Review of Pete Atkin's set for Pirate Jenny's at the
Vortex Jazz Bar
, Stoke Newington (London), 7th May 2001

words by Julian Mount, Sylfest Muldal, Sean Kelly; pictures by Richard Whiting

Stoke Newington, and all that jazz.... [taken from MV6190]

To Stoke Newington, we went, Jane and I. The Vortex Jazz Club.

We calculated it's been over 20 years since we saw Pete Atkin play live! Now 20 years is a long time and people change. Of course they do. We hadn't EVER set foot in a Jazz Club and it had been 10 years since we sat in a Folk Club too.

It was small. The tables were jig-sawed in between the chairs. We had loads of room....until the next table's people arrived. Then we didn't. There were the smells of scented candles, alight on each table, and the scent of spicy foods. The light mostly came from strings of red, heart-shaped lamps hanging across the ceiling but there were lattices of white lights at each window too.

As we neared the advertised start time, the venue began to fill. It was crowded. A stage at the far end of the room had a grand piano, an amplifier with blinky flashing lights, microphones and speakers hanging from the roof.

We noticed him immediately. Pinky shirt, slightly older (as we are ourselves). He spoke to me, he did! "Excuse me" at the interval. I was standing in his way, you see!

Pete's set opened with Ice Cream Man and there was that voice....that musicianship....that sound! The years didn't fall away. Our lives didn't flash past us. We just listened. And it wasn't long before I realised I was smiling. Not just at the jokes. At that sound again. Live.

He mentioned the Website, naturally. He said that he'd read things there about himself that HE didn't even know!

After Search And Destroy and Tenderfoot he murmured: "Nice piano!" It was. Perhaps that's what prompted our hero to remain at the ivories all evening. No guitar tonight.

During Thirty year Man there were sirens from the busy road outside. I swear that they were in tune and in appropriate rhythm! Maybe it was me. Maybe it was him.

Three songs later, during Sessionman's Blues a bus was revving. Then its brakes squealing. Even this became part of the experience rather than a distraction. Everything seemed to add to the music....and that sound.

With History and Geography Pete said that this was "the only place in the entire country that is dedicated to songs". A 21st century folk club perhaps?

We wouldn't let him go....the encore was Early Days. At one point Pete said that nearly all of these songs had been written in the 70s and that some were perhaps a little out of date. An apology that wasn't needed. None of them sounded dated at all to me.

In the car on the way home, the tape player stayed off, the radio silent. We didn't need music....we had new memories. They needed some thinking about in silence.

But we wish he'd played guitar too, we really do!

To all our new MV friends (those we met and those we didn't) AND to Pete himself.... Thanks....for a great night out. It was worth the 20 year wait!

Julian the Juggler (aka: Julian Mount)

 Pete autographs a CD for Frank Parkinson (click to enlarge)

Sylfest Muldal adds [from MV6204] :

Julian's review caught the evening spot-on. I'd like to offer a few anoraky notes for those who enjoy details:

Pete was clearly pleased to play at a club dedicated to songs. It was he who had contacted Des de Moor and asked for the gig. "There should be one in every town", he said at one point, adding "then I'd be able to give up producing radio programmes..." He was also clearly enjoying playing the club's Steinway piano – which sounded great, but you couldn’t see him so well.

Ice-cream Man
Pete played slowly and reflectively, ending the song quickly on the final punchline. After Des had introduced him as Clive's musical partner, this was a particularly good opener for people who hadn't heard Pete before – Clive’s wit is instantly apparent, but amid the brilliant phrases there's a melancholy note, a sign that it's not all just for laughs.

Search and Destroy
Declaimed with a weary and tetchy aggression, Pete's second choice was a savage one, with the devastating closing lines (beginning "The faithful talk some wishful-thinking cock ...") sending shivers down your spine. Perhaps some first-time listeners were surprised by the range and scale of the songs at this point?

Pete varied the chorus from verse to verse - instrumental in verse 2, and with verse 4 running into verse 5 without a chorus. He described how the song continually resonated in his mind when he visited Arizona.

Thirty-year Man
Straight into this one – a song that needs no introduction, and a great choice for a cabaret setting. In the second verse, police sirens wailed in through the window and perhaps put Pete off, since he jumped to the third verse (tinkles instead of rustles); but then slotted the skipped four lines smoothly into the last verse. No loudmouths in this audience, anyway.

Trophies of My Lovers Gone
"From the days when we were trying to write AABA Tin Pan Alley songs" – A languid and haunting melody that fitted the occasion well.

Sessionman's Blues
Pete chatted about how the song came to be written, and pointed out the significance of "doubling on baritone" – which, for a second instrument, gets you 25% on top of the standard session rate.

History and Geography
Launched straight in with no preamble – sure sign that H&G has now achieved "standard" status. He changed the piano accompaniment, and moved the short musical break from after verse 3 to after verse 4, which nicely sets up the recapitulation of the final verse. On cue, during the last verse, the little nitelite candle on my table chose flamed its last and flickered out. Sigh.

Stranger in Town
The only really jokey number, given the piano treatment as on the album, featuring the asinine chromatic bass run. Great comic timing.

Great concert, not least IMHO because of the other two singers and the cabaret ambience. There should indeed be a Pirate Jenny's in every town.

It was great to meet more of the gang - and thanks to Simon Wallace, through the windows of whose instrument-strewn car the lights of town went streaming as he helped me get back to my bus stop afterwards.


And a brief report from another MV member [from MV6184] :

Stoke Newington - was excellent. Pete on great form. Robb Johnson I knew already - but they suited each other well (simultaneously similar and dissimilar ; chalk and cheese in fact!). An excellent night - who there would disagree? We (MV's / PA audience) seemed to have significantly swelled the usual attendance to the the host's (Des de Moor) great satisfaction. Let's hope he meant it when he said they'd rebook Pete soon. Only downside was how difficult it was to thread through the intimately close tables to get to the loo (especially if you needed to cross the room urgently mid-song - because you'd waited so long!). Anyway sorry to lower the tone (!). It was a great night.

Sean Kelly

Set List :

Ice Cream Man
Search And Destroy
Thirty Year Man
The Trophies Of My Lovers Gone
Sessionman's Blues
Cold Bitches
History And Geography
Stranger In Town
Payday Evening
Early Days (encore)

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