Sometimes i wake up early in the morning, to play my con-con-congo…

As it has been a quiet week, I have seized the opportunity to dive headlong into the Exciting New Sound that the kids are calling “funky house”. It’s a little confusing, as the term has been around since the late 1990s – but this stuff is far removed from the shiny-shirted, disco-sampling (and fairly clapped out) genre that periodically surfaces on Hed Kandi compilations. And goodness me, I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT!

The music sounds to me like an update on the UK garage sound of 1999/2000 – but with a more propulsive edge to the rhythms, and a percussive feel that bears some comparison to soca. Some of it is quite song-based and girly, while at the other edge of the spectrum the feel is dirtier, rawer, and distinctly butcher. Predictably, it’s the girly, song-based stuff which grabs me most of all – most notably the genre’s cheesiest offering to date, “Bongo Jam” by Crazy Cousinz ft. Calista, which I have been playing five or six times a day. This SO has to be a massive hit single.

Indeed, Crazy Cousinz are quite the production team du jour – as evidenced by their gorgeous remix of Paleface ft. Kyla’s “Do You Mind”, which just grows and grows. Both of these tunes can be found on a handy 26-minute mix from DJ Cable, which serves as an ideal introduction to the genre. To this end, I’d also recommend Tim Finney’s impeccably learned overview of the scene, as blogged at Idolator three months ago.

All of this funkiness has led me to investigating the current playlist at BBC 1Xtra, which reveals an absolute wealth of riches, signalling to me (and better late than never) that so-called “urban” music is currently enjoying a significant upswing, after a couple of years of stagnation. YouTube links for virtually the entire playlist can be found here. I particularly recommend Jazmine Sullivan’s raw, yearning, reggae-tinged “Need U Bad”, Perempay’s sultry, smoking “In The Air”, the floaty, piano-housey “Falling Again” from Wookie ft Ny, and the more classically soulful “LoveLost” from the long-lost Shola Ama. Ooh, you’ll have hours of fun!

Now, that’s what I call a Major Blogging Project…

Respect is due to the remarkable Marcello Carlin, for embarking on a marathon project that will see him review every UK Number One album from 1956 to the present day. Meanwhile, his wife Lena has started reviewing all the singles which reached Number Two (but no higher) on the British charts. Good luck to them both, and I’ll be following both projects avidly over the coming weeks/months/years/decades.


Along with three randoms from The Other Much Larger Company In The Building, I got trapped in the lift this morning. Tenth floor. Doors not-quite closed; gap of maybe a finger’s width.

Random #1 (short, female) tried to open the doors and failed. As did Random #2 (slim, male).

There’s a reason why I don’t entangle myself with practical things, and I wasn’t about to put it to the test. Assuming a managerial role, I suggested ringing security, using the number displayed above the lift buttons. Random #2 got on the case. Good man.

In large office blocks such as ours, safety procedures have to be precisely defined, and strictly adhered to. In this case, Stage Number One of the “Employees Trapped In Lift” scenario turned out to be…

…taking the first and last names of each employee, checking for correct spellings where necessary.

Well, it would be awful if they cocked up the headstones. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

At this point, the previously silent Random #3 (burly, male) stepped forward, casually prised the doors open, and calmly stepped out.

It was either that or give his name out. You can only push a bloke so far.

“Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” – thoughts left elsewhere.

(I first parked these thoughts in the comments box at Freaky Trigger’s Popular, where you’ll find me hanging out on an increasingly regular basis. What follows is an amalgamated and slightly tidied-up version.)


In a way, that wonderful Barney Bubbles pic sleeve is the first clue: that the ground is fundamentally shifting, that certain key characteristics of chart pop are mutating, and that a whole new vista of as yet untapped possibilities are opening up. For just as we prepare to bid farewell to those cheerfully corny NUMMER EINS TIP-TOP SUPER-HIT IN GROSSBRITANNIEN! import sleeves at the top of each entry, so we prepare to welcome – for better and for worse – an altogether more visual, more design-led, more themed approach to the pop single.

Forget the false dawn of “Rat Trap”; for me, the success of “Rhythm Stick” was a sign that Our Side were indeed taking over. As such, it marked a clear staging post, heralding the true start of not only my all-time favourite year for pop, but also the start of a whole new Golden Age, both for pop in general (unquestionably matching the glories of 1964-67 and 1972-74), and for me personally. For from this point on, and for several years to come, I felt that that much of the best pop was capable of precisely representing me – my generation, my outlook, my emotions, my concerns – and that I was a fully-fledged member of its natural constituency.

