One of Britain’s foremost composers and arrangers, Syd founded Amphonic Music over thirty years ago, to provide the TV, film, radio and advertising media with music that covered all bases, produced to the highest possible standards. The company’s reputation as one of Britain’s major suppliers of ‘library’ music was quickly established with the release of Big Band Sounds Of Today, the first LP Amphonic issued. Its success was helped in no small way by Syd’s contributions as composer.
The first release showcased the qualities that would come to define the Amphonic ‘sound’: intricate arrangements, an emphasis on melody and harmony, crystal clear recordings and first class musicianship. (Big Band Sounds Of Today included trombonist Don Lusher’s Carnaby Chick, originally used as the theme to Radio 2’s Two’s Best show. More recently, it was heard in a TV advert for The Times newspaper).
Syd’s melodic approach to composing was what set the tone for much of the material Amphonic released throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He possessed a particular genius for writing memorable melodies that, while often complex, were always designed for the ear to follow.
He excelled at marrying them to modern rhythms (usually funk-based), and coupled with his rich, colourful style of orchestration, gave his music a unique and distinctive sound. Whether he was writing a hard-hitting theme for a detective or documentary series, a delicate underscore for a romantic interlude, a period piece or a humorous ‘throwaway’ number, the common factor uniting them all were his lavish, flamboyant arrangements.
This musical attitude was reflected in the work of the leading British composers and arrangers Syd invited to write for his company. Prestigious names such as Alan Hawkshaw, Keith Mansfield, Nick Ingman, Ronnie Hazlehurst, Les Reed and Tony Hatch, to mention only a few, all have credits within Amphonic’s library. Lesser-known (but equally gifted) composers such as Dick Doerschuck and James Clarke (a musical associate of Syd’s for some time) also made outstanding contributions.
The music they wrote for Amphonic is among the best of their work. (James Clarke’s Wild Elephants was famously used as the music for The Gap clothing store’s Khaki A Go-Go TV adverts a few years ago. The track was subsequently re-named Blow Up A Go-Go, in recognition of its success).
Musicians outside the UK provided music for the library, two notable examples being American composers Dick Hyman and Bill Loose. It was the combination of talent and a dedication to quality that helped to place Amphonic at the forefront of British library music.
Syd’s first job was as far removed from the world of music as it is possible to imagine. He started as an apprentice engineer at the confectionery giant Rowntrees, working in their chocolate factory, spending three years designing machines that fitted chocolates into boxes.
He was enthralled by the Big Band sounds that were popular at the time (1940s) and, deciding that he wanted to make music his career, spent as much time as possible studying arrangements and listening closely to the Big Bands. In 1945, with the war over, he left Rowntrees and became a member of various local bands including The Squadronaires and played in the style of the famous Ted Heath Big Band. Syd’s role was as pianist and arranger.
Playing with the bands allowed him to travel, when they were engaged to play on cruises aboard the Queen Mary liner. This meant he was able to visit the US, where he heard first hand the major American Big Bands of the era. These activities helped Syd to establish himself as one of the most talented up-and-coming composers and arrangers of his generation.
Much work in these areas soon followed, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s he was in demand in these capacities, for a variety of artists and projects. During the 1960s some of his arrangements were for the British Big Band leader Eric Winstone. Eric would later contribute a composition to Amphonic’s library. Syd co-arranged and co-produced his 1973 Eric Winstone Plays 007 LP, an album of funky Big Band interpretations of several themes from the James Bond series of films. For the same album, Eric and Syd jointly composed The Man With The Golden Gun, as an alternative to John Barry’s theme. A year later, Syd included a newly recorded version on the Amphonic Super Sounds Unlimited LP, under the simplified title of The Golden Gun
Eric’s SuperSonic Sounds LP from a year earlier also had connections to Syd’s company, featuring the arrangements of Amphonic composers Dick Walter and Bill Geldard, including Dick Walter’s composition Hacienda Happenings. Dick’s superior rearrangement of it appeared on the 1973 Amphonic LP A Tune For Everyone.
