Monyash Live CD - Ian Chippett's sleeve notes

Midnight Voices member Ian presents his own commentary on the 2-CD souvenir set

Disc One

Have You Got A Biro I Can Borrow?

Pete has always had the habit of starting his shows with one of his less intense songs. In recent concerts he's begun proceedings with Luck of the Draw or The Pearl Driller and Monyash was no exception. As usual he wasn't content with playing it exactly as it is on the first album (albeit without a backing group). No, he slowed it down and used a more relaxed tempo, bringing out the beauty of the first line with its descending harmonic structure. A simple and musically unpretentious little song but even here Pete has to add a few surprises like the chord change from F through A to B when he sings 'a box of rubber bands'. Lyrics are well up to the usual Jamesian standard though perhaps someone should have pointed out that references to the Æneid aren't guaranteed to get you airplay on Radio One.

Girl On The Train

After flexing his muscles on Have You Got A Biro I Can Borrow? Pete launches into what was recently voted (by the Midnight Voices) his most popular song. The song's poignant story of unrequited love on a train must have struck a chord with most male listeners who have surely found themselves at some time in their lives in the same situation as the hero of the song and this in itself would account for its popularity, let alone the unforgettable melody. Yet as usual things are not what they seem. Tritone watchers will have spotted the jump from F# to C at the end of the second line which most lesser writers (and there are a lot of them) would never have dared even though he's only passing through, as it were, on his way to the dominant B and there's another wonderful modulation in the final verse to G# to take into account Clive's habit of adding an extra line to the final verse of his songs. None of this technical wizardry gets in the way of the flow of the song which must be the one we sing most in the shower. But do we sing it right?

History And Geography

At this point in the proceedings, Pete gets behind the keyboard and plays the majestic opening chords of an early (1969) masterpiece which never appeared on record until Monyash. One can only hope if ever the long-awaited seventh album sees the light of day that this song will be prominently featured on it, though it will be difficult to give a better performance of it than Pete does here. The lyrics touch on some of Clive's favourite themes which crop up throughout his work: the paradox of feeling unhappy when you have no logical reason to be so, guilt ("My commonsense can tell me all it likes to count myself among the lucky") and spiritual loneliness. We also have a foretaste of a later song, The Prince Of Aquitaine, when Clive tries to recapture his feelings of looking down at night at his adopted homeland from a plane. For once, Pete eschews harmonic adventures and serves the song straight with a beautiful melody and a simple chord structure. Not a tritone in sight. So why did we have to wait nearly 30 years before we could hear it?

The Hypertension Kid

Here Pete revisits one of the best lyrics he ever had to set giving the song a more relaxed performance than on the driving A King At Nightfall version. One feels the lyric must have practically set itself though even here we can see one of those twists that set Pete's work apart from his contemporaries. (When I transcribed this song from memory [Your lousy memory? Ed.] I failed to notice the chord structure behind the last line of each verse (D - B7 - C) noting it instead, quite unpardonably, as C - D - Em. This predictable if lame progression is what practically any writer would have been contented with but not Pete who had found a better solution). I shan't rave on about the superb lyric except to point out its similarity in terms of subject-matter with a later, less successful (in my opinion) song, Shadow And The Widower. And, incidentally, is there another contemporary lyric writer whose songs keep you waiting till the end, like this one, to find out how they finish?

Master Of The Revels

Once again, Pete revisits his first album, this time to give a rendition of the song which provided an introduction to his work for many of us all those years ago. Musically, Pete's live treatment is quite straightforward with the piano replacing quite satisfactorily all the other instruments (tuba, clarinet, double bass and drums) and has even a slight modification in that he doesn't sing the final verse with its "caller-up and caster-in of devils" line until after the instrumental solo. But would any Radio One disc jockey be brave enough to play such an off-the-wall song as this nowadays as the late lamented Kenny Everett used to do?

Search and Destroy

Another "history" song and another Monyash highlight. Clive's lyrics take the birth of Christianity and transpose it to the time of the Vietnam War. We hear the telephone report of a junior officer who has been putting down a minor revolt with the use of modern counter-insurgency methods (or torture as some might call them). The cynicism and brutality of the repression are only too well-portrayed ("We picked his mother up and worked on her") and the verbal images are suitably laconic and macabre ("... spilled a bibful when we made her speak") while the musical treatment is outstanding, with the song falling into 3 sections, opening in B minor, moving into D major and finally into a sort of ironically inconclusive D minor leaving the story hanging in mid-air. Another important reason for hoping that Pete one day will get around to giving us that long-awaited seventh album.

