CULT CLASSIC: KEITH MANSFIELD-VIVID UNDERSCORES.
Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.
Composer, arranger and musician Keith Mansfield nowadays is recognised and regarded as one the doyens of library music and original copies of his albums are now highly collectable. This includes Vivid Underscores which was released in 1977, a year after his other genre classic Contempo. Both albums are now rarities like so many of the KPM Records’ releases. That’s no surprise
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 Vivid Underscores which was released 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. with 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 Keith Mansfield who recorded some of the best library music was ever recorded in the UK. Especially the music they recorded for KPM which has ‘inspired’ several generations of musicians. One of the albums of library music that Keith Mansfield recorded for KPM was Vivid Underscores, which is part of the legendary KPM 1000 series.
Vivid Underscores features Keith Mansfield at his best on a cohesive and truly timeless album of library music. The music is funky, soulful, sometimes dramatic, mesmeric, joyous and uplifting. Strings and horns are deployed and put to good use during a series of cinematic and filmic soundscapes from a musical master craftsman, Keith Mansfield.
Opening Vivid Underscores is High Velocity where driving horns join forces with wah-wah guitars, a funky bass and synths to create a dramatic and filmic all-action track that transports the listener to the seventies.
Crash Course is akin to a mini soundtrack in three parts. The first part paints pictures as the drama builds and jazz, funk and fusion combine as what could be the backdrop to a car chase. It’s the type of track that could be heard during The Sweeney after a blag. Echo is added to the horns during the second part before the big finish in the third part where the good guys say: “you’re nicked.”
Horns play an important part during Matter Of Urgency. It’s a slow burner that’s uber funky, jazz-tinged and cinematic with aggressive undertones.
There’s two parts to Dawn Of Aquarius which is a futuristic sounding track with sci-fi sounds. It sounds like the type of soundtrack that Kraftwerk would’ve written circa 1977 and has plenty of material for sample hungry producers. During the second part, the drums and percussion drop out leaving more room space-age and sci-fi sounds.
Staying Power is very different from the two previous tracks. It’s dramatic, moody and almost menacing as elements of funk, jazz and rock are combined by Keith “The Man” Mansfield.
The second side opens with the first of four parts of Trucking Power. This is the introduction and akin to a scene setter. The tempo rises as synths and strings combine and take centrestage. This is highly effective. So is the addition of echo during the Part A while Part B is an alternative mix and a captivating variation on a theme. Then during Part C the tension is gone as the gorgeous middle section breezes along. The result is what can only be described as a thing of beauty.
There’s plenty of tension and drama during Hot Tempo and Espionage which sound as if they’re part of a late-seventies Cold War spy thriller.
Then the tempo drops on Interplay which is a much more understated track. Flutes flutter above a shimmering piano which is almost hypnotic and is quite beautiful.
Very different is Omen which is dark, dramatic and menacing. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies detective series.
It’s all change with Perpetual Motion which flows and meanders revealing an intricate arrangement where keyboards, synths, percussion and lush sweeping strings combine with woodwind to create another beautiful, cinematic track. Keith Mansfield closes Vivid Underscores on a high.
During the seventies, Keith Mansfield was without doubt one of the finest purveyors of library music. His 1976 album Contempo and the followup Vivid Underscores which was released as part of the KPM 1000 series in 1977 are both genre classics and a reminder of a truly talented arranger, composer and musician.
He combines everything from jazz and funk to jazz-funk, fusion and rock on Vivid Underscores. Strings, synths and horns are deployed during this cinematic opus by one of the doyens of library music on Vivid Underscores .
Sadly, nowadays original copies of Vivid Underscores rarities and very few copies come up for sale. When they do, the prices are beyond the budget of most collectors of library music.
Vivid Underscores is a library music classic and a reminder of the golden age of library music. It also features library music doywn Keith Mansfield at the peak of his considerable powers.
Cult Classic: Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.