“Pretentious twat.”

Such was the verdict of the esteemed Nottingham Evening Post commentariat, shortly after a shortened version of my “emotional journey” piece appeared on its website this morning. (The same piece is in today’s print edition, complete with a nice photo taken by K and a bloody awful photo which I don’t recall seeing before. I’m all chin! Eww!)

“Bring it on, Philistines”, I smirked, eagerly awaiting a torrent of similarly pungent insights throughout the course of the day. But alas, it was not to be. Well, it would have been tricky to insert the usual “Zanu-Labour”/”we pay enough council tax“/”Bottler Brown’s broken Britain” rants into a piece about a prancing poof on a plinth, even for the most zealously committed of regular commenters.

All of which gives me a handy excuse to wrap up this bumper month of plinthage with a couple more links. Adrian Sevitz has a cute little video of a bunch of impromptu “fan dancers”, paying their own twisted form of homage at the foot of the plinth last Thursday – and my official portrait artist Lucy Pepper (see graphic in top right corner) has immortalised my hour with a lovely drawing, attached to a post that seems to place me as some sort of poster boy for Generation X. (I see myself more as nestling within the Baby Boomer/Gen X cusp, but I’ll take my compliments as I find them.)

Another footnote. Having repaired to the Ship And Shovel for a post-plinth drink with friends and family, we found ourselves sharing boozing space with the presenters and crew of Channel 4’s Time Team. On my descent to the toilets, I found myself just behind one of the presenters, Phil Harding, who was being accosted by an enthusiatic fan.

“It’s Mr Harding, isn’t it?”

(Gruffly) “Yes.”

“Oh, could you tell me, are any of the episodes of Time Team available on DVD?”

(Even more gruffly) “I AM GOING. FOR A SLASH.”

“Oh, well, can I ask you about it when you come out?”

* SLAM *

He left the pub pretty sharpish after that. Fame, who’d have it?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re off for a beer in Beeston with Buni and his bloke. Please pray for my safe return. (As older readers might remember, I have a healthy suspicion of Nottingham’s academia ghetto, as friends have had a habit of moving there and never being seen again. This archived piece from Troubled Diva’s Golden Age will make everything clear.)
Continue reading ““Pretentious twat.””

Mike on the fourth plinth: an emotional journey in twenty stages.

0:00 Stuck In The Middle With You – Stealers Wheel

Over and above the general worry of making an utter arse of myself in public, I had two more specific worries: vertigo and exhaustion. Regarding the vertigo, I was given some sound advice in the One and Other project office, during my 90-minute induction period.

“When you get up there, your body becomes part of the plinth. So take a moment to ground yourself, as you feel the body of the plinth rising up through you.”

Ascending via the cherry picker, we rose high above the plinth before dropping back down to dock. No longer being as high as I was a few moments earlier, I felt calmed and reassured by the process.

Although my 60-minute mix had been conceived more as a private ritual than a crowd-pleasing performance, I had elected to bookend it with tracks that would directly address the viewers. So if you synch the video with the audio, you’ll see something of a mime act take place:

“I don’t know why I came here tonight. I’ve got a feeling that something ain’t right. I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair. I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs. Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you. And I’m wondering what it is I should do…”

The best way to pre-empt the possibility of vertigo, I had decided, was jokingly to call attention to it – hence also my choice of T-shirt.

For the entire duration of my hour on the plinth, I never felt so much as a twinge of fear. In the face of such a powerful motivation to overcome it, I had successfully stared it down. As someone who is habitually ruled by fear, to an extent that can sometimes be unhealthily debilitating, this was an immediate and powerful lesson to learn.

1:18 I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ – Scissor Sisters

Burlesque over, the dancing began. It was truly heartening to see so many supporters in the square – old friends, long-lost friends, people I had met through blogging and tweeting and message-boarding (Adrian, Alex, Brian, Chris, Dave, Luca, Matt, Meg, Steve, Rachel…), people I had never met offline before, my sister, my mother, my cousin, my partner – looking up and beaming and waving and (mostly) jiggling around with me. It helped me get over the initial hump, as we all locked together into the Scissor Sisters’ familiar, welcoming, easily mid-paced bump-and-groove.

4:40 Just Dance – Lady GaGa

In earlier versions of the mix, I had started with low-slung 1970s funk: James Brown, Lyn Collins, Hamilton Bohannon. It would have been too cautious and too low-key a start. Instead, I wanted to celebrate the pop music of 2009: a period which, as I keep saying to anyone who will listen, has been the strongest for the UK singles charts in many, many years.