You Can't Expect To Be Remembered

Yet another song from the first album, one which has a debt to the great musical comedy songs because of its form (a long, introductory verse followed by a chorus in the classic AABA form) but there any resemblance ends. The song opens in C major yet moves into C minor after only one bar before returning to base: the chorus also starts in C before moving through D, F, Ab, Bb and G7 before returning to C after only 2 bars. The inevitable tritone appears in the third line with a leap from B7 to F where most other writers would have found a safer and more boring change. All these modulations make it a very difficult number to sing but Pete sails through it at Monyash (as on the first album) with ease. The lyrics, witty as ever, tell us how the poet regrets that he doesn't have the capacity to write a lasting tribute to his lover while doing just that. (Well, it's lasted 30 years already.)

Song For Rita

At this point we jump forward in time to the final album's opening track which pokes fun at the fashion (as it was then in 1976) for allegedly intelligent country music. The grotesque images ("the marshlands of your mind") and mixed metaphors are funny even after 25 years but one wonders whether this song might not have been a hit in the hands of its target had it been performed with the solemnity it ridicules. Probably not, as Pete can't refrain from adding one of his fingerprints in the chorus where, instead of returning to the dominant D, he moves up a whole tone to B7, something no self-respecting country music songwriter would ever have the imagination to do. Pete does the same thing throughout the Live Libel album probably from sheer good taste which admittedly detracts a little from the satire. The song gets a lot of laughs at Monyash, a remarkable tribute to its lasting quality since a lot of the audience must have worn out their vinyl version years ago.

The Last Hill That Shows You All The Valley

Another of what Pete calls his "history" songs. In an interview in Melody Maker Clive James once described this song as a "lament" but said that Pete, on setting it to music, had transformed it into a "furious lament". Most singers might have hesitated before performing this song unaccompanied, since on the album version Pete is backed by a whole plethora of star sessionmen, but he gives us a stirring performance all the same with just his guitar for accompaniment. The time travelling in the song from ancient Troy to the extermination of the American Indians to the goldmines of Kolyma to the Vietnam War is not completely original in the rock field: Al Stewart did something similar but less successfully in his song Manuscript. Here we really feel the writer's disgust and sense of futility in the face of what are unfortunately permanent aspects of human nature, without the irony of Search And Destroy.

A King At Nightfall

The sombre title track of Pete's third album, the tale of a monarch on the run, gave rise to a certain amount of discussion on the Midnight Voices list as to whether the king is an allegorical figure or a real-life one (someone even suggested that that Clive had foreseen as it were the fall of Ceaucescu, the megalomaniac Rumanian whose trial and execution enlivened our Christmas TV viewing a few years back). Musically, the song caused a certain amount of anguish in transcribing circles, containing as it does a heretical leap from G to Db7 (that tritone again) when Pete sings the word "this" in the phrase "learn to live with this". Almost anyone else would have used the chord E7 here and even Pete admits it's quite feasible, though he favours his version of course. More to the point, no-one else one can think of would ever have thought of using this particular chord change. Pete's Monyash version accompanied only by his piano is quite a satisfactory revisiting of the work which stands up on its own without the elegant and subtle arrangement on the original album version.

Perfect Moments

One of Clive's most appealing qualities as a writer is his contagious enthusiasm for artists he admires. How many of us, for example, felt compelled to rush out and buy My Old Flame as performed by Charlie Parker after hearing this song? (He was right by the way: it is a perfect moment). As he suggests in the song, such moments can't compensate for the horror of other aspects of life: a perfect bitch indeed. The song as we all know is a perfect moment in itself and should have become a standard. One of Pete's saddest and most elegant melodies sung over a handful of simple chords and containing (on the The Road Of Silk album but not here unfortunately) another perfect moment, Tony Coe's magnificent tenor sax solo. (If one might pick a nit here, a purist would say that the solo is anachronistic since Charlie Parker usually played alto sax and had a radically different style to the one employed by Tony Coe. Thank God for impurity.)

