Alan Hawkshaw, the musician and songwriter who composed some of the UK’s best-known TV themes and was sampled on the hip-hop scene, has died aged 84. He was hospitalized with pneumonia last week and died early Saturday.
Hawkshaw wrote the almost reggae theme of Grange Hill (originally written years ago and titled Chicken Man), the motive for announcing the contestants’ time is up on Countdown and the theme of Channel 4 News.
He has also worked as a producer, songwriter or session musician with artists such as David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, Serge Gainsbourg, Tom Jones and many more.
Born in Leeds, Hawkshaw was a Hammond pianist and organist who, from the 1960s onwards, performed in a series of pop and rock’n’roll groups such as The Shadows (which had been Cliff Richard’s backing band ), Emile Ford and the Checkmates, the Crescendoes and the Mohawks.
He has performed on recordings of Bowie and the Hollies and, evolving with the times, embraced 1970s pop and disco as musical director for Olivia Newton-John and keyboardist for Donna Summer. He ended up working on over 7,000 recording sessions.
Along with his session work, he has written and performed his own library music tracks: pieces of music that can be used for television, advertising or other themes. One of them, The Night Rider, was used for James Bond Cadbury’s Milk Tray commercials. These library music tracks, which span a wide variety of genres, have become a treasure trove for hip-hop producers, and samples of Hawkshaw can be heard on tracks from Jay-Z, The Sugarhill Gang, Meek Mill. and others.
The success of his compositions enabled him to create his own foundation, which supported disadvantaged students at the Leeds Conservatory and the National Film and Television School.
He married Christine in 1968 and they had two children, Kirsty and Sheldon. Christine paid tribute to him by declaring: “He totally understood me. We spent the last hours looking at each other with love, hand in hand, no need for words. “
His agent, Amanda Street, called him “just a musical genius”.