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Pete Atkin: Plenty Left to Say

Pete Atkin played at the Islington Folk Club, London on 3rd December 1998. Sammy Spudball gives his verdict.

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On Thursday, 3rd December 1998, a sizeable group of Midnight Voices (MVs) - the Internet group dedicated to Pete Atkin and his music - congregated in the bar alongside the regulars at the Empress of Russia pub in Islington prior to Pete Atkin's latest gig, hosted by the Islington Folk Club (IFC). There was much speculation as to what we were going to hear - would our own particular favourites be played? Would he take note of any requests we had sent in to the Midnight Voices discussion forum? Would there be any new songs? Or would he stick to the tried and tested songs; the old favourites which he had delighted the crowds (yes, crowds - not necessarily large ones, but crowds they were) in the past?

The answer to all these questions would be found out shortly. Arming themselves with the necessary supplies of refreshment, a long queue formed at the end of the bar for the upstairs room used by the IFC for their weekly get-togethers. As we slowly trailed into the room, those in the know sat down in the seats nearest the stairs, not only to make quick trips to the bar easier, but to get a better view of the performance. Those not so familiar with the club, or late arrivals, sat in the area round the corner. However, it's a fairly small room altogether so everyone could hear clearly, even if the view was restricted.

While everyone was settling into their seats, Pete Atkin arrived and set up his gear, having had a terrible four and a half hour drive up from Bristol that evening - not calculated to leave him in the best frame of mind for the performance.
The regular club artists began in their usual style and warmed up the audience, starting with the band which played some lively dance music. The other artists provided more entertainment, including a noteworthy unaccompanied performance of "McCaffery" by Martin Nail, both a member of the IFC committee and a Midnight Voice.

Pete Atkin stepped up for his first set and began with a surprise choice - The Prince of Aquitaine. Pete's performance, self-accompanied on guitar was polished and went down well with the audience, who somehow were already beginning to sense that a good evening was in store. The next number, also on guitar, was also somewhat unexpected - Pete's bluesy rendering of Don't Bother Me Now, which last appeared on Julie Covington's "Beautiful Changes" album back in 1970.
Pete's introduction to the third song "A bit of history..." was interrupted by a sotto voce cry of "Yesss!" from a Midnight Voice who hadn't spotted Pete's use of the lower-case "h" [that's a Midnight Voices in-joke! - Ed.] and was no doubt expecting to hear "...and Geography". But I don't think he or anyone else present was disappointed when Pete sang instead Tenderfoot, another song not heard for a long while. Pete's keyboard accompaniment was slower than that on the album, but perhaps that was a good thing. Your reviewer has occasionally wondered whether studio time pressures could have occasionally resulted in songs being recorded at a higher tempo than would otherwise have been the case.
Hot on the heels (or should that be hooves?) of Tenderfoot, Pete stayed with the keyboard for one of my favourites, and judging by the reaction, that of many of the audience too: Rain-Wheels. Again, this was a polished and immaculate performance which really enlivened the crowd - and there certainly was a crowd by this time, as the late arrivals had filled up all the available standing room.

If the first three numbers had been unexpected but welcome choices, the next was a real surprise and something of a scoop for those present. A brand new song, described by Pete as "work in progress", called I Feel Like Midnight. Pete explained that the title came from a line in a film, a favourite of his and of his collaborator and lyricist Clive James. It transpired that Clive had only sent the words to Pete by fax a mere two weeks earlier. In spite of any reservations Pete himself had as to the state of the song, it went down well as it is. Perhaps no further work is needed after all...?
Next up was a number that had been requested by email by a Midnight Voice - Carnations On The Roof. This beautiful and somewhat sad song (which deals movingly with the subject of a working man's death) was again performed - this time on guitar - perfectly. Again this was greeted by rapturous applause from the audience, both MVs and IFC regulars alike.
As if the surprises so far weren't enough, Pete ended this fairly short set with another song which many present were perhaps not familiar with - an unrecorded song, Over The High Side, from Pete's early days. I confess I didn't twig at first that this was an old song, as I assumed it was called "What Can I Say To You Now?", from the chorus. However it's a good song with a catchy tune and effective words that deserves to be given more of a hearing in future - let's hope it becomes as well known as some of the others. Again Pete sang and played guitar and it was a very professional performance. This song is now among your reviewer's favourites, based on this single hearing.

Following a short interval and some more entertainment from the IFC regulars, Pete stepped up for the second half, kicking off with another unusual choice Apparition in Las Vegas. Pete apologised to those sitting "round the corner" for standing behind the keyboard while he accompanied himself on guitar, but explained that the only copy of the words he had were those printed on the album insert! The spectacle of Pete delivering a faultless performance of this song, which I never imagined he would be able to do so well live, whilst bending down and peering at the tiny print was unforgettable. I must remember to print out a copy of the words from the Smash Flops website in at least 14pt font and have them ready to hand to Pete next time he sings it!

The next song was one which Pete has sung on many occasions and was none the worse for that - in fact this song was another highlight of the evening: Senior Citizens. Again a perfect performance on guitar which left the audience (MV and non-MV alike) spellbound. This was followed by a real-time request Search and Destroy, which Pete obligingly sang in response to a call from the audience - how many artists would do that, huh? - followed by The Hollow and the Fluted Night, and then another request, Canoe. This was another highlight and not a sound came from the audience during Pete's flawless rendering of the song.

Another unusual song followed: Sudden Arrivals, although this was played at Pete's Eastbourne 1997 gig. Next up was another old favourite Beware of the Beautiful Stranger. This caused much amusement to those who hadn't heard it before, not just because of the humour in the lyrics, but also because many of the MVs could be heard singing along with it! I never thought I'd hear audience participation at a Pete Atkin gig - the sound of lines such as "That ball needs a regun I said, shelling out" or "Your shadow burnt white by invisible fire" sung by a roomful of people has to be heard to be believed!

Next, the MV who wanted History and Geography was at last satisfied. Pete was amused at the ripple of applause which went round after the first few bars. Another excellent performance of this song which is very popular with Pete's fans and deserves to be more popular still. Following this was a song which summed up the evening for those present - Perfect Moments. This was another highlight (there were so many, weren't there?!) and featured yet another perfect performance from Pete of this favourite song.
We were getting near the end now, as in time-honoured tradition, the IFC were due to be chucked out at 11pm. Pete chose to end the set with Touch Has a Memory which again went down well. As an encore he chose Thief in the Night, which I found particularly gratifying as I had first heard this song when Pete performed it at the Islington Folk Club in 1971 (at the Fox on Islington Green).

So another memorable gig, different in character from the Buxton event, but every bit as enjoyable. And all those MV questions in the bar at the beginning were answered - with a resounding "Yesss!".

  • See the official reviews of Pete's Islington gig on the Smash Flops website, by Midnight Voices Gerry Smith and Richard Corfield.
  • Pete Atkin's first two albums Beware of the Beautiful Stranger and Driving Through Mythical America are available on a 2-on-1 CD from See For Miles records (C5HCD 664). See the Smash Flops: Pete Atkin website for track details, audio clips and more.

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