Mike Atkinson

Rodrigo Y Gabriela: Nottingham Rock City, Thursday May 31

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 31, 2007

With each successive visit to Nottingham (last night’s being their third in twelve months), Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero’s audience seems to double in size. Much of this must be due to the word-of-mouth factor; as anyone who witnessed their extraordinary performances at Rock City last November and at the Rescue Rooms last May would testify, this amazingly accomplished Mexican guitar duo put on the sort of show that simply shouldn’t be missed.

However, success comes at a price – and if last night’s show was anything to go by, then the price in Rodrigo and Gabriela’s case may well be a loss of intimacy. Yes, the audience whooped and clapped in all the right places during the louder, more rock-influenced numbers – but during the quieter, more delicate passages, the rapt concentration which characterised the duo’s previous shows was all but wrecked by loud, incessant and appallingly disrespectful chatter from the edges of the venue, particularly around the right hand bar area.

This places Sanchez and Quintero in a potentially awkward position. If, in order to connect with their newly expanded audiences, they are forced to ramp up the volume and fall back on the usual rock-star tricks, then something special is in danger of being lost.

Despite this, there were more than enough dazzling highlights in last night’s show – from originals such as the gloriously tumbling Tamacun to spirited covers from Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and even Dave Brubeck – to satisfy the faithful and convert the newcomer alike.

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Interview: Rodrigo Sanchez (Rodrigo Y Gabriela)

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 25, 2007

Speaking to EG from his home in Mexico, Rodrigo Sanchez was looking forward to playing his third Nottingham date in twelve months. Clearly, we must be doing something right.

“They asked us which cities we wanted to play, so I just remembered the cities where we had a good time and a good response on the last tour. Nottingham’s definitely one of those cities. We like it – it’s a little bit fucking mental there.”

At both the previous Nottingham shows, the audience shouted for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and then sang along while the duo played their instrumental version. Does that happen often, or is that just a Nottingham thing?

“I think it happened first at Glastonbury. It’s so funny, because thanks to YouTube, wherever we are in the world, there’s always someone asking for it – but it was born in the UK.”

The duo’s playing seems very spontaneous on stage – but in reality, it must take a lot of practice. How much does the performance change from night to night?

“We try not to keep to the same order. To begin with, we used to play the same set – but we were getting bored, so we started to add surprises. By the end of our first big tour, we were improvising every night. Sometimes, you have a certain belief that some tunes go together in the middle of the set, and some are better at the end – but that’s just in your head, you know? That can make you a bit insecure. But when we started improvising the set, it was amazing – because then you feel free.”

On stage, Rodrigo and his partner Gabriela Quintero display a lot more energy than you might expect from a typical acoustic guitar duo. They also play very fast, and for a very long time. Is it physically difficult work? Do the hands suffer?

“We have to take care. It’s like playing tennis or soccer. Straight after every gig, we put our hands on ice, and Gabriela will put ice on her back. It’s just normal procedure.”

A lot of the duo’s musical energy stems from their background on the Mexican thrash metal scene. Now that they perform acoustically, have they had to learn a new playing technique, or are there similarities between the two styles?

“You’re playing a totally different instrument. When I switched from electric to acoustic, I had to re-learn a different way of playing. I’ve seen some guys play an acoustic guitar as if it was electric, and I don’t like it. I can always see when a guy is more used to playing electric than acoustic. Now, whenever I have the chance to grab an electric, it’s quite difficult for me.”

Despite this difference, one feature which unites Rodrigo and Gabriela’s acoustic playing with their metal background is a shared rhythmic complexity.

“That’s right. It’s mostly Gabriela who leads the rhythm section, but when I play the metal riffs which I’ve introduced to our music nowadays, it’s quite the same. If I take an electric guitar, I can still play the rhythm, no problem. But if I take a solo on an electric guitar, then it’s totally different.”

Both players – and Gabriela in particular – also use their guitars as percussion instruments, plucking the strings and slapping the bodies of their guitars at the same time. It’s a technique which many listeners won’t have experienced before.

“There are a few other similar guitar players that we now know of, although we didn’t before. Gabriela’s style is something that she developed, and those other guys don’t really play like her. Some of is more like tapping the fretboard with the right hand, but the way Gabriela moves her right hand is totally different. It’s a mix of different rhythms: from Latin styles that she heard when growing up, to flamenco – although she doesn’t play flamenco herself – to some of the traditional bodhrán playing that we’ve heard in Ireland.”

