troubled diva  
 

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.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ours Was A Nice House, Ours Was.

Nottingham latched onto the house boom long before most cities but was too cool for smiley T-shirts, as Mike Atkinson recalls...

For me, it all began at The Asylum, in the autumn of 1982. Tucked round the back of Woolworths on Stanford Street, the basement venue had previously been a gay club called Whispers – and as a hangover from those times, it continued to sell little brown bottles of amyl nitrate (“poppers”) from behind the bar. “Avoid direct contact with the nose”, said the label – and so, knowing no better, we would hold the bottles at chin height, making vague wafting motions and wondering why nothing was happening. Ah, such innocent times.

The Asylum wasn’t Nottingham’s first poser’s paradise – that honour would probably go to the Saturday “futurist” nights at Rock City – but it was perhaps the first club in town to adopt the ethos of London venues like The Mud Club and The Wag. The music didn’t change much from week to week, but we were happy with the familiarity of Blue Monday, Buffalo Gals, Planet Claire, The Cure’s Let’s Go To Bed, Blancmange’s Feel Me and Lies by the Thompson Twins. A year later, as its allure began to dwindle, a new place opened up in the Lace Market: the legendary Garage, run by the Selectadisc crew.

Back in the day, the Garage’s clientele split right down the middle, mingling only in the ground floor bars. Upstairs was for the togged-up trendies; downstairs was for the crimped and buckled Goths. Our gang liked it better upstairs, where Graeme Park mixed style-pop with funkier stuff, gradually nudging the music policy towards the latter. By the middle of 1985, the conversion was complete, with the harder, tougher sounds of early Def Jam (Beastie Boys, LL Cool J) and Washington DC go-go now dominating Park’s dance floor. Twelve months later, Chicago house hit The Garage – and clubbing was never the same again.

Your entry was never guaranteed, though – for this was also the age of style fascism, led by the fashion pages of The Face, Blitz and i-D. “Dress up, dress down, dress sideways – but above all, dress”, ordered one of The Garage’s posters – and the door staff had been instructed accordingly. One Friday night, a group of us showed up in less than cutting-edge apparel, only to be turned away at the door. “But we’re interesting, creative, exotic people!”, I pleaded – not entirely seriously, but giving it a last-ditch shot none the less. “Oh, OK, you’d better come in then”, muttered the doorman, remembering his brief. A couple of months later, faced with the problem of sneaking in a mate-of-a-mate with a streaked mullet and stone-washed jeans, I tried the same line again, with equal success. It was like uncovering a magic password.

1988’s fabled Summer Of Love might have revolutionised the scene in London and Manchester, but the acid house explosion largely passed us by. Down at The Garage, now re-branded as the Kool Kat, Graeme Park continued to ride the entire spectrum of BPMs: half an hour of hip hop, half an hour of house, and back again. And it wasn’t druggy, either. The eccies didn’t make their empathy-inducing presence felt until the early Nineties, and so we continued to sulk in designer threads, sucking on bottles of Sol with wedges of lime stuck in the necks. Zhivagos in the Viccy Centre tried a one-off acid night, but it didn’t really work. The usual crowd turned up, aloof as ever, but obediently sticking their hands in the air because that was what you were supposed to do, right?

Meanwhile, James Baillie had opened The Barracuda on Hurts Yard, where Michael Murphy’s anything-goes “Queen Vic” nights became the stuff of legend. (Abba’s Dancing Queen, in a cool club? It felt radical at the time.) In the spring of 1988, Baillie and Murphy upgraded to Eden on Greyhound Street, and in late 1989 Ballie’s Venus – housed in the same venue as the old Asylum club – brought clubbers of my generation full circle. Next came the hazy hedonism of the Nineties – but that was a whole new chapter…

This interview can also be found in the current edition of LeftLion magazine.

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Interview: Graeme Park

This interview can also be found in the current edition of LeftLion magazine.

