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My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.
On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Freelance Friday #6
A very brief Freelance Friday this week, containing just the one live review, and hence yet another opportunity to plug the very wonderful Maria McKee and her superb Late December album. On stage, Maria was all glammed up in Victorian vintage-boho-chic, all scarlets and beaded blacks, with a ribbon in her hair and a big rip on her jacket sleeve. She was in a good mood, chatting happily about her addiction for burning DVDs off the movie channels, and raving over the classic Nottingham movie Saturday Night Sunday Morning (as did Morrissey a few months ago, down at the Arena). I attended the show with the lovely Tina, whom I hadn't met before, and who duly joins the Please Be My Plus One cc list. (She saw Captain Beefheart back in the day, you know. Several times. Big respect.)
Next week's Freelance Friday promises to be a blockbuster, as I've got a whopping six pieces to bash out for t'local paper between now and Wednesday night, not to mention a phone interview with the trolley-dolly comedienne Pam Ann on Tuesday. Prepare yourselves for live reviews of Diana Ross and Bruce Foxton/Rick Buckler from The Jam; a 400-word review of the forthcoming Rufus Wainwright album (which I've just prised open, only to discover La Wainwright posing in lederhosen with his fingers stuffed down the front, straddling the comic-erotic divide in a really quite disturbing way); a 400-word review of the newly updated official Eurovision history book; and an extended preview of this year's Eurovision finals (a tricky assignment, given that the copy deadline falls in advance of the Thursday qualifiers, but I shall bluff it and busk it as best as I am able).
Oh! And speaking of Eurovision, and blimey, isn't it high time that I did: the customary song-by-song previews will be appearing on Troubled Diva over the next few days, in manageable chunks, whenever I can find the time. Maybe I just won't sleep. In the meantime, hardcore devotees should proceed with all due haste to the various fan-blogs which are being posted live and direct by a diverse bunch of
Speaking of virginity-busting: I broke the Labour loyalist habit of a lifetime yesterday evening, by voting for the Lib Dems in the Nottingham City Council elections. And let me tell you, it felt good. (I'd go into more detail, but I don't Do Politics on Troubled Diva. There's a fine line between Expanding One's Range and Exposing One's Weaknesses.)
Nevertheless, and against all predictions, the Labour share of the votes in our ward increased, and two of the city's eight Lib Dem councillors lost their seats (but happily, not Alex). Hey ho. We live to fight another day, my newly adopted brethren.
It's going to be a busy weekend. Tinariwen at Leicester De Montfort tonight, and then a marathon journo-jam, interspersed with light gardening duties. Thank God for the Bank Holiday, and Thank K for accidentally booking a business meeting on Monday, thus leaving me free to bash the living daylights out of the laptop without feeling guilty about it.
Have a lovely Bank Holiday, readers. Doing anything nice?
Maria McKee – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Tuesday May 1.
Although best known for her 1990 chart-topper Show Me Heaven, Maria McKee has steered an unpredictable and idiosyncratic course ever since. Her 1996 album Life Is Sweet, whose title track opened the show, was viewed at the time as commercial suicide. Down at the Rescue Rooms, before a clued-up and appreciative crowd, the song was greeted as an old favourite.
With all four band members remaining seated throughout, even during the rockier numbers, this was a relaxed and low-key performance, punctuated by scatty asides to the crowd. Nevertheless, Maria displayed a remarkable emotional intensity, and a dramatic, almost theatrical vocal presence.
The newer material, taken from the superb Late December album, was introduced almost apologetically, starting with a ragged, unconvincing Too Many Heroes. Thankfully, the band pulled together again for delightful renditions of the atmospheric title track, the haunting My First Night Without You, and a stirring re-working of A Good Heart, written for Feargal Sharkey in 1985.
Of the older material, Am I The Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way) reminded us of Maria’s country-rock roots – but the warmest reception was reserved for her stunning interpretation of Richard and Linda Thompson’s Has He Got A Friend For Me.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
A Father's Thoughts on Having a Deaf Son.
This guest post has been contributed by my friend, former colleague and fellow gig-goer Stereoboard, as part of Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2007.
My son was born just over three years ago, ten weeks early, weighing about 850g. He was in hospital for the first eleven weeks of his life, during which time he had a hearing test that the doctors were concerned about. A subsequent hearing test indicated that he had a "severe hearing problem".
That was how we found out.
I've found that hearing parents of deaf children fall into two camps: those whose babies struggled to live at the start of their lives, and those who didn't. It's easier to cope with a little thing like deafness when you're just thankful that your child is still alive.
I'm not saying it's easy.
There were some things that worried me, that may seem trivial to others. For example, music is a great part of my life. I can measure the passage of time by the music I was listening to. So not being able to share that with him makes me sad, but music is my thing. He'll be different anyway - I can only hope he'll find something else that will fill that part of his life.
