Wes Anderson, Saviour of Camp

Saturday 22nd March 2014. To the Phoenix in Cavendish Square for the 60s soul & indiepop club night How Does It Feel To Be Loved. It’s been going for nearly twelve years now, and I’ve been a guest DJ there once a year for quite a few of those years.

It’s flattering that Ian W keeps asking me back, as I’m not exactly a ‘name’ DJ. In fact, tonight I worry that my name might have the opposite effect. When I arrive at 10pm, one hour after it opens, he says I’m the first person through the doors. Thankfully a respectable amount of people eventually trickle in. I play records from 11.30 till about 1 am. Then I leave at about 2.30am, when Ian gently stops me from falling asleep in the corner of the DJ area. I’m not the all-nighter I used to be.

At my DJ stint there last year I was chatted up by a visibly intoxicated woman. I declined her advances, but for me the incident was so rare and so surprising that it topped up my self-esteem for months.  Tonight there is no repeat of the incident, but enough people dance to the records I play. So I feel ‘desired’ in that sense at least.

Fosca’s Rachel Stevenson and her partner David H are there tonight. I’m very happy to see them, after what must be years (previous HDIFs? the last Fosca gig?). Rachel S makes an anti-request: can I not play Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’ this time?

What I do play is lots of girl groups, including the Cookies song that The Smiths covered at their first gig but never recorded (there does exist, however, a brief audio clip from a 1982 rehearsal).

1. Broadcast – Before We Begin
2. Camera Obscura – The Sweetest Thing
3. Dressy Bessy – Just Like Henry
4. The Cookies – I Want A Boy For My Birthday
5. The Chiffons – He’s So Fine
6. The Honeys – He’s A Doll
7. The Ronettes – Baby I Love You
8. Velocette – Get Yourself Together
9. The Aislers Set – Hit The Snow
10. Frankie Valli – You’re Ready Now
11. The Angels – My Boyfriend’s Back
12. Spearmint – Sweeping The Nation
13. Belle and Sebastian – Women’s Realm
14. Morrissey – Sister I’m a Poet
15. The Chills – Heavenly Pop Hit
16. Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move
17. Shirley Bassey – Spinning Wheel
18. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Plan B
19. The Supremes – Come See About Me
20. Aztec Camera – Oblivious
21. Stereolab – French Disko
22. Camera Obscura – French Navy
23. The Smiths – Ask
24. The Shangri-La’s – Give Him A Great Big Kiss
25. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walking
26. Chairmen of the Board – Give Me Just A Little More Time
27. Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
28. Labelle – Lady Marmalade
29. Modern Lovers – Roadrunner
30. The Who – Substitute
31. Blondie – Dreaming
32. Sister Sledge – Thinking of You

When Ian plays ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ by The Byrds, I mishear one line as ‘There is a time for everything / And a time for breakfast.’

I’m reminded of another gem of a misheard lyric, related to me recently. It’s the opening line of Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’: ‘We’re courting a tramp.’

Ian W plays a new artist he’s keen on, Withered Hand. Sweet and pretty music, if a rather unattractive name. Still, once the music becomes known, a band name becomes meaningless.

* * *

Tuesday 25th March 2014. To the Hackney Picturehouse to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, the new film by Wes Anderson. Like Moonrise Kingdom and his other work it exists in its own strange and idealised bubble world, where everything is a treat for the eyes and people act in a quirky and unrealistic way.

It’s often the case that a comedy wants to be the audience’s friend. Just as stand-up comedy tries to connect with everyday observations, comedy films usually say ‘here are people just like you in funny situations’. There is none of that in Wes Anderson films, where the people are very much not like the audience – or indeed like any real person.  In Moonrise Kingdom, though, he managed to cut through this barrier by turning up the artifice to the point it became a kind of magical campness, while offsetting this with the poignancy of the two child actors.

Children cannot do camp. They’re still learning how to operate on a nominal level, let alone a knowing one. We are all born without irony, and only acquire it on the day we get the big cosmic joke – that the world isn’t made for us after all. Some of us bravely carry on as if we haven’t realised this joke, but I digress.

