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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Indiepop Longa, Vita Brevis

Saturday night just gone: I DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved, at the Phoenix in Cavendish Square. I chat to Charlie M and her friends, talk about Take That with the lovely Alice From Leeds on the door, and down too much white wine. Sunday is entirely spent recovering, I’m ashamed to admit.

The HDIF crowd is a mixture of young and old fans of the playlist – 60s soul and 80s indie. Ian W tells me about new bands that the club has helped to nurture, including one I like the sound of, ‘Allo Darlin’. I was at first baffled that there’s young fans of, say, McCarthy who were not even born when ‘Red Sleeping Beauty’ came out. Partly because the music seemed hermetically sealed to its era, but also because it forced me to admit to my own increasing age. It’s a form of solipsism too; the music that you once thought mapped a time of your history eventually maps you into history itself. That obscure 1989 EP track you thought only you gave meaning to, your little secret, will in fact outlive you. So get used to it. The music will get along just fine without you. Indiepop longa, vita brevis.*

Here’s my set list from the night.

1. The Style Council – Speak Like A Child
2. Lloyd Cole – Jennifer She Said
3. The Siddeleys – You Get What You Deserve
4. Felt – Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow (the version with the jangly guitar intro)
5. McCarthy – I Worked Myself Up From Nothing
6. The Chills – Heavenly Pop Hit
7. Stereolab – Ping Pong
8. Camera Obscura – French Navy
9. Aztec Camera – Oblivious
10. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walking
11. Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move
12. The Angels – My Boyfriend’s Back
13. Le Tigre – Hot Topic
14. The Pastels – Nothing To Be Done
15. Chairmen Of The Board – Give Me Just A Little More Time
16. Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
17. Shirley Bassey – Spinning Wheel
18. The Supremes – Stoned Love
19. Spearmint – Sweeping The Nation
20. The Smiths – Ask
21. The Shangri-Las – Give Him A Great Big Kiss
22. Beyonce – Single Ladies (Motown remix)
23. Labelle – Lady Marmalade
24. Dexys – Plan B
25. Chuck Wood – Seven Days Too Long
26. Orange Juice – Poor Old Soul
27. The Wake – Crush The Flowers
28. Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday
29. Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You
30. Dressy Bessy – If You Should Try To Kiss Her

[*After Hippocrates’s aphorism ‘Ars longa, vita brevis’: life is short, but art is forever.]

Tags: , ,

The Wrong Kind Of Strange

A quick alert. This Saturday 20th I shall be Guest DJ at the club night How Does It Feel To Be Loved, which plays C86-type 80s indiepop (and compatible current bands like Cats On Fire and The Drums) alongside 1960s soul and girl group pop. Mr Watson who runs the club has asked me back there once a year or so for the last seven years, and I always enjoy myself thoroughly. Expect songs by McCarthy, Felt, early Prefab Sprout, The Pastels, and whatever takes my fancy at that moment.

Club Night: How Does It Feel To Be Loved?
When: Saturday March 20th, 9pm-3am. I’m DJ-ing at 10.30pm, finishing midnight.
Venue: Basement bar, The Phoenix, 37 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PP. Behind John Lewis in Oxford Street. A short walk from Oxford Circus tube station.
Price: £4 members, £6 non members. Membership is free from www.howdoesitfeel.co.uk


The NME has just published a list of 20 cult musical heroes, including Dan Treacy, Richard Hell, Alex Chilton (who’s just died, sadly) and Billy Childish. Their blog asks for readers’ own choices, and among the comments someone – presumably a foreign fan – says this:

…one who might deserve attention in NME, Mojo…et al is Dickon Edwards of Fosca! Its about time NME makes a huge special about Fosca, not even Pitchfork has found out what really could be a hype with enough deep to survive the attention.

By ‘enough deep’, I’m guessing they mean lyrical depth. Very kind of them, anyway.

Realistically – not an adverb that trots convincingly from my lips – I doubt very much that the UK music press will ever write about Fosca between now and the heat-death of the universe. I think Fosca are – were – just too wrong-sounding for many. If it wasn’t the lyrics, it was my wrong voice, or the wrong musical format, or the wrong production. But then, all I hoped for was to record those songs and release them into the wild. And I did that.

Seems hypocritical to write about being arch and strange and expect large amounts of perfectly well-adjusted people to connect with that. There’s a reason why Ronald Firbank is constantly out-of-print while Saki isn’t: uncompromising archness needs to be at just the right level of uncompromising. Saki’s characters were effete and haughty and dandyish, but he wasn’t at all like that in person: he ended up in command of troops in WW1. Firbank, meanwhile, was so arch he could barely stand up. It’s okay to be weird, as long as you’re capable and functional and productive with it. That’s the part I often struggle with.

That said, I have my more useful moments. I’m the dandy handyman, as Mr Ant never sang. The other day I unblocked the communal shower’s nozzles from a build-up of limescale, saving my landlady from calling in a plumber.

I used a long, jewelled cravat pin.

Tags: , ,

The Haircut That Moves Between Worlds

Preparing to go out to two soirees: a birthday gathering at the Flask in Highgate, then onto the Phoenix in Cavendish Square to DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved. Always a pleasure to do the latter as it means I can indulge my lesser aired taste in 60s girl group pop alongside 80s jangly guitar indie.

Thursday last was DJ-ing at the Boogaloo for Beautiful & Damned, the warm up for our slot at next month’s Latitude Festival. We put on the silent movie Pandora’s Box by way of a backdrop. Louise Brooks’s iconic bob hairdo always looks more extreme than one expects: from some angles it’s nearly a butch crop. In one scene she wears a helmet-like black hat which actually looks exactly the same as her hair. When she takes the hat off, there’s no overall difference. It’s like someone wearing two pairs of glasses.

It dawns on me that the haircut also crosses over for both of my DJ-iing incarnations this week. How Does It Feel… runs a label for latterday indiepop groups, one of which, the Pocketbooks, has a girl singer whose hair is pure Ms Brooks – or indeed the singer from Swing Out Sister, echoing the 80s echoing the 60s echoing the 20s. Some music scenes are joined at the haircut.

But never mind my own dipping into different worlds – Fosca’s Tom Edwards, my brother, is now playing guitar for none other than Edwyn Collins. He replaces Roddy Frame, with his first gig being T In The Park. Quite a leap from playing with Fields of the Nephilim. Though not such a leap, of course, from playing with Fosca.

Tom tells me much of Mr Collins’s back catalogue is more muso-y and trickier to play than you might expect from the Godfather of Indie. Even though those early recordings with Orange Juice are often out of tune and vocally wavering (in all the right ways) the guitar lines are elaborate and downright fiddly to copy. With the notable exception of the break in ‘Rip It Up’, Orange Juice’s only bona fide chart hit. Amid all the polished funk-pop production, Edwyn sings ‘And my favourite song’s entitled… ‘Boredom” before going into a replication of that Buzzcocks song’s two-note guitar solo. How many Top Of The Pops viewers got the reference at the time, heaven knows. So very sly, so very arch, so very Edwyn.

Tags: , , ,