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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.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
BUZZ. THUMP. MOAN.
Reading of Anna's recent experiences with, ahum, noisy neighbours has reminded me of a grubby but amusing little tale. But before you read mine, you need to scuttle off and read hers first. Over there's the main event; this is just the coat-tail coda.
Off you go, and I'll see you in five.
OK, everybody back? Then I'll proceed.
Some twenty summers ago, my old friend Stex was renting a ground floor flat near the Trent. He shared a front door with his neighbours: a couple who lived in the flat above. Nice people, and clearly devoted to each other - but therein lay the rub. For, as Stex soon discovered, this couple liked having sex. A lot. Actually, they liked having sex - energetic, prolonged and above all NOISY sex - pretty much all the time, day or night. And, just like Anna, Stex's flat turned out to have walls - and more specifically, ceilings - made out of cardboard. So it wasn't exactly the best of situations.
One Saturday afternoon, Stex heard footsteps on the stairs, a male goodbye from the front door, and a female goodbye from the first floor. Peace at last, he thought, looking forward to a couple of hours of monastic hush.
And then he heard it. A rolling sequence of three distinct sounds.
First, a mechanical buzz. Next, a thump on the floor. Finally, an all-too familiar moaning.
BUZZ. THUMP. MOAN.
BUZZ. THUMP. MOAN.
BUZZ. THUMP. MOAN.
Over and over and over.
Stex's front room was directly below his neighbours' front room. With its centrally positioned sofa: perfect for stretching out and... relaxing. Maybe with one foot on the floor, just for... well, best not to over-think the situation. But surely not? Surely not? Stex had a vivid imagination and a mucky mind - perhaps that's why we got on so well - and so he dismissed all further speculation.
A while later - a long while later - the front door opened. Daddy was back.
"YOU CAN SWITCH IT OFF NOW, I'M HOME!" he bellowed, his voice carrying up the stairs and all round the house.
Abnormal, I'm telling you.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Guest post: cooking with K.
Having spent most of this evening sourcing and burning a playlist for K's "class of 1977" school reunion, which takes place in Leek tomorrow night (while I attend a wedding in the village, pointy fingers primed for the covers band), I have ceded control of today's blog post to my beloved. Well, it seems like a fair exchange.
So here, as posted on the village blog earlier today, is K's classic, home-tested recipe for chicken stock, Aga-style. Ah, I can still taste it now...
I like to make stock overnight in the low oven of the Aga, but I always like to start it off for about 15 minutes in the top oven.
1. Combine all stock ingredients in a large pan and bring to a gentle boil on the boiling plate.
2. Skim and transfer to the top oven.
3. Take a phone call.
4. Go to the pub and marinate gently for several hours.
5. Return home to sleep off the marinade.
6. Breakfast with copious quantities of tea (sugar essential) to wash down maximum permitted dose of paracetamol. Notice how homely the teapot looks sitting on top of the Aga.
7. Use a liberal helping of coping strategies to get through the working day.
8. Return home feeling relieved that the marinade has now mellowed to an acceptable level so that you can actually look forward to making that soothing risotto with the chicken stock you made last night.
…….. Ahhhhh, THE CHICKEN STOCK……..
9. I suggest you allow the pan to cool for several hours before arranging the charred, desiccated carcass and vegetables in the bin.
10. Garnish with Gin and Tonic.
11. Return to pub for fish and chips.
I trust this has been instructive. Oh, and here's that school reunion playlist in full: sourced almost entirely from hits from K's final year in the sixth form, September 1976 to July 1977.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I have met Gordon!!!
I've just got back from Derby, where I had a lovely time with Sarah, SwissToni and our VERY SPECIAL GUEST Gordon while watching Ungdomskulen rock The Royal. I'd have had an even lovelier time, had I not been suffering the ravages of what seemed on the surface like a perfectly civilised night in the pub on Thursday. Since when did three and a half pints of weak-ish ale, and seven hours of sleep, become such a direct threat to my physical well-being? Then again, the vast majority of my midweek nights out these days are to review gigs, where I stick - almost superstitiously - to my standard quota of two pints of lager. (As someone remarked on ILM the other week, is gig reviewing the last acceptable bastion of drinking on the job?)
Anyhow, it was great to meet Lovely Gordon in the flesh after so many years of online friendship. As I had hoped, the band were very much His Sort Of Thing - heavier than last time, the rest of us thought - and indeed most of us came away with CDs in our pockets. Although I had tried to rein in the pointy-fingered dancing - instead favouring a light percussive fingering on the side of my glass - it was to no avail, as the drummer's first comment to me was "I saw you dancing". Well, where's the shame in that?
