MARTYN CROSTHWAITE: It has been noted that your entry into film music was the result of working in your father's cinema. Was he operating cinemas?
JOHN BARRY: Yes, all his life. From humble beginnings he became a stage manager in a legitimate theatre in Liverpool and from there he went into cinema management during the early days, with hand-operated projectors; and he used to tell me some funny tales about those times. If you wanted to get off work a little earlier, you would wind the projector a little faster. MC: So your father was involved in it from the beginning?
JB: Right from the first days of motion pictures. After starting as a projectionist, he worked himself into the position of manager of the Palladium cinema in Lancaster, where he was born. From there, he moved to York, in the north of England, where I was born in 1933. It was during this time in the early 30s that he bought a cinema and went on to build a chain of eight theatres. MC: And how about your mother, did she have a career?
JB: Her father was a sea captain, who, when he retired bought the Repertory theatre in Lancaster. She was a pianist, though not professionally; but primarily, she was a wife and mother to her husband and three children, of which I am the youngest. My brother continues to operate the three remaining theatres and my sister and her husband have a thriving pottery business. Between my brother and sister there are nine children, so things are still active in York.
MC: Just how exactly did you become involved in film music?
JB: I went into the army when I was nineteen, we had to serve in the armed forces at that time, and I played in the military band of the Green Howards regiment for three years, in Egypt and Cyprus. During that time, I also took up a correspondence course with Joseph William Russo, in composition, orchestration and harmony from Chicago. The band gave me a marvellous opportunity to try things out with sections of the orchestra. When I was released from the army I started to do arrangements for the big bands of the day, people like Johnny Dankworth, Jack Parnell and Ted Heath. It was a very slow process - I would do an arrangement, send it down to London, and then it would be broadcast. So I decided to do something on my own, and with some friends from the army and York we formed a group and played our first gig at one of my father's cinemas. From that evolved John Barry and the Seven, as they were originally called, and that's how it started initially, playing at concerts, backing Tommy Steele, playing at the Palace Theatre. It was like a rhythm and blues band, playing Bill Haley's material, and jazz as well. I played the trumpet-we had quite a broad scope. MC: Did you do any recordings as John Barry and the Seven?
JB: Yes, a number of things, such as Zip, Zip, Three Little Fishes, Every Which Way on which I sang, I've tried to destroy as many as I can find.
MC: I would imagine they must be quite a collector’s item by now. Do you have any of those albums?
JB: I don’t, but one of my daughters brought one over from Sweden. She managed to find one, but I destroy any I can find.
MC: Do you really sound that bad?
JB: Well one reviewer wrote that I sang like a 45rpm playing at 33 and a third. So that gives you some idea.
MC: Did any of your songs become a hit?
JB: I did two or three vocals which didn't do a thing - and then we did a pop programme for the BBC called, Juke Box Jury, and recorded the theme as Hit and Miss, which became a top ten hit in England. We followed that with our own cover version of Walk Don't Run, which was a hit in America for the Ventures and also a top ten hit for us in 1960.
MC: So you were quite successful as the John Barry Seven?
JB: To give you an idea, the top group in England at that time were Cliff Richard and the Shadows; and we were the number two group.
MC: How many albums did you actually record with the Seven?
JB: We were on several package albums put out by EMI with other groups featured. We did one of our own, Stringbeat in 1961, which was the group plus strings. Then I did several albums as musical director for Adam Faith. In those days it was essentially a singles market rather than albums.
MC: So you did in fact just one solo album?
JB: Yes, that plus my first film soundtrack, Beat Girl, which included the Seven, plus an orchestra.
MC: Why did you leave the group?
JB: When I became more involved in composing for films, it became impossible to do two different jobs. As it was I used to score a film out of hotel rooms in Manchester and Glasgow. The nature of the two businesses just didn't co-exist very well so I left the group. The group continued to tour for the next four or five years without me. When Paul Anka came to England, the group accompanied him. The JB7 went all over Scandinavia, England & Ireland, especially with Tommy Steele. With the film scoring picking up, however, it just became a little too much to do.
MC: Was Beat Girl the point where you felt you wanted to score music for films?
JB: l had always wanted to do it, but it was a matter of how to get into it. When I became associated with Adam Faith, we had three or four number one records in a row. So they offered Adam vehicles to star in, and Beat Girl was the first film he did. It was through his influence I got the music directorial job. Then he landed another film, Never Let Go with Peter Sellers, and again I directed the score as a result. That was my first decent break at scoring a dramatic film. So it led from pop to film. I don't think you can start out as a young guy by saying you want to compose music for films. I think most people in film music started out in some other area and evolved into it.
MC: Since you were interested in film scoring, had you been preparing yourself for it by studying the technical aspects of the field, different types of musical styles, how to set moods, using leit motif, etc?