Ballad Of An Upstairs Window

This crowd-pleaser was one of Pete's earliest, written without the help of Clive James, yet paradoxically didn't show up on record until Live Libel when, one suspects, they were scraping around to fill up Side One. The problem with comic songs like this one is that the humour tends to pall a little after the 23rd listening, but for someone unfamiliar with Pete's output it always raises a laugh. Perhaps he should have got Benny Hill to cover it.

The Beautiful Changes

From the sublime to the ridiculous and on to the incomprehensible. Clive's lyrics, even the most difficult ones, are always interesting and tightly-packed with striking images but here, one feels, he goes over the top. The song, written for Julie Covington's album of the same name, is almost a protest song (you can practically sing The Times They Are a'Changin' to the tune) though with a few characteristic Atkinian subtleties in the chord structure, but unlike, say, The Faded Mansion On The Hill which affects us deeply even when we are hard put to say what the poet really means, here one feels simply baffled. The images are all graphic (the astronaut who talks "in clichés that put out the stars") and it's obviously another of Clive's "furious laments" but, for once, one feels the key is missing.

The Magic Wasn't There

For those Pete Atkin fans who were unaware of his contribution to Julie Covington's career, the next part of the show must have been a real eye-opener when she joined Pete on stage for four songs. Pete mentioned at one point of the proceedings that his original plan was just to be a professional songwriter not a performer and, although it would have been a pity for us if he'd stuck to just writing, the songs show that he and Clive could have earned a living writing for others. We instantly recognise the fingerprints: thought-provoking words, subtle melodies and arrangements but the songs have a different personality from the ones Pete kept for his own use. They have a fragile quality that suit Julie's unique voice totally. Clive, of course, can't resist an apposite quotation from Apollinaire but does it unobtrusively and his own images are catching ("some people vanish with a trace"). The melody sticks pretty closely to the original key of F but at one point in the middle eight there's a fabulous (and unforgettable) use of the tritone when the key jumps from Gb back to the dominant C ("you even weep for what did not take place"). A highlight of the show.

For Instance

Here Pete moves back to his guitar to accompany Julie in one of his touching love songs, where the singer makes an of inventory of things left behind by her departed lover ("there's your memory"). Julie's performance is typically understated and lets the song do the talking rather than trying to put herself into it like so many of her contemporaries would have done. This partly accounts for her, like Pete's, relative lack of commercial success and the fact that her long-deleted album now changes hands for incredible sums among the cognoscienti.

The Paper Wing Song

Back to the piano for Pete to play the only song of which both the words and the music were written by Clive. Clive has always been modest about his musical capacities but this gay, light and witty song certainly demonstrates that he can write a catchy tune too, revealing to us that his talents are by no means purely literary. One wonders why he didn't write more music for his lyrics. Or perhaps he's not the only one who can recognise a Walther PPK 9mm automatic when he sees one. [Album editor's note: On asking Pete to handwrite the artwork for the CD tray card listing, I committed the unforgiveable error of forgetting to attribute this song entirely to Clive -- SJB.]

The Friendly Island Song

The first duet of the show and the first song to use an irregular metrical pattern, something Pete rarely, if ever, does. Pete's songs are always unusual from a harmonic point of view but generally he sticks to a fairly conservative common metre or (occasionally) three quarter time. Here the lyric seems to have imposed the use of a slightly more exotic metre in places but it doesn't mean the song is awkward or contrived, as the sober melody follows the flow of the lyric perfectly.

Disc Two

Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger

Pete admits to having "borrowed" the first part of the melody of the title track of his first album from the Beach Boys' Heroes And Villains but the rest of the song is as original as one could wish. The hero of the song learns from a gypsy fortune teller of his destiny to "die of desire" as he longs for the next girl in his life, "the beautiful stranger". The song must have raised a lot of laughs in its time with the comic scenes of haggling and Clive's facility for ingenious rhyming, but it will always be a tragic song, even more so than the other truly great song on the first album, Girl On The Train. For the weekend guitarist, perhaps no other of Pete's songs is as gratifying: the arrangement is simple but fun to play and indeed it's one of the rare songs one can't imagine being played any other way. It doesn't need anything more than a guitar accompaniment though having said that, the song which starts out in C finishes up in A minor at the end of each verse which in turn modulates to a medieval A major at the end, a Picardy third for the purists.

