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.