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, what makes the audience care is a combination of two things: Ralph Fiennes’s energetic and charismatic main character, and the device of nesting his tale within three outer frame stories. Like Shahrazad in the Arabian Nights, the tension of having to hold a frame story in one’s head increases the connection: we keep watching to see not just how Mr Fiennes’s story ends, but how the stories of Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson and the girl in the graveyard end too.

But what really intrigues me about the film is the way the Fiennes character is camp himself, in the aloof and sexually ambiguous sense. His discussion of a priceless stolen painting, ‘Boy With Apple’, is rather more Ronald Firbank than Allo Allo. The villainous Adrian Brody character, meanwhile, sees the flamboyant and perfume-obsessed Fiennes as something of a threat to masculinity de facto (see also David Tennant in the early 2000s BBC TV series Casanova).

If someone were to revise Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’ essay today (and by ‘someone’ I obviously mean ‘me’), they’d definitely have to include The Grand Budapest Hotel. And given the film is by no means a niche taste – it’s number one in the charts – perhaps Wes Anderson has become the mainstream saviour of old-fashioned camp.

* * *

Thursday 27th March 2014. I get the mark back for the class presentation. It’s a 71 – a low First. This seems something of a dip compared to my recent trio of 80-plus marks, but as it’s my first graded presentation and not an essay, I can’t complain. According to the tutor’s comments, my shortcoming was to skim over too many different points within a limited slot.

I still find the art of conciseness and selectivity difficult – which may be something to do with my dyspraxia. I either find it hard to start writing, or hard to stop. Writing for me is a long, slow bleeding process onto the page, followed by the equally long and slow trimming and moving about of what’s there. The second process is more enjoyable, but it still takes me ages.

Three more essays to do between now and May.

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Spring Break Without The Spring

College is currently into its spring break, though there’s no visible signs of any actual spring. It snowed heavily last week, and today there’s a still a lot of ice on the side streets of Highgate.

Recent outings to record:

Thurs 28 Feb – to the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall to see James McAvoy in Macbeth: a treat by Ms Laura Miller. Gritty modern dress, or rather gritty post-nuclear war dress – the three witches are in gasmasks and combat trousers, and Lady Macbeth is in jumper and jeans. Chairs are kicked across the stage, there’s the crackle and sparks of welding between the scenes, and flickering bare lightbulbs. Mr McAvoy is of short build with a sweet, poster-boy face (seeming about ten years younger than his real age); qualities which made him perfect for Mr Tumnus in the Narnia film. But he is clearly one of those actors who like to play against type. In this Macbeth he is all visceral anger behind a bushy beard, while the Tube posters on the way home show him appearing in at least two ‘hard boiled’ action movies.

Sat 16 March – I am the guest DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved, at the Phoenix in Cavendish Square. It’s a Camera Obscura special, to mark their forthcoming new album. Their song ‘Eighties Fan’ is still one of my favourite tracks of the last twenty years.

My set:

Camera Obscura – Sweetest Thing
The Wake – Carbrain
Supremes – Come See About Me
The Chills – Heavenly Pop Hit
Stereolab – Ping Pong
Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move
Morrissey – Sister I’m A Poet
Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday
Monochrome Set – He’s Frank (Slight Return)
Orange Juice – Poor Old Soul Part 1
Beyonce – Single Ladies (Motown remix)
Camera Obscura – Eighties Fan
Shangri-Las – Give Him A Great Big Kiss
Aztec Camera – Oblivious
Dexys – Plan B (single version)
Angela – My Boyfriend’s Back
Supremes – Stoned Love
Spearmint – Sweeping The Nation
Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Prayer
Freda Payne – Band of Gold
Blondie – Dreaming
Smiths – Still Ill
Belle & Sebastian – Women’s Realm
Camera Obscura – French Navy
Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walking
Labelle – Lady Marmalade
Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
The Who – Substitute
Stereolab – French Disko
Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You

Ian Watson introduces me to a couple of superb new bands: Haiku Salut and Hospitality.

Photo from the night, taken by Mr Watson (www.howdoesitfeel.co.uk)


I’ve been DJ-ing roughly once a year at the HDIF club night since it started in 2002. Here’s a pic of me from back then, from the same site. I’m with Johnny Johnson of the Siddeleys:


As you can see, I don’t wear quite so much make-up at the moment.  Even though I have more reason to.

