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Stand By for Adverts

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Album Review

During the 1960s, Barry Gray's crowning achievement was the formulation of theme music for Gerry & Sylvia Anderson's wonderfully weird animated marionette television programs. Gray's perch in the pantheon of great soundtrack composers rests squarely on his contribution to the juvenile adventure serials Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterions, Stingray, and the incomparable Fireball XL5. Posthumous releases of Gray's collected output have revealed a previously underappreciated legacy of oddly entertaining themes and incidental tidbits. Nothing, however, could have prepared the die-hard Barry Gray enthusiast for the 2011 Trunk Records release of Stand by for Adverts: Rare Jazz, Jingles and Advertising Electronics. Its 81 tracks, ranging in duration from 10 seconds to a little less than two-and-a-half minutes, cover a dizzying wealth of music and noises used on behalf of mass-produced commodities and foodstuffs marketed in the U.K. where Gray was born, bred, schooled, deployed, and employed. What Trunk has unearthed is a mind-bending, random core sampling of audio "orts" and reheated leftovers from Gray's adventures in the bowels of Britain's televised marketplace. Listening to the nearly one-hour compilation straight on through can be a funny and pleasantly disorienting experience, particularly for anyone who packs an unconventional sense of humor. The overall effect is oddly comforting. In addition to his signature synthesized keyboard passages (some of which are positively bizarre) there are regular instances of cool bop and jazzy "bug music" similar to that of Raymond Scott, examples being "Mansion Polish," "Phillips Cycles," "Herald," and "Bonvisi Spaghetti," which brings on something very like a rhumba. Three "Jazz Tracks Written for Shell" constitute the best groove-based listening in the entire collection, as well as tangible proof that some of England's professional jazz musicians generated a bit of extra income by assisting with this kind of production work. Other examples in this category are "Textiles," "Scooters" (the instrumental version with bongos and brass), and "Gillette," which mildly suggests the influence of Lennie Tristano and Billy Bauer. Track by track there is a growing sense that when all is said and done, the 21st century epoch of analytical Barry Gray studies has only just begun to dawn.

Whereas for some listeners this little archive may convey all the charm of a cultural hemorrhage, it's exciting to revisit the historic detritus with the unflinching clarity warranted by this kind of forensic evidence. In the U.K. as well as the U.S., an important ingredient in ‘60s pop culture was the artless pseudo-ethnic caricature. Cheery encouragements to consume "Booth's Dry Gin," for example, are foisted on the listener via a hasty array of multinational ethnic stereotypes. The pseudo-Caribbean jingle for "Quaker Banana Mellows" breakfast cereal is one of numerous tracks featuring the Mike Sammes Singers, an alternately smooth and borderline annoying easy listening ensemble that backed a broad range of artists from the Beatles to Whistling Jack Smith. The ditty for "Farm Brand Milk" and a somewhat manic setting of the slogan "The Esso Sign Means Happy Motoring!" are two of several ads churned out by the Mike Sammes Male Chorus, who you'll note pronounced the word "vitamin" like "cinnamon." The sheer magnitude of this mini-archive becomes gradually apparent as the listener is buffeted with zingy pitches for "Elastoplast," "Respic," "Punjana Tea," "Sunsilk Shampoo," "Poppet Washing Up Liquid," and "Klenitex Waterproof Coating." In addition to the jazz, Gray's seedbed of musical whatnots contained zany cartoon chases, novelty processionals, twangy guitars, synthetically generated gunshots, orchestral and lounge exotica, a passage sounding like a lost aria from Bizet's Carmen, and arcane melodies recognizable as "Old MacDonald" and "Ba Ba Black Sheep."

Trunk's no-stone-unturned approach brings to light a peculiar selection of errant instrumentals, each labeled only as "Unreferenced Music Track." Much of the material in this wildly unpredictable collection consists of unedited production segments, complete with false starts, countdowns, and pockets of silence. "Spick Supermarket" begins with a voice designating it as an "electronic effects track." "Tide Washing Powder" is granted both a sentimental female vocal and a kooky set of nutty noises laced with truncated riffs and licks. A series of snippets used to market "Aspro" cold medicine combine sneezing with utterly wacky sound effects, and more sneezing is heard during the segment devoted to Aspro's competitor "Thermogene." Oddball electronics and sound effects recur with dazzling regularity in tonal episodes designed to enhance presentations like the "Hoover Keymatic Washing Machine" documentary. Four partial outtakes for "Ridgeways Country House Tea" include botched incomplete recitations and a series of very strange human choking, gulping, and spluttering noises. One can only imagine what was happening onscreen. As this region of Gray's work was anchored in snappy slogans and advertising copy, Trunk's grab bag of production snippets is crammed with pleasantly pushy yammering, sometimes without any music attached. For example "Ogden's St Julien Tobacco" ("for a special smoke every time") consists only of the voic-eover. This is possibly the actual speaking voice of Barry Gray, for he is credited with vocals along with seven other individuals. Trunk covered similar ground in 2006 with the 44-track Mike Sammes Singers' advertising jingle retrospective Music for Biscuits. The two collections have no tracks in common and may co-exist in perfect harmony wherever carefully compiled cultural detritus is welcomed and appreciated. Furthermore, it's well worth noting that producer Jonny Trunk's own achievements as an electronica artist provide substantial evidence that one of his primary influences — if not direct sampling resources — appears to have been the one and only Barry Gray.


Born: 1908

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '60s

The name Barry Gray may not mean much to the population at large, but a mention of some of the television series that he scored -- Fireball XL5, Supercar, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Thunderbirds, UFO, Space: 1999 -- will evoke instant recognition for those of a certain age (whether baby boomers or beyond). Although he was engaged in the writing of music for all manner of television programs and even a few feature films scattered between them, Gray inadvertently provided the "soundtrack"...
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Stand By for Adverts, Barry Gray
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