Having started out by busking on beaches and in restaurants, it was in Ireland that this Mexican duo enjoyed their first taste of major success, having arrived in Europe as complete unknowns.

“To be honest, we didn’t go to Europe looking for more opportunities. It was the other way around: having played in bands, we didn’t want to have anything more to do with the music industry. So once we started doing gigs, it was a surprise to be back in the industry. Suddenly, things were there. We had a manager, and so on. But it was pretty much organic; we didn’t want to be disappointed again. That kind of feeling probably helped us to break through and make it happen.”

“I still feel now pretty much in the vibe of enjoying what we’re doing, and not becoming super-happy or super-excited about things, because it might still all end tomorrow. That’s what freedom is.”

Low – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Wednesday May 25

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on May 25, 2007

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There’s a line which has to be crossed with this music. If you’re unable to cross it, then Low will sound like the most boring, miserable band you ever heard. But once you step over that line, their particular brand of understated melancholy can become quite magical.

A three-piece act, headed by the husband and wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, Low are masters of the art of stripping music down to its bare essentials. The playing is simple, sparse and unadorned. Mimi stands impassively behind a skeletal drum kit, sketching out basic rhythms, and gently harmonising with her husband. The songs are uniformly downtempo, with occasional subtle surges of energy. A rapt silence prevails, punctuated by surprisingly enthusiastic whoops of applause between numbers.

During the truly beautiful (That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace, couples embrace each other around the venue, lending the song the feel of an alt-rock “Our Tune”. Rarely have the Rescue Rooms felt so downright romantic.

The newer material, drawn from the band’s eighth album Drums and Guns, blends seamlessly with old favourites such as Belarus – accompanied by vocal tape loops – and the comparatively rousingDinosaur Act, which closes the show.

Erasure – Light At The End Of The World

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 25, 2007

Although long past their commercial peak, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have settled into a comfortable niche which could sustain them indefinitely. It has been over twenty years since their last flop single; two years ago, Breathe even went Top Five. Like the Status Quo of electro-pop, they plough their particular furrow, oblivious to the changing musical landscape around them.

Following what Vince has called a “mid-tempo crisis”, the thirteenth Erasure album sees a return to short, snappy, mostly upbeat pop songs, with an overall mood of romantic optimism. The opening three tracks form a terrific opening salvo: lively, danceable, and stuffed with hooks, they suggest a confident return to form.

Thereafter, as the mood progressively mellows and softens, the essential conservatism of Erasure’s approach becomes increasingly problematic. Vince still has a winning way with a melody, and Andy’s voice is as fine as ever – and yet the material sounds formulaic, overly familiar, and curiously unaffecting.

This is pleasant, business-as-usual fodder, that will please fans but fail to make much of an impact elsewhere. Maybe that’s all we have a right to expect.

***

Bucks Fizz – The Very Best Of Bucks Fizz

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 25, 2007

bftvbobfrevPoor old Bucks Fizz. Although winning Eurovision established their careers, they have never managed to escape the dubious legacy of Making Your Mind Up. Forever associated in the public eye with cheesy chirpiness and strategic skirt-ripping, the remainder of their musical output has almost totally faded from view. Since they never recorded anything as excruciatingly lightweight again, this seems more than a little unfair.

Instead, guided by producer Andy Hill, Bucks Fizz went on to record a series of varied and increasingly sophisticated singles, eleven of which made the Top Twenty within five years. On material such as the intricate, sparkling My Camera Never Lies, their work approaches the greatness of Trevor Horn’s productions for Dollar. Now Those Days Are Gone features some lovely a cappella harmonising, while even the superficially sugary Land of Make Believe conceals a “virulent anti-Thatcher song”, as its composer described it.

Of the later material, the slinky, sinuous I Hear Talk is a forgotten gem, while New Beginning is a percussion-driven pop symphony of epic proportions.

17 of the 18 featured tracks are included in video form on the accompanying DVD.

***

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Preview: Eurovision 2007

Posted in features, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 11, 2007

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Good grief, can it really be that time of the year already? Tomorrow evening at 8pm, at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, the world’s most gloriously over-the-top musical extravaganza returns for the 52nd time. Those of you with the stamina for such a marathon of Light Entertainment can expect to feast – nay, to gorge – yourselves upon the spectacle of 24 competing nations, all doing their absolute darndest to capture your attention (and later on, your votes) in the space of three minutes. Prepare yourselves for the usual dizzying array of bizarre costumes, frenetic dance routines, corny rhymes, gimmicks a-go-go, endless key changes, and even – whisper it if you dare – the occasional genuinely good song.

