to start with. (I've already turned down the drummer with Placebo. Such arrogance!)

5. Purely on the basis of an hour-long telephone interview, landing the assignment with the big new clients in Canary Wharf. Those three weeks of conducting job interviews in Hangzhou exactly twelve months ago must have stood me in good stead, then...

6. Making the absolute most of my five months in London, and spending many delightful evenings with many, many lovely blogpals in the process. I've loved the offline social aspects of blogging that have developed during 2006.

7. Inasmuch as a family tragedy might appropriately be mined for examples of personal "success" (but I'm trying to answer as honestly as possible): completing my course of cognitive behavioural therapy, which equipped me with the means to cope with the emotional aftermath of a major bereavement without succumbing to any major depressive relapses along the way.

Oh, 2006. You were the best of times and the worst of times. However, and for what it's worth, you were rarely dull.

OK, time for a shift of gear.

Five things you don't know about me.

1. Sexual fantasies make me sneeze. Not actual sexual activities; just fantasising about them. How weird is that? But then, isn't the trajectory of a sneeze rather like the trajectory of a sexual climax? (I'll leave you to tease out the reasons for yourselves, because some of them are a bit icky.)

Incidentally, I am not altogether alone in this: in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the character of Angel Clare falls victim to the same phenomenon, while spying on Tess from afar. I discovered this at the age of 17, while studying the book for my A-levels, and fell upon the discovery with joyful - if silent - relief at not being quite such a weirdo after all.

2. It doesn't come over in the blog at all, but I can be a right crabby little madam at times. Tetchy, irritable, cross and downright rude, and especially so to people whom I care about.

3. My lack of practical skills and aptitude is so severe that I would have serious trouble looking after myself alone for any extended period of time. Sometimes this scares me.

4. I've had [rough numerical estimate deleted] sexual partners. Which is fairly par for the course in contemporary urban gay terms (especially when one has been sexually active for nearly 28 years), but it does raise a fair number of heterosexual eyebrows. Of course, I'm well past my peak in that respect - and on balance, and without wishing to disown my wild past, I reckon I'm all the happier for it. Didn't Boy George once say something about cups of tea?

5. I do a lot of my best work when I'm busting for a pee. It's something to do with the psychology of displacement activity. Works for me, readers!

Update (1): Oh, are you're supposed to tag other people? Forgive me, for I am a little rusty with these conventions.

I hereby tag Siobhan (who reminded me), Luca and TGI Paul. But only if they feel like it, of course...

Update (2): Siobhan's done it...

Update (3): Luca's done it...

Update (4): TGI Paul's done it... here and here.

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Troubled Diva's best singles of 2006.

(Look, we're all grown-ups here. YouTube, Myspace, you find the links and do the work. It's all out there. And I have a hangover to contend with.)

