Basta/BarNone
The discovery
of the Langley recordings
by Irwin Chusid

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In June 2000, a WFMU listener in Canada, Brian Linds, submitted a CDR of 16
various artists (see photo below) for the Incorrect Music Hour, which I hosted
with Michelle Boulé. Brian included "Space Oddity," credited to the "Lochiel and
South Carvolth Schools Glenwood Region Music Group." I flipped over the
unique, haunting arrangement and gave it immediate airing. It was one of the
strangest "school" recordings I'd ever heard -- and I've heard hundreds. The
slightly sinister -- and obviously very young -- choral ensemble and
charming instrumentation had a compelling quality. I recognized this as more
than just a cute, sloppy school band relic. Listener and staff reactions to
the airing were electric, which didn't surprise me.

I asked Brian to send any other recordings by this school band. He burned a
CDR of nine songs, which he sent with a xeroxed reduction of the b&w LP
cover. The album had no title, and just listed the three schools; there were
photos of students, and a few sketchy credits. Brian knew nothing about the
recordings; he'd found the LP in a thrift shop. I listened, and was stunned
by the passionate renditions of "Band On The Run," "Rhiannon," "You're So
Good To Me," and "Saturday Night." There was a consistent identity in these
recordings, and an irresistible magic. By now, I was convinced this LP had
to be made commercially available -- but I only had 30 minutes of music, and
didn't know the source.

Referring to individual names on the LP's back cover (squinting to read a
grainy reduced xerox), as well as the school names, I embarked on some
internet sleuthing. In short order, I had phone numbers of several
administrators in what I learned was the Langley school district (home of
Lochiel, South Carvolth and Glenwood). I called and asked each school
official about the record. Nobody had any idea what I was talking about;
they knew nothing about any such recording, or about anyone named "Hans
Fenger" (listed as the "music supervisor"). Finally, one administrator
recognized the name "Pat Bickerton" (the LP was dedicated to him), and told
me that Pat had died in the 1970s, but that his son, Mike, was a teacher in
the district and would know about the LP. Sure enough, Mike recalled it
vividly, provided some background, and helped me contact Hans Fenger, who
had left the district around 1979 and was teaching in Vancouver.

I called Hans, conveyed my enthusiasm, and told him of my wish to release
this record commercially. He was very sweet and appreciated my interest. No
one had brought up the record in decades; it was ancient history to him. I
grew intrigued when he offhandedly told me about a second album he'd
recorded a year later with a different school (Wix-Brown) in the same
district. He cautioned that the second album was "not as interesting" as
the first, because he'd been attempting to be more careful (i.e.,
controlled) with the arrangements. He sent me a DAT, and much to my
surprise, the second album was -- BETTER! Well, "as good" would be more
accurate, but it had a wider range of material and arrangements -- including
several solo vocals (the first album contained only group voicings). Both
albums used a large children's chorus, chiming Orff xylophones (I wasn't
familiar with these; Hans explained what they were), and minimal
instrumentation.

By December 2000, I was obsessed with releasing these recordings on any
label that would indulge my fanatical fixation. I discussed a
licensing/royalty sharing arrangement with the Langley district and with
Fenger, and hunted about for a willing label. I convinced my adventurous
colleagues at Basta Audio-Visuals, in the Netherlands, that these recordings
were worth putting out. They were at first a bit skeptical, but they are
astute music lovers, and eventually their resident A&R guru (and my longtime
friend) Gert-Jan Blom convinced them that I wasn't crazy, and they agreed to
do it. By then, I had devised the name, The Langley Schools Music Project,
to encompass the sessions of students from four schools. The album title,
"Innocence and Despair," was first uttered by Hans to describe nine-year-old
Sheila Behman's captivating solo rendition of "Desperado."

When it became apparent (to me) that Basta's US distributor would not fully
understand the nature of this release, I decided (with Basta's cooperation)
to search for a US label to cover the North American market. The Langley
project was rejected by ten labels (Artemis, Palm Pictures, Luaka Bop,
Nonesuch, Paradise, Rhino, Astralwerks, Emperor Norton, Tommy Boy, and
Matador; in all fairness, Matador was extremely interested, but withdrew
when they couldn't fit the release into their short-term schedule). The
consensus reaction from these companies indicated they didn't take these
recordings seriously; several referred to them as "novelties," and observed
that "no one would want to listen to this stuff a second time." I was
frustrated, but not discouraged.

In desperation, and with time running out for a Fall 2001 release, I turned
to my friend Glenn Morrow at Bar/None (in my hometown of Hoboken). I had
worked very successfully with Bar/None on two Esquivel packages (in 1994 and
1995), but had not collaborated with the label since. Coincidentally,
Bar/None was looking for an October release to round out their 2001
schedule. In less than 24 hours, Glenn and his partner Mark Lipsitz were
sold on the idea. It was the music that did the selling.

© I.C. / Sept. 2001

 

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All content Irwin Chusid except where indicated.