The words Innovative, ground-breaking, original and before their time are often used when describing film makers, composers and writers, and these days they are frequently used when it is not deserved or needed. However, when discussing British composer Basil Kirchin, I am of the opinion that all of these terminologies are applicable. Born Basil Philip Kirchinsky in Blackpool in 1927, his Father was Issac Kirchinsky who had changed his name to Ivor Kirchin and was a well-known bandleader. He began to become interested in playing the drums and at the age of thirteen he began to play in his Fathers band. After the second world war Kirchin decided to leave his Fathers band and work for other band leaders such as Harry Roy and Ted Heath. After a period of just two years Kirchin returned to his Fathers band and some of the early recordings they made were produced by George Martin for the Parlophone label. The appeal of the big band sound began to become less popular as the 1950’s progressed, and it was not long before Skiffle and then Rock and Roll started to dominate the dance halls in the UK.
So in the latter part of 1958 Kirchin decided to go to India where he spent over five months in the Ramakrishna Temple, after this he decided to go to Australia and arrived There with his wife Theresa in the October of 1959, as they docked and the couples possessions were being unloaded from the ship, there was an accident which resulted in many of the tapes he had made of the Kirchin Band being lost to the sea, Kirchin admitted that the loss of the tapes affected him greatly and it was something that he had difficulty coming to terms with for the rest of his life. In the early 1960’s Kirchin decided to go back to England, where his Father had been given a residency in Hull, Kirchin commuted between Hull and London and when in Hull became good friends with musician Keith Herd, it was at this time that Kirchin began to experiment with music and sounds and created soundtracks for unmade films. Whilst in London Kirchin worked with various artists one being Johnny Keating and he made major contributions to the classic album THE KEATING SOUND. At the same time, he started to write for the De Wolfe music library and utilised the ample talents of musicians such as Jimmy Page, Tubby Hayes and Jim Sullivan to name but three. His experimental passion was expanded in the late 1960’ when he was awarded a grant by the Arts Council to purchase a Nagra tape machine, on which he recorded animal sounds from the zoo as well as recording the voices of Autistic children. He would then slow down the recordings to create stunning effects, his musical experiments he would part fund by writing music for motion pictures, which included titles such as THE SHUTTERED ROOM, CATCH US IF YOU CAN, THE STRANGE AFFAIR, I START COUNTING and THE ABONIMABLE DR PHIBES.
A handful of his experimental recordings were released the first of which was issued on the EMI Columbia label under the title of WORLD WITHIN WORLDS in 1971, the second release which shared the same title did not get a release until 1974 and was on the Island label. The first album was released in the same year as his soundtrack for Dr.Phibes. Which is considered by many to be his most accomplished score for the cinema, the composer utilising a number of styles and sounds to create the work. The score was in parts quite lush and romantic sounding with Kirchin fashioning a jazz orientated central theme on which he built the remainder of his soundtrack. His experimental music and his film scores although having certain similarities tended to be stylistically quite different, but at times did crossover and fuse, DR. PHIBES being one such case.
The two WORLD WITHIN WORLDS album sold very few copies, and did not become popular until much later, when fans and fellow musicians realised just how valuable and pioneering they were.
Kirchin, became disillusioned with the record companies and was beginning to tire of them interfering in his musical direction, so he went into seclusion. It was at this time that he began to work with a handful of people in Hull which included his long-time friend Keith Herd and musicians such as, Dane Morell and Danny Wood. Producing music at the Fairview Studios in Willerby. He did continue to write music and experiment with sounds but spent his last years in Hull living a quiet and tranquil existence with his wife Esther.
Until his death in the June of 2005. Kirchin left a wealth of inspiring music for the many musicians who would follow such as Brian Eno, who is just one of the many to acknowledge his far-reaching influences. Considering when Kirchin wrote some of his film music it is to use the cliché, before its time. It is a testament to the originality and also the composer’s musical dexterity that we can today listen to his works and still think of them as being innovative.