JOHN BARRY (1933-2011) – HIGHLIGHTS & MEMORIES
John Barry Prendergast (John Barry), film composer: born York 3 November 1933; OBE 1999; died New York 30 January 2011 from a heart attack aged 77. One of John Barry's greatest admirers was RFS member Gareth Bramley, and he has contributed the following Obituary, which he calls "Highlights and Memories".
John Barry's love of film music began at an early age when his father introduced him to the world of films at the cinemas which he ran in the north of England. His earliest recollection was being carried into the York Rialto by his father and seeing a huge black and white mouse moving across a large white screen. Later, aged 14, John was able to run the projection booth alone and a year later left school to work for his father full time.
John had learnt piano from age nine - and later trumpet; and studied harmony and counterpoint under Dr. Francis Jackson, the Master of Music at York Minster just down the road from the family home in Fulford. He formed his own local jazz band, The Modernaires, playing trumpet. Three years later, in 1952, he was called up for National Service, joined the Green Howard's regiment (for three years) and used his spare time to practice and play trumpet. It was here he undertook a correspondence course (Composition and Orchestration for the Jazz Orchestra) with Bill Russo, former arranger with The Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Back in York he would send arrangements to Johnny Dankworth, Ted Heath and Jack Parnell and it was the latter who advised him to start his own rock and roll band - and in 1957 The John Barry Seven was formed with some friends and ex-army colleagues and they played the local circuit. Concerts, tours and TV appearances followed and a record deal with EMI; and their first single, a vocal, 'Zip Zip' / 'Three Little Fishes', was released in October 1957 - the same year the group made their professional debut at the York Rialto on March 17th. He appeared with the band on the TV shows '6-5 Special' (debuting 21/9/57), 'Oh Boy' (from 15/6/58) and later 'Drumbeat' (4/4/59); and it was because of the latter programme that he became associated with Adam Faith.
When Faith, as a result of his 'Drumbeat' success, co-starred in his first film 'Beat Girl' in 1959 – who better to compose the driving score than the man who had arranged all Faith's 'Drumbeat' material. Barry was recommended to the producer by Faith's manager Evelyn Taylor. He always said that it was his intention from an early age to get into scoring films and this was his chance.
Prior to the release of 'Beat Girl', Faith and Barry had their first record success when 'What Do You Want' made No. 1 in the charts in late 1959. One previous recording, 'Ah, Poor Little Baby', released a few months earlier, was a chart failure - their only one together.
Further assignments followed and Barry continued to tour and record instrumental material with the Seven and arrange material for other artists on the EMI roster (including Anita Harris, Peter Gordeno, Johnnie De Little, Denis Lotis, Marion Ryan, and Marty Wilde). In 1962 Noel Rogers (head of United Artists Music in London) approached him to arrange the theme for the first in a series of films about a super-hero called James Bond ('Dr. No').
The story of the 'James Bond Theme' has been documented many times, but it was evident that through this film alone Barry was able to go on and write the complete score for 11 more films in the series – culminating with 'The Living Daylights' in 1987 and including 'Goldfinger' in 1964 for which he won a Gold disc. During the 'boom' times of the 60s Barry would be offered film after film; and it wasn't long before the time-consuming touring with the Seven finished. He still continued to record for EMI but left in 1963 to take up a position as A & R manager with Jeff Kruger's Ember label. Some classy releases followed, to include solo recordings; film soundtracks such as 'Zulu', 'Four in the Morning' and the TV spectacular 'Elizabeth Taylor in London' (for Colpix); a couple of singles for pop duo Chad & Jeremy; and a critically-acclaimed jazz album with Annie Ross. However, sales failed to match the quality of the productions, apart from one Chad & Jeremy hit single, and it wasn't too long before his association with the label ended.