Simultaneously with this glorious upswing in the charts – an upswing which had been heavily hinted at during 1978, and which was now starting to bear full fruit – a similarly major upswing started to take place in my personal life. Simply put, I began to get my shit together: gaining confidence, making friends, having adventures, “re-inventing” myself, as I dubbed it then and still view it now. 1979 was a year of fun, friendship, excitement and experimentation; of major milestones; of massive changes. I started the year as a nervous, fearful, virtually friendless, deeply immature 16-year old schoolboy; I ended it on the threshold of stepping out into the real world, beyond the cloistered confines of my Cambridge boarding school, making independent choices, earning a real wage, tearing up the past and beginning an unguesssable new chapter.

A month or so earlier, with “Rhythm Stick” still climbing the charts, I saw Ian and the Blockheads in North London (Shepherd’s Bush Empire, was it?), supported by Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, Humphrey Ocean & the Hardy Annuals, and a surrealist puppet show. Discounting various school bands, it was only my third gig – and coming after the disappointments of the first two (including being stuck behind a concrete pillar in the back corner of Earls Court for Bowie’s Stage tour, an experience which put me off arena gigs for the next decade), the Blockheads’ magnificent two and a half hour set came as a revelation. To this day, and even allowing for the novelty of the experience at the time, I have rarely heard any band play so wonderfully well together (drummer Charley Charles particularly standing out in my memory). And what excitement – again rarely matched since – to hear my favourite single in the charts being played while it was still actually in the charts!

It was partially the knowledge of Dury’s declining health that coaxed me into seeing him and the Blockheads a second time, towards the end of the 1990s – and what a show that was, with the irrepressible Norman Watt-Roy vying with Ian as the true star.

I must also get around to revisiting Dury’s 1979 Do It Yourself album. It didn’t contain any singles – which although admirable, failed to prolong its shelf life – and despite wonderful tracks such as “Sink My Boats”, there couldn’t help but be a sense of general anti-climax after the glories of New Boots. Undaunted, the band bounced back with “Reasons To Be Cheerful”: the first ever rap hit anywhere, and given Chaz Jankel’s musical connections, presumably made in the knowledge of the newly emergent genre…?


However, I’m still struggling to articulate what it is about “Hit Me” that affects me so much as a piece of music, rather than for what it represents in the wider context of chart pop. And I think it’s primarily to do with what I perceive as the almost dream-like quality of its opening, dominant piano/bass-led riff, coupled with the almost mythical travelogue of the verses. For me, the chorus is where “everybody else” is invited in for a chirpy, cheeky Cockney singalong, as if that was what the song was all about – but for me it’s almost a smokescreen, an entryist device which allows the rest of the track to exist. And it’s within the restlessly undulating contours of the rest of the track that I reside as a listener, shifting over periodically to admit the chorus’s house-guests.

Dream-like? Un-equipped to play vinyl in my school study, I had this on one side of a home-made C90, which I used to play over and over again as I drifted off to sleep, inventing videos that eventually turned into dreams. And so there’s something here which touches that half-asleep/half-awake state of consciousness, in a way that still cuts deep – allowing me to visualise the music almost as a physical space, which part of me still inhabits. (If that doesn’t sound too pretentious.)

Postscript: I had experienced a similar effect with Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” a few months earlier, albeit as a one-off moment. The first time I heard the track was on FM radio one morning, as I emerged from sleep into wakefulness, and so the sparse, haunting oddness of the arrangement – the syn-drums, the rising and falling string shimmers – first took root in my sub-consciousness as I dreamt. I woke up with the strangest sense of wonder at what I literally perceived as its other-worldly quality, and it’s a sense of wonder that I’ve never quite lost over the years.

HELP HELP HELP I am trapped inside a gay wedding and can only get out by WRITING about it CURSES CURSES.

I appear to have been stuck on the top deck of a LOVE BUS for the past, er, five days. Albeit in a hot pink-n-grey suit, with nice hair, being surreptitiously ogled at by a thoeretical maximum of ONE red-eyed formerly-attitude boy.

It is time to write myself down OFF THE BUS, and into the nice neighbourhood bar/café/restaurant, a couple of blocks east of Clapham Common, which J and M have themed to perfection with all manner of creatively distressed foliage, miniature nosegays stuffed into objéts trouvées from their personal collection, hand-calligraphed name cards etc etc. J works in top-end catering; M organises A-list fund-raisers for the arts; and so frankly, I would have expected nothing less. This is What They Do, and so they have plied their crafts with characteristic dexterity, i.e. not by going totally overboard and foofing everything up to buggery and beyond, but instead by retaining that most crucial of elements: Informal Homespun Charm.

