While scouring a local charity shop last year, I happened across a bunch of Library recordings. Though some were scuffed and careworn, I hoovered them up, knowing that sometimes these anonymous, often nondescript albums can be unexpectedly entertaining. It also occurred to me that they could be candidates for the occasional ‘Curiosity Corner’ category.
First things first. What, I hear you ask, is a blinking library recording? A record you borrow from a Municipal Library perhaps?
Fair guess, but not accurate.
Library albums are discs recorded by contract musicians for a company—such as Bruton or KPM—who then licence use of the music by commercial entities such as television production houses, filmmakers, advertising companies, and so on. The composer/musicians are paid for the music and the recording, usually at a flat rate, and have no further claim for royalties or other payment. Rather like a surrogate pregnancy I imagine. The offspring lives in an institution and is loaned out for money. Hm. That’s sounding very distasteful indeed. Back to the music.
Some well-known artists have done library work at some point in their careers. Guitarist John Renbourn and Francis Monkman (Curved Air, Sky) are two examples. And occasionally a piece becomes famous in its own right. But mostly it is an anonymous way to make a living as a musician. Not much in the way of adoration or groupies if your main claim to fame was an early-80s toothpaste commercial soundtrack.
But music collectors will mine anywhere there is a whisper of something different, so library records are just a little bit collectible. Well, some of them anyway. The one we are featuring today is worth a few bob, apparently. The Dark Magus (Discogs) lists several for sale at around US$40, but it is interesting beyond the dollar value. I selected it for this post because I know a number of Vinyl Connection readers like the heavier end of the Periodic Table of Rock.
Many of the LPs share the writing credits between multiple musician/composers, often one per side. On Heavy Rock [UK, 1978], side one has thirteen pieces by the team of Mika Antony and Tom Parker, ranging in length from 3:00 minutes down to 30 seconds. Side two has ten tracks by Irving Martin and Brian Dee and one by Norman Warren.
One fun aspect of most library recordings is the short slug line accompanying each piece. The goal is to describe the mood and feel of the track, giving the user a clue as to which piece might fit. Of course this can work the other way too. One could listen and see what pictures appear. Chase scene? Cooking catastrophe? Alien abduction?
Here are a couple of evocative track descriptions from side two.
“Electra Streak” [3:30] Slow ‘Tubular Bells’ type opening theme then edit point at 1:48 changing to rock tempo organ solo then original theme.
“Moving Scene” [0:43] Medium tempo moog feature with ‘Shaft’ guitar.
Got a scene or product these fit? You’re in business!
Being unable to find enough Bruton’s Heavy Rock on-line, I bit the bullet and digitised the album, putting the whole of side one on youtube so you could sample before you buy.
1. “Guitar Freeway” — Heavy riff-laden piece featuring high piercing guitar solos.
2. “Portugalia” — Fast Afro-rock featuring drums & congas solo & very busy guitar.
3. “Musical Seasons” — Fast guitar and clock riff in 5/4 time alternating between 4/4 rhythm featuring clarinet and tambourine.
4. “Tension In The City” — 30 second drum solo, fast guitar solo and clavinet riff.
5. “Dirty Rat” — Medium tempo blues featuring guitar solo and clarinet solo.
6. “Electric Blitz” — Fast driving boogie featuring howling guitar.
7. “The Mysteries Of Mars” — Fast and very catchy.
8. “Jazz Man’s Jig” — Jazzy type jig in a 2/2 feel with guitar playing the melody.
9. “Dominique’s Blues” — Slow, heavy blues featuring guitar, then clarinet and finally a fast guitar solo.
10. “Coco de Mer” — Heavy guitar riffs in a 3/4 and 4/4 time.
11. “Get It While It’s Going” — Drum intro. Heavy guitar riffs.
12. “Two Light Years Away” — Fast. Exciting 4/4 feel.
13. “Sail With The Sound” — Fast with wailing guitar.
You may think these records are a strange analogue curiosity rightly belonging in charity shop bins. But Bruton Music still exists, as part of APM Music, and they are still producing library recordings for industry use.
There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to the celebration of Bruton recordings. Hm. Here’s an uncomfortable thought. Will I get an invoice for publishing this? Or a visit from Heavy Rock Debt Collectors? Surely it’s part of ‘fair use’ for review and scholarship purposes. Isn’t it?
Why is the man at my door carrying a violin case and his thick-set friend a crowbar?
[Cue run away music]