John Barry’s music has been a big influence on my life ever since I was a teenager. I can’t remember the first occasion on which I became aware of his music, but it was probably through watching the Saturday night BBC TV programme, Juke Box Jury, which used his ‘Hit & Miss’ composition as the signature tune. Looking back, the programme seemed to be on every Saturday night throughout the sixties, but I suppose it must have rested during the summer months of each year! There was also a Sunday morning BBC radio programme entitled Easy Beat, for which he also wrote the theme. It was required listening before the walk to catch the 11 o’clock service at our local church, which, incidentally was inevitably followed by dinner of roast beef, pork or lamb. Poultry was strictly only for Easter or Christmas. For the first few months of Easy Beat, The John Barry Seven were resident band, but I think they had been replaced by Bert Weedon by the time I tuned in.
The John Barry Seven vied with The Shadows for the position of Britain’s top small band. Although I was keen on The Shadows, too, there was some indefinable quality about the John Barry sound which made me want to start collecting his recordings from then onwards. Indeed, ‘Walk Don’t Run’ was the first 45 I ever bought, albeit a second-hand copy!! I think I paid two shillings for it (full priced singles were about six shillings and eight pence) from a shop in Gloucester Road, Bristol called Wookey & Jones. They also sold second-hand TV sets, as I recall. I must have listened to that record hundreds of times in the attic of our family home in Bristol - the only place I was allowed to play music at a decent volume level - marvelling at Vic Flick’s guitar solo which was so different from the other versions released at the time. He has since told me that EMI released the take on which he felt the guitar tremelo arm effect was slightly over done, and out of tune – which might explain my fascination! And the sound coming from those big old-fashioned speakers has never been matched. As I type this out I can almost hear that opening drum sound from Walk Don’t Run and smell the rather musty scent of the attic, prior to it being modernised. Other singles I bought around that time were Roy Orbison’s ‘Only The Lonely’ and Helen Shapiro’s ‘Don’t Treat Me Like A Child’. The latter being the first full-priced single I ever bought.
I was the second eldest in a family of three boys and a girl, and in the late fifties/early sixties in Bristol, we led rather a sheltered life. My mother wasn’t too keen on ‘pop’ music, she didn’t like me listening to Radio Luxembourg (the only radio station playing proper pop music back then), and as I have no memory of Drumbeat - Barry’s first big TV success in 1959, I can only assume the programme was turned off during that summer. Bear in mind that BBC was the only channel we could then receive. ITV had started a few years previously but you had to purchase a new TV set to be able to receive it. I think I remember her expressing outrage at the general appearance of one Adam Faith, and as he was a regular on Drumbeat, that might explain it.
I really want to be able to say I saw the JB7 on Drumbeat, but in all honesty I cannot recall it. Even if I saw part of a show, as seems likely seeing it ran for 22 weeks, at eleven years old I probably wouldn’t have been aware of the band and Barry. Eleven was a lot younger in terms of appreciating pop music in those days. I’ve even examined the details of a Saturday’s evening’s BBC TV output from that period, and gallingly I can definitely remember watching the closing overs of England v. India at cricket which directly preceded Drumbeat. As I said, maybe Mum or Dad turned off or maybe I rushed out to the local park to try and copy my heroes? I shall never know! I do remember seeing them appear in a TV play called Girl On A Roof. Well, to be fair, I remember watching the play. A girl threatened to jump unless her pop-star hero (played by Ray Brooks) agreed to meet her or maybe even marry her. He eventually did but destroyed her dreams by proving how appalling he really was by singing unaccompanied very loudly (and badly) right in her face ‘I Want You Baby’, which he clearly didn’t. And neither did she after that! I remember hearing the JB7’s music playing while they were on-stage and the action was off-stage, but not much about them being on camera. Well, it was 38 years ago!
