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Pete Atkin
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North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« : 09.11.06 at 22:56 »
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Almost immediately I read NFOS -- or at any rate once I'd stopped laughing -- I felt I was going to have to make some response to the way Clive assumes sole responsibility for the lack of commercial success of our seventies albums.  It seemed to me to be simply wrong, not least when there are so many other things and people to blame.   And, besides, it robbed me of my own chance at self-flagellation.  
 
I first intended simply to post my thoughts here on the Forum, but my draft got a bit out of hand.  It was still a bit out of hand after I'd pruned it quite a lot.  Finally I showed it to that nice Mr Birkill and he generously thought that I shouldn't prune it any more but that he'd find a place for it elsewhere on the website.  So, for what it's worth, you'll find it here --  
 
[url] http://www.peteatkin.com/disproportionate.htm[/url]
 
I hope it will make some sense even if you haven't read Clive's book, but if you haven't I hope you'll do yourself the favour as soon as possible, for any number of reasons.  Just don't read it with your mouth full.
 
Pete
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Richard Bleksley
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #1: 10.11.06 at 16:51 »
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Thank you, Pete, for letting us in on your bout of self-flagellation. I found it a quite fascinating read, not least because, between you, you and Clive have now cited as reasons for the lack of commercial success of your records every factor that attracted me to them in the first place.
 
More than normally literary words on interesting and unusual topics - well, I should think that's a factor in the enthusiasm of just about every MV. Nuff said.
 
The sound of your voice - with me it's a case of "vive la difference."  Its lack of resemblance to any "normal" kind of rock singing is a major factor in giving your records their distinctive character. I do actually like the natural, unforced style of your singing, like a bloke who's not trying to sound like anyone else but is just being himself. I always have.
 
The tunes - the fact that they do (by pop and rock standards) unusual and unexpected things actually helped to lodge them in my mind. I'd find myself worrying at them like a dog with a bone until I could remember their little nuances and hum them (well, almost, at least) correctly. Much more challenging and therefore satisfying than a bog-standard a-a-b-a pop tune.
 
"The lack of contemporary trendiness" - I saw it even then, not only now, as a positive advantage. Another case of "vive la difference." Or it might be more accurate to say that I hardly even noticed it.
 
If those records had had more "normal" or "average" words, singing, tunes, and arrangements, they might well have had a wider appeal - though, as you point out, all other factors can be overridden by luck. But I doubt that they would have haunted me for a quarter of a century, and almost certainly I wouldn't be a Midnight Voice now. Well, maybe I'm just not yer average listener. After all, my own mother said to me not long ago (to my lasting pride): "You're not a normal person, are you?"
 
Oh well. As the late Viv Stanshill remarked at the end of the Bonzos' Rhinocratic Oaths (now there's an unusual lyric for you!): "Sometimes you just can't win."  
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S J Birkill
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #2: 10.11.06 at 17:07 »
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on 10.11.06 at 16:51, Richard Bleksley wrote:
...you and Clive have now cited as reasons for the lack of commercial success of your records every factor that attracted me to them in the first place.
 
More than normally literary words on interesting and unusual topics - well, I should think that's a factor in the enthusiasm of just about every MV. Nuff said.
 
The sound of your voice - with me it's a case of "vive la difference."  Its lack of resemblance to any "normal" kind of rock singing is a major factor in giving your records their distinctive character. I do actually like the natural, unforced style of your singing, like a bloke who's not trying to sound like anyone else but is just being himself. I always have.
 
The tunes - the fact that they do (by pop and rock standards) unusual and unexpected things actually helped to lodge them in my mind. I'd find myself worrying at them like a dog with a bone until I could remember their little nuances and hum them (well, almost, at least) correctly. Much more challenging and therefore satisfying than a bog-standard a-a-b-a pop tune.
 
"The lack of contemporary trendiness" - I saw it even then, not only now, as a positive advantage. Another case of "vive la difference." Or it might be more accurate to say that I hardly even noticed it.
 
If those records had had more "normal" or "average" words, singing, tunes, and arrangements, they might well have had a wider appeal - though, as you point out, all other factors can be overridden by luck. But I doubt that they would have haunted me for a quarter of a century, and almost certainly I wouldn't be a Midnight Voice now.

Mr Bleksley, your talent exceeds even Blair's: you can put my thoughts into words!
 
