09 June 2006

The Sir Francis Drake theme

I was thinking about how you can fall for your own stereotypes.

Look at me, born in 1950, deep in Baby Boomer territory, just in time for a rock'n'roll childhood: Elvis's Heartbreak Hotel appeared in 1956, my Grade 1 year.

As if that weren't enough, The Beatles came along to span my teenage years so neatly, hitting our radios when I was 13 years old, and feeding me groovy new music until I was 19, when they broke up. They couldn't have planned it better!

So if I tried to sum up what I listened to in the 60s, I'd probably rattle off The Beatles, The Stones, all those other British Invasion bands like Manfred Mann and The Animals; solo artists like P.J. Proby and Dusty Springfield; The Beach Boys and The Turtles and Lovin' Spoonful of course; and Aussies like The Loved Ones, The Easybeats, Lynne Randell, Doug Parkinson... you get the picture.

If I ever want to evoke the 60s, give myself a pure, unrefined shot of what it felt like back then, I put on The Stones Aftermath (1966) and I'm immediately transported. Individual songs like Mike Furber's You Stole My Love or The Loved Ones' Everlovin' Man or even Cilla Black's Beatles giveway It's For You will do it for me as well.

But that's really my official line, the PR version, because the reality is more complicated.

As I was idly cruising the Lounge and Library mp3 sites recently, I downloaded a track that gave me such an unadulterated shot of my world at 14 or 15 that it made my head spin. This was a strong feeling of remembrance: you know, of things past, the effect that the madeleine cakes had on Proust's Marcel.

It wasn't some groovy song by The Mamas & The Papas or The Zombies that had this effect. It was the theme music to Sir Francis Drake, a British TV series that starred Terence Morgan and Jean Kent.

To begin with, this is a stirring composition in its own right, written by the British composer Ivor Slaney (1921-1988). The music evokes standing at the wheel of a creaking timber sailing ship, with the salty wind and spray in your face, surging through the icy waves to adventures in the name of Elizabeth I...

Okay, I have no idea what it's really like to do all that, but this music sets off all my well-conditioned responses to what films have told me it would be like, and it uses familiar conventions of Western film music: heroic trumpet fanfares, a majestic sailing ship tempo, swirling ocean wave strings, that sort of thing.

I was also startled to find how strongly it evoked watching afternoon TV in the living room of our house in Swan Hill. This was probably around 1965, when Sir Francis Drake was broadcast during the school holidays on the ABC (Australia).

Sir Francis Drake was absorbing viewing, one of those British series with classy actors and engaging scripts that convinced you this was real life at court and on the ocean wave in the 16th century. More than that, I was home from boarding school, so holidays were an intense time anyway.

Our soundtrack, the music we listened to and carried around in our heads, wasn't all 96 Tears and Psychotic Reaction. Now that I think of it, two of my most played LPs were the Charade soundtrack of Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle's Route 66 and Other TV Themes, both of which seemed at the time to have a certain air of hipness, even though they were near the Middle of the Road.

While we wouldn't have come out as Matt Monro or Engelbert Humperdinck fans, we might have caught ourselves humming such MOR hits as Born Free or Les Bicyclettes de Belsize.

There were always songs like that on the charts, happily nestled in beside the groovier hits. Maybe it was our parents who put them onto the charts, or those kids who never dug the groovy stuff anyway, but they still formed part of that soundtrack in our heads, still took up space in our musical history.

Now, you can spend hours browsing and downloading whole albums of music from mp3 blogs dedicated to soundtracks, Lounge, Space Age, Exotica and Library Music, much of it digitalised from long lost LPs found in thrift stores. It's as if some of the music we dismissed outright and
classified under 'Parent' may have been worth a closer listen after all, and we may recognise more of it than we realise.

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