By the time you read this, 18 of the 42 participating acts will already be packing their bags, having failed to qualify from last night’s semi-final. A few of you may even have caught the show on BBC3 – and if you did, you deserve hearty congratulations for making it through a record-busting, bottom-numbing, brain-scrambling run of 28 songs. The ten semi-finalists with the largest number of votes will now join the ten highest scoring countries from last year’s final, plus the “big four” – France, Germany, Spain and the UK – who make the largest financial contribution to the staging of the contest.

Based on previous form, these ten semi-finalists are the acts to watch – for not only have they had longer to rehearse, but they will also still be surfing from the confidence boost of last night’s results. In the 2006 finals, eight songs in the top ten were qualifiers from the semis, including the eventual winner, Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi.

Ah yes, the Lordi effect. No doubt hoping that the Finnish victory has opened the doors to rock music at Eurovision at long last, several countries have pitched their hairiest, croakiest, grizzliest old rockers into the battlefield, while others have spiced up their jolly Europop ditties with grinding metal guitars. Best of all, the tiny state of Andorra has fielded the most youthful and exciting entry of the year: a terrific slice of baggy-shorted punk-pop from a bunch of floppy-haired teenagers called Anonymous, which pitches itself somewhere between Green Day and Blink 182.

That said, lovers of High Camp will still find plenty to squeal about. Although Denmark’s drag queen DQ may already be on the way home (and let’s hope that he isn’t), Ukraine’s tubby cross-dresser Verka Serduchka is sure to raise the roof with three minutes of complete and utter nonsense, which has already caused an outcry in his native land. (Always a good sign: many Finns were up in arms about the supposedly “Satanic” Lordi this time last year). Verka’s hysterically uptempo Dancing Lasha Tumbai may be trash, and it certainly doesn’t hold up to repeated listenings (trust me on this) – but it’s hugely entertaining trash, and that’s what counts.

Whatever else you might say about it, the 2007 contest is certainly not short on musical variety. Germany’s Roger Cicero serves up finger-snapping supper club swing, the Belgians offer classic Seventies disco in the style of Earth Wind and Fire, Portugal and Norway have gone Latin American, and Latvia are fielding a six-man troupe of operatic tenors in top hats.

Other hotly tipped favourites include Sweden’s The Ark, whose The Worrying Kind is a fantastic pastiche of the sort of glitter-pop that The Sweet, Mud and The Rubettes were churning out over thirty years ago. Indeed, parts of the melody are so similar to Edison Lighthouse’s 1970 chart-topper Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) that the original songwriter has publicly accused them of plagiarism.

In stark contrast, Serbia has the year’s best ballad: the powerful Molitva, performed by a homely looking girl (Marija Serifovic) whose lack of glamour is compensated for by a stunning vocal presence. Serbia is sure to benefit from friendly voting from its Eastern European neighbours, and looks certain to place within the Top Five. Expect similarly high placings from Switzerland’s action-packed Eurodance belter Vampires Are Alive, and from the dramatic Belarussian entry Work Your Magic, whose lavish orchestration conjures up memories of classic James Bond themes.

But what of our very own Scooch? Much as it pains me to be disloyal at this crucial stage, you are advised to prepare yourselves for yet another crashing disappointment. The central problem with Flying The Flag (For You) is this: it’s the sort of novelty song which cynical British audiences think is a “typical” Eurovision entry, whereas the rest of Europe grew tired of such nonsense years ago. Scooch’s underlying attitude (we may be rubbish, but Eurovision’s rubbish anyway and we don’t care) is going to cost them dearly. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 11, 2007

Rufus Wainwright has one of those classic Marmite voices. By his own admission, there’s a nasal, whining quality to his singing that will irritate many. However, once that line is crossed, you will discover one of the richest, most expressive vocal talents that modern music has to offer.

As with all Wainwright’s albums, there’s an awful lot to digest here. This is complex, multi-layered stuff, which demands concentration and repeated playing. To avoid the onset of mental indigestion, it is probably best approached in two sittings, six songs at a time.

