Channel 4 script editors can kiss my sweet ass goodbye.

For the next few days, my output will be split between this place (where I’ll once again be answering some more of your probing questions) and Uborka, where I’ll be guest blogging alongside Mad Gert (she’s really Mad!!!) of Mad, Mad Musings Of Mad, Mad Me.

Hop along to Uborka now, to read all about my recent authorial debut on Channel 4.

Continue reading “Channel 4 script editors can kiss my sweet ass goodbye.”

Things I would have blogged about at the time, if only I could have been arsed. A continuing series.

1. Helen Chadwick retrospective, Barbican Gallery, London. Despite a somewhat confusing layout (but hey, this is the Barbican that we’re talking about), a fine exhibition, which reminds you of where a lot of the Saatchi YBA Sensation Generation nicked their ideas from derived their inspiration. We particularly enjoyed the Piss Flowers and the pool of bubbling chocolate.

2. Brancusi retrospective, Tate Modern. An intelligently conceived, thoughtfully sequenced and commendably thorough exhibition; we learnt a lot. The only works I didn’t care for were the roughly hewn giant wooden pieces; the rest were uniformly sublime.

3. El Greco, National Gallery. Ugh! Hated it, hated it, hated it. Aesthetically hideous (nasty colours, ugly compositions), technically hopeless (tiny heads, mis-proportioned bodies, ridiculous expressions), and spiritually bankrupt (lurid visions of purgatory and hell, expressly designed to terrify the masses, mingled with hagiographic portraits of the most mighty figures in the all-powerful Catholic church; the all-pervading stink of oppression). And don’t even get me started on the honking, elbow-barging, upper middle class Culture Set that crowded round each painting, noisily explaining the bleeding obvious to each other, as if they hadn’t just read it all straight from the catalogue.

Bonus points for giving Jesus an improbably enormous bulge under his robes, in the series of paintings where he overturns the tables of the money changers. (Me to K: “Check out Christ’s cock!“) Such are the (cough) lengths to which El Greco was prepared to go. (He wasn’t just the Son Of God; his dunda was this big!)

4. Violent Femmes, Rescue Rooms. Deceptively simple, good-natured folksy tunes, played with precision and spirit, to a crowd who sang along with almost every word. Enormously enjoyable.

5. John Martyn, Royal Concert Hall. Desperately disappointing, especially in comparison to his outstanding performance in Newark from about three years ago. Much of the problem lay with the over-sized, sparsely attended venue; Martyn and his three-piece band just didn’t know how to fill it, lacking both intimacy and a sense of occasion. Large helpings of dull jazzy noodling: too polite, too tasteful, too Demonstration CD In Hi Fi Shop. Martyn’s vocals slurred and unintelligible, to the point of self-parody. Songs mushed into each other, all on the one level, making it impossible to maintain concentration. We left in the interval.

6. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Many have praised it; we, on the other hand, were distinctly underwhelmed. (In fact, K walked out halfway through, muttering seditiously about “f***ing American adolescents”.) Pseudy, hollow, faux-experimental; a big-bucks Hollywood attempt at a “cult” movie (see also the similarly underwhelming Donnie Darko). The whimsical implausibility of the plot (held together at times by some decidedly creaky devices) was matched only by the creaky implausibility of the central relationship (Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, annoying in equal measure). Beck’s low-key acoustic re-working of The Korgis’ Everybody’s Gotta Learn Some Time was the best part of the film; expect it to be a carefully marketed “overwhelming public demand” sleeper hit before the end of the year. (Hmm. Low-key acoustic re-workings of 1980s synth-pop hits. Where have we seen that before?)

7. Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Nottingham Cabaret. Clean cut, polite-looking suburban types, playing dinky, well-crafted, sweetly melodic power-pop to a similarly polite-looking audience. Call me a grouchy old rocker, but it just didn’t feel right. Not like a “proper” gig at all. No edge, no passion, no thrill. We preferred the two support acts: Nic Armstrong (twisted, wonky 70s pub-rock with 60s influences) and Headway (energised and cohesive; potentially massive).

8. Cesaria Evora, Leicester De Montfort Hall. A static, undemonstrative performer she might be – but nevertheless, the tender, honeyed, quietly seductive tones of the “barefoot diva” couldn’t fail to thrill. Bonus points for the sit-down fag break halfway through the set, and for waving her fag packet above her head in gleeful anticipation as she left the stage at the end of the show.

9. K’s 45th birthday meal. As of last night, we have a new favourite restaurant in Nottingham. However, since a large part of its appeal lies in its status as a well-kept secret, mostly patronised by a loyal set of regulars, I am loathe to name it. Maybe I’ll just link to it instead. Yes, that’s much more discreet.

10. The holiday is booked. We’re off to Peru!

Question 4.

Demian asked:
(a) Do you remember the showering naked couple sculpture in the Arndale Centre in the 1970s and (b) what did you think about it as a young un?

Here, Demian is referring to the huge, gold coloured “Adam and Eve” statue-cum-water-feature that was situated in the middle of the main concourse of Doncaster’s Arndale shopping centre (now the Frenchgate centre), when it first opened at the end of the 1960s. (Indeed, not having properly visited Doncaster since 1986, I had only recently learnt, with some mild dismay, that the statue had been removed.)

I suppose that, with hindsight, shoving a gigantic sculpture of two naked people having a shower together into the middle of a shopping centre was quite a racy gesture for its day – though a lot less racy than the soft pr0n film titles (Naughty Knickers; She Lost Her You Know What) which regularly adorned the front of the Odeon cinema on the High Street. But I was too young to snigger. As far as I was concerned, this was simply a depiction of Mr. Adam & Mrs. Eve, innocently pleasuring themselves in the Garden of Eden.

And oh, what a garden of delights was to be found in our gleaming new Arndale Centre! Along with the new tower blocks at the edge of town, this was the clearest sign yet that Doncaster, like every other progressive, forward-thinking city, was busily transforming itself into the Space Age Metropolis of my dreams. For me, in thrall to everything that was smart, sleek and systematised, this transformation couldn’t come quickly enough. Tear down the Ancient; make way for the Modern. Chairman Mao would have been proud.

So, while more seasoned eyes saw only tawdry tat, which would date faster than the “unisex” fashions in the newly opened C&A, I viewed the Arndale Adam & Eve as a thrilling symbol of the unstoppable march of modernity, heralding an endless series of ever-brighter new tomorrows.

We weren’t to know.

We listen.

At long, long last… the “We listen” chart returns.

1. Various: Eurovision Song Contest Istanbul 2004
This may not come as too much of a surprise. Mind you, it’s about to drop down the chart like a stone, as we enter the post-Eurovision refractory period…

2. Cesaria Evora: The Best of Cesaria Evora (also Cafe Atlantico and Sao Vicente Di Longe)
We have tickets to see the “barefoot diva” in Leicester on Monday, and are expecting great things. A deep, tender, honeyed voice – understated, easy-going, seemingly effortless – which takes time to work its magic, (initially I was fairly underwhelmed) but which has steadily worked its way inside me over the past few months. Friday evening in the cottage, sipping the first beer of the weekend as we unpack the food, and the chances are that one of Cesaria’s CDs will be first out of the orange shoebox.

3. Air: Talkie Walkie
Extinguishing all memories of that dreary prog effort which almost everybody hated, this ravishingly beautiful album is at least the equal of the classic Moon Safari, and quite possibly its superior. For such seemingly gentle, undemonstrative music, the spell which Talkie Walkie casts is a powerful one; it is quite simply impossible to remain pissed off while this is playing. Possibly the most played album of the year so far. Best moment: the sweet, Bach-like organ melody at the start of Mike Mills.

4. Omara Portuondo: Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo
We saw Omara in concert at the Royal Festival Hall last month. Bought last December, this album was our first introduction to her music; it has been played at least once a week ever since.