The seating plan is a work of socially engineered genius. I have been placed with a former punk rocker from Edinburgh (with whom I swiftly bond over The Slits, The Pop Group and John Cooper Clarke), a former acid houser (ditto re. Ten City, and ohmigod he was at the SECOND EVER Shoom in late 87, these things IMPRESS ME), a feisty mum (off the leash and on the lash), and a couple of shaven-headed habitués of the Two Brewers. Slightly further down the table, K has been similarly garlanded with diversity.

The vibe is classic reception, with a gay twist. There is a Top Table, heading up the U-shape of the room; there is a big fancy f**k-off cake to cut on camera; and there are speeches. M’s brother and J’s brother represent the families; her from the auction house that I went to Duckie with (does anyone still remember the string of beads that emerged from the lady’s hoo-hah?) represents the friends; and both M and J make speeches of their own (M even eliciting demure blushes from me and K, by name-checking us for being there from the beginning).

J concludes his speech by reciting “something I heard on Radio Four the other week”. To the surprise and delight of both myself and the former punk rocker from Edinburgh, it turns out to be a John Cooper Clarke classic.

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina (*)
I will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
Let me be your coffee pot… (read more)

(*)“What, like some sort of clapped out old banger?”, I quipped, many hours later.

The tables are cleared, the evening guests arrive (oh, it’s still Friday, yay for post-work early doors), the DJ sets up, and I shift my base of operations to the capacious street-facing verandah, where I loosely remain for the next five hours or so. A clubland celebrity shows up for a while, and I catch myself doing that silly smiling-in-delighted-recognition thing, before remembering that we don’t actually know each other and I’m effectively just gurning at a stranger.

Gratifyingly, the hired DJ’s playlist overlaps significantly with my own unused (BUT THAT’S ALL RIGHT NO REALLY HONESTLY IT IS) Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008 triple mix. Dancing ensues, heroically undimmed by the running Battle Of The Volume Knob that takes place between the DJ and the head barman as the evening progresses. “Valerie” and the new Madonna go down well, as does “I Love To Love” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head“. Being placed directly between the bar and the verandah, the wooden dancefloor gets a regular soaking as drinkers and dancers collide, but it all adds atmosphere dunnit…

Eleven thirty would have been a sensible time to call it a night, but some of us aren’t feeling sensible. Back to the hotel until the bar shuts – then somehow four of us end up in a hired mini-cab, travelling all the way to the top of the common: a two minute journey for which muggins here is stiffed for ten quid. (And then the driver has the gall to give me his bloody BUSINESS CARD, like I’m THIS GULLIBLE on a REGULAR BASIS.)

We’re just going where we’re told, by the quite bogglingly drunk American lady who assures us that we’ll love this place, she used to work here, she knows everybody, we won’t have to pay, yadda yadda yadda.

The tiny thrill of swishing past the velvet rope while lesser souls beg and plead on the pavement is dissipated within seconds, as we force our way through the near-solid throng of TOTAL AND UTTER F**KING W@NKERS within, in search of a mythical Quiet Spot near the bar. Grim, hatchet-faced, sharp elbowed, hideously dressed sub-sub-sub-Z-list wannabes predominate, all thinking they’re f**king IT for gaining admittance to this vile, deafening, funky-house-from-hell-hole.

All of two minutes later, we are joined by a couple of other reception stragglers from the hotel, who have done the sensible thing and walked up. There is an unspoken collective resolve to make the best of the situation – why, I even have a little dance – but K’s nerve cracks halfway down his bottled beer, and suddenly I’m pulling him back through the w@nker-cluster before the panic attack has a chance to kick in.

We’re halfway back to the hotel when J calls. He’s not ready for bed yet, and do we fancy a quick one at the Brewers?

Salvaged at the, ooh let’s see, thirteenth hour, the night rolls on.

More of that civil partnership ceremony, then. (Part 2, if you’re counting.)

Now, where was I?

