Sunday, October 06, 2019

RIP David Cain

One of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop greats. And the creator - with poet Ronald Duncan  - of the marvelous Seasons album.

First time I heard of this 1969 LP was when Julian House included a track on a delightful compilation of odds 'n' sods that formed the Ghost Box canon, or a swathe of it least. Below is the track in question.

Here's an interview that Julian did with Mr Cain on the occasion of its reissue.

Here's the original liner note by Dickon Reed, purloined from Discogs.

"In the Autumn of 1966 BBC Radio for Schools launched the first series of "Drama Workshop", a creative drama programme for children in their first and second years of secondary school.

The series was an immediate success and since then thousands of teachers and children all over the British Isles have become familiar with the warm voice of Derek Bowskill and the excitingly imaginative radiophonic music composed by David Cain. "Drama Workshop" is designed to stimulate dramatic dance, movement, mime and speech; and the improvisation of character and situation. Teachers have usually taped the broadcasts and then replayed them afterwards to their classes. Now, with this record, some of the most stimulating material from the current series is available in a permanent, easy to use form which will appeal not only to drama specialists in search of really original source material, but also to anyone who is concerned with creative education.

The poetry on this record is inspired by the seasons of the year. There are twelve poems on the months of the year by Ronald Duncan, as well as four pieces by Derek Bowskill on the seasons themselves. In each case the radiophonic theme is heard first, then the poem itself spoken over variations on the theme and finally the variations on their own.

The final musical item on the record represents the whole year. It states all the 12 themes for the months, followed by 4 sections for the seasons and concludes with a march which draws the various themes together, with some subtle and unusual key changes.

In this way teachers can use the poems for listening and discussion amongst the class, and the music separately for movement and dramatic dance improvisation. Other activities such as music-making, painting and writing may also follow from listening to this record. But however many educational applications are found for the contents, if you enjoy poetry or music you will enjoy this record".

Here's another top tune from Mr Cain.

Dick Mills of the Workshop told me that  Cain used the sounds of stainless steel cutlery for this local radio jingle "because every regional station liked to reflect the local industry".

Here's a potted biography penned by Mark Ayres, Radiophonic archivist.

He was one of the early "three names" at the Workshop, largely due to some great work on local radio idents, The War of the Worlds and the Foundation Trilogy (the latter of which he also produced) and his appearance with John Baker and Delia Derbyshire on the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop "Pink Album". His music for the 1968 radio adaptation of the Hobbit was performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort - Munro described Cain as "the world's only living medieval composer". The production he was most proud of, perhaps, was Michael Mason's monumental 2.5-hour programme for Radio 3, "RUS" - "Variations on themes from the history of Russian culture", in 1968.

David Cain, 1941-2019. R.I.P.

Sadly the RUS program is not anywhere to be found on the internet and the likelihood of it ever being made available is fairly slim. But you can find the The Hobbit fairly easily and likewise The Foundation Trilogy and also The War of the Worlds. Also out there is another unmentioned-above epic radio series for which Cain did "special sound", The Long March of Everyman.

Talking of Cain being "the world's only living Medieval composer"...  I could find no audio trace for the Early Music spoof mentioned at the end of Julian's interview, but did come across a fairly detailed description of it:


A performance by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis: Peter Weevil and John Throgmorton (shagbut), Tatiana Splod (minikin), Rene Carter-Thomson and H G Hogg (Flemish clacket). Introduced by Hugo Turvey. Composer: Hucbald the Onelegged (of Grobhausen, fl 1452) Instrumental Rondo: Haro! Poppzgeyen ist das Wieselungenslied.

Those responsible include: Rolf Lefebvre, Wilfred Carter, Peter Baldwin, Francis de Wolff, John Baddeley and Marjorie Westbury.

The instruments were contributed by the Radiophonic Workshop (David Cain, Michael Mason).

In a celebrated spoof of the Early Music phenomenon which grew enormously in the late 1960s, Neasden was selected by BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer David Cain as the home of a fictional ensemble dedicated to historically-informed performances on authentic musical instruments from an indeterminate number of centuries ago. It was thus that in 1968, listeners to BBC Radio 3 were given a recital by the Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis whose members performed on the equally fictional instruments called the Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clacket.

Here's a clip from the Alchemists of Sound doc on the Workshop in which Cain talks about tape versus synths as creative tools

And finally here's a piece I did on the Workshop some years ago - I tried to track down David Cain for an interview but to no avail (I heard he had moved to Poland and was a composer there... but the other Workshoppers had lost contact with him).