Thief In The Night

Anyone who's ever tried to learn the guitar will identify with this one, the only song played at Monyash from the Driving Through Mythical America album. Once more Pete changes the tempo, slowing it down and modifying considerably the guitar part. The song, a sort of tribute to the guitar and the way it tends to take over the life of its master, contains some of Clive's most brilliant lines ("wrists that have a lean and hungry, eyes that have a mean and angry look"; "the hands that spend their lives creating tension"). One wonders whether Pete set this song to an existing lyric: its slightly uneven structure must have given him some food for thought though the music is totally natural and uncomplicated. Compare the rhyme schemes of verse one and two, for example, which are dissimilar while the middle eight must have been a devil to set when you try to follow the unorthodox rhyming pattern.

Wristwatch For A Drummer

Another of the audience pleasers in Pete's repertoire, this song (taken from the album A King At Nightfall) has long been a favourite because of Clive's exuberant lyric, but the music has some interesting features which the lyric tends to obscure. We see, for example, one of Pete's fingerprints at the end of each chorus when he plays exactly the same chord sequence as on Sunlight Gate (Bb - A - B). Curiously, 10 notes of the chromatic scale are represented as a base for a chord (the exceptions being Ab and C, the sub-dominant). This is worthy of note for the musically curious, though the rest of us, admittedly, could go to our graves in happy ignorance of such details, as almost none of Pete's contemporaries would have been capable of this kind of virtuosity. His performance is once again slower than on the album version and just as satisfactory apart from the traditional memory failure on the "velvet drapes" section.

Thirty Year Man

If any one of Pete's songs deserves to have been covered and brought to the attention of the record-buying public, then it's this one, the story of a past-it jazz pianist whose only consolation is playing to himself "while no-one listens". The bitterness, though not unleavened with humour, is nonetheless stronger than in the song's later counterpart, Sessionman's Blues. The music, full of delicious bittersweet chromatic changes, reflects perfectly the mood of the lyric while Pete's Monyash rendition sticks quite closely to the original version, interestingly slowing down dramatically for the "Thirty years in the racket" part.

I See The Joker

Another portrait, this time of a graphically-described Mafia Godfather-style figure surrounded by bodyguards yet still living in fear of the unseen hitman. Clive obviously had a lot of fun writing this song but one imagines Pete biting through a lot of pencils before coming up with the final version. We've already noted Clive's love of adding an extra line here and there but he seems to have added one to each verse of this song. Undaunted, Pete accomodates Clive's eccentricity with his usual resource, throwing in the odd tritone for the benefit of his admirers. The brilliant key line "Is this headache from his crosswires on my brow?" has daringly taken us well away from the original key of Em to C#, but we are taken effortlessly back to the dominant. One can overdo these things but is it accidental that both this song and The Hypertension Kid are in E minor and have a similar mood of unease and anguish? Pete's Monyash version is quite close to his album version on Secret Drinker even if he does, understandably enough after all these years, come a cropper on some of the verses.

Sessionman's Blues

The second song from his Secret Drinker album at Monyash and the sequel as it were to Thirty Year Man. Clive captures the world-weariness of a musician doomed to the life of the hack session man with a certain lightness missing from the gloomier Thirty Year Man. Pete's idea of a blues as we might imagine is well different from everyone else's. The slow opening in F is conventional enough but the verse opens with C minor of all things while the highpoint of this most unconventional blues is the line "I got the Sessionman's Blues" which starts with Db before moving to G7 on the final word, a great stroke as well as making it very hard to sing. Just imagine: more than three chords in a blues! Scrapper Blackwell, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Blake must be turning in their graves.

National Steel

Well, they can stop revolving now. This third song in a sort of trilogy from Secret Drinker is also a blues or rather a tribute to the blues singers of the past, played by Pete on his famous National Steel guitar. It's also the fifth song so far on the second CD devoted to the musician and his world, another of Pete and Clive's favourite subjects. Pete's Monyash performance is almost note for note the same as on the original album, which shows he hasn't got rusty over the years even if he's always been modest about his guitar playing skills. Perhaps this is why his songs are so good to play for lesser technicians as he writes within his own limits.


