Wednesday, 8 June 2011

I'll Tell His Lordship Immediately (Actual Immediacy Content May Vary)

Or Mr Dagenham, he can sell anything, anything anything money can buy, he's on a voyage across an ocean, waves of his mind are set in motion etc etcTime Flies By (When You're The Driver Of A Train), or to use its somewhat slightly more perfunctory 'official' title The Little Steam Train, may well be the most well and widely remembered song from Chigley, but surprisingly it's not the one that was chosen to represent it on Music From BBC Children's Programmes. As for what was used instead, well... we'd better get getting on with the over bridges under bridges to our destination type sort of thing, with an optional side order of wheezing pistons smoking funnels and turning wheels going clickety-clack, as that's a rather long and convoluted story, which as you'll have noticed by now forms part of an even longer and even more convoluted story. And, rather pleasingly, involves a butler for whom length and convolution were both pretty much meaningless concepts.

So let's begin at the beginning, then. And at the actual beginning of this particular narrative diversion, rather than at the beginning of an episode of Chigley, which would involve less in the way of talking about this second half of the fourth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes than it would some rolling folky guitar picking and jaunty interrogation of a rogue road-bound inhabitant of Camberwick Green or Trumpton about their next intended destination (clue: it's never Camberwick Green or Trumpton). Not only would that be straying ridiculously far from whatever passes for a 'point' in all of this, it would also, in fairness, be quite difficult to replicate in 'blog' format. So anyway, as we were saying above, back to the beginning of this business about unexpected tune-selection and a tempora-spatial para-mathematical butler.

Chigley, like all of its Gordon Murray-masterminded stop-motion cohorts (both Trumptonshire-based and otherwise... but more on that later), featured extensive musical accompaniment by one Freddie Phillips. A classical guitarist by profession, he nonetheless took great pleasure in earning a bit of extra pocket money via film and TV soundtrack engagements, ranging from cult British horror film Peeping Tom to the 'Network Openings' that played over the BBC Globe in the days when they used to shut down overnight and for most of the daytime too, which basically involved bluesy riffing over a percussive tape loop. As this proto-Big Beat musical and technical incongruity suggests, he was a keen and early advocate of the use of tape effects. Indeed, this was something that he would put to good use in his work on Gordon Murray's shows, multitracking and varispeeding a lone acoustic guitar and assorted percussion instruments to give the aural impression of, amongst others, a shop full of clocks, a printing press and even a full brass band. No, really.

Some of his contributions to Murray's shows, including the opening theme of Chigley, were purely instrumental. Many more of them, however, were short, catchy, simplistic and yet lyrically dextrous songs about the various Trumptonshire inhabitants and their occupations, with vocal duties handled by series narrator Brian Cant. Many of them, underneath the strident acoustic guitar work (once highlighted, incidentally, by Total Guitar magazine as "an example of how you can find great guitar playing in the unlikeliest of places"), had a musical and lyrical feel that were not entirely out of step with the post-Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band trend for 'psychedelic pop', so much so that a couple of them wouldn't have sounded out of place on a volume of The British Psychedelic Trip (and would have been a more suitable and indeed enjoyable inclusion than that bloody Mrs. Pinkerton thing, frankly). But their main purpose was to entertain children while withstanding constant repetition, and this was a task that they undoubtedly performed admirably. Seriously, come on, how many of you are humming "Windy Miller, Windy Miller, sharper than a thorn..." right now?

Meanwhile, what was included to represent Chigley on Music From BBC Children's Programmes was made up from both a vocal and an instrumental track, although to all intents and purposes they were more or less the same track to begin with. Confused? Don't worry, all will be made clear - ish - in the next instalment. And that butler's on his way too. Eventually.

1 comment:

  1. What a brilliant blog-bit, you can tell Freddie's a classical type. It's the nylon string sound that gives his game away. And Brackett the Butler must be the worst person to be manning an emergency service hot-line.