“I want these recordings to actually be used, so they have to fit a picture:” Matt Berry’s not joking with his nostalgic album of library music

Matt Berry
(Image credit: Press)

An initial obvious link between library music and the progressive rock world is when Van der Graaf Generator covered Sir George Martin’s Theme One – an epic psychedelic fanfare allied to BBC Radio 1 – as a single in 1972, notably used by the late Tommy Vance for the Friday Rock Show’s Friday Night Connection slot.

Over the last decade, Matt Berry has regularly referenced the composition and production of 60s and 70s theme songs and sound beds in his own work, such as on 2018’s Television Themes. Finally he’s made a record, Simplicity, in collaboration with the British library label KPM – and he couldn’t be happier.

How did you get into library music?

Through watching television as a kid in the mid-70s. Library music was used for sport, current affairs, everything, because apart from the Radiophonic Workshop, there wasn’t a BBC outfit for coming up with TV themes.

Library music was used quite creatively sometimes and quite bizarrely in other cases. But the library material was always excellent quality and really well put together with great influences, whether it was big band, jazz, soul, funk, rock, pop... you can hear it in all of those 60s, 70s and early 80s records on labels such as KPM, Bruton and De Wolfe.

It’s interesting to think that the theme from Grandstand, say, was selected from library music.

It could have been used for a quiz show and it would still fit. Something up-tempo would be for sport or a quiz, a march would be for news or a documentary. Then you’d get something silly that would be used on sitcoms, such as Terry And June.

A bizarre choice is Holy Mackerel! by Brian Bennett. That would have been intended for comedy but for some unknown reason was picked for Rugby Special.

In the 90s, a thirst for nostalgia in the UK ran parallel to Britpop and that’s when albums from the KPM – Keith-Prowse-Maurice – Music Group library became sought after.

I collected quite a few and the music – mostly instrumental – fascinated me. Martin Green had done a lot of crate-digging for the compilation The Sound Gallery, and that highlighted TV themes and adverts too. I loved the compositions and the playing.

I have to also give credit to Chris Evans and Danny Baker, who were playing this music on their radio shows at the time, creating interest in tracks you hadn’t heard since you were a kid, and in the people who made them.

How did the partnership with KPM come about?

I’ve talked about KPM over the years, and then I was invited to an event that was a Q&A with composer Keith Mansfield. I had to go! While I was there, Jack Lewis [KPM VP and A&R] grabbed me and said, “I’d love you to do something, if you have time and are interested.” I was like, “Of course!”

Before I knew it, it was finished, strings and brass were added and it was pressed onto KPM signature green vinyl. A digital release wouldn’t have been anywhere near the event it is for me. The whole point is to have the 12-inch, because that’s how we were introduced to these records.

What did you like about KPM’s music specifically?

The compositions are very melodic, and the top line was really important. Grandstand is probably the best example – the top line is using piccolo and the xylophone. I spoke to Keith Mansfield about this for quite some time – and for other people it might have been the most boring conversation! It was his technique and I applied it to my recordings. I recorded all the parts except for drums, which came from Craig Blundell, then KPM added real brass and strings from their studio in Los Angeles.

That top line is very apparent in your lead track, Top Brass. The titles were also important, being super-descriptive.

It’s exactly as if you’d been asked to come up with something for any type of show. So that’s what I was sort of thinking about when I was putting these things together – what would work? I want these recordings to actually be used, so they have to fit a picture. Driving Seat, for example, is written to be a theme. That’s a late-70s kind of Deep Purple tune, becoming Jean-Michel Jarre by the end!

I didn’t use any instruments that had been manufactured after 1980, but vintage analogue gear to sound like the tracks that they’re trying to evoke. I was also referring to the Herbie Flowers and Barry Morgan recordings for KPM; incredible Fender bass and that dry drum kit. Production is 50 per cent of the atmosphere of a record, and I have to get it right.

Set The Scene recalls the rare KPM record Brazilian Suite by Rogerio Duprat. You like some Latin percussion, don’t you? 

It’s always worthwhile giving a few bars of just percussion so it can be looped and put against the things where there’s a lot of talking. It gives me an excuse to get a tambourine and woodblocks out, which is always really good fun to do and adds a human element.

That’s alongside your two psychedelic production favourites, flange and phase.

That’s right – I flange on the drums and phase on the keyboards. Then I have plate reverb and spring reverb too; these create something a bit eerie.

KPM might not be so well known for prog compositions but Curved Air’s Francis Monkman and White Noise’s David Vorhaus also have catalogue releases.

David Vorhaus’ Sea Of Tranquillity is one of the best KPM recordings, and one of the best electronic recordings ever. Not to name drop, but I spoke about this piece with Jean-Michel Jarre, who’s a huge fan of it.

The kind of basic analogue sequencing that Vorhaus does on that was such a massive influence for so many people. It’s funny, because it appeared on adverts for things like Radion – like hearing Oxygène, but used on ads.

It was never celebrated in its own right, but Sea Of Tranquillity is up there with some of the most important electronic music created, and to do that as part of a library catalogue is incredibly impressive.

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.