Steve
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Pete Atkin
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #3: 13.11.06 at 11:09 »
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Dear Richard
 
Not that I didn't know it already, but you are, like all Midnight Voices, a kind and generous person of unusually refined taste and perception, something for which I continue to be mightily glad and grateful.  And even from my modesty and embarrassment I can't say I'm completely surprised that someone should have said what you've said -- it only goes to confirm all of the foregoing -- but please don't get the idea that I was trying to apologise in my website piece.   It's possible I was trying to raise those things I can't help about myself into a virtue which I culd then congratulate myself on practising, but mainly I was just trying to come up with what I felt were more plausible reasons for our lack of commercial success than Clive's, namely that it was all down to his lyrics.  Besides, even if I'd done been able to correct those 'errors' at the time, there's still no guarantee it would have worked.
 
Pete
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David Morgan
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #4: 13.11.06 at 12:39 »
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Richard's put it so well, and so succinctly. To summarise further - most of Pete's reasons for failure are also the reasons that the music still means so much to Richard, to Steve, and I suspect to MVs as a group. So we conclude that the MVs are a bunch of weirdos.
 
And yet...those laudatory reviews, those tens of thousands of album sales...then the path to obscurity. As Pete's 'Whatever' footnote surmises, I'm convinced that it was primarily luck - lousy, rotten luck - wot lost it. And in these days of the Web's Long Tail , this can change: indeed, it's been changing for 10 years now (thanks, Steve). It's not likely to make millions for Pete at this stage, but wider recognition and availability for a fine and unique body of work would still be worthwhile. Keep the faith, team!
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Ian Sorensen
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #5: 14.11.06 at 19:42 »
Quote

Rather than simply say "ditto" to the previous respondents I'd like to make a couple of other points regarding the songs from the seventies.
 
I like, and always have liked, high class pop. I never liked the John Peel show and the "prog rock" bands of the seventies that played self indulgent, meandering music. The bands I liked were 10cc, Supertramp, ABBA, Bee Gees and, in the prog rock bracket, The Moody Blues. But they all wrote nd performed songs with good lyrics and, most impotantly, music more complex than the usual 4 or 5 chords used for most pop and rock. (As an aside: I never liked the Beatles and still think their lyrics pretty awful and music uninspiring.)
 
Pete and Clive provided the perfect mix of music and words that I could get my teeth into. And while most of Pete's melodies weren't as catchy as Benny and Bjorn's, they were the perfect vehicle for Clive's lyrics, which most certainly had powerful "hooks": phrases that resonated in the mind and kept one's attention through the song.
 
Pete mentions the lack of repetition in the songs, but that was their strength. Although I admire Justin Hayward's ability to write soaring melodies with poetic lyrics, I despair at the endless repetition, not only musically within a verse, but also the whole structure - verse 1, verse 2, chorus, verse 2, chorus, verse 1. Aaargh! (And the same guitar solo sound for 40 years!)
 
The works of Atkin & James are, by any standards, superb popular songs. It's just an accident of history that the public never made them popular enough to make Pete the music legend, like Ray Davies, that he should be.
 
Of course, there's still time.....
 
Ian Sorensen
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Ian Chippett
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #6: 14.11.06 at 20:16 »
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Ian S. wrote:
 
<<The bands I liked were 10cc, Supertramp, ABBA, Bee Gees and, in the prog rock bracket, The Moody Blues. But they all wrote nd performed songs with good lyrics and, most impotantly, music more complex than the usual 4 or 5 chords used for most pop and rock.>>
 
When you say, "impotantly" is there an "r" missing between the "o" and the "t" or is the "a" meant to be an "e"?     Wink  
 
Pete's problem (and it's not really a problem as far as I and I imagine the rest of us are concened) is a concern with good taste, something which Rock can quite happily live without. Apart from "I See The Joker" and "Rain Wheels" (and some of the much more recent stuff) Pete has always had too much good taste to be a real rocker. Where are the raw deafening guitar solos I (and others among us) fled to avoid back in the late Sixties and early Seventies? Well down in the final mix. No, for me Pete and Clive were, or rather, are songwriters in the Rodgers and Hart tradition: they are not folkies or rockers, just musical craftsmen for whom the public were not quite ready. Wouldn't it be possible  just to change the public? Surely the software must exist...  8-(
 
Ian C
 
Hopelessly dreaming of an Atkin-James musical comedy ("Volpone" would be a good subject) in Pantin, France
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Lizzi
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #7: 14.11.06 at 22:16 »
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Somehow I missed hearing Pete and Clive in the seventies. I can't explain why as I was interested in music and I liked folky stuff where you listened to the words (like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Loudon Wainwright, Steve Forbert). I just checked my vinyl collection and found a signed Leon Rosselson's "Palaces of Gold" which must be in the same league of non-mass-popularity as Pete's albums.  
 
I accidentally heard Pete's Beautiful Stranger album in a shared flat in France and looked for a copy for over 20 years.
 
