By The Landlord
It was a dark, wet autumn in the 1970s when it first happened to me. I had just started primary school in Manchester and my mind was an expanding sponge, taking in an explosion of new experiences, sights, sounds and smells – poster paints to mashed potato, the smell of strange glues to rain-soaked coats on hooks, our teacher's perfume and her woolly sleeve, the snap of pencil lead, pushing squeaky milk bottle tops and that slightly off-dairy smell as you plunged your straw in drink it. And the smell of girls, sort of sweet, and honeyed. And all the new faces as fellow first-day kids cried, fought, hid, ran, fought or wet themselves. And words, so many new words, flooding into my brain.
But something perhaps even more significant happened to me on our first school trip. It must have been approaching Christmas – I'm not sure because every day seemed like a year at that time. We boarded a bus that I recall distinctly smelled of sausages, and were off to a theatre to see a pantomime. I don't remember what it was, maybe Puss In Boots, but I do remember what happened beforehand.
In the auditorium I sat down next to the boy I'd never spoken to before, but who soon became my best mate that year. The curtain was still down, and, under a spotlight, down in the orchestra pit, an organ player, a drummer and an electric guitar player gradually elevated up on a rising platform and began to play the most exciting, upbeat music. It blew my mind.
What was going on? Excitement hung in their air like the smell of sugary sweets and sweat. They must have been playing some some sort of light entertainment overture, but my hair seemed to stand on end, my heart was going like the clappers, and if that wasn't exciting enough, the very shy boy beside me Andy Norton turned to me for the first time and said: "Eh, alright, I tell you what. I've got this box of Matchmakers. Bet you we can eat them all before the music stops." I didn't hesitate. "Yeah! Let's do it!"
And so we did, taking turns to scoff each twiggy chocolate-orange stick, while the band played faster and faster, us guzzling that stuff down as fast as we could. And with that accelerating music, everything was a tidal wave of joy - the expectation of the show, the impending swish of the curtain, the sights, the sounds, the sudden feeling of friendship, naughtiness, freedom and happiness, and all of that going on while the music accompanied. It was incidental and personal, but it made it all happen, the music was the spur, the joy, the energy and the reason. And I'm still waiting for the moment I hear that track again … perhaps it will happen soon.
And so then, this week, we look at the topic of incidental music. This doesn't necessarily mean background or theme music, or a score to a film or play at all. It could happen that way, but the key element is that it is either songs or instrumental material that has been used, or in your own mind, inextricably accompanies, recalls or replays some other action that happens or has happened, so in its sound and style it suggests something else going on.
But in what context? Of course all music is subjective, and means different things everyone. At primary school first year our teacher, who took every class (though we seemed to mainly but mess about with paint in the first year) would sometimes stick on a piece of music and ask us to draw whatever it made us think of. But in this topic I'm searching for music that suggests particular events, and this could cover various forms. Incidental music is defined as music that could appear in a film, TV programme, theatre play, advert or video game, and could be overture, background, underscore, or looped theme, but for the purposes of this topic, I'd like to separate it from what is called "theme music" because that, such as the Doctor Who theme, is more general for the programme. Instead, we're looking for music or songs that create an association of a particular event, image, action, episode or occurrence, and that could be personal to your memory, or more popular.
Among these are what I call light entertainment, or even silly music, that is fused with a flurry of associated action. What do they make you think of happening? Here are two examples
Herb Albert's Spanish Flea makes me think of pouring drinks and getting changed to go to a party:
Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk - for me this is inextricably linked to my first ever trip to the zoo (Chester Zoo) and also watching Johnny Morris's TV programme Animal Magic.
But events that go alongside some incidental music might be less personal in their associations. The music that accompanies news footage, old or new, might come up in your choices, including the kind that goes alongside archive by British Pathé:
Silent movie music that might have accompanied Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd films, for example, such as The General (1926) might come up, or this early ragtime classic by Scott Joplin:
And then of course, there are so many later film scenes in which music is also used, so effectively, that it is almost impossible to dissociate it from the action taking place. Not all of them are as innocent as the above examples. Here are three examples. First, David Lynch's Blue Velvet:
Or the horrendously violent episode in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, accompanied by the upbeat song by Stealers Wheel. Don't watch if you are squeamish:
Or the extraordinary banjo duel in Deliverance, in which two cultures, two different eras and worlds almost, intertwine in an uneasy, but brilliant sequence where music briefly brings them together:
Or talking of a whole other world of action, while this has never been my personal area, for some people, some music is forever associated with certain video games:
But whichever world of action you enter into, personal or public by interpretation, there is a wide choice. And so then, incidentally watching and listening to events this week, we welcome back our superb Song Bar regular EnglishOutlaw, who will sit in the director's chair and call and recall action! Place your incidental songs or music in the slots below until last orders is called on Monday evening (11pm UK time) in time for playback playlists published on Wednesday. Events never stop here, y'know …
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