Before I go, might I be permitted to alert you to my latest feature for The Guardian's Friday Film and Music section? In the wake of this week's shock Sugababes shenanigans, I've cast my eye over the peculiar phenomenon of groups who continue working, despite containing no members of their original line-ups. It's a bit stats-nerdy, but then so am I. Hope you like it.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Such was the verdict of the esteemed Nottingham Evening Post commentariat, shortly after a shortened version of my "emotional journey" piece appeared on its website this morning. (The same piece is in today's print edition, complete with a nice photo taken by K and a bloody awful photo which I don't recall seeing before. I'm all chin! Eww!)
"Bring it on, Philistines", I smirked, eagerly awaiting a torrent of similarly pungent insights throughout the course of the day. But alas, it was not to be. Well, it would have been tricky to insert the usual "Zanu-Labour"/"we pay enough council tax"/"Bottler Brown's broken Britain" rants into a piece about a prancing poof on a plinth, even for the most zealously committed of regular commenters.
All of which gives me a handy excuse to wrap up this bumper month of plinthage with a couple more links. Adrian Sevitz has a cute little video of a bunch of impromptu "fan dancers", paying their own twisted form of homage at the foot of the plinth last Thursday - and my official portrait artist Lucy Pepper (see graphic in top right corner) has immortalised my hour with a lovely drawing, attached to a post that seems to place me as some sort of poster boy for Generation X. (I see myself more as nestling within the Baby Boomer/Gen X cusp, but I'll take my compliments as I find them.)
Another footnote. Having repaired to the Ship And Shovel for a post-plinth drink with friends and family, we found ourselves sharing boozing space with the presenters and crew of Channel 4's Time Team. On my descent to the toilets, I found myself just behind one of the presenters, Phil Harding, who was being accosted by an enthusiatic fan.
"It's Mr Harding, isn't it?"
"Oh, could you tell me, are any of the episodes of Time Team available on DVD?"
(Even more gruffly) "I AM GOING. FOR A SLASH."
"Oh, well, can I ask you about it when you come out?"
* SLAM *
He left the pub pretty sharpish after that. Fame, who'd have it?
And now, if you'll excuse me, we're off for a beer in Beeston with Buni and his bloke. Please pray for my safe return. (As older readers might remember, I have a healthy suspicion of Nottingham's academia ghetto, as friends have had a habit of moving there and never being seen again. This archived piece from Troubled Diva's Golden Age will make everything clear.)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Tinchy Stryder and Fuck Buttons.
Over on the freelance blog, you can find gig reviews of Tinchy Stryder (from Friday night), and Fuck Buttons/Zun Zun Egui (from last night).
Enjoyable as it was, Tinchy Stryder's gig was marred by one of those awful DJs (assuming that any actual DJ-ing took place on stage, which I rather doubt) who think that cutting out the sound on each and every hook line constitutes a smart move. (And I do mean every hook line, on all three of the hits.) As those of us of a certain age will remember only too well, mobile DJs used to do this with Jeff Beck's "Hi Ho Silver Lining" in the Seventies. It was annoying then, and it's annoying now.
As for last night's gig, I was tickled by an overheard comment from one of the many earnest young men in the audience, just after support act Zun Zun Egui had finished their set. "They transcend leftfield boundaries!" Oh darling, I wouldn't go quite that far. While during the shall-we-say "challenging" main set from Fuck Buttons, I spent significant amounts of time trying to dispel the memory of an old Biff cartoon from the early 1980s, where two similarly earnest men in long overcoats talked of "juddering, wired monoliths of sound". (In the end, I opted for the non-actionable "thick, monolithic, slow-moving slabs of sound". Well, it was awfully late.)
My next gig's a payer: the fantastic Ungdomskulen at the Royal in Derby on Thursday night (last seen blowing the Young Knives off stage at the Rescue Rooms), in the company of Sarah, SwissToni and our Very Special Guest... GORDON!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sorting out the archives.
Prompted by Beleagured Squirrel's difficulty in finding posts from the beginning of the month, I have finally addressed myself to the long-standing issue of the incomplete archives.
Back in the olden times, Blogger used to auto-generate a handy little page, with links to all of my weekly archives, stretching back to Day One of this blog. In early 2007, for reasons best known to itself, it ceased to do so - meaning that once posts dropped off the bottom of the front page, it was almost impossible to retrieve them.