1. crazy - gnarls barkley
2. young folks - peter bjorn & john
3. lloyd, i'm ready to be heartbroken - camera obscura
4. i don't feel like dancing - scissor sisters
5. patience - take that
6. let's make love and listen to death from above - css
7. we share our mother's health - the knife
8. déjà vu - beyonce ft jay-z
9. the greatest - cat power
10. mama (loves a crackhead) - plan b
11. just like the rain - richard hawley
12. the ride - joan as police woman
13. harrowdown hill - thom yorke
14. when the sun goes down - arctic monkeys
15. i will stand - claudja barry
16. no no never - texas lightning
17. delirious love - neil diamond ft brian wilson
18. nth degree - morningwood
19. ain't no other man - christina aguilera
20. on the radio - regina spektor
21. rehab - amy winehouse
22. smiley faces - gnarls barkley
23. sorry - madonna
24. a public affair - jessica simpson
25. eternal flame - joan as police woman
26. everytime we touch - cascada
27. minimal - pet shop boys
28. let's call it off - peter bjorn & john
29. over and over - hot chip
30. pra ser sincero - marisa monte
31. country girl - primal scream
32. get together - madonna
33. monster - the automatic
34. last night i nearly died - duke special
35. let's get out of this country - camera obscura
36. never be lonely - the feeling
37. ice cream - new young pony club
38. sexy love - ne-yo
39. all this love - the similou
40. weekend without makeup - the long blondes
41. fill my little world - the feeling
42. eleanor, put your boots on - franz ferdinand
43. black sweat - prince
44. put your records on - corinne bailey rae
45. standing in the way of control - the gossip
46. chelsea dagger - fratellis
47. supermassive black hole - muse
48. goodnight and go - imogen heap
49. me & u - cassie
50. running the world - jarvis cocker
51. downtown - peaches
52. analogue (all i want) - a-ha
53. once and never again - the long blondes
54. tornero - mihai traistariu
55. all time love - will young
56. love it when you call - the feeling
57. beware of the dog - jamelia
58. what you know - t.i.
59. temple of love - bodies without organs
60. from paris to berlin - infernal
61. pull shapes - the pipettes
62. get up - ciara ft chamillionaire
63. take me back to your house - basement jaxx
64. voodoo magic - bodies without organs
65. nothing's gonna change your mind - badly drawn boy

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Troubled Diva's best albums of 2006 - the absolute, final, enough-with-the-tweaking-and-twiddling-already version.

1. savane - ali farka touré
2. real life - joan as police woman
3. writer's block - peter bjorn & john
4. kinavana - kekele
5. whatever people say i am, that's what i'm not - arctic monkeys
6. fundamental - pet shop boys
7. rodrigo y gabriela - rodrigo y gabriela
8. gulag orkestar - beirut
9. boulevard de l'independance - toumani diabate's symmetric orchestra
10. let's get out of this country - camera obscura
11. silent shout - the knife
12. love - the beatles
13. son - juana molina
14. 12 songs - neil diamond
15. the eraser - thom yorke
16. the warning - hot chip
17. awoo - hidden cameras
18. the greatest - cat power
19. lunatico - gotan project
20. the art and soul of the mande griots vol.2 - mandekalou
21. songs from the deep forest - duke special
22. st. elsewhere - gnarls barkley
23. ta-dah - scissor sisters
24. someone to drive you home - long blondes
25. cansei de ser sexy - css
26. back in the doghouse - bugz in the attic
27. voices of animals and men - young knives
28. abacabok - tartit
29. concrete - pet shop boys
30. twelve stops and home - the feeling

Delayed but played:
demon days - gorillaz
8 armed monkey - KTU
mulatos - omar sosa
you could have it so much better - franz ferdinand
late registration - kanye west
black mountain - black mountain
takk - sigur ros

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Rockin' Mike's gigs of 2006.

1. Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Rescue Rooms, May.
Mexican guitar duo with thrash metal background ("We're not fokkin flamenco!") played very very fast indeed, while simultaneously using their guitars as percussion instruments. Metallica's "One" bled seamlessly into Dave Brubeck's "Take Five"; the crowd went wild. For the encore, someone shouted out "Pink Floyd", and the whole room sang along to a spontaneous cover of "Wish You Were Here".

2. Secret Machines, Rescue Rooms, April.
The new album may have disappointed, but no other gig this year matched Secret Machines for sheer emotional intensity (shoegazing revival, anyone?) - or my subsequent knackered, drunk, overwhelmed review for pretentious purple prose. This was the gig where I learnt that precisely two pints of lager are needed to fuel a decent write-up; not a drop more, and not a drop less. I stuck to this formula rigidly for the rest of the year; it served me well.

3. Take That, Birmingham NEC, April.
The ultimate boyband bounced back as if they had never been away, and proved once and for all that yes, they really do have talent, personality, presence, warmth, and songs. Oh Boyzone, oh Westlife, how paltry do your achievements seem now.