Ah yes. On Clapham Common, looking hot in a suit (comparatively), being distantly ogled at by an attitude boy (arguably), while waiting to board a be-ribboned Routemaster. Hell, I’ve been in worse places on a Friday lunchtime…

Since being de-commissioned, it would seem that your classic Routemaster has already become something of a head-turner. Oh, the looks we got! And toots too, if you please! It can’t just have been the suits…

Upon arrival in Brixton, our designated Head of Party led us briskly round the corner from Lambeth Town Hall, and right up to the side of The Fridge: a crumbling former theatre turned nightclub, which used to host the legendary Love Muscle on Saturday nights. What, were J and M to be hitched by top 1990s hostess “Mama” Yvette on the main stage (“Oh my God I caaaan’t belieeeeve it…”), amidst a bevy of galumphing, funkless strippers (“Ooh, look at thaaaat one…”), to the strains of “Santa Maria” and “He’s On The Phone“? No, it was just our Head of Party on homing pigeon auto-pilot, leading us into the wrong entrance. About turn, back around the corner…

…and into the ante-chamber, where champagne, canapes and grooms awaited us, M’s electric blue patent leather shoes even extracting the best from the municipal turquoise carpet. He always did have a good eye for tricky detail.

Taking our seats in the council chamber, the strains of Grace Jones piping us in, we were tickled to find ourselves faced with individual voting consoles.

“If you know of any just cause or impediment…”

“…please press the red button now.”

It’s the joke which had to be made.

Vows were recited and rings were exchanged: M taking possession of J’s late father’s wedding ring, with the full blessing of J’s family. (I nearly lost it completely at this point.) More music: Harry Connick Junior during the signing, and Pink Martini as we filed out for photos on the stairs. Back aboard THE LOVE BUS, and off to…

That civil partnership ceremony, then. (Part 1)

I was going to leave this one more day – but since K is downstairs watching some potentially grisly programme about Pooches In Peril (as it could be professionally necessary for him to have an opinion about it tomorrow), I find myself back upstairs in the study, glass of chilled Chiroubles to my right, Ian Dury’s 1979 Do It Yourself album downloading in the background, with forty-five minutes or so to bash something out on the subject of last Friday’s civil partnership ceremony.

It was fascinating to compare our friends J & M’s approach to the day – basically a full-scale gay wedding, attended by a full compliment of relatives/friends/colleagues, followed by a sit-down meal, speeches and an evening party – with our own brutally pared-down approach from two years ago. After all, there once was a time when I might have scoffed at what I perceived as an awkward aping of an institution which, as far as I was concerned, the hetties were welcome to keep. (Residual internalised homophobia? Yeah, maybe in part. Who knows. Bit complicated. Let’s not.)

Faced with the reality – two old and dear friends, pledging themselves publicly to the people closest to them, with utter sincerity and no small measure of emotion – all lingering trace elements of doubt melted away for good. Why, even the hard-bitten attitude boys in the corner were bawling their eyes out in the council chamber of Lambeth Town Hall, along with the mothers and cousins and nieces – and even the nice woman who got up to read the Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, whose sharp, convulsed sobs somehow fell in line with the metre, further accentuating the poet’s message.

Had we done the right thing ourselves, K and I wondered, briefly. Oh, but remember: we weren’t to know about the tectonic shifts that were to engulf us within a month of our ceremony (or rather the witnessed signing of a form, followed by a quick drink, a meal for ten and a week in the Maldives), as the sudden loss of K’s beautiful sister re-mapped his entire relationship with his family. Something which J and M have each come to know only too well for themselves over the past couple of years, as similar forced re-mapping exercises have brought them closer than ever to their own clans.

So, yes: maybe if it were now, we’d be more inclined towards the traditionally ceremonial. But there’s no “if” in life, as my dear old Granny used to say, approvingly quoting my late cousin Millicent, sage of the family.

We had begun the wedding weekend the night before at J and M’s place in Clapham: blinging it up on Cristal and Tiffanys cupcakes, just the four of us. K and I had been there right from the start, you see: offering the boys a bed for the weekend, the night after they copped off in some London bar and decided to elope for a couple of days, leaving respective ill-matched short-term boyfriends behind as they hopped on a train to the East Midlands. Exactly ten years ago next weekend, in fact.

“We feel like we’ve been with you every step of the way”, I wrote on the card. “Except for the having sex with each other bit, and the moving in together bit, and the having jobs in London bit…”

The following morning was spent at leisure at the Windmill on Clapham Common, where a discounted block booking had been arranged: lingering over a crap breakfast (the only slight downside to an otherwise spot-on stay), re-ironing the shirts, twiddling around with accessories – and in my case, experimenting with a hair dryer after a long lay-off. (Major revelation. Blow dries give sheen, body and bounce, and I’d do well to remember it now that the cut is a little longer.)

