Pete Atkin at Eastbourne Folk Club - 5th August 1998

Gerry Smith's review of the gig

So I climbed in my Peugeot 2 Litre, and motored away. Leaving the heat and mediocrity of south east London behind me, I found myself driving through (mythical?) Ashdown Forest and from there, between the headlands to the sea, where the South Downs meet the coast. With the wallpaper music of the radio in the background, I wondered what musical treats Pete would have in store that evening. I was not to be disappointed!

Indeed, weep away into your beer and whisky, all you unlucky people (in exile, or otherwise indisposed) who missed Pete's appearance at Eastbourne Folk Club last night! (see MV1317). To a packed room above 'The Crown' (and coincidentally, on the 25th anniversary to the day of his appearance at Worthing Pavilion) Pete once again entertained and enthralled with a two hour set of 18 numbers old and new combined with his sharp and characteristically self-deprecating sense of humour.

Pete kicked off with Thief In The Night. Now typical of his solo performances, the song was delivered with a strict rhythm whilst a strongly contrasting middle section ('long fingernails that tap a brittle rhythm on a glass...' ) gave the rendition an instant lift. An excellent rendition with both the subtlety and humour of the song coming out to the full.

And at this gig the guitar really was the thief of the night, for it seems that Pete wasn't entirely happy with the sound balance he was getting from his keyboard and it was perhaps for this reason that the gig was heavily guitar oriented. (cf MV passim, Payday Evenings, played on piano in the original recording worked fine on acoustic guitar. It gave the song a new angle and in some ways added emphasis to the already poignant lyric). I was particularly impressed with the way Pete managed to transcribe much of the piano arrangement to guitar.

Included in the set were three unreleased numbers. Veteran PA fans would have recognised the intro to Sudden Arrivals, basically a choppy 12 bar riff that was used as the theme music to the 70's TV show The Party's Moving On, and taken from the seventh album demos. Pete commented that many of his songs can be construed in the context of an (unwritten) musical and thus introduced a song called Cottonmouth, both a particularly vicious and uncompromising species of snake, and the character song of the notional musical's bad guy (with the recurring line '...what a brain,..absoLUTEly insane' ). Towards the end of the first set came the epic Eye of the Universe making its first* public outing and widely tipped as the title track to the long-awaited seventh album.

I think in general, the evening was a case of 'Pete in Mellow/humorous/contemplative Mood'. Care-Charmer Sleep, Screen-Freak, Between Us There Is Nothing, Payday Evening, Tongue-Tied, and (as an encore) The Pearl Driller were all delivered sensitively to an attentive audience, whilst Practical Man, Errant Knight and Beware of the Beautiful Stranger raised the usual laughs with strains of fans singing along in the background. (Introducing Practical Man Pete said 'this is an entirely true story; only the facts have been changed!' ).

Breaking the predominantly laid-back tone of the evening Pete made a medley of Luck of the Draw and Where Have they all Gone beautifully dovetailed and getting progressively heavier. The ever popular Wristwatch For A Drummer again injected some Atkin-style energy into the show, played with a rhythmic percussiveness which hinted at the tightness of Barry Morgan's drumming on the RCA recording. Also in heavier vein, and for me one of the highlights of the evening, was Sunlight Gate. Delivered boldly and purposefully and with quite a rocky feel, with just an acoustic guitar Pete delivered a superb rendition of one of my favourite songs. I would not have thought it possible to deliver this song so evocatively without a brass and rhythm section, and yet Pete effortlessly matched (and perhaps even surpassed) the quality of the recorded version.

I agree wholly with Voice Dave Fisher's comments about Pete's voice. Seeing Pete live for the first time in over 20 years, Dave commented 'the voice and playing, although unmistakeable, seemed to have developed a richness that I do not recall.' I know Dave will not be alone in thinking this; if a voice is like a fine wine, it gains body and depth over time, and so it is with Pete's voice. Dave also comments on the 'passion' with which the songs were delivered. Again, I agree. Perhaps it's just a question of what comes over in a live performance, as opposed to a recording, but for me too, there is far more feeling/emotion/humour and overall solidity in Pete's live performances, than break forth from the turntable or CD.