Film offers continued to increase – Bryan Forbes gave him 'Séance on Wet Afternoon' on the strength of two excellent jazz themes he had provided for his previous film 'The L-Shaped Room'. 'King Rat', 'The Whisperers', 'The Wrong Box' and 'Deadfall' followed. At the same time Barry scored other notable films and won Oscars for best score and song for 'Born Free' (1966) and best score for 'The Lion in Winter' (1968). He was also won a Grammy for 'best instrumental theme' for 'Midnight Cowboy' (1969). Many of John's scores thankfully materialised on record albums; but after leaving Ember he signed a deal with CBS in the UK and besides numerous soundtrack albums such as 'Ipcress File', 'The Chase', 'The Quiller Memorandum' and 'The Lion in Winter'; many compilation albums containing studio recordings of his film themes materialised - culminating in 1971 with an LP (and single) from a new TV series starring Roger Moore & Tony Curtis who received equal billing as 'The Persuaders!'.
This is where MY passion for John Barry started – a driving moog synthesiser riff accompanying lavish titles drove me to watch each and every ensuing episode. This record would end up being Barry's most successful single reaching No. 13 in the charts at the end of '71, and stayed there for 15 weeks.
I had been born the same year John had been commissioned to write his first film score (1959) and now, at the age 12, I was left wanting to hear more music by John Barry. In the mid-70s when I'd bought my first record player I was able to purchase a single of 'The Persuaders!' theme which was still in print. A couple of years later I bought the long playing album and found great satisfaction from the new themes on it – in particular some of those from the James Bond films which I already knew and loved. I was keen to hear more of this splendid music and found a copy of the 'James Bond Collection' which included the themes from 'Dr. No' to 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971). Since this LP contained only 2 or 3 themes from each film, I attempted to search out the full scores which I eventually bought.
In 1972 Barry switched labels to Polydor and I found the album of the concert he did at the Royal Albert Hall in October 1972, recorded at Abbey Road Studios. If only I'd been older and appreciated the music of such a great composer earlier in life – I may have been in the audience that night when he was on stage alongside Michael Crawford (dressed as the white rabbit) and Fiona Fullerton (dressed as Alice) to conduct, amongst others, a suite from his then new film 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. Barry was invited back to the Royal Albert Hall a year later, when he also conducted a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He toured Japan in 1975 doing a series of 30 one-night stands, over some 5-6 weeks with an orchestra including accomplished trombonist Don Lusher.
Barry scored some memorable films in the early 70s – 'Walkabout', 'The Last Valley', 'Mary, Queen of Scots' – the Royal Film Performance for 1972 – receiving an Academy Award Nomination. He also worked on 'The Dove' and the stage musical 'Billy' (1974) which starred Michael Crawford and ran for two and half years in London. The same year Barry left London for Majorca; and a year later moved to the States to score a TV spectacular he'd been offered called 'Eleanor & Franklin – The White House Years'. In the same year he was offered 'Robin & Marian' (directed by Richard Lester) and stayed in Beverly Hills, marrying Laurie in 1978. Other notable films of that decade were 'The Day of the Locust', 'The Deep', 'King Kong' and 'Hanover Street', not forgetting three more in the James Bond series: 'Diamonds are Forever' (1971), 'The Man with the Golden Gun' (1974) and 'Moonraker' (1979). Unfortunately, he was unable to score 'Live & Let Die' in 1973 as he had already committed to working on 'Billy'. He also had to forgo scoring 'The Spy Who Loved Me' (1977) since he was unable to return to Britain because of tax problems. Shortly afterwards, in 1980, John and Laurie moved to Oyster Bay near New York.
It was at this time that my real love for John Barry started. I'd heard snippets of his music on Star Sound on BBC Radio 2 and attempted to search out more and more films scored by Barry using Halliwell's Film Guide. The snippets and requests – even my own - continued on Star Sound and I started to buy as many soundtrack albums and singles by Barry that I could find. I'd watch films two or three times – captivated by these wondrous scores – 'Raise the Titanic', 'Body Heat', 'Hammett' for example. This was the turn of the decade - Barry was still in huge demand and further films like 'Somewhere in Time', 'Frances', 'The Cotton Club' and 'Jagged Edge' followed and his final three Bond outings, 'Octopussy' (1983), 'A View to a Kill' (1985), and 'The Living Daylights' (1987), which was his Bond swan-song. Barry remained unable to return to the UK in 1981 to score 'For Your Eyes Only' and had decided that enough was enough after 'The Living Daylights', blaming lack of a proper fee and creative control of score and song, plus the fact that he thought the formula had now become repetitive.
