Look who has come to stay with Mike and his special friend K in Nottingham!

Hello Quickos, and welcome to the beautiful and historic city of Nottingham! I’m sure you’re going to have lots of really exciting adventures while you’re here. Please say thank you to Mummy and Daddy for the scrumptious Belgian waffles. We had them with strawberry jam, and they were really yummy.

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First of all, we took Quickos to see Robin Hood. Robin Hood was the most famous man ever to live in Nottingham. He took all the money off the rich people, and gave it to the poor people, so that they wouldn’t be poor ever again.

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(K says he’s not sure that’s such a good idea, particularly if the rich people are busy making Important Contributions to the Knowledge Economy. Doesn’t K know a lot of big words!)

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Being photographed with Famous Folk Heroes is thirsty work! So Mike and K took Quickos to Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem for a pint of English beer. Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem is the oldest pub in England, Mike says. Quickos said he hoped the beer wasn’t that old!

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Here’s Quickos, having his first ever pint of English beer with Mike. (Actually, Mike just let Quickos have a couple of sips, because he’s not really old enough for beer just yet, and Mike was worried that he might be setting a Bad Example.)

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Ooh, yummy! Quickos loves English beer! This one’s called “Olde Trip”, just like the name of the pub. It makes Quickos feel all silly and giggly. Mike says he’ll need a good long sleep tonight!

Quickos is really, really excited, because Mike and K are taking him to the countryside tomorrow, to see the Princess Diana Memorial Garden. And then on Saturday, Quickos is going all the way to Cambridge, to visit Mike’s Mummy. Mike says that lots of clever people live in Cambridge, because they’ve studied really hard at school and done all of their sums.

Quickos loves meeting all his new English friends.

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The Troubled Diva Rough Guide To “World” Music – Part 1.

Although I can drone away about the minutiae of pop music until the cows come home – a pithy apercu here, a deconstructed semiological signifier there – when it comes to my other great love, quote-unquote “world” music, I generally clam up. This is because, where “world” music is concerned, I find I have no particular desire to do anything other than simply listen to the stuff, devoid of any background knowledge or cultural context. For me, the music works on an almost entirely abstract level – as pure form and feeling, articulated and embellished by a strong sense of craft and technique.

Thus it is that I scarcely even bother to scan the translated lyrics, choosing instead to wallow in the sound of the voices. Indeed, a lyric sung in English generally comes as an unwelcome intrusion of literal meaning, jarring against my cliché-primed sensibilities. Keep the meaning obscure, and you keep the mystery intact.

I am also well aware that what we middle class white Europeans like to call “world music” is actually a carefully packaged marketing niche, and that the stuff that “world music” audiences rave over isn’t always the stuff that goes down best in its countries of origin. Example: the last Youssou N’Dour album (the critically acclaimed Egypt) bombed in Senegal, because you couldn’t dance to it. Meanwhile the most popular pan-African artists are probably Sting, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Eminem and 50 Cent.

In other words, it’s easy to fall into a false trap of cultural tourism, where the attractively packaged “world music” album is actually about as representative of that country’s culture as the beautifully carved wooden ornaments that you can only find in souvenir shops.

Or consider the situation in reverse, where a native African tells you that he really loves your English music: Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. Which, of course, is not without its adherents (and rightly so) – but it’s hardly the stuff which you’ll hear booming out of doorways as you stroll down “typical” English streets.

So, maybe for “world” music, it would be better to say “roots” music instead. But then again, I’m no purist. What about all that Senegalese hip hop? Or the contemporary, cosmopolitan influences which Manu Chao has brought to bear on the new Amadou & Mariam album? Or the scratch DJ-ing on the Ojos De Brujo and Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz albums? Or Rachid Taha collaborating with Steve Hillage and covering The Clash?

