LP Review: Albert Elms and Ron Grainer – Man in a Suitcase: Original Soundtrack Selections

Albert Elms and Ron Grainer – Man in a Suitcase: Original Soundtrack Selections
(Network/ITC 7959028. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

You will have heard of Soul Jazz, Latin Jazz and Chamber Jazz. But what of Crime Jazz? This vigorous subgenre of the music was born in the US film and TV studios of the 1950s and thrived through the sixties and early seventies, accompanying the movies and series of the day. Its leading creators were composers and arrangers who cut their teeth in the big bands of the Swing and Bebop era. Henry Mancini scored biggest with television’s Peter Gunn, while Count Basie provided the theme for M Squad and Billy May’s music clothed The Naked City. Quincy Jones’ classic Ironside was a late, funky entry.

What is less well known is that the UK had its own burgeoning field of Crime Jazz — notably John Dankworth’s theme for The Avengers —which culminated in John Barry’s James Bond scores, with their roots in the big band arrangements of Stan Kenton.

Now, courtesy of an outfit called Network, some of the best and rarest British examples of the genre have been made available again — on vinyl, and in releases of superlative, jaw-dropping quality.

Network have previously specialised in DVDs of vintage television programs, with a healthy sideline in soundtrack collections on CD. But for their first venture into the world of vinyl, they’re taking no half measures. The new LPs are transferred from the TV shows’ original quarter inch analog master tapes by the distinguished FX Copyroom and pressed onto 180gram audiophile virgin vinyl at Pallas in Germany, who are responsible for some of the finest sounding LPs ever manufactured. Supervising the remastering and cutting of the vinyl is Ray Staff at Air Studios, a legendary engineer who has worked with Roy Ayers, Alec Dankworth and Martin Taylor — not to mention Brian Eno, Van Morrison and the Clash. It’s clear that the guys at Network are taking this new project pretty seriously.

Man in a Suitcase was an ITC television show about a renegade CIA agent turned private eye. It first screened in 1967 and 1968. The intoxicating, propulsive main title theme with its fat drums and trumpet stabs will immediately exhilarate anyone from the generation who remember the original show, as well as many from a later generation who will associate it with Chris Evans’ TFI Friday, for which the music was cannily revived. That unforgettable theme was composed by Ron Grainer, no stranger to classic British cop shows — he scored Maigret — and also the man who wrote the Doctor Who theme. There are three versions of the main theme on the LP, but the bulk of the music — and for the show — is by Albert Elms.

It’s in the nature of television scoring that the tracks themselves tend to have numbers, not names (shades of The Prisoner, another great Ron Grainer TV theme) while the credits of the individual players are mostly lost to history — although it’s worth noting that musicians of the stature of Tubby Hayes were regularly doing studio sessions for film and television companies in this period. (As Simon Spillett’s forthcoming book reveals, Tubby played on everything from The Avengers to The Italian Job.)

So we don’t for certain know who to thank for the luscious noirish sax on Find the Lady or the moody trilling percussion and haunting reverberant guitar of Man from the Dead. Nor can we identify the sultry saxophone on The Bridge, the caustic flamenco guitar for The Man Who Stood Still, or the soulful oboe of Castle in the Clouds. One would also like a full roll call for the big band extravaganza of Variation on a Million Bucks, particularly the musician responsible for the hypnotically intricate percussion which would do justice to Larry Bunker or Shelly Manne (indeed, it calls to mind their work on Johnny Mandel’s I Want To Live — a Crime Jazz classic, if ever there was one).

We don’t know who the players are, but they were clearly virtuosos. This music only fleetingly existed on the airwaves when the TV programs were first broadcast and since then has mostly resided in tape cans in vaults. Now, thanks to Network, it can be heard again, and with such exquisite clarity and quality that the only way to improve on it would have been a seat in the studio at the original sessions.

Categories: miscellaneous

6 replies »

  1. John Dankworth did several fine things for TV (Tomorrow's World etc). But the stirring theme for The Avengers was by Laurie Johnson, I think.

  2. I knew Albert Elms well in the 1960's In fact I bought his double bass from him when he ceased playimng it. He also wrote the music for the “Robin Hood” tv series.

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