Not many records survived my ill-judged and much-regretted mid-1980’s vinyl sell-off, but one entire oeuvre made the cut – the series of 1970’s albums by Pete Atkin with lyrics by Clive James.
There are several reasons why the Pete and Clive LP’s were considered worth saving. It wasn’t just that I spent many of my formative years listening to them and pretty much knew all of Clive’s intelligent literate lyrics by heart. And it wasn’t just that I loved Pete’s musical arrangements and his emphatically English voice. One of the most significant reasons for their retention was the fact that each of the albums carried Pete Atkin’s signature.
The fact is that in the mid-70’s (6th December 1975 to be precise ) Pete Atkin played a concert at the end of my road. He played Weybridge Town Hall, which was fifty yards away from my home. Quite how unlikely this was is difficult for me to communicate. No-one ever ‘played’ Weybridge, and if anyone were ever to consider this unlikely concept Weybridge Town Hall would surely be the unlikeliest of venues. It seemed nothing less than an act of God.
At the end of Pete’s concert I went up to him and tried to strike up a conversation. “Where’s Clive?” I said. “He couldn’t make it tonight,” replied Pete, politely refraining from pointing out that lyricists don’t usually go on tour with singers. And then I told Pete how I lived, literally, at the end of the road, and that if he’d hang around a second while I nipped back to get the albums…
I’ve just listened to them all again, and what a great pleasure it was – not only to hear the music but also to hear Clive James’s intelligent, touching, witty lyrics and his impressive, sometimes daunting, range of reference and allusion. On ‘Beware of the Beautiful Stranger’ alone we get Petrarch, Ronsard and Verlaine, together with knowing nods to John Donne’s ‘The Sunne Rising’ and Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet. As I listened, I noticed things in this mightily impressive collection of songs that had passed me by for years – from the time I asked Pete where Clive was to the time I came across those six signed, saved albums in a box at the bottom of a wardrobe.
(nb ‘Secret Drinker’ and ‘Live Libel’ not pictured)
Check out the Pete Atkin/Clive James website ‘Smash Flops’