Pete Atkin: The Doctor Rock Interview

Transcribed by Barry Holley

Barry notes: Pete was good enough to do a phone interview on the Dr Rock Show on BBC Radio York on Saturday 6th December 1997. This goes out for two hours at noon. The Show has a rock n roll emphasis but the good doctor (Charles White, biographer of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and renowned Scarborough based chiropodist of Irish descent), like many of us, just loves good music. Tracks are interspersed with anecdotes and very lighthearted banter so donít expect heavy analytical insights from the following - but I hope it will be of interest at least for the record.

DR: Welcome to the humble Dr.Rock Show
PA: Thank you very much. Hi.
DR: A great pleasure to have you. And weíre enjoying your music immensely.
PA: Even after all these years.
DR: Well it still stands up. Obviously the collaboration with that great articulate critic and author of our times who seemed to tap into the vein of modern culture with great experience, wisdom and satire - he helped out a bit did he ?
PA: Well it was a very collaborative kind of relationship. He wrote the words and I wrote the music for the most part - although I did write the words and the music for that last one. I canít stand to listen to it these days because Iím always worried Iím going to forget the words. He wrote nearly all the words for the things that we did. It was....working together with someone like that you think of things you would never come up with if you were working on your own.
DR: How did you encounter the great man ?
PA: We met at university - boring old story. I was singing some songs I had written myself. He heard the songs and decided I needed someone else to write the words for me.
DR: What was he like in those days ? Had he that barbed wire wit at that stage ?
PA: He was and remains an extremely funny person. He was a bit older than the rest of us. He was doing a postgraduate degree and heíd just been bumming around for a few years - as he recounts in his autobiography. He got back on the tracks by taking a postgraduate degree. He knew a lot more than a lot of us did about a lot of things.
DR: I did have the pleasure of meeting the great man at a book launch in London. I found him very very pleasant and very amusing. What about your good self ? You like the old Dobros and steel guitars and the bluesmen.
PA: Like everybody I just grew up with the pop music in the sixties. I just wanted to be part of that to some extent. There was never any point in doing what everybody else was doing. One of the things that Clive and I had in common was the thought that songs could in the wake of Dylan and the Beatles could be about anything you wanted them to be about. They didnít have to be about moon and June stuff. We really enjoyed writing songs about different kinds of things, telling different kinds of stories.
DR: Was that the period when Clive was appearing as a film critic on TV ?
PA: It overlapped with that and also overlapped with the time that he was writing his TV column for The Observer.
DR: Brilliant column. Now weíve got an afficionado of yours here, Barry Holley, not to be confused with Buddy Holly - although Barry has had his photograph taken recently with the Crickets. He is a man of substance.
PA: Does he wear the glasses ?
DR: He does and heís a man of great perception. And he would like to have a little word with you.
PA: Sure.
BH: Hi Pete. Thanks very much for coming on the show. The new CD on See for Miles - weíve played several tracks and I think itís a wonderful compilation. I just hope they go ahead and release all the others on CD.
PA: That would be great.. Itís great to have it on CD I must say. Iíll just be pleased if it does well enough for them to put the others out as well.
BH: I understand that when you did some gigs with Clive James Clive would let his hair down - if thatís the appropriate expression at the end and actually do an Elvis number. Is that right ?
PA: Indeed. We did six albums together in the seventies and the last one was an album of jokey things and parodies and what have you. Clive and I went on tour together - mainly round universities and theatres and we wrote some special songs to do together. Because Clive doesnít really sing. His range is ever so slightly narrower than Ringo Starrís..... If the show went well he could occasionally be persuaded as a second or third encore to give the audience the benefit of his version of ĎThatís alright Mamaí. He had them rolling in the aisles and crawling to the exits.
DR: Can I ask you about your work with Julie Covington ? I just adore her voice and I thought her version of ĎDonít Cry for me Argentinaí was the best one of all.
PA: She has an absolutely amazingly thrilling voice. Her voice is difficult to record - good as it sounds on record. I think if you ever get the chance to hear her live - peopleís jaws drop - she just sounds amazing.
DR: She should have gone on to greater things. She is one singer I would like to see up there among the rest of the so called divas.
PA: She around at university at the same time as Clive and me. Because she was a wonderful singer even then that was an incentive to write some girlsí songs... and she recorded several of them on her first Columbia LP which came out before mine did.
DR: Well I can see that doesnít remain with the turkeys - you soar with the eagles even when you were at Cambridge University. Thank you so much for coming on Pete and we will be played another track from your CD. Thanks for your excellence in your music.
PA: Youíre a man of fine discrimination and taste. Thank you very much.
DR: My humility prevents me from any further comments.
BH: Can I just quickly add Pete that if youíre coming to the north of England and gigging weíd love to see you.
PA: Well Iím performing a lot more these days than I have for a long time and Iíd love to come back to York. I have very good memories of gigs in York.
DR: Youíll be welcome on the Dr Rock Show any time - thanks a million.
PA: Thanks a lot.

The tracks featured on the show were Beware of the Beautiful Stranger, The Master of the Revels and The Original Original Honky Tonk Night Train Blues


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