Secret Drinker...Plus & Live Libel
Please note, territorial restrictions may apply to this product.
|| ||Rain-Wheels |
|| ||Sessionman’s Blues |
|| ||I See The Joker |
|| ||National Steel |
|| ||Errant Knight (by arrangement with Strongbow Spam)|
|| ||Nothing Left To Say |
|| ||Tenderfoot |
|| ||The Luck Of The Draw|
|| ||Time And Time Again |
|| ||Little Sammy Speedball |
|| ||Secret Drinker |
|| ||Tongue-Tied |
|| ||I See The Joker [single version] |
|| ||Sessionman’s Blues [single version] |
|| ||Song For Rita (featuring Griff Gostuffyerself) |
|| ||Black Funk Rex (featuring Marc Boloc) |
|| ||I’m Crazy Over You|
|| ||Ready For The Road (featuring Tesco Tex)|
|| ||Why? (featuring special guest artist Telly Savarsol) |
|| ||Ballad Of An Upstairs Window|
|| ||Stranger In Town (featuring Ricky Fablon)|
|| ||Rattlesnake Rock (featuring Gladys Graveyard)|
|| ||Doom From A Room (featuring Leonard Conman) |
|| ||I’ve Got Better Things To Do|
|| ||Lonesome Levis Lane |
|| ||Sheer Quivering Genius (featuring James Paler) |
|| ||Uncle Sea-Bird (in memoriam Ralph J. Gleason) |
Uncut, May 09
Following last year’s Midnight Voices, where Atkin re-recorded some of the early songs he wrote with lyricist Clive James when both were Cambridge Footlights pals, Edsel are now re-releasing all six of their out-of-print collaborative efforts, recorded between 1970 and 1975. Atkin went on to produce stalwart BBC shows like Just A Minute and Week Ending while Clive James went on to become Clive James. Today, it’s James’ witty, thoughtful, literate lyrics that generate most interest but Atkin’s singing isn’t without considerable charm.
Record Collector, June 09
‘Intelligent fare from a singer and a well-known wordsmith’
The pairing of Cambridge-educated singer-songwriter Atkin and non-performing Aussie writer [Clive] James resulted in intelligent music that was always intended for, and found, a limited cult audience. Only Kenny Everett ever pushed them to the wider world, though Val Doonican did do a cover.
Atkin’s 1970 debut Beautiful Stranger has been augmented by eight bonus demos from a privately pressed (99 copies) LP, while the 1971 follow-up Mythical America (one bonus track) was his first with a band. The other four titles are paired on double-discs, while all are packaged with photos and new commentary from the protagonists. Even fans who own the only briefly available See For Miles discs will buy these albums again, for that alone.
Best value-for-money buy is Nightfall/…Silk, since Live Libel, with which 1974’s excellent Secret Drinker is paired, is a selection of musical pastiches, recorded to extricate the pair from their contract, that may pall after first listen. But ignore James’ insistence that his lyrics are “writing for people who can’t write, to be listened to by people who can’t read”. They, the music and Atkin’s deliciously dry delivery add up to much more than that.
NetRhythms.com, May 09
With a highly distinctive, precisely enunciated - and very English - voice (reminiscent of Noel Harrison), Atkin was the leading light of the Cambridge scene during the late 60s and early 70s. A student of Classics and English at St John's College, his role as musical director of the Cambridge Footlights revues brought him into contact with James, forming a partnership of the latter's intellectual lyrical wit and Atkins' sharp musical acumen (encompassing rock and Tin Pan Alley as much as folk) that would produce six albums between 1970 and 1975 and songs that bear comparison with the best of Ray Davies.
Critically well received and popular on the college circuit, songs exploring the life of a machine tool shop worker, referencing Rilke and translating Apollinaire were, however, a little too refined for mainstream popular success at a time when glam was in the ascendant and none of the albums sold particularly well. Indeed, Val Doonican's cover of The Flowers And The Wine from Driving Through Mythical America, apparently brought in more royalties than the entire six albums combined.
Both Atkins and James went on to more successful solo careers as BBC producer and TV presenter respectively, but it's high time these albums were accorded the respect they deserve. Reissued with bonus tracks and sleeve notes and song by song commentaries by both Atkin and James, some material is a little dated in places and the contract filling Live Libel (a humorous pastiche of such artists as Marc Bolan, Kris Kristofferson, Steeleye Span and Leonard Cohen) is really now just a curio piece, but there are real joys here awaiting rediscover by old and new audiences alike.
