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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.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Way back at the beginning of June, I received an invite to a special "bloggers only" preview, in the screening room of a swanky Soho hotel, of the movie Hallam Foe, which went out on general release in the UK this weekend. Never being one to turn down the opportunity for an ooh-I-saw-it-FIRST freebie, I duly accepted (provided that I could bring along a glamorous lady companion), but remained mystifed as to why anyone would have stuck me on their guest list in the first place.
A bit of judicious Googling led me to suspect the unseen hand of Hugh McLeod at work: he who writes the widely read blog gapingvoid. (You know, the one with the cartoons drawn on the back of business cards.) As it turned out, the hunch was correct. Hugh is an old friend of the film's director David Mackenzie, and the bloggers-only preview appeared to be some sort of experiment in building a blog-based buzz around the movie, well in advance of its general release. Further to this, an official, regularly updated "making of the movie" blog had been in existence since February 2006, although I had never stumbled across it myself before.
Thankfully, no conditions were attached to the invitation. The assembled bloggers remained perfectly at liberty to write what they wanted about the film, positively or negatively, or indeed not to write about it at all. To my mind, this demonstrated a fairly massive statement of faith by the film's creators.
Having met my glamorous lady companion (GLC) outside the swanky hotel, we sashayed into the swishy bar, where my GLC kindly got the drinks in: two spirits, two mixers, and virtually no change from a twenty quid note. How exclusive!
What neither of us had realised was that free drinks and canapes were simultaneously being served to the bloggerati in the downstairs bar, adjacent to the screening room. Well, why didn't they say?
After some difficulty in locating said screening room, we eventually found the vestibule, where a nice lady with a clipboard was ticking off names. I had been wondering all along which of my other blogpals might be in attendance, and now I discovered that, with the exception of my GLC, there were none. This was a totally different group of bloggers, drawn more from the marketing/consultancy/web punditry areas of the UK blogosphere, many or most of whom made their livings from the sort of subject matter which they blogged about. Erk! Eek! Professionals!
As well as Hugh McLeod, who introduced the film and chaired the post-screening discussion, director David Mackenzie was also in attendance, along with the film's two stars: Jamie Bell (best known for his starring role in Billy Elliot) and Sophia Myles (recently seen playing Madame de Pompadour in Doctor Who). Such exalted company! And all laid on for a bunch of bloggers? Talk about steering through uncharted waters...
And so to the film itself, which began by scoring two immediate massive Plus Points: an animated title sequence by David Shrigley, accompanied by Orange Juice's fantastic 1980 single Blue Boy on the soundtrack. Indeed, the whole soundtrack - CD copies of which were given away free to all attendees, and ooh look, blimey, an exclusive new track from Franz Ferdinand - demonstrated sound taste, having been assembled from the roster of well respected indie label Domino Records.
In the movie, Jamie Bell plays the troubled youth Hallam Foe: a mixed-up loner who faux-ferally roams around the grounds attached to his capacious family home, with "tribal" daubings on his face and alternately voyeuristic and vengeful fantasies on his mind. His mother is dead, his father has re-married, and his stepmother is a cold-hearted eminence grise who reads his diaries on the sly. A potentially violent confrontation with her in Hallam's tree-house ends with the two of them having sex (the first confirmation that Young Master Bell is now Quite The Young Man), after which Hallam runs away to Edinburgh, where the bulk of the film is set.
Soon after arriving in Edinburgh, Hallam becomes erotically obsessed with Kate (played by Sophia Myles), whom he spots on the street. He secretly follows her to the city centre hotel where she works, and ends up taking a job in the hotel's kitchens. In the evenings, he spies on Kate through the windows of her apartment, as his obsession intensifies. The reason for this obsession: Kate is the spitting image of his late mother.
So far, so Oedipal. (And for many film critics, it has to be said: so far, so preposterous.) As for me, the assumption at this still early stage was that we were in for a standard stalker/slasher flick, with Hallam as the twisted aggressor and Kate as the silent victim. All of which was pressing hard on my Big Red Gender Politics Alarm Button.
