KingUnderground (KU) is a music label founded in 2005 run by Dan Englander. The majority if its output is funk, hip hop, soul and jazz but they came to my attention when I read a magazine piece about the first releases in their Cavendish Series which dips into the library music archives of what was formerly the ‘Boosey & Hawkes Recorded Music Library’ and is now Cavendish Music (the “UK’s largest independent production music publisher). Library music (also known as stock, or production, music) is the collective name given to thousands of tracks written speculatively that could be licenced for radio, TV and film.

Whether you know it or not you will have heard some library music. There’s the theme to Mastermind (Neil Richardson’s track ‘Approaching Menace’ from the 1979 KPM album Dramatic Background) or Grandstand (written by Keith Mansfield’s, taken from the 1976 KPM album Solid Gold) and even the Father Ted episode ‘Speed 3’ (1998) which used Syd Dales’ ‘Penthouse Suite’ (taken from the KPM library) for Pat Mustard’s theme.

Each track on the library music albums included a handy descriptor so a production’s music supervisor could easily identify anything from ‘Fast chase’, ‘relentless ominous’, ‘tranquil’ to one of my favourites: ‘oblong’ (the track ‘Rockopolis’ by Zoe De Souza). These were a cornucopia of sexy strings, light tuneful confections, or tense, brass-driven pieces to accompany a Mark III Cortina ploughing into a pile of cardboard boxes during a car chase. None of this music was commercially available at the time but the vinyl reference records have found their way into the hands of avid collectors who pay top price for them or musicians who were either influenced by, or directly sampled them, generations later. You can find an exhaustive list on the site WhoSampled but it includes artists such as Drake, Jay-Z, Prodigy, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé.

KU are producing a set of eight 7” releases which skim the cream off the top of the Cavendish Archive and there are currently four available.  They say: “The first 45, titled ‘Dramatic’ features tracks from both John Scott and Tony Kinsey. Titling was important to Library music because it needed to clearly represent the emotions being expressed through the music, so it was easy for television and film executives to find what they needed to complete their projects.

John Scott wasted no time getting into the dramatics with the opening track “Milky Way”, it displays the importance of grabbing a listener from the top, as well as being concise clocking in at just 47 seconds. Scott was not only a master composer but also known for his work on the Saxophone, including playing on John Barry’s soundtrack for ‘Goldfinger’ in the James Bond series.

Release number two “is titled ‘Frantic’ and features 2 compositions by Sam Fonteyn. Frantic energy is no doubt present in the horns and percussion on the A-side of the 45 “One Way Trip (Warm)” but the high energy gives off a dancehall vibe, leaving you in a sweat as if you were in the club. Fonteyn was a key contributor to the Boosey & Hawkes Music Library” and KU have just released number three: Dennis Farnon’s ‘Snowmobile’ (1974) and ‘Trackers’ (1972) and number four: Dennis Farnon’s ‘Pardon’ and ‘Night Driver’ (both 1969).

It’s the first time these tracks have been released on 7” vinyl and these are heavyweight platters lovingly packaged in sturdy cardboard sleeves. If you’re quick, there are also limited-edition coloured vinyl variants available as well.

I love the library music genre. It was not only a golden age for the art of studio recording with big string sections and bombastic drums and brass but also a proving ground for early electronic experimentation. Listening now, there is a nostalgic feel to the tracks but it still sounds vital and that’s a testament to the composers who were often working under ridiculously tight deadlines. As a member of the test card generation, when I hear these tracks, I still get a craving for a bowl of Angel Delight and Cherryade Corona.

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Review by Paul F Cook

If this has piqued your interest, or if you were already a library music fan, I can also wholeheartedly recommend Paul Elliott and Sean Lamberth’s 2018 documentary The Library Music Film which is a thorough, and hugely entertaining, look at the people who made the music and the people who collect it.

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