Indoor Games...

Pete Atkin with Simon Wallace, New Greenham Arts, 19th October 2007

a review of Pete's set at Barb Jungr's The Blue Hours cabaret

by Naomi Hyamson [extracted from Naomi's post 20.10.07 to Midnight Voices]


Thanks to the kindness of our new member Cathy and her husband Geoff, here I am back in London, having been chauffeur-driven by them back from what was a memorable concert at New Greenham Arts, near Newbury. An extremely goodly contingent of MVs (though I failed to persuade Mr Moss to leg it round from Oxford and back before anyone noticed his absence from the function he was attending ) and a friendly, convivial atmosphere in a lovely - and full - venue.

The singer Barb Jungr, our delightful host at The Blue Hours, opened the evening with a set that featured some of the acclaimed and imaginative reworkings that she has made with her excellent pianist Simon Wallace of Bob Dylan classics: Don't Think Twice, it's All Right, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, and I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. I was knocked out by her impassioned rendition of the "American Songbook" standard DeForest's When Do the Bells Ring for Me - yet also by the simple sincerity of Waterloo Sunset, which she dedicated to Martin Sutherland, the director of the arts centre who is departing for pastures new, and with which she closed the evening after the audience cheered Pete and Simon to the echo.

I must say that hearing Pete tonight purely as a singer who was accompanied by a pianist - much of the time he was not playing an instrument - was something of a revelation. It brought home the strength and quality of his baritone voice and its variety of colours - sometimes pellucid, always true; the subtlety of his expressiveness; and the sheer musicality of his phrasing.

The audience - most of whom, I guess, won't have heard Pete before, were spellbound.

Just to clarify: Simon Wallace was Pete's piano accompanist. The ensemble between them was wonderful, as indeed it had been between Simon and Barb. Pete played guitar in some of the songs. I humbly apologise for not knowing which of his guitars did duty and failing to ask !!
[It was the Atkin, steel-strung -- SJB]

So here is the list that I have compiled (Mr Kelly was also making notes). "Piano" throughout refers to Simon, "guitar" to Pete. Please forgive me if I have any of the song-titles, or anything else, wrong - and supply corrections !!

(1) Touch has a Memory - Pete on guitar; Simon on piano.
Intimate, moving.

(2) Perfect Moments - piano and guitar.

(3) Sessionman's Blues - voice and piano.
Lovely jazzy playing by Simon; superbly laconic delivery by Pete.

(4) An Empty Table - voice and piano.
So moving - and the audience plainly found it so. It was all the more touching for being understated. "Less is more", singers are told. Very few can make that seem so natural !
"Art-song", my notes say here.

(5) Thief in the Night - voice and piano.
"Again, v expressive baritone", I wrote.

(6) Master of the Revels - voice and piano.
A brilliant reworking (which I prefer to the original) : dark, with Pete's vocal power deployed to suitably menacing effect.
It linked into

(7) Laughing Boy - piano and guitar.

(8) The Flowers and the Wine - voice and piano.
"Breathtaking", my notes say.

"Most of our songs are pretty miserable," Pete observed at this point, "but that's about as miserable as they get."
The next song, he suggested, might be sung "the following night in the pub". It was

(9) Payday Evening - piano and guitar.

(10) Beware of the Beautiful Stranger - guitar only (Mr Wallace taking a hugely well-earned break at this point).

Pete mentioned that Antonia Quirke quoted the lyrics in her highly readable memoir of life as a film critic, Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers.

(11) Thirty Year Man - voice and piano.

It all went so quickly - but tumultuous applause brought...

an encore: The original Original Honky Tonk Night Train Blues.

Visual note: our chansonnier wore black trousers and shirt and light-coloured (taupe?) jacket.

- Naomi


Richard Bleksley also covered the event for Midnight Voices :

Blimey, Naomi, posting at 3.21 in the morning! There's dedication for you….

Well, if there was ever a venue for an Atkin gig that looked unpromising from the outside, this was it. In sharp contrast to the lush, picturesque setting of the Ravenswood last year, New Greenham Arts is in an anonymous building lost in the wastes of a "business park," or, as they used to say in older and less euphemistic times, an industrial estate. But did that matter once we were inside and the gig was under way? No, of course it didn't!