And that’s the other problem: reading about “world” music is not only beside the point – but, well, a little bit boring, like a coursework assignment. Better by far to sidestep all the fascinating facts, all the “Is it representative?”, “Am I being marketed to?” head-f**ks, all the cultural tourism baggage…

…and just enjoy the music. Which I do, constantly. Especially at weekends, or in the car, or at any other time where K is within earshot. (In the Venn diagram of our musical tastes, the intersection of the circles is marked “world/roots”.)

Which brings me to my point. If I’m not going to blog about my love of “world” music, then perhaps it’s better if I let the music speak for itself.

In which case, here’s Part One of the Troubled Diva Rough Guide To “World” Music: a continuous mix, containing nine songs, and lasting for half the length of a CD. The second half of the CD will be along in a few days’ time, and the full track listing will appear a few days after that, along with links to all the featured albums.

In the two mixes, I have focused mainly on albums which have come out in the past 18 months or so, with one or two tracks thrown in for historical interest. About half the tracks are African, with the remainder coming from all over the world.

Here are four Yousendit links, all to the same file, which should provide enough downloads to be going on with. Even if you have no particular interest in “world” music, I would strongly advise you to take a listen anyway; if nothing else, these selections make a great soundtrack for sunny afternoons and hot, sticky nights.

Suddenly, Eurovision seems like months ago. Ah, let’s hear it for proper music!

Link one.
Link two.
Link three.
Link four.

PDMG Update.

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Three summers down the line, and our Princess Diana Memorial Garden continues to surprise and delight. For the first couple of years, the garden’s appeal was primarily to do with the landscaping. This year, with colours and shapes expanding and melding at an astonishing rate, its appeal has become much more about the planting.

We mulched hard in the spring, getting through a dozen sacks of the stuff, and thereby absolving ourselves from a hell of a lot of weeding. We were also lavish with the blood, fish and bone; sometimes a little too lavish, causing some disproportionate growth and unsightly legginess. But it’s all part of the learning curve, and the triumphs well outweigh the disasters.

Last Sunday, we opened the PDMG to the public, as part of the village’s Open Gardens Day. This was the cause of a certain amount of performance anxiety earlier in the week, as it seemed as though the garden was caught in a period of transition; a lot of the good stuff had peaked, while not enough of the newer stuff was coming through. However – and following sustained activity on Thursday evening, all day Friday (we took the day off), much of Saturday, and several hours on Sunday morning – we had succeeded in turning the place round.

This was massively helped by the spectacular eruption of the multi-headed white roses known as Rambling Rector, which reached their absolute peak on Sunday. As in the previous two years, these were the most asked about feature in the garden – and as in the previous two years, it was all we could do not to revert to type, and blurt out our preferred semi-private name: Rumbling Rectum. Such sauce!

The alliums also got a lot of attention this year. I think they’ve become quite trendy. But we were early adopters. (Or rather, our garden designer was.)

Even during Sunday afternoon itself, I couldn’t help whipping the secateurs out, and having a couple of quick extra dead-heading sessions on the geraniums. (Or do I mean pelargoniums?) At this time of year, you could spend your entire day doing nothing but dead-heading geraniums, and I did become a little obsessed at times – even seeing the dead-heads behind my eyelids, every time I blinked. Evil! Evil! Snip! Maim! Kill!

Luckily, we had our ever-obliging house guest Slam to help us, and to mediate in times of trial. Unlike most house guests, Slam always leaves the place better than he finds it… and for that, we love him like a brother. (The way to our hearts is through our cleaning products.)

Chig also turned up unexpectedly – tipped off by a mention of Open Gardens Day in my comments box, impressively enough – on his way back from reporting on a somewhat underwhelming Leicester Pride for Gay Times. This all caused great confusion amongst some of the well-meaning Nice Ladies from outside the village, who clearly didn’t know which of “the boys” was supposed to be with whom. (It didn’t help when I gave them long explanations of the history of the garden, entirely in the first person plural, with my hand casually draped over the back of Chig’s chair. The inclusive smiles and nods he got!)

