Monday, 20 December 2010

Primitive London - Basil Kirchin

Primitive London still exists. You only have to walk down Camden High Street to see Dickensian characters dragging dogs and feral yobs in fake Burberry, although I suspect that’s not the kind of ‘primitive’ intended by the film title. So we must travel south, to Soho, to find the traditional heartland of London’s sleaze empire. It may not be as full of decadent dives as it once was, but they still exist. Yet sleaze today doesn’t have the attraction of the older version. The music will be worse, for starters; some Beyonce, perhaps, instead of a brassy big band sound. And as the ongoing hunger for burlesque seems to demonstrate, the lure of the swivelling tassle still exists as an acceptable alternative to the more explicit forms of ‘female artistry’.
   As if to reflect the dark side of 60s sleaze, Kirchin’s music creates an ominous atmosphere of shadowy alleys and desperate punters, along with desperate dancers. I haven’t seen the infamous film, although it has been re-released by the BFI, but this soundtrack is quite amazing. From the start, the sound of the ondes Martenot evokes not only the exotic, but the other-worldly, as if a semi-clad beauty may appear, not from behind curtains, but from beyond reality. So it probably seemed to a drunken punter salivating into his over-priced drink.
   It’s been pointed out that some of the music sounds very much like Bernard Hermann’s theme for ‘Taxi Driver’, and this is particularly true of track 3. Could it be that Hermann knew this score?
   Whilst the first three tracks are relatively traditional in that they use the jazz form, albeit in a very distinct manner, the remaining three take a very different tone, charting an eerie course through a world where the neon’s been switched off and the night takes over. It never seems to be night in the sense of sinister foreboding in Soho, but this music evokes darkness in the heartless world of criminals and traders in female flesh. The ‘Primitive London’ part only lasts for just over 12mins, but it’s worth every penny.
   The rest of the CD consists of Kirchin’s soundtrack to a rarely-seen 1971 film called ‘The Freelance’. This is every bit as good as the music for ‘Primitive London’, but in a completely different style. Parts of it are in the kind of funky vein one might expect from this period, but Kirchin breaks from the formula to expand on the themes in free style which allows for some great bass and trumpet-playing.
   It’s a late entrant to the ‘Albums of the Year’ category and a fantastic piece of work by label owner Jonny Trunk.

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