Sunday 21 August 2016

Old Music: The Swinging Easy Listening Revival of the 90's

Over the last twenty years or so there has been the odd occasion where under various guises I’ve had a go at DJing (with absolutely no DJ skills) in public. From backstage bars at music festivals, to crappy little pubs, to somehow blagging my way onto a rammed Big Top on the opening night of Bestival just a couple of hours before M.I.A in front of just under 10,000 people. Because of my lack of ability to knowledgably operate the equipment or mix with any sense of sophistication, I’ve always tried to do something a little different to compensate and cover for my lack of skills. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who has DJ’d an early morning set of just birdsong to a mainly hungover / sleeping crowd, I’ve performed a DJ set of cheese dressed as a horse and a number of sets that have centred around retro easy listening, lounge core and mood music.

My love of retro easy listening first developed around the mid 90’s around the time that Brit Pop was taking off in the UK. The swinging sounds of the likes of Alan Hawkshaw, Keith Mansfield and Brian Fahey were revived into clubs like Smashing and Blow Up in London. Whilst neither of these clubs had a strictly kitsch only music policy, taking on many different sounds and styles, the rebirth of easy listening for a younger generation started there. Although I never went to either club, I read about them in the music press; at these places indie kids were mixing with fashionistas, musicians and record label dudes and people were reviving 60's fashions, dressing in retro corduroy suits, brightly coloured sixties shirts, pencil skirts and mini dresses. It sounded like my kind of scene (in a totally non-ironic non-hipster way) and so I began to investigate the music. 

The first album I bought was The Sound Gallery. Twenty-four musical masterpieces dug from the crates of EMI’s flagship Studio Two label, augmented by offerings from the United Artists label and KPM Recorded Music Library, with all tracks recorded from albums between 1968 to 1976. It was from that record that I first heard Girl in A Sportscar by Alan Hawkshaw and went on to discover the huge amount of music he was responsible for. Some of it is the sort of music you’ve probably only ever heard in elevators in hotel lobbies,1970’s British sit coms and awkward moments in movies, and I loved it. People ask why I like this stuff and to this day I find it hard to give an explanation, except “I just do.” 

From there I went on to purchase a number of compilation albums that expanded my knowledge and appreciation of easy and lounge core. Those of a certain age might remember the theme to The Gallery section on Tony Hart's Vision On, but how many of you would know it as Left Bank 2 by The Noveltones? There it was on a volume 2 Sound Gallery compilation. Other brilliant albums that set me off on a journey of discovery included Inflight Entertainment, where I fell for Brigitte Bardot’s Tu Veux, Tu Veux Pas and subsequently went on a journey of discovery of the French actress and model’s recorded work. Then there was Test Card Classics, which answered in a digitally remastered form where the BBC got some of the amazing background music they played in the late 60’s and early 70’s before TV started at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and then there was The Sound Spectrum which brought me likes of The City of Westminster String Band, Tony Hatch and Roy Budd. 

The scene even brought a genuine Top 40 chart hit with a novelty cover of Wonderwall by The Mike Flowers Pops, a band who replicated the easy 60’s sound. It reached the same chart position (number 2) as the original.

If you’ve never heard of any of these artists and want to hear more I’ve put together a short 10 track Spotify playlist of some of my favourite swinging sounds from that world and beyond, which you can hear below. I’ve also added The Noveltones via You Tube which sadly isn’t on Spotify.

Maybe you’ve never payed attention to this genre of music before? If not, jump in, keep an open mind and give it a go. Life will have never felt so groovy.

The Noveltones - Left Bank 2

Playlist - The 90's Easy Music Listening Revival

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