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Tiny_Montgomery
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North Face of Soho
« : 09.08.06 at 21:31 »
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North Face of Soho - Unreliable Memoirs Volume IV, to be published by Picador in October, contains some interesting and rather bitter-sweet comments about the early James-Atkin years. Trying to pinpoint the reasons for their lack of commercial success, Clive interestingly still believes the lyrics were mixed too far forward in the RCA albums and admits he often preferred the demo tapes to the finished album tracks. But he believes the central reason for their failure to make any dent on the charts was down to to Clive James himself, explaining: "My assumption that popular music could be dragged towards literature was fundamentally wrong-headed. It was a sure-fire formula for creating unpopular music...I was killing us with every clever lyric that I wrote." And speaking as someone who never rated Live Libel, I was glad to read Clive's description of the last album before the long creative break of their partnership as "a patchy collection of spoofs and parodies...half meant as a deal-breaker and fully did the job." These and many more comments about the early James-Atkin years will make the book a must-have for all Midnight Voicers.
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Richard Bleksley
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #1: 12.08.06 at 23:27 »
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My assumption that popular music could be dragged towards literature was fundamentally wrong-headed. It was a sure-fire formula for creating unpopular music.
 
I don't think Clive needs to be too hard on himself. In retrospect he may be right, but you need to look at it in the context of the times in which the idea was conceived, the late sixties and early seventies. I was student-age then (if not actually a student), just the right age to appreciate what was going on, and I remember the period with considerable affection. Music has never seemed quite so exciting since.
 
For this was the time before the word "progressive" acquired its connotations of derision and parody, when you could apply the word to rock music and mean it. There was a vast ferment of new ideas, an explosion of creative energy. Boundaries were being pushed back in all directions, and almost anything seemed possible. Lyric writing had not long previously undergone a revolution (usually credited to the influence of Bob Dylan, and who am I to argue?), and in that time of experimentation and innovation who was to say it couldn't be taken another step or two further? At least it must have seemed worth trying.
 
Yes, a lot of the ideas of those times turned out to be blind alleys, and yes, perhaps Clive's was one of them, but at least it's left a wonderful collection of songs for us to treasure, and that have enriched our lives.    
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BogusTrumper
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #2: 14.08.06 at 13:51 »
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on 12.08.06 at 23:27, Richard Bleksley wrote:
I don't think Clive needs to be too hard on himself. In retrospect he may be right, but you need to look at it in the context of the times in which the idea was conceived, the late sixties and early seventies. I was student-age then (if not actually a student), just the right age to appreciate what was going on, and I remember the period with considerable affection. Music has never seemed quite so exciting since.
 
For this was the time before the word "progressive" acquired its connotations of derision and parody, when you could apply the word to rock music and mean it. There was a vast ferment of new ideas, an explosion of creative energy. Boundaries were being pushed back in all directions, and almost anything seemed possible. Lyric writing had not long previously undergone a revolution (usually credited to the influence of Bob Dylan, and who am I to argue?), and in that time of experimentation and innovation who was to say it couldn't be taken another step or two further? At least it must have seemed worth trying.
 
Yes, a lot of the ideas of those times turned out to be blind alleys, and yes, perhaps Clive's was one of them, but at least it's left a wonderful collection of songs for us to treasure, and that have enriched our lives.  

 
I absolutely agree.  And on a similar note, I am often amused when the media complains about pop musicians making political statements.  I remember a glorious time when a significant proportion of the music scene was a very political statement!
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #3: 14.08.06 at 18:31 »
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I imagine that Clive won't be altogether chuffed when he sees that his new book been leaked.  (Such matters are nothing to do with ego, Clive's or anyone's, but with plain dealing and good faith in the publishing business.)  I know Clive holds these views about our lack of commercial success with the vinyl albums, and I  too happen to believe that Clive is wrong in his analysis, but I'll say no more than that before I have the chance to read Clive's words for myself.  I have no desire or reason to impugn Mr (or is it Ms?) "Montgomery's" literary gifts, but I've not seen many attempts at paraphrasing Clive's writing which have hit the button.
 
Pete
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Secret Drinker
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #4: 21.08.06 at 16:17 »
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on 14.08.06 at 13:51, BogusTrumper wrote:

 
I absolutely agree. And on a similar note, I am often amused when the media complains about pop musicians making political statements. I remember a glorious time when a significant proportion of the music scene was a very political statement!

 
And I absolutely agree with you, BogusTrumper.
 
If ever there was a time with a need for "protest songs" as they were known back in the early/mid sixties, to speak out against the way things on this planet are going, it's now.  
 
Fortunately there are a few writers - some who've been around for a while and others who are relative newcomers - who are continuing the tradition of writing songs with meaningful lyrics about things other than simply trying to get one's leg over Shocked
 
OK, merely singing about something might not change the world as those 1960s troubadours naively believed it would, but at least by writing and singing such songs we can help draw attention to some of the problems and raise their profile a little.
 