After 6pm, when the gardens shut, K and I hosted the Unofficial After Party, dispensing gallons of chilled rosé to exhibitors and liggers alike. I was also introduced to J.S., a long-standing reader of the blog, who will not be expecting to find herself mentioned. (Everybody say hello to J.S.!) Oh, we’re quite the horticultural socialites these days, I think you’ll find.

To celebrate our towering achievement, here’s a photographic tableau of the PDMG as it looked last Sunday, and very early on Monday morning. Those with fast connections may care to click on the thumbnails to enlarge. Please also note that these have been lovingly hand-coded. Flickr Schmickr! You can’t beat the personal touch!

Update: I’ve fixed those pesky “file not found” errors. My bad, as the cool people used to say.

pdmg05050 pdmg05070 pdmg05079 Continue reading “PDMG Update.”

UK Singles Jukebox: You Can’t Go Fancying Midge Ure’s Daughter.

After a worrying patch of collective ennui, I made an extra effort this week, handing in an impressive seven blurbs for this week’s Stylus UK Singles Jukebox. However, with my fellow panellists also making extra ennui-busting efforts, and with one of this week’s singles being dropped from the article entirely, only four blurbs saw the light of day. These were for Towers Of London (PUNKS NOT DEAD), Royksopp (generic Habitat coffee table), The Tears (better, but still unconvincing) and Charlotte Church (trying to act her age, but still failing).

Here are the three remaining blurbs:

Jump – The Faders.
“You say you need me… WHATEVER! WHATEVER! I’VE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE!” With this agreeably bratty pop-rockin’ sugar rush, the follow-up to the awesome “No Sleep Tonight”, The Faders prove once again that they are a) a Very Good Thing Indeed, and b) the nearest we have to a home-grown version of Estonia’s mighty Vanilla Ninja. Whatever the song lacks in melodic variety, the inventively detailed widescreen production and the leather-jacketed, fist-pumping Quatro/Jett attitude more than make up for it. [8]
Taste The Last Girl – Sons & Daughters.
I’m sorry that Sons & Daughters have seen fit to turn their back on the gothic country rockabilly of last year’s Love The Cup, in favour of a more straightfowardly rocking NME-friendly post-punkiness. A natural, organic development, or a market-influenced volte face? Either way, this feels like reverse evolution, and I’m left feeling let down by a band who, only a year ago, promised so much. [6]
Here I Go Again – Mario.
This is going to hang around all summer, isn’t it? Goodness, what a depressing prospect. The equally all-conquering “Let Me Love You” was lame but liveable-with, up to a point. However, this freze-dried, vacuum-packed microwave ready meal of lyrical dreariness and wearying “rock influenced” stodge is going to have me reaching for the remote for weeks. [3]

Ten quick ones.

1. Many thanks to Vitriolica for sending me this marvellous (and uncannily accurate) pen portrait, which has replaced that old Gillray cartoon of the Prince Regent at the top of the sidebar. This was one of Vit’s many artistic contributions to Big Blogger (still ongoing; still mad; still enjoying it), which she has collated here.

2. It’s a shame that I can’t find an online copy of yesterday’s annual Independent On Sunday Pink List: a list of the 101 most powerful/influential British gay men and lesbians. (But, somewhat inevitably, and for all sorts of reasons, rather more of the former than the latter.) However, I don’t suppose it would be too copyright-busting of me to reveal the Top 6: Sharon, Serena, MandyCamilla, Emily and Vicky. A little surprising to see Mandy still perched at #3, but at least he retains the distinction of being one of the great comic figures of our age:

I’ve been an Asian-minded person for several years. It was on sabbatical from membership of Tony Blair’s Cabinet that I began to take a keen interest in the remarkable economic and social development of your region.

I suppose that “sabbatical” is one way of describing it…

3. But you’ll be wanting to know how many of the Top 101 are close personal friends of mine, won’t you? (And wondering why K wasn’t included, no doubt. Well, we’re in no rush.) OK, so if we’re counting people that I have met and spoken to (however *cough* briefly), then four people on this year’s Pink List can claim that distinction: Matthew Parris (#80), Jonathan Harvey (#76), Julian Clary (#39) and Graham Norton (#37). Whether or not they remember meeting me is quite another matter.