Of course, Robbie Williams was still far to grand to share a stage with his erstwhile bandmates, appearing instead via the medium of hologram to beam in the first verse of "Could It Be Magic". Oh, the honour. But that was eight months ago. As of today, Take That's brilliant "Patience" is at #2 in the singles chart, whilst Robbie's workmanlike cover of Lewis Taylor's "Lovelight" is down to #120 in the download-only chart. In the album chart, Robbie's patchy-at-best career destroyer Rudebox is down to #36, while Take That's triumphant comeback album Beautiful World hangs on at #1.

You mark my words. Williams will be grovelling to Gary Barlow and the boys before 2007 is through. Grovelling, I tell you!

4. Imogen Heap, The Social, April.
Sampling herself as she sang and played, then immediately looping back the live samples in accumulating layers of sound, to sublime effect.

5. Pink, Nottingham Arena, November.
Suspended above the audience on a trapeze, and spinning around at high speed, upside-down, while doing the splits, and still delivering a note-perfect "Get The Party Started" - now that's entertainment.

6. Greg Dulli & the Twilight Singers, Rescue Rooms, July.
Encore of the year, as another spontaneous Pink Floyd cover version graced the Rescue Rooms (see Rodrigo Y Gabriela above). The news of Syd Barrett's death had just been announced, and so Dulli gave us a beautiful "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", which morphed into a heart-stopping version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy", as unspoken references to Dulli's struggles with his own demons hovered in the air.

7. The Long Blondes, Rescue Rooms, October.
That Kate Jackson, phwooar! Total star. The songs make so much more sense live, away from the disappointing generic-indie-sludge of the debut album. High point: a totally art-pop "Giddy Stratospheres".

8. The Feeling, Rock City, November.
That Dan Gillespie-Sells, PHWOOAR! Total dish. Nice music for nice people, stripped of the glossy production of their recorded material and sounding vastly better for it.

9. Three Strange Angels, Djanogly Recital Hall, September.
Serious music ahoy! This superb percussion troupe performed pieces by Steve Reich, John Cage and many others.

10. The Automatic / Mumm-Ra, Trent University, October.
The acceptable face of NME-sanctioned student-friendly mainstream indie rock. Mumm-Ra were a bit boring, but The Automatic's flute-led cover of Kanye West's "Gold Digger" won me over. (Yes, I know how awful that sounds on paper. You'll just have to take me on trust.) Great to see Trent Uni re-launching itself as a regular venue for live music, as well.

11. Madonna, Wembley Arena, August.
Displaying, unless I'm very much mistaken, occasional faint signs of actually being aware that an audience had paid (through the nose, as it happens) to come and see her, and that perhaps she could deign to, you know, entertain them. Quelle breakthrough!

12. Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Rock City, November.
Their second visit of the year, in a substantially larger venue. The intimacy of the earlier gig may have been lost - but everything else scaled up just fine, and we were all still left gasping at their sheer manual dexterity.

13. Juana Molina, The Social, August.
Like Imogen Heap before her (see above), Juana Molina is another solo performer who samples herself as she plays. Subtly dissonant electronica underpinned her gentle wispy folksiness, to spellbinding effect. God, I've become such a hack. Hungover after seeing the New Year in, and I could carry on bashing this sort of stuff out all day.

14. Morrissey, Nottingham Arena, December.
He seems to have arrived at a happy place - which might blunt his edge, but perhaps full-on adolescent angst in one's late forties isn't such a good look. Highpoint: an incandescent "Irish Blood, English Heart". Oh, and the ritualised ripping and tossing of not one but two nice smart shirts. Tart.

15. Bugz In The Attic, Rescue Rooms, September.
Their so-called "DJ" had by far the easiest job - not even pretending to play any records, but contenting himself with squeezing the occasional hooter and waving his arms around a lot. Nice work if you can get it.

