Maundy Mopping-Up

I’m spending Easter writing essays for college and hoping a rather painful stomach ache goes away. Think it’s a return of the dreaded IBS, made worse by stress over the essays. Am hitting the peppermint capsules and hoping for the best.

Recent outings…

Saturday 31 March was another stint of DJ-ing for the Last Tuesday Society, at the Adam Street club off the Strand. After I’d finished I stuck around and caught a performance by an excellent African band, Kasai Masai. Their giddy, hypnotic music  fitted the atmosphere perfectly.

Sunday: tea in Highgate with Ella Lucas, then we both wandered into town, taking in the National Portrait Gallery and South Bank. I’d been reading Virginia Woolf – Icon by Brenda Silver (1999), which claimed Ms Woolf’s photo (this one) was the best selling postcard in the NPG shop. I ask the NPG staff whose postcard sells the most today. They’re not sure, but reckon it to be between Kate Moss, Prince William & Prince Harry, the Queen by Warhol, Lily Cole, and Darcey Bussell. Ms Woolf’s face still does well though – a Woolf-branded notebook has sold out.

Monday last was the launch of Richard King’s book about the story of British indie labels, How Soon Is Now. I was kindly invited by Richard himself, and I asked my old bandmate Simon Kehoe along (from the first Orlando line-up), seeing as he’d just moved to London and was looking for things to go to. Turns out Simon had been invited too –  he and Richard were once in the Bristol band Teenagers In Trouble during the 90s. Simon also brought another bandmate along, Kevin from The Foaming Beauties, whom I met for the first time. So at some point Simon managed to assemble representatives of all his past bands in the same room – and got a photo of all of us too.

Simon, Kevin and myself started the evening in Soho with drinks at the French House and dinner at the Stockpot (a deliberate attempt to have an Old Soho evening), before going on to the launch event at the Social in Fitzrovia. The launch included Bob Stanley DJ-ing, a chat about the nature of indie music between Messrs King and Stanley with Owen Hatherley, and a short but utterly fantastic acoustic set by Edwyn Collins, backed by James Walbourne and Andy Hackett. They performed dazzling versions of ‘Falling And Laughing’, ‘Rip It Up’, ‘A Girl Like You’ and ‘Blueboy’.

Chatted to Grace Maxwell (Edwyn Collins’s partner, whom I’ve met before when my brother Tom was playing for Edwyn) and Jeanette Lee (from Rough Trade, who signed Orlando to Warners, and was once in PiL). Bought a copy of the book from a lady who later turned out to be Louise Brealey, the actress who plays Molly From The Morgue on Sherlock. Just as well I didn’t realise this at the time, as I’d downed rather a lot of wine by this point and had reached that stage of solipsistic drunkenness which is just about acceptable for friends, but deeply tiresome for strangers. I realise now I must have annoyed Lee Brackstone from Faber Books too, which I’m rather shamefaced about (sorry, Mr B). Still, it was a rare event; a class reunion of a kind, and a celebration of past lives and passions.

Tom is currently playing guitar for Adam Ant in Australia (photo of him onstage in Perth here). So proud of him.


Some new works by other people worthy of greater exposure:

New albums:

CN Lester – Ashes (available here).
Stunning debut collection of haunting, late-night torch songs. I first saw the androgynous CN play at a Transgender Day Of Remembrance service, and am so pleased they’ve released  an album. Here’s to many more.

The Monochrome Set – Platinum Coils. (available here)
An unexpected, wonderful surprise; a brand new CD by the MS, their first since the mid 90s. Arch, crooning, twangy guitar pop, sounding just as fresh as their late 70s and early 80s records.

New books:

Richard King – How Soon is Now? The Madmen and Mavericks Who Made Independent Music 1975-2005. (Richard has a blog here)
As bought at the above launch. Satisfyingly doorstop-sized, engrossing account of the history of labels like Mute, Factory, Creation and Rough Trade. Focuses on tales of music and money (the lack of it, the making of it, the wasting of it) and the way indie labels and artists took on the mainstream, not always certain of what they were doing. The notorious appearance of the KLF at the Brit Awards being a case in point.

