Sunday 5 April 2015

Keith Mansfield - Unsung musical genius

My aim in my blog is to publish at least one post for each of the elements of my Twitter profile. One, if you like, for each of the squares on my background wallpaper.

So this is from the part of me that is a "music geek".

My taste in music is eclectic and catholic. I could easily be accused of being undiscerning, but I prefer to think of myself as musically very tolerant and inclusive. I could never say what kind of music I like, because it would take me too long to answer. My spotify playlists are vast in scope, and I love anything: not everything, but many things.

Musically, I delight in guilty pleasures, I refuse (and always have refused) to be influenced by prevailing tastes, so I can be found wallowing in classical,  rock and pop, punk, new wave, choral music, hymns and much more besides. I delight in theming music (hence my love of Spotify), often in the most absurdly contrived ways, resulting in playlists of remarkable diversity.

I also enjoy discovering unsung heroes: popular music in particular, with its focus on the performer rather than the composer, producer or arranger, often overlooks those without whom the finished product - the recording - would be nothing. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the real "5th Beatle", George Martin, but that is perhaps too obvious. Few would deny that without him, the genius of the fab four would have been much diminished.

So this post is about a less well known unsung musical genius: Keith Mansfield. "Who?", I hear you say. Well, he is described, in that font of all knowledge Wikipedia, as a "composer and arranger", but that won't help much. But try this and you'll know it:-

I bet you're transported straight to warm summer afternoons, Robinson's Barley Water, strawberries and cream. It's the BBC's Wimbledon theme.

Now try this:-

If you were born any time before 2000, I bet you're transported back to Saturday afternoons, probably in winter: old school rugby league, five nations rugby union, football preview, horseracing, the teleprinter and classified football results. It's the BBC's Grandstand theme.

These two iconic pieces from TV history were both composed by Keith Mansfield, to my mind an unheralded musical genius. Both pieces are upbeat, driven along by brass, defying you not to feel uplifted and excited at what is to come. Their link to favourite sporting memories only serves to strengthen the appeal.

However, it is as an arranger and orchestrator that his genius is fully revealed. I was reminded of Keith Mansfield today when listening to  one of my "sacred and secular" playlists, indeed one of my favourites: Easter songs. Now if ever a straightforward pop song works with a deeper meaning, try listening to the Love Affair's 1968 classic "Bringing on back the good times" at Easter. Of course it's just a song about a relationship lost, found again and re-ignited, like millions of others, but try thinking of it as an expression of the joy that is the resurrection, and it works brilliantly. I would defy anyone not to feel uplifted by this song,  indeed it is the lead track on another of my Spotify playlists - Feelgood Songs.

Like those sporting themes, it's driven along by brass: the bold and confident introduction draws you into the song by introducing the hook of the chorus line before you get to the verse. But listen to the orchestration in the chorus and hear the way it complements the bluesy voice of Steve Ellis, with a simple harmony line that works perfectly, and just try to imagine the song without the orchestra. And once you know it's the same orchestra that did those iconic sporting themes, you realise that you are hearing the unmistakeable mark of a musical genius at work.

Keith Mansfield's body of well-known work is not vast, but in the late 60's and early 70's that distinctive orchestration gave us classics such as this No 1 by the Love Affair:-

And these two by Scottish outfit Marmalade,  often wrongly categorised as 60's bubblegum but actually a versatile and capable blues band:-

Marmalade's finest song, from 1970, is also enhanced by Mansfield orchestration this time with strings more than brass.

I hope that older readers will enjoy re-discovering some familiar stuff, perhaps in a new light, and younger readers will enjoy these fine examples of  the contribution made by a  real musician to 60's pop.

Happy listening!

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