Thursday, September 03, 2009

The kids are all wrong

For many years I’ve been fascinated by the Langley Schools Music Project. Its weird appeal is summed up by Fred Schneider of the B52s, who remarked that “When I heard about the Langley Project, it seemed very interesting, but I did have the thought that it might sound like children singing off-key in a gym.” The point is that it really does sound like children singing off-key in a gym, because it *is* children singing off-key in a gym, but thanks to some strange conjunction of place and time and innocence and the instinctive brilliance of their teacher Hans Fenger, it’s also exceptionally moving. I saw Langley Mark II in action a few years ago, when Fenger worked his magic on some kids from south London schools, and it was lump-in-the-throat time. Old warhorses like ‘God Only Knows’ and 'Sweet Caroline’ became intense hymns of longing and exultation, reducing hacks and mums alike to tearful wrecks.

Fast-forward three decades and we get this:

It’s been made by the children and staff of Lewes New School, an independent establishment in Sussex that aims to offer “an educational environment on a human scale”. And yet that human scale is exactly what their version of ‘Changes’ seems to lack. It’s pleasant, it’s funny, it’s sweet, and I’m sure the kids worked hard and learned a lot and had a fine old time doing it, all of which is good. But there’s something just a bit too slick about the whole thing; for a start, the arrangement and instrumentation is too close to the original to match, say, the Langley version of ‘Space Oddity’. Maybe next time Lewes New School could just offer us some children singing off-key in a gym.


Dick Headley said...

Clearly this is just what parents with exceptionally gifted children are looking for.

Lewesbusker said...


I'm the evil mastermind behind the 'Changes' song ;-)

Lovely though they all are, these kids are no more or less gifted than children everywhere. They are, however, free to help shape their own curriculum and have the space to do stuff like this.

It is quite polished isn't it, but that really is just the way it came out and they are, of course, all really proud of having made a 'real pop record'. Remember, all the performances on this song (except for Herbie Flower's bass) are by kids between 4 and 11 yrs old.

It did have to be faithful to the original arrangement so that we could get the Publishers' clearance to release the song. Releasing/selling it was important as, after all, it is supposed to be a fundraiser as well as raising awareness about our approach to education.

I hadn't heard the Langley stuff before (our production inspiration was Kutiman), but I really enjoyed hearing it. Thanks.

Geoff said...

The Langley School stuff is brilliant and weird. This one will appeal to parents and grandparents.

Bowie roolz.

Annie said...

Can I have a job in your school Charlie? Please...?

*waves at Tim*

garfer said...

St Winifred's School Choir nailed it years ago with their version of 'Get it on'.

This lot are just Oasis to their Beatles.

Tim F said...

Dick, you're confusing 'gifted' with 'shaggy hair'.

Hello Charlie, thanks for popping in. I hadn't realised the mighty Herbie was involved. And I understand your dilemma about the saleability of the product. Just wondering if there comes a point where it gets so glossy, it loses its essential characteristic, its childishness (which I don't mean as a pejorative in this case).

Exactly Geoff. Does what it says on the tin.

Don't trust her, Charlie! She'll have them all making their own early-90s indiepop fanzines!

OK, Garfer, so what are The Ramblers (from the Abbey Hey Junior School)? The Rutles? ELO? Klaatu? Not easy, this.

Steerforth said...

As a Lewesian, I enjoyed this. Yes, the music's very polished, but the singing certaintly isn't, which makes this video endearing instead of nauseating.

I know that there are some people in Lewes who hate the New School. To them, it encapsulates everything that's gone wrong with the town - lots of poncey North Londoners with children called Hector and Persephone, moving in and pushing up the house prices.

However, the mere existence of the New School (which doesn't want to be an independent school but can't get state funding), is helping to raise the bar for other local schools and benefit everyone in the town.