4. As for the rest: I have seen #100, #67, #56, #38, #33, #25, #22, #2 and #1 on stage (Rabbi Lionel Blue, Neil Tennant, Antony Sher, Angela Mason, Paul O’Grady, Chris Smith, George Michael, Serena and Sharon); I have been in the same bar as #93 (Michael Cashman), #54 (Michael Clark), #47 (Neil Bartlett) and #21 (Stephen Fry); I have been in the same club as #50 (Rupert Everett); I have stood in the same conversational group as both #72 (Nick Partridge) and #36 (Peter Tatchell), without being introduced to either (not bitter); I have been in the same backstage VIP area as #42 (Boy George); I have been at the same party as #16 (Alan Duncan); and I have seen #8 (David Hockney) walking down the street in Cambridge. How über-gay is that? Sometimes, I forget what a card-carrying party member I used to be.

5. Our friend Slam’s reaction to seeing the list, yesterday morning over breakfast: “Right, let me find a husband from this lot.” And moments later: “Well, that’s useless… why haven’t they included marital status?”

6. The British blogosphere’s very own Tom Coates was probably at #102. I’d give him three more years, maximum.

7. Peter continues my Bay City Rollers theme over at his place; the discussion then spills over into his comments box. I’ll be completing the review soon, honest. (He always says that.)

8. Diamond Geezer, in the next comments box down:

So, the whole of the last three weeks, all that readership surveying and analysis… it’s all just been an extended marketing campaign for Troubled Diva mugs?

I couldn’t possibly comment. Passive-agressive, moi?

9. Bloggers! You know when you get talking to other bloggers by e-mail, and they then tell you their real name, presumably expecting you to start using it forthwith… well, is it just me, or does this always feel somehow not quite right, and a bit like your maths teacher asking you to call him Steve?

10. Bloggers! When de-linking someone from your blogroll, or when being de-linked from someone else’s blogroll, it helps to visualise the blogosphere as a perpetual cocktail party, and the de-linker as the person saying: “Well, it has been lovely talking to you, but there are some people over there who I simply must meet.” Because if you deploy this paradigm, then it takes all the silly paranoia out of the situation. (I was originally going to expand this metaphor into an extended “blogging as cocktail party” think-piece… but then I couldn’t be arsed. It’s the heat.)

Mug Lust Rewarded: Anna’s Critical Appreciation Challenge.

Yesterday, I set Anna (the second most typical reader of this blog) a challenge: to compose a critical appreciation of the 40 In 40 Days Project, in 300 words or more, by 10:00 this morning.

Having successfully completed the challenge, Anna would then be able to legitimately tick box #27 in my “typical reader” checklist – thus gaining herself an extra point, and raising her score to 26. This would put her into equal first place with Lyle, thus earning her the Troubled Diva coffee mug which she so brazenly craved.

After posting interesting first and second drafts last night, Anna presented her final draft this morning. I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here.

Dear mike he is a blogger,
who once wrote 40 bits
on family, k, gayness,
and women (who have tits)
he once went through a straight patch, snogged that bird from ‘Vicar D’
who is ‘the one who’s ditzy’.
The show is not funnee,

When tiny, Mikey’s sandbox (a metaphor, I think)
when tipped out on the lawn did bring his mother from the sink
and watching him, despondent, she bitterly complained
I wonder for mikes mother. She bare crops up again.

Except around the time, of course
his dad announced the big divorce
a-sitting on his son mike’s bed
he wept a little, and he said
that mummy forthwith was to be
a-living with one ‘Mr G’
A line was drawn, in life, book, post
this is the part that touched me most.