I had the pleasure of meeting several Midnight Voices members at the show, amongst them Dave Fisher, Richard Corfield, Mark Roberts and Leslie Moss, most of us recognising each other thanks to Richard's home-made MV badges. It's always nice to be able to compare notes with other people who you know are 'in the know'!!

So thanks to Pete for another memorable evening of superb songs and good company. More please....

The set list was as follows :

Gerry Smith

Photos by Richard Corfield

- click image to enlarge

Richard Corfield's version:
Singing and Talking Superbly in Eastbourne

At the Crown last night some anorak from Oxford was wandering around with a badge which read 'Midnight Voices'. He told anybody who'd listen that he knocked ten up on the work's computer.

Jeez, how sad can you get?

This ultra-limited edition was the unofficial precursor of the Buxton Reception badges that coincidentally arrived even as we were all heading for Eastbourne. However, this bootleg identification had the desired effect of precipitating recognition and introduction, and that was how Dave and I met up.

As Dave mentioned, we were deep into anecdotes about when, if ever, we had last done this (what exactly, Dave?), when a dark-haired thirty-something walked in with a purposeful air and headed upstairs. This precipitated some consternation in the duo of dedicated bar-proppers who had wanted the best seats for themselves. The dark thirty-something returned to the bar, and identified himself as Gerry Smith.

The three of us sat, drank and talked for a half hour before the music started. Upstairs in the rather small and crowded venue (extra chairs having been moved in at the organiser's request) Pete had set up his keyboard on the tiny stage ('with no wings to escape into' as he was to wryly observe somewhat later in the evening), and with his acoustic guitar.

The first song was Thief in the Night, played on the acoustic. What a wonderful sound! As the Oxford Anorak had told Dave earlier, he'd never heard Pete play and this admission to the bard himself, together with the confidence that 'he'd waited 25 years for this ...' precipitated some nervousness in the evening's star performer ('Don't say that!' ). But the music and the lyrics came through loud and clear, showing that there is nothing like hearing it live to make it live (Err, if you see what I mean... ).

The evening was peppered with droll gags and one-liners, showing that the inimitable Clive James is not the only one who does the funnys (something they put in the Cambridge water in the late sixties perhaps?), Pete introduced Thief with the 'Happy to let you think I wrote them, but in fact many of them were written by somebody else' line, then, still on the acoustic he segued straight into Care-Charmer Sleep.

He followed with Sudden Arrivals, 'the theme tune from an obscure little TV program in the early seventies' which, incidentally, is also one of the numbers demo'd on the fabled Seventh Album, and then moved on to a number which Pete felt he'd handled poorly the last time he sang it. But this time there were no problems and Screen-Freak generated tears behind at least one member of the audience's closed eyelids. In this number his voice came across particularly strongly. It was like listening to it as it was in the mid-seventies; you remember, when the stereo's valves cranked out the wattage and your still crystal-mint copy of A King At Nightfall had no scratches or modulation noise? I wonder if this song isn't one of Pete's favourites? To accompany SF Pete related that it was written while he and CJ both had rooms in a house in Islington. While Pete was out gigging, Clive had taken a job as a projectionist as a way of cultivating his growing interest in films. [As an aside, many of you who have read the third volume of his Unreliable Memoirs (May Week was in June) will know that Clive's initial interest in films was sparked by the western movie 3-10 to Yuma which he watched, while studying (in the true Oxbridge sense of the word), in Italy.]

Next came Between Us There Is Nothing (apparently 'two semitones higher than I meant it to be...' ) finishing at 9.26 pm, and then it was time for the evening's second offering from the 7th album demos ('concerning a very nasty person indeed but to be perverse I'd occasionally write a bright, cheerful, tune for one of Clive's grimmer lyrics...' ) Thus the world premier of Cottonmouth was introduced to a waiting, well, Eastbourne, with the line 'I don't know how we'd describe our songs except that they've been strangely unsuccessful...' ).