Having just finished hand-crafting archives for the past three years, in a simple calendar format, I have updated the sidebar accordingly.
Boring, but necessary. Yes, I know you'll never use them. But I hate loose ends.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Mike on the fourth plinth: an emotional journey in twenty stages.
0:00 Stuck In The Middle With You - Stealers Wheel
Over and above the general worry of making an utter arse of myself in public, I had two more specific worries: vertigo and exhaustion. Regarding the vertigo, I was given some sound advice in the One and Other project office, during my 90-minute induction period.
"When you get up there, your body becomes part of the plinth. So take a moment to ground yourself, as you feel the body of the plinth rising up through you."
Ascending via the cherry picker, we rose high above the plinth before dropping back down to dock. No longer being as high as I was a few moments earlier, I felt calmed and reassured by the process.
Although my 60-minute mix had been conceived more as a private ritual than a crowd-pleasing performance, I had elected to bookend it with tracks that would directly address the viewers. So if you synch the video with the audio, you'll see something of a mime act take place:
"I don't know why I came here tonight. I've got a feeling that something ain't right. I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair. I'm wondering how I'll get down the stairs. Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you. And I'm wondering what it is I should do..."
The best way to pre-empt the possibility of vertigo, I had decided, was jokingly to call attention to it - hence also my choice of T-shirt.
For the entire duration of my hour on the plinth, I never felt so much as a twinge of fear. In the face of such a powerful motivation to overcome it, I had successfully stared it down. As someone who is habitually ruled by fear, to an extent that can sometimes be unhealthily debilitating, this was an immediate and powerful lesson to learn.
1:18 I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters
Burlesque over, the dancing began. It was truly heartening to see so many supporters in the square - old friends, long-lost friends, people I had met through blogging and tweeting and message-boarding (Adrian, Alex, Brian, Chris, Dave, Luca, Matt, Meg, Steve, Rachel...), people I had never met offline before, my sister, my mother, my cousin, my partner - looking up and beaming and waving and (mostly) jiggling around with me. It helped me get over the initial hump, as we all locked together into the Scissor Sisters' familiar, welcoming, easily mid-paced bump-and-groove.
4:40 Just Dance - Lady GaGa
In earlier versions of the mix, I had started with low-slung 1970s funk: James Brown, Lyn Collins, Hamilton Bohannon. It would have been too cautious and too low-key a start. Instead, I wanted to celebrate the pop music of 2009: a period which, as I keep saying to anyone who will listen, has been the strongest for the UK singles charts in many, many years.
7:40 Bulletproof - La Roux
Perhaps it's because pop music tends to respond to recessions by cheering up and putting on its brightest clothes. (Think of glam-rock in 1973, or synth-pop in 1981, or the rave music which charted around 1991-92.) Or perhaps it's because pop music tends to drop a generation at the end of each decade, rejuvenating itself in the process. Or maybe it's just because acts like La Roux are overtly drawing inspiration from my generation's own Golden Age, and I'm merely trying to dress up my prejudices with bolted-on, after-the-fact theories?
10:57 Remedy - Little Boots
Not that any of this really matters, in the face of such patently glorious pop records as "Remedy": co-written and produced by Lady GaGa's go-to guy (who is also all over the forthcoming album from Alexandra Burke).
"No more poison, killing my emotion. I will not be frozen. Dancing is my remedy."
During the song's middle eight, a couple of members of the One and Other video production crew jumped out of their first floor cubby hole and started jiggling along with me, fingers suitably arranged in my trademark "pointy" position. (You can see it on the video stream, at the 13:43 mark.)
Watching the archived stream a day later, with the audio stream synched to within less than a second, I was struck by how well the camera crew had matched their images up to the music, often switching shots precisely at the end of a particular musical section. I already knew that they were going to stream the audio in the office; this both confirmed and amplified it.
14:10 When Love Takes Over - David Guetta ft. Kelly Rowland
Meanwhile, down in the square, I could see clumps of spectators dancing along - in perfect step - without the aid of headphones. Piss-take or tribute? It was immaterial. They were all smiling, and I decided that they were all smiling the right kinds of smiles.
17:15 Diva - Dana International
My mouth had become bone dry. Although I held out for as long as I could - not wanting to disrupt the flow for a second - a water bottle break had become imperative. I knelt down to glug - then carefully replaced the bottle, so that it continued to rest on top of the URL-revealing laminate that I had brandished at the top of the hour.