Stepping out of the room – bouffed coiff, lenses in for once, booted and suited in that hot Paul Smith number with the dusky pink chalk stripe that I bought in Manchester for the funeral – I felt more attractive than I had done in months. Over by the specially hired Routemaster, waiting on the Common with the tasteful white ribbon, I could swear that one of the attitude boys was surreptitiously eyeing me. From a distance, at least. Forty-six, still look hot in a suit, not bad!


There’ll be radio silence on Troubled Diva for the next couple of days, as K and I will be in London, helping our two dear old friends celebrate their formal civil partnership ceremony.

The happy couple stayed with us on the first weekend they got together, almost exactly ten years ago, so it feels like we’ve been with them every step of the way. (Apart from the having sex together bit, and the moving in together bit, and the having jobs in London bit. But you know what I’m getting at.)

Tomorrow’s celebrations are made all the more significant by the fact that this is the first civil partnership ceremony that I will have attended, other than our own. (K attended another, but I was working in China at the time. I did the CDs for that one, as well.)

At long bloody last! It’s a DWEAM CUM TWOO!

(They’ve just booked a DJ, by the way. Well, I suppose the lovingly compiled CDs might come in handy as backup…)

Curvy balls.

It has just been pointed out to me (by my diagonally opposite colleague JP, always a scarily accurate barometer of such things) that I have used the word “curveball” on no fewer than four occasions today.

“Curveball? Crikey, has that become my mot du jour?”

Five times.”

And that’s not even counting the time I used it down the phone. To Will Young, as it happens. (I only mention this because it’s relevant to the plot, and not because I am trying to shoehorn a gratuitous namedrop.)

“So, Will: from the tracks I’ve heard on the sampler, this is fairly and squarely a mainstream pop/soul album. Are there any surprises on there? Have you thrown any curveballs?”

(The answer is: yes, he has brought in dance production team The Freemasons for one track. Radical.)

There has been more than the usual interest in my little chat-ette with Will, I must say. Even from our cleaning lady (“I voted for him!”), who showed a degree of excitement not seen since the days of Rodney Bewes.

My increasingly metrosexual colleague who sits opposite (and has taken to greeting me each morning with a waspish comment on my hairdo and/or outfit) was all eager ears upon my return.

“So, how was Will?”


And him the company’s Compliance officer! Of all people, he should have known better.

(We got given special Compliance mousemats on Monday. CTRL ALT DELETE, BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR SEAT. I’ve a feeling that was one of mine. My breast is fair swelling with pride.)

Any second now, JP will meerkat over the divide and ask me if I’m blogging. It’s the keystroke volume that gives me away, apparently. If I’m blogging, I bash merry hell out of my keyboard. If I’m working, it’s light taps.

I told you he was scary.

Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008.

Was yesterday’s post pointless and inconsequential enough for you? I do hope so, because you’re not getting anything meatier from me today. But at least I have a pre-determined topic, and that topic is… party mix CDs.

There’s a downside to being known amongst my friends as The One Who Knows Loads About Music, and it’s a downside which usually manifests itself a few days before any private social gathering at which there might conceivably be dancing.

The phone call usually comes on the Wednesday. Striving for light, casual airiness, the caller will ask me how I am, and tell me how much they are looking forward to seeing me on Saturday night. Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, could I bring some music along?

“Er… well, a bit of everything really! Totally up to you! Just stuff that everyone can have a bit of a boogie to, basically! But don’t go to any trouble! Just two or three hours’ worth will do fine. Been meaning to ask you for ages!”

And with that, my heart sinks a little inside. No, I explain: I don’t have any home-made party mix CDs lying around. But don’t worry, I’ll knock something together. No, no problem at all.

People are always surprised that I don’t have these kinds of CDs lying around. That’s partly because I don’t get invited to many dancey parties any more; it’s an inevitable function of age. But even though we’re all getting older, the discs still date within a matter of months. You’ve always got to have a smattering of vaguely current stuff, or else it’s all a bit… depressing.

This is where friends can start to roll their eyes, as my habitual obsessive perfectionism looms into view. Trouble is, I can’t just pick up an old CD – and I can’t just burn an old iTunes playlist, either. Oh, I just can’t. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly – and besides, what if my music fails and nobody dances? After all, picking the right music for the right occasion is one of the few activities which I can actually do quite well.

And so it begins. K will see nothing of me for the rest of Wednesday evening, and indeed for the whole of Thursday evening, as I start selecting, ordering and editing. The first job is to try and work out what sort of people will be at the party. Ages, backgrounds, likely tastes. I’ll try and picture the room, and the people in it. Then I’ll start grabbing tracks and shoving them into a rough playing order. It’s the brainstorming part of the process, and I’ll work quickly, not wanting to break my concentration.