Same father who at that point cried
much later on, before he died
(at least a couple years before)
would not walk to his own son’s door
On learning that he was a mary.
Oh! Hang on! Not PC, meant ‘fairy’
No, that is incorrect as well, a poof?
Queen? Homosexual? Some word with ‘wooof
Oh bugger, bugger, sorry, hell
I have mess up, I cannot tell
which terminology most pleases
re. mike and the gender he squeezes.

Of course, the only one to benefit
– for twenty years (or most of it) –
from Michael’s squeezes is the man
he met, as part of Grocerina’s plan
a set-up, and for once and all
one that worked, and at the ball
(or club) our michael met his match.

Meanwhile, in Holland, some odd batch
of ugly men, with greying hair
would meet in silent rooms and there
would share the task of jacking off
one for each other, til enough
was had – for Mike, that wasn’t long
his heart not in it, something wrong
Mike ran away and clubbed it up
with some hard-bodied soft porn pup.

And speaking of soft porn, let’s not
forget the man in Hamleys, hot
for Mike and his porn actor looks
he offered roles, but (as in books) (?)
was turned down by our hero fretting
the reputation he’d be getting
if he were to take the job
from his mum, and his dad, Bob.

Bob wasn’t really his dad’s name.
I made that up. For rhyme. Yes. Lame.

This is my third and last attempt
to win, by proving that I’ve read
each every word, not one exempt
of 40/40, half braindead

I’m trying hard, and trying to prove
that over all the rest of yous
I fit some statistical outline
Mike made up to clarifine
Who his most average reader be.

I am most average.
This be me.

Give me the mug.

Genius, no? I think you’ll agree that Anna has more than fulfilled her brief. With this in mind, I propose to award her NOT one, but TWO mugs. One from the “classic” range, and one from the “novelty” range, featuring those irrepressible little critters, the racist ducks. One for Anna, and one for her Beau. Or one for home, and the other for her prestigious and influential workplace.

(This is what we call a marketing “push” exercise, you see: promoting the product by releasing limited stocks amongst key “opinion formers”. I’m not daft!)

Anna Pickard: Troubled Diva salutes your courage, your strength, your indefatigability, your facility with rhyme, and your rampant Mug Lust.

Lyle: for ticking 26 out of 30 boxes, you too will be receiving a mug. How does the position of Official Site Mascot sound?

Non-blogging readers John and Tim: with scores of 11 each, you are officially declared Troubled Diva’s most atypical readers. Mugs all round, boys! Please contact me with your postal addresses, and I’ll do the rest.

As for everyone else who participated: mugs are available for purchase in the foyer. Please don’t all rush at once.

The Bay City Rollers: Nottingham Arena, June 21st 2005.

Additional note: July 5th 2005. Although this piece was only originally written for the small audience who reads my weblog, Google has seen fit to give it a high ranking for the artist concerned. I should therefore sound a note of caution for people who have arrived here via search engines. What follows is a harsh review, which some might consider disrespectful or even offensive. It is, however, an honest and accurate record of the thoughts which went through my mind while watching the show in question. As a blogger, I make no claims to objectivity; however, it is also not my intention to cause gratuitous offence. If this review offends you, then please accept my apologies, whilst bearing in mind that this is just the personal point of view of some random bloke off the Internet. After all, it would be a boring world if we all thought the same way…

As this was the first night of the “Once In A Lifetime” package tour of former 1970s teenybop idols, neither Miss Mish nor I knew quite what to expect. So we were initially a little bowled over by the demographic make-up of the audience, which was almost completely comprised of very excited women in their forties. Very, very excited women in their forties. With tartan accessories. (Some of them had been awfully busy on their Singer sewing machines.) And custom-printed T-shirts. (One lady in front of us had SHANG-A-LANG emblazoned on her back, while her companion had plumped for the more direct LET ME IN.) And cellophane-wrapped floral tributes, to hurl over the barricades at Les, or Merrill, or Little Jimmy, or one of the two Davids. And, in the case of one particularly determined Bay City Rollers fan who spent a good ten minutes before the show engaged in protracted negotiations with no less than three security guards: a teddy bear with a tartan bow around its neck.

