Pete Atkin at the Pub of Dreams
The Woodstock, Sutton, 6th November 2004

a review of Pete Atkin's two sets at the "Pub of Dreams 2004" (PoD04) event

by Paul Gunningham

The PoD Scene at the Woodstock

The Pub of Dreams (or PoD for short) seems an unlikely appellation for an unprepossessing roadhouse at a busy junction of the suburban A24 leading out of South London. But this pub - The Woodstock - has now earned the title, for it was the latest in a line of venues for an 'oD - a get-together of Pete Atkin enthusiasts (not fans, please!) - following in the wake of similar events at the Field of Dreams (FoD), Cinema of Dreams (CoD) and even the School of Dreams (I'll leave you to abbreviate that one for yourselves).

As organiser of the event, PoDmeister Richard Bleksley had to scale down his plans for the more grandiose ToD (that's Theatre...), which is how it came about that a hundred or so diehard Atkinatics (or Midnight Voices to you) descended on The Woodstock last Saturday with high hopes of another 'Grand Day Out'. This particular 'oD was the first for a while, following a break during the previous two years while Pete was touring the UK and Australia, sharing the stage with his songwriting partner Clive James. Thus, having been starved of 'oDdery since 2001, most of the Midnight Voices (MVs) were looking forward even more than usual to the day's events. MVs and their guests had travelled from far and wide - the USA and Israel, among other far-flung places, while some particularly intrepid attendees even managed to fight their way around the M25 construction sites from the other side of London.

Richard and his cohorts had arranged an ambitious programme for the day, starting at lunchtime and carrying on through the evening until The Woodstock closed for the night. The pub's ground floor function room, with its small stage at one end, had been hired for the occasion. This room was something of a legend in its own right, having famously hosted gigs by many sixties bands including the Rolling Stones, The Who and - in the heady days of the mod scene - the Small Faces. The pub's owners clearly recognise the venue's place in pop and rock music history and have obviously gone to great lengths to preserve the room sympathetically in its original 1960s state, as befits such a hallowed setting. It took little imagination to see the ghosts of Brian Jones, Keith Moon and Steve Marriott on the tiny stage, although it took a lot more to see how the Stones would have all managed to fit on it at the same time! Equally puzzling were the photos on the walls of Hollywood stars who had probably never set foot in the place, in preference to the illustrious bands to whom the room owes its fame. After all, everyone knows that the Who played at the 1969 Woodstock festival, don't they?

Pete got the afternoon off to an official start on time, welcoming the guests and revealing that he was currently working on an important project involving the adaptation of a classic English TV drama production for the US market. Yes, America - Bob the Builder is on his way and you heard it here first!

Julian the Juggler took over as compere for the rest of the event and kept things on schedule as well as keeping the punters entertained with his amusing introductions and announcements throughout the event. There was a full programme of artists (some might say, perhaps almost too full) to precede Pete's evening performances. To avoid any accusations of favouritism, the individual performances won't be reviewed here, but there was a stunning variety of acts, both solo artists and bands, playing a wide diversity of music. This bill kept everyone engaged throughout the afternoon and into the early evening, with a tea break and a longer break for supper before Pete's first set at 8:30. Perhaps I should mention that there was also a Pete Atkin quiz organised by Andy Love (who contributed in no small way to the event's success) won by a "jammy beggar" (I think that's what I overheard) who somehow found himself winning the title "Mastermind of Midvodia".

As usual, Pete performed two sets, including a mixture of requests, covers of other writers' material, and rarely heard songs. It's heartening to see how much more at ease Pete is these days, singing in front of his diehard fans, than the slightly hesitant performer of the early days of the Atkin revival. He really is a natural wit and his introductions and off the cuff bon mots show he doesn't need Clive at his side to get laughs.

As for the music: as Pete's followers at 'oDs have come to expect, there are always a few surprises, not just in the choice of material, but in the re-arrangement of familiar songs, often somehow throwing new light on the lyrics. Right at the start, Pete announced a "jeu d'esprit" and played the intro to Perfect Moments, launching instead into Have You Got A Biro I Can Borrow?. He followed this with a very unusual choice, the unissued I Wouldn't Hear A Word Against The Spring. This is what many MVs had come to hear - the songs rarely, if ever, heard; those diamonds lurking under the dust waiting to be rediscovered, polished up to a new lustre and set alongside the rest of the dazzling display.

