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Don Bowen (Police Dog Hogan) on Pete Atkin: Why I Love

In the latest takeover on these pages, Don Bowen, bass player with Police Dog Hogan (who’ve just released their Overground album – see what we did there?) reveals his admiration for singer/guitarist and Clive James collaborator, Pete Atkin. Not heard about the near-legendary Pete? Read on…

pete atkin

Why I love… Pete Atkin. I feel my age as I write this.

Because in 1970, as a teenager, I saw a late-night TV show which featured a single song by a guitarist/singer, Pete Atkin. It had sort of free-form intro and then began a gentle, witty, caring, sad, carefully-crafted, poetic song, the like of which I’d never heard before.

I was hooked.

I bought Pete’s first LP (which I have in front of me as I write) – Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger – and through this I discovered that he worked as a writing duo with lyricist Clive James.

Yes, that Clive James, the Australian TV guy, the novelist, chat show host, poet and critic.

Together, in the 1970s and 80s they wrote, and Pete recorded, six albums worth of material – all of which I snapped up – without them ever troubling the charts.

Then, after a long time toiling in relative obscurity, the recordings ceased.

Pete performed occasionally, sometimes in large venues when I realised with relief that I wasn’t alone in my admiration for him. These performances were welcome, but here is where I have to admit that my love for Pete’s music has, for me, always been quite a solitary pursuit.

My wife and kids complained bitterly if I played him in the car, and most people I speak to have never heard of Pete Atkin, let alone heard his songs.

But Clive’s facility with words, coupled with Pete’s unexpected chord progressions, always makes me marvel at their inventiveness whenever I play them.

A taster of Clive’s seemingly effortless lyrics – in a song that starts off about Senior Citizens but then unfolds into a declaration of love for a girl, the final verse goes:

And there’ll be time to try it all

I’m sure the thrill will never pall

The sand will take so long to fall

The neck so slim, the glass so tall

He coined many memorable phrases:

I am the sleep of which you are the dream

An hour alone spells freedom to the slave.

His skills as a poet were clear to see in this stanza from The Faded Mansion On The Hill:

…believing if you will, that all these sick hate days

Are just a kind of trick Fate plays

But still behind your shaded eyes

That mind-constricting thick weight stays…

and then he throws in, a few lines later:

..out of the brick gateways…

just casually like. Four triplet rhymes folded effortlessly into a beautiful song about the security-gated rich.

There are literally hundreds of brilliant aphorisms in Clive’s lyrics that caress the ear like a labrador’s tongue. (See? This is why my lyrics aren’t being picked up by Elton John…)

Pete’s abilities on both the guitar and piano are first rate too. But it has to be said that something in the delivery, something in the rather English folk quirkiness of the performances doesn’t seem to connect so well in my friends’ and acquaintances’ ears.

But no matter. He’s my discovery. My secret passion. My playlist when I’m travelling alone.

And as I do, sometimes one line in the title song from that first LP comes to mind:

…there’s a slight but considerable danger…

It’s a phrase I have often appropriated: “There’s a slight but considerable danger that we’re lost…”  or ‘”There’s a slight but considerable danger I’ve forgotten my wallet.”

I like to think that Pete and Clive would be happy it’s still being used.

Many thanks to Don for enlightening us with his words on Pete Atkin

Don’t forget to check our Police Dog Hogan: Why I Love takeover on our WIL page

Watch out for more updates over the next few weeks as the release of Overground is accompanied by the Seven Crows UK tour that starts at The Met in Bury on 3rd February 2022 – dates here.

And here’s a reminder of the brassy opening cut on Police Dog Hogan’s Overground:

Police Dog Hogan online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Pete Atkin online: Website

You can read more from our extensive archive of Why I Love pieces from a wide array of artists, here.

You can follow At The Barrier on Twitter here, and like us on Facebook here. We really appreciate your support.

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