Fortunately, the latter films had soundtrack albums but many films – like 'Svengali', a made-for-TV movie, and a few others such as 'Hammett', 'Mike's Murder', and 'Masquerade', did not - as the record market was in decline. However, compact discs of these scores were released by specialist labels some years after the films' release. To satisfy my own demand I collected every single piece of music commercially issued with the help of mail order outlets and record fairs; and I'd soon amassed every recording available. In 1984 we could hear film music on a new medium with the advent of CD and I continued to buy each and every release. Fortunately, film music now sounded much fresher.
Around about this time I became friends with Geoff Leonard and two years later Barry received his 4th Oscar for his score for 'Out of Africa' (1985). In the late 80s Barry suffered a serious illness with a torn oesophagus brought on by a toxic health drink but came back with a score for 'Dances with Wolves' earning him his 5th Oscar in 1991. In 1993 he was nominated for 'Chaplin'.
In the 90s Geoff and I released several CDs with music by John – the first was 'Beat Girl' (1990) - his first film score from 1960, coupled with his first studio album 'Stringbeat' (1961). This was a big achievement at the time for an unknown company but the licensing manager at EMI, Norman Bates, had faith in us and gave us our start. It sold out very quickly and other releases followed – including John's work for Ember and some songs he wrote with his lyricist and friend Don Black. In 1993 EMI themselves released three separate volumes of all the recordings he had made with the label in the 60s.
In 1992 and 1995 respectively, Barry recorded two complete non-soundtrack albums for Sony – 'Moviola' and 'Moviola II – Action and Adventure' – which contained some of his best themes arranged in concert form and played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
More film assignments followed in the 90s –'Indecent Proposal', 'My Life', 'Cry, the Beloved Country' and the IMAX film 'Across the Sea of Time'. Then suddenly out of the blue at the beginning of 1998 we heard of a forthcoming 'comeback' concert at the Royal Albert Hall ('The Man, The Movies, The Music') which was to take place in April of that year - to tie in with his new concept album 'The Beyondness of Things'.
Geoff and I were collaborating with Pete Walker on a biography of Barry and we had just found a publisher; but had decided to hold back on publishing in light of the concert so we could include an account and photos of the event.
I can't think of a word to describe the concert, but 'awesome' would perhaps suffice. A full 20-minute plus James Bond Suite; music from his 60s films 'The Knack' and 'The Ipcress File'; my favourite theme - 'The Persuaders!'; 'Dances With Wolves' and some of his latest themes including a World Premiere performance of his latest film score 'Amy Foster' ('Swept From The Sea') all played to perfection by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Barry. Perhaps the most outstanding performances of the night were his themes from the 1964 epic 'Zulu' – truly amazing with kettle drums resonating from left to right and back again; and 'Space March' from 'You Only Live Twice'. Stupendous! The concert lasted around two and a half hours and Michael Caine presented an award to a humbled composer who received at least three standing ovations.
Geoff and I had been invited by Decca to the post-concert party and various luminaries were also in attendance including the late Basil Poledouris and director Michael Winner. When a suitable opportunity arose, Geoff and I exchanged a few words with John who duly obliged by signing our invitations. He was certainly in good spirits and it was clear that he had enjoyed himself earlier. The concert left me blown away and I didn't sleep a wink all night – reliving all those tremendous moments right down to him receiving the standing ovations and the bouquet of flowers presented to him by his son Jonpatrick (then 5 years old).
