James Puts Poetry Back in Pop; Most Famous as a Broadcaster, Clive James Returns to the Stage with Pete Atkins to Revisit a Song Book from More Than 30 Years Ago. He Tells Cathy Mayer Why the Roar of the Crowd Will Always Be in His Blood

The Birmingham Post (England), March 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

James Puts Poetry Back in Pop; Most Famous as a Broadcaster, Clive James Returns to the Stage with Pete Atkins to Revisit a Song Book from More Than 30 Years Ago. He Tells Cathy Mayer Why the Roar of the Crowd Will Always Be in His Blood


Byline: Cathy Mayer

The New Yorker once described Clive James as a 'brilliant bunch of guys' and there's no question that the Australian TV personality, writer, poet and linguist is not an easy man to pigeon-hole.

It is something he seems to relish. 'I don't like pigeonholes, I don't like being in a box. It sometimes feels kind of weird, I do this, I do this, I do this, but who am I? I try not to let that keep me awake at night,' he says.

Even his flat overlooking the Thames, where he lives during the week, illustrates these apparent contradictions. The top floor of a converted warehouse apartment near Tower Bridge - one of the most sought-after areas of London - is decorated like an old-fashioned gentleman's club, with walls painted deep red and leather sofas.

The overwhelming feeling as you enter is of walking into a library - row upon row of bookshelves line the wall, stacked with books in several languages, from works by Casanova to Thomas Mann's diaries and Japanese literature.

James, who reads in eight languages, has published more than 20 books, including his autobiography, poetry and collections of critical essays. A keen tango dancer in his spare time, he is still best known for his TV appearances in the 80s and early 90s and shows such as Saturday Night Clive and The Clive James Show.

Few people know that, on top of these talents, the 62-year-old is also a lyricist and released six albums of music in the 70s with songwriting partner Pete Atkin, who composed the melodies.

Recently a fan, Steve Birkill, started a web page featuring full lyrics and annotations, devotees of the cult classics e-mailed in droves to ask for more live performances. The pair are now about to embark on a 30-date national tour.

James can't wait. 'I'm feeling terribly gung-ho about the whole thing. I love being on stage, I love the intimacy, I like the wood floor of the stage, I like seeing people's faces and I like interacting, things going wrong, and knocking over the glass of water.

'I'm so proud of the songs, I always was, but I never thought they'd come back. Thirty years ago we did six albums commercially, we got quite a lot of critical success but no commercial success.'

Kenny Everett loved one of their early songs but was fired the week he had planned to play it on the BBC - losing them their best chance of a hit. Val Doonican was impressed enough to record a cover version of one song - which James says made them more money than the rest of the songs put together.

James believes the internet has changed the odds of success, as they can now reach their fans and press their own records. 'I think their time may have come now, their time was not then.'

The music is as hard to classify as their songwriter, influenced by pop, blues and jazz, both serious and funny and touches on diverse subjects including Apollo 13, westerns and jazz pianists. …

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