The Library Music Film and album review plus interview with curator
Being the keystone to the Library Music Film, Shawn Lee is without one of the main characters to appear in the forthcoming film with a sold out premiere to be shown at the British Library in London tomorrow night Saturday 6th October. Along with the film premiere there is also an exhibition and a live gig featuring the best unknown music makers behind Library Music. Further delights are to hit the back of the net of Library Music fans are the release of a strictly limited edition vinyl soundtrack to coincide with the film. Matt Mead reviews the film and album plus he interviews Shawn exclusively for Louder Than War.
The film and album are part of a huge Library Music explosion that is all set to hit the streets in the coming weeks. The mass releases is a long overdue celebration of a critically important musical genre that no one knows that much about but millions of people will be familiar with. Fascinating, intriguing and hugely underrated are the albums and music that will surround you if you enter in at the Library Music door.
The Library Music film grabs you by the 60’s and 70’s oversized lapels and throws you deep in the funk cogs of the music, with all the big hitters here interviewed en-mass for the first time. Alan Hawkshaw, Keith Mansfield, John Cameron, Barbara Moore, Janko Nilovic, Brian Bennett and Stefano Torossi are all interviewed here with DJs and producers including Mark Rae and Fatboy Slim adding weight to the conversation, plus US hip hop stars such as Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5) and Young Einstein (Ugly Duckling), and Marvels soundtrack composer Adrian Younge carefully explain the roots of Library Music and why it means so much to them.
The visual display on show here is quite stunning, bright, sharp with masterful precision which only pulls the viewers retro heart strings left right and centre and then throws the viewer into a blanket of emotions with the stories being told here. One of many accounts that stuck out is the work ethics of the musicians who produced all this music, no Mars Bar work rest and play for these musicians, rather it was all work with a day off if you’re lucky, which makes the stunning musical out put all the more incredible considering how much work was put in front of them at the time. No rest for the wicked? Rather, no rest of the workers.
What is also reported here is the collectors of Library Music records and how they spend thousands on collecting these records. Forget your collections of The Beatles and Stones records, collecting Library Music records is on a completely different world wide collecting scale. There were very small production runs; sometimes only 200 copies of each album were pressed. Most of those were destroyed through the Nineties with the advent of CDs, so you might be able to comprehend the nature of the beast trying to collect the library music catalogue. Mix into that the fact that there are library music records that are known to collectors, then there are records that collectors come into contact with by chance in record shops, charity shops or in dustbins, then there is the unknown records that no one knows anything about, the wareabouts and even if they dos still exist. The Library Music catalogue is endless and probably the pinnacle of vinyl collecting. As one collector says in the film, Library Music ‘was made for consumption but not for consumers’. Fascinating.
The Library Music album released via Legere Recordings which accompanies the film has stellar names under its belt. Including the well-known 70’s theme to kids programme Superstars, with its dramatic drums and orchestration, to the unknown and downright deep, dark and funky. Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett cover The Beatles Day-Tripper to sythntastic effect. Other stand out tracks are Roger Webb Grey Sigh, James Asher Umbrellas and Nick Ingman Tense Preparation. Limited in its release, if you want to grab hold of a copy of the vinyl you best move quicker than Michael Knight in Kit, seriously, get Captain Kirk to beam you up before these fly off the shelves.
The LP tracks are selected by the stars of the film with an 8 page LP size booklet & Liner notes from Shawn Lee, DJ Format, Mike Wallace & Paul Elliott.
Interview with Shawn Lee
LTW: Can you recall the first music you heard?
Shawn: Truthfully No. I did like The Beatles though! Still do.
What was the first music you bought with your own money?
The First album I ever bought was The Shaft soundtrack by Isaac Hayes . Pretty good start if I say so myself. 1st 45 was Superstition by Stevie Wonder.
When did you first encounter Library Music?
I was hanging out at the Kensington Park Hotel with BT,Mark Pritchard & Kirsty Hawkshaw. The Conversation turned to her Dad Alan and Brian Bennet KPM, Dewolfe etc. That was my introduction. After that I delved in like a nutter!
I remember hearing library music when going into Grandways (a now deceased supermarket from the 70’s/80’s). Did you recall hearing library music in a similar setting?
Well obviously I was hearing it without realising it. NFL football is a good example of that. Also, the Wimbledon theme by Keith Mansfield and The Peoples Court Theme which was by Alan Tew.
Were you into library music way before the ‘sound gallery/lounge’ compilations saw a birth in the early 90’s?
No as I didn’t discover it officially until 96. The Sound Gallery compiled by Martin Green was the first commercial compilation that licensed Library tracks. Fun fact kids!
