Basil Kirchin

Basil Kirchin (8 August 1927 – 18 June 2005) was an English drummer and composer. His career spanned from playing drums in his father's big band at the age of 13, through scoring films, to electronic music featuring tape manipulation of the sounds of birds, animals, insects and autistic children".[1]

Early lifeEdit

Basil Kirchin was born Basil Philip Kirchinsky, son of Lilian Kay Kirchin (Walters) and the bandleader Ivor Kirchin (Isaac Kirchinsky) in Blackpool, Lancashire England. He debuted at age 13, playing drums with his father's Big Band orchestra at the Paramount, Tottenham Court Road in London. This was all in the 1940s during World War II, and during the Blitz we would play for eight hours every day and make his bed in the Warren Street Underground station while bombs exploded above him during the Blitz.[2] After the war he left his father's band to play with the bands of Harry Roy, Teddy Foster, Jack Nathan and Ted Heath, but he returned to work with his father again in 1951. The Kirchin Band's early recordings for Parlophone were produced by George Martin. The Kirchin Band travelled with their own PA, which meant Basil was able to record the band's live performances live off the soundboard. By 1957, the rise of Skiffle and Rock and Roll had brought an end to the Big Band era and Kirchin decided it was time to move on "because you're a prisoner of rhythm. And I was fed up playing other people's music".[3]


Kirchin traveled to India in search of spiritual fulfillment around 1957 and spent five months in the Ramakrishna Temple close to the Ganges river, years before it was popular for musicians to do so, and he set out to learn about the world and see if his unique perspective and curiosity for life and the world were "more than just the ramblings of a pot-head".[4] He then moved to Sydney in October 1959 with his wife Theresa but as his possessions were being unloaded from the ship a strap broke and everything, including his recordings of the Kirchin band, was lost beneath the sea. This loss would trouble him for the rest of his life.[3]

In 1961, Kirchin returned to Britain. His father Ivor had secured a residency at the newly opened Mecca Locarno club in Hull, and Basil spent his time between London and Hull. In Hull he befriended local musician Keith Herd and began working on experimental pieces, "soundtracks for unmade films". In London he lived with songwriters Jimmy Jaques and Pat Ryan, and contributed heavily to the Johnny Keating album 'The Keating Sound'. He also produced material for the De Wolfe library using the talents of young session musicians such as Big Jim Sullivan, Jimmy Page and Tubby Hayes. In 1967, the Arts Council awarded him a grant to purchase a Nagra tape recorder. This he used to collect ambient sounds, animal noises at London Zoo and the voices of autistic children. The controversial recording of autistic children came about because of his wife who worked as a teacher at a special ed school in a little valley in Switzerland in the city of Shermat. This school was inhabited only by autistic children and their teachers and caregivers. He noticed from days when he picked his wife up from work that the children would communicate through musical phrases "I was fascinated by the sounds they make when they tried to communicate" "the melodies that they sing, no normal, with the greatest respect, human mind, could think of such intervals as they pitch and sing and the flood it comes out with and its emotional." Kirchin experimented with slowing down the recordings to reveal "Little boulders of sound". "It's gonna sound quite ridiculous but theres a certain corner in Zurich that when it rains and the rains come around this corner if you have the ability to do so you can slow it down to 834ths of a second its a whole symphony orchestra" [5] "Take birdsong: all those harmonics you can't hear are brought down – sounds that human ears have never heard before".[3] This he explained was the Worlds Within Worlds, and was a part of his quantum concept of time which he believed "there are several universes going on at the same time," "So, like a fly's world is completely different to our world, it moves at a completely different speed. And therefore if you speed up or slow down sound you can find a way into these parallel universes." [5] Through his imaginary film scores he was able to find work composing for horror and scifi films which helped to finance his experimentations with sounds were partly financed by composing film music for Catch Us If You Can (1965), The Shuttered Room (1967), The Strange Affair (1968), I Start Counting (1969) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). The use of his music in films exposed him to audiences and his clipped up and distorted sounds did very well at complementing the disturbing visual images within the horror and scifi genres.[6]

His experimental pieces were released on two albums both called World Within Worlds. The first was issued in 1971: Worlds Within Worlds, EMI Columbia (SCX6463) and included Part I – Integration 2; Part II – The Human Element. The second was not issued until 1974: Worlds Within Worlds Island Records (HELP 18) Part III – Emergence; Part IV – Evolution. Personnel included free improvising musicians such as Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Kenny Wheeler. Liner notes for the second release included laudatory comments from Brian Eno. Neither record sold more than a handful of copies, and it was not until much later that their pioneering techniques were recognised. Meanwhile, Kirchin became frustrated with the record companies meddling with his material, and went into seclusion. He continued to produce work in Hull, working with his friend Keith Herd and Hull-based musicians Dane Morrell, Danny Wood, Bernie Dolman and Roy Neave at Fairview Studios in Willerby, Hull.

