Wednesday 21 September 2011

Form & Function #8

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. It was great to have a chance to refer to the work of Don Harper. I guess if the name Don Harper is mentioned it will be in connection with the KPM library LP Electrosonic which featured Don with Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson moonlighting from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. People seem a bit sniffy about the jazz violinist Don's involvement in that, but his credentials were first class. His own early '70s experimental LP Homo Electronicus is as 'out there' as any record you could care to name. It veers from a jazz rock reworking of the Dr Who theme to a few extended mood pieces featuring Alan Branscombe on sax and keyboards.
Norma Winstone appears briefly on Homo Electronicus, and oddly the sound and feel is pretty close to some of the astonishingly beautiful material she would go on to record with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler as Azumith for ECM. Norma is one of my favourite vocalists, and I love the way her wordless singing links the experimental with exotica in a way that makes a mockery of labels. I love it where she pops up on recordings with Mike Westbrook, say, or Michael Garrick. My personal favourite Norma moment is her contribution to 1969's Hum Dono set by Joe Harriott and Amancio D'Silva.
Now those who know YHO will be aware it thrives on connections, and so it is appropriate that the Homo Electronicus set and Hum Dono were 'supervised' by one of our patron saints Denis Preston. Don Harper and Denis Preston would certainly have known each other from the 1950s London jazz scene. Another link between the two was Denny Wright. Dennis had got jazz guitarist to play on early skiffle sides by Lonnie Donegan and Johnny Duncan. Many years later Denny recorded the now infamous Shout About Pepsi (for the Non-Stop Pepsi Party on MFP) which would appear on the classic comp The Sound Gallery which helped open the door on the wonders of easy listening and library music etc. Denny Wright and Don Harper would in the late '70s perform as a jazz duo and if you search YouTube there's footage of them performing on TV, introduced by the great Annie Ross.
Don Harper is or should be much loved for his library recordings, and there are plenty of examples for the casual listener on YouTube naturally, covering different eras, from light disco back to late '60s beat variations of the sort used as incidental music in TV dramas.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Form & Function #7

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. Sudden Sway are right at the heart of this issue, mainly because they did more than anyone to mess with traditional ideas of 'form' and 'function'. Where some artists may do something different as a promotional exercise Sudden Sway did things differently pretty much each and every time. Much of the Sudden Sway related material featured in this issue is collated from a variety of sources. And I was delighted to stumble across an entry on The Sound Projector site where Ed Pinsent refers to buying a copy of Sudden Sway's To You With ReGard 12" and finding tucked inside a review and a Sudden Sway interview by Dave McCullough in Sounds. This was a pretty special discovery as it was Dave's enthusiasm for the group in print that pulled me in. And it should be remembered that Dave was THE top pop writer of the time, reGardless of what the history books say, so his enthusiasm carried considerable weight and was certainly a considerable factor in Sudden Sway getting signed to Blanco y Negro (with whom DMcC was involved early on). I always liked the way Dave disappeared after a brief stint at City Limits (the London listings mag), and never resorted to appearing as an irritating talking head on TV documentaries, joining the Oxbridge brigade as an over-revered Guardian columnist, or as a panellist at a Simon Reynolds book launch. I wrote something about him a few years ago, and failed to mention that he actually took the time and trouble to write encouraging words when I first started dabbling in writing about pop music. That meant a hell of a lot at the time. I can recall the impact Dave's words on Sudden Sway had on me. The music itself just improves with time. One of the Sudden Sway critical default positions is that they were about style over content. But this destroys that line completely ...