16. Scissor Sisters / The Gossip, Nottingham Arena, November.
The Gossip's Beth Ditto was a hoot, although her band fell way short of what was needed for an arena-sized gig. As, to a lesser but marked extent, did the Sizzah Sistahs. Much as I will always love them, they just aren't a natural arena act, and little less mega-success would suit them well.

Also memorable for being told to sit down by the world's most miserable woman in the seat behind, while the rest of the arena continued to bop gaily around us. Grr.

17. Hidden Cameras, The Social, September.
In 2004, they released my favourite album of the year and played one of the best gigs of the year. In 2006, the law of diminishing returns kicked in. Nice enough, and still in a different league from most, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the Cameras were stuck in an underachieving indie rut, and treading water. (No, not a mixed metaphor. You can still tread water in a rut, if the rut is deep enough.)

18. Journey South, Royal Concert Hall, October.
Much enlivened by our proximity to Journey South's mam and dad, who - once they spotted me taking notes - spun me the whole "proud parents" line as if I was Kate Bloody Thornton, bless 'em. And who wouldn't? In many ways, this was actually the most entertaining show I went to all year. It's just that not all of those ways were, you know, good ways. But at least some of them were, and one genuinely wishes the boys well.

19. Camera Obscura, The Social, October.
A potentially great gig was all but wrecked by the ridiculous heat inside the venue, as a packed crowd gasped for air and the band struggled to keep their instruments in tune. I ended up spending the second half of the set public-spiritedly propping the exit door open with my foot, and craning my neck round the corner to see the tops of the performers' heads.

20. David Essex, Royal Concert Hall, September.
The very epitome of silver-foxiness. The old hits were fab, the vast swathes of new material markedly less so. Don't read my review; it's way too cheesy and it makes me blush. Hack.

21. The Osmonds, Royal Concert Hall, March.
Ooh, we had letters over this one! As MissMish remarked, it was all rather like being beaten repeatedly over the head with a Hallmark greetings card - although the six-song medley from The Plan, the brothers' 1973 attempt at a deep & meaningful "concept" album, certainly rocked my world.

22. Guillemots / Joan As Police Woman, Rescue Rooms, June.
Joan's understated performance, backed by various assorted Guillemots, fell flat with the annoyingly chatty crowd, while the Guillemots themselves were all tricksy clever-cleverness at the expense of emotional congruence, hem-hem.

23. ADULT. / Battant, The Social, February.
Battant were fun, but ADULT. were f**king dreadful. The glowstick-waving Nathan Barleys down the front lapped it all up, but the rest of us were merely nonplussed.

24. The Fallout Trust / Computerman, The Social, February.
Totally forgettable - as was my first ever review for t'local paper, which never actually made it to print. Not the most auspicious of starts.

25. Victorian English Gentlemens Club / Das Wanderlust, The Social, September.
Hanging around in an almost deserted Social, this was one of those nights where I questioned my calling. The acts did their best, but it was all rather futile.

26. Jools Holland, Chatsworth House, July.
This was my treat to K's parents, in an attempt to give them a jolly night out after the sudden loss of their daughter. We all duly played the parts of people having a jolly night out, but it was all more than a little strained.

27. Hope Of The States, Rescue Rooms, June.
Retreating into generic "angular post-punk" (YAWN) was a daft move to make, and it came as no surprise when the band split up a few months later. You could see even then that their hearts weren't really in it.

28. The Puppini Sisters, The Social, October.
The climax of an atrociously mis-conceived Halloween "burlesque" night, which once again fell foul of the Social's malfunctioning air conditioning units (since fixed, I have been told). Far too late, far too hot, far too packed, and altogether the wrong venue for this grossly over-hyped novelty act.

29. Amp Fiddler, The Social, September.
Studiously tasteful soul-funk workouts, untouched by any notions of songcraft or musical variety. Started off as pleasant enough background music, before escalating in dullness to the point where only my professional duty kept me inside the venue.

