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Behind James Vickery’s left ear is a tiny tattoo, barely noticeable until he turns to point it out.

The inking is of a mute icon, a small speaker with a cross next to it, as you would see on a computer or a phone when switching the volume off; a simple image that neatly symbolises the 27-year-old’s story.

In and out of hospital with ear infections as a child, he was eventually, at the age of eight, diagnosed with a growth of abnormal skin cells called a cholesteatoma. While the tumour wasn’t cancerous his case was severe, doctors said, and it was growing towards his brain; his parents were told that without treatment to remove his eardrum he might only have two months to live.

Musician James Vickery is deaf in one ear
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Vickery has just released his debut album, Songs That Made Me Feel. Pic: Tom Ewbank

Surgery went well, but inevitably left Vickery completely deaf in that ear. Unable to distinguish the volume and pitch of his voice, he struggled with his speech and a vocal coach was brought in to help. It was through these sessions he found his voice; not just in conversation, but the distinctive, soulful singing voice that has now seen him hailed as a new face of UK R’n’B.

“[My parents] took me to a vocal coach and they wanted me to learn how to basically speak again,” he tells Sky News. “A good way is actually by singing because it engages your diaphragm. So we did that and my singing teacher was like, ‘you can sing, you can actually sing well’. I’d always loved singing but because of the trauma of the operation I could never do it.

“I spoke so softly. I’m still quite softly spoken…” He pauses and grins. “Actually, no, I’m a bit gobby now, but I was quite softly spoken when I was a child. I was really unconfident because no one could ever hear me speak and so credit to my vocal coach, she really taught me how to not only speak louder, but become a bigger person, you know, really fill the room with your voice. That’s something I try and have now in my songs. All the singers I looked up to as a kid had big voices because I always wished I had one.”

Vickery’s coach was a trained opera singer so, perhaps unusually, that’s where he started. “As, like, an 11-year-old boy living in south London, that kind of wasn’t for me,” he laughs. He met brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, better known as electronic duo Disclosure, while he was in college and began writing songs with them, before moving into R’n’B, which felt like the right fit.

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Upbeat and constantly smiling, there’s a sense of positivity and happiness that exudes from Vickery that even the often soulless Zoom can’t dampen. It’s hard not to smile back in his company. Going through such a traumatic experience at an early age has “100%, for sure” made him the person and the artist he is now, he says.

“I would have died,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It’s lucky they found it [when they did].” He goes on to explain the surgery. “I haven’t even got an ear drum in this ear, like, it’s just a black crater inside the left-hand side,” he says, swirling his hand around the area. “But that’s why I’ve got the tattoo, because I was like, not ashamed of it, but I don’t like people treating me different, I don’t like it to become this sob story. But at the end of the day, the older I get the more I think, you would not be the man you are today and it’s shaped me so much as a singer and a writer as well.”

The fact Vickery is “able to be a singer with one less ear than everyone else”, as he puts it, “is quite a mad thing”. And so the symbol has become a staple of all the artwork for his music. “I really try and own it, you know.”

Influenced by everyone from his mum’s favourites of soul, Motown, disco and R’n’B – artists such as Luther Vandross, Boyz II Men and Babyface – to his dad’s preferred rock and blues – Eric Clapton, The Doors, The Who, Jimi Hendrix – and his own love of attempting the Mariah Carey high notes, Vickery found his sound.

James Vickery has just released his debut album. Pic: Harry McCulloch
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Vickery has been hailed as a new face of UK R’n’B. Pic: Harry McCulloch

In 2018, he performed his song Until Morning for the COLORS music platform, which has now amassed more than 25 million views. In 2018 he signed a record deals with TH3RD BRAIN, followed by a publishing deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation in 2019.

His debut album, Songs That Made Me Feel, aims to do just that. “The way that people consume music is so passive now,” he says. “It’s so easily accessible but I think not enough people just sit down and let the music take over. That’s really what I tried to do… I just want to make a body of work that’s going to outlive me. I think I’ve done that.”

The record is “the journey of the last two years, for me”, he says. “I wanted to call it Songs That Made Me Feel is because I feel like, as a man growing up, men are taught not to show emotion, I think. You’re taught ‘man up’.” Men don’t talk about their feelings enough, he says. “I managed to be able to do that through song, luckily.”

Save You, the closing track on the album, might sound like a love song but is actually about a friend who died. “I left it quite open because I want people to interpret it in the way that they feel, I love doing that with songs. But the song is about a friend who died when I was younger and it was the first time I had someone that wasn’t like a family member die, who was close to me.”