Better stop there before we get into specific political issues Wink
 
Cheers
 
Paul
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Andy Love
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #5: 21.08.06 at 20:47 »
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Hi Chorus
 
M.O.M writes, surprisingly soberly :
 
"If ever there was a time with a need for "protest songs" as they were known back in the early/mid sixties, to speak out against the way things on this planet are going, it's now".  
 
Quite by coincidence I've just promoted a gig which featured such a singer/songwriter: Tracey Curtis. I'll try to remember to bring a copy of the recording oop t'North should anyone be interested enough to want to listen to it (she said I could do what I liked with it!)
 
A.
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Secret Drinker
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #6: 22.08.06 at 10:24 »
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on 21.08.06 at 20:47, Andy Love wrote:
Hi Chorus
 
M.O.M writes, surprisingly soberly :
 
"If ever there was a time with a need for "protest songs" as they were known back in the early/mid sixties, to speak out against the way things on this planet are going, it's now".  
 
Quite by coincidence I've just promoted a gig which featured such a singer/songwriter: Tracey Curtis. I'll try to remember to bring a copy of the recording oop t'North should anyone be interested enough to want to listen to it (she said I could do what I liked with it!)
 
A.

 
("Surprisingly"? It was only 16:17pm!)
 
Definitely interested in hearing her, Andy, but don't know when there will be time to listen to it, what with all the sclonching, marionetting, eating, drinking - oh, and Pete's gig of course, nearly forgot that  Grin
 
Meanwhile I'll look her up on t'web. Btw, Andy - it's "oop North" not "oop t'North" - you must watch these grammatical points  Smiley
 
Cheers
 
Paul
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BogusTrumper
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #7: 22.08.06 at 12:48 »
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on 21.08.06 at 16:17, Secret Drinker wrote:

 
If ever there was a time with a need for "protest songs" as they were known back in the early/mid sixties, to speak out against the way things on this planet are going, it's now.  
 
Paul

 
I have just relived my youth, and read: "1968: The Year That Rocked the World" by Mark Kurlansky
 
The Student Apathy Movement had not yet been invented  Cheesy
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Richard Bleksley
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #8: 22.08.06 at 15:14 »
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Yes. As a university professor says in Stephen Fry's The Liar (quoting from memory): "That's what I miss about students these days: no disrespect."
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Kevin Cryan
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #9: 28.09.06 at 22:10 »
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A short audio extract from North Face of Soho can be found here
 
Kevin Cryan
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S J Birkill
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #10: 06.10.06 at 10:27 »
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Well, a few more of us will have read it now. Clive does indeed seem to take a strange stance vis-a-vis the songs, blaming his own artistic integrity for their lack of popular success. How would he have viewed them now if at the time he'd compromised that integrity (not that he could have) and they'd failed? Their failure would then have been absolute, not just commercial. Comments, please!
 
SJB
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Leslie Moss
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #11: 06.10.06 at 14:12 »
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I think Clive is being naive. The lack of commercial success of the songs probably has a lot more to do with other factors than the complexity or subject matter of the lyrics. I'd guess that it's more a combination of: Pete's "english" style of singing, the relatively basic orchestration/instrumentation, the very unpop-y arrangements and the unlucky timing as fashion moved away from singer-songwriters to prog-rock and then punk.
 
There was probably a window of opportunity for pop success between 1966 and 1969 when anything seemed to go and experimentation was the thing - they were just too late for that. But lyrical complexity - no I don't think so.
 
Leslie
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S J Birkill
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #12: 06.10.06 at 15:04 »
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I've wondered about the 'English' voice thing and I'm not so sure. Pete's period is contemporaneous with progressive, and bracketed by psychedelia and punk.  
 
Post-war pop was driven from the other side of the Atlantic, and the accent became de rigeur as representing the spirit of the music, rather than the origin of its performer. So the solo British popster did the voice almost without question -- it was part of the singing style.
 
But by the mid-sixties experimentation was in the air. Psych groups, even some American ones, often adopted 'upper-clarss' English vowels for their vocals. The Beatles, to a northern ear, sang in recognisably Liverpudlian rather than American tones, Bowie sounded like a Londoner and Jon Anderson's vowels in those days were mid-Accrington rather than mid-Atlantic. It was only the lightest of pop and the heaviest of rock which by then seemed still to demand a feigned American accent, though many artists (E John comes to mind) chose to stick to it as if to acknowledge their influences.
 
Then came punk. Its perpetrators affected a 'savvan' London or Essex accent, glottal stops and all, as an emblem of their yobbish image and in revolt against 'posh' as well as American accents. And I think (though I'm not familiar with them, and maybe that's why) some of today's successful British groups still follow punk's lead in this. Certainly whenever I hear a 'yoof' radio DJ the chances are he's adopted a spiky cockney style rather than the resonant mid-Atlantic tones of the 60s' offshore DJs.
 