5. Dani Siciliano: Likes
Dani Siciliano has previously collaborated with her partner Matthew Herbert on two terrific albums: Around The House and Bodily Functions. This album marks the final break with any residual vestiges of the deep house sound from which Herbert’s music first appeared. This is cool, sophisticated, endlessly intriguing downtempo electronica with a beguiling, organic sound. Highly recommended to just about everybody.

6. Kanye West: The College Dropout
Stunningly creative and expansive hip hop of the highest order, and easily the equal of Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Marcello Carlin’s lengthy and enormously helpful review says it all.

7. Various: BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2004
Apart from a bit of tepid “club fusion” noodling at the beginning of the first CD, this is an exemplary guide to Who’s Hot In World. Treat it as a shopping list, and it will keep you happy for months. Highlights: Oi Va Voi, Warsaw Village Band, and the beautiful Caetano Veloso song that featured in Almodovar’s Talk To Her.

8. Coldcut: Lifestyles Vol.2
There’s nothing more overrated than artist-compiled compilation albums, is there? Another Late Night, Under The Influence, Back To Mine… all that tasteful eclecticism palls so quickly, like a box of chocolates scoffed in too much of a hurry. Yet somehow, Coldcut have pulled it off, with a selection that, while stylistically diverse, flows in a way that encourages repeated listening. Highlights: Otis Clay’s original version of The Only Way Is Up, early 80s punk-funk from Nottingham’s Medium Medium, and a great piece of mid-80s hip hop from T La Rock & Jazzy Jay which has worn remarkably well. (Memo to self: when the record deck gets re-connected, raid the 12-inchers in the attic for more of same. The Roxanne Shanté revival starts HERE.)

9. Phoenix: Alphabetical
Not as good as their debut, but it has its place; as such, my initial disappointment is slowly converting itself into a creeping fondness. The sort of album that might not be up there with your favourites, but which somehow gets played more than most. Will probably sound perfect on hot summer afternoons.

10. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
The hype put me off; the music won me over. Spot on, boys.

11. Prince: Musicology
His most consistent and directly commercial album since Diamonds And Pearls – and therefore, his most enjoyable. Lighter on the identikit perv-funk workouts; heavier on the guitar-based soft-rock which he has always done so well.

12. Amalia Rodrigues: The Art of Amalia
1950s and 1960s recordings from the Queen Of Fado. Did I mention we’d been to Lisbon recently?

13. Ojos de Brujo: Bari
A Christmas present from K, which went on to win a Radio 3 World Music Award. He can pick ’em.

14. Tom Middleton: The Trip
Best DJ mix CD in ages, especially the downtempo CD2.

15. Omara Portuondo: Flor De Amor
She can no do wrong.

16. Stereolab: Margerine Eclipse
Finally, after all these years, I get round to buying a Stereolab album. Funkier than I was expecting. And proggier (but in a good way). And a good deal less arid. Actually, I don’t really know what I was expecting – but I certainly wasn’t expecting something as straightforwardly accessible and enjoyable as this.

17. Erlend Oye: DJ Kicks
He mixes them, then he sings over the top of them (anything from Venus to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out). Against the odds, it works.

18. Tina Santos: Fados Do Fado
Did I mention we’d been to Lisbon recently? We saw Tina Santos perform at a tiny fado venue in the Alfama; the next day, we picked her CD up from the Fado Museum. Generic, but satisfying.

19. The Gundecha Brothers: Darshan
Classical Indian Dhrupad music, recorded live. Intense, devotional, meditative vocal improvisations, mostly drone-based, which make some giggle and others swoon. Particularly effective in the car, where the proximity of the speakers gives the voices an added intimacy.

20. JC Chasez: Schizophrenic
Sussed modern pop with a twist. A couple of iffy ballads towards the end, but when it hits, it hits big. Contains the future hit All Day Long I Dream About Sex, as used on the soundtrack of my recent performance piece.

21. Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose
Despite some good moments, her much vaunted collaboration with Jack White doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s all a bit too harsh, too strident, and – dare I say it? – too demographically calculated. Where Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton succeeded masterfully, Loretta Lynn’s “re-invention” leaves her sounding a little bit desperate.

22. Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters
Former Number One! So ubiquitous right now that I am rationing my plays.

23. Rufus Wainwright: Want One
Sleeper hit of the year! Initially irritating – all that baroque ornamentation to wade through – but something made me keep playing this album until the songs stuck in my head, and it revealed itself as a thing of beauty and wonder. Even so, I would still have lopped off the last three or four tracks; the album does tail off badly towards the end, and Wainwright’s voice begins to grate after prolonged exposure.

24. Jon Boden & John Spiers: Bellow
Traditional English Folk Music Not Crap Shockah! Two personable fellas in their twenties give it welly with the fiddle and the squeeze box, alternating between Martin Carthy-esque ballads and spirited, surprisingly complex jigs & reels, immaculately played, which make you want to tumble into haystacks with lusty farmhands.

25. Lambchop: Aw C’Mon / No You C’Mon
A move away from the austerity of Is A Woman, and back towards the lush orchestrations of Nixon. Exquisitely beautiful and memorable, particularly on Aw C’Mon, which flows like a dream.

26. Rokia Traore: Bowmboi
A Christmas present from K, which went on to win a Radio 3 World Music Award. He really can pick ’em.

27. Ilya: They Died for Beauty
Blah blah Portishead blah blah John Barry blah blah early Goldfrapp blah blah cinematic trip hop blah blah three star reviews in Sunday broadsheets etc etc. But in a good way. Honest!

28. Various: Lost In Translation (soundtrack)
My December to March blogging hiatus prevented me from raving about this film at the time. Loved everything about it, including the use of music – hence love this soundtrack.

29. Fiery Furnaces: Gallowsbird’s Bark
After repeated plays, order begins to emerge from the chaos. I think this is what’s supposed to happen with Trout Mask Replica. Except that Beefheart’s alleged classic still sounds like a horrible, atonal, made-up-on-the-spot mess to me, whereas Gallowsbird’s Bark is just reaching the tipping point between chin-stroke “interesting” and genuinely enjoyable. I’m predicting a sharp climb for this one.

30. Emma – Free Me
Ex-Spice Girl In Genuinely Good Album Shockah! Oh, you may scoff. But her next single, Crickets Sing For Annamaria, might make you reconsider. And I’m a sucker for breezy, fresh-faced sixties revivalism.

Let’s talk about… staying for breakfast.

We’re in the pub. A is telling B about C, who he has known for a few months. A explains that he first met C through Gaydar, the online “dating” (sic) service. Hesitantly, I chip in with a question.

“And has your friendship… retained that particular dimension?”

When did I get so delicate, so circumlocutional? Anyone else would have just spat it out. “Are you still shagging him, then?”

I am out of practice at all of this. Not so long ago, 50% of our conversation was who-shagged-who. Now, it’s all pruning tips, have-you-met-the-so-and-so’s, and proposals for the new village hall.

Which reminds me.

We’re in the car, our journalist friend in the back seat, and we’re talking about the indiscretions of youth. Or rather, I’m bragging about the copious indiscretions of my own youth. (I use the term “youth” in its most relative sense.)

“I see. Goodness. Perhaps I should be drafting your obituary?”

His concern, though misplaced, is touching.

“Oh, don’t worry. There was never anything life-threatening about my particular repertoire. I was always more focused on the hors d’oeuvres than the entrées. As it were.”

That’s the thing about circumlocution. There’s so much more scope.

Question 3.

Anna asked:
Are you happy? Could you be happier?

The short answer: Yes, and Yes.
The full answer: Christ, we’d be here all night.
The medium-sized answer, then.