Suffice it to say that, from this point on, my expectations of both characters were slowly and skilfully subverted, as Hallam and Kate revealed themselves to be more nuanced, more complex, and more intriguingly peculiar and perverse than we had been led to expect. And although many of the same critics have judged the film's denouement to be far-fetched and unconvincing, I found it to contain recognisable emotional truths, which moved me to the brink of tears.
(Let's just say that, without wishing to cause undue alarm, I spotted certain elements of my own mixed-up teenage self in Hallam's character. But not the Oedipal elements, I hasten to assure you.)
Hallam Foe, then. A modestly budgeted independent production, beautifully acted and intelligently directed, which deserves all the support it can get. And yes, I have factored in the distorting effect of the ooh-I-saw-it-FIRST factor...
After the screening, the director and actors trooped back in for what I felt was a rather unsatisfactory and exasperating Q&A session, dominated as it was by a certain self-regarding self-importance on the part of the questioners. This was perhaps only to be expected, given the unprecedented hospitality which was being afforded us, but questions such as "How is blogging changing the film industry?", and observations along the lines of "Pah, cinemas are old hat, we'll soon be downloading movies onto hand-held devices, and what do you have to say about THAT?" made me, my GLC, and some of the assembled panellists visibly cringe at times.
Tellingly, when one questioner began by explaining that unlike his predecessors, he was neither a blogger nor a marketeer, Jamie Bell reacted by putting his head in his hands and groaning, with no small degree of force, "OH! THANK GOD!"
But, as I say, uncharted waters for all concerned.
The evening concluded with a Meet And Greet Slash Networking Opportunity on the top floor of a swanky diner down the road. Upon entering, my GLC and I headed straight for a table in the quietest corner, which turned out to be rather handily positioned by the kitchen doors. As a result, we got First Pickings on all the tasty finger food, the moment that it was brought though, freshly cooked and piping hot, by the charming and faultlessly attentive waiting staff. Sod the networking, this was a Major Result.
We stayed put for the duration, locked in conversation, and ended up mingling with no-one (although I did get to chat earlier with Gia Milinovich, a long-standing blogging acquaintance, and briefly with social software maven Suw Charman). Such uncharacteristic aloofness, especially at a blogmeet, ill becomes me... but then, it really was exceedingly good finger food.
See also: the official Hallam Foe blog; the official site; the full-length trailer (with links to video footage of the Q&A).
Monday, August 20, 2007
Arty blogmeet shot.
By some strange trick of the light (or maybe it was just the Waggledance shandies), I look all Deep and Soulful on this one. Don't be fooled!
Actually, I think I'm just gazing wistfully out at the smoking area. Yes, that would explain everything.
(photo by Lucy Pepper)
Sunday, August 19, 2007
"K would like a Waggledance Shandy, please."
No, we've not been to a dodgy strip club; instead, yesterday saw me taking K to his first ever blogmeet, at a formerly gay (and now much improved) pub on the Bayswater Road. Waggledance was their guest beer - and at a whopping 5%, it was a fine ale indeed - but since K was going to have to be driving us home from Derby station that evening, shandies were the order of the day. I'm sure you can picture the amusement.
Perhaps I shouldn't even be calling the blogmeet a blogmeet, since it wasn't an openly publicised event. Rather it was a gathering of The British Blogpals Of Lucy Pepper From Portugal - who, amongst her many more celebrated achievements, is also responsible for the first two images at the top of my sidebar.
Most of the blogpals were familiar faces; others I was meeting for the first time. K had never met any of them before, and he doesn't read blogs anyway, so I did a certain amount of discreet "background" hissing - but it wasn't an easy social situation for him to step into, and he did well to last the course with such good grace. (Tellingly, he formed an immediate alliance with Lucy's Professor, one of the two other non-bloggers in the room.) Perhaps I should have dragged him round the table with me, showing him off and making sure that EVERYONE LOVED HIM. But that's not our style. So I was rather pleased when Bob (hooray, another Gay at a Blogmeet for once!) took me aside and told me that K was "lovely". Because, well, he IS. And it always pleases me when people agree.