JB: Well, I had a classical background in York when I was sixteen, studying with Dr. Francis Jackson, who is Master of Music at York Minster, as well as a correspondence course, the Schillinger System (music by maths). As far as learning the film scoring techniques, no one was teaching those types of things. You had to find out the hard way - by experience. But it was something I was able to learn quickly. In England at that time, I don't know if it still holds true today, but there weren't any schools which taught you film music, or even lectured on it in the late 50s.
MC: Which of you own compositions are million sellers?
JB: Goldfinger, Midnight Cowboy were. The musical, Billy was a silver disc as was Deep Down Inside from The Deep. Born Free was a gold record - it was recorded by thousands of people and was a phenomenon. BMI, who monitors a songs activity, informed me it was one of their most performed songs in history. They said it was topped by one or two others. A certain country in Africa even wanted to use the song as their national anthem.
MC: Diversifying into another media. How did you become involved in major television presentations such as Elizabeth Taylor in London?
JB: I was approached to do that, along with Sophia Loren in Rome.
MC: Was that the result of the notoriety of the Bond films?
JB: Yes, l think so; and also due to the fact that I rented an apartment in the same square as the producers in London.
MC: From what I understand, Elizabeth Taylor in London was so well received that Sophia Loren specifically requested "that Englishman who worked on Elizabeth", is that true?
JB: l don't know if it's true or not. We got along really well together and she even recorded a song, The Secrets of Rome, but I don't know.
MC: So you did get to meet her?
JB: Oh yes. I went down to Rome to work with her.
MC: And you met Elizabeth Taylor also?
JB: Yes, yes.
MC: Did you approach those particular specials with the personality of the stars or the locations in mind?
JB: Well, you know one was the story of London, slightly romanticized: and the same with Sophia Loren in Rome, which was very romanticized. So it was a combination of the two things - two lovely women and the background of the city, its history. That was the style with the mixture of the two things, or were attempted to be anyway.
MC: As far as film music genres that have made use of John Barry music there doesn't appear to be too much in westerns or horror. Is that intentional?
JB: No, I think it’s due to the fact that most of the time up through the past few years I was using England as my base for writing and we don't make westerns out of England. I was offered one with Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot, Shalako, which I thought I might like to do. Then I saw the film and decided I didn't. So there was an opportunity. The only westerns I've actually done are Monte Walsh and The White Buffalo. In terms of horror films, I've never been offered one to do. Because most of the horror films made in England are really low budget numbers, I've never entertained the prospect. They weren't really classic things. But I'd love to do a horror film, come to think of it.
MC: So you don't go out looking for a particular type of film to do?
JB: No, I try not to go after anything, in fact (he laughs).
MG: You mentioned a daughter that had gone to Sweden, Do you have any sons, or perhaps, a daughter that would be interested in following in your footsteps?
JB: No. I have three daughters, they all dabbled in the arts, a little ballet, piano, guitar; but none of them have come through with any mad desire to do it.
MG: Do they all reside in England?
JB: No, My eldest is 18. She lives in London, 1 have one who's 15 and lives in Stockholm. Then there's one who's 12 and lives in Paris.
MG: You have an international family in every sense,
JB: Exactly, yes,
MC: Now onto another area which greatly interests you, the theatre, and your first musical show, Passion Flower Hotel.
JB: Passion Flower Hotel ran for six months at the Prince of Wales theatre in London’s West End.
MC: Your last musical was Billy, which you helped subsidise - did you do the same for your previous ones?
JB: In the case of Billy I didn't actually put any money up front, but subsidized it by securing the rights. I got Michael Crawford, a producer and two writers. So I got the package together and worked with people who I felt would work well as a team. I brought in director Patrick Garland, who I had worked with on A Dolls House. It was an interesting project because they hadn't worked on a musical before.
MC: And were you approached to do Lolita, My Love?
JB: Lyricist, Alan J. Lerner called me in London and asked me if I would like to do it.
MC: Was there any specific reason why he asked you, had he seen Passion Flower Hotel?
JB: No. I think he had done Coco with Katherine Hepburn, who I knew from The Lion in Winter. We were mutually interested in a property at that time, The Little Prince. Katie Hepburn told Alan that he should get in touch with me because we had this interest in a property. So he discussed that with me, but asked if I would first like to do Lolita, My Love. He came over to London, we met ... and the show was an absolute disaster We opened in Philadelphia to very bad reviews, went back to New York to rehearse again, then off to Boston; and it was getting into better shape - the first act at least was better in Boston. Mike Nichols came to see it, and wanted to direct it, but unfortunately he had other commitments. So it was my intention to put it on the shelf for a while and work out the problems with Mike, but that wasn't to be and we folded with a $900,000 deficit. It was a shame because the first act really came together - it was a black musical comedy - very funny, very witty and I thought it had great style. It was very difficult to close it.