Two years ahead of the fabled 1988 Summer Of Love, The Garage on St Mary’s Gate became one of the first clubs – hell, perhaps even the first club - in the country to specialise in house music, (almost) all night long. And its introduction had nothing to do with smiley faces, bandanas, MDMA-drenched Ibizan epiphanies, or any of that distracting flim-flam – and everything to do with the knowledge and enthusiasm of one particular music obsessive.

From late 1983 until the end of the decade, Graeme Park was Nottingham’s most pioneering, most influential and best-loved club DJ, whose residency at The Garage took a generation of clubbers on a journey from early Eighties style-pop to late Eighties garage and techno, via electro, hip-hop, rare groove, DC go-go, Chicago jack tracks, and all points in between. And it all began in one little shop on Bridlesmith Gate…



If it wasn't for Selectadisc, I'd have never have been a DJ. I ended up in Nottingham more by luck than design, to be honest; I was playing in bands, signing on, and used to frequent Selectadisc: both stores, on Market Street and the smaller one on Bridlesmith Gate. Bridlesmith Gate is the one that I spent more time in; with the main shop, you used to walk past and be a bit frightened to go in. Apart from the fact that it was slightly more friendly, Bridlesmith Gate used to have the second hand department upstairs. In the singles department there was a guy called Mel, and then there was a guy called Jeff, downstairs in the albums part, and they were both very knowledgeable. And because I played in bands, like most 19 or 20-year olds who are really into music, I kind of knew my stuff. I used to buy what I thought were quite cool records, and what they thought were quite cool records.

One day when I was in there, they said, “Somebody’s ill, can you help out? It’s dead simple.” I knew it was dead simple, because I used to work at Saturday job at a record shop in Scotland. I ended up working there part-time. And when Mel left, I was in charge of upstairs, which was brilliant. That was about 1982, 1983. And the thing is, Brian Selby - the original owner - had his office was at Bridlesmith Gate. He’d often pop out to make a cup of tea, and ask what we were playing. So I got to know him really well.

Brian had a record label background - he used to have his own Northern Soul label. He was just really into music, you know? He dabbled with restaurants as well. He had some sort of diner called Zuckermans at the top of Hockley - at one point, he was kind of taking over the whole of the East Midlands.

I loved the fact that I was in charge of buying in the singles, because I had quite eclectic taste. I remember for example Madonna’s first single Holiday, which didn’t really do much. There was a great offer on it from the rep: buy one, get one free. I bought shitloads of them, because I knew it was going to be massive. But of course it wasn’t at first time round, and I got in trouble for buying so many. So by the time that it was a big record, Brian was dead pleased. We sold them all and made lots of money on them.

I also liked being in charge of buying in the second hand stuff. My eclectic collection owes a lot to the fact that people would come in, a bit down on their luck, and get rid of classic rock and pop albums. Stuff like The Doors, and Love, and all that late Sixties stuff that had gone out of fashion. I'd play them in the shop and go; “Wow, I actually get this band; I can understand why this is a classic album.” So I’d buy it for myself.

The other great thing about Market Street was that they had a massive stock of cut-outs, which used to be the name for cheap imports from Europe. Portuguese versions of British-released albums, with the corners cut off them; hence “cut-outs”. Brian could sell those for a lot less than the proper British releases. And people would go, “Well, you know what, for £4.99 you’re getting a cut-out and you’re paying £6.99 for the proper British version.” And they were just the same. Maybe the quality wasn’t as good.

Brian had access to all these warehouses that stocked all this stuff; Jim (Cooke, last manager of Selectadisc) and Brian used to drive around in this Transit van to get stock. One minute you’d be serving people in the shop, the next minute Brian would be running up the stairs. “Come on, we need you to help us unload the van.” You’d go downstairs, and he’d have got boxes and boxes of the new Big Country album that had just come out and was flying off the shelves.

