Pete Atkin, John Bellany, and me

There has been some blether about the good old days on some of the blogs I read. Perhaps it is just down to being of a certain age, but there are elements of the past that bring me warm feelings and a knowledge that certain moments can never be re-captured. Since I often associate these memories with music - certain albums - I find that is the best way to encapsulate what I recall of those times.

I listened a lot to the John Peel show throughout the Seventies. John Peel was in my mind a kind of prophet. He resolutely stuck to his principles when it came to encouraging musicians and playing new work. Of the many people he brought to the attention of the cognoscenti was Pete Atkin. Atkin and Australian writer, Clive James, turned out a handful of albums in the Seventies and then left the music business to become a radio producer in Bristol, whilst Clive James, who wrote the lyrics, did rather well. There have been revival tours, but none have propelled the duo to international stardom. The good thing to come out of the modest revival of interest in Pete Atkin is that the albums are once again easily obtained. There were decades when vinyl copies of "The Secret Drinker" were being offered at crazy prices.

About the time Atkin was in Bristol making radio programmes, my efforts in that direction had more or less ground to a halt, though I did do a one off job for BBC radio Bristol. However, when "The Secret Drinker" came out in 1974, my involvement in broadcasting amounted to doing a bit of hospital radio and my glittering career was ahead of me.

By 1974, I had dropped out of art college after a year of a fine art course. I was in no great shape, having more or less fallen to pieces and been put back together again. Among other things, mostly self-inflicted, my tutor, one John Bellany, was a drunken and violent alcoholic and had assaulted me during a class. Had this happened today he would have been arrested and his career as a teacher would have ended. But all I did was scuffle away, having failed to impress myself or the tutors as a painter. Nowadays, I live about five miles from where Bellany was born, in Port Seton. His work hangs in the major art galleries of the world and he has had major surgery to repair the damage done by booze. I was not doing that much better. I arrived for my first day in Croydon College of Art high as a kite, absolutely convinced I was levitating and that people around me were watching me fly.

By the time I had discovered Pete Atkin and bought "Secret Drinker", I had recovered sufficiently to get myself a Vespa and hold down a job in Newcastle. But that's another story.

Here then, is "I see the Joker" from "Secret Drinker" by Pete Atkin and Clive James. Every track on the record is brilliant. I recommend it.

I dedicate this to Clams Linguini.


Richard said...

One thing: Atkin is English, born in Cambridge, not Australian. He just sometimes sounds Australian.

I was a big fan in the 70s and had all the vinyl albums, but they got lost or borrowed away. I saw the pair of them when they did a gig at Alsager in Cheshire in 1975/6. Later on, probably early 90s, I wrote to Pete after hearing his name as a radio producer, and got a charming letter back with a cassette of some stuff I had never had before. I thought he was a really nice guy. Later still, I found Steven Birkill's website and started acquiring all the recently-issued CDs.

Between them, they had a talent that was almost too good. The richness of the lyrics and the variety of musical treatments made a fantastic combination, but sadly it wasn't a commercial one. As I think one of them said - straight from wannabe to has-been without the intervening period of success.

For what it's worth, I think the song Secret Drinker is itself one of the best they did. I love the early stuff, and the double CD of Winter Spring. I was a little disappointed by Midnight Voices, which was a bit too cabaret-style for my tastes, but nevertheless I am delighted that they are still working and producing good music as an antidote to some of the turgid crap that is churned out today.

Glad to find another fan!

It's so easy when we're young ...
The neck so slim, the glass so tall ...

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Thanks for the info Richard. I shall edit my mistake. I really could not decide which track to put on, but I agree, the title track is perhaps the most poignant and memorable.

I had no idea how many fans there are out there.

Dave said...

In the late sixties I worked for the Westminster bank, (later Natwest). A circular came through the internal mail advertising a folk club for westminster bank staff to be held upstairs in a pub near the Palladium Theatre in London.
Having nothing better to do I went along and encountered the wonderful Pete Atkin for the first time. he featured the songs that he'd written with Clive James, including the one about how a steam locomotive works. A few years later I saw a TV and he reprised the whilst perched in the cab of a steam engine (as I recall).
The next time I encountered Pete's name was when I used to listen to Radio 4's "This sceptred isle) about fifteen years ago. This excellent programme was produced by Pete Atkin.
The boy dun good.
And the man who set up the natwest folk club left the bank and became a music promoter.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Funny how this kind of post brings back such interesting connections. Thanks Dave.

Richard said...

I think the correct title was "The Original Original Honky-Tonk Night Train Blues", and it's a stunning bit of comedy music. Apparently, the words were suggested by a children's encyclopaedia entry on the workings of a steam locomotive (might have been Arthur Mee, not sure). But as a bit of rollin' bar-room piano, it really rocks.

When you consider that the guys produced both this and "Hill of Little Shoes", their range and ability were remarkable. Did I say "were"? I meant "are".

Ged, you've set me off. think I shall work up something on mine on this. Thanks for the (Touch Has A) memory.

Clams Linguini said...

You gotta love this guy. Missed his vocation. Could have been a helluva wheelman. Ditch that French crap in the Forth. You're gettin a T-Bird.

The Garment District. Don't get me started. The life aint what it was. RICO predicates up my ass... Rico? - big joke.

Clams Linguini said... heard me, the Forth. Me, I'll take the Fifth.

denverthen said...

(Clive James is a jolly fine poet in my ever so 'umble...

Just thought I'd say, like, in passing.)

denverthen said...

(How about this:
"The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-praised effort sits in piles
In that kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs"

...being the opening salvoes of "Opel Sunset".)

(Clive James, Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008)

This bit not in brackets.

Richard said...

That was one of his best. I also liked the politics stuff he did in the late 70s, like 'Britannia Bright in the Wilderness of Westminster'. Very Drydenesque.

But best of all was his TV criticism for the Observer. I have never been able to listen to Murray Walker without thinking of CJ's comment - 'speaking like a man whose trousers were on fire'.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

The Murray Walker epithet was genius. My favourite, and one I use a lot is "schlock from the glop hopper"

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

My favourite, and one I use a lot is "schlock from the glop hopper"

Ah yes. A classic. I tink the best of all, and the one that had me almost hospitalised with mirth, was during his description of Harry Carpenter and crew at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

"But your paradigm no-no commentary can’t be made up of fluffs alone (although if it could, Walker and Weeks would be the lads to do it). It needs flannel in lengthy widths, and it’s here that Harry and Alan come through like a whole warehouse full of pyjamas."


whispering bob harris said...

My favourites from the 'good old days' were whispering bob harris' and annie nightingale.
Bob got me into Little Feat with Shaun doing the vocals later in the early 90's. I saw Annie Nightingale on the shitty 'One Show' recently and it made me so sad. She needed a good cuddle as she was tired and old with shades on. But still feisty !

Wrinkled Weasel said...

So, I am not the only one who fancied Annie Nightingale.

Ian Burdon said...

Just came across this and wanted to say hello to another fan. I first heard, and bought, Driving Through Mythical America in 1977 and to this day it is my favourite of the Atkin/James albums - I listen to it regularly on MP3 these days but still have the vinyl!

Richard said...

Another fan? That makes ... er ... loads.

Never mind the vinyl and the MP3s, buy the CDs and keep a couple of old codgers out of poverty!

Agreed, DTMA is a classic, one of the best. "I tried hard to be useful, but no dice." I should adopt that.