Back in the day, when the Discovery Channel was fairly new, they actually showed a decent variety of documentaries. This was before it went through its “24 Hour Hitler Channel” phase and long before the “Shark Week” bullshit and we won’t even go into the mermaids and ancient aliens thing.
Seriously, Discovery, what the hell?
Anyway, it was during this halcyon age of cable documentaries that I happened to see a documentary that looked homemade. By “homemade” I mean it looked like it was made with a low budget and a case of lager. It starred a thin engineer and his larger friend and they talked about how things worked — things like radios, tellies, and washing machines. In some ways, it shared some commonalities with Mythbusters in that the engineer and his friend both worked in building things from scratch and special effects. They would do things like hold a flaming torch in front of the fuel injectors of a car engine so you could see the flames leaping from the petrol and learn how the things worked.
Our engineer friend is the incredible Tim Hunkin and his friend is Rex Gerrod. The name of the documentary series is The Secret Life of Machines. It not only features great examples, fascinating builds, and the occasional outburst of “Oh my god, these guys are crazy!” but also animated bits drawn by Tim. You see Tim is not only an engineer, but also a clockmaker, artist, animator, author, speaker… and one of my heroes. He’s silly, intelligent, he makes cool stuff, and he’s not afraid to make mistakes.
But I’m not talking about the documentary, at least not yet. I want to talk about the music from the documentary, because it was fantastic. The show started and ended with a rendition of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, which happens to be one of my all-time favourite songs. However this isn’t Take Five by Brubeck.
It’s The Russians Are Coming by Val Bennett.
Val Bennett was a reggae saxophonist who got started in the 1940s. His take on Five is absolutely brilliant and he makes it his own song. I’m not sure why Tim chose it for the documentary or even if he did choose it for the documentary. The end result is that, when you visit YouTube to listen to it, one of the top comments asks where Tim Hunkin is. For better or worse, Tim has linked himself to The Russians Are Coming but I don’t see that as a bad thing. It’s a chill track with amazing bounce and great sax. Check it out.
Also, if you want to check out The Secret Life of Machines, you can download the entire thing for free. Why? Because Tim and the crew behind the show are awesome. That’s why. Go get it, but listen to the song first.