Friday, 24 December 2010

The Sound of Mondo London: Basil Kirchin

I've written a little about Basil Kirchin before, in relation to The Abominable Dr Phibes and the weird library and experimental stuff he got up to in the 70s. But his very first film score - two years before the Arts Council grant that afforded him a Nagra tape machine with which he could begin his concrète experiments, but four years after his return from India where he spent five months studying in the Ramakrishna temple - was for this curious (1965) British documentary, Primitive London.

Arnold L. Miller and his regular cameraman Stanley Long offer up a homegrown response to the hugely successful Italian Mondo series, taking a peak at the dark, obscene underside of the happy clappy swinging London seen in A Hard Day's Night. As if to force the comparison, alongside the strange mix of industrialised sex, chicken farming and Jack the Ripper impersonators, we get an interview with Brian Epstein's other protege, Billy J. Kramer, who by this time was already somewhat past his best.

The first three tracks on the Trunk CD could be the missing link between the atmospheric Brit jazz Johnny Dankworth had been making for Joseph Losey, and Roy Budd's Get Carter score. With its skittering rhythms, blue note basslines and sleazy brass, a theme that immediately evokes a slow striptease in a rather tawdry venue, we are reminded that our composer was once half of the Kirchin Brothers, joint leaders of the Ivor and Basil Kirchin Orchestra. But already there's something weirder going on in the tremulous vibes, the bruised and melancholic chords, the eerie swoop of the Ondes Martenot.

It's on track four that we step into something altogether different, no longer swinging, far from Johnny and Roy territory. Out go the hi-hats and in come tape loops; electronics; uncanny, unplaceable noises; a vague percussive shimmer in the background; high-pitched drones and wails; time distortions, things playing backwards and exotica. I've not seen the film so I can't imagine what was happening on screen at this moment - but it certainly isn't former train driver, Billy J. Kramer and his jolly band of Dakotas, crooning, 'It's Gotta Last Forever'.