From Doctor Who to Picture Box, children’s TV has been responsible for both sneaking leftfield stories onto the screen and giving us some strange, unforgettable music. The stop motion animated version of The Moomins from the early 1980s epitomises this type of gentle subversion, but its uniquely odd soundtrack of home-brewed electro-exotica has never been released – until now.
Graeme Miller and Steve Shill came from Leeds’ post-punk scene and were running the Impact Theatre Co-Operative when they were commissioned to record the music for a Polish children’s series re-cut for British TV. The Moomins was based on a collection of modern fairy tales from Finland that featured a charming array of eccentric characters, but didn’t shy away from the darkness and mystery that often lies at the heart of children’s literature. Recording on a Portastudio and using whatever instruments came to hand, Miller and Shill created an otherworldly score that enhanced the eerie wonderment of the animation. The Moomins Theme itself may still be familiar to those of a certain age, a wonky music machine wending its way through fir-lined valleys, its jolly East European folk melody always threatening to go somewhere less cosy. Here and throughout the album, you can hear the experimental pastoral electronica of Cluster and simple elegance of early Kraftwerk, faux naïf basslines combining with happy whistling synths. The electro-orchestral sweep of Leaving Moomin Valley recalls Wendy Carlos and is altogether more melancholy. Other tracks are downright spooky. The wailing drone, slowed down voices and nervy percussion of Midwinter Rites wouldn’t be out of place in a Dario Argento film, while Comet Shadow could have been on the Blade Runner soundtrack if Ridley Scott had used fuzzy felt instead of Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer.
At times foreshadowing the type of noises that retro futurists such as Pram and Broadcast would make, this music is a testament to imagination and ingenuity on a shoestring.