The first half works particularly well as a “song cycle”, with clear lyrical themes running between numbers. Do I Disappoint You is the big orchestral opener, performing a similar function to Oh What A World on 2003’s Want One. As the song progresses, layers of sound are piled on top of each other – a trick which will be repeated time and again.

Current single Going To A Town continues the theme of barbed disillusionment, as Rufus declares that he’s “so tired of America”, and prepares to make his escape. The song starts mournfully, but ends with purposeful defiance (“I got a life to lead, I got a soul to feed”) – again setting the tone for much of what lies ahead.

With Tiergarten, the Wainwright wanderings commence. The album was recorded variously in London, Paris and Berlin, and the sense of an exile’s displaced restlessness is strongly in evidence. The mood is light and pastoral, with a touch of the Brian Wilsons in its swooning harmonies.

From here on in, the same patterns are followed. Downbeat introductions repeatedly give way to climactic orchestral flourishes, displaying Wainwright’s astonishing arrangement skills. Between My Legs offers an unprecedented nod towards rock, featuring Richard Thompson on lead guitar and a bizarre dramatic monologue from Sian Phillips. The orchestra is only laid to rest once, on the comparatively stark ballad Leaving For Paris No. 2. Slideshow is the album’s biggest show-stopper, pitting Thompson’s country-rock guitar against thrilling brass stabs.

Unlike its predecessors, there is little playful light relief to be found – unless you count Sam Taylor Wood’s photographs, in which Rufus poses in monogrammed lederhosen, fingertips stuffed down the front. Executive producer Neil Tennant has done a sterling job, although you will search in vain for any electronic dance beats.

Like its creator, Release The Stars is ambitious, precocious and ever so slightly pretentious. It is also his ravishing, triumphant masterpiece.

The Eurovision Song Contest: The Official History – John Kennedy O’Connor

Posted in book reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 11, 2007

From its humble beginnings in 1956, with just seven participating nations, to the global phenomenon of the 2007 contest, with forty-two songs spread over two nights and an audience of 300 million, dear old Eurovision has come a long way. Twenty years ago, the contest looked like a dying anachronism and a tired old joke – but since the collapse of Communism and the stampede of newly emergent Eastern European nation states, all clamouring for inclusion, its future looks more secure than ever.

It is therefore high time that a comprehensive history was written, detailing the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the tantrums, the classic moments and the long-forgotten monstrosities, that have entertained many of us for as long as we can remember. First published in 2006, John Kennedy O’Connor’s remarkably well-researched book has been updated and re-issued, just in time for the fifty-second finals which take place in Helsinki tomorrow night.

The format is a simple one, as O’Connor takes you through the contest in strict chronological order – picking out the key events, listing the final scoreboards, and illustrating each year with a splendid selection of images. Before you even start to tackle the text, there’s much fun to be had in randomly flicking through the pages, and spotting your favourite personalities: Clodagh Rodgers in hotpants; Dana International in peacock plumage; Katie Boyle in a full-length salmon pink evening gown (and, as we were later to discover, no underwear).

For all its visual lavishness, the book flounders somewhat with the text itself. There’s simply no way of describing fifty-one successive contests without lapsing into repetition, and it’s difficult not to feel your eyes glaze over as you learn that “Belgium had gone for a more modern sound” in 1977, or that the 1989 contest marked “the first time since 1980 that writers had provided songs for two different countries in the same contest”. Fine if you’re a fanatical Eurovision fan, but a bit of a slog for the less committed.

Clearly a fan himself, O’Connor’s overly reverential tone also disappoints. A few more forthright, even controversial opinions would have livened things up no end. Half of the fun of Eurovision is the passion that it inspires, and it’s a shame that the author’s own passion has been hemmed in dry details, solemn statistics, and a cautious reluctance to offend.

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Interview: Jason Donovan

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 11, 2007

Once all but consigned to the celebrity dumper, Jason Donovan has been enjoying a remarkable comeback. Indeed, his current All The Hits And More tour sees him headlining at major concert venues for the first time since the old hit-making days. For Jason, the tour will be something of “a reflection on the past, with some self-indulgence in terms of new material.”

“Whether you should call that self-indulgent, I don’t know. Because those songs haven’t necessarily been heard before, I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t get the opportunity to air them. But there’ll be about 70 percent old to 30 percent new.”

If people want to view the show as a nostalgia trip, then Jason is entirely comfortable with that.