As I grew older, I continued to collect John Barry records, which had become more and more experimental - particular the ‘B’ sides of his singles. The famous guitar sound was now beginning to share top billing with strings. The very last track on his first studio album, Stringbeat, was entitled ‘The Challenge’, and some critics felt this was a theme written for a film yet to be made. It was in such contrast to compositions such as ‘Hit & Miss’, from only a year or so before, that even at my tender age I could tell a change was on the way. I came across his soundtrack to Beat Girl, again, in a second-hand shop. This had been an X-certificate (over 18 only) film so it wasn’t so surprising that I’d missed both the film and the album when they were originally released in 1960. This, too, contained tracks unlike anything I’d heard before, in particular jazz-styled numbers like ‘Time Out’ and ‘The Off Beat’. I like to think I bought all his records in those early days, mostly as soon as they come out. Some I definitely remember buying new, like ‘Starfire’, ‘The Menace’ and, of course, ‘The James Bond Theme’. I also bought an e.p. called ‘Theme Successes’ new for about 11 shillings and 6 pence, but ‘The John Barry Sound’ e.p. cost five shillings second-hand. I remind myself that before I got a regular paper-round in about 1962, pocket-money was one shilling a week which eventually rose to two and six. So the buying of new records was an absolute luxury.
Indeed, Stringbeat, my first LP, was a Xmas present in 1962 and the following year came the soundtrack album to From Russia With Love - Barry’s first real dramatic film score. I must have bored the entire family and guests almost to death by insisting on playing it repeatedly downstairs during the festivities. I was allowed down from the attic because film music seemed a mite more respectable!
In 1963, Barry signed for Ember Records. As a small label, their distribution was poor and I was fortunate that a new record shop opened near me, with a helpful owner. The shop was called 'Stephen Francis Records', even though the owner was called something quite different. He got me all the early Ember singles like 'Fancy Dance', 'Zulu Stamp' and 'Elizabeth', before he was forced to close down through lack of business!
Barry's Bond and 'Elizabeth Taylor In London' albums succeeded not only on getting me hooked on film music, but also on the cinema in general. The sixties was a great time for cinema-going in Britain and I saw all the major films - some of them more than once. However, not all Barry’s scores were for major films. Consequently, unlike his ‘pop’ days with EMI, I didn’t buy all his recorded output simply because I didn’t know about the film or the album. Albums like KingRat, Four In The Morning and Boom! come to mind. Man In The Middle was slightly different. I was working by then and ordered the album especially from a shop in Park Row, Bristol. When it finally came into stock I couldn’t afford to buy it. I was earning only about £7.70 a week, so £1.75 was a large chunk to find. Some weeks later I thought it was safe to return to the shop without being recognised and the LP was in the racks. However, although I had the money I was mortified to see on the cover: ‘Music By Lionel Bart’. Though a thorough examination of the back of the sleeve would have revealed that Barry did write a few tracks, I left it. And there it stayed for a few more months – if not years. I regretted this incident when I eventually bought the album in the eighties for around £15!
And there were albums which weren’t released in this country - I had no idea how to obtain these. Bear in mind that back in those days there were no specialist film music magazines that I was aware of and certainly no Internet! But the albums continued to surface and I bought many more than I missed. And, nearly always brand-new. Goldfinger, Ipcress File, The Knack, Zulu, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and O.H.M.S.S., Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland - I recall buying as if it were yesterday. And where!
Then there were the concerts. I’ve already said I was living in Bristol back in the early sixties, and apart from a brief period away, I have lived here ever since. Nowadays it is relatively easy to find out about London concerts of film music. There are friends with similar interests to tip you off, adverts in film music magazines, the Internet and quite often appearances by the composer/conductor concerned on radio and TV programmes. But John Barry’s first film music concert in 1972 had taken place at the Royal Albert Hall before I was aware of it. Indeed, the first I knew about it was when he appeared on BBC TV in a special about his music, introduced by Michael Parkinson, when he conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a selection of music taken from that concert. At the Royal Albert Hall he had conducted the second half of the concert after Miklos Rozsa had occupied the podium for the first half – what an occasion that must have been! The following year, Barry was back again, with Muir Mathieson in tandem. This time it was several years before I found out about it.