Were any recordings made from Lolita, My Love (1971)? Private pressings that were produced for the shows backers?
No, in that instance both Alan Jay Lerner and I would demonstrate the musical numbers on the piano. There were one or two recordings made, one by Robert Goulet, In the Broken Promised Land of Fifteen and Going, Going, Gone by Shirley Bassey. A couple of non-commercial singles were recorded on the Medisound label; but no cast album ever materialized.
During the 60s you worked on a stage musical, Brighton Rock. What became of it?
That was Graham Greene's, Brighton Rock, which I had wanted to do for a long time and worked on it for a lengthy period, writing many songs for it. But alas nothing came of it. It was one of the few true stories of English gang warfare that existed on a very heavy level in England during the 1930s and concerned the racetrack operators in Brighton, which I thought was very colourful. We couldn't, however, get around the fact that the central character was a very despicable person, and to have that as a musical show appeared to be a problem.
So that was something that was in the planning stages, but never came to fruition?
It wasn't staged anywhere. When certain problems appear insurmountable - personality problems etc; it's not an easy undertaking. I also worked for six months on The Great Gatsby, in New York, but again all for nothing. Stage musicals are perhaps the most difficult things I have had to do.
In spite of that difficulty, do you have any plans for another show?
At the moment, both Don Black and I are working on an American version of Billy, which was very successful for us when it ran in London from 1974. We intend to rework the score, adding some new songs and adapting it for the audience here.
It now seems that, unlike the past, when Los Angeles was a tryout for musicals, it is now a launching pad?
It can be, which is nice to see it open up that way so you aren't at the mercy of the New York situation.
Now you are residing in Hollywood, was there a specific reason why you decided to leave England?
I left England and was living in Spain where I was in the process of having a house built. During which time I was offered, Eleanor and Franklin (1976) for American television. So I went to the States in October 1975 for six weeks to do that job, but have stayed ever since. It wasn't my intention to do so, but then I got offered King Kong (1976), then Robin and Marian (1976) for Richard Lester, which was an immediate situation. Initially I lived at the Beverly Hills Hotel, bungalow 15.
So you still have your house in Spain?
I’m trying to sell it (he laughs) – it’s unfinished. The builder is still there with a brick in his hand waiting for my next direction.
So it was just the circumstances which required you to stay on?
Absolutely. And then I met my wife. So here I am.
How do you formulate ideas for writing?
When you are approached to do a film score, you either like the work and go along with it, or if you don't you just walk away.
Some jobs you may find ideas right away and others take so long - does that happen to you?
Yes. Sometimes you work on a film and you seem to be getting nowhere. You haven't been able to figure the film out. Then some little thought comes into your mind and the whole thing falls into place. You keep thinking something is redundant, but then realise it's part of the cleaning out process.
How much does the film determine the requirements and style of your music?
Totally, absolutely totally. The subject matter, the design of the film is the total priority.
For period films like, The Lion in Winter (1968) and The Last Valley (1970), your music appears to be similarly styled?
Yes, they were both period drama films and I suppose was asked to do The Last Valley because of The Lion in Winter. There is a lot of that in the business. When I did the Bond films in the beginning I got offered all the other spy films being made. But I found another way to score The Ouiller Memorandum (1966), so it wasn't like any James Bond score. You try and attempt a fresh approach for the same subject matter.
Did you write the lyrics for Vivre et Mourir as sung by Vanessa Redgrave in, Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)?
It is actually a French poem written by Mary, Queen of Scots herself.
How do you feel about the title song mania and the entry of record companies into the business of paying music production costs for a hit record from a film?
I was part of the whole Bond thing, and that became part of the required style. It has been and it still is, the big title song, the flash titles, etc... That’s fine with me. What I am against is it being forced indiscriminately by music people who haven't got the first idea about the dramatic intensions of the film. It can be a very destructive thing. When I worked on The Betsy (1977), they wanted a song for a party sequence, so I wrote one. It was, however, too intrusive against the dialogue, so I think the producer made the right decision by taking it out.
MG: How long did it take you to write the 'Main Theme for The Betsy? It's a very nice piece of music.
JB: I did it rather quickly, matter of fact. One night - I was living in Malibu at the time - my future wife flew in from New York. I wasn't married to her at the time. We had a good evening, and the next morning I got up and wrote it (he laughs). Of course, it isn't until noon before I get any inspiration.
Is it correct that you were not happy with The White Buffalo (1977)?
That was the film which had a previous score to mine. It was Christmas and I'd just finished King Kong for producer Dino De Laurentiis, when Dino called me saying he had another film titled, The White Buffalo, which he had promised to have me score as a present for the films writer, Richard Sale. I quite liked the nature of the film, but there was a lot of changes to the released print. I also knew that the music had been tampered with. Sequences had music put here and there. The whole thing was rather an unfortunate experience, not so much for me, but for the moviemakers.