Vickery has also written about struggling during the pandemic. Somewhere Out There was created during the first lockdown, when he was “living alone and really lonely… I was single and hoping that someone out there was feeling the same”. You Comfort Me was born from the “dark time” of the winter lockdown, when “I was just craving something to make me happy”.

Of all the industries that have been hit by the pandemic, he believes the live entertainment business is among the worst affected. Vickery is not “completely fresh” to making music but is in that “awkward” spot where he’s “by no means up there”, he says, gesturing above his head. He moves his hand down. “I’m hovering here somewhere.”

Which means it’s not been easy. “The way that the music industry runs now is that [live shows] are kind of the main source of income, no one makes that much money from streaming songs; unless you’re streaming hundreds of millions, then you’re going to make good money, but other than that, no. Thank God I signed a record deal the year before because otherwise I would have been really struggling.”

Fortunately, the deal was in place and the album is out now. Vickery says he hopes he adds another voice to highlight the UK’s new resurging R’n’B scene, which he feels is overlooked.

“The thing is the UK RnB scene is so, so good,” he says. “But God forbid you can ever turn on a radio and find an R’n’B song on in the daytime, you know. I feel like that’s going to change, though. There’s plenty of people like Jorja Smith and Mahalia who are really, really flying the flag for UK R’n’B, and I think that’s going to change hopefully in the future.”

With Vickery too, that change is surely closer. That tattoo behind his ear is just a small reminder of how much he can achieve.

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Donald Sutherland, Hunger Games and Kelly’s Heroes actor, dies

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Donald Sutherland, Hunger Games and Kelly's Heroes actor, dies

Donald Sutherland, who appeared in films including The Hunger Games and Kelly’s Heroes, has died at the age of 88.

His agency, CAA, said he died in Miami “after a long illness”.

The Canadian actor won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance in the mini-series Citizen X.

In 2017, he received an honorary Oscar.

His son, fellow actor Kiefer Sutherland, said “with a heavy heart” that his father had “passed away”.

“I personally think [he was] one of the most important actors in the history of film,” Kiefer Sutherland posted on X, adding that he was “never daunted by a role – good, bad or ugly”.

“He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived.”

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Sutherland with his son Kiefer. Pic: Reuters
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Sutherland with his son Kiefer. Pic: Reuters

In the Hunger Games franchise, Donald Sutherland played President Snow alongside Jennifer Lawrence.

In Kelly’s Heroes he starred alongside Telly Savalas and Clint Eastwood as Sergeant Oddball – on a mission to steal gold from the Nazis.

“I love to work – I passionately love to work,” Sutherland told US talk show host Charlie Rose in 1998.

“I love to feel my hand fit into the glove of some other character. I feel a huge freedom – time stops for me. I’m not as crazy as I used to be, but I’m still a little crazy.”

Sutherland with Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence in 2015. Pic: AP
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Sutherland with Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence in 2015. Pic: AP

His “breakthrough performances” were in 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen and MASH, CAA said.

He also took parts in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People and Oliver Stone’s JFK.

He is survived by his wife Francine Racette, sons Roeg, Rossif, Angus, and Kiefer, daughter Rachel, and four grandchildren.

“A private celebration of his life will be held by the family,” CAA said.

Born in St John, New Brunswick, on the east coast of Canada in July 1935, he was the son of a salesman and a mathematics teacher.

He started university in Toronto as an engineering student but switched to English and started acting in college productions.

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Travis Scott arrested for ‘causing a disturbance while drunk and trespassing’

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Travis Scott arrested for 'causing a disturbance while drunk and trespassing'

Rapper Travis Scott has been arrested for “disorderly intoxication and trespassing”, police in the US have said.

Scott, who has two children with Kylie Jenner, was arrested for causing a “disturbance” on a charter boat at the Miami Beach Marina, where he “was drunk, and asked to leave multiple times”, the Miami Beach Police Department said.

Officers were called to the marina at 12.44 am on Thursday morning to reports of a disturbance, according to official records.

The 10-time Grammy Award nominee was reportedly getting off a charter boat when the owner of the boat asked him to leave, 7News Miami said on its website.

The force said officers found Scott, arguably one of the biggest hip-hop acts in the world, “standing by the dock yelling at the vessel occupants”, and while he complied with their instructions to begin with, he then ignored them, NBC, Sky’s US partner, said.

