Smiley’s People

I’ve been looking for this album for around 25 years, after first seeing it as a spotty 15 year old in the old ABC store on Burke Street in Melbourne.

Thats Alec Guinness on the cover playing spymaster George Smiley
Thats Alec Guinness on the cover playing spymaster George Smiley

Why in gods name, you might ask, would I want this?

I have diverse musical tastes. Not good enough? Well…

All right arguments aside, the 80’s weren’t a happy place for me, and I pointedly refused to be drawn into the pop music that my peers (that is, those who bullied me mercilessly) listened to.

This left me with soundtracks and the as-yet undiscovered alternative music.

It never ceased to amaze me that the point at which I left England with my family for fame and fortune in OZ, it was a time where Punk was halfway through, Pink Floyd The Wall had just come out and artists like Gary Numan and Siouxsie and The Banshees were very much in favour. I traded these for Cold Chisel, Men at Work and whiny arse wankers singing about how it wasn’t fair and he wanted his share.

No-one had even heard of the bands I liked (and being an alien to the shores of Australia, or in laymen’s terms, “a pommy bastard” my taste in music was roundly ridiculed), nor did I have the funds or the resources to find anything remotely decent. So I retreated and relied on orchestral scores available in Brashs records, and Mike Oldfield recordings to get me through. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. No, shut up! I was a weird kid, let’s leave it at that.

So, back to the record.

When I saw the TV series “Smiley’s People” on TV, the series based on the John Le Carré novel of the same name, I was struck by the sadness of the music. It was almost funereal in places, with occasional faster paced moments where the game, Watson, was on. Hearing the soundtrack now, I’m surprised at the number of tracks on the album. The original score was written by Patrick Gowers who, according to the copywriters who wrote the liner notes, also composed for “The Woman in White” and “Bread or Blood“, neither of which I’ve heard of. I am now aware that our Australian national broadcaster, unlike its British counterpart, has always had a fairly limited budget, so perhaps it couldn’t stretch to more than one decent BBC drama (though I do remember endless repeats of the last two series of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who, and the first two of Tom Baker‘s run)?

Soundtrack recordings are replete with repeated themes better known as a leitmotif. Thanks Internet for explaining what the hell that means. I’d heard the word in the lyrics of a Placebo song a few years ago and always wondered what it meant. This album is no different, and Smiley’s theme, the sad one I mentioned earlier, is the guiding light in amongst the dark goings on between The Circus, Le Carré’s MI6, and Moscow Centre, in reality The KGB.

Back to the liner notes, and a rather amusing statement:

Patrick Gower’s music for ‘Smiley’s People’ moves convincingly all the way from very refined Classical string writing to the wilder shores of heavy rock.

The allegedly heavy rock piece is track 10 and “Der Blaue Diamant”. Skinny Puppy this ain’t, and of course never could be. It’s a BBC recording, not some upstart independent label. In the series, the track was played in a Deutche strip club over the top of some semi-naked but still G-rated goings on. I can almost hear the heads of the BBC, sitting in their club with their cigars and Cognac saying “Steady on, old boy. That’s a bit continental!’ Then again, public servants and men’s clubs were always a potent mix of British stiff upper lip and repressed sexuality, what?!

There’s also a couple of light hearted German tracks on here, including the very 80s Frau Kretzschmar, which I don’t remember hearing when I last watched the series in 2013. According to the liner notes, the character was an Austrian Show Girl. You wouldn’t know it from actually watching the series; she was in her 70’s, gave up her child when she ran from the USSR, worked in a factory and got thrown into the path of a car by the Black Hat KGB bad guys. But who am I to judge?

Another pure gold example of 1980s copywriting is the liner notes for track 8, The Turkish Cafe:

A very long wait and two pieces in typical ethnic style…

I may have to investigate other soundtrack recordings to confirm whether this was the style of liner notes of the time? Perhaps it was just ones by the Beeb?

This recording is the original 1982 pressing, and seems in pretty good nick for an album that’s 32 years old. I don’t think it’s on CD, presumably with the very sound excuse that no-one was interested in the album at the time.

Other than me.

By the way, if you’re into old spy stories, do get a hold of Smiley’s People, but do watch the preceding BBC production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy beforehand. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother with the well acted, stylish though fundamentally dull remake.

Found: 27 June 2014

Where: Northside Records, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.

Author: gotheek

Sometime writer, full time human.