A few days after the concert Barry appeared for a 'signing session' at HMV, Oxford Street but the queue was huge when we arrived – it was almost as if 'Star Wars' was having its cinema premiere. Geoff and I decided to go to the IMAX cinema to watch 'Across the Sea of Time' but when we returned an hour or so later, everyone had gone and the session had, sadly, ended and we were told Barry had left.
After much delay and continual updating we finally went to press on the book and 'John Barry – A Life in Music' was published in November 1998, with the limited print run selling out within 18 months. We had interviewed many of John's former associates for the book - including John Barry Seven guitarist Vic Flick and Ember boss Jeff Kruger along with many others – and each and every one of them had praise for the composer.
Another concert, again with the English Chamber Orchestra ('Bond & Beyond') materialised a year later and John conducted some more of his themes including two from a new film called 'Playing by Heart' featuring Chris Botti on trumpet. The event was heavily over-subscribed from the word go as fans booked on the back of the 1998 concert; and an extra date was added to the schedule which also included a performance outside the capital at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham - 2 days before the Albert Hall. I recall John's wife, Laurie, and family sitting two rows behind us. At the end of the concert, Geoff, Pete and I were able to present Laurie with an especially leather-bound copy of the book for John.
Whilst new film assignments dwindled, a balance was achieved as specialist labels released previously unreleased scores, sometimes with extra music. Barry's great scores from the 60s/70s and 80s sounded even fresher – re-mastered onto CD for the first time. After two successive concerts it was always my hope that this would be an annual event but his participation diminished in later concerts. 'Elizabeth Taylor – A Celebration' in May 2000 was a variety performance and Barry was one of many acts. Introduced by Sir David Frost as 'The Dean of Film Music', he conducted a shortened version of the James Bond Suite and a splendid version of 'Body Heat. 'An Evening with John Barry featuring The Ten Tenors' (September 2006) saw Barry taking the baton only for a couple of numbers with Paul Bateman deputising for the rest of the evening. On 21st June 2007 he also conducted 'All the Time in the World' to accompany Jarvis Cocker at the latter's Meltdown concert. This was the last time I saw him perform live but fortunately took some pictures of the event.
Sadly, later concerts failed to materialise though it was clear that Barry – and his legion of fans - had enjoyed them. It's sad to think that his last film score was 'Enigma' in 2001 but modern age films were not to his liking and indeed directors were renowned for replacing music with songs at the last minute just for the sales of a soundtrack album. However, that year he did release a further concept album 'Eternal Echoes' which he described as 'An album of sounds, of places, and of objects that have always existed and always will exist. They are without beginning or end. They are infinite in our past and future.'
Barry's crossover into the classical genre with the 'Beyondness of Things' album (dedicated to his son Jonpatrick) was successful - as, to a lesser degree, was 'Eternal Echoes' - but in his later days poor health got the better of him. Although he was receiving more and more recognition by way of awards, he was unable to attend some of these events.
His accolade of film music awards speaks for itself – five Oscars – a record for any British composer; four Grammys; a Golden Globe – to name only a few. In 1999 he received an OBE from her Majesty The Queen for services to music. This was the first in a series of prestigious awards, including Honorary Freeman of the City of York & Goldeneye Award in June 2002; BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award (February 2005); a special honour from the French Minister of Culture (Commandeur Dans L'Ordre National Des Arts Et Des Lettres) presented at the Festival International Musique et Cinema d'Auxerre in November 2007; Max Steiner Life Achievement Award in Vienna in October 2009 and finally a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Soundtrack Academy in Belgium (October 2010). These are just a few of the numerous awards bestowed upon a man gifted with the art of film music composition.
The story of John Barry was brought up to date when our book was extensively updated and revised with new photographs in 2008 in 'John Barry – The Man with the Midas Touch'.
John Barry may have left us but his legacy of music lives on. He will be remembered by thousands as the musical genius that he was and his timeless scores will be played over and over again. To me he will be remembered as 'The Godfather of Film Music'. Gareth Bramley (Co-author of 'John Barry - The Man with the Midas Touch')
This tribute first appeared in 'Journal Into Melody', issue 188 dated June 2011
Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.