And so, how long did you take to complete the score?
That was a very rushed situation, because they had a delivery date in one of the foreign markets.
Was an album ever planned for release?
There wasn't enough variety of music to warrant an album. We talked about an album by developing themes, but the film was not successful, so they didn't pursue it.
How do you see the role of the film composer? Has it changed since you first began in the industry?
It has changed a lot insofar as the role of popular music has increased greatly. That is the most significant external influence... and some of it is good, as in Midnight Cowboy (1969). In that situation, I thought it was an excellent integration of pop music of the day. That atmosphere, using songs to score dramatically was good and worked well. That influence and the ever-increasing financial involvement of music companies are important to some producers, while others don't care. In Goldfinger (1964); Harry Saltzman never liked the song and wanted to take it out of the movie. Cubby Broccoli on the other hand liked it, while the director didn't care whether it was a big hit or not. It was ideal for the character of the film and was a huge success. It's a rather strange song when you think of it, not the type of song you would write away from the film.
What other film composers do you admire, and which scores have impressed you?
Alex North is my favourite American composer and I love his score for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), which I believe is one of the finest mixtures of jazz into film without being conscious of it. Also his scores for Spartacus (1960) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) are impressive. The late Nino Rota's work I also love – I thought he was brilliant.
How about Jerry Goldsmith?
I like Jerry Goldsmith’s music. He’s a good composer.
Do you associate with any of the Hollywood composers?
Elmer Bernstein, Bill Conti and Henry Mancini I see occasionally. We don’t lead a very large social life. Unfortunately I have yet to meet Alex North. Ken Hall, who is usually my music editor, is a very close friend of his and we have been meaning to get together with Alex.
Do you think that now you are living in America more of your music will be released on albums, possibly main themes from your film and television work? Like Eleanor and Franklin and The Corn Is Green?
Maybe. You know Eleanor and Franklin created a big buzz here and I still receive letters about that score. I did in fact record the theme on the flip side of a single from The Deep (1977) issued by Casablanca records. There is such a terrible confusion here with record companies, with mergers etc., that getting things set up is difficult. Maybe I could do something similar to those CBS albums of mine in the sixties. But I don't know if that kind of packaging would sell in the record market today.
When accepting King Kong, did you have any misgivings that people would compare it with the original?
No, no. It didn't worry me a bit.
Did you feel you had to shy away from a certain style because it might sound like the original?
No, I didn't go back and listen to it. I only remembered the original King Kong (1933) from many earlier viewings. Every film has its own life, its own specifics, its own period of time, so that was never a problem. What I did was a reaction to what was on the screen, and I just went ahead and did it.
Although you had scored large budget films prior to King Kong, this was one of the most expensive films ever made at that time. Did you have that pressure of having to come up with something special?
Well, you hopefully rise to the occasion and deliver a marvellous score for them. You have to go in and do your best. There's always that commercial aspect, creating a hit song. We didn’t have a song in ‘Kong’. I think you have to work the best you can with the mood of the film. If you have a lot of excitement, you want to keep the momentum going. It rubs off on you. The real pressure is time.
When you saw the final cut of the film, what did you think?
That was the first time I had scored a film in that way. I never saw a final cut, but scored the film reel by reel as they shot it in sequence. This was because of the race to get a Kong film out first between Universal and Dino De Laurentiss (Universal accepted defeat and withdrew). The whole film was laid out in sequence so that while I was working I couldn’t see the end of the film. I didn't see the completed film. One read the script of course, but it was the first time I, or anyone else had worked in that way. The final cut wasn't ready until two or three weeks before the films release and that was the first time anyone had seen it. So it wasn't a question of seeing a film and saying how you liked or disliked it.
Were you satisfied with the results of the score and the sale of the album?
I was, yes although the album didn't sell as well as they thought it would, but it did okay.
When selecting your assignments what are the deciding factors?
If you feel you are right for it. Then there are films you turn down because you know you are the wrong composer for the job. Quality is another factor to consider very carefully. And if you don't have any specific project lined up and you think that you could have a bit of fun with a score, such as Game of Death (1978), which I did because of the Bruce Lee cult.
You have worked with many fine directors, the likes of John Schlesinger, Arthur Penn, Nicholas Roeg, George Cukor etc. Which have impressed you the most?
I would say John Schlesinger is the most interesting to work with, because of his knowledge of music. He's directed Opera, and really knows music. He also knows very much what he wants from every character down to a very fine point.
How about Bryan Forbes?
Bryan has a strong sense of what he likes but he doesn’t have the same degree of musical knowledge that John seems to process. But he does know the field, and he’s always given me a great deal of freedom. The freedom to do a great number of things within the field of the film - to experiment; he’s been marvelous.
