Saturday, December 18, 2010

Primitive London

Trunk Records continues to unearth and delve into the shadowy world of lost cinematic soundtracks with the release of a rather curious and oddly elegant score to a 1965 exploitation flick entitled “Primitive London”. The film itself, is a wonderfully unique and peculiar piece of British exploitative post war cinema. Filmed on a shoestring budget, with the sole intention of getting the punters in, this bizarrely engaging film by maverick director Arnold L. Miller is a strange and heady mix of skin flick, mondo exploitation and social documentary. The film sensationally combines sordid titillation, everyday banality and the downright bizarre, think boobs, bums, bikers, suburban swingers, beatniks, cheeky East End villains, glamorous showgirls, chicken processing plants and the latest developments in hair replacement surgery and you get the idea. Despite its best attempts to appear scandalously sensationalistic, the film captures a strangely peculiar pre-permissive Britain which is neither salacious nor shocking. The film proclaimed to scratch the thin veneer of respectability to discover a hidden world of crime and suppressed sexual desire waiting to vent but in reality what is presented is an oddball montage of schlock and tease, a second-rate, tawdry tour of the commonplace. Despite this, it’s a wonderfully engaging yet oddly surreal film but ultimately at the end of the show you're left with the feeling that the strippers depicted are not the only people who have ripped something off. This makes the accompanying soundtrack by composer Basil Kirchin even more remarkable in that the score is neither sensational nor sordid but a masterpiece of curiously elegant arrangement and compositional refinement. It’s beautifully haunting score which both compliments and transcends its cinematic setting. The music is gracefully rhythmical and shifts across a wide variety of moods and tempos while still retaining a singular and unique voice. The soundtrack is an unusual mix of baroque minimalism, cool post bop jazz, spectral orchestration and electronic experimentation which defies simplistic categorisation, an oddball one indeed. Like the score, Basil Kirchin is a bit of an oddity. He apparently spent five months in a Ramakrishna Temple in India a decade before it became fashionable. In the early sixties he created experimental “soundtracks for unmade films” using collaged ambient sounds and if this all sounds a bit Eno before Eno, he could also confidently compose in a bizarre range of musical styles and idioms. How he happened to become involved in scoring music for the nefarious and seedy underbelly of British cinema remains a mystery, perhaps a true meeting of the sublime and the ridiculous. This soundtrack is yet another meticulous reclamation of a hidden musical past by label owner Jonny Trunk and if the world is a just place, his residence will have a Blue Plaque promptly installed to commemorate his significant contribution to a very peculiar kind of cultural and musical archaeology. A fascinating and strangely beautiful release.

“Primitive London” is released on Trunk Records this month.

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