70s instrumentals..Light Classical

Remembering Junior choice when writing about Free last week provoked a few memories about the light classical/easy listening that was having its last gasp in the 70’s.

Most of our parents had record players of some description, the stereogram, for example was a much-coveted piece of furniture. The irony of course is that most parents didn’t actually like music that much, at least not in the same way that we did. In fact, our parents had tended to listen to music as it came along without being overly critical, popular music was just that. With a need to have something to play on the new piece of furniture a popular choice (and on that seldom got played) was something light and tuneful. James Last was the choice for most, Mantovani was more suited to those who couldn’t stomach James’s rock workouts. My family had travelled so our choice of easy listening was the bohemian Bert Kampfert, his ‘Swinging Safari’ remains a favourite to this day.

It might seem incredible now, but for all of the 70’s Top of the Pops had its own orchestra. They didn’t have a great deal to do as most of the show was mimed anyway, on the other hand all music was produced by real instruments and the Musicians Union actually had some power, so the musicians remained on call for when they were needed.

That was usually for backing some middle of the road singer but occasionally there might be an instrumental nudging its way into the charts and conductor Johnny Pearson would lead his band through the track often having had the barest or rehearsals.

So here are three instrumentals from the early 70’s that have been largely forgotten by social chroniclers but warmly remembered by anyone who wasn’t a teenager in the early 70s

Sleepy Shores Johnny Pearson Orchestra.

Number 8 in the charts in 1972, sleepy shores was the theme tune to Owen MD which was an amiable drama series about a doctor. Although I cant remember where I’ve left my phone most days I can recall every note of this and that Nigel Stock was the titular GP. Although I must have been in my early teens, I loved this tune so much so that I persuaded my mum to buy the piano music for this. Such were the crazy times when buying the music for a to 10 hit was even an option. It wasn’t a hugely successful purchase, my mum wasn’t really convinced that she wanted to learn to play it and I could only manage the right hand as far as the fast run at which point I would give up. Utilising the octave jump most notable in ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ but also about to be used by Bowie in ‘Starman’, sleepy shores is pretty much what is says on the tin.

Galloping Home London String Chorale

Written by Denis King who was a kind of ITV version of BBC’s Johnny Pearson. King was very adept at wring theme tunes to TV series and with the theme to (the new adventures of) Black Beauty he won an Ivor Norvello award and had a minor chart hit. I assume Black Beauty was one of those Sunday tea time programs as listening to this again I can almost taste white bread, cucumber and tinned salmon that invariably was the family meal. I’ve always been a bit partisan about this tune as the writer of the original novel Anna Sewell was a local woman and my mum would frequently tell us how at school she would park her bike in Black Beauty’s stables. Having checked this out it seems that Sewell spent a lot of her younger life in London rather than Norwich so I suspect it’s a tenuous brush with fate  orpossibly just a lie. However Sewell did write the book near the end of her life in Old Catton the next village/suburb to where we lived.

I’m glad I cleared that up.

Galloping home is quite a stirring piece, every bit as evocative as Sleepy Shores

Eye Level- Simon Park Orchestra

Like the previous pieces, Eye Level had its genesis as a TV them tune, This time for the Dutch detective series Van der Valk. Today you can watch a different Scandinavian crime drama every night of the week but in 1972 setting a series in Amsterdam was pretty radical and seemed to imprint itself on a nations consciousness at a time when we all watched shows together.

It’s a bit of a twee tune, if you mess about playing scales for long enough its almost inevitable that you will slip into Eye Level, at least if you are of a certain age. I suspect its impossible to play this to anyone over the age of 50 who has lived in Britain and they not recognise it.

Eye Level was a number one record which does rather beg the question, who bought these records? Vinyl was not cheap, I couldn’t imagine kids prioritising these over T Rex. Did middle aged (ie over 30) people suddenly make the exodus to a record shop or at least Woolworths. 

It’s a mystery but somehow these tunes seared themselves into a nation’s consciousness in the same way that Slade and Bowie did.

More instrumentals next week.

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