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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, March 21, 2003
"...but we're not staying out past eleven, OK?"
(Time to reactivate the hangover font, I think...)
"Yeah, we're best mates, me and him."
"Known each other since we were five, haven't we?"
"Yeah, 'cos our families all know each other and everything."
"We even came out to our mothers together."
"That's right. The two of us sat our mothers down in the same room, and we said: we've got something very important to tell you. We're both gay."
"And they were like: ohhhh, what a relief! And my mam said: I thought he'd got you pregnant - I was really worried for a minute there."
"Yeah, and now we take them out with us sometimes. They've been clubbing with us and everything - they love it!"
"I'm having another tattoo done tomorrow. Don't know what I'm going to have yet, though. Look: I've already got this Chinese symbol. It means: Friends forever."
"Yeah, and I'm going to have one just like it, in the same place. 'Cos we've been through so much together, haven't we, you and me?"
(Buni explains that part of his Chinese tattoo was accidentally inscribed in reverse, and means something completely unintended.)
"Well, I don't care if mine says Sweet And Sour Prawn Balls, he's still gerrin' one."
"She's right, I am."
"So what is it that they've gone off to buy us? Aftershots or Aftershocks?"
"They're Aftershocks, Mike."
"God, I've never heard of them before. Is that what young people drink these days? I'm having one of those who-is-Jennifer-Lopez moments, aren't I? Just like K did last weekend, remember?"
"You're in a K-hole!"
"Come on, you're coming out clubbing with us!"
"But it's quarter to two - we've got work in the morning..."
"Don't matter! You've got to live for the moment!"
"But I want to live tomorrow..."
"That's the wrong attitude. You've got to have fun in this life. You might get run over by a bus tomorrow..."
"But I've done all that stuff. Done it for years. Was doing it before you were even born..."
"Oh, don't be boring. You are NOT going into work tomorrow. Come on, Ocean will still be open. Goes on till four or five..."
So, Buni and I had a choice. We could go clubbing with the two 18-year olds who had been sitting at the same table as us in the late bar, or we could do the sensible thing, escape their clutches, go home and make it into work.
Well, would you credit it?
Remember all that blah-blah-blah is the first casualty of war stuff from the other day?
On page 5 of this week's Private Eye, under the heading "Collateral Damage", there is an interesting collection of recent newspaper quotes:
Now, what was I saying about journalistic originality?
So, so drunk.
You wouldn't believe...no, don't even go there.
I now know what Aftershocks are.
I didn't need to know this.
Never, never carouse with teenagers on a school night.
I will hate myself in the morning.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Blogging from Baghdad.
Just in case you weren't already aware of it: Where is Raed? is the frequently updated "undercover" weblog of an Iraqi guy living in Baghdad. With its eye-witness reports, detailed local knowledge and firmly expressed views, it makes for compelling and highly moving reading. In particular, I recommend his "rant" of Sunday March 16.
There's also a more detailed overview, with background info, on the MSNBC news site.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Guest blogging applications
...and I'll be picking my Dream Team
Right, I'm off out for some spontaneous Far East/Latino Fusion Cuisine now. Banzai caramba!
The poetry reading is in Beeston: a gentle, respectable, cosy suburb of Nottingham which is popular with academics from the nearby university. Some distance away from the city centre, Beeston has its own shops, its own big supermarket, its own mainline railway station, a few decent places to eat, and an extensive selection of much-better-than-average pubs. It's a calm, self-contained part of town, where nothing out of the ordinary is ever likely to happen. Nice people live here. Nice people with pleasant, balanced, ordered-yet-active lives. People who have resolved their conflicts, set their priorities, vanquished their demons.
Yes, Beeston gives me the creeps all right.
Over the years, several friends have moved out here, each announcing their departure with "I know it's a bit boring, but the house has got the space we need" shrugs and tight little smiles which hover midway between jokey self-deprecation, submerged regret and quiet, steely resolve. And then we never hear from them again. Ring them up to arrange an outing, and they'll say: "But why would we ever want to leave Beeston? Beeston has everything we need. Our lives are here now. We have no need of Outside. Come to us. Join us. Never leave."
Yes, Beeston even scares me a little. Travelling back into town from the cottage on Monday mornings, I can feel its pull - can hear its siren whispers wafting over the central verge from the other side of the A52. "Join us. Join us in Beeston. There's a life for you here. A good life. Why resist?"
Driving around in search of the venue, one of my companions explains that poetry readings are held here every week. "Perhaps we could start coming here regularly?", she suggests, brightly.
The voices - again the voices, swirling around in the dusk. First they'll take our Tuesday evenings - then they'll take our very souls. Resist! Resist!
I haven't been to a poetry reading for maybe seven or eight years, maybe longer. Indeed - like opera, classical ballet, and nu-metal - I barely even touch the stuff. Or if I do, then I prefer to read it out loud, on my own, savouring the rhythms as much as the meaning. For despite my disassociation from the genre, I have a voice which is curiously suited for this. Instinctively picking up on the musicality of the language, I am somehow able to give a clear, measured, suitably understated yet broadly empathetic delivery. Even when I am still barely able to grasp the subject matter. I find this slightly baffling.
