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.”

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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).