Most of the online Barry fans have described the Royal Albert Hall performances in depth. I'll leave those orchestrations to what's come before. My reflections are less about "how this piece sounded" and "what was on the program" and more about the emotional impact of witnessing a John Barry concert for the first time. I've had the good fortune to have met the Man on a few occasions, even witnessed a mixing session for a small score he did to a short film called "The Witness." But I had never seen him stand in front of a full orchestra and conjure up the sounds that have been familiar to me since childhood.
To gaze upon Barry conducting the James Bond theme and taking in the orchestra and what instruments contributed to what sound and seeing it all come together in a powerful duel of brass and strings – sheer magic. To soak in the grandeur of Out of Africa and it sweeps across you in all its aural splendour... or to be seduced by the rapturous trumpet playing of Chris Botti on Playing By Heart -- which in my opinion is Barry's finest score since "Frances" -- incredible!
And to think I came this close to not sharing in this transcendent experience. Living in Los Angeles, the idea of buying tickets for a concert taking place on another continent strikes most as being quite an extravagance. The notion of flying ten hours to attend a three-hour concert and then flying straight back -- well, to most people, that seems to be going to extreme lengths to hear what you can just pop a CD into your player for. It wasn't like there was to be live recreations of Bond movies or 3-D effects or even synchronised film clips. Just a man conducting an orchestra.
Try explaining to customs officers in both London and America that you're only here (or were gone) for three days, basically to see a concert. See them sizing you up as some drug mule. "Yeah? Who did you go see?" "John Barry." "Who?" "You know, the guy who composed all the James Bond music?" "Oh, him. He does that, does he? Concerts?"
Barry's music has always effected me in a way that I'm sure many of his fans can identify with -- it just seems to get inside of me. To go deep. Shakes up the emotions. There's an emotional balance to it that no other composer can get even close to. It just seems that Barry knows how to go deep core while others barely penetrate the surface. Those minor chords distributing exquisite goose bumps down the spine. I think he taps into all the tragedy and beauty and poignancy of real moments. He's had them and we've had them. And he lends a beautiful voice to life moments, be it romance or tragedy. It's reflection for the soul, bottled only as John Barry can do it.
Anyway, after reading the many raves about last year’s concert, I was ready to go walk in traffic for not taking the opportunity to see Barry in concert. Christ, how many times is one going to get a shot at that in this life. Or in Barry's life. I totally screwed up. Then... it's announced, he'll be returning this year for another appearance. The moment word came across the Internet that tickets were going on sale, I was on the phone to the Royal Albert Hall. I bought a pair of the best seats. For my wife and I. This was at three in the morning. I then woke her to tell her we were going to London. "What? Yeah, whatever."
By daylight, I started to take account of the damage I had done. Concert tickets. The need now for plane tickets, accommodation, etc. And all for a concert. I'm not poor. I have the money --but then I'm not stinking with it either. It just seemed an extravagant undertaking for a weekend of concert going. And then there were work concerns. Writing deadlines. Family obligations. I second-guessed myself through a couple of months. I even waited on buying my plane ticket until the last moment. But in the end, insanity won out. Thank god. I mean, I had to live with myself. My wife caved to her family obligations – her mother's 60th birthday party and bowed out. There's something good to be said for mother-in-laws. Hearing about this sudden impending party got me on the phone the next morning booking passage to ol' Blighty as Pete Briggs lovingly describes it. John Barry actually got me off the hook and that's something else to be thankful for. My wife came to her senses a day before I was supposed to leave -- but, alas, too late. She had no plane ticket and I had already promised her ticket to a friend in London -- who also happened to be offering accommodation. He wasn't a Barry fan -- at least not until after the concert. He's already working on his CD want list. Poor guy.
After rummaging around a book fair on Saturday morning -- bought an original first edition of The Wicker Man by Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer; paperbacks: Get Carter and some other Ted Lewis British crime classics -- I hooked up with Geoff Leonard, Gareth Bramley and Russell Thewlis at the Cinema Book shop. Where I bought a copy of Playing By Heart off Gareth. Geoff and I had corresponded via email for a few years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet him. We met up briefly at the concert later, where I was also introduced to Pete Walker. The exultant trinity were now known to me. And then into the Royal Albert for The Show...
I had a good seat in the stalls to the right of the stage, where I could see Barry's face while he was conducting and had a pretty good view of the orchestra as well. There was no way this concert was going to disappoint. And it didn't. Let's be honest: it's a rare treat to hear an orchestra play the music of John Barry in public. Just doesn't happen all that often. And like I always say, no imitations will suffice. At least to my eyes, he had a very unusual style of conducting. Almost like a dance. He really seemed to be into it. And at ease. I thought he looked to be in fine health. He does come across as quite a fragile man, but one who has lived the good life. For anyone who has ever been face to face with him, he has the most piercing blue eyes and I mean that not in any kind of romanticised description of him - I'm perfectly straight. The Barry sound is right there in his eyes. Depths of emotion. He's very modest about his fans. To the point that it seems he doesn't care much for them. I'm sure he does, but he's not in it for the fans, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not in it for him. I'm greedy for his music. And the fact that he's a gentlemanly conduit for it is a plus. His life is fascinating, and back in the 60s he was pretty much a rock star, but, so what? I'll take a new CD over his bio any day - no offence to Geoff and the gang. I'm sure they'd agree with me.
I only wish (as others, I'm sure) is that he would have included some more obscure stuff into his repertoire: "Frances" or "Petulia." And talk about "Raise the Titanic" for an encore. Would have brought the house down. He needs to get a serious clue about that score: it's a &*$$%%### masterpiece! Still, whatever was on the menu was sheer delicacy -- and as fresh as the day it was conceived. John Barry is James Bond to me. As someone commented on the way out, "I never realised how much that music made the Bond movies." I definitely could have done with another hour of the man's cool stylings. As, I think it was Gareth who said to me, "You wouldn't have come over for Jerry Goldsmith, would you have?" As much as I love Jerry's music, and I am attending his upcoming Hollywood bowl concert, the answer is, of course not. That's says it all. For John Barry, I'd fly halfway across the world. For his music, I've got all the time in the world. This is one time I'm not going to have any regrets.