When David Bowie heard the Langley Schools Music Project version of his hit “Space Oddity,” the rock star was an instant fan.
“The backing arrangement is astounding,” Bowie said.
“Coupled with the earnest if lugubrious vocal performance, you have a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of,” he added.
The 60-voice chorus of Langley students also covered tunes by the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, Klaatu, The Bay City Rollers, and others.
Music teacher Hans Fenger arranged and conducted the 1976-77 recordings, which were captured on a two-track tape deck, then pressed on two 12” LPs, exclusively for the students, their classmates, teachers, and parents.
The albums would have remained in obscurity if it wasn’t for Brian Linds, a Victoria record collector, who found the first record in a thrift store in 2000.
That brought the albums to the attention of record producer Irwin Chusid, who set up a licensing agreement with the Langley school district administrators and oversaw creation of a CD compilation of the two LPs.
“Innocence and Despair” as it was called, made many end-of-the-year best album lists in 2001.
“The echoing, yelping renditions of this feel-good music gives off a powerfully aching melancholy, said music critic Steven Hyden.
“It’s the sound of youth, frozen on tape, as it fades inexorably away.”
This year, the two albums have been re-released for a second time on vinyl LPs by a U.S. record company that specializes in “outsider music.” The audio has been cleaned up and two bonus tracks with liner notes added.
“It was all kind of an amateurish project,” said Fenger, who estimates the initial album pressing cost about $40.
“Only 200 were pressed. Everything was one take in the gymnasium.”
He said he was hired as a music teacher even though he knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, because the Langley School district was desperate for teachers.
“I was in a rock and roll band,” he said.
“I was kind of a hippy.”
The Langley story has been cited as the inspiration behind the comedy film School of Rock, starring Jack Black.
Fenger said he hasn’t made any money off the film, which he noted has only a loose connection with his story.
“They’re both fish-out-of-water-tales.”
After his time teaching, Fenger said he went back to music, joined another rock and roll band, then retired.
He was happy to hear that the songs have been re-issued.
“It never stops.”
The songs from the project have been used in various film and TV projects:
“Good Vibrations” was licensed for the soundtrack of the film “Catfish.”
“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” was used to close the film “Arabian Nights’’, Volume 3.
“Space Oddity” was used in the closing of the film ‘’Wonderstruck’’.
Their version of “Rhiannon” was used in the closing credits of the HBO series ‘’Here and Now’’.