7:40 Bulletproof – La Roux

Perhaps it’s because pop music tends to respond to recessions by cheering up and putting on its brightest clothes. (Think of glam-rock in 1973, or synth-pop in 1981, or the rave music which charted around 1991-92.) Or perhaps it’s because pop music tends to drop a generation at the end of each decade, rejuvenating itself in the process. Or maybe it’s just because acts like La Roux are overtly drawing inspiration from my generation’s own Golden Age, and I’m merely trying to dress up my prejudices with bolted-on, after-the-fact theories?

10:57 Remedy – Little Boots

Not that any of this really matters, in the face of such patently glorious pop records as “Remedy”: co-written and produced by Lady GaGa’s go-to guy (who is also all over the forthcoming album from Alexandra Burke).

“No more poison, killing my emotion. I will not be frozen. Dancing is my remedy.”

During the song’s middle eight, a couple of members of the One and Other video production crew jumped out of their first floor cubby hole and started jiggling along with me, fingers suitably arranged in my trademark “pointy” position. (You can see it on the video stream, at the 13:43 mark.)

Watching the archived stream a day later, with the audio stream synched to within less than a second, I was struck by how well the camera crew had matched their images up to the music, often switching shots precisely at the end of a particular musical section. I already knew that they were going to stream the audio in the office; this both confirmed and amplified it.

14:10 When Love Takes Over – David Guetta ft. Kelly Rowland

Meanwhile, down in the square, I could see clumps of spectators dancing along – in perfect step – without the aid of headphones. Piss-take or tribute? It was immaterial. They were all smiling, and I decided that they were all smiling the right kinds of smiles.

17:15 Diva – Dana International

My mouth had become bone dry. Although I held out for as long as I could – not wanting to disrupt the flow for a second – a water bottle break had become imperative. I knelt down to glug – then carefully replaced the bottle, so that it continued to rest on top of the URL-revealing laminate that I had brandished at the top of the hour.

The break came just in time for the inevitable – and wholly necessary – Salute to the Magic of Eurovision. Eleven years ago, Dana International’s “Diva” won the contest in Birmingham. It was the first year that I had attended the contest in person, and as such it marked a significant ramping up of my Fanboy Love. My first print-published piece of music writing (for Time Out London in 2005) was Eurovision-related, and my highest profile piece of music writing to date (for The Guardian in 2009) was also Eurovision-related.

So the ESC had to be represented – and in what better way, other than by combining it with a none-too-subtle re-inforcement of my personal blogging brand? Arms-aloft, V-for-VIVA shape-throwing duly followed.

20:14 He’s On The Phone (Motiv8 Mix) – Saint Etienne

As the mix entered its Nineties Dance Anthem phase, I found myself addressing the camera, in an attempt to place “He’s On The Phone” in its proper context. Along with Tatjana’s “Santa Maria”, this evokes powerful memories of dancing on the stage of Love Muscle at the Brixton Fridge, somewhere between the giddy summer of 1995 and the messy pinnacle of debauchery that was 1997.

As on the stage, so on the plinth. Once a podium dancer, always a podium dancer.

23:30 Waterfall – Atlantic Ocean

I could have added any number of boshing Trade anthems – the closest contender being Tony De Vit’s era-defining 1997 remix of “Give Me Love” by Diddy – but the comparatively smooth and subtle “Waterfall” reminds me of my wide-eyed honeymoon period, before the mania set in and the five-year Lost Weekend kicked off in earnest.

As this played out, I found myself dancing in a different way: blotting out the square, half-hypnotising myself with flurrying hands and fingers, entirely lost in my own little world, re-capturing that sense of blissful oblivion.

At an earlier point in the track, I looked up and caught the eye of two strangers: a young man and a young woman, unequipped with headphones, who were dancing like dervishes. We exchanged a look, a grin, a wave – before I hurriedly swung back into myself, suddenly remembering all those spurious dancefloor communions, those chemically induced new-best-friendships, and the shaky foundations on which they were built. Half-smiling at the symbolism, I shook my head and dug deeper.

25:19 Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys

Five years on from the honeymoon, the hangover kicked in. One Saturday night in Heaven, somewhere in the middle of the annus horribilis that was 1999, “Always On My Mind” was dropped from nowhere, quite out of context with the rest of that night’s set. It was the record that brought me to my senses.

This was the toughest track to dance to. I started it solemnly, regretfully, almost mournfully. I finished it wreathed in smiles. Bang on one of the final hooks, I caught his eye and blew him a kiss.