By this time your two reviewers were racing each other to identify each song from the opening bar. Somehow the man in front seemed to sense this and started introducing each number with a melody reminiscent of something, not just from a different song, but often a different album. A comparison of Gerry's and my own notes show that number 7 in the set which we initially identified as Wristwatch was in fact The Luck Of The Draw ! Pete had another surprise here and ran this number directly into Where Have They All Gone, a song that was strangely unsuccessful in the MV poll but whose live performance showed clearly that we could all so easily modify our rankings in the light of forthcoming gigs...

Next was the world premiere* of a hoped-for and very welcome surprise - a song which was for me the highlight of the evening - 'This is a song that we never really discussed but I think came out of Clive's developing interest in TV. It's about information overload...' - and so the Eye Of The Universe opened, impaling us instantly with its baleful stare. Unlike the web-site version this one was played on the keyboard and worked well there too.

The final piece before the interval 'reflects our interest in history' For the first time since the mid-seventies the Errant Knight cantered into view, his MOT now a record 25 years overdue. The number was received by rapturous applause by all in the audience.

After the interval, proceedings restarted with 'a number that I normally do on piano but for sheer devilment will do tonight on guitar'. It was Payday Evening, another number that initially sounded like something else, and which again threw a spanner amongst this reviewer's toiling mental hard-(soft?)ware.

Next, almost exactly at 10.30 pm came 'a very small song, but no less miserable for that', Tongue-Tied.

Following hard on its heels (by special request from the more musically talented of your reviewers i.e. Gerry) was Sunlight Gate.

Perfect Moments started and was immediately stalled by a mental stammer (inflicted by the Eye perhaps?) But Pete caught himself (with only a little audience prompting) and the song was none the worse although I think we were all quietly reminded of the effort it takes to sing and play literate, quality songs for two hours straight.

Pete took requests then and Leslie Moss asked for (and got, to my eternal gratification) Practical Man. Pete took this unexpected request on the chin and reminded us that there were a hell of lot of verses in it. In the event he missed only one (Verse 3 - 'I fixed one chap a show on telly...' ), and despite the fact that 'this song is perfectly accurate, only the facts have been changed', the song's message got through undimmed. Agent, know thyself!

Then came 'a song that is typically Clive, composed during 1973 while listening to the Buddy Rich band, if that watch is self-winding it must be constantly overwound'. But here the tempo was different from the Monyash version and much closer to the original Morgan Studios version (where Barry Morgan also played the drums); consequently - and remarkably for a guitar solo - it sounded very similar to the AKAN version. Pete stuttered marginally on the 'velvet drapes' line but the audience carried him along and he recovered instantly.

To complete the set Pete chose Beware of the Beautiful Stranger ('Canoe's too sad to end on' ) and for the encore 'like Nanci Griffith, there's one song on an album that is never played, never asked for, and it is usually the singer's favourite...' This is a song 'based on the Scottish pearl industry' - The Pearl-Driller. The set concluded at 11.05 pm.

Pete had sung with one ten minute break for two hours.

Richard Corfield

[*Eye Of The Universe has in fact been aired on at least one previous occasion -- Midnight Voices member Roy Brown has a recording of Pete playing this song on one of his regular appearances at the Fox, Islington Green, back in the early 1970s -- Steve.]
Earlier reviews here.
Later reviews (Buxton) here and here; (Islington)
here and here
Monyash, Derbyshire

Pete, Julie, Brent Pete Atkin at Monyash Steve
Pete Atkin headlined the Monyash Festival, August 16th 1997.
These shots courtesy of Dave Bondy.
Left: Pete on stage with Julie Covington and Brent Mason. Centre: at the piano. Right: your host!

Pete Atkin icon

back to the Pete Atkin Home Page