Now I have got this and the Mythical America album, I've introduced my husband to them. He plays them constantly, having also missed them in the 70's. He's played one track ('No dice') to a 60 year old Canadian friend, who says he wants the whole album - he's surprised that he missed this stuff at the time
 
I don't think Pete and Clive's music wasn't popular, but somehow it failed to reach its audience. And from my small sample, the 'missed audience' seems to be happy to discover this music at any time in their lives.
 
I wonder how many people listening to Clive reading the Soho book on Radio 4 would have wanted to download the title music ('Master of the Revels') given the opportunity?
 
As an MV novice, I hope this is not just going over well trodden ground!
 
Yours Lizzi
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Jim Grozier
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #8: 15.11.06 at 10:17 »
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I haven’t read Clive’s book yet, I’m afraid, but I have read Pete’s response. In fact I read it at a Philip Jeays gig at which the audience numbered just seven people, which perhaps backs up what I am about to say.
 
My question to Clive would be, “what sort of commercial success were you expecting?” Look at the sort of music that was in the charts in the late 60s/early 70s (isn’t it annoying that when people refer to “the sixties”, the decade that I think they are usually referring to – in terms of major developments on the music front at least – rather inconveniently spans the years from about 1966 to 1974ish … but “the late sixties/early seventies” is a bit of a mouthful so everyone just says “the sixties” …) Would Clive really have liked to have been ranked alongside such inane drivel as Engelbert Humperdinck, “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” (and other disasters that I have happily forgotten)? And why compare Pete and Clive’s stuff with The Kinks? OK, Davies & Co did turn out the odd interesting lyric but I would classify them as basically commercial pop that is quite catchy and sometimes interesting to listen to on a fairly superficial level. How can you compare “Waterloo Sunset” with a masterpiece like “The Sunlight Gate”, for instance?
 
In any case, as far as I am aware, Pete did have a reasonable amount of commercial success – enough, at any rate, for someone like me (and presumably thousands of others) to become aware of him – mainly through the medium of Kenny Everitt’s Saturday morning radio show on which, from what I can recall (although my memory may have been distorted over the years, as sometimes happens) either “Master of the Revels” or “Thief In The Night” (or possibly both) was played virtually every week, along with other songs by then-little-known people, such as “Blossom” by James Taylor.
 
The 60s/70s did of course see the rise of the “cult band” phenomenon, with bands getting a decent following, enough to allow them to make a living and sell records, without getting much, or perhaps even any, airplay on the BBC; and that was without the Internet to help them. So Pete is not unique in this respect.  
 
So, although the world would be a far, far better place if more people had listened to these songs, I can’t say I’m surprised at how things turned out. In fact, for those of us who are followers of Pete and Clive’s music, (being selfish just for once) it does mean that we can go and see Pete in the intimacy of, say, a folk club in Eastbourne, instead of having to queue up at the Albert Hall and be frisked by burly bouncers …  Smiley
 
There may be yet another factor operating here. Pete’s music has been classified by some as “English Chanson” along with songwriters such as Philip Jeays, Robb Johnson and Des de Moor, and singers such as Barb Jungr. But the “chanson” genre (epitomised by the likes of Jacques Brel) has never really taken off in this country; it seems British people in general don’t like listening to songs with serious lyrics. Witness the pathetic attendance at the Jeays gig (see above) – what else does one need to say? (And for an interesting and amusing take on the whole idea of commercial success, listen to Jeays’ brilliant song “Fame”).
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Seán Kelly
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #9: 16.11.06 at 08:36 »
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Richard also manages to sum my views up excellently - thankyou Richard.  I certainly want more fame for these songs - and more income for their creators - but absolutely not at the expense of changing one syllable or note.  
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Richard Bleksley
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #10: 16.11.06 at 12:59 »
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What a stimulating diversity of musical tastes this thread has shown among MVs! Surely it would be the despair of any marketing person trying to find a target group at which to aim the Atkin-James "product." Maybe this is a hint of another reason for the lack of commercial success.
 
But, whatever the reason, it really does seem to be very much a minority taste. Between being introduced to the stuff (by someone with whom I've since lost touch) and joining the Voices I never met a single other person who liked it. My experience has not been like Lizzi's.
 
In fact one bloke I proudly lent my then new copy of Master of the Revels handed it back a couple of days later with the comment: "Apart from Girl on the Train, what a load of rubbish!" which was rather discouraging.
 
I suspect that my current (rather limited) circle of friends regards my enthusiasm for the music of Pete Atkin as a harmless eccentricity best not mentioned. When I play the records I get no response at all.
 
