Pete Atkin

TrackAlbum
Beware Of The Beautiful StrangerBeware Of The Beautiful Stranger
CanoeHistory And Geography
Carnations On The RoofA King At Nightfall
Girl On The TrainBeware Of The Beautiful Stranger
I Have To LearnWinter Spring
Laughing BoyLive In Australia
The Man Who Walked
Toward The Music 
The Road Of Silk
The Master Of The RevelsMidnight Voices Vol.1
Perfect MomentsThe Road Of Silk
Rain-WheelsSecret Drinker

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Pete Atkin met Clive James at Cambridge and via the Footlights they formed a songwriting partnership in which Pete set Clive’s lyrics to music. Lyrics is a very simplistic term to use for clever and witty word pictures that Clive has written. By the way, a song has a lyric – lyrics refers to the words of more than one song.

In the early 1970s Pete and Clive recorded six albums together. Clive James went on to become a household name on television, although that only scratches the surface of his talent. Pete Atkin, as Clive says, became a big time radio producer with the BBC and his work includes This Sceptred Isle.

A man called Stephen Birkill created a website dedicated to Pete Atkin’s work from which grew a forum, Midnight Voices (see below). This renewed interest in the original albums resulted in Pete and Clive working together again, and some new music and three tours resulted. This is my personal selection of ten of their songs which I hope will spark debate ¬ particularly from other “Voices” who will have their own. Ten tracks is such a tough ask. I have actively tried, with limited success, to stray from the usual suspects and I hope my friends fill in some of the gaps. I also hope that Pete and Clive would approve.

Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger: I have to have this, it is possibly Pete and Clive’s most popular song, and a happy coincidence places it first alphabetically. Set in a Gypsy caravan, our hero learns about the woman who will shape his life.

Canoe: Recorded in part two of their story (2001), it brilliantly melds two disparate tales linked by the South Pacific Ocean. On the one hand you have a rite of passage and this seamlessly becomes the story of the three astronauts in the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. So very cleverly done. The album’s full title is The Lakeside Sessions, Volume 1: History And Geography.

Carnations On The Roof: I maintain that this was the first Atkin/James song that I heard; on a Sunday morning on Radio 1 and played by Noel Edmonds. The word pictures stuck me back then and became more real at the end of the 1970s when, at university in Coventry, I witnessed the death throes of our motor industry and the manufacturing engineering skills that we lost with it.

Girl On The Train: Written when you were King for a Day with a £10 note in your pocket. The rhythm follows the train out of town (London, or possibly Cambridge) and then we are told about a captivating but unobtainable lady in the seat opposite.

I Have To Learn: Just a perfect pop song. Music, lyric, arrangement all come together to tell the story of lost love and the little details that add to the overall heartbreak of the end of a relationship.

Laughing Boy: A tale of bohemian bedsit life in the early/mid 1960s, and the live version taken from the Australian leg of the 2002 tour. I was lucky enough to see Pete and Clive on stage in Sussex during that tour. This song is a memory of that evening and seeing Clive on form and reading from his own prose and poetry ¬ as well as sharing the vocal.

The Man Who Walked Toward The Music: Clive admits there is a certain autobiographical aspect to the lyric. It refers to how he was first captivated by music and the possibilities that music could do for some of his poetry. And this is such a great production.

The Master Of The Revels: The original version – released as a single in 1973 and the first track on Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger – was played endlessly by Kenny Everett on Radio 1 but never quite became the hit it could have been, possibly due to Kenny’s sacking by the BBC before others picked up the song. Pete revisited and reworked some of the early material in 2006 and this version closes Midnight Voices: The Clive James – Pete Atkin Songbook Volume 1.

Perfect Moments: This is the opening track of the first Atkin/James LP that I bought. The juxtaposition in rhyme of various, usually disconnected, events means that it has always been a favourite.

Rain-Wheels: I’m a sucker for any song that features a Jaguar – particularly an E-type! The lady is driving back from, who knows what – an assignation maybe – from Notting Hill to Hampstead in the rain and you are there with her or rather, observing, a small part of the journey.

 

The Pete Atkin website

Midnight Voices – The Pete Atkin Web Forum

Pete Atkin biography (iTunes)

It’s not easy to find downloads of 70s Pete Atkin – something that hopefully can be rectified before much longer. In the meantime you can find secondhand copies of twofer CDs at inflated prices or, better still, hunt down the vinyl – phone a friend!

TopperPost #75

2 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Sep 18, 2013

    Fascinating song by song listing by Ian, which has really got me interested in someone I’d virtually forgotten. I thought I had two Pete Atkin albums, but a search reveals just the one, Live Libel, which I haven’t played for decades.
    I got interested after a scholarly article by Clive James in “Cream” in 1972 on The Band’s lyrics, and heard that he was writing with Pete Atkin, and I’m still convinced that “Driving Through Mythical America” (the second album) is somewhere in the house. I had it once. I found Live Libel, which like The Turtles “Battle Of The Bands” is a series of pastiches by fictional groups, such as “Errant Knight” by Strongbow Spam, “Black Funk Rex” by Marc Boloc and “Doom From A Room” by Leonard Conman. I can’t remember it but will give it a spin today. Those Private Eye fake names were still popular in 1975 (and still are in Private Eye).
    I looked him up in “Rare Record Guide” and apparently there are two 1967 LPs with Julie Covington, one in an edition of 99 copies, the other 160 copies. You won’t find them in your local secondhand shop … but I have a feeling I’ve seen a small stack of the 70s RCA ones locally, and will check it out today.

    • Terry Newman
      Sep 18, 2013

      I’m so pleased that someone has chosen Pete Atkin for this site… a long time favourite of mine, had all the albums back in the 70s. Finally got to see him and Clive play live a few years back in Darlington and hugely enjoyable it was too, save for Mr James’ singing voice! While no-one would describe Pete as a great singer, his voice seems to suit these songs perfectly; he has a great way with a melody and Clive James’ lyrics are unimprovable.

      My 10 songs are as follows:

      Beware of the Beautiful Stranger (Beware of the Beautiful Stranger)
      Driving Through Mythical America (Driving Through Mythical America)
      History & Geography (The Lakeside Sessions)
      Rain-Wheels (Secret Drinker)
      Screen-Freak (A King at Nightfall)
      The Faded Mansion On The Hill (Driving Through Mythical America)
      The Road of Silk (The Road of Silk)
      The Wall of Death (The Road of Silk)
      Thirty Year Man (A King at Nightfall)
      Tongue Tied (Secret Drinker)

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