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Alan Hawkshaw - An Obituary

Alan Hawkshaw – Composer, songwriter, musician

 Born March 27, 1937; died October 16, 2021 


Alan Hawkshaw, who has died aged 84, was a composer whose work was part of everyday popular consciousness. Hawkshaw’s TV themes crossed generations and demographics, ranging from the brass led gallops for BBC sports show, Grandstand, and comedy vehicle Dave Allen at Large, to the reggae tinged quirkiness that ushered in comprehensive school set children’s drama, Grange Hill. This contrasted with the regal stateliness of his theme for Channel Four News. Then there was Countdown, Channel Four’s flagship quiz show, for which Hawkshaw’s thirty-second theme became an integral tension-building backdrop to the word based game.


As a musician, Hawkshaw was a member of Emile Ford & The Checkmates in the 1960s, and in The 1970s joined The Shadows. He also played more than 7,000 recording sessions as keyboardist, arranger and musical director with the likes of Cliff Richard, Olivia Newton-John, Dusty Springfield and Barbra Streisand.


Much of Hawkshaw’s TV work stemmed from his prolific tenure as a composer of library music, used as stock incidental music for TV shows. Joining the KPM company, his Hammond organ workouts on the 1969 album, The Big Beat, conjured up images of groovy party scenes in swinging London. Later work often accompanied action sequences in gritty 1970s cop show, The Sweeney. 


Hawkshaw’s library track, Chicken Man, was originally the theme, not just for Grange Hill, but also for celebrity charades show, Give Us a Clue. Both programmes debuted within a year of each other, before Give Us a Clue eventually introduced a new theme. He also played piano on The Night Rider, Cliff Adams’ music for the Cadbury’s Milk Tray TV ad. A revival of interest in retro loungecore music saw Hawkshaw’s compositions appear on numerous compilations. 


Hawkshaw’s musicianship in the pop world can be heard on his piano solo on The Hollies’ 1965 song, Put Yourself in My Place, and his organ solo on David Bowie’s 1968 BBC recording of In the Heat of the Morning. Originally made for the John Peel in Top Gear programme, the performance was released in 2000 as the opening track of the Bowie at the Beeb triple CD collection.  



Hawkshaw’s work found a resonance with a new generation through sampling. An early example came in 1979 disco hit, Here Comes That Sound Again, recorded by Hawkshaw and a studio group under the name Love De-Luxe. Shortly after its release, snippets of the record were used by The Sugarhill Gang on Rapper’s Delight. More recently, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj and many more have plundered his back catalogue. 


Nowhere was Hawkshaw’s way with a funky groove more evident than on his 1968 track, The Champ. Released by a group of session musicians Hawkshaw assembled as The Mohawks, the Hammond organ led instrumental went on to become one of the most sampled records ever made. Based on Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin’s song, Tramp, a 1967 hit for Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, Hawkshaw’s organ riff was used on records by Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown, MC Hammer, De La Soul and around 700 others.


William Alan Hawkshaw was born in Meanwood, Leeds, to Lillian, nee Parker, and Walter Hawkshaw. He left Bentley Lane school aged fifteen, and worked at a printers inbetween playing piano and organ. He ended up joining Emile Ford & The Checkmates, who had scored a 1959 hit with What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes At Me For?, and shared bills with The Rolling Stones.


Beyond his session work, Hawkshaw recorded Misty (1973), a jazz trio album made with bassist Dave Richmond and drummer Brian Bennett under the name, Collage. The same year, Hawkshaw won the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Best Arrangement award for his work on Olivia Newton John’s recording of I Honestly Love You.


Other TV themes included On the Move (1975), an adult literacy programme that featured Bob Hoskins. Hawkshaw won an Ivor Novello award for his score to The Silent Witness (1978), a documentary investigating the Turin Shroud. He also provided the theme to Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (1980), and worked with the science fiction novelist again on World of Strange Powers (1985).  In 1991 he was BAFTA nominated for his score for Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks’ TV drama, Love Hurts.


In 2013, Hawkshaw presented Across the Wall, a new musical written with David Soames, about a young singer attempting to escape East Germany a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hawkshaw and his German wife Christiane experienced the Wall’s seismic collapse first-hand after travelling to Berlin in 1989. 


The same year as the show’s concert performance, Hawkshaw was made a Fellow of Leeds College of Music. This followed the founding of The Alan Hawkshaw Foundation at LCM in 2004, set up to provide a bursary scheme for students who might otherwise be prevented from pursuing a musical career. In 2016 he was awarded a doctorate for services to the music industry by Hull University.


Hawkshaw lived in Radlett, Hertfordshire, where he paid for a sound system at the Radlett Centre for Performing Arts and a junior tennis tournament. He also channelled the rewards of his work as a composer into providing financial support for survivors of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.  


He is survived by his second wife, Christiane Beiberbach, and their two children, Kirsty and Sheldon.

The Herald, October 21st 2021




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