But in the mid-seventies, Barry moved to America to live and the word was that he would not be returning, due mainly to various tax problems. UK-released albums seemed to dry up a little and it was a long time before I bought another one. Man With The Golden Gun was probably the last one I was aware of until Moonraker. I had no knowledge of scores such as The Deep, King Kong or Billy – it still puzzles me that a musical could run for over 2 years on the London stage without my knowledge! Maybe London was a ‘bridge too far’ in those days?
A few months working in London at the end of the seventies proved a good move for me. My brother was working there as a sound designer for the RSC and he told me where I could find rare soundtracks. 58 Dean Street & Dress Circle were his tips, and what gems I found there! I virtually filled all the gaps in my Barry album collection, including some from films of which I had never heard, like Starcrash, Petulia, The Last Valley, The Dove, Robin & Marian – the list was endless. And they weren’t cheap, either!
I was resigned to never seeing Barry perform in public, but for some unaccountable reason I did think it would be rather a good idea to write a book about his life in music. I’ve no idea why I had this thought. I had not written more than the odd letter since leaving school in the sixties, and even back then, essays were not my strongest point. To make matters worse, since his move from England there was very little information available about him in newspapers or magazines, and a Leeds-based fan club appeared to have folded. But I persevered and started to seriously research the book around the mid-eighties. I got some help from his ex-guitarist, Vic Flick, as well as two fellow Barry fans, Pete Walker & Gareth Bramley, whom I contacted via Record Collector magazine. From then onwards the book has been aborted, re-started and shelved again on many occasions, mainly due to the absence of a willing publisher, but also, it has to be admitted, due to a complete lack of interest from Barry himself. I had spoken to him on several occasions from the early nineties onwards but he seemed really only interested in the future. But in late 1997, Gareth, Pete and I decided we must go ahead and finish the book anyway, and were fortunate enough to find a sympathetic Bristol publisher, Sansom & Company. Gareth agreed to fund the book and a long-held ambition was finally realised in November, 1998, with the publication of John Barry – A Life In Music.
During quite a lengthy interview with Barry for Music From The Movies a few years ago, I had broached the subject of concerts. He made it clear that if he could get an orchestra he was familiar with, (the RPO was suggested) and the rehearsal time he considered necessary, he would be happy to perform. But subsequent comments from him gave the distinct impression that the thought of performing again in public filled him with dread. So, when film music writer Paul Tonks told me early in 1998 that Barry had agreed to give a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, I wasn’t entirely convinced this would ever happen! As it turned out, it was a day I (and I suspect Pete & Gareth) will never forget.
Pete and I had written the programme notes – at very short notice, I must emphasise – so we already knew what was likely to be played. I was both surprised and delighted to see that we were sitting in seats just one row from the very front and almost directly underneath the conductor's podium. Bear in mind we were so close, we couldn't see anybody walking on until they got right up to the podium. So I heard this great shout and chorus of approval and waited for the first glimpse of Barry. But it was Michael Caine! He got virtually a standing ovation himself! I guess he is still one of the most popular English actors around. He introduced Barry by re-telling the true story of how he kept him awake during the composing of ‘Goldfinger’, when he was a temporary guest at Barry’s Cadogan Square apartment. He embellished and extended it somewhat (a little inaccurately) and also delivered it quite slowly and deliberately – he knew he had us in the palm of his hand! I think it was almost 8.15 by the time Barry arrived on stage to thunderous applause, looking very nervous. He was visibly moved by the occasion - very moist-eyed - and said a few words in response to Caine, adding it was appropriate to start with Goldfinger and said, "Let's have some fun." And we were away.