(I always operate on the default assumption that everybody who meets K is madly jealous that I got in there before they did. Yes, I might be delusional. But at least my delusions are romantic ones.)
(Example: the nice older lady on reception at our hairdressers, who didn't realise that we were partners until it came out in passing a couple of months ago:
Nice older lady (with feeling): I love him.
Mike: So do I. But I saw him first.
Our hairdresser: Yeah, but she had him last.
You have never seen two people rouge up quite so swiftly. But I over-parenthesise.)
As for me, the usual phenomenon occurred, whereby I left the pub feeling I hadn't spent nearly long enough talking to people, even though I had been there for over five hours solid. How does that happen?
We would have packed swatches (see posts below; way to fill a comments box; updates as we get them), but they'd never have fitted in the day sack.
I am very tempted to give you neatly turned pencil portraits of the bloggers I'd never met before, but perhaps discretion is the better part of valour.
I had one Waggledance too many, and ended up burbling. But that's all part of the experience.
Mike loves meeting bloggers!
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Some popular myths about blogmeets dispelled.
1. They are full of super-confident high achievers, comparing the advances they got from their book deals.
(If you are fortunate enough to be admitted to one of their conversational bouquets, the customary salutation is “Congratulations on [insert recent major achievement]! Can I just say that I love your work?”)
2. They are full of earnest geeks, assessing the latest plug-in widgets and swapping CSS hacks.
(A suggested conversation-opener: “So, is anyone Twittering the SXSW keynotes?”)
3. If you turn up on your own without knowing anyone, no-one will talk to you. In fact, they’ll think you’re a bit weird.
(Meeting total strangers off the Internet? Who would do such a thing?)
4. If you meet a blogger whom you a) don’t read or b) have never heard of before, admitting as much will spell certain social death.
(The recommended face-saver at such moments is “Oh! I am aware of your work!”)
5. The prime purpose of a blogmeet is to network, network, network. If you come away without being added to half a dozen new blogrolls, and without the phone numbers of a couple of good agents stuffed in your pocket, the event will have been a failure.
All of which is by way of a reminder that there’s a Nottingham blogmeet this Saturday, from 14:00 until mid-evening, in the café/ bar of the Broadway cinema on Broad Street. (If you're not local, here's a map.) All are welcome.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Nottingham Blogmeet, Saturday March 10th.
(This is a cross-post with Rullsenberg Rules.)
It's time, don't you think? Since Nottingham is so centrally located - 1:40 by train from London, 1:16 from Birmingham, 2:25 from Manchester - and since we've never yet hosted a public blogmeet, and since Lisa Rullsenberg and I have been infected with a sudden dose of The Keens...
...and since, as we all know, the Best Fun is Organised Fun...
...well then, here goes.
The date: Saturday March 10th 2007.
The time: From around 2pm until mid-evening. Come when you like, leave when you like, stay for as long or as little as you like.
The venue: The ground floor café/bar of Broadway Cinema on Broad Street, in central Nottingham. 10 minutes by foot from the train station, or a short tram or taxi ride.
Here's a map (PDF format).
Licensed bar, hot and cold food available throughout the day, open plan, large tables, pleasant buzz, appropriate arts/media milieu. Because we do like a good milieu. No smoking, but it's only a quick hop outside for a crafty chuff.
The vibe: Friendly, welcoming and resolutely non-cliquey. Hell, Lisa and I have never even met; how could we be cliquey?
The door policy: All are welcome - from the Nottingham area, or from any other part of the UK. Or, indeed, The World.
Hope you can make it. See you there. I'll be the one in the nice smart shirt, trying to (*cough*) maintain level eye contact.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Things I have done in the last week-and-a-bit. (1)
1. Seen the Puppini Sisters, at a Halloween "burlesque" evening down The Social.
This was one of those nights when I find myself thinking, "Writing teeny-tiny gig reviewlets for t'local paper: is it really worth standing around in the oppressive heat, for hours on end, bored and restless, and unable to pass the time by drinking more than the statutory maximum of two pints of lager (even half a pint extra, and Drunkard's Block sets in; been there, tried that, got the shit article to prove it), when the headline act in question turns out to as underwhelming as this lot?"