Having assembled the first draft, I’ll transfer the playlist to my iPod. There will already be far too many tracks, but I’ll worry about that later. During the following day – from the morning walk to work onwards – I’ll have the iPod clamped to my ear, working through the party music in sequence, making mental notes as to what works and what doesn’t. This is the point in the process where the optimistically experimental stuff (i.e. anything which isn’t a huge, obvious hit) gets eliminated.

That evening, I’ll refine the playlist and pull all the contents into my mixing software. What, did you really think I’d just burn the full length tracks, with all those potentially buzz-killing slow intros, long fades and inter-track silences? Nuh-uh. Those track-to-track transitions are the most important moments of any CD, and I’ll jiggle around with the sound wave graphs and volume levels until every element is split-second perfect. The trick is not to allow anyone the option of stopping, looking around the room, and deciding whether or not to carry on. Wherever possible, the successful compiler must deny them that option.

However, none of this can mask the awful, underlying knowledge that in reality… on the night… at least eight times out of ten… those CDs WILL FAIL.

Firstly, there’s the simple psychology of the situation. Without the physical, conductor-like presence of an actual DJ in the room, there’s no focus of attention, and no tangible invitation to dance.

Secondly, there’s no way that any pre-sequenced CD can anticipate the mood of the crowd on the night. Again, it’s psychological: the successful DJ will read the mood and choose accordingly, usually by surreptitiously focussing on a few select “taste makers” and playing to them directly. If you can get the taste makers moving, the rest will follow. It was twenty years ago, but I still remember this clearly.

Finally, there’s virtually no chance that each CD will be played in full, from start to finish, and in the correct sequence of discs. Some well-meaning but pissed-up, unrepresentative, domineering smart aleck will always mooch up to the sound system and change the disc – usually at the precise moment when the buzz has just showed signs of beginning to build. And of course, it’s always my job (“Could you look after the CDs for me, Mike?“) to get things back on track. Battle of wills. Once the spell has been broken, more party-goers with equal and opposite tastes will pitch in. And once anarchy has broken out, you’ll never quite pull back from it. Unless you have the sort of Natural Authority which I lack.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s because I’m just coming to the end of the assembly process for a little three-disc set that I am christening Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008. The do in question takes place in London this Friday – although to be fair, I did receive the call last week.

“Oh, sure! Because the CDs I burnt for your engagement party were such a success!”

“Yeah, but… well, OK, no-one danced to them then, but we’ve been loving them ever since! Don’t spend too long doing them, will you? Just a couple of hours will be fine! Or if you’ve already got something lying around…?”

I live in hope. I live in hope.

(But seriously: congratulations in advance for Friday, guys. Looking forward loads to seeing you, and sharing in your celebrations. The dancing is but a detail.)

Update: That playlist in full.


New mantra: “Even if I have nothing to write about, I should still write it anyway.”

Gosh, this does still feel a little strange. Still, at least I’ve opened the “Create Post” window, which is further than I usually get…

I got proper, proper drunk on Saturday night, for the first time this year (and that includes spending a weekend in Amsterdam trying to keep pace with Reluctant Nomad, whose boozing capacity borders on the biologically freakish).

Not Falling Over And Puking Drunk, admittedly (hello, I am FORTY-SIX, and hence not completely devoid of Life Lessons learnt the hard way), but the sadly more age-appropriate Bellowing Along To Neil Diamond At Glastonbury At Three In The Morning After Everyone Else Has Gone To Bed variation.

In mitigation, we had Young People staying with us. Well OK, a married couple in their thirties with an eight-month daughter in tow who had already retired for the night, but it was as if their mere presence on the premises had ignited my tippling touch-paper. (Gratuitous forced alliteration, how I have missed thee…)

This turned yesterday into something of a trial, as I emerged blinking into the daylight almost four hours behind our guests, who had been bouncing around since half past parent o’clock. Kindly disregard what was said in last week’s MEEM about being the “perfect host”; clearly this was blatant self-embiggening bollocks. Never has a breakfast table been cleared so slowly or grudgefully. (Our guests were baby-dandling in the garden by then, so I think I might have got away with it. But only just.)

No sooner was the last egg cup loaded into the dishwasher, than the call went up to Get Your Shoes On, We’re Walking To The Pub. Not the village pub, but the Unspoilt Period Charm, Oh You’ll Love It, Such A Special Place gaff in one of the neighbouring villages, seventy-five minutes’ walk away. When we got there, I could barely touch my shandy. (Note to self: shandies are still rubbish, and K is a bit weird for getting back into them.)

