As a kid, teen and young man, I used to enjoy some of the groovy, poppy music you’d hear on TV shows. Sometimes it would be the theme tune, sometimes it would be music in the background. The first time I remember feeling this way was when watching an ITV Schools Television programme called Stop, look, listen in the late 1970s. I thought the theme was such a happy tune but, at such a tender age, I clearly didn’t really think about who had made the music or whether you could buy it. It wasn’t until many, many, many years later that I found out that this particular version of the Stop, look, listen theme was entitled Cock of the roost by the Pandora Orchestra. This track is a piece of Library Music.
Thinking back, there were several pieces of music used as TV show themes that seemed quite cool to me as a young person; Grange Hill, Superstars, Dave Allan at large, BBC Rugby special, etc. There was also the incredible array of incidental music used on The Sweeney cop show. All of these are Library Music tracks. This is a good example; Fruity flute – Reg Wale Quintet which was used on a TV cooking show called Farmhouse kitchen. The track was recorded for the De wolfe music library. Other music libraries dedicated to providing incidental music included; KPM, Amphonic, Bruton, Conroy, Chappell and Bosworth.
In 2019, Jonny Trunk said of library music, “it is non-commercial music made for economic use in film, TV and broadcasting.” Despite kinda enjoying this type of music from the late 1970s courtesy of various TV shows, the only tracks I got to own were on a cassette of sporting themes which I purchased in c.1988. Even then, I didn’t really understand that the tracks on the tape constituted Library Music.
All that was to change in the mid-1990s when there was an easy listening revival in Britain. As part of this movement, a lot of Library music was commercially released on easy/lounge compilations such as 1995’s The Sound Gallery. In 1996, the first Blow Up – exclusive blend compilation was released which focussed on the KPM music library and tracks recorded from 1968-70 by artists such as Alan Hawkshaw, Keith Mansfield, David Lindup, etc. Killer tunes on this album included; Exclusive blend by Keith Mansfield and Rocky Mountain Runabout by Alan Hawkshaw
Since library music was intended for use in contemporary films and television programmes, it was notable how the musical styles evolved to keep ‘in tune’ with the times. (Very) generally, library music in the mid-1960s tends to be rather big and brassy or very cocktail jazz, but by the late 1960’s it’s all hammond organ and vibes often with a beat group rhythm track. In the early – mid 1970s, library music got seriously funky, and by the mid-late 1970s it was getting more synth-drenched and other-worldly and disco was featuring too. There are many exceptions to this general pattern of course because library music albums tended to focus on required themes/moods. For instance, Ron Geesin’s “Syncopot” was released in 1972 which seems pretty early to me for this particular kind of electronic soundscape.
Whilst there was a glut of Library music compilations issued in the mid-late 1990s, it is important to note that there is still considerable interest in the genre and several KPM albums have been reissued on CD and vinyl from 2007 onwards. Strut’s KPM collection was released in 2013 and Soul Jazz records released the Inner city beat Library compliation in 2014.
Some of my favourite Library Music was used as incidental music in The Sweeney television programme (1975 – 1978). A compilation of some of the funkiest tracks used across the four series of the show was released in 2001 by Cinephile. A few of my favourite library tracks featured in the show include; Condition Red by Barry Stoller, Undergroove by Alan Hawkshaw, Mighty Atom by Stephen Gray and Holy Mackerel by Brian Bennett (which was also used as the theme tune to BBC Rugby Special.
In October 2018, I was lucky enough to attend the KPM All Stars gig in London at The British Library. Some of the real big hitters performed including John Cameron, Duncan Lamont and two of my Library music heroes who I managed to get lo-fi photos with; Keith Mansfield and Alan Hawkshaw.
This blogpost has focussed on British library music but there is a wealth of library music from other countries particularly Italy and France. Those are separate blogs to be written of course! Library music has been a fully fledged part of my life for 25 years now. I still uncover new tracks every week. In fact, a very recent discovery for me is 1972’s Mr Milkman by Mike Vickers
Long may this voyage of discovery continue.
For further reading, if you are interested, why not take a look at The strange world of library music