If Englishness of the vocals wasn't a barrier to pop success before, during and after Pete, why do we continue to cite it as a disadvantage (admittedly in conjunction with the other factors Leslie mentions) for him? Perhaps it's not so much the accent as the clarity and manner of the vocal delivery. Though Pete could never be as mannered as (say) Jake Thackray (but then he wasn't a popular success either). Perhaps you need to sound like a slob (Randy Newman?) to make clever lyrics work...
 
Steve
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Tiny_Montgomery
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #13: 06.10.06 at 17:29 »
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Despite Pete's initial demurral, Steve's latest comments suggest my advance precis back in early August, regarding Clive's feelings about the early songwriting partnership and its relative lack of commercial success, was a fairly accurate one.
 
Best wishes,
TM.
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Mike Walters
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #14: 06.10.06 at 20:43 »
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I largely agree with Leslie - though I'm not sure the English accent in itself was a barrier.  But I do think the uncategorisable nature of the songs was an issue - even down to the question of which rack they sat in the shops (rock? folk? [un]easy listening?).  It was (and is) difficult to know where to place the songs, or to think of anyone else, even in the late 60s/early 70s doing anything remotely similar (not even Randy Newman, I don't think - David Ackles, maybe...but then he was hardly a rip-roaring commercial success either...).  I've always thought the closest parallel with what they were trying to do was Sondheim, and I've wondered sometimes whether Pete might have built on 'A&R' (which I recall was critically pretty well received) with another musical.  Just think, he might have saved us from all these years of Lloyd-Webber.  (Incidentally, did I dream that Pete mentioned the possibility of a tango-based musical a year or two back...?)  
 
Very positive review of 'North Face of Soho' in this week's New Stateman, along with a highly amusing old picture of Clive James and Russell Davies.  The reviewer suggests that Clive's modesty about his 1970s achievements is unjustified and that his endeavours during that period were an unalloyed success, which must be a bit of a surprise to Pete...
 
Mike
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #15: 08.10.06 at 14:27 »
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At risk of being slightly controversial, I think that Clive James' comments on the lack of commercial success need to be placed also in the context of what - with the benefit of hindsight - was clearly for him a huge hunger for critical success to be matched by the pleasures of fame and wealth.  
 
By the late seventies/early eighties his writing had given him a critical reputation. But only someone who was driven by a desire for celebrity would ever have fronted many of the shows he fronted for LWT (the TV extracts show, with its closet racism and cultural stereotyping, so far removed from the empathic qualities in some of his writing, stands out here for me).
 
Indeed there's something of a paradox here: it's usually the performer who has the hunger for fame and the writer or producer who is reclusive. In his (excellent) memoir 'White Bicycles' the producer Joe Boyd even says that his ambition was to become an eminence grise.  
 
The other issue, of course, is that commercial success in the music industry is a vastly unpredictable outcome; we all know of bands and musicians who should have been successful and weren't, and of bands and musicians whose success was unexpected and difficult to explain.
 
As Steve rightly says, at least the way things turned out, the work and its creators preserved their integrity. Which is probably a large part of the reason why people like us are still discussing it thirty years on.  
 
best
 
Andrew  
 
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #16: 13.10.06 at 01:52 »
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Further reviews in The Times and The FT. Opinions evidently can differ! Sadly, neither has picked up on Clive's musical exploits.
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David Morgan
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #17: 12.10.06 at 19:52 »
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The review links in the post above may be short-lived, as I don't think either newspaper keeps archives online. Brief summaries: The Times (Nicholas Clee) is pretty negative, largely because Clee sees Clive as a compulsive show-off in describing his career successes, and also feels that 'his prose, once so lively, is flat. Paragraphs meander; the stylistic tricks are laboured'. Meanwhile the FT's Francesca Segal laps it up: 'lucid, effortless prose', 'rare generosity of spirit', 'Intelligent, engrossing and often hilarious, James has added yet another triumph to his long list'.
 
You can't please all of the people all of the time!
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #18: 18.10.06 at 17:02 »
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Review in The Sunday Times - the opinion is about midway between the two cited above. Reviewer DJ Taylor remarks on 'larky collaborations with...composer chum Pete Atkin', which I guess is an original description of our heroes' labours.
« Last Edit: 18.10.06 at 17:09 by David Morgan » IP logged
Andrew_Curry
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Re: North Face of Soho
« Reply #19: 20.10.06 at 22:07 »
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The reviewer's opinion may have been midway between that of the other two reviewers, but he still had a sharp sting in the tail. The final reference to Karl Miller was meant to suggest that he thought the book over-written and under-edited.
 
On the larkiness front: he must have heard Live Libel, then?
 
Andrew
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