The guests left. We waved, smiled, shut the door, and slumped within seconds. K went for a little lie down, and I shuffled round in a zero-concentration-span daze. Hell, even the large type “funny” pages in the middle of Private Eye were too much of a stretch. The sun came back out; I hacked grumpily at the geraniums. (The giant pink hedge is past its best, but good for a few more rounds before we start getting drastic.)

Early-ish night, slow 7:30 start. I’m a monosyllabic sonambulent grouchbag on the best of Monday mornings, but this week’s decamping exercise drew on all my reserves. Yup, it’s a two-dayer all right.

Self-pitying hangovers and hastily hacked free-form extemporisations: it really is 2003 all over again, isn’t it?

Ring-fencing the freelance stuff.

I was toying with the idea of moving the freelance reprints to a sub-domain, as their more hem-hem “professional” tone sits badly alongside the more informal personal blog posts. But then I thought: sheesh, why make things more difficult for people? So I’m going to revert to the earlier concept of Freelance Fridays, saving any gig reviews from earlier in the week until then.

Looking at my events calendar for the rest of 2008, I can already promise you heaps and heaps of gig reviews. Here’s the current list of forthcoming attractions:

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Congregation
Modey Lemon
The Dodos, Euros Childs
Spiers and Boden
The Ting Tings
Heavy Trash
The Hold Steady
Hot Club De Paris
Seasick Steve
Holy Fuck
Elbow (Leicester)
Vampire Weekend (Sheffield)
The Temptations
Fleet Foxes
The Kills
Scouting For Girls (oh, the perils of having a 13-year old niece!)
Show Of Hands
Will Young
The Human League, ABC, Heaven 17

There will also be interviews with Phil Oakey from The Human League, Otis Williams from The Temptations, Will Young (which looks like being a rare face-to-face job… as it were… eek!), hopefully The Hold Steady – and doubtless several more, once the summer lull is over.

That’s if I don’t get all arsey and refuse them all. Just yesterday, I sniffily turned my nose up at some WWF dude, Justin Hayward or John Lodge from the Moody Blues, and The ALL! NEW! LEGALLY RECOGNISED AT GREAT EXPENSE, SO DON’T EVEN TRY IT! Drifters, none of whose members were even in the group before 2008.

During my mini-break, I also wrote a preview piece for Nottingham Pride, in which I attempted to explain the continuing need for gay pride festivals.

I was also scheduled to interview Rufus Wainwright – but agonisingly, I had to pull out with just twenty minutes to spare, on account of being dragged into a Very Important Conference Call (in the course of which I spoke just one word, that word being “Hello”). However, Simon at the Post (his blog is here) stepped into the breach at almost no notice, and was kind enough to ask Rufus nearly all my pre-prepared questions. (Also crediting me on the finished article with “interview research”. He really does look after me awfully well. I am blessed.)

Anyhow, if you’d like to read my sort-of interview-by-proxy with Rufus Wainwright, please click thisaway.

And while I’m here: apologies for yesterday’s lack of posting, which was not exactly the best way to demonstrate that I have Turned Over A New Leaf, but then I was too busy dealing with the emotional fall-out arising from our being Named and Shamed on the village blog.

In the meantime, I’m still commenting regularly on Tom Ewing’s superb Popular blog over at Freaky Trigger, which has now reached the second half of 1978. I know that Tom would love it if more people contributed to his comments sections – so if you enjoyed pitching in on this year’s Which Decade Is Tops For Pops, then this might be the place for you. (We do disappear up our own fundaments at times, but please don’t let that put you off.)

Finish This Sentence.

Ooh, MEEM. Perfectly timed for the new bash-it-out-regardless regime, say I.

(This came from Cliff.}

1. My uncle once: blew up aeroplanes (legally), to see what would happen to the luggage.

2. Never in my life: have I even got as far as First Base with a lady.

3. When I was five: I wrote my first short story, a simple ode to independent enterprise called The Egg Chick.

4. High school was: a cruel, loveless environment for a sensitive, mixed-up kid like me, and I bore the scars for years (and still do, a little bit).

5. I will never forget: the (very long) name of that mountain in New Zealand, as recited by Quantum Jump at the start of their 1979 hit “The Lone Ranger”.

6. Once I met: Miss Rotherham Advertiser 1981.

7. There’s this girl I know: who’s bright, and sharp, and funny, and interested in the world around her, and irrepressibly, infectiously positive in her outlook – and I can’t wait to see what she does with her life, because I suspect she’ll do a lot.