As I’ve said a few times before, mine is an essentially contradictory disposition. Not only am I able to hold two equal and opposite opinions at the same time (if one can fairly call this an ability); I can also pull off the same trick with states of mind.

Thus, on the one hand, I’m a chirpy optimist, blessed with an uncommon degree of good fortune, who can never quite believe his luck. A sunny disposition, one might say. As difficult situations always seem to turn out right in the end, I tend to proceed through life in the cheerful assumption that they always will. Dangerously delusional, you might say; prophetically self-fulfilling, I would suggest. You are the architect of your own karma, and all that.

As someone who takes little in his life for granted, I will regularly experience sudden surges of pure joy at the circumstances in which I find myself. Particularly at weekends, in the cottage, or outside in the garden – places which feel as if they have been expressly designed to deliver utter calm and contentment.

(To say nothing of the happiness of being in a long-term, settled relationship with… but, as you know, we don’t do slushy. Take it as read.)

On the other hand, there’s an anxious, self-critical, fearful streak in me, which can see the downside to most things; self-subordinating, resisting change, missing opportunities. All of my happiness is therefore underpinned by a nagging sense of under-achievement, of doubt, of feeling that all of this has been fluked rather than earnt. That I am a passenger in my own life. Could do better.

Ironically, the greatest source of stress in my ridiculously cushy life is the fact that it is almost entirely stress-free. Karma’s a bitch like that.

Question 2.

Anna asked:
Post-it notes; should we object to anything but the ‘natural’ small, rectangular and yellow? Are novelty ones just Wrong?

Novelty post-it notes are most certainly Wrong. Not for any particular aesthetic reason (after all, the “classic” design is hardly a object of beauty), but for the simple reason that people are obliged to pay for them with their own money. Like biros and envelopes, all post-it notes should be either provided by – or swiped from – offices (or similar public institutions).

Question 1.

Anna asked:
If you could write yourself into any novel and affect its outcome, which would that be?

I would dive into the middle of one of the early volumes of Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City series – maybe the scene where Michael “Mouse” Tolliver wins the “Hot Buns” dance contest at the Endup – and would introduce myself as Someone From The Future.

“Look! I can prove it! Here’s a magazine from The Future! Look at these photos of Cher on her Farewell Tour! OK, OK, bad example. Well, let’s see what’s in the news section. Look, here’s your state governor, Arnold Schwarzen…”

“No, I have NOT been at the Angel Dust. Actually, I need to have a word with you about that shit as well, but… oh, I know, look what I’ve got in my pocket! It’s a tiny portable phone! Isn’t that amazing? And you can type little messages onto it, and it will even guess what word you’re typing! And it can take pictures as well! Neat, huh? You believe me now, right?”

“What? Yes, of course it’s got a built-in pocket calculator. Why do you ask? What’s the big deal about… oh, right; pocket calculators are still the Big Thing round here, aren’t… look, can I just get to the point? There’s this huge epidemic just around the corner, and you guys all need to start wearing condoms every time you f**k – immediately, do you hear – or else many thousands of you will be dead within the next fifteen years. Including your new lover, Michael. Yes, I’m serious. Serious as a heart attack, baby. Now, what exactly are quaaludes? Are they fun? Do you have any?”

(Yes, I’m assembling one of those questionnaire thingies. More info below.)

Not another bloody questionnaire thingy, surely?

That “You ask, I answer” questionnaire on my sidebar is now over four years old. This makes it about eighteen months older than the actual blog; it dates from my old Geocities home page, and was simply copied across.

As such, the questionnaire has now aged to the point where the merest thought of some of my replies makes me cringe with embarrassment. It has to go.

Which is where you come in. Yes, I know that it has now become standard practice for bloggers to ask this of their readers – but, if you’ll allow me a petulant A-List Blogger Moment, I DID IT FIRST. So there.

So, if you have any questions, then please leave them in the comments (up to a maximum 3 per person). I shall then endeavour to answer as many of them as I am able (there’s probably not much point asking me about the finer points of differential calculus, for instance). The results will eventually be copied into a replacement questionnaire page, and bunged on the sidebar for posterity (or at least the next four years or so).

Thank you. How kind you are.

Eurovision 2004 – act of closure.

Points arising from Saturday night:

  • Despite spending most of Saturday feeling Horribly Left Out, watching the contest on telly with six friends turned out to be almost as much fun as being there in person.
  • By the end of the evening, we had a few new converts to The Cause. One of them even wants to come to Kiev with me next year.
  • No, not K. Don’t be daft!
  • In fact, K bailed out early and went down the pub. No staying power.
  • He seemed quite sober when he left, as well. I repeat: no staying power.
  • Five of my predictions (see below) turned out to be accurate; fifteen were wrong, and four were “near misses”. And I have the temerity to brand myself an expert?
  • Nevertheless, I did at least predict the winner.
  • Although my own vote was cast for Sweden. Because Stockholm 2000 was the Best Fun Ever, and I fancied a reprise.
  • Sweden’s Lena Philipsson, those lyrics, and that microphone stand: she knew, didn’t she?
  • As I feared, most people in the room really did talk all the way through the German entry. It was with some relish that I pointed them towards my prediction on this matter.
  • Because – naturally! – I had already had printed copies of my predictions to hand. For the benefit of the group, you understand. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
  • What the blinking blazes was going on with all those votes for Serbia & Montenegro? (Literal translation of title: Oh My Fawn. Shades of Father Ted, we thought.) There were too many votes, from too many countries, for it be purely a case of “political” voting.
  • My take on the perenially thorny issue of “political” voting: it can get you so far, but no further. To get into the Top 5, you need to have attracted votes from right across the board.
  • Having said all that: why did Belgium’s One *punch* Life *punch* do so badly? We all thought it was great. Was this an anti-EU protest vote, directed at the mandarins in Brussels? It was all quite baffling; almost as baffling as Serbia coming second.
  • Actually, the Belgian chorus works even better if, instead of punching the air twice, you make two flicks of the head: first to the left, and then to the right. This works best of all if (unlike me) you have a floppy fringe.
  • Improbable hairdo of the night: France’s Jonatan Cerrada. (And let’s not even get started on the throat tattoo. Or the Interpretive Dancer on stilts.)
  • Or the Interpretive Gymnastics from Russia.
  • Lisa from Kent Cyprus blew it a bit, didn’t she? I’m putting it down to nerves; she was much better on Wednesday.
  • Not that this stopped the UK loyally awarding her 10 points, mind you. Funny, that.
  • Deen from Bosnia should have stuck with the tits-out costume from the semis; I suspect that his modesty cost him valuable points.
  • The First Annual Jemini Award for outstanding vocal performance goes to… Iceland’s Jónsi, who had us all howling in pain.
  • The Ruffus/Brainstorm Award (for songs/performances that would have stood up just as well in the “real”, non-Eurovision world) goes to… Spain’s Ramón. (Highly commended: Turkey’s Athena and Belgium’s Xandee.)
  • K and I were thrilled to bits when the “video postcard” between the UK and Polish entries showed the very same balloon that we flew in, four years ago, in Cappadocia.
  • That Russian spokesperson was a bit hoity-toity, wasn’t she?
  • Lorraine Kelly in Old Compton Street! Rah! Gay Pride!
  • Er… and didn’t the UK award maximum points to hunky Sakis “shekki-shekki-shekki” Rouvas from Greece? See previous point.
  • Did Wogan say anything funny? Because we weren’t really listening.
  • In Summer 1982, I studied in Kiev for a whole month. I can’t wait to get back there in 2005.
  • And that really is your lot for this year. Troubled Diva will now resume its normal, Eurovision-free service. Thank you for your forbearance.
  • Come on – why Serbia?

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 2.


12. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Deen – In the Disco
If one ignores Croatia (and sad to say it, but many will), we’re now in the middle of the Rump Shaker Section, with Albania & Ukraine closely followed by darling little Deen and his pert little Disco Tits. As the week has progressed, I’ve developed an enormous fondness for Deen, whom I now view as the Poster Boy for the entire contest. For those of you who didn’t read yesterday’s comments, let me introduce him further:

Bosnia & Herzegovina entrant Deen arrived at his second Press conference with his pet rabbit, “Gabbana.” If that isn’t enough, Deen told, one of the Bosnian & Herzegovina Delegation has a dog called “Dolce.”

Ever the fashion victim, Deen showed off his new, exceedingly tight hot pink “Vote Me!” T-shirt. If the message wasn’t clear enough, his dancers’ pale pink T-shirts said: “Vote Deen!”

“Pink is my favourite colour!” says Deen.

Deen says he loves the music of Beyoncé Knowles, Mariah Carey, Donna Summer and Kylie Minogue. “Kylie’s so sexy,” said Deen. “She’s like me!”

Deen was asked to describe his personality. “I’m totally crazy, very happy,” Deen said, spinning on his chair.

The world is a happier place with Deen in it.
Prediction: 4 to 7.
Actual position: 9th. INCORRECT.


13. Belgium – Xandee – 1 Life
Whoop! Whoop! Second Gay Anthem in a row! If I were DJ-ing at one of the big parties in Istanbul this week (one can dream), this would make a perfect segue, as Deen’s Moroder-isms yield to Xandee’s trance-lite synth stabs. Indeed, it is almost impossible to listen to the chorus of this song without punching the air in the gaps after “One” and “Life”.

Shall we practise that now?

One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH*, living together
In one *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , let us be free
One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , you take my troubles away
Light up my dayyyyyyy….

The only trouble is: brutal, metallic gay anthems like this have a habit of floundering badly on the night itself. Unlike with Deen, there’s no redeeming warmth to win over everybody else.

The first time I play this out, it will be about one o’clock, and my dancefloor will instantly become one seething, exultant mass. The second time I play it, it will be nearly four o’clock; there will be about 15 people left, standing against the walls on their own, still forlornly trying to cop off with each other, but merely prolonging the inevitable solitary cab ride back to the hotel. The track’s throbbing energy will have frozen into a harsh, joyless echoing angularity, which…

Sorry. Where was I?
Prediction: early to mid-teens.
Actual position: a shocking, inexplicable 22nd. INCORRECT.


14. Russia – Julia Savicheva – Believe me
As the sweat-drenched crowd settle back into their seats, the woman they’re all calling “Avril Lavigneski” strolls moodily onto the stage, ushering in The Dull Section (Apart From Greece). Feel free to talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Oh, the song? Well, it’s is a mid-paced plodder with slight soft-rawk touches, which never really goes anywhere.
Prediction: bottom five.
Actual position: 11th. INCORRECT.


15. FYR Macedonia – Tose Proeski – Life
With Macedonia, it’s all about the scarlet ribbons. Watch closely, and you’ll soon see. Teen-goth Livejournal lyrics; a ruched cream creation which might once have graced minor Macedonian royalty; and no other points of interest whatsoever.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 14th. NEAR MISS.


16. Greece – Sakis Rouvas – Shake it
OK, everyone – out of the kitchen, back to your seats, settle down and shut up – the totty’s on. Of the male and female kind, so everyone’s happy. The girls strip down to bikinis – Sakis tears his jacket off – and suddenly, there are more belly buttons than a man can shake a stick at. The “fire/desire” rhyme is merely the icing on the cake.

But – and I still feel that it’s a big but – the singing, my dears, is just all over the place. No breath control, that’s the main problem. As to whether any of Europe’s drooling millions will either notice or care – well, that’s quite another question.
Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual position: 3rd. INCORRECT.


17. Iceland – Jónsi – Heaven
A strapping young man with great shoulder definition and a finely chiselled face delivers another carefully wrought Fan Fave ballad which, superficial philistine that I am, leaves me completely cold. Apparently, he wants you to “blend your colours with my blue“. But won’t that just reduce everything to a nasty green/purple sludge? I can’t say I’m persuaded.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 19th. INCORRECT.


18. Ireland – Chris Doran – If the world stops turning
Now, as we all know, Ireland have been running scared from hosting Eurovision again for many years, following their financially crippling run of success in the 1990s. And so, yet again, they’ve shoved some well-meaning hopeful into a suit, plonked a row of indifferent backing singers behind him, squeezed everyone from his home town on a plane with unlimited supplies of booze (you should see the size of the Irish “delegation” every year), and saddled him with yet another turgid dirge which threatens to stretch three short minutes into five long hours.

(This one might be written by that guy who’s just left Westlife – you know, the one with the wife who won that I’m A Celebrity doo-dah – but that changes nothing.)

Yes, it’s a toilet break. Ireland, the emptying bladders of Europe will be serenading you tonight.
Prediction: bottom 3.
Actual position: 23rd. CORRECT.


19. Poland – Blue Cafe – Love Song
Let’s play Consequences!
Esther Phillips met Men At Work in a tapas bar.
She said: “If I’m representing Poland, why do I have to break into Spanish halfway through?
They said: “Corazon! You forgot to sing Corazon! We’re doomed!
And the consequence was: bottom 5.
Actual position: 17th. INCORRECT.


20. United Kingdom – James Fox – Hold on to our love
James Fox is, quite clearly, a thoroughly decent and personable fellow. Hold on to our love is, quite clearly, a vast improvement on last year’s Cry Baby fiasco. Bryan Adams is, quite clearly, a continuing major influence on aspiring young musicians the world over. And I am, quite clearly, smiling through gritted teeth.
Prediction: for once, let’s be specific. 14th.
Actual position: 16th. NEAR MISS.


21. Cyprus – Lisa Andreas – Stronger every minute
In a strange twist of fate, the official UK entry is followed by a song written by a British composer, and performed by a 16-year old schoolgirl called Lisa, who lives in… Kent, actually. So, Cypriot in what way, precisely?

Let’s look it up. Lisa “lived in Cyprus for two and a half years as a small child“, and she “returns to Cyprus regularly to visit relatives“. So that’s OK, then.

OK for us Brits, that is. For I confidently predict that we will be queuing up to claim kinship before the night is through, as “our” Lisa sails effortlessly into the top three with a first-class performance. Streisand-esque, I think you’ll find. “With a maturity that belies her years”, they’ll all be saying.
Prediction: 2nd or 3rd.
Actual position: 5th. INCORRECT.


22. Turkey – Athena – For real
Blimey, who let those rough-arsed ska-punks in here? An absolutely belting brassy opening – worthy of 2-Tone in its glory days – unfortunately gives way to a song which doesn’t quite live up to its early promise, topped off with a Bad Manners-style chant of a chorus which sounds suspiciously like “I wanna bring you off“. The home crowd are gonna go mental to this one.
Prediction: 4th to 8th.
Actual position: 4th. CORRECT.


23. Romania – Sanda Ladosi – I admit
There’s something – well – a bit constructed about Sanda, isn’t there? Oh, but this contest is bringing out a side of me which I try so hard to suppress. You thought I was nice, didn’t you?

Although this might not be one of the more memorable songs, at least it has the virtue of paying a nod to contemporary trends in modern pop: R&B staccato strums here, Britney-style string skirlings there. Its late place in the draw will doubtless win it a good few extra points, provided that anyone can remember it after Turkey’s ska and the majestic brilliance which is to follow…
Prediction: 11th to 15th.
Actual position: 18th. INCORRECT.


