Shawn, all started with your passion for obscure records in the eighties. But finally after you relocated to London in the mid-90s you became a library music addict. How did that happen?
Well one fateful night in 1996 I was hanging out in Kensington Park Hotel with my old friend Brian BT Transeau. We were joined by Kirsty Hawkshaw, the daughter of Alan Hawkshaw, and her then boyfriend producer Mark Pritchard. The conversation eventually turned to her dad and Library Music – the words Brian Bennett, KPM, Dewolfe, Studio G etc. We’re bandied about and I was instantly intrigued and curious as hell.
Did you have the idea of making a film about this subject for the first time back then?
No. The idea came years later. It probably would have been around 2005 when I started saying things like: “Wouldn’t be cool if there was a documentary film about Library Music”!
Paul, how did Shawn and you meet?
I first met Shawn about ten or eleven years ago. I had just finished a record and were looking for remixers, a mutual friend and fantastic piano player Stephen ‘Lord’ Large had just finished working with Shawn and put us in touch. Since that remix, we have worked together on lots of music both recorded and Live, I have designed some of Shawn’s record sleeves and of course we have now made The Library Music Film together!
When and why did you fall in love with Library Music, Paul?
I first encountered Library Music when I was at school. The music dept. had a shelf of old KPM, Chappells and BBC vinyl. I had just started getting into sampling, so cherry picked the best records, stuffed them into my backpack and fell straight into the rabbit hole of Library. A few years later – still a youngster – I was DJing before great DJs like Mark Pritchard and Danny Breaks. These guys pointed me in the right direction to find the best breaks and weirdest, psychedelic funk! I instantly loved the sound of Library, the way it was recorded and I have always been a fan of instrumental music and Library seemed perfect for my eclectic taste.
Did it take a long time for Shawn to convince you to do the film?
It took no time at all to convince me really…. Shawn didn’t pitch the idea to me as such, but simply explained that he had the idea for some years, but no one had ever really taken the leap with him. Already having a basic knowledge of Library, I thought it was a great idea, but it wasn’t until a few days later that I google searched and found virtually no video of these legendary composers or their incredible stories, so I called Shawn back and within a week we were interviewing the Hawk (Alan Hawkshaw)!
Shawn, was Alan Hawkshaw the logical starting point for the story?
Well Alan Hawkshaw was the first musician that we interviewed for the film. I had known Kirsty (his daughter) for some time and also Alan. In fact the first Library Music I ever did was with The Hawk for a Hammond Funk album in the early 2000’s. It only seemed logical to start with Alan.
I remember that Peter Guralnick wrote in his history of Southern Soul, “Sweet Soul Music”, that he was sometimes desperate, because after each conversation with the artists there were new questions, new contacts, other aspects of the story, so he thought he could not bring the project to an end. Did you have that feeling sometimes too, Shawn?
Every interview lead to another and yet another. It just snowballed. We interviewed a lot of people in the end but there still were people that we didn’t get around to. At certain point you have to finish the darn film and every person you talk to then means that you will invariably have edit someone else’s stuff out.
For the film you didn’t limit yourself only on British musicians, you interviewed a lot of European and American composers and musicians too. What are the main cultural differences in the approach to this music? For example, what distinguishes British from Italian library music?
Well, everybody has their own vibe. In a nutshell, the Brits are very American influenced and very tight, slick musicianship and sonics. The German stuff is very hi-fi and a bit more electronic. The Italians are darker, weirder, more experimental and more European sounding. And The French sit somewhere between all the above.
You visited the vaults at Music DeWolfe, Warner-Chappell, Bosworth KPM, and talked with library music legends such as Alan Hawkshaw and Keith Mansfield. What was your most impressive interview?
The interviews in Rome were epic. Going to The ‘I Marc 4’ studio to talk to Stefano Torossi and Piero Umiliani’s Sound Workshop we’re magical moments. Also, playing both Dave Richmond’s Melody Nelson Burns Bison bass and Herbie Flower’s Jazz bass were priceless memories too. But to be honest, talking to all the OG composers and musicians were incredibly inspiring and unforgettable moments in my life.
Paul, Shawn and you have met numerous musicians, DJs and collectors over the years. In retrospect, what’s your favourite anecdote?
There are far too many to choose a favourite! I guess the best thing to do is to watch the film (and the DVD’s 47 minutes of Extras) to hear some of them for yourself 😉
Library music is actually an anonymous business. The musicians record the tracks, go home after work and nobody recognizes them. There is no real stardom. Shawn, were some of your interview partners surprised at this late interest in their music?
Mostly yes but guys like The Hawk, Janko & Mansfield are aware of their legacy. I’m so glad to be shining a light on these unsung heroes. They so deserve it.
