Pete Atkin at the School of Dreams
Stantonbury, Milton Keynes, 21st October 2000

a review of Pete Atkin's two sets at Andy Love's "School of Dreams 2000" (SoD2K) event

by Paul Gunningham

SoD2k poster
photo: Richard Whiting

"There is a SoD in Milton Keynes, they call the Stantonb'ry..."

You would be forgiven for thinking that since Pete Atkin allowed the audience to choose his SoD set for him, the choices would be fairly easily predictable. But you'd be wrong. The choices made were so wide-ranging that the winner of Pete's "Guess the Top 20" competition won with just thirteen correct choices - and most of the entrants got a lot fewer than that.

True, the two sets Pete played contained plenty of those that many people would have expected (Girl On The Train, Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger, Thirty Year Man), but there were plenty of less familiar songs included, which says a lot for the diversity of the music and the Midnight Voices' (MVs') collective taste - at least, those that were present at the gig.

To add to the interest, Pete stated his deliberate intention to ring the changes instrumentally and play on guitar some songs we have come to expect him to play on keyboard, and vice versa. This made for some interesting new versions of familiar material for the audience. And of course, Pete as usual had a couple of aces up his sleeve, of which more later.

Pete's two sets certainly gave the punters value for money, with each being well over 70 minutes long, with an interval to allow the MVs to grab a drink or two and circulate. The first set got off to a start with Screen-Freak played on guitar. This went down well and was followed by one that although I didn't request it, I correctly guessed would be in the set - Eye Of The Universe. It seems a while since we heard this, and it was again played on guitar. Following this, another one we haven't heard Pete sing very often, Be Careful When They Offer You The Moon - which now looks like being the only track of Pete's official recorded output which won't be available on CD, at least not as part of the projected reissues, announced earlier in the day. Pete's keyboard treatment of the song was all the more welcome for that.

Pete prefaced each selection with its "chart" position in the style of "Fluff" Freeman - luckily, Pete's own fluffs were few and far between! He kept us guessing as to the identity of the "Top Of The Smash Flops" by playing them in a random order until the very end of the second set, when he played the last two in sequence, finishing with the number one choice in time-honoured Radio 1 style.

As well as the selected choices, Pete included a few unexpected items, as his audiences at MV-related events have come to expect. During the first set he included a rendition (according to him, probably the last one) of You Better Face It Boy, which didn't make the Top 20 but was the first choice of guest of honour Carole Birkill - a characteristically thoughtful touch for this occasion, especially since none of Carole's other choices made the '20 either [But you weren't alone, Carole - nor did mine! - PMG].

Pete's opening announcement that the next song was called Dreamboat made it clear that this was not a "coveted cover" of the old Alma Cogan song, but a brand new one, with the customary caveat from Pete when introducing "Work In Progress" that he reserves the right to change it. The song was played on keyboard, with a rolling 3/4 accompaniment suggesting the motion of the sea, to reflect the lyric about a schooner - it reminded me slightly of Between Us There Is Nothing or possibly Canoe (both of which were included during the evening), but of course, different from either. The lyric had been around for a while and Pete had only recently been able to see a way into it. It sounds like this could become another favourite in time.

Immediately after this, Pete introduced another bit of WIP, a new song Prayers Against The Hitman, by his reckoning even less complete than the preceding one - although it sounded pretty good just as it is, from where I was sitting! A contrast to Dreamboat, this was played in a Spanish guitar style with an uptempo Latin rhythm (think of the Gypsy Kings and you'll get the idea) and had a catchy melody line - Pete introduced it as a song which needs a band - Changers take note! I won't attempt to analyse the lyrics of either of the new songs but leave that for others more competent than I to do so over the MV discussion group during the long winter evenings.

Although, perhaps surprisingly, Perfect Moments didn't make the Smash Flops charts, there were plenty of "perfect moments" during Pete's two sets, but a standout one for me was his version of Carnations On The Roof, with a reflective keyboard accompaniment. This was a great contrast from his folk-oriented guitar version at FoD '99, and to my mind, a much more effective arrangement for this very poignant song.

Another enjoyable one for me was seeing Pete, for the first time (in my case anyway) perform The Original Original Honky Tonk Night Train Blues at the piano (well, the keyboard). Other welcome inclusions were You Alone Will Be My Last Adventure, by now a favourite with the audience and a firm candidate for Pete's next album; Commercial Traveller; and the rarely heard All I Ever Did. But of course, there wasn't a bummer among 'em!

Pete appeared relaxed throughout the set, as if among friends - as indeed he was! - which made for an intimate and enjoyable atmosphere. He was obviously enjoying the occasion himself, and made frequent gags between numbers. It was all immensely enjoyable, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, which was a big thank-you from the MVs to Steve and Carole Birkill for all they have done over the past few years.

Following The Faded Mansion On The Hill, the number one song, Pete returned for an encore and, as he did at Monyash in 1999, sportingly (and somewhat bravely in the circumstances) invited the depleted Changers up on stage to accompany him on I See The Joker. They were supplemented for this finale by a certain Mr Jones of Rochester, NY, who was in his element on stage. As a member of the band I cannot comment on the performance, but let's just say the band had a ball, anyway!

Set List

First Set: Screen-Freak (on guitar); Eye Of The Universe (g); Be Careful When They Offer You The Moon (kbd); Senior Citizens (k); You Better Face It Boy (g); Tongue-Tied (g); Girl On The Train (g); Canoe (k); Dreamboat (k); Prayers Against The Hitman (g); Thirty Year Man (k); Original Original Honky Tonk Night Train Blues (k)

Second Set: Between Us There Is Nothing (k); Sessionman's Blues (g); A King At Nightfall (g); Carnations On The Roof (k); You Alone Will Be My Last Adventure (k); No Dice (k); The Flowers And The Wine (g); Thief In The Night (g); Commercial Traveller (k); Payday Evening (k); All I Ever Did (g); Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger (g); Faded Mansion On The Hill(k)

Encore: I See The Joker (with the Beautiful Changers)

See also Andy Love's SoD2k Website

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