Officers could sense “a strong smell of alcohol coming from the defendant’s breath”, records showed.

Though he agreed to leave the dock after being threatened with arrest, he did not go quietly.

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As he walked to the boardwalk, Scott “walked backwards yelling obscenities to the occupants of the vessel”, police said.

He left the marina, but returned five minutes later and was seen by officers walking back toward the vessel.

Scott spoke to a sergeant he had spoken to earlier and began yelling once again – “becoming erratic” and “disturbing the peace of the occupants of the marina and nearby residential buildings causing a public disturbance”, court documents said.

The 33-year-old musician was arrested at 1.17am and booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center at 4.35 am on a charge of alleged disorderly intoxication as well as trespassing property after warning.

He submitted a $650 (£512) bond – $500 (£394) for the trespass charge and $150 (£118) for disorderly intoxication, the Daily Mail said.

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Scott, real name Jacques Bermon Webster II, has achieved four number-one hits on the US charts and is known for his energetic live shows and successful albums, including Astroworld.

He has two children with the socialite and media personality, Kylie Jenner, but the pair are no longer together.

His European tour, titled Circus Maximus, is due to start in The Netherlands next Friday and he is scheduled to play Manchester’s Co-Op Live venue on 13 July.

In 2021, 10 fans died in a crowd surge at his Astroworld festival in Houston, Texas, where he was born.

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He did not face criminal charges over their deaths but remains involved in civil cases alleging that organisers were at fault.

Last year he scored his first UK number one album with Utopia, which has been streamed more than 50 billion times globally, NME said.

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Taylor Swift Eras Tour: Final UK shows at London’s Wembley Stadium ‘will boost economy by £300m’

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Taylor Swift Eras Tour: Final UK shows at London's Wembley Stadium 'will boost economy by £300m'

The final UK shows of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour are expected to boost the economy by £300m, officials have claimed.

The US star will perform three gigs at London’s Wembley Stadium this Friday, Saturday and Sunday – before returning to the venue in August for a further five dates.

The sold-out shows will be attended by a total of nearly 640,000 people.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) estimates fans will spend an average of £471 per show, with many travelling from around the world or other parts of the country to watch.

The capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “delighted” the 34-year-old was playing more shows in the city than anywhere else in the world during her Eras Tour.

He said the gigs would be “a huge boost to our hospitality industry and [provide] further proof that London is the greatest city in the world to watch live music.”

It comes following the singer’s shows in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Cardiff this month.

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Taylor Swift greets fans in Welsh

Officials in London are keen to harness enthusiasm for Swift’s visit.

Transport for London has said it will rename some Tube stations in her honour, while Mr Khan has also unveiled a mural of the singer on the Spanish Steps outside Wembley Stadium.

EMBARGOED TO 0600 THURSDAY JUNE 20 EDITORIAL USE ONLY Mayor of London Sadiq Khan unveils Swiftie Steps and new murals at Wembley Park as global popstar kicks off her first London show. Picture date: Wednesday 19 June 2024.
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Mr Khan with the new mural at Wembley Park. Pic: PA

The GLA said its economic estimate was based on research by tourism body UKInbound.

A previous study claimed Swift’s shows would have an even bigger impact – with Barclays predicting that fans would fork out a total of almost £1bn across her 15 UK shows.

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UK leg of Eras tour kicks off

However, some commentators have questioned the claims.

George Moran, an economist at Japanese bank Nomura, expressed doubts over the alleged net benefit of the tour, saying he believed some fans would be cutting back on other spending in order to attend.

He told The Guardian last month: “We think the idea has been overhyped, especially for economies like the UK.”

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Nonetheless, there appears little doubt that fans – some of whom have spent around £200 on tickets alone – will be spending big on accommodation, food and merchandise during the UK leg.

The multi-billion pound tour is also expected to be a major earner for Swift, who has an estimated net worth of more than $1.1bn (£0.9bn), according to Forbes.

The star has faced criticism for some spending, including her frequent use of private jets.

General view of of Anfield Stadium in Liverpool where a Taylor Swift concert is taking place. Picture date: Thursday June 13, 2024.
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Fans packed out Anfield Stadium in Liverpool to watch the star last week. Pic: PA

It comes amid a boom in concert tours worldwide – and their increasingly hefty economic impact.

Last year, officials in Sweden said two shows by singer Beyonce in Stockholm may have been responsible for a rise in inflation in the country.

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