For Deadfall (1968) you wrote a portion of music before you saw the sequence it was to be used for?
That was the "Guitar Concerto", which was written and recorded before Bryan shot the sequence. We talked over what the scene was going to be, the sequence of events, the tensions, the build-ups etc., I had a synopsis of that, and then I wrote the Romance for Guitar and Orchestra for that scene.
It's certainly one of your finest achievements.
I am rather proud of it.
How does the director work with you, does he instruct you when and where music should go?
Well, no. One of the important things for a composer to do is to help the director decide where music should or should not go in the film. Directors have some preconceived ideas, some of which are not helpful. They're rather too obvious. I think a good film composer will come through with a fresh idea or something different. And good directors usually listen. I have very little trouble with directors, very little.
How do the sometimes crushing time schedules for a film score affect you? Do you think your work would be any better without deadlines to meet?
No, most composers seem to like it better that way. Should you be given more time you tend to procrastinate until the deadline period. On most films you get about four or five weeks. I've rarely been given more than that. To create the thematic material, you get a bit longer; but from the time you actually get the final cut four or five weeks is the normal time. Sometimes less.
What is the minimum time you have been given to write a score?
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) I did in two weeks, which was recorded in England. I left Los Angeles on the Sunday after completing my work on The Day of the Locust (1974), and started on the Bond film on the Monday.
Do film companies commit their work to you alone or choose from several people?
For most films, either the director or producer has a desire for a particular composer; and then the question of availability comes up. Most good directors have a pretty firm idea as to who they want to do their film, but don't necessarily go for the same composer for each film they do, that rather depends on the subject matter involved.
It has been rumoured that on The Deep (1977), John Williams was originally assigned to the film. Is that correct?
John Williams was not asked to do it and that rumour was totally inaccurate. He was, I believe, doing Star Wars (1977) at the time. It was the American magazine High Fidelity, which ran a review of the album for The Deep, who said that I was under pressure, because I had been brought in after John Williams had left - it simply wasn't true.
Did you like your score for The Deep?
If you noticed a lot of things which happened, happened without the music. When I first viewed the film, I found it difficult to write music for it, because the eye doesn't relate to purely visuals like it does to dialogue. Naturally there was no dialogue underwater, so it was purely visual and you had to lead the audience through the visuals, creating tension, etc. It was not easy to do that at all and that remains the most difficult film I have had to score.
Would you consider The Deep to be a departure in your style of writing?
Well, personally I can see a lot of things in it which are a lot closer to me than a lot of my other scores. There's such a challenge in trying to transfer the terror of being underwater and communicating the nightmare that must be in that situation. That was the intent with my score.
I was disappointed that the album did not contain certain pieces featured in the film, such as the shark sequence?
That happens. You get a movie that has that amount of music in it - it had almost an hour of music in it, and then we re-recorded the album. I cut most of the underwater material into a ballet and the other side was very commercially oriented. Therefore certain things weren't used. What you'd like to do is develop music from strong emotional moments, expand upon them since many are too short to put on record, maybe 20 or 30 seconds.
A recent disappointment was the fact that several of your scores have not been recorded, such as The Betsy (1977) and Hanover Street (1979). Was there any reason why they were cancelled?
On The Betsy they had a situation where the theme was not considered commercial enough. It was fine for the film, but not for recording purposes. That's a dilemma we constantly go through. However, I couldn't see why it shouldn't be released if the theme was reframed in a commercial vein like say the theme from Love Story (1970). I do feel the theme for Hanover Street was very traditional romantic movie music, but also very commercial. It would have to be reframed, but you don't want to prostitute your score by doing it disco style, when it isn't appropriate. The style of the film had to be elegant and that theme was. So you stay true to the art and nature of the film.
Do you use an orchestrator on your work at all?
I orchestrate about 90% of the work I do. But in the case of rushed deadlines, rewrites, where I don't have the time, I will use orchestrators. Generally, however I like to do the orchestrating myself. That's half the fun of it.
Did you use an orchestrator on The Lion in Winter (1968)?
I used Bobby Richards, an English orchestrator, because we were pushed into a three week period of recording delivery time. (he later used Bobby on Billy (1974). In America, every composer uses an orchestrator without fail. It's a union rule. I just finished Starcrash which has over an hour of music, and I did everything myself. It’s not any disrespect for orchestrators as there are many fine ones around. However I like to stay close to the material and if I can, I like to do it myself. There are some composers who can't orchestrate and many orchestrators are not only orchestrating, but also arranging. That does exist.
Has your musical style changed very much?
