Left Bank Two – The Noveltones
(Vision On : The Gallery theme)
Unmistakable, gentle, playful vibraphone jazz shuffle which evokes immediate memories for my generation of a BBCtv show called Vision On which ran from 1964 to 1976 thus neatly encapsulating my entire life in East Sussex as a youth. My family moved from Portsmouth in 1964 when I was just seven, Dad having scored a teaching job at Falmer School just outside of Brighton. We moved into a semi-detached house in Selmeston, a small village of some 200 people, bordered by a railway line at one end and the A27 at the other.
That one-mile stretch of road was my universe until the age of eleven by which time my dad and mum had divorced, mum had spent nine months in a mental hospital and I’d passed my eleven-plus exam and would take a bus into Lewes every day. Two years later we would all be separated as a family as the landlords – horsey toffs from Sherrington Manor – made us homeless and wiped our debt to them at one stroke. For the remainder of the 1970s we were in a council house in Hailsham, although I left for Laughton Lodge in 1975, and London in 1976.
Pat Keysell, Tony Hart
Throughout this period Vision On was on BBC TV. It was a programme for deaf children, and had almost no spoken words. It was watched by all children. Filled with speech bubbles and mime it was largely a visual show. Presented by Tony Hart and Pat Keysell, who spoke in sign language and spoke, with Tony spening much of the show (so it seemed to me) drawing things. Encouraging children to create. Awakening our latent interest in expression. The centrepiece of each show was The Gallery where the camera lingered over pictures that viewers – ie children – had sent in, with their name and age displayed, and a notice explaining and apologising that pictures could not be returned but that a prize would be given for those shown. What that prize was we never found out. We never sent one in, but were transfixed, at least partly by the music. For this section of the programme was played out to a piece of music which, with its dreamy melody and nimble simplicity appeared to come from another planet. In fact it came from Holland.
Left Bank Two was a piece of Library Music originally. Library Music is licensed differently than other music and is often used for TV shows. It is much cheaper for producers to use, as the broadcaster in general will pay the royalties, maybe a dollar each time it is played. If it is a long-running series, over the years this can add up. If it is a commercial, you could be, as composer, quids in. I found out a little about Library Music when I was directing an aborted documentary (called Red Light Fever) on British Session Musicians in 2012, inspired by the great doc ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Motown‘. I’m still learning. But all of the people I interviewed – singer and composer Barbara Moore, guitarist Chris Spedding, bass players Herbie Flowers and Les Hurdle, drummer Clem Cattini, singer Madeline Bell – all of them great session musicians, arrangers, songwriters, all exceptional musicians as session players have to be – (deep breath it’s a long sentence) – all of them have played Library Music on a regular basis. How to explain it? There are some production houses which specialise in this kind of music. De Wolfe Music is the big one, started in 1927 to provide cheap music for the talkies.
They hire a composer to write : seascapes, exciting car chase, a creepy scene, ghostly atmospheres, romantic swoons, mood music of various types. The Composer will hire a group of session musicians to come and read the dots and they will be paid a session fee. The pieces of music will be grouped together and issued to TV production companies who can use a short piece – eg Grange Hill written by Alan Hawkshaw – and the broadcaster will cover the royalties. All the musicians who played on the piece will get a cut, unless they signed that percentage away, in the deal – a “buy-out”. And if you’re a session musician you never know which piece will suddenly get picked up. Indeed these days when hip-hop producers and DJs are constantly looking for new samples, obscure beats and licks that other producers haven’t used yet, Library Music is now being plundered like every other form of music. Barbara Moore provided the marvellous wordless vocal on the theme tune to The Saint. Les Hurdle ended up playing with Giorgio Moroder‘s band in Munich when Donna Summer turned up and disco was born. And this particular piece – called Left Bank Two – was an afterthought on one of those De Wolfe sessions in 1963, at the end of the day with half an hour still on the clock – I love these stories, this one reminiscent of Otis Redding’s big break – “has anyone got anything we can play here?”
It was young vibes player Wayne Hill who offered ‘a thing he’d been playing around with’. The group of Dutch musicians with whom he was playing (who called themselves The Noveltones) quickly learned it and recorded the vibraphone-led piece. Carefully listening musos will hear the guitarist having a slight crisis over chords towards the end, the only clue to the tune’s end-of-session nativity. TV viewers would never get to hear that anyway since The Gallery would only last a minute usually. Seemed longer though didn’t it ? A minute is a long time on television…
I bought a vibraphone in 2004 once The Brighton Beach Boys had decided to perform “Pet Sounds” live. There is one tune on that LP which requires vibes, and although my keyboard has a good vibes sample, the visual of seeing someone strike the keys with beaters as Darian Sahanaja had done with the Brian Wilson Band earlier that year had stuck with me. I want to be him, I thought. I wanted to play vibes on “Let’s Go Away For A While“. I’ll save it for another post. But the first tune I attempted to play, once I’d set it up and worked out how to use the foot-pedal, was the Vision On Gallery Theme. Of course ! And wheeling it into rehearsal with the Brighton Beach Boys, everyone wanted a go, and I think almost everyone wanted to play that tune. Maybe it was just me ;-0
Live in St George’s – my Penny Lane vibes – concentration is key !
My vibraphone currently resides in the Charlotte Glasson Musical Museum of Earthly Recollections in Brighton’s sexy Surrey Street, being carefully nurtured and oiled.
Tony Hart is a children’s TV legend. An early (ie before my time) Blue Peter presenter, he designed the logo for the Blue Peter badge, and took a buy-out rather than the requested 1d per badge. After Vision On was discontinued in 1976 would go on to use Left Bank Two as the theme music for his next show Take Hart, and John Williams‘ Deer Hunter Theme Cavatina would take over as the Gallery Music. He often appeared alongside Aardman Animations creation Morph in the late 70s and 80s until he retired with two Baftas in 2001. Tony Hart died in 2006, his reputation unbesmirched like others of his generation.
Left Bank Two – the Vision On Gallery Theme – is often referred to as ‘easy-listening music’ or even ‘elevator music’. It’s library music. It’s TV theme music. And – yes – it’s jazz.