From Grange Hill to Gainsbourg
The colourful lives of KPM’s librarymusic heroes Brian Bennett and Alan Hawkshaw
“Serge gainsbourg? I wouldn’t call him hedonistic, he was actually quite a shy guy. Only trouble was he wasn’t very eco-friendly, smoking and drinking all day, that was the hard part. But we had some fun.”
Now 81, the venerable Yorkshire musician Alan Hawkshaw has worked behind the scenes with some of the best in the business, including Bowie, giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, becoming gainsbourg's go-to arranger throughout the ’70s. “If I got a whisper of a song from him I could develop it into a piece,” says Hawkshaw. “He liked that.”
A keyboardist and prolific composer who also wrote the Countdown and grange Hill theme tunes among many others, Hawkshaw’s most enduring partnership has been with drummer Brian Bennett, and their friendship is still going strong. Bennett, 78, is another successful session player, who started in The Shadows in 1961 at the age of 21, writing hits such as “Summer Holiday” as well as popular TV themes for the likes of rugby Special and BBC golf.
Having met in the early ’60s on the theatre circuit in great Yarmouth, Hawkshaw and Bennett would go on to flex their chops in the ’70s and ’80s on a series of progressive library records for labels such as KPM and Bruton, composing and playing everything from smooth jazz to electronic oddities – whatever the brief dictated. These albums were not intended for sale; instead the music was widely used in advertising, TV and film. “We didn’t do library music to get public recognition,” says Bennett. “We wanted to please the client within the industry.”
Today, original vinyl editions are sought after as the library genre has become fetishised by connoisseurs such as Jonny Trunk and Andy Votel, as well as rap producers hunting obscure samples. “The music is more popular than ever because it’s been exposed via the internet to a younger generation who have no preconception of library music,” notes Hawkshaw.
All of which bodes well for the pair’s latest release, a new album of original material for KPM as the label celebrates its 60th. On the appositely titled Full
Circle, the pair roll out Hammond funk joints and atmospheric synth pieces as if time has stood still since ’76. They cut much of it, along with a big band, in a large room in Bennett’s farmhouse near St Albans – Hawkshaw lives a 15-minute drive away – and enlisted Bennett’s son Warren, a library man himself, to produce. “Warren tightened it so we didn’t fly off and indulge, musically,” says Bennett. “It has to be highly useable. But it sounds good, so it’s coming out on general release. People are excited. Isn’t it nice for things to be happening for people at our age?” While Hawkshaw and Bennett might claim to be from another era, their music, much to their amusement, is hipper than ever. Bennett was presented with a platinum disc for co-writing Drake’s 2016 smash “Summer Sixteen” after its producers used a slowed-down sample of his ’75 KPM cut “glass Tubes”, a Tubular Bells pastiche knocked out in a Soho basement. “Forty years later, Drake picks it up. Amazes me more than anyone.”
Hawkshaw is used to being sampled – the funk break in “The Champ” by his ’60s group The Mohawks became a blueprint for block-party hip-hop in the late ’70s – but admits he’s not au fait with the modern-day rap game. “I got an email saying we’re trying to contact you for a piece of music we want to put out for a well-known rapper,” he recalls. “I read the email to my daughter and said, ‘Have you heard of a guy called Jay Zed?’ She said, ‘You’re an idiot, dad. That’s Jay-Z – he’s a big artist.’”
Full Circle is out on September 28 on KPM/Be With. Hawkshaw and Bennett play live with The KPM All Stars at the British Library, London, on October 6