Loose Canon – Book Review

Loose Canon: The Extraordinary Songs of Clive James & Pete Atkin

Ian Shirocore

Red Door Publishing, 2016

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“The common characteristic of all Atkins/James songs is that they don’t sound like each other, and they don’t sound like anything else.”

The appeal of Ian Shircore’s book Loose Canon: The Extraordinary Songs of Clive James & Pete Atkin, is best summed up in this line from chapter 17. It is a celebration of the diverse and accomplished careers of Clive James and Pete Atkin, as well as an exploration of how their collaborative work came to be what it is.

Blending technical analysis of songs with entertaining personal anecdotes, Shircore writes a book that is an interesting and entertaining read for both the casual and the devoted listener. While it is definitely aimed at an audience of long-time Atkin and James fans, fans who were listening through the duo’s most active years in the 1970s, this is by no means alienating or limiting. I, a twenty year-old listener of Atkin and James’, felt welcomed into the book with open arms.

Even in the most densely factual and analytical passages, Shircore writes with flair. Making liberal use of metaphor and lyrical images of his own, with a description of James’ writing in Have You Got a Biro I can Borrow as a “dancing constellation of internal rhymes” standing out as a particular example of this, Shircore mirrors James’ own tendency to marry technical particularity with natural flair. The information about James and Atkin, beyond their work, that is woven through the exploration of a selection of their songs adds depth to the discussion of their work and gives an insight into the artists as people.

Shircore writes with an easy, open style that makes this book an accessible and engaging read. This casual tone can, at times, lead to some repetition which takes some chapters on a circuitous route to their point, and to sweeping statements which can err on the side of hyperbole in the case of lines such as the one in which “Together at Last” is described as featuring “the most spectacular enjambment ever.” However, overall it is one of the strongest features of the book, opening the doors and leading the reader through an exploration of James and Atkin’s varied and fascinating careers with ease.

Loose Canon takes an engaging and insightful look at the careers of Clive James and Pete Atkin through a close examination of a selection of their extensive songbook. It is a book to be read whilst listening to the songs it discusses; between the writing of Shircore, James and Atkin, “the music in the room, both beautiful and true, on plushly hushed extended wings, is flown to me and you.”

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