Competing gamely against the noises off from the pub disco, the kitchen staff and the whizzing and banging of the fireworks outside, Pete continued with a mix of the familiar - perhaps in an unfamiliar arrangement - and the less known, or even the unknown. As usual he included some favourites - among them a particularly effective arrangement of Rider To The World's End, unusually on keyboard; a fabulous version of Master Of The Revels dedicated to the evening's host Julian (who uses it as his theme song); and the song that could perhaps be called Pete's own signature song Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger, with the normal guitar backing that Pete confessed he doesn't know how to alter without it seeming wrong.

Among other 'warhorses', as Pete terms his most popular songs that have served him well at gigs over the years, was Thirty Year Man, performed with great aplomb on the piano. And in answer to a request, he played on guitar the title track from his second album Driving Through Mythical America, which had somehow inexplicably been omitted from previous sets. Also featured was the sole remaining track from Pete's 1970s commercial output to be digitally released Be Careful When They Offer You The Moon. As Pete remarked ruefully afterwards, "the trouble was, nobody did offer us the moon".

A song not heard very often is Lady Of A Day, which omission Pete rectified early on in the evening, to the audience's delight. Another song on that favourite Clive James theme of lost love and regret is the unissued The King Is Dead - this was much more of an MV collectors' item, receiving its first airing in recent history. In contrast, The Original Original Honky Tonk Train Blues is so well-known that it inspired a sing-along session, with Pete leaving the audience to complete the last line! Another favourite, Senior Citizens, and a couple more album title tracks Secret Drinker and A King At Nightfall were also included. Interestingly, no songs from Pete's latest album Winter Spring were featured - perhaps he feels he played them enough last year on tour.

At the 2000 event SoD2K, as a request for Carole Birkill, Pete had played an old song from the privately pressed 1967 album While The Music Lasts. At the time Pete said he would probably never give the song You Better Face It Boy another live performance. Well, here was that performance! As a PoD04 surprise for Carole, Pete played the song again in her honour.

The choice of covers was, as by now expected, a further inspiration to the audience, featuring songs by such diverse artists as Jesse Winchester (Brand New Tennessee Waltz), Bruce Cockburn (Southland of the Heart - inspired by Maria Muldaur's interpretation) and the (post-Holly) Crickets (My Rockin' Days). Only Pete could continue to come up with such a broad range of musical influences.

And now, something Pete won't thank me for mentioning, but I'm going to anyway, for reasons I hope will become clear. Perhaps to his discomfort, during that wonderful show-stopper Just For Me (Amy's Blues) in the second set, Pete briefly seemed to lose his place in the music at one point, and had to stop and work it out, almost as if doing so afresh. The audience felt for him. His comment that we were watching the creative process at work was truer than he thought - it was, for me, an intriguing glimpse of just that. Of course he recovered and completed this terrific song in style. I mention this not from any wish to embarrass Pete - far from it - but only because, for me at least, it was a genuinely fascinating insight into his musical thought processes.

A surprise was in store at the end of the evening, not least for Andy Love, who had brought along his trusty instrument (a B flat bicycle bell) just in case he would be needed to accompany Pete at any stage. A few eyebrows were raised as Pete announced a writing collaboration with Richard Bleksley, and then launched into a parody of Sessionman's Blues with Richard's lyrics, inspired by Andy and the PoD. As the encore, Pete just had to do Wristwatch For A Drummer to allow Andy to do his stuff. Which he did, in style!

As always at 'oDs, there was something to please everyone, and at chucking-out time everyone went off to their respective accommodation happily. Henceforth the name "Woodstock" will no longer be associated simply with the famous 1960s rock festival, but as the Pub of Dreams, where the legendary Pete Atkin once played.

Set List

First Set: Have You Got A Biro I Can Borrow? (g); I Wouldn't Hear A Word Against The Spring (g); Lady Of A Day (g); Thirty Year Man (p); A King At Nightfall (p); The Brand New Tennessee Waltz (g); Driving Through Mythical America (g); Master Of The Revels (p); You Better Face It Boy (p); The Original Original Honky Tonk Train Blues (g)

Second Set: Be Careful When They Offer You The Moon (g); Senior Citizens (g); Southland Of The Heart (g); The King Is Dead (p); Rider To The World's End (p); Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger (g); Secret Drinker (p); Just For Me (Amy's Blues) (p); PoD Blues (parody lyric: Richard Bleksley) (p); Wristwatch For A Drummer (bell: Andy Love) (g); My Rockin' Days (g)

Set list for First Set based on Pete Atkin's own notes - thanks Pete! Actual playing order may have been slightly different.

Photos of the event are HERE

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