I vividly remember the day that Brian walked in and said “Guess what, I’ve just bought: the Ad Lib club.” And I’m like, “You’ve bought the Ad Lib club? That seedy, dark place, where you can smell the weed coming out of it on reggae nights? Why have you bought the Ad Lib club?” He says, “Because I think Nottingham needs a really cool little club, just like the Wag Club in London. I think I could turn it into this cool club, where they play really cool music.” I said, “Brilliant, but what are you gonna do - close it and do it up?” “No no no. As of tonight” – because it was a Friday night or something – “I’m renaming it The Garage, and I want you all to come down". "So what about all the regulars?" “Well, they’re not getting in, it’s gonna be a new thing.”

"So who’s gonna be the DJ?" He goes, “Well, I thought tonight, opening night, you’re gonna do it.” And I’m like, “Whoa, hang on a minute - I’m not DJ-ing!” And he says, “Come on - one of the reasons you work here is that you know your stuff, and you play in bands, so it can’t be that hard to DJ.” I was like, “Well, I’m not convinced.” And then he pretty much said that if I didn’t agree to do it then I wouldn’t be working in Selectadisc. I'd only DJed once before. At school. For a laugh. My mate did a disco, and all he played was progressive rock - Deep Purple, Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Rush, all that stuff. And nobody was liking it. So I went home, got all my new wave and punk records, and played them. Everyone loved it, but I didn’t think: oh, this DJ-ing lark’s great. I just did it because I knew that this guy was just not happening at the decks.

So there I was, at The Garage, upstairs in this room where the DJ box was behind the bar. Downstairs they had a guy called Martin Nesbitt (the one and only Reverend Car Bootleg - LL), who played gothic, punk, dark stuff. And upstairs there was me playing anything and everything. I was playing current stuff; there was a lot of really great dancey pop stuff around like Orange Juice, The Associates, and of course New Order, Talking Heads, Blondie, all that kind of stuff. And I was playing lots of old Motown, Atlantic and Stax, a bit of old disco, and it worked really well. This was around 1983, long before house music.

Before I knew it, I ended up working there Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I took to it like a duck to water. People were saying “Oh yeah, you’re really good”. They’d come in the shop and go “Ah, you’re the DJ at The Garage”. It was then that I decided that I was really gonna concentrate on it.

I soon realised that by being a DJ, three nights a week, I was getting 25 quid a night extra, so 75 quid a week. I didn’t have to split that money, because in a band you have to lug all your equipment in your rented van, set it up, do a soundcheck, take it all down, lug it in the van, take it back, and you were lucky to end up with a fiver. Then Brian opened a place in Leicester called The Fan Club, so I used to do a night over there as well. Obviously, working in Selectadisc meant I had access to all the new stuff that came out, while Martin played lots of reggae and things like Sisters Of Mercy and The Cult, which of course Selectadisc sold. So it kinda worked really well.

Round about that time, thanks to the shop, I was introduced to electro: Afrika Bambaataa and The Jonzun Crew and all the early Arthur Baker stuff. I’d play it in the shop, and think: this is great, this is fantastic. But Brian would say, “What's this stuff you’re playing? I don’t like it. I don’t think we should be selling it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but this is Arthur Baker; he’s working with New Order. Blue Monday, Confusion…massive records.” And Brian was like “I don’t mind you selling New Order, but I don’t think we should be selling this stuff. It’s too...”

Well, reading between the lines, he was saying it was too black. But I played it in The Garage, and it was just brilliant. And then in '85, all the early Def Jam stuff was coming in, but Brian wasn't keen on us stocking it. I had to keep working in the shop, and I wanted to play this stuff, but he wouldn’t let me buy it in. So in my lunch hour, I had to go to Arcade Records. And then came Roxanne Shanté, Big Daddy Kane, all the early hip hop stuff. Brian wasn’t keen on me playing it in the club, but obviously it was what people wanted. There were an element of people who were like, “When are you gonna play Once In A Lifetime?” and electro did piss some people off. But for every one person pissed off, you’d get three or four new people who were into what I was doing.