24. Sweden – Lena Philipsson – It hurts
At last! At last! The 36th song in this year’s event, and – counting the semis – the 46th performance, and we’re finishing with a good ‘un. Like Belgium’s One *PUNCH* Life *PUNCH*before it, It Hurts has Big Fat Gay Anthem written all over it – but where Xandee coldly rattles, Lena warmly embraces, with a singalong chorus that will have the queens beaming broadly from ear to ear.

As others have mentioned, this year’s Swedish song does appear to be a thinly disguised ode to an*l sex – especially in the chorus and second verse. I doubt whether this will exactly harm its chances. Lena, already a massive star in her own country, is promising to do all manner of suggestively charged things with her microphone stand, which she has brought over specially. I am also reliably told that she is… well… can we say “sex on a stick” here?

Ever since I first heard this, I’ve had it down as the winner. As far as I can see, its only serious rival is Ukraine’s Ruslana, with her Wild Dances. But when have I ever been right? (That would be 1998, then. Dana International. Bit of a no-brainer, that one.)
Prediction: definite top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 6th. INCORRECT.

And that, patient reader, concludes this year’s previews. I earnestly hope they assist you in your viewing pleasure tomorrow night. Next week, we’ll be back to normal. Until then, Happy Eurovision!

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 1.

(Preview videos can be seen here – then click on “Multimedia Lounge”.)

Er… you don’t think I’m in danger of doing this subject to death, do you?
Actually, perhaps it’s better that you don’t answer that.
On we plough!


1. Spain – Ramón – Para llenarme de ti
You’ll need to get settled down fairly promptly this year, because the opening song is a sizzling Latino cracker; it’s well constructed, keeps its pace, and never runs out of ideas. Ramón is an undeniably comely young man, who has been getting certain people I know worked up into a right old lather. He also has the honour of being the first of this year’s contestants to intone the sacred words “mi corazon“, which come second only to “fire/desire” in the ESC lyrical pantheon. As the brass blares, and the invisible lesbian drummers swing into action at about the one and a half minute mark, you know that you’ve made the right decision in staying at home tonight.
Prediction: Top 10.
Actual position: 10th. CORRECT.


2. Austria – Tie Break – Du bist
At which point, you may suddenly find yourself questioning that decision. On first hearing Du bist, I pegged it as the sort of leaden, dead-eyed ballad that is doled out to finalists in reality TV pop shows. Having said that, this would have struggled to make the grade on the Michelle McManus album. Hell, even Rik Waller would probably have turned his nose up at it. So hey, guess what? It turns out that this three-piece boy band were all finalists in the Austrian version of Pop Idol. Now, there’s a thing. Atrocious. Not even their spirited last-ditch attempt to corner the gay market can save them.
Prediction: Bottom 3.
Actual position: 21st. NEAR MISS.


3. Norway – Knut Anders Sørum – High
Despite my pronouncement that Eurovision and soft-rawk make uneasy bedfellows, it has to be conceded that Kurt makes a much better stab at it than those unfortunate Latvian semi-finalists. A passable Bryan Adams facsimile, solidly delivered, which soars where it needs to soar, and basically makes all the right moves in all the right places. If you like that sort of thing.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 24th (last). INCORRECT.


4. France – Jonatan Cerrada – A chaque pas
Like Norway before him, the French song is all about healing your wounds, stepping forwards into a bright new tomorrow, the redemptive power of love, et cetera et cetera, and so we remain on similar emotional territory for a while longer. Like so many French singers before him, Jonatan (winner of the first French Pop Idol; is a pattern forming already?) is once again given an elegant, stately, timeless French ballad to perform. And as always, it is destined to languish in mid-table; admired by the “bring back the orchestra” fan brigade, ignored by the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here.
Prediction: early teens.
Actual position: 15th. NEAR MISS.


5. Serbia & Montenegro – Željko Joksimoviæ – Lane moje
Ah, the old pan pipes. Just thought I’d get that in before Wogan does. Because you know he will. The first song from the semi-finals to qualify – and, for me, quite a surprise to see it get through. This also means that it’s the third time I’ve had to write about it this week – and, frankly, I’m running out of inspiration. This was well sung on Wednesday night, and should finish respectably.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 2nd. INCORRECT.

Now, here’s a thing. Of the opening five songs, no less than four are sung in their native language, with only Norway settling for English instead. Whereas from this point on, all of the remaining songs are sung in English, with only a brief snatch of Ukrainian in Wild Dances, and – bizarrely – a brief snatch of Spanish in the Polish entry. Apparently, this is the highest percentage of English language songs to date. I think we’re in danger of losing something rather precious here; don’t you?

So, as the Indigenous Authenticity Section draws to a close, we move into the Oh How Sweet Section, with a run of fresh-faced little ditties that, depending on your pre-disposition, will either charm your socks off or curdle your blood.


6. Malta – Julie & Ludwig – On again…off again
In an unusually male-dominated contest, the Maltese entry marks the first female lead vocal of the night – although there is still quite a way to go before our first female soloist. Cheesy operatics are the order of the day, as a shuffling 125bpm beat almost makes you want to start wiggling your hips. But not just yet. Watch out for that extraordinary middle section, as Julie takes over the operatic role – and watch also for a rather smarmy peck on the shoulder at the end.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 12th. INCORRECT.


7. Netherlands – Re-union – Without you
Acoustic strumming, old-tyme Frank Ifield/Karl Denver yodelling, but unlike the semis, this is a poor place in the draw for the rather raddled looking Dutch duo, who will struggle to be remembered by the end of the night.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 20th. INCORRECT.


8. Germany – Max – Can’t wait until tonight
After three semi-final qualifiers in a row, we come once again to a new song, and one which divides opinion. Some will love it; some will loathe it; some will talk all the way through it and go“which was the German one again?” at regular intervals during the voting. Me, I love it: a genuinely soulful ballad, with something of the early Café Bleu era Style Council about it. Max isn’t exactly the prettiest of tonight’s contestants, I grant you – but remember, it’s a song contest, right? (It is axiomatic that every third or fourth posting to every Eurovision fan forum will haughtily remind you of this fact, palpably false as it is.) Minus five points for singing “my lady” with apparent sincerity, though.
Prediction: a very tough call indeed, but I’ll say just outside the top 10.
Actual position: 8th. INCORRECT.


9. Albania – Anjeza Shahini – The image of you
After just one new song, we now have another run of three qualifying semi-finalists. I recently heard the original four and half minute version of this song, and cannot believe how much it has been improved since then. They’ve edited it down, speeded it up, added a gospelly backing, and turned a ropey old screecher into a miniature classic, which progresses from soft ballad to out-and-out belter in not much more than a minute. My big worry here is Anjeza’s vocal performance, which was dangerously ragged on Wednesday night. However, it’s the first song since the opener that will get the crowd on their feet, and as such will make a nice warm-up for the next act.
Prediction: 5 to 10.
Actual position: 7th. CORRECT.


10. Ukraine – Ruslana – Wild Dances
Enough with the winsome sweetness; let’s ramp it up several hundred notches, with leather, whips and Big Big Drumming that would test even the toughest of lesbian drumming troupes. As for Ruslana herself: who says that Eurovision has no appeal for heterosexual males? Lads, she’s gorgeous! Possibly the most Total Performance of the night. If the rumour mill in Istanbul is to be believed, this was the runaway winner on Wednesday, and quite rightly so.
Prediction: definite Top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 1st. CORRECT.


11. Croatia – Ivan Mikulic – You are the only one
For many of us, this was the biggest shock result of the semi-finals. Those of you drinking pints might be advised to use these three minutes wisely. (The rest of you should try and hold on for another seven songs.) Undeniably well sung, and I’m certainly not averse to a bit of butch Balkan belting, but this resolutely fails to do it for me.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 13th. INCORRECT.

Now that she’s dropped the Bunton, does Emma go under E?