“I was listening the other day to a friend’s compilation of Eighties music, and it really put a smile on my face. I’m sure that a lot of the people that will be at the shows would have listened to Rick Astley, and Bros, and the usual suspects from that time. So it will be a bit of a celebration.”

What relationship does Jason have with those old songs? After all, it could feel somewhat strange to be still singing them, if he has evolved into a different person from the pop idol of his youth.

“Of course, and until I actually get out there, I can’t really tell you what that relationship is. However, I am extremely proud of my past. If you look at those Stock Aitken Waterman songs, they had great melodies – and I would argue that you could put some of those melodies onto today’s beats, and get away with it.”

Although often regarded as deeply uncool at the time, it is remarkable how well some of the SAW productions have aged. After all, nothing dates as quickly as the fashionable, and it’s often the so-called “disposable”, “manufactured” pop which stands the test of time best of all.

“It depends on how analytical you want to be, though. I’ve always had a broad musical taste. I can listen, as I did in those days, to a New Order record, and then pick up one of the Donna Summer tracks that Stock Aitken Waterman produced. And I was also a big Cure fan. But if you don’t like a particular scene, you don’t have to buy into it. Nowadays, it’s the Pop Idols and X Factors which get heavily criticised – but every poet’s a thief, and everything has an element of the old. It just depends on how you dress it up to make it look new. So what is “cool”? I don’t know, you tell me.”

That said, there seems to be a clear difference between the Stock Aitken Waterman acts, who were trained for stardom and understood the game, and today’s reality TV contestants, most of whom are put on public display before they are truly ready, in the belief that they are “living their dream” Isn’t there something rather cruel about that?

“Maybe, but then talent will always come through. To a certain degree, I’d even put myself in the same category. My singing abilities early on weren’t fantastic. But I had the additional element of the exposure from Neighbours, and the marriage of those two was quite explosive.”

“These days, I guess it just comes down to phone votes. It’s the networks trying to gain their revenue. It’s not so much from advertising any more, so it’s from phone voting instead. So we keep having to move on to the next star of X Factor, and the next celebrity, and so it’s a very quick moving world. But the Leonas and the Will Youngs are very talented people. Believe me, it takes a lot of guts – and I haven’t done it very often myself – to get up on live television and sing. That’s a tough art.”

Were Jason’s own “pop idol” days a pleasant time, to be looked back on with affection, or was he just under immense pressure?

“At the time, there was a lot of pressure, of course. Any business – as it was, really, to a certain degree – has pressure with it, if it’s going to be successful. It’s not until you look back with hindsight that you think: wow, those really were glory days. I’m very lucky that I stuck it out. Do I regret it? Not in the slightest.”

“It’s given me a good lifestyle, and put my kids through a good education, and so there are those bottom lines – but on a formative level, I’ve also discovered a great love of music, and that transcends into the work I’ve done in the last fifteen years where it hasn’t been as high profile.”

“You’d be very deluded to think that a career could maintain a 1989 level for twenty or thirty years. Some people are more successful at it than others, and you’ve got to learn not to compare yourself to other people in life, otherwise you end up wandering around thinking: God, I’m not good enough for this world.”

As for Jason’s perceived fall from grace in the latter half of the Nineties, maybe the media were handed a story which they couldn’t resist: Clean-cut Boy Goes Bad. There was a certain amount of shock when he dropped the wholesome image, and made no attempt to hide the more hedonistic aspects of his lifestyle. Although this was presented to us as a troubled time, was it perhaps more of a period of liberation?

“You may well be right. The great thing about being interviewed is that I get people analysing my life more than I ever look at it, so there’s an element of comedy from my perspective. But I looked at myself in Joseph, and saw a technicolour dreamcoat, a loincloth and pair of long white socks, and thought: you know what, is this where I want to be? Not quite!”

“So I went out to have a good time. I’d worked hard for seven or eight years, I had money in the bank, and I could afford to do it. I would argue: what person in my position wouldn’t? If you look at our celebrities at the moment, nine out of ten tend to go down that line.”

“In a cultural sense, the happy clean-cut boys of the Eighties got washed away by Nirvana in the early Nineties. So there was a general rebellion against all that. But I came to realise a few years ago that there’s no such thing as “being cool”. You can take as many drugs as you want, but you’re either going to be alive or dead. How you function as an individual is what you’re going to be judged upon, whether you value that judgement or not.”