Well, I think that I could do a diverse group of pictures, and yet, someone will tell me that they knew I had scored them. So I think a certain characteristic comes through in my music, no matter what changes you have to do dramatically. Of my own work I think it's a harmonic, melodic and motif style I have, which I'm quite pleased with and don't mind that existing at all. When you write scores that no one knows who did them, there must be something wrong. There must be something that comes through so that people will say 'I knew that was your score'. When John Schlesinger saw Katharine Hepburn in The Glass Menagerie (1973) on television, it had a very simple piano piece, which was unlike anything I had ever done before, John Schlesinger kept saying to himself that I had scored it - but he couldn't believe it until he saw my credit.
MC: What was your most difficult score?
JB: I would say maybe ‘King Kong’, because structurally you didn't have the complete film to know where you were heading. Normally, you have the whole movie to reflect on the shape of the entire score - where the highs are going to be, where the lows are, how you're going to build in the music; you sense how to use it, melodically and rhythmically, etc. So to work reel by reel is the most difficult thing, because you're kind of guessing.
MC: Did you have ideas prior to actually scoring ‘King Kong’ of how you would approach it?
JB: The ‘Main Theme’ I wrote in front, and recorded it on a piano so that Dino (De Laurentiis, the Producer) and John Guillermin (the director) could listen to it. They had requested a sort of romantic theme, but at the same time, I thought it shouldn't be softly romantic; it needed a strength to it, a certain strangeness, which I think we accomplished. This is where you get into the conflict of what is commercial and what is right for the picture. The element of seeing that ape with that lady, being romantic, to be accurate without losing the audience - it's a fine line to hit on. So we started out with that theme and developed from there the rest of the score.
Do you know the status of your various James Bond soundtrack albums?
I really don't know. I browse through record shops and still see things like Goldfinger (1964). I would think some of them are still available and they would reprint them from time to time.
Was there any particular reason why you didn't score Live and Let Die (1973)?
I was doing Billy for the London stage at the time and also had fallen out with the producer Harry Saltzman (but not with Cubby). So it was a combination of the two things.
You also didn't do the score for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)?
Right. The union rules are that if the picture is made in England, the score must be done in London, and I no longer work there. The new Bond film, Moonraker, is an Anglo-French co-production; and therefore it will be recorded in Paris. So I’ll be doing it there.
Is that a requirement of their’s?
Yes, it is.
You’ve called your Bond scores, ‘Mickey Mouse’ music?
No, I’ve said they were ‘Million Dollar Mickey Mouse’ – it’s the million dollars that’s the key phrase.
Do you still enjoy scoring 'Bond' films?
I love them. The action and the drama of it all is all there on the screen. We all know he's going to come out okay at the end of it, but you try to treat it seriously like he isn't. A ten year old in the front row really thinks that his hero is going to get it and the villains are going to win. I treat it seriously and take the audience through the dramatic trip.
MC: Any chance of seeing a recording for "Hanover Street"?
JB: I would very much like to see it, as I'm very pleased with the score.
MC: I would imagine ‘Moonraker' and ‘The Black Hole' will have soundtracks?
JB: I would think, yes.
IE: Are there any other assignments this year?
JR: Well, that is enough. "Moonraker' will have about 1 1/4 hours of music. There'll be more music in this 'Bond' film than the others, because it is such a big Picture. ‘Black Hole’ is a similar situation, requiring a lot of music. It will be for Christmas release.
MC: Have you done any music for that Disney film yet?
JB: Not yet (as of February). I'll be seeing what they've shot and then get some ideas and go from there.
MC: Getting back to the ‘Bond’ films - when you start one knowing you need a theme song, who suggests who to get for the lyrics?
JB: Well, on 'Moonraker’ I suggested Paul Williams to Cubby Broccoli, because I think he is such a fine lyricist and Cubby agreed.
Who chooses the vocalists for the 'Bond' films?
Well, we put our heads together and think of who's hot at the time, who'd be right for the song. For OHMSS (1969) we had the song 'We Have All the Time in the World' and I suggested that Louis Armstrong would be ideal and Cubby Broccoli agreed. So we recorded it with Louis Armstrong. There was no commercial consideration on that discussion.
Was there any particular reason why Dionne Warwick's vocal in Thunderball (1965) was not used?
It was thought that Thunderball for a title song was wrong. So the producers agreed to have a vocal 'Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' over the title credits and Dionne recorded it. Then at the last minute they got cold feet, and said 'Let's have a song called Thunderball'. So we did it and got Tom Jones to sing it. Dionne's was a marvellous song and she did a great arrangement for it. It was really a strange song. I had about 12 cow bells on it with different rhythms along with a large orchestra. I thought it was a very original piece.
Were you asked to score Zulu Dawn (1979) after the success of Zulu (1963)?
I was asked to do Living Free (1972) after Born Free (1966), but I refused because I don't think you can pull it off twice. You might be lucky. I think the 'Bond' and 'Pink Panther' films are a unique exception. I thought it would be best to have someone else score Zulu Dawn and so I let it be known I wasn't interested.