Buni came round last night to help us shift the furniture around (we’ve been having something of a re-vamp). While he and K did most of the heavy lifting in the sitting room, I sat on the floor in the hall, re-alphabetising various merged piles of CDs. Job finished, the three of us sat down to dinner.

“Well, that was a fair division of labour”, I chirped, tucking into my salmon. “You boys did all the butch stuff, and I filed my CD collection.”

“God, I hate that sound”, K snarled.

“What sound?”

“That constant shuffling of plastic. It’s like having to listen to you f***ing your lover in the next room.”

He’s good, isn’t he?

(My reply, though devastatingly effective, is sadly non-bloggable.)

Eurovision 2004 preview: the semi-finals, 2nd half.

12. Lithuania – What happened to your love – Linas & Simona
I can’t help but feel that this is trying too hard to be too many things at once, as the straightforward old-fashioned pop of the song itself is mixed up with all manner of Latin brass flourishes, oh-so-modern “scratching” effects (it’ll never catch on), r&b-style vocal trills (which just don’t sound right when mixed with Baltic accents), and clattering percussion (clattering percussion breakdowns are now rivalling “operatic” vocal styles as this year’s Big Thing). The overall result is rather fiddly and confused, like an over-ambitious piece of “fusion cuisine” in a mid-market brasserie with ideas above its station. 47 points.

13. Albania – The image of you – Anjeza Shahini
Now, this is more like it. Bearing all the signs of having been assembled by skilful, experienced professionals who have done this sort of thing a good few times before, The image of you builds most effectively – from its gentle ballad-style intro through to its genuinely uplifting chorus, complete with gospel-style choral backing. Just as you think that the chorus might be in danger of outstaying its welcome (how exactly are they going to fill the last minute?), the song shifts into what you assume must be its mid-section breakdown. The mood drops and builds back up; the gospel element becomes more pronounced; the choir become more animated; the already high-pitched Anjeza lets rip with the really high notes; and then – now, this is the clever bit – having saved all the best bits till last, the song ends there and then, without need of a final chorus. To do well in Eurovision, you’ve got to wow us in the last minute, and this is where the Albanians truly succeed. 77 points.

14. Cyprus – Stronger every minute – Lisa Andreas
After God knows how many uptempo numbers in a row, this stately, timeless orchestral ballad – of the sort that gets all the “bring back the orchestra” diehards of a certain age squealing with glee – is well placed in the draw, offering a refreshing change of mood. Some lovely touches in the orchestration serve to lift the song above the pedestrian, and Lisa carries the tune ably enough – despite an oddly squeaky voice that might have benefited from a bit of “bottom”, as it were. The whole thing threatens to splutter to an early halt at around the two minute mark, with a rather conclusive sounding “please stay” mid-section, before gathering its skirts up again and making a spirited dash for the finishing line. Not really My Kind Of Thing, but I doff my cap respectfully to its craft. 64 points.

15. FYR Macedonia – Life – Tose Proeski
In a word: overwrought. Despite some skirling Eastern strings on the chorus, (and if this moves Wogan to trot out his “whiff of the souk” quip ONE MORE TIME, I’ll… I’ll… I’ll… well, I don’t know WHAT I’ll do, but it WON’T BE PRETTY) and an awful lot of sweaty heaving and straining on the part of Mr. Proeski (I’m seeing throbbing veins on temples here), it doesn’t really add up to an awful lot at the end of the day, does it? Meanwhile, the tortuously self-analytical lyrics (“roaming through my old emotions, I find new feelings of misery“) could have been lifted straight from a particularly angst-ridden teen-goth Livejournal entry. 42 points.

16. Slovenia – Stay forever – Platin
Plod, plod, plod. You know, it’s at times like these that my whole commitment to Eurovision is called into question. Yeesh, is that the time? Have we really got six more songs to go? Still? The best I can say for Stay Forever is that it makes an ideal toilet break. Don’t all rush at once! 5 points.

17. Estonia – Tii – Neiokõsõ
Now, this is where we sort the sheep from the goats. If your acquaintance with the ESC is strictly limited to giggling with your mates in front of the telly once a year, then you’ll find plenty to scorn in Estonia’s throaty, choric, minor-key “ethnic” offering (and hark, is that the sweet sound of yodelling which I hear once again?). If, however, you have demonstrated a long-term commitment towards the contest, spread over many years of diligent, thankless effort, then the likes of Tii will cause you no difficulties. If you liked Finland’s Aava from 6 years ago, or maybe the Belgian runner-up from last year, then this will probably be right up your street. Why, even as I type, I can see the flaxen-haired maidens running through the pine forests in their diaphanous muslin frocks. (Which is possibly the main problem with this entry: it sounds less like a song, and more like an interval act.) 62 points.

18. Croatia – You are the only one – Ivan Mikulic
Cripes, the booze is really pouring through me tonight, haha. Can’t imagine what’s the matter with me. Er, shall I uncork another bottle on my way back? No, it’s no problem at all – leave it to me. I SAID LEAVE IT TO ME. In a word: piss-poor. 8 points.

19. Denmark – Shame on you – Tomas Thordarson
OK, let’s run through the check list.
Clattering thwackity-thwack percussion? Check.
Discreet touches of flamenco guitar, to capture that Mediterranean vote? Check.
Key change? All present and correct, SAH.
Operatic yodelling? Sorry, we ran out of funding for operatic yodelling, but we’ve made up for it by rhyming “FYE-ya” and “diz-EYE-ya” in the chorus; would that be an acceptable substitute?
Oh, it would, it would! Denmark, I kiss you! 55 points.

20. Serbia & Montenegro – Lane moje – Zeljko Joksimovic
Sorry, but what is it with all the clattering percussion this year? Has everybody been forced to listen to the Pet Shop Boys’ Se A Vida E before putting pen to paper, or what?

(Which gives rise to another thought: the days of the in-house orchestra may be long gone, but couldn’t we all have a whip-round and hire those lesbian drummers instead? Because, with this year’s selection, they’d have a field day. What were they called? She-boom, wasn’t it? Yes – them. Get them on a plane to Istanbul this instant.)

Anyway, the clattering percussion on Lane moje is of the more muted kind, complementing rather than smothering the mood – which is all chest-beating Balkan butchness, pan-pipes of the forest, skirling gypsy violins, the works. I’ve developed a real soft spot for this sort of stuff over the years, and this is a fine addition to the canon. 67 points.

21. Bosnia-Herzegovina – In the disco – Deen
The riff from Hot Stuff meets the bassline from The Chase, as Deen indulges in a veritable homage to Giorgio Moroder. Listening to his vocal performance, words like “fey” and “lisping” spring inexorably into mind and lodge themselves there, no matter how hard I try to dismiss them as the residue of some long-buried internalised homophobia. (But come on, she’s GOT to be in The Gays, right? I’ve seen the photos.) So, can we – dare we? – expect another Paul Oskar moment here? (Iceland, 1997, leather kecks, couch, S&M girlies, fond of stroking himself.) A nice try at over-the-top campery, but – like Paul Oskar’s offering, in fact – there’s a certain thinness at the heart of In The Disco which ultimately works against it. And, really, Donna Summer should sue. 63 points.Nearly there, kids!

22. Netherlands – Without you – Re-union
A-ha! Like Rollo & King at Copenhagen in 2001, Re-union come out of nowhere with a simple, good-natured breath of fresh air, which compares most favourably with all the laboured twittering/tubthumping/thwackity-thwacking of the last few songs. Easy guitar strumming, a touch of piano, pleasant harmonies and a memorable soaring falsetto in the chorus are all that are needed to make this a dead cert for qualification. The fire/desire rhyme (this year’s third, and counting) is merely the icing on the cake. In a word: breezy. 70 points.

