Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s instalment, we’re taking a look at a fascinating but unexpected comeback: Alan Hawkshaw & Brian Bennett’s ‘Full Circle’.
You’d be forgiven for not being immediately familiar with the names Alan Hawkshaw & Brian Bennett – and not for a lack of talent, either. If their relative obscurity speaks of anything, then it’s the innately discreet genre in which they’ve operated since the late ’60s. It has often been observed that library music is the most famous genre that barely anyone has heard of, and for good reason. In crafting a catalogue of royalty free instrumental music for use in TV and film, artists such as Hawkshaw & Bennett inadvertently birthed a collector’s treasure trove. Such albums were never intended for public consumption, and only began to make their way into the hands of collectors long after the fact. Now a sought-after commodity for music nerds across the globe, it’s not uncommon for the cream-of-the-crop to demand in excess of £100 – sometimes comfortably so. While many different composers found work in the industry, Alan Hawkshaw & Brian Bennett are two of the movement’s most respected artists – both for their work separate to one another and as a duo. While the age of the library album began to wane in the ’80s, a resurgence of interest in the movement was the likely prompt for the duo to return to the studio once again. The fittingly titled ‘Full Circle’ is, in many ways, the musical equivalent of cracking open a 45 year old time capsule. As with their revered work from library music’s heyday, there’s a strong sense of groove on many of the pieces that populate the album – as well as reliably slick playing and tasteful, sharp arrangements. There are strands of soul-jazz dotted across the LP, as found on the more atmospheric, relaxed moments of the album. Such sojourns are certainly as plentiful as the sprightlier tracks that tend to characterise the album, and usually find the group working within a funkier context. It’s a colourful and memorable addendum to a really interesting discography and one which library aficionados, both long-serving and newer, would do well to seek out.
Upon unsealing the sleeve and removing the wax from its inner sleeve, the usual glance-over reveals positive early signs. Pressed by the Netherlands’ Record Industry, it’s a pleasingly weighty slab of black plastic – if not 180 grams, then at least close to it. It sits flat and warp-free during playback and both sides are very clean, with surfaces free of marks from the production line. Initial signs are promising then, and playback doesn’t disappoint – the noise floor is notably minimal here and playback is generally very clean. We found that there were a few minor surface noises and background crackles dotted sporadically here and there, but this was never anything more than minor and infrequent. At a hair over 40 minutes, it’s not a slight album, but nor is it lengthy enough to be overly long for a single LP. With sides hovering somewhere around the 20 minute mark, they remain short enough to comfortably avoid the likes of inner groove distortion or thin, compressed sonics. Speaking of sonics, mastering and overall sound is excellent here. Given the scrupulously high recording quality of the original library LPs, its only right that ‘Full Circle’ should be given similarly attentive treatment. Drums are sharp, synths are pleasingly squelchy and saxes sound admirably real. In terms of both the overall fidelity and the pressing itself this is a very solid, robust release which lives up to the slick professionalism of the music.
Packaging and presentation is really interesting here. The original library albums were ultimately tools of a trade, and as such presentation was factual rather than eye catching. ‘Full Circle’s’ cover is a nod to the so-called ‘greensleeves’ released by library label KPM, all of which featured a simple green jacket absent of artwork. The general presentation here very much pays homage to the presentation and layout of vintage ’70s titles. Apart from the subtle inclusion of the Be With Records logo on the back cover, it would be hard to tell this apart from a genuinely vintage release in a blind test. A series of ‘remarks’ commenting on the tone of each piece reside alongside the tracklist – another authentic addition. Further touches, such as the inclusion of the original (and long outmoded) address for KPM cement the archival feel of the presentation. One curious omission is the lack of anything more than a catalogue number on the spine. This is, presumably, a further nod to the layout of the original releases, however it does make locating the album on a packed shelf more of a challenge than it really needs to be. That aside, however, presentation is top-notch here. The labels are attractive and the LP is also found in a good quality polylined inner sleeve, so definite bonus points for that.
Alan Hawkshaw & Brian Bennett’s ‘Full Circle’ is a really interesting release and a unique throwback. The pressing is excellent and presentation is clearly the result of a real attention to detail. Those with a penchant for relaxed, jazzy funk will likely find themselves engrossed in the record regardless of prior familiarity with library music. Long-time listeners, on the other hand, will no doubt be pleased to hear fresh-tunes in a style thought long-since-faded.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!