Then in 1986, all the early house stuff started coming in from Chicago and Detroit: J.M. Silk, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Derrick May, Rhythim Is Rhythim, all that stuff. And I thought: fuck me, this is incredible! I had to give up working at the record shop, because by then word had spread about what I was doing at The Garage and The Fan Club and I ended up doing nights in Sheffield and Birmingham. It was impossible to DJ and work in the record shop. But the record shop was still important to me, even though I had to pop down to Arcade to get the house/hip hop/dance stuff. I had – and still have – eclectic tastes, even though I’ve become known for mainly being a house DJ.

I still liked to listen to all kinds of music, and buy it. So I was still going into Selectadisc, where obviously I’d still get staff discount. Virtually all the records I played at the Hacienda came from Selectadisc; I was Djing in Manchester, and had moved to London, but I was still doing The Garage and I would always pop in to Selectadisc on Bridlesmith. In the late Eighties you still had bands like the Blow Monkeys, who I used to love - they embraced club culture and dance music: a poppy, rocky, indie-ish type band who were quite cool, but who had got the 12-inch mixes done. And let’s not forget New Order, who carried on working with club people and making 12-inch mixes.

Unlike many DJs, I haven’t got rid of my vinyl at all. There’s loads of crap that I’ve kept, that I may have to get rid of one day, but I’ve kept all of my vinyl. I’m 45 years old, I’ve been buying records since I was five or six, and the bulk of that collection is from Bridlesmith Gate. But the landscape's changed now; I lecture part time at a university in Wrexham, on a music production degree, my students are late teens, early twenties, and none of them buy physical product. But I’ve got a couple of mature students who are adamant that they have to buy the CDs. I said, well, what about bands, where do you all hang out, where do you all meet to get your music and stuff, and of course they all buy their music online, and they all make music on their own. They all just sit with their laptops, beavering away. Whereas at Selectadisc, people would go in there to buy something, get into a conversation, and end up being in a band. That stuff just doesn’t happen anymore. I suppose it’s all through Facebook, isn’t it?

I still go to Nottingham from time to time. I still do gigs, and my bank account is still in Nottingham. It was a big part of my life. In your early twenties, you’re working out what you’re going to do – and it was Brian Selby, Selectadisc, and The Garage that carved my path out. It was being a part of that whole thing: playing in bands, and all the parties, and playing the music that Selectadisc was selling… it was great, great times. And it was a great city then, as well.

See also:
Graeme Park at trustthedj.com.
Sleccy's vinyl countdown - my Guardian article on the closure of Selectadisc.
Graeme Park at The Garage, Nottingham 1988 - three completely fantastic hours of house and hip hop, recorded direct from the club's mixing desk.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Sleccy's vinyl countdown.

I've got a piece in today's Guardian Film and Music section, which charts the rise and fall of one of the UK's finest independent record stores: Nottingham's Selectadisc, which closes its doors for good at the end of this month.

Click here to read it online.

(And now you know why this year's "Which Decade" has been running so slowly. This took time!)

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Monday, March 31, 2008

That Gay Up Me Duck article in full.

This article first appeared in Issue 22 of LeftLion magazine. You can download the entire magazine in full colour PDF format, or you can pick up a physical copy from one of these Nottingham venues. Many of the main features can also be read online.

Highlights of this issue include splendid interviews with Public Enemy's Chuck D and Nottingham city centre's very own Fish Man, as well as an eye-witness account of the "Stop The City" riot by local author Nicola Monaghan and a chat with Nottingham's only goth plumber.



To the surprise of many, a 2004 report named Nottingham as having the seventh highest gay population in the country. Who, us? Could that really be true? After all, we hardly enjoy the high profile of gay destinations such as Manchester, Brighton or Blackpool. Our scene may be reasonably sized, but it makes few waves.

For a whole generation of misty-eyed middle-aged queens (trust me, for I know of what I speak), things have never been the same since the early 1980s glory days of La Chic: Part Two. Recognised in its day as possibly the best gay club outside London, Part Two mixed old-school glamour with a new-school aesthetic, in a way that was unique for its time. It was the first club in town to embrace beat-mixing, with an upfront policy that Graeme Park has cited as a key influence. On a typical night, you might find Su Pollard whooping it up on the floor to the latest American imports, while Justin Fashanu silently prowled the cruising alley and a regal Noelle “Nolly” Gordon – the Crossroads matriarch herself - wafted around in a diaphanous evening gown, flanked by stage-door johnnies. In the upstairs bar, you could even avail yourself of the services of a resident chaplain, on hand to dispense spiritual advice to the morally bewildered (as well they might have been, given the pitch-black sex room round the back). From sin to absolution in the space of one evening, Part Two had it all.

Following its 1985 demise, a long dark night of the soul descended upon our club scene, punctuated only by the ground-breaking, long-running and massively popular mega-discos (ooh, we had coach parties) at Barry Noble’s Astoria (later MGM and Ocean), on the first Monday of every month. Sure, there was something faintly demeaning about being shipped in under sufferance on the quietest night of the week – but in the absence of anything better, we were grateful for small mercies.

At weekends, the late 1980s were dominated by the twin scourges of Gatsby’s – possibly the grimmest gay bar in human history, and proof that ‘Gay’ stopped meaning ‘bright and colourful’ a long time ago – and its equally joyless sister venue on St James’s Street: Club 69, later renamed L’Amour. By the early 1990s, the place had upgraded itself to Nero’s, more or less scraping the lower levels of basic acceptability in the process. It was succeeded by the altogether groovier Kitsch on Greyhound Street, which surfed the handbag house boom before coming to an ignominious end, thanks to Donal Macintyre’s televised exposé of the city’s drug trade. While it took months of patient undercover work to nail the Evil Mister Bigs of the day, all it took to land the hapless Kitsch in the doo-doo was for McIntyre to walk in, approach the front desk, and bellow his request. (“HELLO! CAN I BUY ANY DRUGS IN HERE, PLEASE?”)

In the wake of Kitsch’s demise, the Admiral Duncan on Lower Parliament Street enjoyed a riotous renaissance, just ahead of its rebirth as “stylish pre-club feeder bar” @d2. Sure, the Dunc was a skanky old cesspit – but it was our skanky old cesspit, and some of us became rather fond of lurching around to Insomnia in pools of spilt beer and broken glass on the tiny, ever-rammed dance floor. Sundays were particularly weird. At 10:15, the place would be virtually deserted. By 10:30, when that week’s stripper took to the floor, it would be jam-packed with folk who had “just popped in for a quick one”, none admitting their true motives (“I’ve not copped off all weekend and I’m gagging for a glimpse of cock”). By 11:00, the place would be empty all over again. Tsk – men, eh?

This plucky make-do-and-mend spirit served us well, but by the time that the 750-capacity NG1 club opened in 2000 – a symphony in clean surfaces and sleek modernism – grateful gays from all over the East Midlands flocked there in droves. Seven years on, the place is still going strong, despite the increasing threat posed by online hook-up sites such as Gaydar, and their brutally pragmatic ethos of “why go out when you can order in”.

(Indeed – and I shouldn’t really be telling you this, so not a word – NG1 is actually one of the best places in town for heterosexual males to cop off with the opposite sex. Like most decent gay clubs, it represents a safe haven for women who want a hassle-free night out – and while this is only right and proper, it also affords a certain window of opportunity to those with sufficient reserves of patience, subtlety and stealth. That’s all I’m saying. You didn’t hear it from me.)

