Pete Atkin (born 22 August 1945) is a British singer-songwriter and radio producer notable for his 1970s musical collaborations with Clive James (1939-2019) and for producing the BBC Radio 4 series This Sceptred Isle... He studied Classics and English at Cambridge University where he was a member of St John's College. In 1966 he joined Cambridge Footlights, becoming the musical director for the revues.
Atkin did, and still does, write his own lyrics, but it was the collaboration with Clive James that produced his most famous songs. Pete Atkin and Clive James recorded six albums in the 1970s, as well as writing an album for Julie Covington, best known for her number one hit "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" in 1976. However, despite Atkin's popularity on the college performance circuit the records did not sell in any great numbers. After this James became a well-known television personality and Atkin became a radio producer. Their music catalogue went out of print until all six original albums were re-released on CD in the 1990s. (Read more at Wikipedia.)
Links to Peel
Pete Atkin did an audition for the BBC in early 1970 and was successful, with producer John Walters finding "Very clever stuff in the lyrics." . After Atkin's first single, "Master Of The Revels", had picked up some Radio 1 airplay, notably on Kenny Everett's show, and the singer had recorded a session for David Symonds' Radio 1 show, he was booked to do a Top Gear session in March 1972. It was the first of nine Peel sessions between 1972 and 1975. The sheer number of sessions shows that Peel too was impressed by Atkin's work, but it appears that he was also among those critics who complained that Clive James's literate and witty lyrics were sometimes "just too clever by half", as the NME Encyclopedia of Rock (1977, p.14) put it. Peel's own words have not been traced, but James responded to the DJ's comments in typically forthright fashion, when asked to define "inarticulacy" in a 1975 interview with Ian Macdonald in New Musical Express:
I don't have to because, right now, that's what John Peel says I need. He's saying Clive James is a very intellectual fellow and he's trying to impress us with his knowledge. To which the answer is Clive James is not an excessively intellectual fellow — and I'm certainly not trying to impress him with my knowledge. If I were trying to impress him with my knowledge, the songs would be very different. What John's missed out on is that he's acting harder than I am. He's really straining his brain in an effort to appear stupid. Which he certainly isn't — in fact, we've got a hell of a lot to thank him for.
Peel incuded Pete Atkin's album Secret Drinker in his Sounds Playlist in the issue of 28 October 1974. The DJ also praised Atkin's single "I See The Joker" in his "SIngles File" review page in Let It Rock of April 1975, commenting "I suspect that it's not smart in 1975 to care much for Pete Atkin, but he gets better all the time and this is chilling and very exciting" Atkin's final LP for RCA was Live Libel, described as "An album of musical tributes to insufficiently neglected contemporary artists", including some who were Peel favourites - Marc Bolan ("Marc Boloc....the curly-haired young man who had been described as Borstal's answer to Shirley Temple"), Leonard Cohen ("Leonard Conman") and Steeleye Span ("Strongbow Spam").
After Atkin and James quit the music scene, they disappeared from Peel's playlists, but when there was a revival of interest in their work in the late 1990s he was happy to narrate a Radio 2 programme on the "two youngish songwriters" he had championed in the 1970s; Pete Atkin and Clive James: Smash Flops, broadcast in August 2000 .
Festive Fifty Entries
Nine sessions. No known commercial release. BBC Genome also lists an edition of Sounds On Sunday featuring Pete Atkin and introduced by Peel, on 16 December 1973. However, this show does not appear among the BBC sessions listed on the Smash Flops website.
- Driving Through Mythical America / Apparition In Las Vagas / Wristwatch For A Drummer / All The Dead Were Strangers (The Girl On The Train / A Guitar Is A Thief In The Night first broadcast on 21 April 1972 repeat)
- Thief In The Night / 30 Year Man / Uncle Seabird / A King At Nightfall
- The Wristwatch For A Drummer / Between Us There Is Nothing / All The Dead Were Strangers / Screen Freak
- Perfect Moments / The Hypertension Kid / The Beautiful Changes / The Last Hill That Shows You All The Valley
- Ready For The Road / Be Careful When They Offer You The Moon / Between Us There Is Nothing / Senior Citizen
- The Man Who Walked Towards The Music / National Steel / Pay Day Evening / An Array Of Passionate Lovers
- Perfect Moments / Payday Evening / Wall Of Death / The Road Of Silk
- Session Man Blues / I See The Joker / Black Funk Rex / Rain Wheels / Nothing Left To Say
- Uncle Sea Bird / Errant Knight / Lonesome Levis Lane / Stranger In Town
Other Shows Played
- 22 December 1971: No Dice (LP - Driving Through Mythical America) Philips
- 25 January 1972: Driving Through Mythical America (LP – Driving Through Mythical America) Philips
- 13 March 1973: Between Us There Is Nothing (LP – A King At Nightfall) RCA