For me, the undoubted highlight of this half was The Persuaders. To my great surprise, Barry & the orchestra performed it just as the original single was done, albeit presumably with a synth providing the sound of the cimbalom or whatever it is. But also outstanding was Midnight Cowboy, featuring Tommy Morgan on harmonica and Dawn Attack - from Dances with Wolves. Just a little different and even more exciting than the OST version. I also really enjoyed Moviola, even though Barry felt it was necessary to mention the Streisand business again! The first half lasted around 65 minutes and with a twenty-minute interval, the second half didn't start before 9.45. Clearly the expected 10.30 finish was way out of line!
Caine reappeared again at the beginning of the second half to present Barry with a replica of a BFI plaque which will go on the wall of the house where he was born in York. This added yet more time onto the half. Barry didn't introduce or back-announce everything. In the first half he commented on The Persuaders, Midnight Cowboy (partially to introduce Tommy Morgan), Amy Foster (to publicise the film) and Dances With Wolves. In this half, he introduced the saxophonist, David White, who was brilliant on Body Heat. Chaplin was extended to include Smile, and he then announced Space March as one of his most requested cues. This went down a storm! Then came Ipcress File and The Knack. This was another treat as both were performed in traditional style. The
Cimbalom (Synth?) sounded a little unsure of itself at first, but soon got into its stride. It was a wonderful moment. The Knack was simply terrific. A choir was sampled by the synths, presumably, and it was obvious the orchestra were enjoying this one! It proved exceptionally popular with the audience and Barry was seen to shake his head almost in disbelief at the ovation. "Very definitely a sixties sound," he commented. Obviously the Beyondness Suite was well-performed as the orchestra was most familiar with it. Barry pointed out 'Kissably Close', billed in the programme, was replaced by 'Heartlands'.
Finally, he introduced The Bond suite by commenting on the wonderful lyricists he worked with - "Don Black, Hal David, Tim Rice, Lionel Bart. Uh, Duran Duran, a-ha - is it any wonder I left?"!!! The suite was absolutely fantastic! The Bond Theme and OHMSS were the highlights for me. Brilliantly played. He left the stage to rapturous applause and returned to encore The Girl With The Sun In Her Hair. Despite a standing ovation, he didn't come back again and possibly there was nothing left to play, or no time to play it.
It was now around 11.15 - Pete would miss his last coach! And if I went to the Barry reception I would too. Well, of course I was going anyway, with Paul Tonks & Gareth Bramley. They wouldn't let Pete in without an invitation - of course, with his coach journey already booked, we hadn't thought he was going to be available for the reception - and we couldn't find any Decca officials within. I found out later that Pete had found an official outside the room, and told her that he had co-written the programme notes but she seemed to think Gareth was the co-writer and was already in and still wouldn't let him in. A great shame. Anyway, inside it was a heaving mass of people (not quite literally!). I couldn't believe the number of people there! I spotted Michael Caine and his wife just inside the door but they made a very quick exit, as did Don Black. Michael Winner was there, as was Gloria Hunniford and the DJ and writer Paul Gambaccini. Later I saw Basil Poledouris with Barry. I was introduced to Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame and Marilee Bradford, and also Richard Kraft - Barry's agent. A real thrill for me. I’m sure there were other personalities there, too, but I either didn’t recognise them or missed them in the initial crush. Barry himself was there with his wife, Laurie but was surrounded by people getting him to sign programmes. Eventually I took Gareth over there, introduced myself and asked him to sign my invitation card. He seemed pleased to see me and I think he remembered who I was. He sounded a little slurred - several glasses of Champagne, I guess! I told him how good the concert had been and he agreed! He thought there would be more at some stage in the future.
We left right at the end and wandered around London trying to find a decent restaurant open. This was now after 2 a.m.! We couldn't. We settled for a Burger place in Leicester Square in the end, and after Gareth went back to his hotel around 3.30, I spent the rest of the night/morning with Paul while we waited for our respective trains home. I’m hoping to get some sleep very soon, but as I said at the outset – it was a day I shall never forget, and who’s worried about missing a few hours' sleep?
