It started as a piece of sound library music and through reworkings, remixes and generations of Australians who grew up hearing it, the Majestic Fanfare became entrenched in Australian consciousness.
Written in 1943 by British composer Charles Williams, the Majestic Fanfare was not really intended to be a standout piece, despite its fanciful name.
The name of the music was about the mood it is meant to evoke, rather than a reflection of the actual instrumentation, as an Australian composer and conductor. Richard Mills told Libby Gore on ABC Radio Melbourne.
“It was a typical piece of British film library music,” he said.
“They had extensive record banks containing what we call library music. It was music that could be used for any occasion, and it was categorized by mood.”
The ABC began using Majestic Fanfare as an introduction to radio newscasts in the early 1950s, replacing the shortened version of Advance Australia Fair which had been used earlier.
The same music was used before the newscast when the ABC expanded to television broadcasting in 1952, until it was replaced in 1985.
The ABC asked Mr Mills to revive the old-fashioned orchestral fanfare in 1988 for Australia’s bicentenary.
“I spent two days on it because I had to take it off a tape and then rewrite it,” Mr Mills told Libby Gore.
A theme of nostalgia
While the Majestic Fanfare may not be anything special in musical terms, it has become special to many Australians, who shared their stories as the ABC marks 90 years of broadcasting.
“The topical theme has been stuck in my head for years and now the nostalgia it brings is immense,” wrote Amanda Brick.
“When I was little, my mom told me I called it ‘Daddy’s Come Home’ music, because my dad usually came home from work at that time,” Lynelle Urquhart wrote.
“We had moved to Canada and were homesick when we finally got hooked up with ABC Radio,” David wrote.
“Hear this music [the Majestic Fanfare] was a real thrill and made a big difference to our life away from Australia.
“I think it was the music rather than the news itself that made the difference.”
Majestic Fanfare remixed with a sample from the era
In the early 1990s, ABC’s youth radio station triple j gave Majestic Fanfare a very 90s remix.
The triple j topical theme was written and produced by Paul McKercher and John Jacobs in 1991.
“I was an in-house producer at the time and was asked to come up with a new topical theme,” McKercher said.
“It had to be something that was immediately identifiable as ABC, but also had to be contemporary.”
Mr McKercher said John Jacobs found a 1978 Majestic Fanfare record in a dumpster in the back of the ABC at Ultimo and they decided to use it as the basis for the theme.
“I played guitar over it, the rhythm track was from a Prince record…there were other beats that were from the DJ records,” Mr. McKercher said.
“Also, the scratch that comes just before the last sentence is from NWA’s Straight Outta Compton.”
Triple j had been the only radio station, possibly in the world at the time, to play the controversial NWA song. Fuck the police on air.
After some complaints from state politicians, ABC management banned the song from airing.
This prompted the triple j staff to go on strike, playing NWA’s Express Yourself loop for 24 hours.
“I thought it would be fun to take the zero out of F**k Tha Police and slip it into the topical triple j theme,” Mr. McKercher said.
Not all marching band fans
Australian composer and former ABC employee Peter Wall said he didn’t believe Majestic Fanfare was a good fit for ABC.
“I have a very strong take on Majestic Fanfare and that is that it’s written by an Englishman and I think that’s wrong,” he said.
“Having said that, like a lot of people, when I go overseas and hear this music, I like to hear it because of what it means.”
While Majestic Fanfare is still used on ABC Radio, the TV news theme has had a number of versions over the years, including a melody composed by Mr Wall and Tony Ansell.
“I was running the ABC at Newcastle at the time and I got a call, [saying] “We would like you to write a new topical theme for the ABC,” Wall said.
“I thought it was a crank call.”
Mr. Wall and Mr. Ansell had worked together on a number of TV program themes.
They set up the current affairs theme for ABC TV over a weekend in the Hunter Valley.
It was used for 19 years before being replaced in the early 2000s.
But the theme of Mr Wall and Mr Ansell was revived with a remix by WA electronic act Pendulum in 2010, with Rob from the band saying triple j that they still enjoy performing it for Australian audiences.
“It’s our favourite. We only ever hear it if we’re in Australia. Other countries didn’t grow up with the ABC,” he said.
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