Would the director be inclined in a situation like that to tell the composer to try and imitate the style of the original Zulu?
He may, yes. He may use the same theme, like in Living Free, they used Born Free to a degree, but they kept it down to a minimum, but they may say use some of my music from Zulu. I loved Zulu, loved it! I took some original music from Africa, like a wedding melody and other themes and westernized them. But they were so good, so very basic, so wonderful in the film and so simple. Just two chord changes and yet so good.
Do you like scoring films here or in Europe?
I love recording here now. I love the Burbank Studios and their superb engineers. England was fine and I loved recording at the old CTS Studios. I haven’t recorded in Paris before, but the last time I was there I went to see where I would be recording this time. You're always more comfortable when you've worked somewhere before, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the studio. I’m looking forward to recording in Paris.
Which of your scores had done the most to bring you to the attention of producers?
I had a very fortunate situation at the beginning of my career in that I did three relatively small pictures. Then I was asked to do Dr No (1962), so that created a very commercial situation on that level. And at the same time I did Séance On a Wet Afternoon (1964) for Bryan Forbes, which was considered the 'kitchen sink, art-house' type of film. So I had three or four years of a solid relationship of doing 'Bond' movies and Bryan Forbes movies. The two levels of work created a very nice situation for me and I was very lucky in that those two elements occurred at the same time.
What happened to your score for First Love (1977)?
That's a long story. Before I was involved in the project they had already had the idea of having a song score. Then the director, Joan Darling and the producer felt it wasn't working so they showed me the movie and I wrote some music of a more traditional style, which I felt, and they seemed to agree at the time, gave it more genuine emotion. They felt it was what the picture needed. Then after I had finished the score, they came back and said they had doubts about it. One of the executives at Paramount pictures liked the music, but thought it was too mature for the film. That's one of the strangest criticisms I've ever had. So then they wanted to revert back to sticking some songs in the picture and use a little of my music. I told them that if they were going to do that, they had better remove my name from the credits. I eventually saw it on Cable television and it sounded like it had, three or four composers going in as many different directions. It was a totally unsatisfying exercise.
But the 'Love theme' in the film, was that yours?
I didn't hear it. I heard little bits, just fragments. The main piece I wrote didn't end up in the film, just secondary themes.
How about for Man in the Middle (1964). You did compose that score.
Yes, Lionel Bart wrote a 'Main theme', which I arranged and I wrote the remainder of the original music. I also arranged the music of Glen Miller which was used in the film.
Was there any particular reason why some selections from Beat Girl (1960) were used in Deadfall (1968)?
As I recall we recorded a band out of Mallorca and thought they had clearance for the tunes to be used in the film, but later found out they didn't. So we had to find some music which was owned by Twentieth Century-Fox or Robbins music publishers. The only thing I could think of at that time was the music from Beat Girl so because it was a last minute thing we used it.
What is your favourite composition of your own, or the one you are happiest with?
I like The Lion in Winter very much and The Knack. Of the 'Bond' scores I like Goldfinger because I hit it perfectly and after that it was just more of the same.
Do you know if there was an Italian album released from The Tamarind Seed (1974)?
No, I don't. I've never heard of such an album. We never made a recording for an album. But what happens in foreign countries is that the film is sent over there, and then dubbed into Italian, Japanese, or whatever. They will also send a clear track of just the music without sound-effects and dialogue. So what they shouldn't be doing, but in many cases do, is to tape the music track and make an illegal album.
I would imagine that the music would sound rather fragmented or funny in that state?
Oh, yes. They sound bad. Most of the one's I've heard indicate the person doesn't have any idea about programming an album and the quality of the recording is inferior; because they're not dealing with the original 16 track tape, but taking it off a 3 track or a monaural copy.
Have you ever turned down a film assignment which went on to be a big success?
I was going to do Love Story (1970) when the director Anthony Harvey, was involved with it. I also turned down Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), but overall I've been pretty lucky in that sense.
How did you get involved in writing music for television commercials?
I was approached to do them in the mid-Sixties. The Girl with the Sun in Her Hair for the Sunsilk Shampoo advert is one of the longest running commercials. I also did one here for Eastern Airlines, which won an award for best music for a commercial in 1968.
Realizing you have a full schedule, do you pursue any other hobbies?
I like reading, mainly non film-related material. The classics of literature, political things -anything I can get my hands on.
Have you gone in for jogging?
Oh, no. I think it's silly. I have a house in the Sierras and when I get up there I do a lot of walking.
Do you ski at all when you are there?
I'm sure I'd break my neck if I went skiing.
I would have thought that since you are an international traveller, you'd be commuting to Switzerland for the skiing on the Alps?
Oh, no. I just love to do the nice leisurely things -and very slowly. I love to swim in my pool.