Monday 18 March – Suede tribute night & quiz at the Boogaloo in Highgate, marking THEIR new album. Quite a few familiar faces: David Barnett, Jen Denitto, Rob Britton (who does a superb version of ‘Still Life’), David Shah, Ella Lucas, Aurore S, Keith TOTP.

Saturday 23rd March. Photo shoot for NYC’s Rose Callaghan, with US dandy Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Adams asking questions, for a book of dandy portraits. Natty smokes,  which for a New Yorker must be an act of outrageous individuality: the smoking ban in NYC apparently even extends to the open air, including Central Park. I don a white suit and am photographed in the snow-covered Parkland Walk.

Rose and Natty buy me drinks at the Boogaloo before taking me to join their friends for dinner at The Dove in Broadway Market, Hackney. Their friends include Kira Goodey, who makes bespoke footwear (scarletfeverfootwear.com).

Very much the trendier part of Hackney. The Dove has unisex toilets, which is still quite rare: a row of stalls opposite a few washbasins. I like to think this encourages more men to wash their hands. It’s common in London mens’ lavatories to see someone walk straight from cubicle or urinal to the exit without using the sinks, often chatting on their mobile throughout their visit. I’d like to say it’s young laddish types but I’ve seen the same behaviour from older, bookish gentlemen in the London Library loos. I try not to shake hands with men I don’t know for this reason.


Here’s three photos by Rose C, taken in September 2011. This is at Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, which I haunt most days as a student. Behind me on the right is the main Birkbeck college building, with its library. Further back is Senate House library, which I also frequent.




Photographs copyright Rose Callahan (www.rosecallahan.com)

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Shouting At The Radio

Much fun had, Saturday night last, when I was Dj-ing at How Does It Feel To Be Loved.

Here’s what I played. With a few added YouTube links.

Kiss And Make Up – Saint Etienne (single version with Donna Savage)
Initials BB – Serge Gainsbourg
Lo Boob Oscillator  – Stereolab (cutting off the coda)
Sister I’m A Poet – Morrissey
Heavenly Pop Hit – The Chills
I Feel The Earth Move – Carole King
Substitute – The Who
Tainted Love – Gloria Jones
Sweeping The Nation – Spearmint
Ping Pong – Stereolab (a request)
Give Me Just A Little More Time – Chairmen Of The Board
Women’s Realm – Belle And Sebastian
Plan B – Dexys Midnight Runners
Doing It Right – The Go Team
Stoned Love – The Supremes
Ask – The Smiths
French Navy – Camera Obscura
Give Him A Great Big Kiss – Shangri-Las
These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra
Poor Old Soul – Orange Juice
You Get What You Deserve – The Siddeleys
Oblivious – Aztec Camera
Roadrunner – Modern Lovers
Dreaming – Blondie
My Boyfriend’s Back – The Angels
Carbrain – The Wake
Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow – Felt (album version)
Nothing To Be Done – Pastels (love Stephen Pastel’s audible sniff at the beginning)
Spinning Wheel – Shirley Bassey
Raspberry Beret – Prince
Thinking Of You – Sister Sledge 

Simon K met me there, my old friend from the Bristol Era (1990-3), last seen in Amsterdam when I played there with Spearmint, 1999 or 2000. In Bristol we used to go to indie clubs that played HDIF style music – a lot of the same songs  in fact – so it made sense for us to meet there. He even danced. Great to see him again.

Also met with Ella L and her friend Rob. After 1am or so Ella – who lives near me – called a licensed cab. Impressively, she used an iPhone app to contact the taxi company Addison Lee, typed in the destination, and got us a quoted fee then and there. Much more civilised than a night bus. Every penny I’ve spent on taxis has always been worth it.

Monday classes: 16th century poetry (Sir Philip Sidney, Shakespeare) followed by 20th century literary theory (Barthes). The lecturer on Roland Barthes compared him to David Bowie, in terms of his frequent re-invention. Still feeling wary about the literary theory side of an English degree, but it’s all a good work-out for the brain.


