Sunday, 4 October 2009

Indestructible


Despite their classic status, Gerry Anderson’s hugely popular TV shows of the sixties creak a little in our whizz bang age, now seeming somewhat slow moving and stilted. Forty years on, however, The music of Barry Gray (pictured here with some fans) sounds just as dynamic and exciting as ever, and whether it’s the pounding drums and blaring horns of ‘Stingray’, the strident brass of ‘Thunderbirds’ or the dancefloor filling psych-pop of ‘Joe 90’, Gray’s unforgettable music still hits the proverbial spot.

Born in 1908, Gray had a long and varied career as a writer and arranger before joining Anderson’s fledgling production company AP in 1956. Initially working on charming but unsophisticated shows like ‘Twizzle the Battery Boy’ and ‘Four Feather Falls’, Gray was on hand to help Anderson make the evolutionary journey from puppet shows to Supermarionation, providing progressively ambitious music for Anderson’s increasingly complex shows.

In an era when TV themes were knocked out in ten minutes (and kids’s TV themes knocked out in five), Gray always insisted on using a full orchestra, supplemented with the occasional pop session musician or vocal group, and utilised a variety of unusual instruments seldom heard at mainstream sessions.

Gray’s favourite instrument was the Ondes Martenot, an otherworldly sounding organ / theremin hybrid that he used on his memorable scores for the two unmemorable ‘Dr Who’ spin off films starring Peter Cushing, as well as in the famous leitmotif for the sinister Mysterons in ‘Captain Scarlet’ (incidentally, how downbeat is ‘Captain Scarlet’? The body count is enormous.). Most effectively perhaps, he put its otherworldly sound at the forefront of his score for Anderson’s first all live action series, ‘UFO’ (1970), providing a brilliant mix of the groovy and the eerie, and a fantastically energetic title theme that I have asked to be played at my funeral.

After twenty years of successful collaboration, Gray and Anderson fell out over (of all things) the theme music for ‘Space 1999’, and they never worked together again. Gray died in 1984 at the age of 76.

Some memorable tracks from a long and fruitful career: 'Winged Assassin' from 'Captain Scarlet’ (a sort of Gray 101 in that it features most of the recurring motifs of his style), future raga 'Atonement' from the first series of 'Space 1999', the totally brilliant 'UFO' theme tune and the ethereal closing music from the same series, Ondes Martenot present and correct and creepy.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Adenoid Android


I never liked Gary Numan much. There was something about him that I couldn’t stand. Actually, there were several things about him I couldn’t stand: his nasal voice, his Alien from Hackney persona, his jump suit, his aeroplanes, his hovercraft, his hair transplant, his retirement (and immediate re-emergence), his records with members of Shakatak, his success. But I do have to admit that he made some great sounding records early in his career.

Recorded by and named after his short-lived band Tubeway Army, Numan’s debut recording is essentially a punk rock LP, featuring a real group, real guitars, real drums, and even the occasional acoustic number. There are electronics, but these are used sparingly and came about by chance when Numan started prodding at a Minimoog left in the recording studio. The themes are endearingly adolescent: alienation, loneliness, masturbation, being different. ‘Listen to the Sirens’ sets the scene with a direct crib from Phillip K. Dick in the first line and oblique, angsty lyrics that don’t quite make sense and reek of disconnection.

On ‘Replicas’, the second and last TA album, the synthesisers take centre stage, but are used to grind out relentless riffs, as if Numan has simply swapped his guitar for a keyboard. A sci-fi concept album of sorts, the monolithic ‘Are Friends Electric?’ remains the best track, a million selling number one single that still sounds groundbreaking today, and although the rest of the LP doesn’t quite hit that peak, several tracks come close, especially the ridiculously titled 'Me, I Disconnect From You'.

‘The Pleasure Principle’ was the first album Numan released under his own name and is perhaps the crystallisation of Numan’s signature style, setting the template for the next few years of his career. Completely machine driven, it is an emotionally neutral record, but its massed banks of synthesisers and layer upon layer of electronics proved to be incredibly influential in a good way (Afrika Bambaata) and a bad way (Marilyn Manson). 'Films' and Basement Jaxx favourite ‘M.E’ are presented here: bleak, futuristic, nihilistic. Nasal.