Basil Kirchin was a diamond. A forgotten genius of post-war British music, he certainly lived an incredible life. His career spanned from the forties to the noughties. It all started when he played drums in his father’s big band at the age of 13. Next came the film soundtracks (one of his film scores was a British horror film called ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ starring Vincent Price). Then he entered the world of electronic music featuring tape manipulation, and captured the sounds of birds, animals at London Zoo, insects & even the voices of autistic children! It was the rise of skiffle & rock ‘n’ roll which had signalled the end of the Big Band era that made Kirchin decide it was time to move on to pastures new. In his words: “You’re a prisoner of rhythm. And I was fed up playing other people’s music”.
A decade before it was fashionable, Kirchin travelled to India & spent 5 months in a temple. That’s how cool this guy is… Following that he moved to Sydney, but as his possessions were being unloaded from the ship a strap broke, and all his belongings, including recordings of The Kirchin Band, were lost at sea. It’s believed the loss troubled him for the rest of his life.
Upon returning to Britain, Kirchin produced material for De Wolfe Music, a British production company that specialises in library music. For this, he enlisted the talents of Jimmy Page & Mick Ronson. He would experiment with slowing down the recordings. For example: birdsong would be slowed down so their harmonics could be heard, because they were sounds that human ears had never heard before.
In the later years of his life, he enjoyed a reclusive existence in Hull where he created those sonic landscapes that gave him the status of trailblazer. He died in June 2005. Over the years, many musicians have spoken of their admiration & respect for Kirchin. He’s inspired & influenced everyone from Brian Eno to Broadcast. This weekend, a live music festival celebrating his legacy took place in Hull as part of the city of culture. It featured performances of his works, screenings of the films he scored & talks regarding his intriguing history, enduring legacy, his relationship with the Humber estuary & his fascination with texture & collage. Amongst those who contributed included Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, St. Etienne’s Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs, Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke.
Long live the creative genius of Hessle Road!