The break came just in time for the inevitable - and wholly necessary - Salute to the Magic of Eurovision. Eleven years ago, Dana International's "Diva" won the contest in Birmingham. It was the first year that I had attended the contest in person, and as such it marked a significant ramping up of my Fanboy Love. My first print-published piece of music writing (for Time Out London in 2005) was Eurovision-related, and my highest profile piece of music writing to date (for The Guardian in 2009) was also Eurovision-related.
So the ESC had to be represented - and in what better way, other than by combining it with a none-too-subtle re-inforcement of my personal blogging brand? Arms-aloft, V-for-VIVA shape-throwing duly followed.
20:14 He's On The Phone (Motiv8 Mix) - Saint Etienne
As the mix entered its Nineties Dance Anthem phase, I found myself addressing the camera, in an attempt to place "He's On The Phone" in its proper context. Along with Tatjana's "Santa Maria", this evokes powerful memories of dancing on the stage of Love Muscle at the Brixton Fridge, somewhere between the giddy summer of 1995 and the messy pinnacle of debauchery that was 1997.
As on the stage, so on the plinth. Once a podium dancer, always a podium dancer.
23:30 Waterfall - Atlantic Ocean
I could have added any number of boshing Trade anthems - the closest contender being Tony De Vit's era-defining 1997 remix of "Give Me Love" by Diddy - but the comparatively smooth and subtle "Waterfall" reminds me of my wide-eyed honeymoon period, before the mania set in and the five-year Lost Weekend kicked off in earnest.
As this played out, I found myself dancing in a different way: blotting out the square, half-hypnotising myself with flurrying hands and fingers, entirely lost in my own little world, re-capturing that sense of blissful oblivion.
At an earlier point in the track, I looked up and caught the eye of two strangers: a young man and a young woman, unequipped with headphones, who were dancing like dervishes. We exchanged a look, a grin, a wave - before I hurriedly swung back into myself, suddenly remembering all those spurious dancefloor communions, those chemically induced new-best-friendships, and the shaky foundations on which they were built. Half-smiling at the symbolism, I shook my head and dug deeper.
25:19 Always On My Mind - Pet Shop Boys
Five years on from the honeymoon, the hangover kicked in. One Saturday night in Heaven, somewhere in the middle of the annus horribilis that was 1999, "Always On My Mind" was dropped from nowhere, quite out of context with the rest of that night's set. It was the record that brought me to my senses.
This was the toughest track to dance to. I started it solemnly, regretfully, almost mournfully. I finished it wreathed in smiles. Bang on one of the final hooks, I caught his eye and blew him a kiss.
29:01 Lola's Theme - Shapeshifters
Just under halfway through, the mix entered its more subdued, more reflective phase. My moves felt less extroverted, more measured, perhaps a little more fluid. I spent longer on the largely unpopulated Nelson's Column side of the plinth, my back turned from the crowd of friends and strangers. Over on the Nelson's Column side, I felt calmer. I felt as if I had the whole square to myself. Just me, the square, the music, the dancing. It almost felt like my private hideaway.
31:12 In The Name Of Love - Sharon Redd
I admired the buildings on the south side of the square. I took in the full height of the column, then dipped my gaze down towards the giant chess set - still under construction - with its blingy, overly ornate pieces. Ahead of me and below, a smartly dressed upper-middle class couple in their late fifties hurried through the square, arm in arm, on their way to an evening of... high culture? fine dining? They glanced up, for no more than a second or two. Visibly wincing at the vulgarity of the spectacle, they held each other tighter and picked up their pace. They reminded me of the similarly aged and attired couple in the Hayward Gallery, who impatiently bustled up to - and almost immediately away from - Antony Gormley's Field for the British Isles, all haughty pre-conceptions intact.
33:39 Where Love Lives - Alison Limerick
A open-topped tourist bus passed down the western side of the square, two lone passengers on its top deck. We exchanged friendly waves. A while later, a white stretch limo with blacked-out windows gave me a cheerful hoot. I hadn't planned to wave at anybody or anything, but the odd fleeting nod to the outside world felt fair enough.
35:24 The Best Things In Life Are Free - Luther Vandross & Janet Jackson
A extended beat-mix ran Luther's "hey-ey-eys" over the first breakdown in Alison's track, before the introductory piano riff of "The Best Things In Life Are Free" signalled another shift in gear, snapping me back into full-on celebratory mode once again. The synchronised headphone-dancing flashmob had reduced to a hard core of three: Luca, Rob and my sister, with most of the others chatting, mingling and generally enjoying the scene.
