Friday, 19 February 2010

Pete Atkin: A King At Nightfall. A Great Album


I love my iPod. It is beatufil and clever and has reunited me with music. But it has changed the way people buy and listen to music. You skip from artist to artist, from album to album and you can ignore altogether the less immediately winning tracks in favour of the more winsome. The sheer depth of the portable catalogue produces a perversely shallow listenership. The process started by CD's usurping of vinyl has been completed. Gone are the ceremonials of handling, cleaning and playing vinyl. I'll tell you what I also miss - my lovingly acquired hi-fi separates: Technics deck, JVC receiver and graphic equalizer, Pioneer cassette deck and, pride of them all, the Mission 710 speakers. Those speakers were a bargain - I bought them off Dale Mathers when he was short of money in our final year. Perhaps this callous opportunistic bastardy foreshadowed my success as a lawyer.

None of which is the point of this post, which is to tell you about Pete Atkin's third album (his first for RCA - RCA Victor SF8836) A King At Nightfall. Recorded in 1973 this is the apogee of the collaboration between Atkin and his lyricist, Clive James - yes that Clive James. For more history of this partnership have a look at the very swish http://www.clivejames.com/ or the nerdier (and nicer) http://www.peteatkin.com/ , this latter maintained by fans even more partial than I.

Now the first thing to say is that the lyrics are quite simply stunning. James is a very good poet but those 1970's lyrics are the best things he ever did. And Atkin creates melodies which do them justice and let them free to cast their spell. All put together (apparently in four one hour sessions) with an array of musicians reading like a Who's Who of seventies session men - Clive Baker, Ray Cooper, Herbie Flowers, Bill Geldard, Chris Spedding etc.

Listen to the My Lai Massacre inspired All The Dead Were Strangers, then try the effortless iambs of The Hypertension Kid ( 'Last night I met the Hypertension Kid/ Grimly chasing shorts with halves of bitter/ In a Mayfair club they call the Early Quitter/ He met my eyes and hit me for a quid.' ) and by the end you will have joined the select few of us who know that the only wrist-watch for a drummer is the Omega Incabloc Oyster Accutron 72.

PS. just found a link to a cracking interview with Atkin and James which explains the history of their music - http://www.wordmagazine.co.uk/content/new-backstage-podcast-featuring-clive-james-and-pete-atkin

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Taking a Stand - Bipolar Disorder

I caught a rather beautiful little radio programme yesterday on a subject close to my heart - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qpl4q . I'm bipolar (I have to say that I think good old fashioned 'manic depression' describes it better) and my experience of the condition has changed me. If I'm honest until it afflicted me I don't think I really believed in depression and certainly I would have scoffed at its chemical treatment. I was wrong. Only I know how close I came to chucking my hand in and I owe my life to the good old NHS and most particularly to my special and devoted carer, Sharon. If you get the chance, listen to this programme because it is moving, thought-provoking and intensely human. The human mind is a marvellous and terrible thing.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

David Cameron

Now God knows I am not one of life's socialists but I do miss the proper old-fashioned lefties who were part of the political furniture when I was a lad. My first time at university there were plenty of rabid Marxists to argue with and I don't mean the pallid social-democrats who now pass for a left wing. Don't start me on Tony Blair (I resent being lied to about my country going to war) or Gordon Brown (abolished boom and bust my arse) but I am also in a state of despair about the right. Now I don't mean the nasty, racist scum bags of the BNP. I mean the Conservative Party.

When I was a lad the Conservative Party was a place for ideas about economic freedoms and libertarian ideals. Those ideas didn't always triumph over the old-fashioned paternalism but they did at least get an audience. Good politics is a battleground of ideas. Current bad politics is a banal spectacle of mediocrity, mud-slinging and mendacity. I heard that weasel Mandelson dissembling about university spending cuts at lunchtime. It's not the cuts I object to necessarily, it's the lying about them. And then I read of David Cameron's immoral soundbite that 'burglars leave their human rights at the door' and I despair about the sheer intellectual vacuity of it all. Cameron, I learn, is hoping to become the 19th Old Etonian Prime Minister. This probably shouldn't bother me but it does. After all that money spent on his education he really should know better than to spout drivel such as this.

Women's Rugby

Writers write and referees referee. Yesterday I was a referee. I had been getting a little pissed-off at the lack of appointments to Wednesday matches (I am not available for Saturdays because of my responsibilities at AOE) but a phone-call confirmed that this was cock-up rather than conspiracy. So yesterday I ventured into a snowy Shropshire to referee Harper-Adams University College v Nottingham Trent University. The oddity was that this was my first experience of refereeing women.

I think there is a part of me that wants to be a reactionary against women's rugby but I am glad to say that I have mastered this prejudice. The game was a joy to referee. The participants were committed but not deranged and accepted my authority without question. Male rugby is not always like that, indeed my own playing career was not always located on the right side of deranged.

When I got home I phoned the England Women's Head Coach for a chat. This, of course, is not difficult because I played and coached with him for fifteen years. When his England side win the World Cup later this year I will be able to say that I knew Gary Street before he got his knighthood. He will be able to say that he knew me before I was poor.

The Fat Duck


Now when something comes with a reputation of being possibly the world's best it is setting itself up for a fall. When it is a restaurant which offers only one menu (admittedly an eleven course taster menu) and charges the price of a decent holiday for the privilege of dining, you would think that disappointment was unavoidable. Your correspondent can bravely report that he was utterly taken in and charmed by the Fat Duck experience. We can sagely report that Heston Blumenthal is a bloody genius. It was worth the three year wait to get a table. Do it if you can. Cancel Umbria and head to glamorous Bray, http://www.fatduck.co.uk/ . And when you get there go for broke and have the full monty - that is not just the food (about which you have no choice anyway) but the accompanying wine tasting menu, which earns you the attention of a sommelier at eight assiduously timed intervals in the four hours at table.

What can I tell you? The theatricals start and end the meal, liquid nitrogen used to cook both opening and closing dishes at the table : Nitro-Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse; Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream. Some of the combinations sound vile but taste quite beautiful - Salmon Poached in Liquorice anyone?

I have the palate of a stray dog but can authoratatively say that the 2001 Barolo La Serra, Roberto Voerzio, is the nicest thing I have ever drunk.

Can I think of anything bad to say about the place and the experience? I suppose I did wake the next morning with a slight sense of guilt at the expense but bloody hell we won't be doing it again. To cap it all it was just me and my favourite person in the world, Sharon. We were treating ourselves. It wasn't a corporate freebie. As the guru Joe Walsh so wisely crooned - life's been good to me so far.