Uncle Bill and Isao Tomita

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I’ll always be grateful to Uncle Bill. I grew up in a block of flats, surrounded by a lovely, close-knit set of neighbours and my favourite amongst them all was Bill Bartlett who, with his wife Connie, lived directly below us. Bill and Connie loved music, particularly Barry White, and they had a big sheepskin rug in front of their fireplace – which they always intimated they made love on while listening to the Walrus of Love.

Uncle Bill, as I affectionately called him, was a cultured man who introduced me to art, photography and music, he would help me with my homework and we would listen to jazz, soul and electronica. Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes Are Dancing (based on the work of Claude Debussy) was released in 1974 and Uncle Bill adored it, playing it endlessly as we sat on their balcony, flitting between my schoolwork and books of photography (and cheekily allowing me a cold glass of beer if it was a hot summer evening – I was about twelve or thirteen, these were different times).

Tomita, of course, was one of the pioneers of electronic music and a hugely influential and important figure in the worlds of  music, film and animation. He composed the theme song and incidental music for Osamu Tezuka’s animated television series Jangaru Taitei (Jungle Emperor), released in the West (albeit not with Tomita’s theme music) as Kimba, The White Lion. He also created music for films and television shows such as Catastrophe 1999, The Prophecies of Nostradamus (U.S. title: Last Days of Planet Earth), Zatoichi and Mighty Jack, and in the wake of Snowflakes Are Dancing, released a number of classically themed albums of electronica, including Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

Uncle Bill passed away several years ago, having left a vast, indelible mark on my life, and now Isao Tomita, one of the pioneers of electronic music, has joined him. I hope the two of them are sharing a cold beer together, somewhere as warm and loved as the very special place they inhabit in my memories.

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