30. Emmylou Harris, Royal Concert Hall, August.
Timid, listless, dull and worthy - and that was just the backing musicians. I've seen more passion and commitment at a supermarket checkout. Unburdened by any professional duty (I actually paid, gasp, real money for this one), I sailed out halfway through, and joined K down the pub (he had lasted all of twenty minutes).

(ADMIN: Later in the week, I'm going to retro-publish my Nottingham Evening Post reviews on the blog, back-dated as appropriate, and link to them from the list above. Because I'm completist like that.)

Update: Job done. All the old Evening Post reviews are up on the site, and back-linked from this list.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

What I got.

(Or in some cases, what we got.)

From K: A multi-coloured cotton dressing-gown, in the sort of snazzy Paul Smith stripes which have become my sartorial signature. This will be my "city" dressing-gown (I already possess a "country" dressing gown), and will save me from making mad sprints downstairs in the nicky nacky noo, past the large uncovered window on the half-landing with a view over the street below and the flats opposite, and thus affording eagle-eyed neighbours and passers-by the chance to catch a lightening flash of my willy and/or bum-bum. From next week, such treats will no longer be on offer. For a man at my time of life, this is all to the good.

From K: As has become customary over the past five years, a selection of four CDs from nominated artists in next year's BBC Radio Three World Music Awards (follow the link to stream complete tracks from all the nominees). It should be noted that K has a pretty good track record for picking the winners; this year, he has given the nod to Etran Finatawa, Ben Harper, Nuru Kane and Gogol Bordello. (He also gives the nod to K'naan and Ska Cubano, whose CDs he was unable to source in time for Christmas.)

From K: City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, by Vic Gatrell. A fat hardback tome, generously illustrated with caricatures from the Golden Age (1770 to 1830), from the likes of James Gillray and the Cruikshanks. Our continued love and fascination for the Golden Age of caricature remains one of the great unbloggables, mainly because I can't see my way clear to writing about it without coming over all dry and historical, and telling you things which you could find elsewhere, described and discussed by genuine experts in the field. For now, suffice it to say that we love the vulgarity and the grotesqueness; if ever you think that contemporary cartoonists like Steve Bell "go too far", and that modern-day news values are being dumbed down by salacious, ephemeral, personality-based tittle-tattle, then these works will show you that there's nothing new under the sun.

From K: A boxed set of 11 DVDs from the ground-breaking, brilliant, magical film-making partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, dating from the 1940s and 1950s. I already knew (and loved) A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I'm Going and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; yesterday afternoon, I made a start on the rest of the collection, and promptly fell in love with The Red Shoes. There's a weirdly resonant quality about these strange, singular films, which somehow tap into some of my earliest thoughts and memories. In particular, Joan Maude as the serenely magisterial "Chief Recorder" in A Matter of Life and Death is the spitting image of the woman whom I visualised as my inner "conscience", aged around three or four (yes, I was a "deep" toddler) - and I really do wonder whether I might have lifted her image from a TV screening of the film.

From my darling sister: The Best of Smash Hits: The '80s. How well she knows me. You could barely get a peep out of me after Christmas dinner. While K and his extended family nodded off in front of Funny Face, I was lapping up Tom Hibbert's bizarre 1987 interview with Margaret Thatcher ("Brotherhood of Man? Lovely!"), and wondering how they ever got away with putting the long-forgotten likes of Matt Fretton and Jimmy The Hoover on the cover, and still selling shedloads in the process.

From my darling sister: A boxed set of all 19 of the Clash's UK seven-inch vinyl singles, in their original sleeves - even including, ohmygodgetthisgetthis, the limited edition "Capital Radio" EP which you could only get through the NME (eek!), which I sent off for and never received. At last, a great historical wrong has been righted. Really, the whole package is commodity fetishism at its most heightened, and probably the antithesis of everything that The Clash originaly stood for - but hey, we evolve. Of all the many lovely presents which I received this year, this was the one which scored highest on the instant reaction squeal-o-meter.