Still wasting a lot of time on silly things. Today I heard the announcer on Radio 3’s Composer Of The Week imply that Paul Bowles was married to Carson McCullers. I’m ashamed to admit I waited until the show was on the BBC’s Listen Again iPlayer so I could check what he said:

“Britten and Pears spent some time in New York, where they opted to take a flat with W.H. Auden and his American lover Chester Kallman in Brooklyn Heights. It was a bohemian, arty, communal arrangement and this very fluid and remarkable menage included the writers Paul Bowles and his wife Carson McCullers…”

Ms McCullers was indeed one of the tenants, but Bowles’s wife was – obviously –  the writer Jane Bowles. All three of them shared the house with Auden, Britten et al, albeit not for very long. It’s all in the fascinating book February House, as reviewed here.

It was only a minor error in a programme that was really about Britten, though. I think I need to just let these things go.


A  message on Twitter:

“Thank you for replying! I’m from Argentina. Never had the chance to listen to Orlando but loved you in interviews. ;)”

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File Under Other

I’m the guest DJ at the indiepop & vintage soul club How Does It Feel To Be Loved this weekend.

Date: Saturday Jan 21st
Venue: Downstairs at The Phoenix
37 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PP.
Time: 9pm-3am. I’m ‘on’ from about 10.30 to midnight.

Further info here.  I also highly recommend the club’s podcast.

Always a pleasure to be asked. Thinking of playing McCarthy’s ‘Red Sleeping Beauty’, what with all the talk about Mrs Thatcher that The Iron Lady has inspired lately.


Catching up… Last week has mainly been about college: Woolf’s Room Of One’s Own, Chaucer’s House Of Fame (with talking eagle) and Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1. Just been reading how it was unusual for Shakespeare to not write a comedy set in the London of his day – from 1599 virtually all his fellow playwrights were doing it. Instead he chose to smuggle the city into his histories, particularly Henry IV, to give it a genre-bending mix of power-plots and battles alongside comic London pub scenes.

Learned today: Dickens was such an admirer of Falstaff that he not only bought the Gadshill house in Kent because of its association with Falstaff’s robbery scene in Henry IV, but put up a plaque in honour of the play as soon as he moved in. The more one realises the influence of Falstaff on Dickens, the more it makes perfect sense; the colourful name, the larger-than-life-ness, the mix of humour with pathos, the instant mass appeal.


Last Saturday was a day out to Suffolk to see my parents;  first trip to the house I grew up in since I turned 40. I took the little rural branch line from Marks Tey to Sudbury; a single carriage train that runs on diesel rather than overhead electric lines. Think the first time I used it was in the late 80s, when I went straight from school near Sudbury up to London, in order to see REM and Throwing Muses at Wembley Arena. I’m now rather less of a concert-goer and rather more interested in picturesque train journeys for their own sake.

Stumbled upon the new Adnams shop in Store St, Bloomsbury this week. An unexpected little piece of Suffolk tourism in London – specifically Southwold. With added free gin tasting, as the brewery now does spirits. They also sell mugs depicting the now famous Southwold beach huts. Turns out there’s a branch of Adnams in Spitalfields too.


Discovered that I’ve been the subject of someone’s 100 picture icons (or avatars), those little square images that people use to identify themselves online. Often the image isn’t of the person themselves, but a favourite picture of a cat or Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes or the like. So it’s very flattering indeed. They have me filed under ‘other’.



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On Being An Academic Muse

Saturday May 21st: I manage to honour three invitations in one evening. First: Sam Carpenter’s birthday drinks at The Constitution pub in Camden (7.30pm-8.15pm), then Charley Stone’s birthday concert at the Silver Bullet venue in Finsbury Park (8.45-9.30pm), before heading to the Phoenix in the West End to be guest DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved, where I stay till it ends (10.15pm till 3am).

Afterwards: I walk all the way from Oxford Circus to Archway. Nearly 4 miles. Partly because I need the exercise, partly because I’m drunk, but also because I like to avoid night buses whenever possible. I feel utterly safe walking the streets of Central and North London in the dead of night. It’s night buses that can be an ordeal.

Ms Stone’s night  is ‘Charlapalooza’, featuring performances from the Keith TOTP All-Stars, the Deptford Beach Babes and the Abba Stripes, all of whom she plays guitar for.  Her present from David Barnett is a huge poster of her own Rock Family Tree, linking all the bands she’s played in over the years. Fosca is one of them.