8. Once, at a bar: a stripped-off stripper coaxed me into stroking his freshly oiled torso – the error of which I only realised once he’d moved on, leaving my hands rancid with thick, noxious gloop.

9. By noon, I’m usually: just about coming into full mental focus.

10. Last night: I went to a twenty-first birthday party, where the birthday boy socially engineered me into sitting on the Young People’s Table – which was initially nerve-wracking but ultimately great, as the Young People that I talked to were ace and I had some of the most stimulating conversations that I’ve had in a long, long time (it’s tough restricting some of these answers to a single sentence, innit?).

11. If only I had: more confidence in my abilities.

12. Next time I go to church: it will be to show someone the truly beautiful new stained glass window that was installed in June.

13. What worries me most: are self-invented and illusory projections of doom, which prevent me from getting things done.

14. When I turn my head left I see: a nice pregnant lady.

15. When I turn my head right I see: a recently vacated desk (she’s buggered off to Bournemouth).

16. You know I’m lying when: hell freezes over, as I’m congenitally incapable of lying (exaggerations, half-truths and strategic omissions are as close as I can get).

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: the weekly music press.

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: something flighty and pouffy, like Puck.

19. By this time next year: K’s life will be a whole lot better, you mark my words.

20. A better name for me would be: Doubled Trivia, as an ex-blogger waggishly dubbed me in the early days.

21. I have a hard time understanding: what you’re saying, unless I can see your lips move (so maybe it’s time to recharge the stopper bottle with olive oil).

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: make sure it’s during the holidays, when no one’s around.

23. You know I like you if: I can talk freely in your company.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: the person who gave me the award, like DUH.

25. Take my advice, never: ring-fence your tastes.

26. My ideal breakfast is: a freshly baked buttery croissant, followed by scrambled egg with smoked salmon.

27. A song I love but do not have is: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, by Elton John and Kiki Dee (I had to think for a long time about this one).

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: visit the market.

29. Why won’t people: do as they would be done by?

30. If you spend a night at my house: you’ll be glad you did, as we’re bloody good hosts and the guest facilities are, frankly, gorgeous.

31. I’d stop my wedding for: all eternity, as I’m already civil partnered and have absolutely zero desire for an upgrade.

32. The world could do without: wasps (please note lower case, as I have no wish for self-extinction).

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: jump in the deep end, or drive down a motorway.

34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: Kevin Ayers in the early 1970s, Deborah Harry in the late 1970s.

35. Paper clips are more useful than: protractors and set squares.

36. If I do anything well it’s: unlikely that I’ll keep quiet about it, as I’m a boastful little sod.

37. I can’t help but: worry that my revisions won’t show up on the RSS feed.

38. I usually cry: during Desert Island Discs, at the end of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and when the housemates get their messages from home on Big Brother.

39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: if you’re good at something and you enjoy it, then stick with it.

40. And by the way: you’re beautiful, did anyone ever tell you that?

I’m tagging: Reluctant Nomad, who hasn’t blogged since May 2007 (and if I can come out of mothballs, then so can he).

Nobody reads weblogs in August…

…which makes it an ideal time to dip my toe back in the water, of course. (Hell, do I even have any readers left?)

I’ll spare you the bulk of the navel-gazing – but oh, my darlings, I have been blog-blocked for The. Longest. Time. (Maybe I still am. We shall see.) It’s been a Misplaced Paradigm thing, I think.

This place used to be a hit-and-run, don’t-look-back, bash-it-out-in-your-coffee break kind of enterprise – in intent, if not always in execution. (I’m often at my most productive when expectations are set at their lowest. It’s a simple sleight of hand, and I can be good at self-sleighting.) But then, that’s how blogs were, back in the day. Then the (perceived) paradigm shifted, and deftly crafted, neatly turned, on-topic, stylistically consistent, passively-aggressively careerist (I don’t altogether mean that, but let it stand) essaylets became the norm. And so began the (almost wholly imagined) peer pressure.

And then the freelancing thing came along, and with it the imperative of discipline. Word counts; neutrality; taking the “I” out of everything. Which, once you’ve mastered the processs, can cast an unattractive back-shadow over what you have come to see as your juvenalia.

Except – and I only realised this the other day, when necessity sent me back to an archived piece from 2002 – the juvenalia wasn’t really all that juvenile after all.

In fact, now that I can view it from a reasonably objective distance, some of it was really quite, you know, good. And that made me sad. Sad for what had been lost.

So I’m stepping back into the saddle, but hopefully on my own terms. Jeez, it’s a freaking blog!