The crowning moment for many of the Monyash CD and a good reason in itself for buying the CD even if it was the only track. How many of us had despaired of ever hearing this song again, let alone in a superbly recorded live version? This history song tells of the self-sacrifice of Pacific islanders doomed in what is for us a pointless mission but which for them must have had a deep religious meaning, then suddenly brings us up to modern times to point out a parallel with the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, equally pointless in many eyes but which has a happier ending than that awaiting the hapless islanders. Pete's music is rather less complex than what we are accustomed to but the melody is unforgettable: a word too about the harmonic structure of the final line of each verse which drifts down from Bb through Ab and Gm to F, beautifully capturing the descent of the Apollo capsule itself.

Payday Evening

Only the second song at Monyash from the Road Of Silk album, Pete remains behind the keyboard for its performance although he has been known to play it accompanied with just his guitar. It's true that the song as recorded in its original version seems tailor-made for the piano but one suspects that it was first written at the guitar. The music has all of Pete's usual elegance and class with no disconcerting leaps of tonality, staying in or around the original A major, moving into G for the middle eight. Pete has been criticised by Voices in the past for not using middle eights in his songs but, for reasons of variety, here a middle eight is essential. Pete makes one curious almost Freudian amendment to the lyric when he sings "no brilliant poems eerily discarded" instead of "airily discarded" during the Monyash version. Indeed.

Touch Has A Memory

A return to the first album for this track, almost certainly the slowest song in Pete's repertoire. Gone is the string quartet(?) accompaniment: here we have only Pete's guitar. One of his simplest songs too, in C major with the kind of lyric a Metaphysical poet would have been proud of, it was discarded from the cassette version of the first album in favour of the single "Be Careful (When They Offer You The Moon)" which would seem to indicate a certain dissatisfaction, but suddenly it turns up as the title track of a later compilation. I must admit that when I saw Pete for the last time in concert back in the days of Live Libel he did this song as a third encore and my feeling was at the time that he must have had a train to catch as it's hardly the rabble-rousing rocker Led Zep (say) might have chosen. So what, one wonders, is Pete's attitude towards this song? Was he unhappy with the album version? The unaccompanied Monyash version went down well enough. [Album editor's note: Pete offers an explanation in his sleeve note to the Touch Has A Memory compilation -- SJB.]

The Original Original Honky Tonk Night Train Blues

Another of Pete's solo writing epics, a great show-stopper and still funny after all these years. Pete's delivery is as ever faultless, not even hesitating when he tears through the mine-strewn fields of the final verse which would trip up another singer. You try it: "Apart from some rather superfluous detail which doubtless will seem to you obvious...".


As a request Pete goes back to the piano to perform one of the highlights of the A King At Nightfall album. A brave decision on his part as it's a song which must have been difficult to remember the words to when performed regularly. Thanks to deft editing we hardly notice his slip-ups here and there in this ode to the cinema of Hollywood and its addictive effects. Most lovers of this song have probably been led to see all the titles mentioned in the film and tried to check out all the references. (By the way, has any other writer ever matched the lines "I've seen the plywood cities meet their doom because of dames, Atlantis down in bubbles and Atlanta up in flames"?) But, even without the words, the music is in a class of its own, perhaps even more so with just Pete's piano as accompaniment.

The Standards Of Today

At this point Julie Covington returns to the stage for another of the poignant love songs Pete and Clive offered her for her first album. She performs it with the good taste and exactitude she applies to the other songs. Her contribution at Monyash was a real eye-opener for those of us who had been disgracefully unaware of her connections with Pete and Clive in the past. The song itself shares the same characteristics of the earlier numbers in that it couldn't have been written by anyone else even though it's not the sort of song you'd expect to find on a Pete Atkin album: a tribute to his professionalism as a songwriter which his publishers were sadly unable to persuade other singers to take advantage of.

Ready For The Road

This Ode to the Road provides a great way to finish the show with Pete leading the assembled multitudes in a rousing singalong version of one of the tracks from Live Libel, in his role as Tesco Tex, the English C 'n W star.

And there we have it. 31 songs on two bits of plastic with a hole in the middle as a lasting souvenir for all who were present and a source of bitter regret for all those who weren't. 31 songs, some of which many had either not heard for 25 years or never had heard before or, even, had never heard of. And when you think of what he didn't do! No Senior Citizens, no Flowers And The Wine, no Secret Drinker, no Sunlight Gate, no Faded Mansion On The Hill, the list is almost endless.

Maybe at Buxton?

Pete Atkin icon

PA Home | Discography