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No Silence in this Library - Two Whole Quails and The Harmonic Exchange, Tin Music & Arts


The Harmonic Exchange - Photograph by David Court

Two Whole Quails and The Harmonic Exchange - Tin Music & Arts, November 17 2023

Review by David Court


For as long as I can recall, I’ve been a fan of both film and television soundtracks, and this extended to an intriguing fascination for library music. For those not in the know, library music – or production or stock music – is music that’s licensed to customers for use in film, tv and radio. Many of the theme tunes of programs and series you recognise – especially from the seventies and eighties – were not specifically composed for the show, but licensed from a music production company. Many of the artists who work for such companies are on a work-for-hire basis, so it ended up as a cheaper means of production companies to get hold of tunes. However, the love for the music has made celebrities out of some of the performers, and there are those who will avidly seek out their works.


‘Grange Hill’ is a classic example, with Alan Hawkshaw’s 1975 track ‘Chicken Man’ being used for both the first theme tune of the school drama as well as also being the theme music to the charades-based celebrity gameshow, ‘Give us a Clue’.


Friday evening of November 17 saw the canal-side Tin Music & Arts host three acts, all celebrating the fascinating cult music of cinema and library musicians.

Two Whole Quails - Photograph by David Court

John Toman and Neil Seeley were on DJ duties, playing a selection of library tunes. I’ve seen them at similar events before, and their mastery of seeking out obscure – and excellent - tracks is quite, quite remarkable.

It’s an evening where the projected visuals on stage were almost as intriguing as the music being performed on stage, a selection of clips from cult movies, obscure adverts, and haunting clips from old public information films (You’ll remember them from back in the day, terrifying adverts warning you of the dangers of chip pan fires, grain silos, carpets on wax floors, and returning to lit fireworks).


Despite the relatively cult nature of the material, there’s an impressive turnout to greet ‘Two Whole Quails’ when they take to the stage. Lee and Chris have been performing together in various guises for the best part of three decades, forming what were originally known as ‘The Quails’ in 2009. Whatever the guise, they remain a fascinating act – experimental and improvised, but never anything less than compelling. It’s a stripped back sound – synths and guitar – capable of conjuring up all manner of soundscapes, creating a soundtrack score to a film that is yet to exist. Disturbing, yet beautiful.


‘Harmonic Exchange’ are a more traditional proposal in comparison, but the music is no less brilliant. You’ll be amazed at how many of the tunes you’ll recognise from the dim recesses of your past, incidental music and themes that accompanied a huge chunk of your life. The style and delivery couldn’t be any more antithetical than that of ‘Two Whole Quails’, but the two acts complement each other perfectly. The overarching sound of ‘Harmonic Exchange’ is toe-tappingly funky, and the whole evening forms a coherent slice of equal parts nostalgia and pop-culture - and there’s not a dissatisfied punter to be found leaving The Tin Music & Arts that cold November night.

Gig Poster

More details on Tin Music & Arts can be found here.

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