29:01 Lola’s Theme – Shapeshifters

Just under halfway through, the mix entered its more subdued, more reflective phase. My moves felt less extroverted, more measured, perhaps a little more fluid. I spent longer on the largely unpopulated Nelson’s Column side of the plinth, my back turned from the crowd of friends and strangers. Over on the Nelson’s Column side, I felt calmer. I felt as if I had the whole square to myself. Just me, the square, the music, the dancing. It almost felt like my private hideaway.

31:12 In The Name Of Love – Sharon Redd

I admired the buildings on the south side of the square. I took in the full height of the column, then dipped my gaze down towards the giant chess set – still under construction – with its blingy, overly ornate pieces. Ahead of me and below, a smartly dressed upper-middle class couple in their late fifties hurried through the square, arm in arm, on their way to an evening of… high culture? fine dining? They glanced up, for no more than a second or two. Visibly wincing at the vulgarity of the spectacle, they held each other tighter and picked up their pace. They reminded me of the similarly aged and attired couple in the Hayward Gallery, who impatiently bustled up to – and almost immediately away from – Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles, all haughty pre-conceptions intact.

33:39 Where Love Lives – Alison Limerick

A open-topped tourist bus passed down the western side of the square, two lone passengers on its top deck. We exchanged friendly waves. A while later, a white stretch limo with blacked-out windows gave me a cheerful hoot. I hadn’t planned to wave at anybody or anything, but the odd fleeting nod to the outside world felt fair enough.

35:24 The Best Things In Life Are Free – Luther Vandross & Janet Jackson

A extended beat-mix ran Luther’s “hey-ey-eys” over the first breakdown in Alison’s track, before the introductory piano riff of “The Best Things In Life Are Free” signalled another shift in gear, snapping me back into full-on celebratory mode once again. The synchronised headphone-dancing flashmob had reduced to a hard core of three: Luca, Rob and my sister, with most of the others chatting, mingling and generally enjoying the scene.

(Oh, and how was my mother doing? Still there, still watching, still smiling. Good stuff.)

Meanwhile, in front of computer screens from Amsterdam and Portugal to San Francisco and Montreal, a hidden horde of groovers danced along in privacy, tweeting as they did so. Somewhere in France, a well-wisher managed ten minutes of boogying, courtesy of the free Wi-Fi in his local McDonalds, before being thrown out by the manager.

“I’m a different person – turned my world around.” December 2004, bopping with Buni at NG1, pissed as a fart, tears streaming down my face.

Time to rejoin the party.

38:58 You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) – Sylvester

As the opening bars of Sylvester’s disco classic rose up to meet the rap breakdown in the middle of Luther and Janet’s track, so the beats per minute rose by nine points in a matter of seconds. For me, the effect was galvanising and re-energising. My dancing felt different again. More bump, more grind, more rump, more pump. Sexy Time.

Oh, and the whooping! I didn’t know there was going to be whooping! But if it feels good: do it.

42:27 If It Feels Good, Do It – Della Reese

A water break, and a deceptive dip in tempo, before Della’s chorus unleashed my inner beast.

“I don’t care what people say; I’m gonna do it anyway. As long as it don’t hurt me and you, I’m gonna do what I want to do.”

Do it – WHOOP!
Do it – WHOOP!
Do it – WHOOP!
Do it – WHOOP!

Red faced, defiant, declaiming like a crazed preacher man. Swept up in the moment. Liberated. Totally and utterly letting go.

45:28 The Only Way Is Up – Otis Clay

To camera now: “This isn’t Yazz. It’s better than Yazz.” The 1976 original on which the 1988 chart topper was based, which first came to my attention on a 2004 Coldcut Life:Styles compilation.

“Boy, I wanna thank you for loving me this way. Things may be a little hard now, but we’ll find a brighter day.”

Two tracks behind on the mix, his Blackberry auto-paused by incoming calls from his mum and dad struggling with the technology, K smiles and waves back.

49:37 You’re The First, The Last, My Everything – Barry White

One of my sister’s favourites. (“This one’s for you.”) A wedding disco perennial, a calculated crowd-pleaser. The home stretch.

52:47 Xanadu – Olivia Newton-John & Electric Light Orchestra

Suggested by Nigel Invisible Stranger on Facebook, voted for in the comments box. The readers’ choice. (“What a strange bunch you are.”) Fond memories of Duckie at the RVT. Camp as tits, with a swooning climax that saw me sinking to my knees…

56:10 Together In Electric Dreams – Giorgio Moroder & Phil Oakey

…before theatrically rising back up again, signalling my appreciation to the fan club, and closing the mix with a tribute to their support: not just now, but right back through the blogging era.