“It was funny going back into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, where I did Joseph, and where I took the decision to go into another direction. To see a bunch of kids smile, while you’re flying around in a stupid little plane: that’s what it’s all about.”

From The Jam, Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Wednesday May 9

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on May 10, 2007

This could have been so dreadful. Were The Jam’s Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler, both in their early fifties, ever going to be able to relive their former glories without Paul Weller, the band’s chief creative force? For a whole generation of music fans in the late Seventies and early Eighties, The Jam were the band. No other graduates of the original punk revolution – no, not even The Clash – came close to matching their popular success. That’s one hell of a legacy to risk flushing down the toilet.

Right from the introductory riff of debut single In The City, which opened the eighty minute set, you knew that they were going to pull it off. Replacement singer/guitarist Russell Hastings had the unenviable task of filling Weller’s shoes, and he rose to the challenge magnificently, channelling the spirit of the songs without ever being overawed by the task in hand, or by lapsing into crude impersonation. This was to be no glorified tribute act.

Three songs in, and the Rescue Rooms were on fire. Six songs in, when the chants down the front switched from “We are the Mods!” to “Who needs Weller?”, the triumph was complete. What followed was pure unadulterated joy. One of the best British bands of all time, in an intimate sweaty venue, blasting out their best loved songs (Going UndergroundThat’s EntertainmentA Town Called Malice and all the rest) as if the past twenty-five years had never happened? You can’t ask for better than that.

Who needed Weller, indeed. If the grumpy Modfather himself had deigned to come on board, and the hype machine had gone into full throttle, we would have been herded into the cavernous Arena, only to have our memories carelessly trampled upon. Forget the “From”. Last night, we saw The Jam.

Diana Ross, Nottingham Arena, Tuesday May 8

Posted in Capital FM Arena, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 9, 2007

nepdivadiThey just don’t make stars like Diana Ross any more. Forget your air-brushed Beyoncés and your overwrought Mariahs; this was a bravura performance from the original soul diva. You were simply sucked into her aura, and obliged to surrender to the sheer force of her will.

Despite her advancing years, La Ross was in peak vocal form throughout. On numbers such as Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain (from Lady Sings The Blues), her delivery was pitch-perfect, and beautifully attuned to the material. Unfortunately, her tendency to perform many of her finest songs as if they were victory reprises – all waves and smiles and shameless grandstanding to the super-fans down the front – tended to narrow her emotional range.

And then there were the fluffs. You Can’t Hurry Love ended in confused disarray, I’m Still Waiting got off to a shaky start, parts of the first verse of I Will Survive were repeated in the second, and Ross totally botched the opening of one of her newer songs.

Apparently, this was all the fault of the Arena’s over-zealous security staff. On two occasions, Diana launched into lengthy diatribes against them, claiming that their constant interventions with photographers in the crowd were distracting her. “Give them their cameras back!” she cried, to loud applause. “As far as I’m concerned, you can take my picture”, she proclaimed, even asking for the house lights to be turned up. “Although I’m not really in love with my hairstyle tonight”, she joked, patting her outsized frizz.

Oddly, these glitches almost worked in Diana’s favour, showing a human, fallible side to the untouchable superstar. And where it really mattered, on show-stoppers such as the immortal Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, her infallibility seemed magically restored. Why, it was almost enough to make you forgive the taped brass section…

Maria McKee – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Tuesday May 1

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on May 1, 2007

Although best known for her 1990 chart-topper Show Me Heaven, Maria McKee has steered an unpredictable and idiosyncratic course ever since. Her 1996 album Life Is Sweet, whose title track opened the show, was viewed at the time as commercial suicide. Down at the Rescue Rooms, before a clued-up and appreciative crowd, the song was greeted as an old favourite.

With all four band members remaining seated throughout, even during the rockier numbers, this was a relaxed and low-key performance, punctuated by scatty asides to the crowd. Nevertheless, Maria displayed a remarkable emotional intensity, and a dramatic, almost theatrical vocal presence.

The newer material, taken from the superb Late December album, was introduced almost apologetically, starting with a ragged, unconvincing Too Many Heroes. Thankfully, the band pulled together again for delightful renditions of the atmospheric title track, the haunting My First Night Without You, and a stirring re-working of A Good Heart, written for Feargal Sharkey in 1985.

Of the older material, Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way) reminded us of Maria’s country-rock roots – but the warmest reception was reserved for her stunning interpretation of Richard and Linda Thompson’s Has He Got A Friend For Me.