From my darling sister: A pocket-sized Etch A Sketch. How well she knows me, Part 3. I seem to have got better at this in the thirty-year gap since I last used one of these devices, as I have become more patient with its limitations, thinking creatively around them rather than letting them defeat me.

From K's mum and dad: An engraving by the caricaturist George Cruikshank, in a nice old Hogarth frame, entitled Dandies and Dandyzettes. Dating from 1818, this depicts close-up versions of several of the figures from Cruikshank's Monstrosities of 1818, which we already own (do take a look; it's fab) - but the colouring on this engraving is unusually rich and vivid. Really, these people were the frightful, graceless, over-done Versace-clad harpies of their day. There's nothing new under the sun, Part 2.

From K's mum and dad: Some rather elegant wine glasses and champagne flutes - but rendered in plastic, and hence suitable for picnicking. They must have spotted the need for these over the summer, when the four of us struggled with our fancy glassware during a picnic in the grounds of Chatsworth House, prior to an open-air concert from Jools Holland and his band. Good spot, the In-Laws!

From K's mum and dad: A book token, part of which I shall be spending on... but no, that would be telling. All in due course. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

From my mother: A beautiful beech food bowl, made by Liam O'Neill for David Mellor, accessorised with a couple of wooden-handled salad servers. This looks so much better on the refectory table in the cottage kitchen than the hand-painted jug from Marrakech ever did. (The jug has been moved to the kitchen window sill, in case you were worrying. It's a lovely jug, but the yellow was too cloying against the pine.)

From my mother: Modern Phobias: A litany of contemporary fears, by Tim Lihoreau. I'm sure that neither my mother nor Mr. Lihoreau would be offended if I described it, in the nicest possible way, as "toilet reading". It's a dipper-inner.

From K's glamorous (and newly single, ladies!) lesbian cousin P: a gift set of Kiehl's pampering products. Kiehl's, Kiehl's, where have you been all our lives? One senses that after seven years of unswerving devotion to Molton Brown, that devotion may be drawing to its natural close. (I mean to say, they even have Molton Brown in the loos at Buckingham Palace - and frankly, can you get more dismally Middle England than that?) We are particularly struck by the "Face Fuel" moisturiser (so tingly!), and the "Original Musk" eau de toilette (devised in 1920!).

From K's auntie and uncle: a gift set of Espa pampering products, more slanted towards the bathroom. But I have to say: the packaging for this stuff takes "unnecessary" to a whole new level. Boxes within boxes, all purely for the sake of the "reveal" moment, and fit for nothing but the bin afterwards. (But we'll stash them in the garage, Just In Case.)

From K's late sister's partner R, who joined us for Christmas Day (along with his almost unbearably handsome brother W): a half bottle of 1988 Sauternes... from... oh, hang on... ohmyf**kingChrist-itisn't-itIS-itf**kingIS... Chateau de bloody Yquem, sweetie! And then, a couple of hours later - since we couldn't possibly be expected to share it around the table with the foie gras starter - a second bloody half-bottle of bloody Chateau de bloody Yquem, if you please. Oh my good Lord, that shit rules.

From MissMish: a double-sided picture-frame - essentially a sheer rectangular perspex slab - containing two photos of me and him, taken on the day of our civil partnership registration. As we didn't have any don't-say-wedding photos on display, this was an altogether wonderful surprise.

From NewEngland in the village, quietly left inside the garage while we were away in Cambridge, and meant as a "thank you" for ferrying her partner OldEngland across from Nottingham every Friday night: a "Hip Hotels (Escape)" guide, and a beautifully packaged and labelled home-made hamper of produce, all made by NewEngland's own fair hand. Pepper jelly! Green tomato, onion and cucumber pickle! Brandied tangerines! Three-coloured "harlequin" cubes of home-made marzipan, coated with dark chocolate! And some of those "Blue Diamond" imported Californian almonds which we love so much! Of all the many uncommonly well-chosen gifts which we both received this year (one of our best hauls in ages, it has to be said), these were the most unexpected, the most personal - and therefore possibly the most cherished of all.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Excuses have their uses, but now they're all used up, all used up..."