So, when we were visiting an old schoolfriend of my wife's and her husband last summer, and upon rather hesitantly referring to "a singer of terrifying obscurity" and being encouraged to reveal his name, I got the reaction of "Oh, we went to see him with Clive James not long ago," and "We've got a cassette of him somewhere," you could have knocked me down with a feather.
 
But never mind, Pete, you do still have a devoted fan-base, even if it is a small one.
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David Morgan
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #11: 16.11.06 at 18:21 »
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Another beauty above from the 'eccentric' Mr Bleksley: I don't know whether to laugh or cry! I'm reminded (it keeps happening) of 'Star of Tomorrow':
 
'So there aren't many people here
Three men and a dog, I fear, ha ha
But the dog's got all your albums
Ho ho....'
 
My experience is different again from both Richard's & Lizzi's: having learned at an early age that most attempts to infect folk with my musical enthusiasms were doomed to failure (must be the messianic light that comes into my eyes), I ashamedly admit that I'd not even tried until a month ago to introduce anyone to Atkinian delights. The loan is still out there: the holding reply was 'I've listened, but not enough'.  Promising!
 
It would be fascinating to draw a heat map of MVs' other tastes to see how catholic or chaotic they really are. While I shout a lot about Bob Dylan, like Ian S I have more than a sneaking admiration for Abba. I suspect, based on what I've read hereabouts, that there'd be strong MV bunching on certain names - Randy Newman & Richard Thompson spring to mind. Neither is in the Elvis league of popstardom, of course, but despite being appreciated by MVs both have achieved rather more notoriety than has Pete to date. So let's keep quietly pushing him out there - even I'm going to try harder!
 
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S J Birkill
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #12: 16.11.06 at 18:35 »
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on 16.11.06 at 18:21, David Morgan wrote:
It would be fascinating to draw a heat map of MVs' other tastes to see how catholic or chaotic they really are.

Anyone care to take this on? A 3D map would be good (axes labelled P, J and F perhaps, but we'd fight over where to place some artists), if anyone had the technology, and maybe one of those manipulable Flash displays (rotate, zoom etc.) Of course, that'd depend on MVs being forthcoming enough to make it representative; times have changed since Nigel Long's survey. A repeat of Ian Chippett's poll could also be interesting...
 
Steve
 
PS: I should have reminded MVs of this, which is surely relevant, however much its connections may have been influenced by our members or by others.
« Last Edit: 16.11.06 at 18:51 by S J Birkill » IP logged
BogusTrumper
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #13: 16.11.06 at 22:31 »
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Off topic replies have been moved to This Thread by S J Birkill.
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David Morgan
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #14: 17.11.06 at 16:12 »
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Off topic replies have been moved to This Thread by S J Birkill.
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jeremy pymer
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #15: 19.11.06 at 22:41 »
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Several Voices have expressed their hopes in this thread for the longed-for arrival of commercial success for the songs. I fervently share those hopes.  Pete also referred to the lack of cover versions at the time the albums were being released.
 
It seems to me that cover versions of some of them (but by no means all) are the only likely route to commercial success.  
 
The sheer variety of songs which Pete and Clive produced (and continue to produce) put Pete in a very difficult position: that of singing some songs for which, however brilliantly conceived in terms of both music and lyrics, his voice was not always best suited.  Whether others agree with this or not, some of the songs seem to me to be just begging to be covered.
 
I believe there is greater opportunity available now than there ever was for cover versions of some of the songs, as there seems to have been a crop of really good new jazz singers, especially females, in recent years.  Whether they would see it that way is another matter, but is anyone asking?.....Pete?................Clive?
 
Wouldn't Stacey Kent, for example, sound great easing through "Don't Bother  
Me Now" in that sexy clipped voice of hers, or her or any of the rest of them (I'm useless at remembering new names) covering "Early Days".  
 
"Trophies of my Lovers Gone", "Just for Me (Amy's Blues)", The Standards of Today" and "Thirty year Man" also come to mind in this bracket.  
 
A downbeat Tony Bennett could work wonders with the last (not that Pete hasn't already - don't get me wrong) and give TB something better to sing even than "Set 'em up, Joe" in this idiom.  As long of course, as that wonderful, Charlie Kunz-like piano accompaniment to "Thirty years in the racket...." wasn't sacrificed.
 
I'm sure that other, better-informed Voices could also pick out other artistes who would also be suited to these and no doubt many other PA/CJ songs.
 
These singers however, often write their own stuff or choose to interpret standards.  What Pete and Clive may therefore also need is a latter-day Julie Covington or two, some of those young girl singers just starting to begin, in the hope that it'll be for the two of them that a fair proportion of the big notes crinkle.
 
