As loathe as I am to talk about ‘fate’ or any such nonsense, sometimes random chance can cause things to align nicely and it makes your day. I saw David Attenborough’s classic 1979 documentary series ‘Life On Earth’ for the first time late last year (snippets shown in undergrad zoology notwithstanding). Since really getting into the soundtrack to the 1999 documentary Walking With Dinosaurs I have been more conscious of the music underscoring these shows. The music on Life On Earth sounded great and I wondered if the soundtrack would be easily found. To my surprise I found that the soundtrack had been released, for the first time, about a month before I had first watched it.
So the story goes, the soundtrack was never released in '79 when the show came out, but the composer, Edward Williams, had about 100 LPs privately pressed for members of the orchestra who wanted one. Fast forward 40 years later and a bunch of record nerds in the UK have turned up a copy of one of these in a charity shop (who would have given it away?). Johnny Trunk of Trunk Records managed to get his hands on a copy and negotiated a re-release of the album. I’d never heard of him before this, but as far as I’m concerned he’s a bloody philanthropist of the highest calibre.
But what about the music? The album is probably best heard as one continuous suite – although I’m sure any of the tracks would be pleasantly surprising additions to mix CDs and playlists, the opening theme fanfare in particular makes a great opener. The album is orchestral, but with an experimental edge and a distinctively late-seventies sound. The early tracks illustrating the rise of multicellular life are beautifully ethereal and haunting with effectively creepy electronic percussive noises festooning orchestral harp and flute. The instruments comprise strings, vibes, oboes, flute and loads of miscellaneous percussion instruments, all of which are complemented by William’s excursions into early electronic instrumentation. It all creates a great atmosphere and conjures up images of dancing ciliates, unfurling ferns and ascending mammals all being lead onward by the great David Attenborough. This is exactly the sort of thing that should be dusted off and re-released but so often isn't.