1. The trouble with only being at work for two days in the week before Christmas is that you end up trying to cram a week's worth of unfinished tasks into the paltry time available. Because, obviously, the Christmas/New Year holiday period marks The End Of Time As We Know It, and all things must be signed off before then, in order to ward off a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions. Even if that catastrophe is wholly self-invented.

2. As if Twitter wasn't already enough of a compulsive attention-hoover, I got sucked into "alpha testing" something which has proved to be equally addictive. It's still being developed, so I shouldn't be linking just yet - but the fruits of my labours may be of some passing interest. Ee, the things I do to avoid writing proper blog posts!

3. I spent most of yesterday evening working on my third set of "Best of 2006" lists. First there was Stylus (singles here, albums here, and if you look closely you'll find a couple of my blurbs lurking within) - then there was the US music blog Idolator's "Jackin' Pop" poll (an uppity new rival to the long-running Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" poll; results to be pubished in a week or so) - and most recently, t'local paper asked me to pen a few choice words on the cream and the crap of 2006. If you're local, it's out on Friday. My fourth and final set of lists will appear here in the fullness of time.

4. I also spent most of yesterday evening trying to source music for the "trot" section of a dressage event - as it looks as if A from the village could be dressaging for England next year, and I have volunteered my services as a musical advisor. We've already been working on the "walk" and "canter" sections, but "trot" is by far the hardest. What's needed is fast instrumental music (between 136 and 150 bpm), with a strong rhythmic pulse, but which still sounds light and nimble - i.e. no skull-crushing dance beats, and nothing that will, ahem, frighten the horses. This rules out just about all 9000+ tracks in my iTunes library. All suggestions welcomed. (Light orchestral classical music, particularly from film soundtracks, is a perennial favourite - but it shouldn't surprise you to know that my knowledge of such areas is practically zero.)

5. Did I mention that K has ordered a "Three Bird Roast" from a posh nosh mail order catalogue, with which to grace our Christmas table? Such taste! Such discernment! I was bragging about this to my co-workers yesterday lunchtime, when one of them gently informed me that Ian Beale from EastEnders ordered the same thing for his wedding banquet the other week. Y'know, much as I eschew snobbery in all its forms, this has taken some of the shine off the event...

6. For those of you who don't tend to scroll down below the most recent post, can I just point out that I have answered all six of last Friday's song-title questions? I'd so hate for them to go to waste.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Counting down the most happening sounds around: it's the Troubled Diva "Yesterday's So Over, Now Is All We Have" Hot Twenty! With links!

1. once and never again - the long blondes (video)
2. let's call it off - peter bjorn & john (audio) (video)
3. let's get out of this country - camera obscura (audio) (video)
4. take me back to your house - basement jaxx (video)
5. last night i nearly died - duke special (audio) (video)
6. nothing's gonna change your mind - badly drawn boy (audio) (video)
7. rehab - amy winehouse (audio) (video)
8. myspace - chicks on speed (audio)
9. ice cream - new young pony club (audio) (video)
10. beware of the dog - jamelia (video)
11. idlewild blue (don't chu worry 'bout me) - outkast (audio) (video)
12. lovelight - robbie williams (audio) (video)
13. this is not real love - george michael featuring mutya (audio)
14. here in your arms - hellogoodbye (audio) (video)
15. magick - klaxons (audio) (video)
16. alala - cansei de ser sexy (video)
17. something kinda ooh - girls aloud (audio) (video)
18. herculean - the good the bad and the queen (audio) (live video)
19. standing in the way of control - the gossip (audio) (video)
20. no pussy blues - grinderman (a.k.a. nick cave) (audio)

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