Friday 16 September 2011

Form & Function #6

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. There is a fair old bit about library or production music in this issue. I guess the general consensus among pop aesthetes is that the golden age of library music is late ‘60s and through the ‘70s. But increasingly there is demand for production music as more and more of us have the ability to make our own films for whatever purpose. We, however, are not in a position to pay a fortune for rights to a well-known artist’s music. So people look for alternatives, and there are plenty of companies willing to offer music for ‘movies’. By the law of averages some of this music is going to be fantastic. And there may come a time when the library music of today is as admired as the old KPM catalogue.
While doing a bit of research for the latest YHO I came across an article by (I think) Gregory Steirer on the Cultural Production site which dealt with ‘imaginary soundtracks’. In it he mentions the strong demand for the production music being put out on CD by the LA-based company Epic Score. The organisation seems to have stumbled on to something, and with its distinctive looking products and its own special sound it seems to be thriving. So the music is not just used for films, ads, TV shows, but also is available on CD through Amazon and has a definite cult following. Interestingly, too, the term ‘trailer music’ is used where we might use ‘library music’. The language Epic Scores use is interesting: pounding, unrelenting, adventure, dramatic, and so on.
A cursory look on YouTube would demonstrate the amount of enthusiasm there is out there for the aptly titled Epic Score, and there is a whole host of examples of the label’s output posted on there. In fact, the phrase ‘epic music’ seems to be used as a genre description. I followed a couple of links and landed on a site where daily posts of ‘epic music’ are shared, and bizarrely the first post I saw was Rob Dougan’s Clubbed To Death, one of the old Mo’ Wax favourites from way back when which I hadn’t heard in ages. But listening to a number of Epic Score clips its easy to see a connection. It all gets a bit Carl Orff at times. The use of graphics in pretty much all of the Epic Score tracks posted on YouTube tens towards the world of fantasy/comic book art so I guess that's where the audience lies. Thankfully this is an exception ...

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Form & Function #5

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. With a rather elegant move, at one stage, Form & Function sashays from Shackleton soundtracking a Sonic Journey on Devon’s railways to Simon Fisher Turner soundtracking ancient film footage of Scott’s Antarctic expedition. I am a huge fan of Simon Fisher Turner, and approve wholeheartedly of anyone who can simultaneously be composing scores for Derek Jarman movies and cavorting around in the guise of The King of Luxembourg for él records.
I am a massive fan of the él label, both ancient and modern variations (though confess I am not sure if the label is still active). In fact I would go so far as to argue that Mike Alway is a far more significant character in pop culture than Derek Jarman. In YHO I suggest part of Alway’s appeal is that he was more Woody Allen in Casino Royale than Dirk Bogarde in Modesty Blaise. It is that ‘nerdish nonentity’s revenge’ aspect to él that makes it more intriguing.
I admire pluralists like Simon Fisher Turner. One of the things I don’t mention in YHO is the LP he put out Creation in 1990, which was one of those more interesting releases the label was putting out at the time (e.g. Hypnotone, Tangerine, etc.). It’s a pretty odd affair, sort of blatantly ambient in a just before it became fashionable with The Orb, Biosphere, HIA kind of a way. How Creation came to put it out I have no idea. I imagine McGee found SFT to be quite a character and a great raconteur, which was probably enough at that time to secure a Creation release at the time. Perhaps it was a swap/loan deal with Lawrence and Felt going back to él for a final fling with Me And A Monkey On The Moon?
Among my favourite él recordings are those by Bad Dream Fancy Dress, the real life ‘deux filles’ for whom SFT acted as Svengali:

Monday 12 September 2011

Form & Function #4

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. Another mystery mentioned within its pages is the dearth of Barbara Moore music readily available or that's been made available outside of Japan since the surge of interest in library recordings began. I hope I am missing something really obvious when saying that, but it is a bit of an odd situation. Her old LPs like the astonishing Vocal Shades and Tones go for silly money in certain quarters, and she featured strongly in the Jonny Trunk radio documentary on library music. I am sure there is a horribly practical reason for the lack of salvaged sounds around.
I confess to being an absolutely fool for the type of work Barbara produced - the choral arrangements, the jazzy latin sound, and so on. The Vocal Patterns LP the Barbara Moore Singers made with the Roger Webb Sound is a particular favourite, as is the Voices In Latin LP.
I really don't want to start any conspiracy theories here, but it's not just the lack of Barbara Moore products that worry me, it's the lack of information full stop that bugs me. Even the one Barbara Moore compilation I do have has sleevenotes in Japanese. And I can't see any in-depth articles on the web either. Again I could be wrong. But it would be good to read a detailed piece that pulls together all the different activities Barbara was involved in - backing singer, session work, composing, etc. One of the few places that mentions Barbara outside of the library music thing is the Jackie Lee site which mentions Jackie and Barbara wrote a number of great songs together. The Jackie Lee story is another one that fascinates me, and if you're patient you can piece together some lovely anecdotes from the charming comments Jackie leaves for fans on YouTube posts of her music. I love the occasional confusion that's emerged as one Jackie Lee gets mixed up with another Jackie Lee. The White Horses lady recorded some fantastic tracks, and it's good fun piecing together what she did. Like this one under the name Emma Rede ...

