Friday, 20 November 2015

Radio Review: 20 November

Two of music’s greatest ‘smash flops’ reminisce

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176Clive James is a man of many parts. Stop sniggering at the back. Most are well known, but how many people realise he’s a pop lyricist of distinction? Of course, it helps that his words have been set to music so brilliantly by his close friend Pete Atkin over the 50 years since they met at Cambridge. The albums Atkin made of their intricate, clever and frankly gorgeous songs in the 1970s are treasured possessions of those in the know, and I’ve been among their number for a good 20 years or so now.

So it was pleasing to hear their partnership celebrated last week in Radio 4’s Pete & Clive (available on iPlayer), a title carrying overtones of Pete and Dud, and Derek and Clive.

It was lovely to hear them both speaking with awe of the legendary session musicians, such as drummer Kenny Clare, who played on those highly collectable records. Naturally, this was followed by a snatch of their song Sessionman’s Blues (‘I’ve got the sessionman’s blues/ But I get the dots right from the start/I drink a sessionman’s booze/But my tenor blows what’s on the chart’).

The sound of Atkin – who followed his pop career as a ‘smash flop’ with many successful years as a BBC radio producer – and James yarning on was tinged with great sadness, as James is a very ill man. However, I could have done with far more of them, far more of the actual music and quite a bit less of fans such as Stephen Fry and Lord Finkelstein. Their words were warm and sincere, but they got a bit too much of the air time.

Nonetheless, Fry had a point when he said it would be typical if the pair’s records were reissued and started selling in great quantities when it was too late. We must celebrate James and Atkin now, and this was a decent start.

Louis on Twitter: @LF Barfe or email:

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