Syd continued to arrange, working for, among many others, jazz and popular singer Salena Jones, Jamaican singer Jackie Edwards (on his 1967 Island LP Premature Golden Sands) and popular German singing duo Nina And Frederik. His versatility was demonstrated by his work with the little known UK psychedelic band Nirvana, arranging and conducting their Simon Simopath LP, recorded for the Island label. He released various singles of jazz influenced pop music under his own name - The Syd Dale Orchestra’s 1965 single C’mon In on Decca being one example. Around this time, he also served as the musical director on classic TV shows such as Oh Boy, 6 5 Special and Braden’s Week.
In 1965, Robin Phillips of KPM was given the finances to initiate the company’s famous 1000 series of library records (he also created the Bruton Music library in the late 70s). Due to Syd’s reputation as one of the best arrangers/composers in the country he was invited, along with others like Johnny Hawksworth, David Francis and Johnny Pearson, to compose for the newly founded library.
These commissions allowed Syd’s talent free reign, and he was able to display his remarkable composing skills. His background as a Big Band arranger came to the fore, early releases featuring his inventive and exciting scores in this style. Indeed, the second LP in the 1000 series was given over entirely to his music, suitably titled
The Sounds Of Syd Dale. Because of his early work for KPM, he is now regarded as one of library music’s pioneers. (Syd’s KPM composition Man Friday is still widely used today on TV and radio)
He wrote for KPM and various other libraries up until 1970, alongside his work as a commercial arranger. With the experience gained from his years at KPM, he decided to set up his own company to supply music to the rapidly expanding areas of TV, film and radio. Doing this gave him the benefit of being able to set his own brief, and would allow him to steer the company according to his musical inclinations. Therefore, in 1971, Amphonic Music was born. Some of the composers that appeared on early Amphonic LPs were colleagues from Syd’s days at KPM. They included Alan Hawkshaw, Johnny Pearson and James Clarke. Syd had been the musical director for James Clarke’s 1969 Girl On The Beach album, released on the Aristocrat label (KPM’s commercial outlet for some of its library music). James was also a film director and screenwriter; Syd conducted James’ beautiful score for his 1976 film The Fiona Richmond Story.
From its original base in Mortimer Street in London’s West End, Amphonic released a steady stream of LPs during the 1970s. Albums issued between 1971 and 1976 came in the company’s generic yellow sleeves, but from 1977 onwards featured eye catching photographic covers, making it easy for the casual observer to mistake them for commercially released records. Amphonic’s Moodsetter/Pacesetter series of albums that ran concurrently were housed in purple sleeves, clearly distinguishing them from their ‘yellow’ counterparts. As the title implies, they concentrated on providing themes and underscores written in a dramatic vein, designed for use in productions requiring music to create a strong impact and atmosphere. As well as composing, Syd produced most of his company’s releases.
Amphonic’s sound had a bias towards the large, orchestral style favoured by Syd, he and the other composers often expertly fusing this sound with the funk rhythms prevalent in the 1970s. LPs such as Sounds 80, Special Assignment, The All Electric Steam Radio Band and Super Sounds Unlimited feature excellent examples of this particular fusion, giving them their status as highly desirable items for collectors of funky library records.
After the company’s third move, during the latter part of the 1970s, to the Kerchesters Building in Surrey (prior to this, they were based in Kent, having moved there from Mortimer street), Syd launched the successful Sound Stage series of albums that took the company into the 1980s.
The Sound Stage LPs carried on the Amphonic tradition of quality music produced by the best available talent, the first release appearing in 1981. Syd and many of the original Amphonic composers continued to contribute to the library, but were now joined by some new names including Anne Dudley, later in The Art Of Noise band.
Syd passed away in the 1990s, but the resurgence of interest in 1960s and 1970s library music during recent years means his musical legacy has been discovered by a new generation of listeners, eager to hear the beautifully realised sounds produced by Syd and his colleagues during this golden era.
Courtesy of Ian Dale Amphonic Music Limited
© Text Oliver Lomax