A few days later at the HMV Signing
I'd arranged to attend the JB signing with Gareth, after we'd visited a few other places in town. We arrived at HMV at about ten minutes before the signing was due to commence. To my horror, there was a queue which stretched around the shop controlled by stewards and crash barriers. I had imagined him sitting behind a desk downstairs in the soundtrack department, chatting amiably to the occasional punter after a signature. No! HMV had set up a kind of stage on the main ground floor. There was a giant screen showing footage from Raise The Titanic and when that finished they played music from The Beyondness Of Things. So this could be heard throughout the ground floor - a floor which usually shakes to the latest dance or rock music! We decided to hang around for a while to see if rapid progress was made. Just after 5.30, some chap came on the PA and asked to give a big welcome to the one and only John Barry. To the sounds of 'Give Me A Smile', the man strode across the floor and up onto the temporary stage. It was like watching a Conservative politician entering the stage of his party conference while being cheered by his supporters.
Barry then took the microphone and made a little welcoming speech, thanking us all for turning up on such a miserable day (it had been raining an awful lot). He hoped we would all have short names like Ron, Eric and Bill. He didn't want any Alexanders, or Von Ryan Defreitases! He looked forward to meeting us ALL! The MC then said Mr Barry had consented to answer a few questions. He had some himself and would then put some from the floor which he had collected earlier. I got the impression some people had been there for hours! Anyway, suffice it to say, the most interesting question was about the concert. JB admitted to being terrified for the first ten minutes and for the previous 3 days! He considered throwing himself under a bus and seriously wondered about turning up at all (I worried about that!). But after that initial feeling of panic, something wonderful happened and the music and orchestra took over. He thought it was a very special evening. The MC reminded him and us that the concert could have been sold out on two more days. Barry said he was having discussions about doing another 3 days at the RAH (didn't say when) and then taking the orchestra to selected UK cities like Manchester & Birmingham "Where they have these wonderful new symphony halls". He said money wasn't an issue. He would do it for the sheer joy and as long as they broke even he didn't mind. But he insists on doing it with a full orchestra, not 40 players. Otherwise the fun goes out of it.
In other questions he admitted that the producer / director do have the final say on the music in films, but maintained that sometimes you have to insist you know better than they do about music. He cited Born Free & Goldfinger as songs which wouldn't have been in the movies if they had had their way. He also said that pressure for a hit title song had grown and grown, especially in the JB situation. He confirmed he had been asked to score TND, but told them to stick it when they insisted on somebody else writing the title song. The cimbalom sound in Ipcress File was very much a homage to The Third Man - one of his favourite scores. I think he said Orson Welles was his second wife's godfather!
It wasn't always easy to understand him since he was holding the mike too close and his voice is SO deep! He said that sadly days of sheet music sales were gone and it was now very much a record situation. This was in response to somebody who wanted to know why they couldn't get sheet music to Out Of Africa. He said that back in the days of Born Free they sold thousands of copies. He decided to demonstrate just why, and gave an impression of a youngster banging it out on the piano and calling his mum to listen! He reiterated that arranging and conducting his own music was essential as far as he is concerned. He talked about how the theme for Midnight Cowboy isn't exciting on its own, but it's the rest of the accompaniment and counter-melody which makes it. He loves counter melodies, and mentioned George Gershwin in this connection. I think that was the main highlights.
He then started the signing. I should mention at this point that it was all being filmed by Sky TV, and that the first people we saw go onto the stage posed with him for photos! At this point, Gareth, who cannot stand or sit still for more than 5 minutes, announced that we should go to Piccadilly and watch Across The Sea Of Time at the Imax. He reckoned at that rate of progress, JB would be signing for the rest of the evening (the store shuts at 8 p.m.) and with ATSOT only lasting 40 minutes, we would be back when the queue was considerably reduced. So we left around six for the Imax theatre. Saw the film (which was actually nearer 55 minutes long) and returned to HMV. The queue WAS considerably reduced - it was non-existent, as was JB! We were told he had finished and departed ten minutes earlier.