February 3, 2011
You may not know the man, but you will almost certainly know his music.
John Barry OBE, a Honorary Freeman of York, is being remembered worldwide following his recent death at 77 yrs.
I feel very fortunate in that I did meet the man, when both of us were quite young, and I have adored his music from so many award winning films.
I came to first know John Barry Prendergast when I used to hang around back-stage at the Rialto cinema in York in the late 1950's during Sunday concerts on the stage. These shows starred some of the biggest names in music at that time, from jazz to skiffle, from big bands to individual singers. Lonnie Donegan, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Chris Barber, Dickie Valentine, Sarah Vaughan and, yes, even the Beatles - all performed on the stage at the Rialto.
Back-stage Barry (as we called him) used to regale the arriving audience with his favourite music played over the PA system from a turntable with LP's behind the stage curtains. His favourites were Stan Kenton - then a major American big-band - as he had studied through a correspondence course with Bill Russo, a trombonist with this band.
I was there taking photographs of all the stars for my own interest and personal collection. As a late teenager I had the run of the whole cinema, by kind permission of Barry's father, Jack Xavier Prendergast who owned it. I met and photographed all those greats and had a wonderful time most Sunday evenings.
At a time in the late 50's Barry decided to start his own rock band - the John Barry Seven - and his father asked me if I would take some photos of them for 'front of house' pictures. So I was the first person to photograph the John Barry Seven before they went on to success and other London photographers.
Over the years, as history tells, the John Barry Seven gave way to John Barry the movie composer after having first been asked to 'rework' Monty Normans original James Bond theme tune. That lead to other film music being scored for a whole series of Bond movies and then many other Hollywood and British block-busters including Born Free, Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa, Chaplin and many more. Wonderful music - almost classical, symphonic in its own way.
At the beginning of the new Millennium I got to meet up with Barry again, here in York. I had nominated him for the Honorary Freedom of the City of York. After doing battle with the City Fathers of the day (they were a lefty bunch back then which did not like 'honours') I eventually got them to bestow the Honorary Freedom of the City on Dr. John Barry OBE at a ceremony held in the Georgian Assembly Rooms. This was in June of 2002 and I and my wife Jean got to meet John again, and his wife Laurie, and had photos taken on that memorable occasion.
It was a great event for a great man and he was clearly humbled by the historic significance of the occasion.
A touch of irony was that the honour was bestowed on him by the Lord Mayor standing on the very same stage that Barry had sat on almost 50 years before as a young trumpeter playing in the dance band which used to play at the Assembly Rooms every Saturday - and that was where I had first asked Jean out to a dance in 1958 !
So the great man is gone but his great music will live on forever. I regard it as being a great honour to have known him, if only briefly, during his lifetime.
If you like John Barrys music I can recommend no better collection than his "Moviola" album which contains many of his most haunting and emotional film themes.