Were you active in athletics when you were at school in England?
I used to play rugby, if you can believe that? Also cricket and rowing. But once I left school I never pursued those sports again.
Have you ever thought of breaking away from film scoring to do other forms of music?
I love the celluloid world. I have done theatre both here and in England to various degrees of success. I remember when King Kong opened; in one evening it was shown in 570 theatres. There was over an hours' music in the film and it was the largest audience for a performance of music. If you look at it that way; that score was heard by more people than ever before. It's crazy, but it's true - and that to me, is electrifying. People are now more aware of film music and I am happy to continue just doing film scores. I love the variety it throws at you; every project opens you up in another way.
Have you done many concerts?
No, I did the 1972 Filmharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and one here at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic - that was a nightmare. I was delayed 24 hours by the airlines and so I only had a two hour rehearsal in the morning, just one run-through. The actual concert was in the evening. It was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. The Bowl was filled with umpteen thousand people and I was a nervous wreck. I've subsequently been asked to perform, but unless you can do it right it's no good.
Did you enjoy the Filmharmonic concert with Miklos Rozsa?
I enjoyed doing that. I also took an orchestra to Japan for 30 one-night stands. That was fantastic. It was a concert of film music, mine and other peoples. The Japanese were so well organized with the concert halls filled to capacity. The people out there are so appreciative. During the performance they were as quiet as mice, but at the end they let you know how much they enjoyed it. What (found interesting was the mixture of cultures. You'd have students sitting next to their grandparents in traditional dress. I wouldn't mind doing another concert tour of Japan.
Have you enjoyed scoring for television?
It's the same as doing films. I think all the television movies I have done have been the same length as feature films, so it comes down to virtually the same thing.
You've never done a score for a television series?
No, I've never done them and would never consider doing them. I have done themes for television like The Persuaders with Roger Moore.
Is there something career wise that you feel you have yet to achieve?
I would like to do a successful stage musical on Broadway. At the moment I am working on a U.S. version of Billy with Don Black. I would also very much like to direct a film and do a film musical of a different nature.
You did Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?
I did that in England, which unfortunately was the director's first film assignment and it didn't really come off as we had all intended. We were also intending to do musicals of Gulliver's Travels and Cinderella, but nothing came of them.
Do you think that at some point you'll want to slow down and take more time off?
Well, I did that the year before I came over here. I went to Mallorca and I didn't work for a year. I just did the Americans (1976) album for Polydor, but I had a whole year away from the business. It was nice to take time off and just to relax, recover your thoughts or do something different - like an album or concert.
What determines whether there will be a soundtrack album released for a film?
Well, soundtrack albums have had a history. In the Sixties, if you had a movie, it also usually meant an album release. Then soundtracks took a dive and hit a terrible slump. Now it seems they are coming back. A lot of them are song related albums, but there are also the symphonic type of scores by John Williams and the like. There is a renewed interest in film scores. These things go in cycles - but if soundtracks sell well more will be released.
Do you as a composer have any influence on their release?
I try as best I can to exert any influence for their issue. On any film there are record companies which have the option on the soundtrack and if they don't wish to exercise that option, then you have to try to find someone who is interested.
Is it a very expensive proposition to release a soundtrack album?
In order to release an album, you have to pay re-use fees. So if you're doing something like Hanover Street, which had about 70 musicians, you have to pay them again. It's not like a rock score with 10 musicians. You're going into do a full romantic score and with so many musicians to pay again, you have to weigh the commercial potential for the sale of the album. They want to recoup their costs, so they have to determine how large an audience they have to buy the record.
Is the re-use fee being paid to the 70 musicians a result of having to go back into the studio to record the album?
No, this is just to have the right to record their performance. If you have to go back to record other music, or re-record certain things, then these are additional costs.
How much approximately would 70 musicians cost in re-use fees?
It would range from $20,000 - $30,000 I would say.
And what additional costs must be incurred to release an album?
There are composer’s royalties plus some residual fees that are paid to the musician’s union fund. I don't know exactly what amount or how the fees are determined on the latter.
In addition to the composer who else receives royalties from the album?
If there's a song on the album, the performer receives a royalty. Sometimes a production company gets a royalty.
In the case of reissues instead of an original release, for example, Boom (1968), what is the procedure there?
The re-use fee needn't be paid in that case. If it is paid once, that's it. A licensing fee would have to be paid, disclosure of the royalty structure and contract and to pay the various parties involved.
The reason I mention this is because there is such a renewed interest in your scores for Boom (1968) and Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), among others, that ft would be nice to see them reissued.
I don't know if the original companies would be game to reissue them, since they've discontinued them, but I think it would be nice to see someone reissue them. I would certainly take an active part in helping an interested company to get the licensing rights to any of my scores, as it would be in my best interest. I would be happy to get something like that off the ground.