Ironically, the other potential threat to the established scene is posed by the very social advances that we had been crying out for – as in these newly non-judgemental times, there is consequently less need for separate gay spaces. Gone are the days when we were an oppressed minority, huddling together for warmth. The only trouble is that some of us rather liked being part of a shadowy twilight subculture, and it’s tempting to feel that by emerging into the light, something has been lost along the way.

Then again, maybe our status as a gay-friendly city has less to do with the size of our commercial scene, and more to do with the strength of our community. By and large, we’re not overtly cliquey, bitchy or ridden with up-ourselves attitude, and our roost is not ruled by gaggles of vicious queens slagging off anyone with a slight paunch, a receding hairline, or sub-optimal pecs-n-abs. (“What’s she come as? Scar-eh!”)

Away from the scene, we flourish as a community. Special interest groups cover everything from badminton players to “bears”, from historians to hill-walkers, and from church-goers to SHAGGERS (that’s apparently the “Stately Homes Appreciation Group for Gay Enthusiasts in Rural Settings”, although one has one’s doubts). The long-running Breakout group provides an ideal starting place for newcomers and the newly “out”, and indeed for anyone who might baulk at the prospect of propping up the bar alone, straining to look “friendly and approachable” rather than nervous and desperate. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) Situated inside the Health Shop on Broad Street, The GAi Project provides sexual health counselling, Hepatitis B jabs and anonymous HIV testing, as well as free condoms and lube. Our annual Pride festival remains truer to the event’s original spirit than most, displaying all the homespun charm of a mildly sexed-up village fete, complete with market stalls and bandstand. We even have our own ghettos: Forest Fields for the lady-lovers, and the Viccy Centre flats (aka “Fairy Towers”) for the metropolitan poof on a budget. Oh, and there’s also the Vic Centre Tesco Metro, whose immediate catchment area makes it Nottingham’s cruisiest supermarket…

But more than that, there’s an all-pervading and reassuring sense of relaxed openness about Nottingham’s gay life. We can nurse our pints of Flowers in the Lord Roberts (yes, there’s even a gay pub with decent beer), just a few doors down from raucous circuit bars such as Revolution, and not feel remotely threatened. And even if we did, we’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated police hotline for homophobic incidents (0800 085 8522), manned by specially trained staff. As we stroll through Hockley on a Saturday night, without a thought to editing our public conversations, the city centre’s reputation for violence and intimidation scarcely registers on our radar. Or maybe we’re just tougher little cookies than some might give us credit for.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Gay Up Me Duck.

Oh dearie dear. Although I have yet to track down a copy myself (they're being distributed rahnd tahn as I speak), I have been regretfully informed that, owing to a "design error", my debut article for LeftLion magazine has suffered somewhat in the "actually being able to read the text on the page" department.

(Or to put it more succinctly, it "has come out looking like a dog's arsehole".)

I particularly look forward to viewing the final paragraph, which has been partially obliterated by a cut-out of a Tom Robinson Band badge. My my, someone has been having fun!

Anyhow, the happy upshot of this bothersome situation is this: the full article has been made available, with immediate effect, on the LeftLion website.

I particularly like the illustration, which casts various Midlands Gay Icons (yer Pollard, yer Fash, yer Nolly G) trolling for trade outside the Vic Centre Tesco Metro ("Nottingham's cruisiest supermarket", as the article goes on to explain). JP and I both want it on a T-shirt, so we do.

Hope you like the piece, anyway. And for those of you too lazy to press your clicking fingers into action, I'll be re-posting the piece on TD in the fullness of time.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Control.

A quick word in support of the long-awaited Joy Divsion biopic Control, as I was lucky enough to attend a press screening for it earlier today down at the Broadway Cinema, in advance of its "gala screening" this evening.

