If you’ve heard the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Samira Ahmed, then you’ll have heard us talking with great affection about the BBC’s 1975 near-future children’s serial The Changes. You’ll also have heard me talking in particular about the theme music, and the fact that it ‘means a great deal’ to me.
The Changes was a ten-part adaptation of Peter Dickinson’s late sixties trilogy of children’s novels set in a Britain suddenly gripped by a wave of neo-Luddism, which saw the population inspired by strange sounds to smash all machinery, reverting to a pre-industrial lifestyle and growing uneasy to the point of superstition at any mention of technology. It was told through the eyes of a mysteriously immune teenager named Nicky (Vicky Williams, later to graduate to such disparate roles as the next door neighbour of The Riddlers and, erm, Tessa Jowell), who teams up with a similarly unaffected Sikh family – in, as Samira noted, a rare positive portrayal for the time – to try and locate the source of the sonic disturbance. Persecuted as ‘The Devil’s Children’ as they roam the countryside evading the attentions of Kenwood Cascade-smashing villagers, this affirmation of unity as ‘outsiders’ is all the more powerful for its casual and understated depiction. It’s a series that has attracted a good deal of attention in recent years, with Charlie Brooker and Stewart Lee amongst those singling it and the soundtrack in particular out for praise, but that wasn’t always the case.
I first saw the first episode of The Changes at a sci-fi local group meeting way back when probably even the cast and crew had forgotten that it even existed, taken from what looked like a several generations down copy of an actual off-air; believe it or not there were quite a few early off-air recordings circulating around then, including episodes of Survivors and Sapphire And Steel. I would later make my own off-air copy when the serial was repeated by UK Gold in the early nineties, and later still pushed for a DVD release whenever and wherever I got the opportunity; I don’t imagine that I actually had any direct influence on the BFI’s excellent two-disc presentation, but when you’ve been part of the demand it’s always a pleasure to see it met. I’d actually been aware of The Changes, before any of that, though, thanks in no small part to a rather strange album.
Released in 1976, Music From BBC Children’s Programmes was a compilation album that took its title very much at literal face value. With a gloriously haphazard approach to sequencing and musical consistency, it flitted wildly between quasi-psychedelic selections from Camberwick Green and The Magic Roundabout and the stiff formality of Blue Peter and the ‘Sunday Classics’ adaptation of Anne Of Avonlea, with all manner of strange diversions along the way including singing Girl Guides and the Crackerjack (DON’T) cast rattling through a load of unfunny twaddle about milk bottles. It also included the theme from BBC2’s adult sci-fi drama Moonbase 3 for some utterly unfathomable reason. It’s a musical treasure trove of obscure and hazily-recalled delights, but coherency is not exactly its strong point; further reinforcing this, scattered throughout are a number of contributions from Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
I’d begun the long hunt for a copy of Music From BBC Children’s Programmes (you can read about some of the other albums I discovered along the way here) after reading that it featured both the 1973 single version of the Doctor Who theme and some bits of early seventies incidental music edited together under the working title The World Of Doctor Who. Knowing virtually nothing else about the album – including the actual year that it came out – I’d very excitedly speculated to myself that it might contain the themes from, amongst others, Rentaghost, Barnaby and Cheggers Plays Pop. It didn’t, but in their place were a great many excellent pieces that I had no idea of the existence of, including a suite of Paddy Kingsland’s music from The Changes. Doubtless helped in no small part by the fact that this was around the time that I was discovering the likes of Can and Neu! courtesy of compilation tapes that other people had made for me (again, there’s more about that here), I was immediately taken with the mysterious bursts of pulsating motorik synths dissolving into sitars and tablas; I had no idea what actually happened in The Changes at that point, though I think you could have made a very good guess based on that music alone.
Like many of the other selections on Music From BBC Children’s Programmes, which combined extracts from multiple album tracks and single sides to create something with more musical punch, this was actually a judicious editing down of an earlier EP of Music From “The Changes” released by the label, which had featured several pieces of incidental music alongside the opening and closing themes. It was this shorter edit that appeared on BBC Radiophonic Workshop – A Retrospective, and battered copies of the original EP – which of course sold in small quantities primarily to youngsters – have more recently started to change hands for increasingly ridiculous sums. They’ll probably all calm down a bit now, as the complete score – brilliantly remastered as always by Mark Ayres – is being released by Silva Screen; initially as a Record Store Day vinyl exclusive, with CD and download versions to follow. Given that I’ve always hoped for a CD version of even just the EP, and bearing in mind the effort it took to find a copy in the first place, and that – well – it ‘means a great deal to me’, I probably won’t be joining the queues, but good luck to you if you are and you find a copy. I think you might just enjoy it.
And if you find and buy one specifically to immediately sell on eBay, I hope that a strange frequency makes villagers rise up and smash your computer. Just yours.
You can find an expanded version of this article, including the bizarre story of what happened on Record Store Day as a result of it, in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. Meanwhile, you can find more about the Music From “The Changes” EP, and many other records featuring members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, in my book Top Of The Box, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.