Bath Literature Festival 2001: Pete Atkin & Clive James

Reviews from Midnight Voices and from the local press

[Photo by Janice Sim, from the earlier session 'It's only Rock'n'Roll... but we like it', in which Pete chaired a
discussion on song lyrics and poetry with Peter Blegvad (left) and Roddy Lumsden]

Andrew Love [MV5779] :

I don't have much faith in my abilities as a reviewer but it seemed I was deputed to 'do' the setlist for P&C's appearance at the Bath Literary Festival, so...

The gig was held in an upstairs room, maybe 35 feet by 70 (someone correct me!) at the Guildhall. High plaster walls with Graeco-Roman decoration and motifs climbing to a high plaster ceiling. Not unattractive. The whole room was lit by three enormous chandeliers throughout the performance. The stage was set along a long side, high enough to afford everyone a view of the action. The audience numbered, I guess, around 180 of whom maybe half-a-dozen were Voices. There was a grand piano on the stage (so no sighting yet of Pete's new keyboard?) and chair which looked rather too rectangular for the comfort of its intended occupant (Clive). Most of the audience were accommodated in around ten rows in front of the stage but there were some chairs set out at each side - about 30 people only got to see Pete's back when he was at the piano. The other disadvantage with being at the side was that we were just outside the sound cone of the speakers which were set at the front corners of the stage, pointing forward. Much of the sound which reached me seemed to come via the plaster walls, confusing my ears a little during the louder songs. But then, tinnitus doesn't make me a reliable arbiter of these things! Anyway...

For the fashion conscious, Pete was wearing a plain mustard shirt with blue/grey slacks and hidden hosiery (!). Clive was in a dark blue shirt, dark jeans and a black leather jacket.

Pete opened on the piano with The Man Who Walked Towards The Music -- *lots* of lovely jazzy piano but (IMHO) just a tinge pacy.

Care Charmer Sleep followed on the guitar. At this point I noticed a woman opposite obviously doing sketches of P & C -- which, as it turned out later, were actually watercolours.

Practical Man (guitar), Sessionman's Blues (piano) and Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger were next, Clive linking the numbers as a kind of career narrative. The rapport between the two was obvious. Clive made an analogy between songwriting and making a television programme : you have the words and the pictures (in the latter) and, in the editing process the two come together and at some critical point you realise 'that's it' : they have magically come together in a form which will never be broken.

Perfect Moments on piano -- again, for me, just a trifle fast and the piano just a trifle aggresive. Then Wristwatch on guitar. Some wag had brought in a bicycle bell with which he provided the sound effect at the appropriate point -- tuh! you can't take some people anywhere, can you? ;-)

The Flowers And The Wine (piano). Clive referred to the extensive MV discussions about this one and, in particular, to the opinion of some that this was really about P&C : 'well, if it fits, why not?'.

I See The Joker was played on piano, with Clive introducing it as a perfect example of how Pete's setting skills had picked up the tenor of and embellished the lyric. A new twist by Pete at the end where he truncated the last two repetitions of the title, which I thought really effective (if it was more by accident than by design, Pete, keep it in!!).

A return to matters sartorial when Pete raided his props cupboard and came back with a cowboy hat for Stranger In Town on guitar. This was followed by Pete back at the piano for Thirty Year Man which, as Clive wryly observed, both he and Pete had become.

The last song of the set was a lyric rediscovered only a few days before the concert. Pete had forgotten about it but when he saw it, everything came back to him. It's called Star Of Tomorrow and is narrated by the organiser of a pub gig, recalling the times when Pete would buy a day return from N. London to go to perform in some windswept Northern town and then come back on the milk train. I can see this one fast becoming a 'hit' with Voices. Pete played it on guitar.

Earlier in the piece, Clive had indicated that, because of the internet, bec ause of the fans never having left and because the music industry has changed : 'we're back - and maybe we're back to stay'. As the applause which called them back for an encore died down and Pete repositioned himself at the piano, he explained that the following song, Ties That Bind You, was another recent discovery. As we in MV know, it's an unfinished song. However, Pete and Clive had been working on it - 'fixing it' - in the hours leading up to the gig, though it may change some more yet before Pete is finally happy with it. Clive said it 'felt great' to have done this exercise, working together just as they had done in the past. I do hope this bodes well no, I'd better not tempt fate!!

Pete and Clive retired to the adjoining room to sign autographs (yours truly picked up his copy of SD/LL). We hared over to have a look at what the artist had been doing : three or four unique watercolours had been produced. Steve and Carole promptly bought the lot! Maybe we'll all get to see them on the website at some point in the future?

The whole concert was very well received and enjoyed by everyone - including the performers - and the CDs seemed to selling like Sally Lunn's hotcakes!

And so out into the rain : well, I guess if you go to Bath you have to expect to get wet!

Gerald Smith [MV5780] :

Another excellent evening in the company of Pete and Clive last night in the elegant surroundings of Bath's Guildhall. Both on excellent form for an audience of around 200. Pete left his keyboard at home this time and made full use of the Yamaha Grand piano occupying centre stage, changing to his trusty Gibson more or less every other song.

All the songs were taken from the six albums apart from a couple of surprises at the end. Star of Tomorrow - which Pete had all but forgotten about - made its first outing in 25 years, and then as an encore - despite Pete's recent posting that no-one analyse, transcribe, perform or otherwise make utterances about it - he played The Ties That Bind You. We were advised to regard it as work in progress, although it had Pete's hallmark stamped all over it. Could any other MVs present detect overtones of YAWBMLA - especially in the first two lines of the verses?

Rounded off the evening by buying the SD/LL re-release courtesy of Waterstones, in an adjacent room where Pete and Clive were doing a book/CD signing session (and a tidy bit of business judging by the length of the queue!).

Set list (no break) was as follows:

  1. The Man Who Walked Towards The Music (p)
  2. Care Charmer Sleep (g)
  3. Practical Man (g)
  4. Sessionman's Blues (p)
  5. BOTBS (g)
  6. Perfect Moments (p)
  7. Wristwatch For A Drummer (g)
  8. I See The Joker (p)
  9. Stranger In Town (g)
  10. Thirty Year Man (p)
  11. Star Of Tomorrow (g)
(Encore) The Ties That Bind You (p)

Carole Birkill [MV5783] :

Just to say how wonderful Bath was. I loved the different arrangement of The Man Who Walked Toward The Music and the whole show was just so professional. I think it was the most relaxed that I have seen for some time. Pete and Clive get better and better. This performance was a big stride forward from Buxton.

Oh, and the watercolours. Well, we couldn't just let the lady artist go home with them, for them never to see the light of day again...could we? They will be on the web-site. Not necessarily soon, but they will get there.


[Watercolours by Sue Kendall of Bath]

From the Bath Chronicle, Wednesday March 7 2001

In search of paradox...

Wizard of Oz: Clive James enchants a packed house at Guildhall

In Concert: Clive James and Pete Atkin
The Guildhall Bath
Review by Philip Horton

Last night the Bath Literature Festival hosted the paradox that is Clive James: The man who loves Australia above all, but hasn't lived there for 40 years.

The intellectual whose TV shows are the small screen equivalent of tabloid journalism. The brilliant writer who speaks in an antipodean monotone.

The man who travels the world eulogising everywhere from Berlin to Buenos Aires but never Britain, yet has lived here since 1961.

But let's not cavil, he's interesting and the Guildhall was crowded again as he read poetry and essays from his previous books.

From the programme preamble I had thought that at least here came one author without a book to sell, but before you could say Alice Springs he got in a plug for two books to be published in July, and a further three later in the year.

With business out of the way he had the audience rocking with an account of orange box racing from his childhood, which, he said, sounded like "the Battle of Britain in a bathroom".

Huge fun, and a great finish; followed by a poem about a fish.

Then on to Nuremberg and the site where "90,000 Nazis had paraded and yelled, 150,000 in the stands yelled back and Hitler yelled even louder". There was apparently no one there now except "a few lonely madmen scrawling graffiti".

Clive had stood on the Hitler's podium but reckoned "the glory has not departed, it was never really there."

Asked why he came to England he said: "Because everyone seemed to be coming, and you could stay if you had just 10. which I did. I lost it at a party and couldn't afford to go back for 16 years."

Auberon Waugh and Brian Sewell have recommended him for deportation and he clearly thinks that Oz is Nirvana but he's still here "for as long as I'm allowed to stay".

But he never said why.

Perhaps it was the real Clive James who turned up in the same room a couple of hours later In Concert with Pete Atkin.

Certainly a more relaxed affair than earlier, Clive mostly sat on stage listening to Pete Atkin sing songs that they'd written together after meeting at Cambridge in the '70s.

Their revue style was still fresh and the lyrics as clever as you'd expect from such a fluent wordsmith.

Although they recorded half a dozed albums, financial success eluded them and, after ten years or so, both moved on.

Mr Atkin is now a TV producer, but he obviously loves performing, accompanying himself on piano or guitar with a singing voice reminiscent of Tom Lehrer.

Although they moved on, their fans never forgot and they recently found a busy internet site with all their lyrics and a hardcore of fans, hence the current reincarnation and the albums being available again, this time on CD.

The wry, moving song Beware The Beautiful Stranger stood out as perhaps the best (it included the lovely line "I'm the one you'll need, after the one you know now"), but there wasn't a dud in the evening.

Clive thought that originally they didn't know what category their music fitted into. Not quite easy listening or jazz or folk, the record companies didn't quite know where to put them.

Clive guessed they should be in the 'difficult listening' section. "I've always thought that paranoid didn't mean they weren't after you." he said, adding that he also thought that misery was a better base to write from than happiness.

Wonderfully relaxed entertainment from a pair of performers totally at ease with themselves.

Maybe this was the real Clive James.

Clive James sponsored by The Junction. In Concert: Clive James and Pete Atkin, sponsored by Alsters & Co.

[Reproduced without permission for MV5786, errors not corrected. The 'poem about a fish' is of course The Great Wrasse, about Australian poet Les Murray]

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