Joy Division might have been a Manchester band, but there's a strong Nottingham link to the movie; lead actress Samantha Morton was born and bred here, a large chunk of the funding came from the East Midlands, and most of the film was shot in the city. The concert scenes were filmed inside the Ballroom of the Marcus Garvey Centre, with crowd extras recruited from the message boards of LeftLion magazine; the Derby Road council flats behind the Savoy Cinema are easily recognisable; and the supposedly Mancunian kids in the opening scene have suspiciously local accents.

The film marks the directorial debut of rock photographer Anton Corbijn, perhaps best known for his work with U2 and Depeche Mode, who also worked with Joy Division in the late 1970s, helping to define their oh-God-I-hate-using-this-word iconic (bleurgh) image. Not surprsingly, the visual aesthetic is closely aligned with Corbijn's signature style, all monochrome austerity and pared down moodiness. As such, it's completely in line with the band's existing iconography - almost to the degree of being an extension of their brand, were I minded to be cynical.

Which, to my relief, and despite niggling early doubts (with every shot exquisitely composed, was the art direction in danger of drowning in its own sumptuous "perfection"?), I'm not. For the tightly controlled visual aesthetic actually serves to preserve the band's mystique, even as the drama seeks to examine the circumstances which led to singer Ian Curtis's suicide, aged 23, in May 1980. Or, as I put it on Twitter earlier today, on my way back from the cinema, the film "illuminates the story without puncturing the legend". It's a tricky line to walk, and some slightly clunky initial wobbles notwithstanding (or maybe it's simply impossible not to giggle at the first sight of the earnest young actors playing Barney and Hooky, and at the sight of "Tony Wilson" in a daft wig), the balance is admirably struck.

(Thus, to give one example, you gain an almost literal insight as to how Curtis's emotional state inspired the lyrics of Love Will Tear Us Apart, without running the risk of permanently devaluing the personal experience that you might get from the song.)

Ah yes: Tony Wilson, whose serious illness was well known amongst the cast and crew, and whose death less than two months ago casts an extra shadow over what was already a distinctly murky drama. His character provides a couple of the film's rare comedic moments - the lack of which was also noted, with some measure of disappointment, by Curtis's widow Deborah (darned if I can find the source, but this article by their now grown-up daughter Natalie provides some fascinating background). Control thus becomes something of a dual memorial, as well as making some of the links between Ian Curtis's and Kurt Cobain's respective states of suicidal despair all the more explicit (I'm thinking of one concert scene in particular, which shows Curtis no longer able to control the widening gap between what his audience expects and what he is capable of providing).

Highly recommended. Go see.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sunshine, balance, lurrve.

Sunday night, Derbyshire.

K, getting into bed: I don't think I like the tone of your latest Twitter.

Mike: What, because you were away for most of it? But darling, your return was the shattering climax to the whole weekend! The cherry on top of the cake!

K: God, you're good at thinking on your feet...

Mike: That's not fair! I thought it up five minutes ago, doing my teeth. I knew you'd sneak a peek on your way up...

K: Hahahaha!

M: Hahahaha!



Friday evening, Nottingham.

With K away at a Vet Fest in Brum, the city's nightlife is mine for the plucking. Why, I could go anywhere.

So, the Lord Roberts then.

I'm trying out my new(ish) vari-focal contact lenses again, for the first time in several weeks, because I'll be damned if anyone's going to see me in a gay pub on a Friday night with specs on. I don't like this slow drift towards becoming a full time specs wearer, even though these are the best pair of specs I've ever owned. Not that I have any aesthetic objection towards full-time specs wearers per se - reader, I married one - but unlike my fragrant Civil Partner, my specs are not a fundamental part of who I am. Quite the reverse, in fact. And in any case, I'd quite like to be in with a theoretical chance of being cruised. Even if only for a split second: ooh he's nice, whoops, bit older than I thought. Yes, that would do me for the evening. Simple needs. Unchained from that particular lunatic a good few years ago. (*)

Trouble is, these lenses have half-blinded me. The gas lamps in The Park were the trippiest; great whooshing coronas flickering all around, like rushing on a pill, sans the anxiety attacks. In the pub, I can barely see JP's mouth across the table. He's a fast talker, and I'm struggling with ambient noise, and my ears must be due a sluicing anyway. I didn't realise how much I'd been relying on lip-reading. Half-blind, half-deaf, and for all I know I could be the Hottest Stud in the pub, except how would I know a thing like that in my condition?