(One shudders to think of the negotiation tactics she was prepared to wheel out, although the stony-faced but slightly fearful expressions on the faces of the three guards spoke volumes. At one point, she even started waving the paw of the teddy bear at them (“Look, he’s saying hello!”), in a last-ditch bid to melt their hearts. Conclusion: be very, very afraid of middle-aged women bearing teddy bears.)

As the Bay City Rollers – sorry, Les McKeown’s 70’s Bay City Rollers (there’s a clue in there for you) – took to the stage, almost the entire first three rows of the audience stormed down to the front, where they formed a kind of hormonal mosh-pit. (With so much polyester rubbing together, it’s a wonder we didn’t see sparks flying.) As Mish and I were in the fourth row, on the end of an aisle, we were therefore granted excellent sight-lines to the stage. However, we also had to endure the din of an almost constant pitched battle next to us, as teeming hordes of stoked-up, tartan-clad Angelas and Nicolas and Deborahs and Amandas begged, beseeched and clamoured to get past the security guards that were stationed right next to us. They never gave up, either. Sometimes, one of them managed to distract the guards long enough to allow three or four more to barge through, squealing with glee, camera phones primed and ready. You wonder whether any of them were listening to the music at all.

Mind you, one could hardly blame them for having other concerns. Alone out of the four acts on the bill that night, the music of the Bay City Rollers has steadfastly refused to accrue any modicum of nostalgic appeal whatsoever. It has always been, and will always be, wretched, piss-poor, joyless stuff: cranked out by backroom hacks to fill a lucrative niche, and performed by useful (and ultimately expendable) idiots, with no artistic or emotional investment in their craft, on any level. And I speak as someone with a considerable fondness for supposedly “manufactured” pop, providing it is done with style, or wit, or love (three boxes which the likes of Take That managed to tick effortlessly).

So imagine how much more reduced the experience would be when confronted by “Les McKeown’s 70´s Bay City Rollers” – featuring singer Les McKeown, and an anonymous bunch of hired hands. OK, I’ll give them their due: they were a tolerably competent bunch of hired hands, who blustered efficiently through the Rollers canon while a scarlet-jacketed McKeown (there was an inescapable whiff of Butlins about this) dutifully trotted out the sha-la-las and shang-a-langs with all the emotional engagement of the slightly sad-looking geezer on his own in the corner of the pub on karaoke night.

It was the eyes that gave him away, really. They were the dead eyes of someone who found himself shackled to a body of work which he had almost certainly grown to despise, but which – not having had sufficient wit in his youth to avoid the pitfalls of unscrupulous managers and dodgy contracts – he was obliged to perform, in perpetuity, in order to put bread on the table. Not having made any true emotional investment in his glory days, there was therefore no way for him to recoup any of that investment in middle age. Through his grim-faced, disconnected, slightly pained performance, you could see that performing had probably never held much joy for him in the first place. Yes, he was badly advised and ripped off in the past. But nevertheless, you reap what you sow.

Not that any of this really mattered to the assembled Angies and Nickys and Debbies and Mandys, for whom the years were rolling back apace. They just wanted to sway their hands in the air to Bye Bye Baby and Give A Little Love, go a little mad for a night, and relive the follies of their youth. McKeown was just the catalyst for this collective act of remembrance. It was barely even about him. (Maybe it never was. Maybe he knows that now.) All he really had to do was turn up, stay in tune, and not f**k things up too badly. Easy work, when you think about it.

Even so, McKeown was able to get away with granting himself the odd mild indulgence: a re-arrangement here, a different rhythm there, and even a barmy section in the middle of Shang-A-Lang, where the band suddenly lurched into a few bars of Deep Purple’s Black Night. (Maybe that was one for the small contingent of stoic husbands who had been dragged along for the evening.) Towards the end, he even flashed a couple of broad smiles. However, and without wishing to labour the analogy unfairly, they still struck me as the smiles of a deluded addict chasing a long-vanished high.