Brian Bennett – Voyage – A Journey into Discoid Funk
The Shadows may have given us Cliff Richard, but let’s not forget they also gave us Brian Bennett. Tucked away at the back on his drum stool, he and Hank, with his sensible glasses, knew they were the brains of the bunch and lo’, we can talk to them today without fear of ridicule. Brian was a ‘proper’ drummer – to stand a chance in those days, you had to be. You would be gigging every night of the week and not necessarily in the same band – you had to be ready to pick up your sticks and be ready to go full pelt rock ‘n’ roll Tuesday or shuffling your brushes like you’re trying to get the paint out of them on Wednesday.
By 1967, The Shads weren’t enough to satiate his inner musicality and he released the organ-heavy swinging jazz album, ‘Change of Direction‘. Following this, he recorded the pre-requisite shit-ton of music for the Bruton and KPM Music Libraries, as well as composing for TV and film – subjects as varied as Radley Metzger’s lavish porn productions and less erotic, depending on your kinks, Robin’s Nest and the well-used themes to accompany golf, rugby and rugby on TV.
His skill in flitting from writing and performing on demand and under ridiculous time-constraints meant that the 1978 album, ‘Voyage‘, has survived the tests of time, giving him the space to truly develop his ideas. In many ways it is a reaction to the confines he had found himself thus far in his career, rooted in the two-and-a-half minute pop song or given a very narrow canvas on which to paint specifically defined musical sketches. The influences are obvious and come from both the science fiction showing at the cinema at the time (culminating in Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and the music which was tweaking Brian’s ear at the time, notably, Vangelis, Brian Eno and Jean-Michel Jarre. Alongside session bassist, Alan Jones and synth player Francis Monkman from Curved Air (as well as composer of the score to Long Good Friday) he decamped to Dick Plant’s Music Centre recording space in Wembley and got cosmic.
Of the half dozen tracks, only one is under six minutes, with each track being a completely stand-alone piece in its own right, yet still blending in nicely with its neighbours. Of course, the idea is to listen to it as a complete entity, possibly in the dark – a virtual trip through the universe. What confuses everything hugely is the album’s subtitle – “A Journey into Discoid Funk”. This, along with the cover art which though fun, looks like the images that adorned Geoff Love-type albums of movie themes, were purely record label faffing and both annoyed Brian and left potential purchasers to be expecting Meco-disco dance-alongs (Meco had released Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk the previous year and found himself nominated for a Grammy…alongside John Williams).
You’d be hard pushed to dance along to ‘Voyage’. Decidedly proggy, it’s the bass and drums which stand out on each track, ironically, with the synth work, though excellent, working as atmospherics rather than melody. That said, it’s entirely possible to whistle stand-out track, ‘Solstice‘, though attempting the same with ‘Chain Reaction‘ is likely to leave you needed to blow into a paper bag. With an entirely different cover, you could just about see this marketed as a jazz album, or at the very least lumped in with what would eventually become ambient music. “Discoid Funk” seems like an extravagant attempt at pinning the tale on a particularly wild donkey and immediately leaves you looking to find fault. In 1978, not enough people bought it to find fault and those who did (many of them die-hard Shadows fans) did their best to excuse themselves and looked to shift them on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. It was decades before it had the dust blown off it and became a hugely sought-after LP.
Brian recalled to the Financial Times in 2008 being told that ‘Voyage’ had started making waves in the most unlikely of places:
It was at his local golf club. “It was from an album I did called Voyage,” he says. Apparently someone in America had uncovered a copy and used its music to back their raps. “He hadn’t sampled it, he’d just used the whole track. It was ‘motherf***er this’, ‘motherfu***er that’. And I threw it in the bin. “I turned up at the golf course; one of my golf buddies was Steve Jenkins, MD of Jive Records, and he asked who the rapper was. ‘Was? Wiz? Something like that.’ He said, ‘Was it Nas?’ It was. ‘He’s sold shitloads of records,’ Steve said. Then Kanye West did the same thing with the same record and had a big hit called ‘Lord Lord Lord’. And another track was used by Drake for ‘Summer Sixteen’ in 2016. My granddaughter suddenly thinks I’m hip.”
Indeed, Whosampled.com lists 70 uses of Solstice alone, with the tracks ‘Ocean Glide‘ and ‘Chain Reaction’ also being reworked by artists such as Wagon Christ – who knows how many other instances have gone unnoticed. It’s no little irony that an album specifically made to be an escape from being a library music composer has become exactly that, in spaces. This CD reissue, saves any further re-mortgaging of houses to buy an original copy and includes an extra disc featured the 7” edits of the singles ‘Pendulum Force‘ and Ocean Glide, as well as working mixes of the whole album, all of which sparkle appropriately.
Buy Brian Bennett’s Voyage here: www.cherryred.co.uk/product/brian-bennett-voyage-2cd-expanded-edition/