Pete also referred to Clive's lyrics having changed.  With this in mind and with the well of Pete's melodies continuing to run fresh, the two of them could also be pretty successful now, in setting out to write for others.  
 
Hmmm, they wouldn't be just our "property" any more, but I'd love to see Pete and Clive at last busting into the song-writing recognition they so richly deserve.
 
There are other reasons for a wider public to be acquainted with our heroes' work: I'm going to suggest to Radio Cambridge that they play "Hill of Little Shoes" on the next Holocaust Memorial Day.   I can't think of anything musically and lyrically with such immediate impact in bringing home the enormity of what happened.  It's almost as if one was standing there watching it happen (though I wholeheartedly thank God that I wasn't).
 
On that somewhat solemn note, best to all,
 
Jeremy
 
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naomi
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #16: 20.11.06 at 02:08 »
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Pete's music is wonderful; Clive's lyrics are wonderful.
As I don't need to point out to MVs, Pete sings with a warmth and an authenticity that speaks to hearts - as well as having a rich baritonal sound. That he sings in his own accent is, if you ask me, essential to this.
 
Surely there is no necessary connection - above all, in today's dumbed-down culture - between artistic merit and hitting the big-time.
Otherwise the charts would be topped by Franz Schubert.
 
Having said that, PA/CJ have nevertheless received and do receive wide recognition. Just think of the many non-MVs one knows who love their work, just like we do.  
 
On the subject of the girl-singers to whom Jeremy refers (sorry, but I don't know how to do that thing when you cite previous text in a little box !): as a mezzo-chanteuse, I already have four PA/CJ songs in my repertoire, and I perform them whenever I can. They are gems for which I am hugely grateful - and I fully intend to learn more of them. These songs are deeply moving to sing as well as to hear.
 
Very many thanks to Pete for sharing his thoughts with us so candidly - and also to Mr Bleksley for his insightful response. I hope that my own comments make sense !
 
Pete wrote: "The egg is on my face". Forgive me for disagreeing, but there's no egg on anyone's face, chaps. Wink
 
Best,
Naomi
 
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #17: 20.11.06 at 19:03 »
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"I'm going to suggest to Radio Cambridge that they play "Hill of Little Shoes" on the next Holocaust Memorial Day.   I can't think of anything musically and lyrically with such immediate impact in bringing home the enormity of what happened."
 
I'm still struggling with how to use the Forum software to put things in those clever quotes boxes, and come to that how to hyperlink things, and my investigations into the FAQ hasn't been a help (is it a Firefox thing?).
 
But I just wanted to say - even though I know we're all pretty literate on the list, which is of course one of the reasons we've ended up here - what a pleasure it was to see the word "enormity" used correctly for once.
 
Andrew
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S J Birkill
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #18: 20.11.06 at 19:44 »
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on 20.11.06 at 19:03, Andrew_Curry wrote:
I'm still struggling with how to use the Forum software to put things in those clever quotes boxes, and come to that how to hyperlink things, and my investigations into the FAQ hasn't been a help (is it a Firefox thing?).

Hi Andrew! (and Naomi, who also mentioned this)
 
I don't think it's any limitation of Firefox. If you look at the right-hand end of the "Post reply" window header bar you should see two buttons, the right-hand one bearing a question mark. This brings up help information on using the formatting tags. Don't worry about the "IE5.5 or higher" warning -- I think that applies only to the left (preview as you type) button. It's mentioned in FAQ answer 10 Smiley
 
Steve
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Jim Grozier
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Re: North Face of Soho - A Disproportionate Response
« Reply #19: 21.11.06 at 11:29 »
Quote

on 20.11.06 at 02:08, naomi wrote:
as a mezzo-chanteuse, I already have four PA/CJ songs in my repertoire, and I perform them whenever I can.

 
Where can we see you performing them, then, Naomi? And which songs?
 
I'm surprised Barb Jungr hasn't done any. (Or has she? It's a while since I have been to her regular "Cafe Prague" event in Brighton, and in fact I believe it's no longer as regular as it was).  
 
I was one of no-doubt many people who originally lobbied her to invite Pete to Cafe Prague - which she did - but I don't know whether she was inspired enough by the songs to take any of them on. I think "Trophies" would be her kind of song, although I have no problem with the way Pete sings it. It would probably be brilliant in anyone's hands.
 
I have to say I was less impressed by her at the more recent shows I went to, with her repertoire having drifted away from the Brel stuff she used to do, so maybe she would not want to do Clive's songs these days.  Sad
 
Jim Grozier.
 
« Last Edit: 21.11.06 at 11:39 by Jim Grozier » IP logged
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