Cathy C-M and myself had arranged to get acquainted over a pre-gig meal in the New Greenham Tandoori just along the corridor, risking its apparent reputation for dilatory service for the sake of the convenience. It worked out, but only just. Having arrived at 6.15 (I'd intended it to be 6.00, but failed to make quite enough allowance for the horrors of the Friday afternoon half-term traffic), we finally emerged at 7.50, any thoughts of starters, sweets or coffee having gone by the board. It was just as well that Cathy and her husband Keith proved to be agreeable company! In fairness I should say that I've never seen an Indian restaurant so busy so early in the evening, and that the food was very good when it finally arrived.

And so to the real business (or pleasure) of the evening. Despite the unpromising setting the atmosphere inside the venue was, as Naomi says, intimate and convivial - right up Pete's street, in fact - helped along in no small measure by the larger-than-life personality of our hostess, Barb Jungr, whose speils between numbers frequently had the audience in stitches. But when it comes down to singing she is, I assure you, very serious business indeed, the possessor of a powerful and incredibly expressive voice, and of an almost uncanny ability to transform someone else's song into something entirely and brilliantly her own. I was particularly impressed by the way she took Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee by the scruff of its neck, giving it a funky, Gospel-inflected performance. And nobody hearing her beautiful rendition of Waterloo Sunset, not knowing the original, could have guessed it came from a sixties "beat group" - meaning no slur on Ray Davies' song-writing, for which I have considerable respect. I really must get to hear some of her blues stuff.

As for Pete's set, those of you who were at St. George's can imagine the general style of the performance if you mentally subtract the bass and drums. (The guitar, Naomi, was the Atkin, I do believe). I find I need to do a certain amount of mental adjustment at witnessing Pete in the unaccustomed role of "stand-up" vocalist; but, once done, it does, as Naomi says, really bring out his talents as a singer. I won't duplicate Naomi's excellent work in going over the set in detail, but I must spare a few words for Thief in the Night.

Firstly, as Pete remarked, it seems odd to do a song about a guitar with no guitar in it; but, as he also said, if you look at the words closely you will see that the bloke in the song doesn't love the guitar at all, he hates it. That had never occurred to me before, but now it's been pointed out it seems obvious.

Secondly, I agree with what Colin Boag has said elsewhere. It's always been one of my very favourites (top of my list in last Christmas's poll), and so I could very easily have found such a radical reworking disappointing. Not a bit of it! The new version is every bit as wonderful as the old, just very different - a whole new lease of life for the old warhorse.

A word on Pete's comments about The Flowers and the Wine being "about as miserable as they [the songs] get," while Payday Evening might be the same bloke in the pub the next night being a bit more cheerful. It's all down to personal interpretation; but to me The Flowers and the Wine has a wistful, resigned mood, while Payday Evening is the depths of despair. The girls who pull the handles forcing their laughter, the rings on the formica tables, the junkie's girlfriend's face coming apart outside - utter desolation.

Those of us who were anticipating by-passing the Post Office's turmoils and going home smugly (Pete's word) clutching a copy of Midnight Voices were doomed to disappointment. Pete had had a senior moment (his words again) and left the box of CDs at home! Rats!

Using my usual rule-of-thumb measurement for the proportion of Atkin neophytes (I daren't say "muggles" after being hauled over the coals a few years back on the mailing list) in an audience, i.e. the amount of laughter that greets the line "these earrings are hell and I'm through for the night," I'd agree with Naomi and say that most of the them were not on intimate terms with our hero's work. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. Oh, and "they want me to work the afternoon after I'm dead" got a chuckle or two, as well.

Simon Wallace was unassumingly brilliant throughout both sets.

It seemed a bit strange, having an Atkin gig with neither Janice Sim nor Andy Love in attendance. You missed a good evening, my friends.

As I and my little party (wife Maggie and son James) passed Barb Jungr on our way out, she spared a moment (obviously recognising us as non-regulars) to thank us personally for coming. A nice touch, I thought.

Have you ever tried to find your way out of an unfamiliar industrial estate in the dark? I was reduced to retracing my wheel-tracks and following another car out!

[Photos by Alexis Birkill, except photo of Pete with Alexis by Seán Kelly. Click each for larger version -- SJB]

Pete Atkin icon

Back to the Pete Atkin home page