Mike’s Semi-Final Top 5:
1. Belarus: My Galileo (or, as the artists themselves pronounce it: Magga Lee Lay Low) (93)
2. Ukraine: Wild dances (89)
3. Albania: The image of you (77)
4. Finland: Takes 2 to tango (75)
5. Netherlands: Without you (70)

Window Into My World: The Troubled Diva Pointlessly Detailed Journal Theme Week. (5)

And so, on the Friday, after four virus-stricken days of what I can only assume was some sort of divine punishment for attempting to bore the arses off my readers, I finally showed up for work. It was then that I realised that this had been the first week in over six months where being off sick wouldn’t have caused huge deadline problems. What an impressively organised immune system I must have.

I leave the office at 16:00, and head straight for the railway station, where I hook up with K. A pleasant journey ensues, down in the “quiet zone” at the far end of the train (it’s always worth making the extra journey down to the end of Platform 5). Arriving at St. Pancras station, we are surprised to find ourselves in a brand new building which has been attached to the end of the original Victorian structure (now closed). All this unexpected newness is most disorientating. We jump into a taxi and head off for the newly opened Malmaison hotel in Farringdon (on Charterhouse Square, near Smithfield market). Yes, it’s another of those dreaded “boutique hotels”– but, well, look: we had recently stayed in the Birmingham Malmaison and enjoyed it a lot, and our “free bed in Brixton” mates were away for the weekend, and K had found a special weekend deal, and, and, and… So OK, we never learn. But please allow us our materialistic delusions; for they bring us great happiness. Nirvana through shallowness, remember?

Anyway, the hotel is suitably well-appointed (all low-lit clear surfaces in regulation dark brown), the staff are charming (at the reception desk, a sewing kit is procured within seconds) and the room is delightful (ooh, jasmine and geranium body wash!). We unpack and head straight out again, reaching the Royal Festival Hall in good time. Out of the office at four; sipping a G&T at the RFH by ten past seven. This is all going so smoothly! We should do this more often!

The support act is a guitarist and singer from Cadiz called Javier Ruibal, who performs with a second guitarist and a young percussionist. Together, they deliver a stunning set – full of energy, spirit and skill, and far in excess of anything which we might have imagined from a support act.

Another G&T later, and we are back in our seats (fifth row, dead centre, level with the stage) for Omara Portuondo, the 73-year old Cuban singer who achieved global recognition on the strength of the Buena Vista Social Club project. With the death last year of both Ruben Gonzales and Compay Segundo, only two of the film’s big names are still with us (the other being the incomparable Ibrahim Ferrer); we had therefore booked seats as soon as we found out about them, keen to experience at least one of the remaining performers while there was still a chance.

As Omara is helped onto the stage from the wings, her physical frailty is immediately evident. The moment that she reaches centre stage, spotlights upon her, all traces of that frailty disappear. The moment that she opens her mouth for the first song, both K and I burst into tears.

(Honestly, what are we like? A generation ago, we might just as easily have been swooning over Shirley Bassey or Dorothy Squires. “Shiz a fookin STAR, intshi? Shiz built erself up from NOOTHING, and NOOTHING can take that away from er now; NOOTHING!“)

Omara and her fifteen(?) piece Cuban band (containing such great musicians as the nattily togged Papa Oviedo, master of the “tres” guitar) proceed to thrill and delight us for the next hour and three quarters. During some of the better known dance numbers, various members of the audience spontaneously leap out of their seats and start dancing in front of the stage – prompting K to hiss in my ear: “They’ve obviously all been to their salsa classes on Friday nights, then.” As indeed they probably have; but oh, how wonderful it must be to be able to dance with the skill that the best of them are displaying. (My own skill levels begin with sweaty pogoing, end with hands-in-the-air raving, and are probably best confined to wedding discos and dodgy podiums in provincial gay clubs on school nights.)

During one of the massed dancing sessions, a member of the audience hands Omara a large bouquet of cut flowers. With all the excitable glee of a slightly gawky teenager, she waves the bouquet above her head, showing it off to the rest of us like a trophy, the years visibly slipping away. (Indeed, she waves it around so vigorously that she manages to knock her microphone off its stand, sending it tumbling to the floor.) Throughout the show, her effusive character adds a pleasing degree of mild chaos to the proceedings. At the end of some of her livelier numbers, after the band have finished playing, she will keep the chorus going, acapella style – then bringing the rest of us in, singing and clapping along, building us up in volume – then turning and motioning to her band to join in for a spontaneous reprise. At the end of the show, we can see her at the edge of the stage, almost in the wings, refusing to leave until she can bring the band back on for two more numbers. We see her remonstrating with officials, pleading, insisting, refusing to take no for an answer, and finally getting her own way. A world class act. Music just doesn’t get better than this.

After the show, I pick up a text from David. He’s at the Two Brewers (a gay pub in Clapham with a dancefloor and a late licence) and we’re welcome to join him there. I put the suggestion to K; he is not keen. “Going to the Two Brewers after Omara Portuondo would be like finishing a gourmet meal with a Cornetto“, he declares, not inaccurately. Instead, we head back to the hotel bar for a couple of quiet beers (and, in my case, a nice Cuban cigar; well, it only seems fitting). Tomorrow is Art Day; we need clear heads and a reasonably early start.

Eurovision 2004 preview: the semi-finals, 1st half.

This year – to the ecstatic delight of some, and the horrified disbelief of others – Eurovision graduates into a two-day event, with a semi-final on Wednesday May 12 and a final on Saturday May 15. In the semi-final, 22 songs will compete for 10 places in the final, where they will join 14 songs from last year’s most successful countries (plus the four countries which always stump up the most dosh generously provide a large proportion of the funding for the event, thus guaranteeing themselves a place).

With no less than 36 (woo!) songs taking part in this year, I am splitting my preview into three sections – starting with the first 11 songs in next Wednesday’s semi-final. This will be shown live on BBC3, complete with tele-voting, but without the drama of the scoreboard; the ten qualifying songs will simply be announced at the end of the contest, in no particular order.

1. Finland – Takes 2 to tango – Jari Sillanpää
Tonight on Stars In Their Eyes: Michael Ball is… Marc Almond! Singing tango! With just the merest hint of Mamma Mia! Ludicrous but oddly likeable, like all the best Eurovision is supposed to be. Bonus points for the key-change. 75 points.

2. Belarus – My Galileo – Aleksandra & Konstantin
Utterly, utterly demented – and yet, quite, quite brilliant – this comes on like a kind of Eurodisco barndance, with folksy “ethnic” touches, a flute player who appears to be listening to a completely different song altogether, and – best of all! – yodelling. Oh joy! With quite the most eccentric vocal performance of this, or indeed of any other Eurovision, this could either sweep the board or flop completely. One of my personal favourites. 93 points.

3. Switzerland – Celebrate – Piero Esteriore & the MusicStars
Achieving the rare distinction of running out of ideas within the first 15 seconds, not even two (count ’em!) key changes can save this truly pitiful attempt at clap-along jollity. Look, even could have written a better song than this. Seriously. So simplistic that it makes Jemini’s Cry Baby look like Stairway To Heaven by comparison. 7 points.

4. Latvia – Dziesma par laimi – Fomins & Kleins
The normally dependable Latvia have served up a right clunker this year, with a stridently yowling mid-paced rocker that will appeal to almost no-one. No flow, darlings. Deeply unattractive. 12 points.

5. Israel – Le’ha’amin – David D’or
Ooh, is that what they call a counter-tenor? I’m that ignorant. “Operatic” seems to be one of this year’s big Eurovision trends, and our David certainly has an impressive set of chops, soaring away above his cheesy James Last-style backing singers into ever higher flights of fancy. Unfortunately, we’re firmly in “peace anthem” territory here – possibly my least favourite Eurovision category of all – but a suitably sincere performance may yet win the day, and banish memories of all that “light a candle” nonsense from a couple of years back. Bonus points for the key-change. Are you spotting a pattern yet? 54 points.