I'd say more - but I know you don't come here for the music, so I shan't. Suffice it to say that the Puppini Sisters - an immaculately coiffed and maquillaged trio of not-actually-siblings, who specialise in mixing Andrews Sisters standards with Andrews-ified novelty covers of modern pop numbers (Wuthering Heights, Heart Of Glass, Panic), who would have been fine as a three-minute interlude on a TV chat show, and might have been OK in a swishy cabaret bar, with proper chairs and tables and waiters and stuff - were utterly unsuited to performing in a packed, sweaty rock venue, at half past eleven on a Tuesday night, to a glammed-up but rapidly wilting crowd whose Halloweeny goodwill had been gradually eroded by a succession of alternately amateurish and ill-matched support acts, and by a tedious and unjustifiable forty-five minute wait with nothing to do except get into fractious arguments with each other (just behind us), or faint (just in front of us).
(Did you enjoy that last sentence? I know I did.)
Anyhow, Alan at Reluctant Nomad (currently enjoying his second massive traffic spike in a month, and really quite the belle of the Internet these days, not that it will change him in any way, oh dear me no, although 18,000 page views in a day would certainly turn my head, at least just a little) has posted his own report - and also some photos of the sexy ginger-haired double bass player, who made our ordeal so much more bearable. (Note: Don't get too excited. He was heaps better in the flesh.)
2. Collapsed in a heap in front of the telly for two days.
Finding myself possessed of an overhwelming desire to be horizontal, with an achey breaky bod to match, I promptly excused myself from all professional commitments, and spent a perversely agreeable couple of days watching old movies, in a fuzzed-out swoon of grateful surrender.
(Best movie: The Card, starring Alec Guinness. Biggest let-down: Our Man In Havana, also starring Alec Guinness. Those afternoon schedulers on TCM and More4 sure do be liking their Alec Guinness movies.)
3. Had a Good Old Fashioned Big Gay Night Out In Nottingham.
"Oh! I'm in town on a Friday night! Oh, and K's away! Well, I must Go Out On The Scene, then! It's my duty! I'm not ready for the knacker's yard just yet, ha ha! Maybe they'll play the Scissor Sisters! Maybe I'll dance! Maybe someone will flirt with me! Even though I've got my specs on! Or "cruising shields", as I call them, ha ha! Not that I care one way or the other, of course! I'm beyond all that!"
Thus did I rage against the dying of the light. At some length. With Belle of the Internet Alan ("Whoops, Mind My Spike!") and Nurse Alan - and special guest TGI Paul, up from London for the weekend.
4. Attended a Big Old Birthday Blogmeet in London.
I really must stop getting totally bladdered on the night before "society" blogmeets, such as the one held in honour of Andre's 40th birthday, last Saturday afternoon/evening. That way, I wouldn't have to spend the first hour telling everyone how knackered I was and how little sleep I'd had, and that I was "running on empty", and "faking it". No-one likes to be told that the person they're talking to is "faking it", do they?
However, by setting expectations of social fabulousness at rock bottom, I was actually freeing myself from the anxiety which they could have induced. This turned out to be quite an effective strategy, and one which I could usefully bear in mind for the future.
And so, one pint of lager later, and thus restored to full functionality, I was working the room like the hoary old tart that I am. Damn, but it was great to see some of my bestest blogpals again - and equally, to meet others for the first time. It was a good mix in that respect - and, indeed, in every respect.
Shall we do a roll-call? Or will it just turn into one of those icky displays of linky-love, that can be so off-putting when you don't know the people concerned?
Nah, let's do a roll-call. In alphabetical order, so that people don't start reading things into randomness. (We're a sensitive bunch.) Off we go!
Abby "One Track" Lee.
"I don't know what I should be calling her", someone said to me during the course of the afternoon. "Do I say Abby, or [real name], or Girl, or what?"
"Well, Andre calls her One Track. Why not go with that?"