I found it particularly baffling one Sunday afternoon at a post-club chill-out in someone's flat in Wimbledon, or somewhere like that, about five years ago, with a bunch of complete strangers I had met upstairs in Trade. Our host revealed that he wrote poetry in his spare time. A couple of sheets of A4 were duly passed around the group. Even before I knew what I was doing, I found myself reading one of them out loud.
As I progressed down the page, I entered a strange, split-level state of consciousness. My rational brain (or what was left of it) was aware that it had not even the faintest idea of the literal meaning of the poem - nor even whether it was good, bad or indifferent. Nevertheless, my instinctive brain could still, somehow, pick up on an overriding mood, or flow, or structure - or something - despite the fact that my sensually perceptive brain was by now so comprehensively battered that every letter on the page appeared to be in a different colour. At the end of my recitation, which had been received in total silence, there was a brief, respectful pause, followed by a flutter of soft, almost post-coital murmurings: "Oh...wow", and "You read so beautifully", and - from the host himself - "Thank you so much for doing that". I felt simultaneously like a a gifted lyrical interpreter and a big fat fraud.
We arrive late. The first poet is already in the middle of a lengthy "song cycle", and has to pause between "cantos" to let us in. Standing room only at the back. Am I in anybody's way? Can my friends see anything at all? Dare I take my puffa jacket off, or will the rustling break everybody's concentration? Oh God, everybody is really concentrating here, aren't they? Look at them all. They look rapt. Is that how you're supposed to look? Shall I try to look rapt as well?
OK, how does that look? No, it looks fake, doesn't it? The poet will be able to see right through me. Hang on - nobody's looking at me anyway. Egocentric fool. It doesn't matter what expression you adopt. Now, concentrate. Focus on what he's saying. Come on. Come out of yourself. Engage. Cross that line.
No, it's no good. I can't pick up the threads at all. The language is too dense, the meaning is too tightly packed, there are all these classical allusions which I don't get. Would it be better if I looked straight at the poet instead of staring round the room? Would that be too intense?
OK, watch the mouth. Blimey - fancy wearing a jacket over a hooded top over a shirt and tie. Particularly a skinny little early-80s retro tie like that, in bright orange. Actually, it's quite a good look. Sort of funky-academical. Come on, back to the mouth. Good clear diction he's got, and a nice even delivery. The words sound good, even if I can't crawl inside them. But really, this is the sort of thing that I'd prefer to read several times over, in my own time.
So, is the problem just with me, or is this stuff just not suited to a live reading like this? I don't remember having this sort of problem when I used to go and hear Dymbellina read, back in the day. But then, I had always read her stuff several times over in advance. Nevertheless, surely there was a palpable, direct communication going on at her readings? Not like here, then. This is all a bit Poetry In Crowd, isn't it? A bit up-its-own-arse? Or am I just retreating into the sidelines, in that protectively sneery way of mine?
I need to get over the feeling of "Gosh, so this is what a poetry reading is like, then." I need to stop observing, and start participating. When did my concentration span get this bad, anyway? Maybe it's because I'm spending too much time on my own in the office, hopping about from web page to web page, never having to devote appreciable periods of time to any one person, or thought, or task.
Oh look - over the road, one storey up - they've got their curtains open and the telly on, and he has come to the window and is staring over the road and down at us, because this sort of thing clearly doesn't usually happen on his street on a Tuesday night, and now he's calling her over to the window, and now they're both looking at us, and I wonder what they're thinking, and...stop, look away, come back into the room, this is a new poem, maybe you'll get further with it this time...
The first poet writes a lot about gay sex, and likes his classical allusions, and is frequently funny. I know this because I received a signed copy of his new book for my birthday, which is essentially why I'm here. There's not so much of the sexy stuff or the funny stuff here tonight, which is a slight shame if you ask me.
The second poet is from the States, and is part of the whole Poets Against The War thing, and so most of the poems she reads are about that. She has a way of looking sharply over the top of her glasses while talking at you, which reminds me of Germaine Greer on Newsnight Review. When she starts to read, her whole voice rises in pitch as she adopts a kind of "performance" style. This is not something I am used to, and I don't know how I feel about it. She sounds altogether quite cross. She also plays the Gender Politics card full square: this is a man's war, and you'd think that there was only one sex fighting it, she says. One poem takes the form of an open letter to George Dubya. It is as oratorical as it is epistolary, and so it works well, and I even manage to concentrate all the way through it. We are on the very brink of "war" tonight, and here I am listening to a visiting American poet of some repute expressing her anger and bewilderment and fear and scorn about it, and it all feels awfully Significant, and of Historical Import in some way, and there's some part of me inside that is rather enjoying that.