6. Andorra – Jugarem a estimar-nos – Marta Roure
Spirited melodic pop which tries hard (and I have to say that I love the way that Marta rolls her Rs), but ends up sounding merely strained and unmemorable. Destined to be lost in the rush. 23 points.

7. Portugal – Foi Magia – Sofia
Do you remember when they wheeled Margaret Thatcher out during the 1997 leadership election for the Conservative party? “Hague. Hague. William Hague. I like William Hague. That’s Hague. Shall I spell it for you?” Well, a similar tactic is deployed here by Portugal, who doggedly repeat the song’s title (pronounced “foy ma-ZHEE-ya”) all the way through their allotted three minutes. “Foi Magia. That’s Foi Magia. Vote for Foi Magia. Remember that name now: it’s Foi Magia. And here’s another quick reminder: Foi Magia. Would you like me to write it down for you?31 points. (Parting thought: why does Portugal NEVER submit any fado?)

8. Malta – On again…off again – Julie & Ludwig
So, like, what is it with all this operatic stuff this year? Who deemed this was hip? Did I miss a meeting? Malta have historically specialised in a kind of fresh-faced naivety that straddles the line between “charming” and “twee”, and this is no exception: pretty melodic pop, with a groovy dinner-dance backbeat and some frankly hilarious vocalising from our lovely, smiling duo. The middle section – where our Julie completely goes off on one with some smashing operatic arpeggios – is destined to be featured in “ironic” video-clip montages for the rest of recorded time. Luvvit! 65 points (including bonus points for the key-change).

9. Monaco – Notre planète – Maryon
Suffering from being the fourth song in a row with the same shuffling Eurodisco backbeat, this is also not helped by Maryon’s rather insipid vocal delivery; when given a chance to show off with some freestyle soaring in the middle section, she blows it badly, merely warbling away ineffectually until the key change (bonus points!) kicks in. However, the song is partially redeemed by some rather lovely pizzicato counterpoint flourishes, which distract one’s attention quite effectively from the essential slightness of the song itself. 50 points.

10. Greece – Shake it – Sakis Rouvas
Ooh, Sakis, you’re such a Romeo; you can pluck my bouzouki any time! With an unabashed cheesiness that is more over-ripe Roquefort than understated Feta, Shake It undoes all of its hard work with a moronic, repetitive turkey of a chorus – after which, not even a rousing percussion breakdown can save it. (And where, pray, is the key change after the percussion breakdown? If ever a tune was crying out for a key change, then this was it. Haven’t you read the rules?) However, I am awarding extra special bonus points for being the first of this year’s entries to rhyme “fire” (FYE-ya!) with “desire” (diz-EYE-ya!). 51 points.

11. Ukraine – Wild dances – Ruslana
Yes! Yes! Yes! This is why we love Eurovision so much. Vying with its neighbours in Belarus in the Totally F***ing Bonkers stakes, this is an almost impossibly exciting piece of rousing Cossack dervishry, fronted by a belter of a singer who comes on like Shakira on uppers. I can see her now, twirling her fringed gypsy skirt in the glow of the campfire, as all around her do that cross-armed squatting dance that plays such havoc with the joints. Total entertainment! 89 points, including a bonus for the impressively inept trumpet player (we had one like him in the school band).

Comment of the week…

…came from Alan of Oddverse, in the comments box attached to this post. Because I would hate for any of you to have missed it, I am reproducing it here.

Seven o’clock… Spend an hour tapping away on the laptop, chronicling minutae of existence. K vainly tries to distract me with text messages. “Nkd bloke in street doing push-ups. Snail not dead yet.”, but I tap on undeterred. The sun is setting, a glorious blood-orange glow is cast on the wall behind me, dappled through the gently waving leaves of the ancient ash tree that stands guarding the back wall of the garden. Surely there can be no greater bliss than this – a man, a laptop, and somewhere, a boyfriend torturing snails in an effort to get attention…

(On learning of this comment, K smirked broadly – indeed, almost triumphantly – from ear to ear, as I started frantically searching the cottage for hidden webcams.)

Window Into My World: The Troubled Diva Pointlessly Detailed Journal Theme Week. (4)

My mother arrives in the early evening, bearing belated birthday presents: a picture book of 1960s fashions, and photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s stunning The Earth from the Air. I explain that I have spent the day on sick leave, lolling about on the sofa and feeling sorry for myself. “Being a typical man, in other words“, is her brisk retort. A resolutely practical, unsentimental woman, she has little patience for weakness.

The three of us smarten ourselves up a bit and head for World Service. This is our third choice of restaurant; the weather is no longer suitable for sitting outside at the Martin’s Arms at Colston Bassett, and – to our great surprise – Harts is fully booked, even on a Monday. My concerns that World Service might be a shade too Urban Flash for my mother are swiftly confirmed; with no more than a couple of wry, under-stated remarks, accompanied by her instantly recognisable “I don’t think much of this but I’m far too polite to say so” expression, she scythes through its pretensions in minutes.

She is quite right, of course; this is a place which strains all too visibly to achieve a “fine dining experience”, without ever quite hitting the mark which it has rather self-consciously set for itself. It is a place where the staff feel the need to introduce the butter, for crying out loud:

Let me tell you about today’s butter; it’s from Normandy, and we’ve seasoned it with a little natural sea salt, to bring out the flavour.” Puh-leeze, Louise.

Still, for all that, the food is pretty damned good – my smoked salmon ravioli slips down a treat, as does my beautifully smooth pan-fried calves liver and my scrummy “trio of chocolate”. By the end of the evening, the alcohol (1 gin & tonic, 1 kir, 1 glass of white, 2 glasses of red) has, as ever, provided temporary relief for my flu symptoms. In fact, I am so restored that I even suggest skipping the taxi and walking home instead.

Tuesday morning finds me in a considerably deteriorated state of health. After K leaves for his meeting at around 9:45, I finally heave myself out of bed and stagger downstairs to keep my mother company. We spend the morning drinking tea, flicking through the papers, and chatting amiably.

Mother explains that she has started writing a detailed set of memoirs about her childhood and adolescence: drafted in longhand, and then laboriously typed up on an electric typewriter. I suggest that she might benefit from a word processor; she only registers polite, tangential interest, claiming that her spending priorities currently lie elsewhere. Knowing that it will get neither of us anywhere, I decide to avoid the standard Tech-savvy Son Browbeats Tech-phobic Parent stand-off. Instead, I ask when I might be able to read the memoir (expecting it to be intended for purely private purposes), and am told that I may read it any time I like. I am intrigued; while doubting that there will be much in the way of emotional revelation, I can safely anticipate a wealth of accurate and well-researched factual detail (one of my mother’s strongest suits).

I ask why the memoir stops at the age of seventeen. (Mother married less than two years later, and gave birth to me less than two years after that.)

I suppose that after 17, it became an altogether very… different sort of life“, I prod, smiling conspiratorially. We both know what my father was like.

You could say that.” The smile is returned. We are on the borders of well-established territory here. No more needs to be said.

Taking a different direction, I prod further. “So, I guess that’s where boyfriends came into the picture?

Actually, before your father came along, there weren’t really any other boyfriends.” The smile has fractionally tightened.

Oh. I hadn’t realised that.” I make a conscious attempt to confine both my surprise and my sympathy to within acceptable proportions. Emotional demonstrativeness has never been our particular modus operandi. Such matters may safely be alluded to – but to express them would be fearfully bad form.

After mother leaves, I return to bed – and spend the rest of the day, and the day after that, and the day after that, languishing in the sort of pointless, unproductive, ill-tempered tedium which, were it to be described in detail, would strain the patience of even my most devoted readers.