As was only right and proper, One Track and I got to share a couple of agreeably fruity exchanges along the way. One was at my instigation, involved webcams, and contained the punchline "So what was I supposed to do: reply to them with my nose?" More than that, I am not at liberty to divulge. You'll have to invent your own middle bit.
The other was at One Track's instigation, and concerned itself with the lamentable lack of lube-awareness within the heterosexual community. (I didn't realise that it was ever required for front-door action - but then, why would I? My sexual knowledge operates mainly on a need-to-know basis.)
On my return journey, I noticed that One Track's worthy little tome is currently at Number Two in the "best sellers" display at the St. Pancras station branch of WH Smith. Awesome or what!
Birthday Boy Andre was showered with cards and compact-sized gift-ettes - a "Head Boy" badge here, a freshly laid farm egg there - and from me, a hand-crafted CD entitled (wait for it) A Beautiful Compilation. (My days of sighing semi-recumbence were not entirely unproductive, then.)
If you would like to assemble your own copy of A Beautiful Compilation, then you will need the following ingredients.
1. I Started A Blog Nobody Read - Sprites(Yes, an "emotional journey". Well spotted, you.)
2. Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken - Camera Obscura
3. Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn & John
4. Casanova In Hell (live) - Pet Shop Boys featuring Rufus Wainwright
5. Everybody Wants A Little Something - Duke Special
6. Long Way Round - Badly Drawn Boy
7. Once I Was - Tim Buckley
8. Everything I Cannot See - Charlotte Gainsbourg
9. The Greatest - Cat Power
10. She's Gone - The Hidden Cameras
11. Giddy Stratospheres - The Long Blondes
12. The Decision - The Young Knives
13. Oops! I Did It Again (live) - Richard Thompson
14. Uncertain Smile - The The
15. Tower Of Song - Leonard Cohen
16. Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
17. Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) - Eels
18. If It Feels Good, Do It - Della Reese
19. The Only Way Is Up - Otis Clay
20. What A Wonderful World - Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan
Anna P Boat.
Anna had a box of those little mini-photo-card things that you can get done off Flickr, and I have to say that they were absolutely gorgeous. I've never quite got the appeal of Flickr (especially when people stick Flickr pics on their blogs - they're so SLOW), but these little card things were enough to make me want to go off and take hundreds of photos, like, tomorrow or something.
Last time I saw Pix, it was in a "jazz curry" joint at Archway. We didn't chat for long enough this time, but you know how these things can be.
Anxious. (whose write-up is here)
I've been following Status Anxiety ever since the previous time we met (over a year ago), so Anxious was one of the people that I was particularly looking forward to seeing. We talked about all sorts, including - what else? - that ole devil called Anxiety. (She actually comes across as rather self-assured in real life, lest you should think otherwise. But I don't want to burst any bubbles. Invisible inner anx is still anx. Hell, I should know.)
Cheerful One. (who refers to the event, albeit obliquely, here)
I might be wrong, but Cheerful One was the only person at the meet that I don't recall even so much as saying "Hello" to. Bah! It's always the ones that get away that come back to haunt you...
Clare Boob Pencil.
Clare told us a long and involved story concerning her train journey to London, a sewing kit, various defective items of clothing, and a number of costume changes in the train's toilets. A little while later, she re-emerged in a different top. Is this evidence of some sort of compulsive costume changing syndrome?
Damian of Our Albion and Universal Critic. (whose write-up is here)
We had quite a long chat - but I was three pints down by that stage, and my memory had switched to RealPlayer streaming mode.
Girl on a Train.
She was on that bit of the table that I never quite managed to infiltrate, so we didn't do much more than wave and smile at each other.
Greavsie. (who avoids the subject here)
He got caught in the crossfire of my self-instigated and unpublishable webcam-related exchange with One Track - but coped with it manfully, I thought. Unlike someone else, of whom more in a bit...
Hg has been a Gentleman of Leisure for most of this year. I deeply envy his freedom, and the the unflustered serenity which it seems to have elicited.