Similarly, I was really looking forward to reading to him, and I thought that that was never going to happen. I needn't have worried so much. He loves books as well, and we do look at them together - you just have to make some adjustments. I usually face him, though during the last story of the day I insist on a cuddle.
There are also times when it gets to me.
It occasionally makes me angry. This can be triggered by small things - I remember hearing the sound of waves, and thinking that he'd never enjoy that. Once again, that's my relationship with the world: the effect of the sound of waves on me works because of its association with other events, like happy childhood holidays. The feel of the spray may have an equivalent effect on him when he gets to my age.
There are things that I haven't worked through yet, or that I know will be a problem.
Communication is such a fundamental part of being a human, that there are people who claim being pre-lingually deaf is one of the worst disabilities. We combat that by using non-verbal communication methods (BSL), but we’re still only learning, so he doesn’t get as much input as he should. We also have to convince the rest of our families that they’re going to have to come to terms with BSL being our main method of communication.
The thought of him going to school scares the living daylights out of me, but I don’t think that that’s necessarily anything to do with his deafness.
I would rather he hadn't been born deaf, but I wouldn’t change him now.
My son’s not deaf, he's Ben.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Cute song, cute video.
This is "Your Love Is A Tease" by Rod Thomas, which will be released on May 21st. It's light and breezy and acousticky and seasonally appropriate, and it's the sort of thing which you might like if the likes of Get Cape Wear Cape Fly float your boat. Give it a play and see what you think.
Finally, a workable solution to Blogroll Angst.
From now on, my blogroll will be set to display exactly 40 blogs, ordered so that the most recently updated appear at the top of the list (according to blogrolling.com, who provide the service).
Every time I read something particularly good on a blog that's not listed, I'll add them to the list, removing the site that's currently at the bottom. Now that I'm subscribed to blogrolling.com, this will be a quick and simple operation, which won't require messing around with the HTML in my template.
When today's initial list of 40 blogs has been completely replaced, I shall continue by removing the site which has been resident on the list for the longest period of time.
Of course, there's then nothing to stop the deleted blogs being reinstated, the next time that I read something particularly good on them. In fact, I'd expect it to happen a good deal of the time.
In this way, my blogroll will actually work like, goodness me, a roll. It will act as a snapshot of what I'm currently enjoying, which will inevitably be a mixture of old favourites, nifty looking newcomers, occasional pleasures and passing fancies. It will be more interesting to monitor on a regular basis, and more useful in terms of providing a manageable set of up-to-date recommendations for curious readers. And best of all, no-one need feel offended ever again when they drop off the bottom of the list, as this will inevitably happen in turn to every site that's listed.
It has taken me five and half years to come up with a blogrolling policy that I actually feel comfortable with - so phew for that, eh?
Sunday, April 29, 2007
"Maybe tomorrow, maybe some day..."
During the past few weeks, I have been struggling to complete what must be the most boring work assignment that I have ever been given. It’s a massive documentation exercise, which involves picking my way through over ten thousand lines of COBOL code, and it requires copious and sustained usage of the search, copy and paste functions. The level of creative thought involved is minimal, and is generally confined to finding the most efficient ways of crunching the data, with the minimum keystrokes. And yet, for all the dumbness inherent in the exercise, it has also proved to be a huge personal challenge.
The biggest difficulty for me is sustaining concentration. The work is so brain-numbing that I find myself unable to stick at it for much longer than twenty minutes at a time without being driven to distraction (and you can probably guess the nature of the distractions). Music helps, of course – particularly uptempo, optimistic and strongly rhythmic music, and particularly when I can get the tempo of the music to match the tempo of my copy-pasting. The cupboards have been duly raided for “banging” DJ-mixed CDs from the 1990s, most of which have been languishing unplayed for the best part of a decade: Pete Tong’s Essential Selection, Danny Rampling’s Lovegroove Dance Party, Fantazia’s Restrospective Of House, and the occasional Orbital CD for relaxation. If you lay music down for long enough, it’s remarkable how it refreshes itself.
Nevertheless, this exercise is in danger of killing off more brain cells than my 1990s hardcore clubbing phase ever did. Which is another reason for the paucity of updates on this blog, and another reason for the continued delay of The Great Troubled Diva Meditation On Class.
I have paced around the perimeters of this vast subject for days now, staring up at it and looking for a convenient way in. Since no suitable entrance point has been forthcoming, I am left with no option other than to charge blindly in, and to let the words steer their own course. F**k it. It’s a blog. Directionless busking is what we do.
*writes a couple of sentences*
*stares into space*
*checks Bloglines for updates*
*cleans the kitchen*
*returns to laptop*
*re-opens MS Word*
*stares at screen*
*says yes to a sandwich*
*decides to do what he’s best at: copying and pasting*