john baker

John Baker

The Vendetta Tapes

Buried Treasure.

I remember when I was younger my mum would every now and then mention a killer TV series from the 60’s that sported a theme tune to die for. Pressed further she would recall the show being better than both the Avengers and the Prisoner – a brace of shows attaining cult status back in the day during their original transmissions. As far as she could remember the series had never been repeated – lost to posterity and firmly ensconced in the memory. This being back in the days before the onset of videos, DVD’s, social media sites such as you tube and the handy catch up iplayer. ‘Vendetta’ was the name of the series. I’d almost forgotten about my mum’s occasional references and more so, the times spent being hawked around record shops with my mum rummaging through the record racks marked TV themes trying, without success, to try and nab a compilation that featured the elusive track – even a version by Geoff Love it seemed would do just to prove she wasn’t imagining it all. That however all changed when in the early 00’s the Fantomas released a collection of covers entitled ‘the director’s cut’ among the roll call ‘Vendetta’. The chase, as they say, was back on, I needed to hear the original and I did when a chance purchase of a John Barry collection had it sneaked between the grooves somewhere alongside the immortal ‘theme from the Persuaders’ and the theme that decorated the credits to the Roald Dahl screen played Bond ‘you only live twice’. Even in the internet age those seeking more information on this apparently well received and quietly iconic series are still liable to find matters a little sketchy. Overlooked in ‘missing believed wiped’ (a research tome listing countless lost BBC shows) no doubt an editorial decision given that most of those interested patrons would have been Dr Who fans.

And so that’s the brief version of the me and Vendetta love affair put to rest. As mentioned previously John Barry was enlisted to compose the iconic theme tune, an early incarnation of the vibe and mood that would resurface on ‘the Persuaders’ that courted a sinister dark edginess. However the incidental music that graced the series’ first season was composed by jazz pianist John Baker, a leading light in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. ‘the Vendetta tapes’ provide a rare archival find, previously unreleased and somewhat forgotten about, they were unearthed during a vault dig at the BBC whilst putting together the extensive and critically lauded ‘the John Baker tapes’ sets for Trunk records several years ago. As with that set and the related Delia, Daphne and Barry Gray sets that have emerged in recent years, the set provides something of a peak behind the wizards curtain, a curiosity shop of sound development, improvisation and experimentation.

Thirty six tracks in all (26 if you opt for the vinyl experience) gathering an array of cues / idents and alternate mood vibes that reveal Baker as a stickler for detail and attention for here he astutely blends the sharp suited suave clinical finality of the Mafioso (the Mafiosa imagery is so obvious to the extent that even if you were unaware of the series’ plot line, Mafiosa hit – cue vengeful (anti) hero – there’s that kind of cool elegance running through its core like letters in a stick of candy rock) with a noir currency, the resulting fusion is made complete by the peppering of his jazz schooling (best evidenced on the snaking ‘the dolly man – cue 2’ and ‘suivez la piste – cue 5’) and his mindful turn of eye of the series 60’s setting not to mention his unerring knack for a melodic hook.

Here you’ll encounter the mysterious ‘sugar man’ – where once the early feline and flighty cues 2, 7, 17 gave the sense of a smoking cool trusted go to man barely visible in the corner of your eye all the time slipping into shadowy twilight comfort, the chillingly sparse and deathly ‘cue 5’ suggests something else, for here a  cold slice of paranoiac disturbia is trimmed in dronal motifs and a brooding foreboding, it’s a sonic plot / device that is repeated to darker depths on the hollowing and forbiddingly doom draped cue 10a of ‘the ice cream man’. Like Morricone, Baker applies individualised sound collages to each of the four protagonists / characters, you can tell at an instant when the ‘ice cream man’ is about because matters take on a sinisterly sombre tone while with ‘the sugar man’ there’s a kooky Latino lightness chirped in funky accents with chief hep cat ‘the dolly man’ chicly announced in slickly purred jazz leaving ‘the widow man’ franked in darkness. Somewhere else, both the oblique pulsars etched within ‘the caves of steel’ – the RQ1 cue and the insectoid like ‘the locust plagues of man’ (very Quatermass it should be said) clearly show off Baker’s talent for tape manipulation and the exploration of sounds inner space, something which all said wouldn’t look to out of place on Sub Rosa’s extensive ‘an anthology of noise and electronic music’ series from a few years ago. Those preferring old school Radiophonic goofiness might be best advised to seek out ‘orbit’ and ‘the lively mind’ the latter providing Baker’s own version of – and I could be wrong – ‘barnacle bill’ – a tune made famous by Blue Peter whilst the strange sound purists among you are summarily invited to tuck into the silvery orbed shimmer toning found on ‘Suivez la Piste’ (cue 3).  Obvious nods to Louis and Bebe Barron can be found on the spectral electronics that ghost ‘COI technology pavilion’.

Both ‘computers in Britain’ and ‘Man Alive UFO’ appear to be stand alone recordings for other projects, upon seeing the latter I almost swooned thinking it was an early ident for Gerry Anderson’s cult ‘UFO’ before peeling myself off the ceiling and realising they were scores for TV documentaries made around the day. Particular note should be made of ‘computers in business’ an unworldly open university styled playfully futuristic electro noodle that predates, light years, the whole techno / analogue trippery of Aphex, plone et al. essential as though you hadn’t guessed already.

Handy little forum serving as a  resource for background details and history of the show.


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