“Though you’re miles and miles away, I see you every day. I dont have to try; I just close my eyes. We`ll always be together, however far it seems. We`ll always be together, together in electric dreams.”

The absolute highlight of my day at this year’s V Festival in Weston Park, where a packed tent – comprised mostly of people less than half the age of the performers on stage – showered the Human League with love, bellowing along at full throttle. More happy tears, and a sudden realisation that this HAD to end the mix.

Behind me, the cherry picker was drawing ever closer. But there HAD to be time for that all-important second verse, and I wasn’t about to be cut off in my scarlet-faced, vein-popping prime. (Exhaustion, what was that? At this stage, I still had enough energy to keep me going for a second hour.)

“Because the friendship that you gave has taught me to be brave, no matter where I go I’ll never find a better prize…”

As the League girls reprised the last four words, I turned to face the cherry picker at the precise moment that it docked on top of my water bottle: squashing it flat, spurting a thick jet of water right between my legs, soaking my crotch and causing me to jump back in startled amusement. Slapstick Comedy Gold.

Perhaps life’s best prizes are those which can’t be planned for. All of the wonderful things that have happened to me in the past ten years: I didn’t ask for any of them. Somehow, and fuck knows how, they just… happened.

Having my hour on Antony Gormley’s plinth – to dance, and share, and smile, and entertain, and create, and meditate, and celebrate, and connect, and let go, and be fully, fully myself – has been the most incredible privilege. It has made me think, very deeply, about the nature of art. It has caused me to re-examine my sense of self, and my place in the world, in a fresh light. It has challenged me, and shown me that fear can always be overcome.

It has been the Best. Fun. Ever. And I will always treasure its memory.

Pointy fingers and Jazz Hands.

On the basis that a picture paints a thousand words, and mindful of the fact that the thousand words are going to have to wait until tomorrow…


(Honestly, I had NO IDEA that I did the “pointy fingers” thing. We live and learn.)

Thanks to everyone who came along to Trafalgar Square, or who watched the proceedings via the web stream, and also to everyone who has left so many lovely comments in various places.

In short: I had THE MOST FANTASTIC, AMAZING, INCREDIBLE, elevating, elating, transformative experience. I’ll try and expand on that tomorrow!

In the meantime: here’s the archived footage, which should be watched in tandem with the streaming audio mix.

plinth-playlist

Word to the wise: if you find (as I did) that the audio mix lags slightly behind the video stream, just pause and immediately un-pause the video stream. And can I also draw your attention to the green square with the white square inside, to the bottom right of the video window? If you press it, then you’ll get a full-screen version of the video.

If you’d rather not watch the full hour – and really, that’s absolutely fine – then can I suggest that you fast-forward to the final minute, which contains an unplanned moment of pure Comedy Gold.

K’s photos of the event can be found in slideshow form here, or as individual photos here.

My friend Angus has taken some truly fantastic shots, which can be found here. Click on “slideshow”, and then click on “fast”.

I also enjoyed Caroline’s photos, turnesoleil’s photos and videos, Luca’s photos, and the shots of asta grooving along at home.

More words and fewer pictures tomorrow.

The plinthing hour approaches…

…and, inevitably, the stomach butterflies have started. Looking at today’s schedule, I’m sandwiched between “anonymous_137” and “Henri”, about whom little is known. Thanks to all of you who have blogged and tweeted about the event, and to those who have left pledges and comments on my profile, and to everybody who will be coming along to the square or watching the live stream at 6pm. I’ll try to make you proud!

Although I intend to have The Most Fun Ever, I’m also – underneath it all – deadly serious about all of this, from an “artistic” standpoint. I’ve put a lot of thought into the song choices, many of which have strong personal associations and resonances. It’s a controlled experiment: an attempt to channel an emotion and share an experience. It might work exactly as intended, or it might work in ways that I hadn’t expected, or it might not work at all. Only one way to find out, eh?

I’ll be officially offline from lunchtime until Friday evening, aside from occasional quick peeks via K’s Blackberry. K is coming with me, and he’ll be on official “where are we up to in the mix?” duty in the Square – so if you’re arriving later than 6pm, he’ll be happy to show you where to catch up.

Hooray for Art! Hooray for Dancing! Hooray for Making a Twerp of Yourself In Public!
I’ll see you on the other side.

Mike on the plinth: the bare essentials, summarised.

(This is for the benefit of less regular visitors to this site. Everyone else can skip it, if they’re already up to speed.)

