The Beautiful Changers at FoD99

Debut appearance of the Pete Atkin tribute band, by Cary Bernard

The review below was written at the persuasion of, and with the help of, one of the Changers who shall remain nameless. He modestly felt that he could not submit his own review - but did give me an aide-memoire to the day's events. Any opinions expressed are mine though this is something of a joint effort with some phrases unashamedly borrowed from him. If something doesn't sound like the sort of thing I would say . It probably isn't <grin>

The sun shone bright on Monyash, as it did two years ago. But this year was different . This year was an unashamed Atkin/James fest. This year the audience were linked by a common bond, Midnight Voices, and this year we had The Beautiful Changers, the line-up an eccentric collection of men, and briefly women, all singing in tribute to 'our hero'. Whether they will go on to find fame and fortune is unsure, whether they and the audience enjoyed the experience is certain.
Photo of The Beautiful Changers in rehearsal by Julia Daly.

The set opened with a rendition of I See the Joker, Richard Corfield on lead vocals and... singing - hey, this guy can actually sing. A great start to the set, and the band rocking away in the back sounded like they were meant to be there.

Roy Brown then took over as the 'Master of the Ceremonies' and introduced the band. Richard Corfield, Paul Gunningham, Sylfest Muldal, Leslie Moss, Ian Sorensen, Ben Coulson, John Denton and of course Roy Brown himself.. The next number was introduced with Roy observing that Val Doonican had got into Clive James' bad books for life for changing one word of 'Flowers and the Wine'. He said Tom Holt must have been very brave to produce this parody of 'Practical Man'. A superbly dramatic and funny rendition of Impractical Man followed, with Ben Coulson and Richard Corfield taking the parts of author and publisher.

Back to Roy who explained the thinking behind their selection of numbers. They didn't want to steal Pete's thunder, (there was that risk), so they were doing band numbers, parodies and other 'stuff' where they were safe from overlap. Up to the mike came Sylfest Muldal to give us a highly emotional performance of The Beautiful Changes, appropriately enough to the gentle accompaniment from The Beautiful Changers.

Next up on stage, to rapturous applause, came 'the guest vocalist without whom none of this would have been possible ['necessary', added Roy -- SJB] - Steve Birkill'. His, and the band's, rendition of Rain-Wheels was superb. This showed the band at their best. The twin keyboards of Leslie Moss and Ian Sorensen, Paul Gunningham and Richard on guitar and the driving rhythm backed up by John Denton on drums and Roy on bass. And I loved the expression on Steve's face throughout the song - cheeky or what?

It was around this time that a familiar bearded face loitered with intent, or rather just outside tent, behind a flap. I wonder how many of the Changers noticed him .. and you promised, Pete.

All too soon the set closed with Leslie treating us to an express speed Original Honky Tonk Train with the changers in furious pursuit. I wonder how many times Leslie had sung that in the shower before bringing this word perfect rendition to the stage.

Any doubt the Changers may have had about what reception they might receive were surely dispelled by the roars and whoops from the audience. Not only was it safe to come back for a second set, it was positively demanded.

The second set opened with a full band arrangement of Wristwatch for a Drummer. I didn't notice whether John had a wristwatch but as Ben sung the line 'one on the right wrist, one on the left, and the third one around his knee' Roy demonstrated how to achieve this. Except his third watch was on his shoelace - maybe drummers have thinner knees than bassists. The 'warning bell for free-form playing' was provided by Elisabeth, Sylfest's nine year old daughter.

The next song will have for most only been heard previously on the website, the unreleased Pressure Boys, sung by Sylfest with harmonies by Roy. On then to another parody, this time by Roy. Roy told the audience that 'Apparition in Las Vegas' wasn't so much about Elvis, as about his audience. The changers then launched into Phantoms of the Opera House, ostensibly about Pete and Clive at Buxton but maybe in reality about the Midnight Voices. Were there a few smiles of self-recognition out there? Especially from those long-suffering spouses?

Back to the mike came Ben to sing The Last Hill That Shows You All the Valley. Roy remembered afterwards of that number "As the final chords rang out, it seemed as if Jimi Hendrix was in our midst - but no, it was Richard Corfield, fingers flying, with just a little electronic wizardry beneath his foot. Amazing."

Time for some more guest vocalists. This time a chance for the girls to put their point of view as Carole Birkill and Julia Daly gave us Gargoyle On a Drain. The lyric workshop had pointed out how the Atkin/James viewpoint can be a pretty male one. This was the antidote which had been offered as a shameless plug for the second Changers set. It was also a good chance to hear what an accomplished guitarist Paul is. The girls left the stage to well-earned applause, before the band launched into No Dice. This song had been discussed in some depth by the Voices. This rendition brought home the idea that each verse was a distinct narrative as each vocalist took a verse in turn. Steve B, as mentioned in Voices, added a special emphasis in his role as the American GI. A great interpretation of the song from the band with the chorus building inexorably towards the climax.

And so to the final number, with Ben successfully putting across the humour in the lyrics, and joined by all the Changers on chorus. Could The Changers be persuaded back for an encore? You just try to stop them. What else could they do but Beware of the Beautiful Strangers. The audience joined in at Richard's invitation, bringing the set to a rousing conclusion.

So all that was left was for Roy to round things off with the customary thankyous "to Steve and Carole for putting on FoD, to the Changers for playing, to Richard for putting the Changers together, and not least to the audience. For years, we've wanted to play some Pete Atkin songs in public really badly; thank you for listening."

From my seat in the audience listening was a pleasure. I can't comment too much on the musical prowess, not being a musician myself, but being pretty damn impressed by what I heard. For me the best was yet to come. Towards the end of Pete's evening concert the Changers were invited up onto stage for a reprise of Rain-Wheels. I think The Changers chickened out a little bit, not quite achieving the pace they had with Steve doing the vocals. Maybe Pete had asked then to take it steady. Whichever it was, the performance was brilliantly memorable anyway. To see Pete on stage with his faithful fans was great. This seemed to me to be a tribute to Pete and Clive, to Steve and Carole and to the Midnight Voices and The truly Beautiful Changers And I can only imagine how proud the guys must have felt and you know what? They deserved to feel proud.

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