Archives for posts with tag: Test Card

testcardThe test card is a fading memory now that television is broadcast 24 hours a day. But on the occasional days that I was allowed sick time off from school (typically with very minor illnesses – and what a wonderful sense of freedom those days held) I remember that the afternoons were typically empty of any TV content but the test card – and the light orchestral music that accompanied it. Similar music was used to fill the gaps in between schools programming in the mornings, and as the start-up theme music for various independent television broadcasting companies around at the time. This was “production music”, recorded specially for the purpose and not available anywhere else. It was recognizably light music, but often with a more contemporary feel than classic light music on the radio. I remember in particular the optimistic, somewhat angular marches that seemed to me to exude “progress”.

An example is Gordon Langford’s March from The Colour Suite (of which only one other movement out of a projected five was actually composed). Langford (born 1930) made his name as a versatile BBC arranger in the 1960s, but he has also been a regular composer of band, orchestral and film music as well. This March is one of at least three pieces Langford composed for production use, the others being Royal Daffodil and Hebridean Hoedown. All three were originally recorded by the Stuttgart Studio Orchestra, made up of German session musicians.

The March starts with a fanfare, then moves into the forward-thrusting main theme, which is repeated four times with increasingly layered orchestration. There’s a bridge passage and two more repeats of the theme before a longer, more diverse bridge section leads back to a triumphant final statement of the theme and a short coda. It’s really the skillful building up of the orchestration and the parallel harmonic shadowing of the distinctive main melodic line that brings the piece to life.


salsaThere’s a long tradition of light orchestral music in Germany – German orchestras contributed much of the best test transmission music for the BBC television “test card” during the 1960s and 1970s – so it’s perhaps not surprising to find a collaboration between German and Cuban musicians such as this one. The Klazz Brothers are pianist Tobias Forster and bass player Kilian Forster, German musicians who became enthusiastic about Cuban music while on a trip to Havana. They then set about making some orchestral arrangements of classical music in Cuban style, releasing Classics Meets Cuba in 2002 – initially just in Germany, but then more broadly two years later. A sequel, Symphonic Salsa, followed in 2006, featuring the brothers alongside some Cuban studio musicians called Cuba Percussion and the Munich Radio Orchestra conducted by Roger Epple.

Sounds cheesy? It is (and that’s part of the appeal) except that the arrangements (by Tobias Forster and Sverre Indris Joner) are intricate and beautifully judged. I’m less interested when they occasionally play it straight, just adding a light Latin beat to the classical melody. But in most cases they assimilate the various elements in a much more creative way. Cuban Sugar – which I heard at the weekend accompanying a dance piece at the National Youth Ballet performance at the Bloomsbury Theatre – deconstructs Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker. It begins with a staggered version of the pizzicato accompaniment from the original. Then the zither comes in, establishing the Latin cross rhythms. And then, on piano rather than celeste, comes the main theme, slithering down the scale in lazy triplets against the rest of the band. Salsa is all about the coming together of cross rhythms, and these arrangements exploit that to the full, while adding the combination of seemingly incongruous styles to the mix as well. Other orchestras are now taking up the arrangements – see this excellent YouTube live performance by Norway’s Hovedøen Social Club, which seems to me to be pretty much as good as the original.

NovolThis piece, for vibraphone and a small jazz ensemble, became widely known when it was used as incidental music for the BBC children’s show Vision On in the 1960s. (It was used for the Gallery section, where paintings sent in by viewers were shown on screen).  It somehow epitomizes the kind of library music and background music the BBC used extensively during the 1950s to the 1970s, for instance between Schools programmes or as a background for the Test Card, which was broadcast for many hours in the days before television became a 24 hour service. These pieces were produced especially by music publishers such as De Wolfe and sold as library or production music with special royalty concessions.

Left Bank Two was apparently a throwaway piece put together by vibe player Wayne Hill and some session musicians from the Netherlands (directed by the Dutch composer, arranger and studio manager Frans Mijts) because they had a few minutes left-over time at the very end of a session for De Wolfe. I’ve always been fascinated by the fluency and length of the melody and the effortless modulations that still somehow manage to return to the home key by the end.  (The guitarist gets a little lost towards the end though, presumably due to lack of any time to rehearse). Wayne Hill wrote a number of other themes, including the theme tune for the ATV television show The Power Game (1965-9),  the startup music for Ulster television called The Antrim Road, and some film soundtracks, but I can find out very little else about him.

On the B-Side of the 1970s 7 inch single reissue is a slightly longer (20 seconds) version of the same recording, let to finish rather than fade out. This was originally issued in 1964 on a De Wolfe 10 inch single, under the title “Left Bank One”. Intriguing after all these years to hear the music actually finish.