Review of the Pete Atkin and Clive James concert
St George's, Bristol, 30th May 2000

by Paul Gunningham

Virtute et Industria and the Hall of Dreams!

For the group of dedicated Midnight Voices who made the trip to Bristol for the latest Atkin-James double act, the setting could scarcely have been bettered. A handful of Voices congregated in the early evening sunshine outside the splendid venue of St George's, tucked away between scenic Brandon Hill and busy Park Street, waiting for the door to open and looking forward to the evening's main event. The occasion was to be something of a milestone for Pete, marking not only his first appearance at St George's, but almost unbelievably, his first ever gig in his adopted home city. I have a strong suspicion this won't be his last in either case!

The audience, having been let in and made use of St Georges' own excellent catering facilities, eventually filed into the impressive and (as Clive later described it) beautiful hall amid a buzz of anticipation. The majority of the audience were not already familiar with Pete and Clive's work together and were no doubt wondering what shape the performance would take. The relatively small proportion of Midnight Voices scattered among them were more likely to be wondering what songs they would be hearing and whether Clive would sing as he did at Buxton two years before.

As the applause greeting the stars' arrival on stage died down, Clive answered the second question above by promising not to sing! As Pete started the first number Laughing Boy, accompanying himself on guitar, the audience seemed to sense that a special evening was in store, as the legendary acoustics of the hall were evident, and imparted a sense of intimacy to the proceedings. The level of lighting in the hall - pleasantly high but not too bright - also helped to create an intimate atmosphere. It was almost like being in someone's home (albeit a large and posh one!) rather than a theatre or concert hall.

Pete and Clive seemed more at ease on stage together than the previous time I'd seen them (at Buxton) - hardly surprising, since they had also performed at Cheltenham more recently - which made for an even better evening's entertainment. As usual, Clive's unscripted introductions to the songs were both amusing and informative, often revealing the answers to some of the many questions about the lyrics raised during Midnight Voices' discussions. The occasional banter between Clive and Pete was effortless and helped to lighten the moments between some of the more serious songs. The choice of material was, as regulars have come to expect, a good mix of the familiar material (calculated to appeal to newcomers) and some lesser-known songs for the benefit of the 'faithful'. As usual the songs chosen covered a wide range of styles - it would be difficult for it to be otherwise with a bunch of Atkin-James songs!

During the first set - both sets were longer than average, incidentally, and nobody could have gone away feeling they'd been short changed - Pete more or less alternated between guitar and piano accompaniment. The first number on the hall's superb Steinway was Perfect Moments. From the moment Pete started to play the familiar introductory chords, it was obvious that this was no ordinary piano accompaniment. The hall's near-perfect acoustics did full justice to the songs in a way that Pete's keyboard is scarcely able to. The latter was absent - perhaps Pete wisely wanted to make the most of the Steinway - and this member of the audience for one didn't miss it at all! A welcome improvement on Buxton, when some of us felt that the piano could have been used for more songs on that occasion.

As for Pete, his performance was better than ever - perhaps helped just a little by that piano! But an instrument can only perform as well as the person playing it, and Pete was in truly great form on the night. As the performance went on, Pete seemed to opt for the piano more than the guitar, especially during the second set. And why not? It's not every day you get a chance to play such a fine instrument in such a superb setting - after all, you can play the guitar anywhere!

The laughter greeting some of the more humorous numbers showed that the lyrics haven't dated, and the Live Libel items Song For Rita and Stranger In Town went down well. A glance at the set list (see below) will show that most of Pete & Clive's "hits" were included, which must have helped with the CD sales. And Clive's plugs for Steve and the Smash Flops site will no doubt lead to an increase in Midnight Voices membership.

