THE CRITICS: The new adventures of Tin Tin

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MY KID sister tagged along to the Duffy gig in Cambridge for an autograph, which is proof enough that the artist formerly known as Tin Tin is on his way back to being a pop star. When she saw him moping about at the bar, she had second thoughts. "He looks a bit grumpy." Actually, he was a bit drunk. "I'm so baaad," he slurred as he tottered onto the stage, and from there it was only a matter of time before he told you that he really loved you and that you would always be his best friend.

But as sozzled exhibitionists go, he was more entertaining than most. And he peddled a sharper line in between-song banter than any sober frontman I've heard this year. "Thanks, mates," he replied to our enthusiastic greeting. "I like 'mates', don't you? I was never very happy with 'man'. But 'dear boy' is the winner by a mile. Wouldn't it be marvellous if we all called each other 'dear boy'?". It got too much for one punter. "Just sing the song!" he hollered. Duffy turned and scowled. "Ooh, you

The set was chin-deep in dazzling, life-affirming pop songs, and he began by strolling through some familiar ones, like the joyous "Kiss Me" (remember that great chorus, "Kiss me with your mouth"?). Hearing it is like starting a relationship with someone you're mad for, whereas "Natalie", which was next, is like ending one. After he'd made us cry with that, he went on to make us wince by hauling on his band and ripping into "London Girls". Its foot-stomping rhythm section and bristling guitars are characteristic of the current Britpop sound, which is ironic given that its lyric claws at those very stars whose catwalk is Camden High Street.

Duffy has little to do with such trends. He has weathered enough bad times to know that, whatever happens, the music will out. Perhaps the worst time of all was hanging out with Nigel Kennedy. Or leaving Duran Duran, right before they made it big. Just think - he could have married a super-model, or been strapped to a windmill sail in the "Wild Boys" video. He might have seen his name in lights too, instead of in pink chalk on a board outside Cambridge's Boat Race pub. Still, quitting Duran Duran excused him from singing the line "You're about as easy as a nuclear war", although he did go on to rhyme "denial" with "tiles", so he isn't completely exonerated.

Heard live, the songs from his new album Duffy (Indolent) are as sweet and fizzy as a Coke float, smacking of the timelessness and poignancy which flavours his best work. At the end, he had another strum alone. We got some morsels from his stretch with The Lilac Time, including the lilting "Return to Yesterday" which he forgot half the words to (though not the "denial/ tiles" bit, sadly).

My sister got her autograph. But by that time she had fallen in love with some oik from the support band. Poor Duffy - the dear boy hardly stands a chance against such a fickle public.

In her autobiography Man Enough to be a Woman (Serpent's Tail), Jayne - formerly Wayne - County recalls her outrageous early performances, during which she would do unspeakable things with a pitchfork and play Divine Brown to a shop-floor mannequin's Hugh Grant. "I had the idea that if a perversion was done enough, it wouldn't be a perversion any more."

With their numbing show at the Bottom Line on Thursday, Jayne County and the Electric Chairs proved this point beyond all reasonable doubt, flogging the life out of every musical and visual eccentricity that they had in their favour until you prayed that someone would whip out a pitchfork or a mannequin for old time's sake. You were disappointed not to be ruffled. Because let's not forget who County is: a 13-stone transsexual rock'n'roller in a scarlet basque, high heels, one pink stocking and a hairdo the size of a small child. And yet, if you're familiar with Lily Savage or Pat from EastEnders, you'll have seen all this before.

Which is the point. County's book is a nostalgia trip, and the gig served a similar purpose. The hundred or so fans who had gathered knew what to expect: Ernest Borgnine in a frock barking over some porridge-stodgy punk rock from the Electric Chairs, whose cumbersome playing told us that they hadn't fed the meter in a while.

We heard all the songs which County has been touting for over 20 years now, each one indistinguishable from the next: "Rock'n'roll Cleopatra", "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?", "Cream in My Jeans" (not about dropping pavlova in your lap). And a new one, "Deviation", that she'd do well to learn from. After all, where's the joy in dressing like an outlaw if your music sticks so diligently to the straight and narrow?