Monday, 15 June 2009

Wanted: Time Machine

Unit Delta Plus was formed in 1966 by British electronic music pioneers Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff. A company rather than a group, Unit Delta Plus sought to promote electronic media to the widest possible audience, and actively sought out film, TV and advertising commissions as a means of getting the message across. This didn’t go down too well with Delia and Brian’s employers at the BBC (very little did), but Delia and Brian saw it as a necessary outlet for the sort of musical experimentation that the Corporation hated (Delia routinely had music rejected as ‘too sophisticated’) and continued undismayed (in fact, they would both stay with the BBC until the 1970’s when budget cuts and excessive bureaucracy drove them out.

The first Unit Delta Plus event was in September, 1966: an electronic music festival in Berkshire where music (all on tape) was combined with innovative lighting and a hip audience to create one of the first British ‘happenings’. Sadly, no documentary evidence of the event exists outside of a typewritten programme, but we know what was played and that Sir John Betjeman fell asleep during the performance.

In 1967, Unit Delta Plus presided over the tapes once more at the ‘Million Volt Light & Sound Rave’, a considerably more high-profile affair at the Roundhouse in London that boasted the presence of two Beatles (George & Paul: John was in Berkshire, Ringo was answering some fan mail) as well as the world premiere of The Beatles foray into sound collage, ‘Carnival Of Light’, a tape of some random Fab Four studio hi-jinks that remains unreleased to this day. Tragically, no film or tape recording of the ‘Million Volt’ event exists either, but I’m assuming that it was pretty mind-blowing.

Although it is possible to recreate the set list of these events from various sources (if you don’t mind muffled sound quality), it is, of course, impossible to even approximate the atmosphere of the three performances (‘Million Volt’ was over two non-consecutive nights): the sheer exhilaration of being on the spot as trends were being made, where music, art, theatre and the future were being seamlessly blended into a swinging shape of things to come, and that’s an incredible shame, especially as, in reality, the integration of electronic music into the mainstream never did fully materialise and, in many ways, this was the high water mark of British electronic music until The Human League started having hits 15 years later.

So, if you don’t mind muffled sound quality, here are two tracks that would have formed part of these events: the first is ‘Dreams 2’, a soundscape that Delia originally composed and performed for the BBC as an ‘Invention for Radio’ that was later edited down into a Delta Unit Plus track for performance called ‘Amor Dei’. The second is a quirky, dirty raincoat pop song called ‘Moogie Bloogies’ that never progressed beyond the demo stage as, after recording it, star Anthony Newley rushed off to Hollywood and, despite his enthusiasm for the track, never came back to Maida Vale to finish it off

1 comment:

George Kramer said...

Dear Dick and Ray,
I'm enjoying your reviews very much. Keep it up. Doesn't the 'Moogie Bloogies' track have a lot in common with The Who's 'Boris the Spider'?