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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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Eurovision: Former Sex Pistols’ frontman John Lydon fails to win place representing Ireland

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Eurovision: Former Sex Pistols' frontman John Lydon fails to win place representing Ireland

Former Sex Pistols’ frontman John Lydon has failed in his bid to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.

His band Public Image Ltd (PiL), the post-punk band formed by Lydon following the break-up of the Sex Pistols, finished fourth out of six acts in Ireland’s Eurosong competition to select its entry to this year’s contest.

They were beaten by rock band Wild Youth’s song We Are One who will compete at the contest in Liverpool in May.

The result was decided in three parts – a public vote, a national jury and an international jury.

PiL’s entry was an emotional ballad called Hawaii, which he described as a love letter to his wife Nora, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease.

In the song, Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, reflects on their happiest moments over their 40-year marriage including their time in Hawaii.

Before the contest, he said: “It means the world to me, this is our last few years of coherence together. And I miss her like mad.

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“I miss my missus, if you keep voting for me I’m going to miss her even more.”

Read more: When is the song contest, who’s hosting and when can I get tickets?

He said he was still “terrified of mugging it up, getting it wrong, letting people down – mostly letting Nora down”.

He spoke fondly of watching Eurovision as a child, saying: “This is something that I watched when I was young with my parents. I remember Johnny Logan, I remember Cliff Richard, I remember Sandy Shaw.

John Lydon

“It’s as good as any other way of listening to music, I don’t have any prejudices about things like that.”

He added that he chose Ireland “because I’m as much Irish as anybody else by blood”.

Read more: Eurovision announces viewers across the rest of the world can vote in next year’s contest

PiL was formed in the late 1970s and has scored five UK top 20 albums.

The band is also planning to release a new album in 2023 – their first since 2015.

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The UK is yet to announce details of potential entrants to Eurovision.

Liverpool is the host city for this year’s contest after organisers said it would be unsafe to host the competition in Ukraine after Kalush Orchestra’s 2022 win.

Since the UK’s Sam Ryder finished second last, the BBC stepped in to host the contest instead.

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Julian Sands: ‘Intermittent’ aerial searches to continue after bad weather hampered earlier efforts

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Julian Sands: 'Intermittent' aerial searches to continue after bad weather hampered earlier efforts

Aerial patrols are still being carried out “intermittently” in the search for missing British actor Julian Sands who went missing three weeks ago in California.

Normally, similar searches would be downgraded after 10 days, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.

However, because bad weather has so far hampered efforts, it has been decided to extend the search period.

“Our Aviation Division continues to patrol that area, intermittently, in search of Mr Sands,” a spokesman said.

“Typically, we search for 10 days before downgrading to a passive search. In this case, with the weather precluding a continuous search, we extended those plans.

“While weather and mountain conditions continue to be an issue, we will resume ground searches once weather conditions permit and as the snow melts.”

Sands, 65, was reported missing on 13 January after he failed to return from a hike in the Mount Baldy region of the San Gabriel mountains.

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Numerous searches for the actor have since been undertaken on foot and by air by both local and state-level agencies.

Authorities have previously used a Recco device, which is able to detect electronics and credit cards, in the hope of establishing a more exact area in which to focus search efforts.

Last weekend, Sand’s hiking partner and friend Kevin Ryan said it was obvious “something has gone wrong” but that the actor’s advanced experience and skill would “hopefully” see his safe return.

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Fashion designer Paco Rabanne – known for his flamboyant Space Age designs – dies aged 88

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Fashion designer Paco Rabanne - known for his flamboyant Space Age designs - dies aged 88

Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer, has died at the age of 88 in Portsall, Brittany.

The death of Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo – Rabanne’s birth name – was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which controls the Paco Rabanne label he exited two decades ago.

He founded his namesake brand in1966, and while it is now best-known for is aftershaves and perfumes, it was his Space Age designs in the 1960s, that first brought him to the attention of many.

A statement shared on the fashion house’s official Instagram account said: “The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honour our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88.

“Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain a constant source of inspiration.

“We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities.”

Dubbed an “enfant terrible” in his early years, he helped upset the status quo of the Paris fashion scene, alongside fellow French designers Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges.

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His flamboyant designs frequently used unconventional material such as metal, paper, and plastic, with his first collection aptly titled: “Manifesto: 12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials”.

Presented by barefoot models on a catwalk in a luxury Paris hotel, the collection included a chain mail-inspired silver minidress made of aluminium plates, which was worn over a flesh-coloured bodysuit.

Baroness Helen Bachofen von Echt went on to wear the dress to a party in New York where she danced with Frank Sinatra, according to the V&A museum.

Pics: Shutterstock/David Thorpe/ANL
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Pics: Shutterstock/David Thorpe/ANL

Embracing cutting edge materials and modern ways of working, he used plyers rather than a needle and thread to create the craft outfits, which made from strips of plastic linked with metal rings.

The collection – which simultaneously looked both futuristic and medieval – has gone on to inspire numerous contemporary designers.

He famously created the green costume worn by Jane Fonda in the 1968 cult-classic science-fiction film Barbarella, with numerous celebrities including Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Blackpink all going on to wear his clothes.

Commenting on the influential 1966 show, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division Jose Manuel Albesa said: “Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal.”

Rabanne teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching his collection of perfumes and scents, which would go on to serve as a springboard for the company’s international expansion and vast commercial success.

His debut fragrance, Calandre, is still available today, and his Lady Million Eau de Parfum – presented in a distinctive bottle in the shape of a gold ingot – remains a best-seller.

Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

Born in 1934 in the Basque Country, in the western Pyrenees, he escaped the Spanish Civil War by fleeing to France at the age of five alongside his mother, who was a head seamstress at Balenciaga.

He initially studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, before beginning his fashion career in the early 1960s.

He started his career sketching high end handbags and shoes, before branching into fashion and jewellery, selling his large plastic accessories and buttons to to couture houses.

Reflective of the mid-1960s cultural climate, his garments used post-war industrial materials – creating a trademark chunky and bold look. His architectural background also shone out in much of his work.

After a three-decade long career, Rabanne stepped back from the design house in 1999.

In 2010, the designer was made an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur in France, the country’s highest civilian award.

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