❉ An immaculately-realised homage to the golden era of British film and television library music
One could be forgiven for not being familiar with The Lounge Bar Orchestra and the ‘Omeroyd Sound’, an injustice that The Lounge Bar Orchestra: The Pilot Episodes seeks to rectify.
The Lounge Bar Orchestra: The Pilot Episodes represents all that survives of the legacy of the short-lived Ousewater Television and Film Productions (1968-1975) – founded by Wing Commander Jackie Biard-Lockles – and its in-house composer, journeyman Reg Omeroyd, who disappeared into thin air in October 1974, abandoning his Ford coupé at a local beauty spot, leaving a single farewell note: “Just off for a wee. Back in 5 mins”.
The sleeve notes, by Shindig!’s Greg Healey, dutifully fill in the back-story; “Based at a disused World War Two airfield, in the remote region of Kielder, Northumbria, the studio produced a succession of instantly forgettable TV shows and films, in an atmosphere one former employee described as ‘very pleasant and quite productive’.
“Nothing remains of the films and TV shows made during those heady few years at Ousewater Television. Luckily, however, the musical recordings were saved – retrieved from a skip by the Lounge Bar Orchestra’s first trombone, Leonard Wright.”
As the more retro pop culture-savvy of you may have already surmised, there was no Ousewater Television or Reg Omeroyd; this colourful and evocative back-story is a delightful conceit conceived by Greg Healey as the framework for The Lounge Bar Orchestra: The Pilot Episodes, an immaculately-realised album skilfully evoking and paying tribute to the golden era of British film and television library music as produced by the likes of KPM, DeWolfe, Bruton, Chappell and others – the funky, string- and brass-laden sounds that scored many a schools and colleges educational programme, ITV drama series, low-budget movies and testcard/Ceefax time-fillers, prior to being rediscovered by crate diggers, turntablists and the compilers of Blow-Up, The Sound Gallery, The Easy Project and The Sound Spectrum in the postmodern nineties.
Float on a surrealistic pillow of easy listening nirvana, with the blissful ‘high life’ opener, Fresh Laundry, evoking in fine form the widescreen daydreams of John Barry, Tony Hatch and Johnny Pearson, with a sumptuous full-band sound of Mantovani-style strings, and as the wittily titled Inspector Yoohoo Calls summons a dreamy, wistful flute and piccolo middle-eight that Alan Hawkshaw would have sold his Milk Tray royalties for. Elsewhere, on the album’s most compelling track Operation 222 (reprised in a fuller arrangement as Brassy Operation 222), the tones and textures of Claude Vasori’s seminal 1972 album Energie (used to great effect in David Cronenberg’s Rabid) and the distinctive wah-wah stylings of Blue Mink’s Alan Parker (A KPM stalwart) are recalled.
If you close your eyes while listening to these confections, you may view in your mind’s eye the kinds of imaginary film and TV shows compositions such as these might have graced… the album’s titles are suggestive of the sorts of programming these compositions would have graced in a parallel universe close to our own: Wake Up To Craft, Miriam And Roger, The Malvern Detective…
More than a mere exercise in pastiche, there’s real musicianship at work in this aural delight, from Healey’s compositional efforts and the rich scores, and some nifty drumming underpinning the album – with overtones of the chamber-jazz of Zappa’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Hot Rats on penultimate track Untitled End – and the spirit of Reg Tilsley and Johnny Hawksworth is alive and well. It’s the perfect escapist soundtrack for these lockdown days, an affectionate and well-accomplished realisation/recreation of easy listening; a suitable companion to Buried Treasure’s The Delaware Road. Pour it into your ears.
❉ ‘The Lounge Bar Orchestra: The Pilot Episodes’ is available as a digital download or limited run vinyl LP via the artists’ Bandcamp page
❉ James Gent is the Editor of We Are Cult, and is the co-editor of Me and the Starman, (Chinbeard Books, 2019) Available in paperback from Amazon: All profits from this book go toward supporting the work of Cancer Research UK.