Alan Hawkshaw/Brian Bennett-Full Circle.

Label: Be With Records.

Ever since the dawn of hip hop, library music has proved a source of inspiration for sample-hungry hip hop producers and crate-digging DJs alike. Library music has also proven popular with a coterie of music lovers with discerning musical tastes over the last few years. This was something that the founders of Chappell, Bosworth and KPM Music could never have envisaged.

They had no idea the lasting effects the music of mainly anonymous, young composers would have on several generation of musicians and music fans. This includes children growing up in the seventies, weaned on cartoons like Dangermouse, viewers of TV quizzes or current affair programs. Library music also influenced hip hop producers like Jay-Z, Doom and Guilty Simpson, film producers including Quentin Tarantino or cutting-edge DJs. The influenced of library music can played an important part in the development of many musical genres. Despite that, library music has been, until relatively recent still one of music’s best kept secrets. 

Thankfully, over the last few years, interest in library music has started to grow as reissue labels release compilations and albums. This includes Be With Records who have been digging deep into the vaults of KPM Records to reissue ten albums from across the KPM 1000 Series and the Themes International Music catalogue. They’re joined by Full Circle the new album by Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett, who nowadays are regarded as among leading lights of the British library music scene. They were responsible for some of the best library music that KPM Records released during its golden era. However, the KPM Records story began nearly two hundred years earlier.

The Rise of KPM 

Robert Keith founded a comp[any in 1780, to make of musical instruments, and fifty years later, in 1830, entered into a partnership with William Prowse, a music publisher. The newly formed partnership was named Keith Prowse Music (KPM), and over the next hundred years, the company grew and expanded into other areas,

By the early twentieth century, Keith Prowse Music was selling sheet music and concert tickets, but it was  the invention of the gramophone proved to be a game-changer. Demand for sheet music and concert tickets grew, and in 1955, Keith Prowse Music was decided to diversify, into one of the most profitable areas of music, music publishing.

One of the reasons behind the decision to diversify into music publishing, was to feed the demand for soundtracks for radio, television and film. Previously, music libraries supplied classical music, which was what was required.  By the mid-fifties, and the birth of television, the world and music were changing, and changing fast.

Four years later, in 1959, Associated Rediffusion bought another music publisher Peter Maurice and merged it with Keith Prowse Music. The newly merged company became Keith Prowse Maurice, which became known as KPM Music. The newly named KPM Music was a much bigger player in the world music publishing. However, in the mid-sixties, a new name took the helm at KPM Music, and transformed the company into one of the biggest names in library music.

When Robin Phillips joined KPM Music in the mid-sixties, he proved to be an astute and visionary businessman. Two decisions Robin Phillips made demonstrate why. His first decision was that KPM Music should switch from the old 78 records to the LP, which made sense, as LPs were what people were buying. They were less prone to breakage, which meant less returns and more profit. LPs could contain more music, and could be released in limited editions of 1,000. The other decision he made was to hire the best young British composers and arrangers. 

Among the composers Robin Phillips hired were Keith Mansfield and Johnny Pearson, whose talent and  potential as composers he recognised.  Robin Phillips managed to hired them before they’ had established a reputation,  although they were known within music publishing circles.

Later, Robin Phillips managed to hire some of jazz musicians of the calibre of John Cameron, Syd Clark, Alan Hawkshaw and Alan Parker. Their remit was to provide him with new music, which was referred to as production music. Many of their remits was to write music which matched themes or moods, which initially, wasn’t isn’t easy, but soon, the composers were able to do so. Almost seamlessly, the composers created themes for many well known television shows and films.  

For the composers and musicians involved in writing and recording library music, they were part of what was one of the most lucrative areas of music. When EMI realised that KPM Music had one of the best and most profitable music libraries and decided to buy the company. Executives at EMI had spotted the profitability of library music and the consistency, quality and depth of KPM Music’s back catalogue. However,  not everyone within the music industry approved of library music.

