Now that we’ve all got nice big screens to play with…

Having grown tired of squinting at the screen, I am experimenting with larger font sizes. Better, worse, or couldn’t care less? Your opinion is important to us.

Also, do any of my regular readers still view this site on 800×600 monitors? My Site Meter tells me that 2% of you still do, but they may just be passing Googletrade. I’d quite like to expand the width of the layout beyond 800 pixels, but shall refrain if this is likely to cause inconvenience.

(Yes, I know all about relative-width tables – but I still prefer fixed-width, thank you all the same.)

Update: Oh, what the hell. Let’s breach the unbreachable, and expand to a daring 870 pixels. Goodbye, teeny-tiny typefaces!

The vinyl count-down.

jgudootYesterday evening, back in Nottingham and hence re-united with my turntable, I started working my way (in chronological order, obviously) through the boxed set of Clash singles which my darling sister gave me for Christmas.

I tried combining this with some simultaneous ironing, but had forgotten how short singles are. Especially early Clash singles. You don’t get this problem with iTunes playlists, do you? Nevertheless, I did enjoy re-acquainting myself with the rituals of sleeves, lids and needles, which lent a strange sense of significance to each single I played.

(Word to the lapsed vinylist: remember, you should always put the previous single back in its sleeve before placing the needle on the next single, or else your attention will be disrespectfully divided. Also, it’s OK to leave the turntable lid up for single track 7-inch sides, as the accumulated dust levels will be negligible, and you’ll only make a distracting clunking noise through the speakers, however softly you close the lid.)

Yes, significance. Something about the physical act of choosing each successive piece of music leaves you with the feeling that you “own” your listening experience, on an altogether more direct, personal level. Because you’ve put the work in, you are more minded to recoup your investment by paying closer attention to what’s playing.

And then there’s that lovely, warm, rich, bottomlessly muddy analogue sound, with its irreducible curves. Just as you cannot express Pi in a finite set of decimals, so you cannot compress the infinity of musical sound into a series of rigid binaries – at least, not without excising a crucial component of its essential mystery. With analogue sound, no matter how often you listen to a piece of music, you will never quite hear all of it – and so you will keep returning. With digital music (and I’m with Neil Young on this one), if you play it once then, somehow, you’ve heard it all.

However, none of this stopped me from momentarily pausing over the fading notes of “Jail Guitar Doors”: a B-side of no great distinction, which I was in a hurry to dispense with as “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” was next in line. As my impatient hand reached down to lift the needle, a little voice inside cried caution.

“No, don’t do that. Let it play out in full, or else you’ll screw up the Play Count.”

How quickly we adapt.

Twittering “This Life + 10”

tlplus10Mike T-D: K and I are hurling insults at the TV screen. Did Amy Jenkins start with a tick list of “Isshoos”? Aaargh. (about 1 hour ago from web)

Mike T-D: All across the UK, New Year vows of abstinence are being shattered, as the nation heaves a collective groan: “Christ, is this shite on till 10:30?” (about 1 hour ago from web)

Mike T-D: K to me, just now: “THAT IS THE LAMEST EXCUSE I HAVE EVER HEARD.” He’s just pissed off that I’ve snatched the last glass off him. (about 1 hour ago from web)

Mike T-D: OK, time to un-pause the Sky box and face the full horror of the Manic Street Preachers Formation Dancing Scene… (about 1 hour ago from web)

Gert: It’s a shame that not one of them has acquired any understanding of anything in ten years. (33 minutes ago from web)

Gert: I’m kind of enjoying it as a revelation of what some media tw@ thinks people are like on a planet in parallel solar system to my own. (33 minutes ago from web)

Siobhan: is wondering if Mike is slightly the wrong side of the This Life Demographic age-line to care so passionately about these things? (11 minutes ago from web)

Nice Things that have happened in the last few days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven successes in 2006.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, time for a shift of gear.

Five things you don’t know about me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update (2): Siobhan’s done it…

Update (3): Luca’s done it…

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

Troubled Diva’s best singles of 2006.

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

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

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

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

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

Rockin’ Mike’s gigs of 2006.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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