As is often the case, Pete rang the changes with the arrangements, which is something many Voices like to hear. A slow, almost brooding arrangement of The Hypertension Kid went down well, and Pete chose to play Payday Evening on guitar rather than piano - strange, since this was getting near the end of the evening and that piano was sitting there waiting! A highlight of the evening for me - and judging by the applause, many others - was the best performance I've seen Pete do of Sessionman's Blues, early in the second set. Although the piano and acoustics must have helped, Pete's performance of the song was truly excellent. Other high points - although there were no low ones! - included Canoe and You Alone Will Be My Last Adventure in the first set, and I Feel Like Midnight in the second. These more recent songs have rapidly become favourites with the Midnight Voices - perhaps this is partly because they were starved of new Atkin-James material for so many years, but whether or not this is the case, the songs' popularity demonstrates that the partnership has plenty more mileage in it!

This performance was so good that Pete may be wondering how he can top it next time. Perhaps a St George's gig could become a regular event - now that would be something to look forward to!

Set List

First Set: Laughing Boy; Perfect Moments; Girl On The Train; Rain-Wheels; The Prince Of Aquitaine; Canoe; Song For Rita; You Alone Will Be My Last Adventure; Practical Man; The Flowers And The Wine; The Hypertension Kid; Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger

Second Set: Thief In The Night; Sessionman's Blues; Femme Fatale; The Wristwatch For A Drummer; The Hollow And The Fluted Night; I See The Joker; I Feel Like Midnight; Stranger In Town; Payday Evening; A Dream Of Fair Women; Thirty Year Man

Encore: Senior Citizens

A further brief review of the St George's concert

by Roy Brown

Taken from Roy Brown's Midnight Voices post MV4301: "All shipshape and Bristol fashion", 1st June 2000

What a happy evening!

The venue seemed ideal - a light, airy room, a one-time church, converted for the express purpose of holding concerts, particularly chamber music.

And considering that Pete and Clive, if you could ever categorise them, and if non-classical music had such a category, make the chamber music of popular song - complexity wrapped in simplicity, strength wrapped in delicacy - it seemed perfect for them.

So we sat in the evening light, as it slowly faded into dusk and then dark, and listened to these two very different people, between whom the friendship and mutual admiration was palpable, as they entertained us in their two very different and yet inextricably intertwined ways.

Clive told us about each song - here, what it meant, there the context in which it was written. Here, how it had dated in some ways. There, how the feelings it invoked were still timeless.

Buoyed up by a Steinway to die for (and I noticed a spare one at the side, ready to roll on, no doubt, should Pete break a string) and excellent miking and acoustics, Pete accompanied himself on piano and guitar, and was as good as I have ever seen him.

He surely wasn't hindered by an incredibly discerning audience, laughing in all the right places in the point numbers, holding silent at the end of the poignant ones, for that magic microsecond of silent appreciation before bursting into enthusiastic applause.

On The Hollow and The Fluted Night, introduced by Clive as delighting in the 'strangeness' of language in literal translation - this from Rilke's German - the audience seemed to be conspiring with Pete to extract every last nuance of meaning. His expression, in perfect synchronisation with their understanding.

Then Clive was off again, lightening the moment by comparing his 'this kind of ocean fails to reach the coast' with Sam's Goldwynism 'gee, the lake comes right up to the edge'. And much more of the same.

But serious too, musing that perhaps the demise of courtly love has finally occurred, and recently too, even since the songs were written. So maybe Clive really is, as Practical Man has it, 'the last romantic'?

And so much more than I can recall at will... did I really hear the promise of a possible rekindling of the fire, a renaissance of which 'I Feel Like Midnight' is but the first flowering?

Clive had alluded to the Midnight Voices from time to time along the way. Towards the end, he acknowledged the contribution of the Internet in general, and Steve Birkill's website in particular.

Not to mention the tireless efforts that had led to the successful re-release of the first two albums on CD - 'the only CD available in the bar afterwards', as Clive said. And despite which efforts, RCA were still holding onto the later four. Let us all hope they relent, and soon - this music is too good to keep back.

Then a confession, from a man so famed for his articulacy. If he had not acknowledged the 60th Birthday tribute sufficiently, Clive said, it was because it had left him lost for words. But the words - and such a tribute deserved to have the right words - would come, he promised.

Before the closing encore Pete and Clive paid tribute to one another, both saying how they could not imagine what life would have been like if they had never met.

Us neither, gentlemen, us neither. Thank you for a wonderful evening.

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