What was it about library music that appealed to you the most? Was it the music or the sleeves or the mysterious musicians or all of the aforementioned?
Well, all of those, but it is the Music first and foremost and the musicians who made it. I find it very inspiring. I have always loved soundtrack music so Library is a part of that world.
When did you start to become a serious collector of library music?
From the mid 90’s onwards. Particularly from them to the early 2000’s when I gobbled up everything I could find.
Were you aware of other library music collectors?
Yes. There was of course Mark Pritchard as I mentioned earlier. As Well as Julian from Recordkingz/Creators and Brad & B from Unsung Heroes and there was also Danny Psychemagik. I dug thru their collections and learned as much as I could.
Where did the idea of the film come from?
I would often say in conversations with other musicians & producers ‘wouldn’t be cool if someone did a documentary film about Library Music’ We all agreed, yes, it would be cool. At a certain point, I realised nobody was going to make this film. I then began to think that if I wanted to see it – then I would have to make it myself somehow!
How did the initial film start?
I was having the classic Library film conversation at my old studio with Paul & Sean from HutTwenty9 after we shot some bits for their Youth documentary film. I wasn’t pitching it to them by any means but a few weeks later, Paul called and said “ we want to make that Library film with you!” After that, we met up in Primrose Hill for a chat. One week later, we were interviewing Alan Hawkshaw & Jonny Trunk! We were off and running and one interview led to the next and the next.
Did the film start from small beginnings and flower into the beast of a film that the final edit has become?
It started with The Hawk & Trunk and we made our way through the British Legends and DJ’s. We travelled all over England then eventually went to LA, Paris & Rome . A real journey.
Did you have contacts with all the people that you interviewed? Or did you gain further contacts throughout your time filming?
It was a bit of both. I knew Alan Hawkshaw and Jonny Trunk already so it was a great place to start. I also had a Greek DJ friend who knew Janko Nilovic. I was also friends with people like AM, Andre Younge, Tim Love Lee etc. So there was a great foundation of people to start from. Every time you interviewed someone they would say you should talk to so and so and then you would gather another contact. So it was a fluid ongoing process.
Who was the hardest person to track down for the film?
Well There were a few. It took a long time to get Brian Bennet, Alan Parker and Herbie Flowers to commit to interviews. Over a year of persistently asking. Well Worth the wait.
Were you star struck with any of the people you met?
So many times I would find myself in these interviews and be like – how the hell did this actually happen?!! Interviewing Stefano Torossi in Rome at The I Marc 4 studio was pretty crazy. Also, seeing Piero Umiliani’s studio in Rome was amazing! Also, I got a real buzz talking to The Hawk, Alan Parker, Keith Mansfield, John Cameron, Brian Bennet etc. These guys are legends!
The library music collectors that appear in the film have stunning collections of library music. Did you encounter music that you hadn’t heard before whilst shooting the film?
Of course! Everybody has their own taste and has cultivated their own collections. Nobody knows it all. I was constantly mentioning Records that I was sure other DJ/collectors knew and they didn’t! There are so many records & so many different libraries. It’s impossible to know them all. Library is a black hole inside of a black hole!
The film is all self-funded. In my opinion this is stunning to know considering the stunning visual layout and how wonderful the film is portrayed both visually, musically and how the story is told. How were you able to self-fund such a stunning piece of work?
Thank you. Paul & Sean have a great eye and worked so incredibly hard on the film. We all had our parts to play and we all had mad love and enthusiasm for the subject matter. It was always a case of moving forward independently no matter what.
We crowd funded to pay for our travel expenses to LA and had a little help from Whosampled.com and Telemusic with the Paris trip. Also, the big Libraries also were helpful with the music licensing which made a big difference budget wise.
The premiere of the film is due to be shown in London on 6th October with an exhibition and live concert by the KPM All Stars. Is this how you wanted to showcase the film?
It is a really cool event and we are really happy to be a part of it. It’s going to be one for the history books!
Are there any pieces of library music that have stayed illusive/unreachable to you or any other collectors?
Philiopsis is one of the holy grails! I’m Going to have to stay with a digital copy of this at this point. Too expensive!
The film is dedicated to the memory of Little Barrie drummer Virgil Howe. Were you close friends? I met him on numerous occasions and knew him to be a wonderful, funny man.
Virgil was a very good friend. I knew him for 20 years and we played and recorded music many, many times. Our lives were very connected over the years. He was a bit of a little brother to me and I miss him dearly. A real loss. I still can’t get over it.
Finally, what library music is on your turntable at the moment?
Just Played some Paul Kass (Parry) and Alan Tew (Themes) on my latest radio show on Soho Radio.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found via the Louder Than War author archive pages.