PETE ATKIN – The Luck Of the Draw (HILL01)

The Luck Of The DrawAs those of a certain age and a certain musical temperament will know, back in the 70s Atkin released six albums featuring his collaboration with Australian critic, satirist and poet Clive Atkin, setting the latter’s words to music, the partnership culminating in the label contract-obligation Live Libel in 1975. They reunited in the early 2000s, releasing a further four albums of variously previously unissued and new material, the last being 2015’s The Colours Of The Night.

James died in 2019 and now Atkin is releasing this follow up to 2008’s Midnight Voices: The Clive James – Pete Atkin Songbook Volume 1, on which, with a jazz-world backing band of Alec Dankworth (double bass), Gary Hammond (percussion), Dave O’Higgins (sax), Nigel Price (electric guitar) and Rod Youngs (drums), and Simon Wallace returning on keyboards, he revisits old songs with new arrangements, opening with a now  Latin rhythm flavoured take on the title track, originally from 1970s ‘Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger’. The same album is also mined for ‘Have You Got A Biro I Can Borrow?’ a lazy shuffling observation on everyday life.

Two numbers are reworked from 1973’s A King At Nightfall, the first, the slow waltz ‘Screen-Freak’ with its piano and closing sax, a nostalgic reverie of James’ time as an assistant projectionist at The National Film Theatre, the lyrics managing to reference both The Lady In The Dark and The Lady From Shanghai as well as Cagney, Greenstreet and even The Creature From The Black Lagoon. The second is the title track, a phrase lifted from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Little Giddings’, this time around discarding the horn arrangement for bass, piano and a subtle Latin percussion.

From Eliot to Shakespeare, ‘The Trophies Of My Lovers Gone’ comes from Sonnet 31 and first appeared in 1969 on ‘The Party’s Moving On’, a BBC transcription album with Julie Covington limited to 99 copies, and then again on 2001’s ‘The Lakeside Sessions Vol 2’, as was the history-themed original piano and voice incarnation of the ‘The Eye Of The Universe ‘(with a refrain line ‘borrowed’ from Percy Bysshe Shelley) , then with electric piano and here a far fuller sinuous jazz treatment.

Released the same year, Vol 1 provides the dreamy, piano-le ‘Canoe’, a  song that managed to mix three Polynesians riding the surf and a Apollo 13’s space capsule re-entry, here given a watery percussive wash, as well as its  rather lovely, wistful autobiographical ‘History & Geography’ title track.

Sandwiched in-between , from 1974’s The Road Of Silk, is a piano arrangement (as opposed to the bass and drums) of ‘Care Charmer Sleep’, this time borrowing from Samuel Daniel’s Sonnet LIV, Atkin confessing  he nicked the basis of the middle-eight of a  tin-pan alley legend (Irving Berlin, one would venture). The last of the previously recorded numbers is the melancholic lost love of ‘An Empty Table’, originally on 2003’s Winter Spring, and retaining the solo piano and conversational delivery.

The remaining four cuts are all ‘new’, or at least as far as Atkin’s version are concerned. Again from The Party’s Moving On demo album as sung by Covington and the only time it was ever recorded, the title track is has lazy late night slow tenor sax and cellar bar  jazz piano arrangement while, again with ruminating sax and piano, ‘Winter Kept Us Warm’ is his first recording of a number from Covington’s 1970 debut, Eliot again sourced for the title, here the opening stanza of  The Waste Land. Written in 1971, but never previously recorded by anyone, Atkin describes ‘I Wouldn’t Hear A Word Against The Spring’ as an attempt write a jazzy tin-pan-alley song, which is indeed evident from the uptempo swing of the arrangement. You could hear Sinatra, Darin or Bennett singing this in Vegas.

Hammond on bongos and Atkin on ukulele, also previously unrecorded, the album closer, ‘Together At Last’ was written as the closer for their two man tour  in 1975, something to which the lyrics make specific reference  (“Together at last/Buddies on the road”) as well as name-checking such famous duos as Cain and Able, Lombard and Gable, Frank and Jesse, Ike & Tina, John and Yoko, and the two Ronnies, though surprisingly not Eric and Ernie  who might well have made this a signature tune.

Clearly one for the pair’s long established fan base rather than enticing a new audience, but, to paraphrase the title of one of their songs, the memory still has the touch.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Together At Last’:

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