JonnyB. (whose write-up is here)
We talked about blog sponsorship, and the Googlejuice which a carefully placed hyperlink can induce. (Until I linked to K's company's website with the words "canine cancer" the other day, the site was languishing in the 40s for the term in question. A couple of days later, it had shot up to fourth position. We bloggers don't always know what we're sitting on.)
Later on, as One Track and I steered our lube-based discussion onto foreskin-related territory (do circumcised cocks need more lube than uncut cocks?), something inside this sheltered East Anglian diarist cracked. Why, you could have heard his howl of trapped anguish all the way up to Covent Garden tube. How unlike the stoic sang froid demonstrated by Greavsie (see above). We do put our str8 boyz through the mill sometimes!
Karen Uborka, Pete Dot Nu and Baby Bernard.
As has been well documented, Baby Bernard could be said to owe his very existence to a blogmeet. The first baby of British blogging looked thrilled to be amongst us all, and gurgled merrily throughout. The cutest and most sunny-natured baby you ever did see - and I don't even like babies, so I speak without prejudice in this matter.
Leonie. (whose write-ups are here and here)
Again, we didn't really get past the nodding and smiling stage. She really is a very lovely looking lady, though. Is it OK to say that? Well, she is, dammit! I'm a big old poof-arse, I can say these things.
"Are you here to arrange us all into alphabetical order?", I quipped, facetiously. Mark has just taken his fledgling Technoranki service to the next level - meaning that those of us Britbloggers who have registered with the site and added his thingy to our template now get a nice little PageRank graphic, and the chance to qualify for the Technoranki Top 200 chart. And as you should all know by now, I ain't half a sucker for a good chart. Especially one that puts me at Number... well, never mind about that.
Meg P Meish.
"I felt like a Betamax in a room full of DVDs", says the pioneering first-waver whom I have come to regard as the Dowager Duchess of British blogging. No, no, no. As Damian says in her comments box: Meg is like vinyl in a sea of MP3s. Wish she'd stayed longer; it had been ages, and I fancied a good long chat.
Mimi in New York.
Accompanied by her intrepid polar explorer boyfriend, and looking dazzling in a white woollen dress, Mimi was the afternoon's surprise guest. We could have chatted for much longer, were it not for the impertinent demands of a lager-swollen bladder (on my part) and the lure of Borat (on her part). We talked about her forthcoming book, and of the difficulties of sticking to one's literary guns when others would rather you dumbed down and sexed up.
Non-Working Monkey. (who briefly mentions the occasion here)
"Oh, you're Non-Working Monkey!", I exclaimed, brightly. "You're quite the Hot Blog of the moment, aren't you? Everyone keeps saying how good you are, and linking to you, and..."
"AAAARGH!", she squirmed, with what I took to be equal measures of embarrassment and delight. "Will people STOP SAYING THAT!"
Shiz good though, intshi? Are you reading her yet? Everybody else is!
Petite Anglaise. (whose write-up is here)
After Petite appeared on Richard and Judy a few months ago, we enjoyed a little e-mail exchange, during which she admitted that she "had kittens in the dressing room". As I reminded her, I then spent a full twenty-four hours thinking that Petite really did have real, live kittens in her dressing room, in best Mariah Carey diva-style - until K gently suggested that maybe, just maybe, she was using a figure of speech. I can be worryingly literal-minded at times.
We talked world music, as we usually do, and I said "Have you heard of Tartit?" At which point, our high-minded cultural exchange somewhat collapsed in on itself. Hee hee, Tartit! Their new album's good, though...
We spent quite some time reverentially invoking the spirit of Peter @ Naked Blog, and its recent feline off-shoot. Have you seen Peter's debut vidcast yet? A master class in semi-inebriated eloquence, so it is...
Tim "Free Man In" Preston. (whose write-up is here)
Winner of the Best Personal Blog award at the recent inaugural Manchester Blog Awards, no less. Such exalted company we keep these days...
Had to disappear early, due to reasons amply documented elsewhere. The "living up to the name of his blog" gag has been done as well. Hey ho!
Here is a photo of five of the above-mentioned attendees. Can you spot who is who?
(I have done other things in the last week-and-a-bit, but we'll be here all night. Part Two soon come.)