(Incidentally: I'm not going to call it a "war" any longer. I'm not going to call it a "pre-emptive strike", either. Like the letter-writer in today's Guardian says: it's not a "war" - it's an invasion.)
The third poet is vague and dithery, and she doesn't know what she's going to read us yet, and she keeps losing her bookmarks and apologising, and she is just not quite of this world. In fact, she quite cheerfully confesses this to us. However, once she starts to read, her voice snaps into focus - into "performance mode" once again. There is a whimsicality here, and a sense of detached, amused observation by a slightly baffled outsider. But really: do people still think like that about the television set, in this day and age? These are the sort of thoughts my grandfather might have had fifty years ago, and he was something of an anachronistic fuddy-duddy even then. There is a lighter, funnier piece about a summer spent in a French chateau with a bunch of crashing snobs, which everyone enjoys - followed by an interminable, seemingly directionless piece about Hildegard Of Bingen which has everybody fidgeting and tapping their fingers. It is so long that the first poet only has time for one more poem before time is called.
Is this where I'm supposed to draw a pithy conclusion? Well, I guess I don't have one. I can only conclude that poetry just ain't my bag. So I'm going to end with a link instead. (On a weblog, you can always legitimately cop out like this. It's a wonderful medium.)
The Clock's Loneliness: a poem a day, weblog-stylee. The one-stop shop for all your daily lyrical needs.
Maybe that's how I need to get started. One day at a time, sweet Jesus...
Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.
(Premature valedictory posting deleted. He's such a tease.)
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
"Yea, though I mince through the valley of the shadow of naffness, I will fear no cod..."
Compare, contrast and conclude.
...all Iraqi military and civilian personnel should listen carefully to this warning: in any conflict, your fate will depend on your actions.The full text of George Bush's televised address to the nation.
Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people.
Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people.
War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defence to say, 'I was just following orders'.
...having caused the death of about half a million Iraqis, mostly children, through sanctions, Bush and Blair declare that containment and sanctions are not working after all. Blair must reconcile his strongly and suddenly found conviction that war is better than containment with the fact that the US hawks, now prominent in the Bush administration, have been advocating a war on Iraq for the past 12 years - not to liberate the Iraqi people, or to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction, but to impose US hegemony on a strategically important country. September 11 gave them their opportunity.Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi political exile living in London, urges MPs to vote against war.
...if we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance, there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam.Bill Clinton offers his (in my opinion, rather lukewarm) support for Tony Blair's position - presenting in the process the broad liberal/moderate case for war.
I have resigned from the cabinet because I believe that a fundamental principle of Labour's foreign policy has been violated. If we believe in an international community based on binding rules and institutions, we cannot simply set them aside when they produce results that are inconvenient to us.Robin Cook explains his reasons for resigning from the government front bench, and argues for parliament to vote against military action in Iraq - presenting in the process the broad liberal/moderate case against war, stripped of all the conspiracy theories and amateur psychology.
I cannot defend a war with neither international agreement nor domestic support.
My own stance?
Blair doesn't have the support of NATO, the EU, the UN, the British people or even of the Labour party.
Iraq has not committed (nor even threatened to commit) any act of aggression against any other sovereign state. The conditions for war have therefore not been met.
Saddam Hussein is a brutal, corrupt dictator. He isn't the first, and he won't be the last. We are not generally given to overthrowing brutal, corrupt dictatorships by bombing their countries to pieces, and nor should we be.
The war will further provoke anti-Western sentiment in the Arab world, thus increasing, not decreasing the risk of future terrorist attacks against the UK and US.
Thousands will die, and many thousands more will suffer.
If the US succeeds in this action, then a terrible precedent will have been set, which I believe will form the basis for future unilateral actions against other regimes, in order to further equally illegitimate interests.
Plus all the usual conspiracy theories and amateur psychology, obviously. Obviously.
The only hope I have left: that I'm proved completely and utterly wrong, and end up feeling like a complete twerp in six months' time. Frankly, nothing would bring me greater pleasure.
Monday, March 17, 2003
The Troubled Diva Curiosity Box (113)
Item 113. Two Tribes (Keep The Peace) - Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984)
Promised for months and not delivered until now: here in all its glory is the 15 minute, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, ultimate, definitive cassette single version of Frankie's 1984 classic. (13.7 mb, but worth the download time.)
Oh God, this is going to look like the Great Troubled Diva Anti-War Statement, isn't it? Well, it isn't particularly meant that way. Apart from anything else: there does only appear to be the one tribe this time round. Then again, one can't altogether deny a certain topical resonance. So take from it what you will.
Update: Okay, so there may only be the one tribe, but what about the two prides, huh?
Update: Sorry - you weren't quick enough. These MP3s are no longer on my server. I generally make them available for a week or so (sometimes less) before substituting them for new ones. Better luck next time!
Thanks to the generosity of the lovely, lovely Sue Bailey, you can now access this site via the snappy new "Yes! I'm a proper weblogger!" URL of:
(Don't worry though: the old Blogspot URL will continue to work just fine.)