Cult Classic: Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett-Synthesis.

Nowadays, the seventies are regarded as a golden age for library music, and  two of its leading lights during this era were Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett. They were responsible for some of the best library music that KPM Records released during its golden era. This included the library music classic Synthesis, which was released in 1974, the same year as another of their finest hours, Synthesizer and Percussion.

Back in 1974 they were among the many library music albums that were released by KPM Records that year. They were recorded by talented and usually anonymous musicians who often went on to greater things. Others preferred the low profile and steady income that library music offered. 

Nowadays, Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett are among the doyens of library music, and original copies of Synthesis as well as Synthesizer and Percussion are now highly collectable. That’s the case with many other KPM Records’ releases.

Everyone from sample-hungry hip hop producers and crate-digging DJs to film producers collect library music. They remember hearing  library music in cartoons, documentaries and quizzes as they growing up in the seventies and eighties. So will many other people who listen to a KPM Records’ releases including Synthesis which was released in 1974, nearly two hundred years after the company was formed.

The Rise and 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 that 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 draconian ban continued, and it wasn’t until the late seventies that they 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. This includes the tracks on Synthesis which was released in 1974.

When Synthesis was released back in 1974, Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s latest collaboration was described as: “vivid contemporary sounds for a fresh visual image.” The album featured twelve tracks composed by the pair, which were part of what could at the time have been described as synth concept  album. Little did anyone know at the tine that Synthesis would become one of most important and innovative library music albums KPM Music released during the seventies.

Nowadays, Synthesis is a library music classic, remembered for its uber funky sound on an accessible album of  what was described as “weird electronic music.” Part of the success Synthesis was the ARP Odyssey  synth, which plays a leading role in the album’s sound and success. 

Opening Synthesis is Collision Course, which soon reveals an urgent sound, while The Executive which sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a UK television show circa 1974 or 1975. Hovercraft continues the funky sound, while, Big Black Cadillac is urgent sounding  and features a flawless fleet fingered synth solo. Deadline with its dramatic, cinematic sound soon bursts into life as synths play a leading role on this tough, funky sounding track. It later featured in several video game soundtrack. Hit Me, Hit Me finds the library music masters at work on the track that closes side one of Synthesis.

Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett continue with their trademark funky sound on the dramatic Forum, while Where The Action is one of Synthesis’ highlights with its tough fast and funky sound. It gives way to Hit Me, Hit Me and Where The Action Is, Getting It Together and Helter Skelter as the funk factor is still in the ascendancy. 

 It’s all change on the icy laid back Alto Glide with its funky sound. It has Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett’s names written all over it. Closing Synthesis is Mermaid, which floats and glides along as piano, percussion and synths combine perfectly. This chilled out soundscape is the perfect way to close Synthesis, and leaves the listener with happy memories of a library music classic.

Forty-six years after its release in 1974, Synthesis is quite rightly  regarded as a library music classic. It’s also a reminder of Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett, two giants of British library music at the peak of their creative powers in 1974. 

It was a good year for Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett who also released their Synthesizer and Percussion album, which is another musical tour de force. However, the prolific pair’s finest hour was Synthesis, which nowadays is regarded as one of the ,most important and innovative library music albums ever released by KPM Records and a genre classic which features the two titans of library as  they create their uber funky concept album.

Cult Classic: Alan Hawkshaw and Brian Bennett-Synthesis.


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