Rather than wade through everything, I'd just point you in the direction of The Master Of The Revels, Girl On A Train and the title track from Beautiful Stranger, Thief In The Night, The Pearl Driller (sampled by electro-dance crew Lemon Jelly on Nice Weather For Ducks) and the title track off Mythical America, All The Dead Were Strangers and The Wristwatch For A Drummer from A King At Nightfall, the Road of Silk's title track, Wall of Death and Shadow And The Widower and, from Secret Drinker, I See The Joker and Time And Time Again. Dip in and you may find yourself beguiled.
Shindig! June 09
Pete Atkin had been a member of Cambridge Footlights with the now famous Clive James. DJ Kenny Everett was a huge fan and tried to push the geeky singer towards the big time but music so thoughtful and enigmatic was just too far from the hit parade, prog rock or even singer songwriters to catch on with anyone other than the critics who adored his singular approach.
Although Australian, James’ broad range of subjects topped off by his incisive lyrical wit was the perfect adage to Atkin’s quintessentially English voice. Just like Kevin Ayers, Syd Barret, David Bowie and the wonderful Barry Booth (who had Monty Python’s Michael Palin and Terry Jones doing for him what James did for Atkin) there was no doubting the singer’s origin.
Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger (1970) and Driving Through Mythical America (’71) musically traversed acoustic folk-tinged accompaniments, baroque orchestration, music hall, and on the second, a cool rock backing (performed by members of Blue Mink and a whole host of top players including Chris Spedding). ‘Sunlight Grate’ (from Driving Through Mythical America) has that same carnivalesque tone as Tim Buckley’s early work on the immense narrative landscape of the Gibb brothers’ most haunting pieces. For an artist who considered himself unfashionable, these tunes have a suitably timeless cool about them.
This brilliant partnership’s remaining LPs from ’73-75 are also available on Edsel. Each CD is packed with informative track-by-track notes by the protagonists themselves, press quotes and pics.
Jon ‘Mojo’ Mills
Mojo, June 09
From varsity to scarcity – the accidental singer and his antipodean sideckick.
At the Cambridge Footlights revue, Pete Atkin and Clive James (yes, that one) thought they were writing songs for others to perform, but Atkin’s demos landed him a record deal, something he’d neither sought nor expected. Perhaps that’s why, on his albums, he retains a detached, story-telling tone. He looks and sings like a geography teacher. James’s tendency to give him words like “wristwatch” and “globular” – practically un-singable with any rock inflection – and classical and literary allusions probably also demands Atkin’s precise diction to make the narratives clearer. The style bears a similarity to David Ackles, where the dry delivery is atmospheric and draws you in. This being James, there’s a good deal of humour in the lyrics, but there’s also morbidity – war-scarred landscapes, scenes of execution, lonely old age. Few of the songs have much of a chorus.
Briefly available on CD a decade ago, the six albums have long been out of print and attract tidy sums from collectors. The 1970 debut Fontana, Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger, is a good way in, the title track particularly indicative of what they do best. Driving Through Mythical America (1971) expands the sound and includes the chilling No Dice. On the self-produced A King At Nightfall (1973), Atkin’s RCA debut, the arrangements are more assured and the episodes of beauty and humour are more pronounced. Opener Between Us There Is Nothing is the team’s best ballad and Carnations On The Roof their rousing 45 about the unremarkable like and dreary funeral of a factory worker. Funny how it never charted.
James can be arch for the sake of it, as in “He couldn’t tell a wah wah from Akira Kurosawa” from The Man Who Walked Towards The Music on The Road Of Silk. This tendency curdles on 1976’s Live Libel, a “contractual obligation” record of pastiches, presumably driven by James… It proved to be Atkin’s last album (until a recent revival)…
It all ended as unexpectedly as it had begun. James went on to TV celebrity and Atkin found a successful career in production for BBC radio. But while active as an artist he made distinctive, distinguished records with a quality which, if you get it, imparts a particular, peculiar pleasure. Edsel’s reissues are carefully done, full of welcome bonus material and detailed notes from the duo themselves. Good to have them back.
Observer Music Monthly, February 09
Interview with Clive James
He’ll admit to his mistakes, but is the polymath with ready to recant his most outrageous views, wonders Paul Mardles.