Saturday 10 September 2011

Form & Function #3

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. One of the recurring themes is that of music that is appropriate active background music. In other words, what works well on a brisk morning rush-hour walk, what is effective to listen to when travelling on the train. This was partly prompted by a resurgence of interest in b'n'b music - electronic bass and beats, if you like. That in turn was sort of triggered by a growing infatuation with an old (1992) CD I found in a charity shop - Voices In My Head by Some Other People on the Infinite Mass label. I took a chance and it paid off wonderfully. I particularly like the fact that one track is titled Ghost House, which makes it sound suspiciously like a four-page feature in the next issue of The Wire. I still know pretty much nothing about Some Other People. There was another later S.O.P. record, Orbitality, which is just as fantastic. It features perhaps more numbers tending towards the ambient/downtempo but it is brilliant nonetheless. There's a few tracks from it posted, inevitably, on YouTube, though amusingly one post for the title track is accompanied by a comment about not knowing anything bout S.O.P.
There is another CD on Infinite Mass by Crowbar called The Day The Furniture Argued (1993), which again features some brilliant b'n'b tracks. From the credits and the quality of the music I'd say Crowbar was/were Some Other People. From a post of YouTube I gather the title track also got a release on R&S, but beyond that I'm none the wiser, even with the nods on the sleeve to Lord Sabre and Leftfield. I would love to know more about Some Other People.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Form & Function #2

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. One of the dominant themes is 'active background music' which I would suggest is a subject that deserves some very in-depth analysis. There is a great tradition of music being used as an accompaniment for activities. The BBC, for example, had its long-running radio show Music While You Work, which was originally designed during WW2 to motivate workers in munitions factories and raise morale. Over the course of many years the music that would be associated with the programme was light music, or in other words orchestral works that were neither serious classical compositions or out-and-out pop creations.
I have over a period of time become increasingly fascinated with the functionality of light music, and I think it's a seriously under-appreciated art form. It's easy to see how the form and its composers of mood music adapted so well to film music, incidental music for TV and radio, and on to the development of library music or production music. It's also interesting the way serious classical types look down on light music, but some of the themes and titles of light music are particularly fascinating with recurring references to city life, movement and mechanisation. I could mention Charles Williams' Rhythm On Rails, Robert Farnon's Mobile Pursuit, Sidney Torch's Wagon Lit, and so on. And unsurprisingly I'm fond of all the London references there are in light music, such as Eric Coates' suites (the Langham Place - Elegie is gorgeous), Albert Ketelbey's Cockney Suite, and Sidney Torch's London Transport Suite.
Of the later examples of light music as it entered the pop era particular mention is made of the work of Ron Goodwin, as composer and orchestra leader, where the interests merge with those of the easy listening/lounge arena. He was particularly successful with his film work, which include the Miss Marple theme and a number of very successful scores for war movies.
The enduring functional nature of light music is demonstrated by its continued use as themes for long-running radio shows. An earlier example of its usefulness as background or mood music was as interlude music in early TV broadcasts where we were subjected to less intense programming. Here is a famous example, featuring light music classics composed by Charles Williams and Haydn Wood.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Form & Function #1

Form & Function is the latest edition of Your Heart Out, and it can be downloaded as a free pdf here. I did have some searching conversations with myself about whether to use Form & Function as a title, but it did seem too perfect a fit to resist. And the direct musical reference seemed apt too as the issue starts and ends with Photek. That is it starts with rediscovering my old Photek CDs and ends with me realising that Photek had recently released a 12" on the Bristol label Tectonic. In between there are plenty of thoughts about how bass 'n' beats-based electronic music (b'n'b) is used and can be enjoyed away from the club environment. This J. Sparrow mix of that recent Photek single for example has that 'meditative' feel that makes it the perfect soundtrack for certain activities ...

Photek -Closer-J.Sparrow's chilled mix (Tectonic)

Saturday 3 September 2011

Form & Function

Form & Function is the new issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded as a free pdf here. It is a collection of thoughts and fragments about how music is used and how it is presented. It was put together over the course of the summer, so there is a sense of the journal about it. I confess I feel like not explaining its contents too explicitly as we are overrun by labels and hashtags. So please take the plunge and explore the contents of Form & Function. And spread the word.