From the late 80s on Library Music experienced a renaissance through the crate-digging DJ culture. It has been a golden quarry for decades. Were all musicians aware of how and where their music was used?
Keith, Brian, Hawk, Janko etc. have all been sampled a lot. They have enjoyed reaping the benefits of those samples financially. Others have not, and aren’t always happy about people repurposing their music. Especially the French Telemusic composers.
Paul, like many special genres, Library Music is a playground for experts and exegetes. Did you ever fear that the film could not satisfy this music aficionada in the sense of: “How could you forget only this artist”?
This was something that was always on our minds. We were walking a tightrope – we needed to satisfy the hardcore collectors and Library experts, however one of the goals was to celebrate this great music and shed some light on the legendary composers and musicians by bringing Library Music to a new audience. It would be easy to get in depth and nerdy, which we do at times, but we also wanted to ensure that this was a music documentary that appealed to the everyday music fans too! I like to think we accomplished this.
It was a long way to the premiere in London. There was amongst other an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for filming so you could finish the project. How hard was it to realise an independent film these days, Paul?
Making a feature length documentary is hard. Even harder when you have virtually no budget and only three people in the crew! Ha! As soon as we started this, we knew we had something special and we all knew that it was important to get this to the finish line. We could’ve just focused on the UK and had a great film, but Library Music is global with each country having their own sound, legends and fantastic stories. We also felt it was really important to speak to the collectors, DJs & producers who have been influenced by and love this music. As soon as we announced what we were doing on social media, the interest was and is phenomenal, so we did the crowdfunding campaign which helped a lot (Thanks again guys!) and we also had great help from our friends at Whosampled.com and some of the Libraries, who were all really happy that we wanted to showcase this great music! Back to your question though – How hard was it to realise an independent film these days? It’s hard and stressful and can become an easy way to spend money and all your time, but if the story is there, the subject is right and the interviewees are good characters with great stories – it has to be done!
Paul, you worked closely with the Shawn and Sean Lamberth on this film. You discovered so many aspects to the story. How hard was it to bring the documentary to a satisfying end, to find the right moment to say: “That’s it, we have everything”?
With Library Music there could be no end point! The music is a vast treasure trove of all genre and style. I have learned so much about the composers, musicians, studios, recording techniques, arranging and composing and we have only scratched the surface, but after five countries, around 50 interviews, hundreds of records played and three and a half years, it was time!
The Library Music Film celebrated its world premiere at London’s British Library in October – it was sold out in just a few hours. What was the response of the audience, Paul?
The response has been overwhelming. I was certainly nervous as I watched the audience taking their seats. Nervous until the credits rolled and the audience gave the film a round of applause! The doors opened and out they came smiling and even some of the hardcore library collectors told me that they had never heard the stories and learned about musicians that had played on some of their favourite tracks. The film has had worldwide requests for screenings and five star magazine reviews and the accompanying vinyl only LP compilation sold out four days before the release date!
Did you expect this success?
Honestly, I didn’t think the film would be received in this way. I knew we had gold with the interviews and I knew the subject had a built in niche audience, but you can never tell how people will receive your work, so I’m extremely happy that the film has resonated with both fans and newcomers of Library Music. I hope this will continue and we can take the film on the road further afield and introduce people to this wonderful and mysterious world of Library!
Shawn, unfortunately you have missed the London premiere, but you and Paul are currently on a European tour with the film. What are the previous reactions of the audience?
I have only been at Leeds screening so far but people laughed a lot and they made me really happy as we had a lot of fun filming and I think that’s shown.
Your film is especially a monument for the musicians who created great analogue music over 40 years ago. Can you imagine that in 30 years there will be a film about today’s library music, Shawn?
Most of today’s Library Music that I’ve heard is complete garbage, so honestly no.
Can we expect more film projects from you in the future? Maybe a West Coast documentary? I think that there is an audience that would love to see you interviewing Hall & Oates or Michael McDonald.
I have thought about doing a West Coast Film. The BBC are doing one at the moment. Young Gun Silver Fox is in it too! I hope the film will be great. I would very much like to do more music doc films in the future.
Paul, are you already working on a new film project?
No! For a few reasons… Firstly, I need to get back into my studio and work on some new music, I have a few musical projects on the boil that I need to get on with and as much as I’ve enjoyed making this film, I’ve missed writing, recording and playing music. Secondly, I haven’t found a subject that has interested me enough to dive in head first like Library Music. The subject IS out there, but it’s gonna have to be a pretty special story to come close to The Library Music Film.
Photo: Shawn Lee
This interview was first published on November 9, 2018.