“What is the name of the dreadful Gallagher brothers’ band?” Clive James reclines on one of his three sofas, lights what remains of a miniature cigar and, not for the first, unleashes a hacking cough. “Which brother does the singing and crouches under the microphone, snarling up into it as though he’s looking up the backside of a mounted policeman’s horse? I’ve never understood why on earth he does that. But then you hear one of their tracks and, well…” His voice trails off. “Usually bands aren’t famous without good reason. It’s a pretty good rule of showbusiness, actually.”
James – author, lyricist, wit, chatshow host, poet and formerly the Observer’s TV critic – is, at 69, “in retirement”, although his persona suggests otherwise. Words and opinions tumble out of him, as might be expected of someone whose London warehouse flat is lined with heavy floor-to-ceiling shelves in every room, upon which are books on every subject known to man.
Within minutes he has disclosed, in between coughing fits, why Mick Jagger’s mannerisms put him off the Stones (“I used to wonder why he made those funny faces. I still wonder why he made those funny faces”); how he’s never seen anything quite so mesmerising as Ian Dury singing Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (“I love it when pop comes out of nowhere, somewhere weird”); and why Roy Orbison’s In Dreams is sensational, even though it’s composed “of nothing but clichés” (“But that doesn’t matter because the structure is what drives it. And the structure is colossal”).
Currently, however, James is focused on the 1950s when, years before lyrics dictated his response to music, he saw Bill Haley and the Comets in Sydney. “Which is when I realised they were 50 years old. But when the bass player lay on top of the double bass I couldn’t get enough.”
He was even more impressed still by, first, Elvis and the Beach Boys – then at Cambridge a friend introduced him to Motown. “It is still my ideal of pop; hook after hook after hook,” he says, namechecking the Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love. “What thrills me about popular music is when I don’t know how it works. How were Motown’s anthems put together? How did the riffs work, the repetition? I would listen to it hour after hour.”
Unquestionably, James knows how songwriting works, having made six albums in the 70s with Pete Atkin, who wrote the folky music to his sidekick’s pointed words. Now, three decades after being “blown away by punk”, their back catalogue is to be reissued, encouraging James to begin writing lyrics anew. “And I think I’ve improved,” he says, referring to his new-found uncomplicated style. “Maybe a 30-year lay off is about right.”
If James has improved with age, he is hardly unique. James Taylor has grown more interesting, he says. Ditto Leonard Cohen, whom he used to find “boring”. “But then I caught on that he had the secret because even then he would produce a couple of lines that were lovely, like, ‘There’s a funeral in the mirror and it’s stopping at your face.’” He exhales, dramatically, and pulls a startled face. “I was like, ‘Wow! How did he do that?’” Some of Dylan’s lyrics, too, he says, invite the same responses. “Yes, I’m a huge admirer.” He pauses. “Well, with qualifications. I believe I’m notorious for saying that there is no stanza in a Dylan song that is all as good as its best line, and that there’s no song that’s all as good as its best stanza. And I think it’s largely true.”
James is an odd, if stimulating, interviewee. At times he exudes a prickly self-regard; at others he’s quite happy to castigate himself for failing to anticipate the unforeseeable. “I never saw rockabilly coming, or punk, or how important they would prove to be. And while I think Roy Orbison is a genius – one of pop’s true real geniuses – that didn’t show up until he was dead.” Then there was the time, in 1975, when James badmouthed Bowie in the NME. “I didn’t know what I was talking about,” he says, manfully. “It was the same with Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper was wonderful. Frank Zappa was wonderful.” He laughs and shrugs his shoulders. “I did not know what I was talking about.”
Today, he says, mindful of making the same error, he tries to absorb anything and everything that’s new. Or rather, almost everything. He can’t abide hip-hop.
“Some of them [rappers] are quite talented, I hear, but they simply don’t write in any way that I regard as writing. Look,” he says, indignant, composing his own rap, “I can rhyme ‘nation’ with ‘station’ and ‘situation’ with ‘consternation’ forever. I just have.” Content, he takes a celebratory puff on his cigar and, chuckling, initiates a nasty coughing fit. “It’s writing for people who can’t write, to be listened to by people who can’t read. And good luck to them,” he says, regaining his composure, the colour returning to his cheeks. “I could not give a damn.”