Various Artists – Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

This is the week of Doctor Who, and the TV series is inexorably linked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the sound magicians who helped bring the alien worlds and environments of the series to life. But their work wasn’t limited to Doctor Who, as this lovely box set of four 10″ singles demonstrates. It’s experimental, and often extremely silly, but you’re also very aware that you are listening to the very beginnings of electronic music.

Disc 1 is performed by Delia Derbyshire, whom you will of course know better from the Doctor Who Theme. Side A, track 1 is a charming track called Mattachin. Then in a couple of her battier moments, Derbyshire covers Happy Birthday in jaunty fashion and Bach‘s Air.

But the first moment of absolute genius comes with the wonderfully titled Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO, a piece of alien psychedelia which is somehow both badly dated and intriguingly contemporary.

The next track that really grabs you is Time to Go, in which Delia turns the pips briefly into a daft melody, and then explodes the whole thing in a medley of sound effects, which lead us to the end of Side A.

Side B contains just three tracks, starting with the excellent Blue Veils and Golden Sands. So atmospheric is this piece that it appeared in Doctor Who as well, although that’s not where it originally appeared. The Delian Mode follows, even more avant garde and atmospheric, and is followed by Towards Tomorrow to bring Delia Derbyshire‘s selection to a close.

Disc 2 is dedicated to John Baker‘s slightly less innovative sounds (this can be both a good and bad thing), starting with his lovely Radio Nottingham jingle. The sounds of the 1960s are considerably more audible in Baker’s works, with tracks such as Factors sounding like electronic rock ‘n’ roll.

Most of Baker’s tracks are very short, which leaves room for over twenty of them in total, including rearranged traditional pieces Boys and Girls (as in, “come out to play,”) and The Frogs Wooing, which I’d never heard of before either. Side D opens with a very chirpy track entitled Fresh Start, before launching into a series of short jingles and longer pieces. Some, such as Brio, grab you briefly, but nothing else on this disc really grabs you in the way the first one did.

The last two discs are split between other members of the Radiophonic Workshop, starting with the rather odd sounds of David Cain. The highlights are the horrific War of the Worlds and his Radio Sheffield jingle. Finally, the last track on Side E is Richard Yeoman-Clark‘s decidedly odd Waltz Antipathy.

Dick Mills then kicks off Side F with Crazy Dazy, a bizarre cover version of Daisy Daisy complete with bird and motorway sound effects, which isn’t entirely listenable. Paddy Kingsland‘s two brief tracks, The World of Science and The Panel Beaters, are considerably more pleasant, as are Roger Limb‘s pair Kitten’s Lullaby and Geraldine.

The fourth and final disc is shared between Malcolm Clarke and Glynis Jones, starting with Clarke’s Bath Time, and working through the brilliantly named La Grande Piece de la Foire de la Rue Delaware towards the final side of music. Jones’s three tracks are more experimental again, more atmospheric than melodic, but generally very pleasant pieces to close with.

Released in 2004, this box set brings together tracks which were mainly released between 1968 and 1975, and makes for a charming collection of early electronic music. Highly recommended.

You’ll need a bit of luck and a lot of judgement to find a copy of this box set – here it is on Discogs.com if that helps track it down.

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