Jen Campbell – Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops (Jen’s blog is here). Jen C works at Ripping Yarns, the used and antiquarian bookshop down the road from me in Highgate. The book collects some of the strange requests and utterations that she’s heard, illustrated with line drawings which are also rather weird, in a sweet sort of way.

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Stop Throwing Stuff, Dude

Catching up…

Saturday November 20th.
To the Cruciform building in Gower Street for London’s Transgender Day Of Remembrance service. The main part of which is a reading of the names of people killed in transphobic attacks over the last twelve months. The list goes on and on and takes a good twenty minutes or so: most of them trans women from Brazil and Mexico. Roz Kaveney reads an excellent poem, and there’s three musical performances. The showtune-belting Mzz Kimberley sings ‘I’m A Tranny’ to the tune of Peggy Lee’s ‘I’m A Woman.’

There’s an interesting contrast between the other two singers: both are trans men (ie born female). Naechane Valentino sings soul-pop and says that since starting to take testosterone, he’s finding it harder to stay in key with his backing tracks. I hope he can get them transposed, pun not intended (which really means one enjoys the accidental pun and so leaves it in).

CN Lester, however, is a classical singer who has chosen to eschew testosterone in order to retain their trained mezzo-soprano voice. I think of the way choir boys’ careers end the moment their voice drops, while boy singers in pop music can carry on, like Michael Jackson. At the service, CN sings a heart-stopping version of Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’.

Two lessons in language learned from this day. One is that the slang term ‘tranny’ is increasingly considered offensive to trans people. Unless you are trans yourself using it in the spirit of reclamation – like Mzz Kimberley – it’s best avoided.

The other is that some trans people do not always – as I’d assumed – use the pronouns of the gender they identify as. Instead, they’d rather be described by the proposed genderless pronouns ‘zie’, ‘hir’ and ‘s/he’, or failing that, ‘they’. CN Lester is one.

Trouble is, mainstream English hasn’t yet evolved to accommodate such words, though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. There are a few genderless titles, like ‘doctor’ (and indeed CN Lester, being a PHD student, will soon be able to use it). But throwing ‘hir’ into a mainstream text without explanation can’t yet be done.

I’d love to be the kind of writer that helps to kick-start such changes, but here’s another problem – my own identity as a writer. I am a few steps behind the mainstream, being as I am fogeyish and fusty and arch, still using ‘lady’ when I should use ‘woman’, or ‘actress’ rather than ‘female actor’. This usage is part of my character, like my suit-wearing. And character is context.

I just hope that people realise this and do not mistake me for a default mainstream writer. Otherwise it’ll be like the time when I was asked by the hip literary venue The Book Club to take off my jacket and tie. It was clearly a policy aimed to keeping out City workers looking for a drink, but they didn’t realise that my suits are part of my dandyish look, my identity. I wondered if other suit-loving writers, say Tom Wolfe or Mark Twain, ever had the same problem. ‘Come back when you’ve got some skinny jeans on, Mr Twain!’

So, just as I cannot carry off jeans and trainers, I feel unable to join in with some popular changes in English usage. I’ve written before about my inability to use the word ‘shit’ to mean ‘stuff’ or ‘things’. That’s my hipster line drawn in the sand, right there. But I’m starting to feel like the only Englishman alive who doesn’t use it.

Three recent cases in point.

Paul Chambers, the ‘Twitter Joke Trial’ man, used it in the Tweet that saw him arrested: ‘You’ve got a week to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!’

Secondly, the video footage from the student protest at Millbank the other week. After the now-infamous fire extinguisher is seen dropped from the roof onto the police below, the protestors on the ground voice their disapproval instantly, by chanting to their colleagues on the roof, ‘STOP THROWING SHIT! STOP THROWING SHIT!’

Thirdly, David Cameron used the phrase ‘shit happens’ in a dinner speech last week, for the Spectator magazine.

All of which puts me in my increasingly old-fashioned place. When it comes to gender, politics and sexuality, I like to think I’m fairly progressive. But when it comes to language, I am more conservative than the chief Conservative.

I have a female friend who addresses everyone with the word ‘dude’. She’s British, and about 30. I once batted the term back at her in conversation, tongue very much in cheek, knowing full well how it’d sound on my lips. She nearly fell off her chair laughing.

Link: Video of CN Lester performing Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’

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