Kirchin continued to compose throughout his life, and thirty years after their initial releases his music became acknowledged by a new generation with the release of material by Trunk Records. Kirchin said "I wanted to try and leave something for young people who are starting in music and looking for something as I've been looking all my life".

He spent the later years of his life living back in Hull in a modest terraced house with his beloved Swiss wife, Esther (née Muller) – his early fame and eventful life not known in the ex-fishing community of Hessle Road where he lived until his death in June 2005.[7] Esther died in July 2007. Many musicians have since acknowledged the influence Kirchin had had on their own works. From Brian Eno and Nurse With Wound to Broadcast – "We need role models like Basil Kirchin to go forward, and, as we can see parallels in his music and ours, hearing this confirms that we're doing the right thing".[8]

In early 2017, Hull-based production company Nova Studios Ltd worked with the Hull City of Culture 2017 team and Serious music, to produce a documentary telling Kirchin's life story. There was also a weekend-long festival of Kirchin inspired music featuring The BBC Concert Orchestra led by Will Gregory, The Hidden Orchestra, Evan Parker, Alan Barnes, Bob Stanley, Sean O'Hagan, Tim Gane, Matthew Bourne and contributions from Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, Jerry Dammers, Richard Williams and Matt Stephenson of Nova Studios.[9]

Works influencedEdit

Kirchin's music influenced many musicians after him including Brian Eno and David Byrne. Brian Eno states "Basil realised long before the rest of us did that sound could become a malleable material," "He was like a painter. That idea of music as painting was something that became very important to me." "When we [Eno and David Byrne] made My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, with the idea of using found voices as the centre of the piece rather than having them as an ornament, I’m sure the boldness and confidence I had for that partly came from Basil.” [10] Sean O'Hagan says Basil Kirchin's music "felt very real, very odd and slightly dangerous," "It brought me to very odd areas - noisy experimental, totally unmusical forays but also very lyrical songs and some absolutely beautiful film music" And Bob Stanley remembers listening to a track called Mind on the Run and described it as "terrific," "possibly something from the Avengers, like a chase scene or something, there's that really frenetic drumming and organ work. It's a great piece of music."[11]



  • 1968 – States of Mind[12]
  • 1970 – Charcoal Sketches
  • 1971 – Worlds Within Worlds: Part 1 – Integration/Part 2 – The Human Element[13]
  • 1973 – Worlds Within Worlds: Part 3 – Emergence/Part 4 – Evolution
  • 2003 – Quantum: Part 1 – Once Upon a Time/Part 2 – Special Relativity (recorded circa 1970)[14]
  • 2005 – Abstractions of the Industrial North (a collection of library music for De Wolfe Music)[15]
  • 2007 – Particles
  • 2018 – Deja Vu: Basil Kirchin at Fairview 1965 - 2005[16]

Big BandEdit

(see main article under Ivor Kirchin)


Library musicEdit

Kirchin released a number of Library Music albums with De Wolfe Music.

  • 1966 - The Wild One
  • 1966 - Abstractions of the Industrial North
  • 1966 - Mind on the Run
  • 1966 - Town Beat
  • 1967 - Don't Lose Your Cool
  • 1967 - The New Breed


  1. ^ Richard Williams. "Obituary: Basil Kirchin". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ The quiet genius of Basil Kirchin, BBC Radio, retrieved May 1, 2020
  3. ^ a b c Bob Stanley (3 June 2003). "A journey into the unheard". The Times. p. 21.
  4. ^ Stephenson, Matt. "BASIL KIRCHIN: THE MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC", retrieved May 1, 2020
  5. ^ a b Mistry, Pritti, "Basil Kirchin: The Forgotten Genius of UK Music", BBC News, 15 Feb 2017
  6. ^ Williams, Richard, "Basil Kirchin: the first painter of music", The Guardian. 16 February 2017
  7. ^ Obituary The Independent 2 July 2005; Pierre Perrone; p. 38
  8. ^ Trainspotting: Home entertainment: Broadcast, The Guardian; 22 August 2003; Will Hodgkinson; p. 22
  9. ^ "Nova Studios Video Production Company Hull East Yorkshire". Nova Studios. Retrieved 8 December 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Basil Kirchin The First Painter of Music, The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2020
  11. ^ Mistry, Pritti, "Basil Kirchin: The Forgotten Genius of UK Music", BBC News. 15 Feb 2017
  12. ^ "Charcoal Sketches/States of Mind". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Basil Kirchin Worlds Within Worlds – Factory Sample UK vinyl LP album (LP record) (456750)". 3 May 2014. Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "Quantum". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Abstractions of the Industrial North". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "Deja Vu: Basil Kirchin at Fairview 1965 - 2005, by Basil Kirchin". Retrieved 8 December 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ "Six-Five Special: Season 1, Episode 35 (12 October 1957)". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ "Six-Five Special: Season 1, Episode 78 (16 August 1958)". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ "Primitive London". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "Having a Wild Weekend (1965) : "Catch Us If You Can" (original title)". Retrieved 21 May 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit