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Pete Atkin >> Music >> The Luck of the Draw: a review
(Message started by: Andrew Curry on Today at 19:13)

Title: The Luck of the Draw: a review
Post by Andrew Curry on Today at 19:13
I sent a note to Pete about The Luck of the Draw and he asked me if I’d put a version on Midnight Voices, since there has been, as Steve Birkill noted, relatively little discussion here of the songs and the music. So I have have expanded here—quite a lot!—the note I sent.

And the first thing to say is: there’s so much to like about the record, whether you know his work well or not. The mix of songs is intriguing, the arrangements are fresh, and the band is terrific.

What this isn’t, is a Taylor Swift type re-recording to regain control of the catalogue. What this is, is a set of new interpretations of songs from right through his long songwriting career with Clive James. As Pete says in the sleeve notes, ”I’ve tried to approach each song as if it were brand new”.

These new versions are mostly based on the way the songs have evolved in his performances over the past few years with Simon Wallace, the pianist and arranger, who has also recorded and mixed The Luck of The Draw.

The first surprise is the mix of the songs. Unlike Midnight Voices, the 2007 collaboration with Simon Wallace, only a third of these songs come from the five ‘classic’ records of the 1970s. There is the title track from King at Nightfall, probably the most familiar track here, along with ‘Screen-Freak’ from the same record, Clive’s cinema-projectionist song in which the films from Hollywood’s Golden Age blur into each other.

Beware of the Beautiful Stranger contributes ‘The Luck of the Draw’ and the delightfully silly love song, ‘Have You Got A Biro I Can Borrow?’ And from The Road of the Silk, ‘Care Charmer Sleep’.

With the exception of ‘King at Nightfall’, these are not obvious choices. It’s possible to listen to the original records and barely notice ‘The Luck of the Draw’ and ‘Care Charmer Sleep’, in amongst the stand-out songs on both records. This made me listen to them with fresh ears. There’s also a new version of ‘An Empty Table’, from the 2003 record Winter Spring.

For the rest, some are rarities and obscurities. Two of these songs exist only in versions by Julie Covington from the records that Atkin and James wrote for her. ‘The Party’s Moving On’ is from a privately produced record, with that title, that Discogs says had only 99 copies pressed. ‘Winter Kept Us Warm’ is from her commercially released Atkin and James record, The Beautiful Changes.

'Winter Kept Us Warm’ is sequenced amusingly and seasonally into one of the previously unrecorded songs here, ‘I Won’t Hear A Word Against The Spring’ which is best described as bright and light. As is ‘The Two Of Us’, written as a closer for their Australian tour in the early 2000s, but not included on the live recording of the show. It’s full of Jamesian almost-too-clever-for-their-own-good cultural jokes. All the same, it’s a same that Morecambe and Wise never got to cover this.

The last clutch of songs on here are from the two Lakeside Sessions records, two from each one: ‘History and Geography’, ‘The Trophies of My Lovers Gone’, ‘The Eye of the Universe’, and ‘Canoe’. The Lakeside recordings were made when Atkin and James realised they still had a following, and had quite a lot of unrecorded songs in their notebooks. Without being disrespectful to the records, they sound like well-developed demos, laid down quite quickly.

But a lot of the songs on them are terrific, and it is a pleasure, for example, to hear ‘The Eye of the Universe’ given the more expansive treatment it gets here. It is one of James’ synoptic songs, moving from Faust to Olympus to Atlantis to the River Styx to the French Revolution.

The jewel here, though, is ‘Canoe’, perhaps the finest song they ever wrote (yes, in a ridiculously strong field), and at last given the arrangement and the setting it deserves. I first heard Atkin sing it in a Cambridge folk club in the late ‘70s, and it stuck with me until it finally appeared on Lakeside Sessions Vol 2, a quarter of a century later. This version is slower, more spacious. No spoilers if you haven’t heard it, but the arrangement here seems to conjure both the wide blue of the Pacific and the emptiness of space.

Because the other thing that needs to be said about The Luck of the Draw is that this is the best sound that Pete Atkin has had for any of his records. As well as Simon Wallace, the band includes Nigel Price (electric guitar), Alec Dankworth (double bass), Rod Youngs (drums), Gary Hammond (percussion), and Dave O’Higgins (saxes).

I know that in the past Pete has worked with some of the great British session musicians—Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers, Daryl Runswick and Alan Barnes all come to mind. But as a sound, all of the songs on The Luck of the Draw sound better than the first time around.

There’s a wit and subtlety about the arrangements, perhaps because they had more time to rehearse and record, across eight months during 2022. And quite a lot of it just swings, closer to jazz or the standards than the more mainstream arrangements of the 1970s.

I can imagine that Clive James, who always wanted to bring the sensibility of the Great American Songbook to modern popular song, is looking down from Olympus and smiling. And maybe even tapping his feet a bit.

Title: Re: The Luck of the Draw: a review
Post by S J Birkill on 27.09.23 at 05:07
Yes! -- Thank you, Andrew.


Title: Re: The Luck of the Draw: a review
Post by Seán Kelly on 14.10.23 at 14:34
Great stuff Andrew - you only lost me at that bit about having managed to pass over The Luck of the Draw and Care-Charmer Sleep the first time round (how did you do that?! ;) But I think everything else was spot on. It's great to have this record - especially songs like History and Geography now really done proud!

Title: Re: The Luck of the Draw: a review
Post by Andrew Curry on 14.10.23 at 19:07
Hi Sean,

Maybe I didn’t write it very well. What I meant is that when you listen to Beware of the Beautiful Stranger and The Road of Silk, those songs disappear a bit when compared to the standouts on both LPs: Lots of the other songs on The Road of Silk, for example, stand out more when you think about the record—Perfect Moments, The Road of Silk, An Array of Passionate Lovers, Payday Evening, The Man Who Walked Towards the Music, to name a few, all come to mind sooner. Similarly on Beautiful Stranger—the title track and Girl on a Train, Touch Has A Memory, Tonight Your Love is Over.

Which is, I guess, why Beautiful Stranger, Payday Evening, Touch has a memory, Senior Citizens etc were on Midnight Voices.



Title: Re: The Luck of the Draw: a review
Post by Avner Greenberg on 16.10.23 at 09:09
A very belated thank you, Andrew, for your excellent review. I was travelling abroad until recently, and just a week ago was astonished and delighted to find my order of TLOTD in the post (it was despatched some two months ago, and that's the Israeli postal service, so no wonder). I don't feel able right now to offer any crumbs of wisdom about the album, sorry Steve and Pete. Just to say that I find it superb in every respect. The songs just seem to grow and grow, in Pete's and Simon's and their mates' caressing hands. Listening to them, especially around midnight :), is so rewarding, emotional, and even therapeutic for me.
I can but echo Steve's call to buy the CD (worth it for the sleeve notes and photos alone, and you won't find those on Spotify, right?). And for some responses from all these MV members out there, old and new. Class of Monyash 99, let's hear from you please.
The PA party is moving on regardless. Let's come together to give it a gentle shove.
Best wishes to you all.

Title: Re: The Luck of the Draw: a review
Post by slaybrook on 16.10.23 at 16:50
Thank you for that review Andrew. As I have only just ordered the CD I can't say yet whether I agree fully with you on everything. I am looking forward to listening to it.
It's been a while since I was on here so hello to all the oldies I know! It is now over 11 years since we had the Chateau of Dreams concert over the channel in St Germain en Laye. Without wanting to get ahead of myself (or Pete) we are talking about possibly doing another special garden party'concert' with Pete (and other music) over here as part of Fête de la Musique in St Germain next Summer, 21st June. We'll keep you posted.

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