Stumbling upon composer Alan Hawkshaw has led me down an enjoyable road of politico-musical dimensions. Despite not having a familiar name, Hawkshaw’s music is not only familiar and recognisable, it is a repertoire of sounds embedded in British culture that reawakens a whole variety of collective and individual echoic memories. He is a composer firmly rooted in the British subconscious. The best, particularly British, examples of this are Hawkshaw’s TV theme-tunes for such shows as Dave Allen At Large, Channel 4 News and Grangehill.
Below is the Countdown theme-tune which Hawkshaw also composed. The idea for it came to him “in the loo” after “reluctantly” agreeing to do it.
Thirty seconds of pure magic, knocked out in the toilet.
Beyond serenading students and pensioners in their living-rooms, at this time Hawkshaw was also immersed within the radiating and flourisihing disco scene as a session musician. Other than working with the likes of Donna Summer and Bowie, Hawkshaw’s most notable disco endeavour came with his band Love De-Luxe who reached Number 1 in the US with Here Comes That Sound Again on August 18th 1979:
Tune. And one that perfectly sums up Hawkshaw’s music: “Here comes that sound…” a sentence I find myself saying every time I hear yet another classic from this relatively understated, genius musician.
(Note at 7:54, and elsewhere in the piece, the staple Hawkshaw descending-disco-note, used best at the end of the Countdown theme in the previous video.)
During this week of success for Love De-Luxe however, across the Atlantic the UK wasn’t experiencing the same effervescent disco that Hawkshaw had the US boogieing the night away to.
Instead in somewhat more melancholic fashion, Bob Geldfoff’s Boomtown Rats were topping the charts with the hit I Don’t Like Mondays; a particularly poignant and appropriately timed lament over the Monday morning blues during the opening year of Thatcherite Britain. Here, the Boomtown Rats unintentionally provided Britain with a portentous metaphoric parallel between the approaching endless, soulless, mind-numbing drudgery initiated by both 1979 and Monday mornings in general:
Hawkshaw wasn’t completely removed from the throes of post-1979 British culture though. The New Statesman, a popular British satirical sit-com mocking Conservative rule, also called on the expertise of Hawkshaw to provide an opening TV theme. His work for this is deliberately and boringly majestic, pompous and empty of any soulful character: a perfect introduction for the protagonist, played by Rik Mayall, of the same nature.
Because of such hollowness in the music, I have instead put below a short clip from the show featuring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie with principal actor Rik Mayall that’s worth its weight in gold.
In similar orchestral fashion to The New Statesman theme, Hawkshaw’s music for Channel 4 News is worth posting here:
This tune is properly entitled Best Endeavours in its full form (feat. Jon Snow on the oboe). Since all of these TV shows began, not one of them has dropped Hawkshaw’s contributions and they have become firmly engrained in the ears of British culture. I hope that Hawkshaw might provide us with one more before the end of his long and illustrious career. I have always thought that Netflix’s House of Cards could do with a bit of sprucing up in the theme song department…
Lastly, I’d like to finish where I started with Hawkshaw by posting the song that introduced me to him in the first place – The Champ by the Mohawks. After listening to this it becomes clear how eclectically brilliant Alan Hawkshaw is:
Hawkshaw assembled the Mohawks out of a group of session musicians, this tune being their greatest hit coming in at a respectable (but underrated) #58 in the UK charts. It has been sampled almost 60 times, most notably by hip-hop artisits from Afrikaa Bambaataa to Nas to Ice Cube. Not only does Hawkshaw pervade the consciousness of British telly watchers, but he also resonates through a large part of American popular culture with this number.
You may not know his name, but you know his music. Alan Hawkshaw’s collection of tunes for day-time TV, disco and clubbing, political satire, the news, straight up funk and hip-hop classics confirms that he is one of the most eclectic and sought after composers of our generation. His name may not go down in history, but he will remain rooted in the subconscious of us all; an instigator of popular echoic memory.