THE BARE ESSENTIALS.

I’ll be dancing on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square, tomorrow (Thursday) between 6pm and 7pm (UK time), as part of Antony Gormley’s “One & Other” project.

If you’d like to dance along with me – whether in the square itself, or sitting in front of the live web stream – then you’ll need a copy of my specially compiled mix.

(That’s because I’m doing the whole thing on headphones, not loud speakers.)

Here’s a link to the mix: tinyurl.com/plinthmix. You can either stream it from the web, or download it to your MP3 player.

Here’s a link to the live video stream, direct from Trafalgar Square: www.oneandother.co.uk.

At the start of my allotted hour, I’ll count you all down like this: “THREE – TWO – ONE – GO!” As soon as I say GO, press play on your copy of the mix.

(Technical note: I recommend having the mix cued up and paused, then starting it with the pause button. That way, there’s less of a time lag.)

At the end of the hour, we’ll be going for a drink in The Ship and Shovell, 1-3 Craven Passage, WC2N 5PH. Here’s a map. It’s about three minutes’ walk away. Do please come and join us.

OTHER, LESS ESSENTIAL STUFF.

Why am I dancing? Here’s an explanation.

Would you like more waffle with that? Here’s a longer explanation.

Here’s the Facebook event page. If you’re able to attend – in person or via the web – then please add your name to the guest list.

And if you’re otherwise engaged on the day, then the whole thing will be archived here.

Plinther with a one-track mind.

Since there’s no point pretending that anything else is going on inside my head this week, here is today’s Plinth Bulletin.

BONG. WARDROBE CRISIS SOLVED.

Until this morning, I had still been toying with the “smart suit” option. Then I remembered this T-shirt, buried in the unironed laundry pile (albeit a negative image thereof, with white graphics on a black background):

vertigo

(Did I ever mention, back when Troubled Diva was a byword for grisly TMI, that precipitous altitude has always made my testicles tingle, in a way that makes me feel like they’re about to liquify? Well, now you know. Is it just me who suffers from this unlikely side-effect, or is it a recognised syndrome, like sneezing when you think about sex?)

(Um, I also do this. Shall we move on?)

BONG. POST-PLINTH DRINKING VENUE ANNOUNCED.

Sourcing a pub where my 68 year-old mother and my “edgy”, “directional” London friends will feel equally at home, in an busy area of town, at a busy time of day, has been a challenge – but I think I’ve found somewhere that will do nicely.

The Ship & Shovell (one amusingly slipped consonant in front of my mother, and I’m a dead man) is situated at 1-3 Craven Passage, WC2N 5PH. It can be reached by turning down Craven Street (to the right of the Strand before you get to Charing Cross), and then hanging a left down a narrow alleyway. A couple of steps beyond the pub, and you’d be underneath the Arches below Charing Cross station (and in close proximity to a venue called “Heaven”, whatever that might be).

Here’s a map, and here are some photos. Note that there are two bars: one on either side of the alley. We’ll be in the larger bar. It doesn’t serve food in the evenings, but the beer looks good.

BONG. LIST OF ATTENDEES CONTINUES TO GROW.

As I’ve been going through the inevitable “nervous host before cocktail party” phase, it’s most comforting to hear from friends, readers, colleagues and relatives who will definitely be turning up, or streaming from afar. Facebook lists 28 definites and 19 maybes, and the download stats for the mix MP3 are already looking good. As participation is fundamental to the concept, this is all very welcome – and greatly appreciated.

BONG. MIKE “NERVOUS BUT OPTIMISTIC”, SOURCES REPORT.

K asked me tonight if I was nervous, and I suppose I am in several respects – but it’s a necessary (and hence almost comforting) nervousness, as opposed to pointless catastrophising. One thing that I will need to watch for is excessive playing to the gallery. While the first song and the last song have been explicitly chosen to make a connection with the dancers in the square, I’d like to spend most of the rest of the hour remaining true to the original brief: dancing with honesty, like there’s nobody watching. It’s Antony Bloody Gormley, not Britain’s Got Bloody Talent.

BONG. HELPFUL VISUAL AID WILL HELP “DRIVE TRAFFIC”, SAYS MIKE.

In my one concession to the concept of “props”, K has knocked me up a nice little laminate. This contains basic instructions for the start of the hour, most particularly the URL of the mix, which I can wave at the cameras before starting the music. This might help to bring a few more web-streamers on board.

BONG. (Oops, it’s midnight already. The rest can wait. A pledge is a pledge.)