Other songwriters looked down on writers of library music, and the British Musician’s Union wasn’t fan of library music. They banned their members from working on recording sessions of library music. Somewhat shortsightedly, the Musician’s Union thought that eventually, there would come a time when there was no need for any further recordings. Their fear was that the sheer quantity of back-catalogue would mean no new recordings would be made, and their members would be without work. Fortunately, KPM Records thought of a way to subvert the ban.

KPM Records would fly out composers, arrangers and musicians to Holland and Belgium, where local musicians would join them for recording sessions. This meant that often, the same musicians would play on tracks that were penned by several composers. For the musicians involved, this proved lucrative and some were reluctant to turn their back on session work for companies like KPM Records.

Still the Musician’s Union’s ban continued, and it wasn’t until the late seventies that the Musician’s Union lifted their ban on new recordings of library music. By then, the Musician’s Union realised that they were fighting a losing battle and had no option but to concede defeat.

Meanwhile, the music that was being recorded in Europe and once the ban was lifted in Britain, found its way onto albums of library music released by KPM Music. Again, KPM Music were innovators, and  released limited editions of library music. Sometimes, only 1,000 albums were released, and they were sent out to film studios, television and radio stations and advertising agencies. However, by then, interest in library music had grown. 

Although the albums of library music  were never meant to be commercially available, a coterie of musical connoisseurs had discovered KPM Music’s albums of library music and were determined to add each release to their collection. They weren’t alone.

Later, DJs and sample hungry hip hop and house producers discovered the world of library music. This was a boon for many of these producers who were musically illiterate, and could neither read music nor play an instrument. However, with some lots of practise the musically challenged ‘producers’ were eventually able to sample albums of library music for their latest ‘production’ and very occasionally, this resulted in a hit single for the musical pirates. However, most of the credit should’ve gone to those who made the music that had been sampled.

This included pianist and Hammond organist Alan Hawkshaw and former Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. When Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett teamed up they laid down some of the slickest and funkiest library music was ever recorded in the UK. Especially the music they recorded for KPM which ‘inspired’ several generations of ‘musicians.’

Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s KPM recordings have been sampled by artists like Dilla, Nas, Kanye West and Drake. That is no surprise as Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s beat driven tracks are among the best library music tracks recorded during the seventies. Forty years later,the two library music veterans are back with their new album Full Circle.

Full Circle comes housed in the authentic and iconic KPM cover which was designed Richard Robinson. It houses a slab of 180 gram vinyl which was  pressed by Record Industry in Holland. They’ve done a wonderful job and are to be commended. If only all new vinyl that is released sounded this good.

When Full Circle starts to play, the listener is transported back to the seventies, as laid-back jazz-funk is emitted through the speakers. Full Circle  opens with the dreamy and summery Flying which hints at smooth jazz as it meanders along.  From the smooth sound of Flying, the Hammond organ driven Hole In One and Reignited are uber funky. Straight Up grooves as the rhythm section and horns unite as bursts of Hammond organ punctate the arrangement. Quite different is the beautiful and ruminative sounding Strengeti. It’s all change on the moderne sounding Open Road where jazz funk and electronica unite successfully as the horns ensure the track swings and then some.

The tempo drops on the floaty and cinematic In The Clouds. Then Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett up the tempo on Corcovado, which is another highlight of Full Circle and showcases their considerable skills. On The Nile sees the quality continue on a track that where smooth jazz horns combine with elements of jazz funk, fusion and electronica.

Marrakech with its cinematic sound paints pictures and encourages the listener to let their imagination run riot. So does the genre-melting Oasis, where rocky guitars and jazzy horns combine. Closing Full Circle is the smokey late night sound of Midnight Jazz which hints at another musical era.

For anyone with even a passing interest in library music, or anyone who likes good music, Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s new album Full Circle is essential listening. It features twelve slick, polished tracks from two veterans of British library music. Key to the music are Brian Hawkshaw’s arrangements.

To the rhythm section, Brian Hawkshaw adds the Hammond organ, flute plus horn and string sections. Each instrument is part of a rich musical tapestry which was woven  by Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett, and becomes part of their new album Full Circle. It finds two legends of British library music Brian Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett coming Full Circle as they scale the same heights they reached forty years ago in their pomp seventies at KPM.

Alan Hawkshaw/Brian Bennett-Full Circle.

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