Also at the gig are other London Rock Women of note: Charlotte Hatherley (Ash, Client, solo), Debbie Smith (Echobelly, Curve) Deb Googe  (My Bloody Valentine),and  Jen Denitto: once of Linus, now drumming for the Monochrome Set.  Jen D says I’m directly responsible for her being in the MS, via singer Bid’s other band, Scarlet’s Well.

I get a vicarious thrill hearing of friends’ gig-going and gig-playing, as if they’re carrying on with All That so that I don’t have to any more.  From the reports of the Suede shows this week, to news of my brother Tom, who’s currently touring as guitarist for Adam Ant.  I don’t envy his guitarist success (never feeling like a proper guitarist myself), but I do envy his earning a living from doing something he loves, and travelling too. Particularly Paris. The last time I was in Paris was a Fosca gig in 2001 – a marvellous floating venue in the Seine. I have a real urge to go again. Here’s hoping a reason to do so presents itself. Or better still, the money to go there presents itself.

Still not much luck in finding a regular source of income. Offers of work from kind friends keep falling through, from paid blogging to film reviews. I’ve pitched articles to the Guardian without even getting a reply, which makes me feel some random self-deluded lunatic. Maybe I am. But at least I’m a well-dressed random, self-deluded lunatic.


Last Wednesday I was invited to Treadwell’s Bookshop, now in a new location off Tottenham Court Road. The event was the reading of an academic paper by Dr Stephen Alexander, titled ‘Elements Of Gothic Queerness in The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ Stimulating stuff, reminding me just how rich Wilde’s novel is. You can link it to so much these days: the tragedy of a young man who doesn’t age pops up in Twilight and the new Doctor Who, for instance. Dr Alexander focussed on the theme of coveting yet resenting objects for their static nature: something that certainly connects with today’s obsession with worshipping the latest version of a must-have gadget. In fact, posters for the original iPad showed Dorian Gray as an example of an e-book to read on it. I’d love to know what made them choose it.

Not only was I delighted to be invited, but it turned out Dr Alexander – whom I didn’t know until now – actually dedicated his paper to me, after my appearance in Eliza Glick’s book Materializing Queer Desire.

I’ve never had an academic paper dedicated to me before. It’s so flattering. And it helps to remind me that I might not be the complete  waste of space the Job Centre insists I am.

Problem is, they’ll say, one can’t earn a living from being a muse.

Well, unless you’re in Muse.

My DJ set at HDIF:

  1. Stereolab: Peng 33 (Peel session version
  2. Carole King: I Feel The Earth Move
  3. The Shangri-Las: Give Him A Great Big Kiss
  4. Chairmen Of The Board: Give Me Just A Little More Time
  5. The Wake: Carbrain
  6. The Chills: Heavenly Pop Hit
  7. The Siddeleys: You Get What You Deserve
  8. Dressy Bessy: If You Should Try To Kiss Her
  9. Camera Obscura: French Navy
  10. The Smiths: Ask
  11. Spearmint: Sweeping The Nation
  12. The Pastels: Coming Through
  13. Le Tigre: Hot Topic
  14. Prince: Raspberry Beret
  15. The Supremes:  Stoned Love
  16. Ride: Twisterella
  17. Stereolab: French Disko
  18. Blueboy: Imipramine
  19. Sister Sledge: Thinking Of You
  20. Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
  21. April March: Chick Habit
  22. Shirley Bassey: Spinning Wheel
  23. Gloria Jones: Tainted Love
  24. Mel Torme: Coming Home Baby
  25. Dexys: Plan B
  26. Orange Juice: Blueboy
  27. Blondie: Rapture (a tribute to the real Rapture in the news)
  28. Felt: Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow
  29. The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry
  30. Style Council: Speak Like A Child
  31. Labelle: Lady Marmalade

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Quick Notice of A DJ Appearance

I’m guest DJ-ing tonight (Saturday May 21st) at How Does It Feel To Be Loved.

It will be at:

The Phoenix
37 Cavendish Square

Nearest tube: Oxford Circus.

Runs 9pm-3am. My set is 10.30pm to midnight.

Entry: £4 members, £6 non members. Membership is free if you register (quickly!) at


I shall be playing 80s indiepop, 60s girl groups, and everything that vaguely fits. Including Blueboy, who were recently the subject of a rather good piece at the London Review Of Books blog here:


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