(Oh, and how was my mother doing? Still there, still watching, still smiling. Good stuff.)
Meanwhile, in front of computer screens from Amsterdam and Portugal to San Francisco and Montreal, a hidden horde of groovers danced along in privacy, tweeting as they did so. Somewhere in France, a well-wisher managed ten minutes of boogying, courtesy of the free Wi-Fi in his local McDonalds, before being thrown out by the manager.
"I'm a different person - turned my world around." December 2004, bopping with Buni at NG1, pissed as a fart, tears streaming down my face.
Time to rejoin the party.
38:58 You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) - Sylvester
As the opening bars of Sylvester's disco classic rose up to meet the rap breakdown in the middle of Luther and Janet's track, so the beats per minute rose by nine points in a matter of seconds. For me, the effect was galvanising and re-energising. My dancing felt different again. More bump, more grind, more rump, more pump. Sexy Time.
Oh, and the whooping! I didn't know there was going to be whooping! But if it feels good: do it.
42:27 If It Feels Good, Do It - Della Reese
A water break, and a deceptive dip in tempo, before Della's chorus unleashed my inner beast.
"I don't care what people say; I'm gonna do it anyway. As long as it don't hurt me and you, I'm gonna do what I want to do."
Do it - WHOOP!
Do it - WHOOP!
Do it - WHOOP!
Do it - WHOOP!
Red faced, defiant, declaiming like a crazed preacher man. Swept up in the moment. Liberated. Totally and utterly letting go.
45:28 The Only Way Is Up - Otis Clay
To camera now: "This isn't Yazz. It's better than Yazz." The 1976 original on which the 1988 chart topper was based, which first came to my attention on a 2004 Coldcut Life:Styles compilation.
"Boy, I wanna thank you for loving me this way. Things may be a little hard now, but we'll find a brighter day."
Two tracks behind on the mix, his Blackberry auto-paused by incoming calls from his mum and dad struggling with the technology, K smiles and waves back.
49:37 You're The First, The Last, My Everything - Barry White
One of my sister's favourites. ("This one's for you.") A wedding disco perennial, a calculated crowd-pleaser. The home stretch.
52:47 Xanadu - Olivia Newton-John & Electric Light Orchestra
Suggested by Nigel Invisible Stranger on Facebook, voted for in the comments box. The readers' choice. ("What a strange bunch you are.") Fond memories of Duckie at the RVT. Camp as tits, with a swooning climax that saw me sinking to my knees...
56:10 Together In Electric Dreams - Giorgio Moroder & Phil Oakey
...before theatrically rising back up again, signalling my appreciation to the fan club, and closing the mix with a tribute to their support: not just now, but right back through the blogging era.
"Though you're miles and miles away, I see you every day. I dont have to try; I just close my eyes. We`ll always be together, however far it seems. We`ll always be together, together in electric dreams."
The absolute highlight of my day at this year's V Festival in Weston Park, where a packed tent - comprised mostly of people less than half the age of the performers on stage - showered the Human League with love, bellowing along at full throttle. More happy tears, and a sudden realisation that this HAD to end the mix.
Behind me, the cherry picker was drawing ever closer. But there HAD to be time for that all-important second verse, and I wasn't about to be cut off in my scarlet-faced, vein-popping prime. (Exhaustion, what was that? At this stage, I still had enough energy to keep me going for a second hour.)
"Because the friendship that you gave has taught me to be brave, no matter where I go I'll never find a better prize..."
As the League girls reprised the last four words, I turned to face the cherry picker at the precise moment that it docked on top of my water bottle: squashing it flat, spurting a thick jet of water right between my legs, soaking my crotch and causing me to jump back in startled amusement. Slapstick Comedy Gold.
Perhaps life's best prizes are those which can't be planned for. All of the wonderful things that have happened to me in the past ten years: I didn't ask for any of them. Somehow, and fuck knows how, they just... happened.
Having my hour on Antony Gormley's plinth - to dance, and share, and smile, and entertain, and create, and meditate, and celebrate, and connect, and let go, and be fully, fully myself - has been the most incredible privilege. It has made me think, very deeply, about the nature of art. It has caused me to re-examine my sense of self, and my place in the world, in a fresh light. It has challenged me, and shown me that fear can always be overcome.
It has been the Best. Fun. Ever. And I will always treasure its memory.