I settle for being the Enigmatic Stud in the corner who never returns glances.

Not that I'm in the right place for that kind of caper. As a gay venue, the Lord Roberts has possibly the most de-sexualised atmosphere of any bar I've ever visited, in over 25 years of Outness and Proudness (excepting maybe the Retro Bar in London). That's a large part of why I like it here. You can come down with your mates, get a decent pint of bitter (I know!), grab a table and settle down for an extended natter, and all without any of that ghastly business whereby everyone keeps glancing distractedly over your shoulder while you're talking to them. Soft lighting, comfy chairs, traditional theatre-pub decor, no belting club music, no selfish superficial arseholes... how many other British cities are blessed with a gay venue like this one? We take it for granted, but we're lucky to have it.



Friday night/Saturday morning, Nottingham.

(*) Believe that, and you'll believe anything. Dot. Dot. Dot.



Saturday afternoon, Derbyshire.

This is the first time I've ever taken a taxi from Derby station to the cottage, and on this hot, sunny, glorious day, I'm enjoying the raised view that the Hackney carriage seating affords, adding extra detail to the familiar journey. As the bulky vehicle pushes further into the countryside, leaving its familiar city-suburb-city routes ever further behind, and looking ever more incongruous with its surroundings, so my awareness of jumping between two worlds is similarly heightened.

Past Kedleston: hotel, golf club, National Trust hall, and that fine old red brick wall which even now refuses to yield what lies inside. Through the bland commuter village of Weston Underwood; through Mugginton - Lane End, with its perplexing, mildly irksome free-floating hyphen and its closed-for-refurb pub with the Oo-er Missus name; left at Hulland Ward, gateway to the Peak park; right towards the ersatz Countryside Leisure Experience that is the Carsington Water reservoir (a useful trap for the Derby day-trippers, plodding dutifully in their hundreds along its featureless banks); a wiggle and a twist, and aah, here's where we start, on the approach to Bradbourne, as the landscape closes in around us on the narrowing lane with its treacherous bends, and the green becomes greener, and the hills steeper, and the valleys deeper, and the blossom whiter, and the lambs friskier (mmm, locally sourced shanks from the White Peak butcher!), and here's the church where Alan Bates is buried, and it's not far to go now as the road descends and the home valley opens up ahead, offering the first faint glimpses of the village, and is the cab driver enjoying this as much as I am, thirty minutes outside the city, not a clue where he is, but what a perfect afternoon for a mystery tour, and here we are at last, thirty quid and five for your trouble, you're best off heading back towards the A515 and straight through Ashbourne, ah you know it from there do you, good stuff...

...and the garden looks a picture. Best year yet. We're beginning to know what we're doing at last, we started preparing in good time, and as it enters its fourth year, the planting is coming to maturity. The mulch is down; the roses are pruned, trained and sprayed; the bare patches on the corners of the lawns are filling in; the hardy geraniums are creeping through the circular grid supports; the smaller daffs are still in full bloom; the first of the tulips are popping out; the hot reds, dusty purples and dusky pinks dotted down one side are melding together and making sense; and for now, there's nothing to do except pull out a chair and relax, letting it all get on with the simple process of growing.

So glad I came. Even as recently as a year ago, I wouldn't have bothered, seizing my chance for two nights on the razz in preference to all of this wonder and delight. Our pride and our joy, truly.

Tune out, switch off, settle down.

I don't even bother rigging up the laptop.

Post-jadedness ensues.

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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.

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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.

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