A Touch of Velvet, A Sting of Brass – The Music of Space: 1999

Our ethereal heroine dashes down a long, white corridor. Her wide eyes are full of panic and her arms flail. There are flashes of doorways and swift feet. A shadowy assailant is in grim and relentless pursuit. We can feel our hearts pounding in our chests, the blood rushing through our veins. What’s happening now? What’s going to happen next?

A Touch of Velvet, A Sting of Brass - The Music of Space: 1999

Because underscoring all of this will be strident horns, a pounding drum, an insistent guitar or two, and maybe even an urgent piano. This is the world of television incidental music and the great British production libraries. Unsung and prolific heroes working on hundreds of sessions, and thousands of recordings set the tone and the feel for pretty much every genre on UK programmes for the duration of the 60s and 70s and beyond.

Space: 1999 featured some of the cream of the crop. Big guns Barry Gray, Derek Wadsworth, Big Jim Sullivan, and Vic Elms blended orchestras, bands, and seminal instruments like the sitar to put Moonbase Alpha in a futuristic world of tension, passion, and intrigue.

The ever-changing nature of popular music throughout these two decades meant that session musicians and composers not only had continuous work, but also free reign to experiment and push the envelope. Easy listening scores were replaced by groovy mod pop. The next month they were churning out psychedelia. Electronic music gave way for pounding disco beats. The sheer wealth of talent and versatility in these production companies remains unprecedented.

Barry GrayThe main production house for Space: 1999 was Chappell Music (aka The Chappell Recorded Music Library) – along with Gerry Anderson’s core team of collaborators and assistants. Chappell’s recorded music library division was set up in 1941, originally to make 78rpm recordings of the Queens Hall Light Orchestra, but quickly branching out into production music in the 60s for films, television, and radio. Cecil Leuter, Kai Martin, and Roger Roger – leading lights in incidental scoring – were in their stable.

Barry Gray joined Gerry Anderson’s AP Films in 1956, notably writing the themes for all of the Supermarionation shows, both Thunderbirds‘ films, and UFO. He was particularly noted for his use of brass and percussion, and especially his gift for writing original leitmotifs for individual characters and machinery alike. He was a major advocate for electronic music, which was especially prevalent throughout the early 70s in both film and television, and provided both electronic music and special effects for AP Films and Dr. Who.

In fact, his work forms the bulk of series one of Space: 1999, with the theme, full scores for episodes such as Black Sun, and Breakaway, and underlying percussion in the episode The Full Circle, with all other episodes bar one featuring re-edited versions of his library production music.

Only the score for Ring Around the Moon is produced by another artist. That credit goes to rock musician Vic Elms, a sometime Gerry Anderson crew member, who went on to found the chart-topping band Christie. And finally, flashes of sitar underscore The Troubled Spirit, which is where the legendary Big Jim Sullivan steps in.

Big Jim SullivanSullivan was one of the cornerstones of both session and library work, with a staggering 750 chart singles under his belt, among them 54 UK number ones. The “Big Jim” to fellow session musician Jimmy Pages “Little Jim”, he learned the sitar at George Harrison’s Esher mansion – and taught guitar to Richie Blackmore.

But it was Barry Gray who left the titanic mark in season one. Such was his contribution and legacy to the show, that when he left both Space: 1999 and AP Films at the end of the first series (also completely retiring from any and all television and film work to boot), the change in musical tone radically altered.

Derek Wadsworth was a veteran jazz musician and arranger when he stepped in to score series two. The jazzier, more driving soundtrack was echoed in an updated, synthesised theme song, with library production music and re-edits stepping in again to fill out other episodes.

The beauty of library music is that it not only provides a fascinating aural history of 60s and 70s music, but also that there are literally thousands of tracks with either ridiculously affordable licensing fees, or in some cases none whatsoever. Library Music (and the related Now Sound) have seen a resurgence in both DJ mixes and in the loungecore revival clubs of the late 90s like the Indigo Club, and albums like In-Flight Entertainment.

The Music of Space:1999In fact, the popularity of the genre of library music itself was so strong that 2012 saw sell-out shows in London by the KPM All-Stars – artists like Keith Mansfield (Grandstand), Alan Hawkshaw (The Night Rider, aka the Cadbury’s Milk Tray theme), and Brian Bennett (Robin’s Nest) bringing exuberant evenings of incidental music and TV themes to a new and highly appreciative audience.

As for the music of Space: 1999, painstaking archival research and conversations with former production crew members unearthed original master tapes for the show, and led to the release by Fanderson in 2010 of a two volume soundtrack. These previously unavailable compilations widened the audience yet again for a moment in British television history when composers were at a creative zenith. Long may they have free reign!



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