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An Evening with John Barry

The 2006 John Barry Royal Albert Hall concert featuring The Ten Tenors

By Geoff Leonard
 30 September 2006

 On entering the Royal Albert Hall arena well before the starting time of 7.30, there were two surprises. Firstly, no programmes had been printed (we weren't told why). Secondly, every other seat had a CD-sampler (4-track) placed on it of Here's To the Heroes, the Ten Tenors' new collaboration with John Barry. The hall seemed slow to fill and I guessed it was no more than two-thirds full when start-time arrived.

As I'd heard only a couple of days before that JB was feeling unwell, it was something of a relief to see him walking onto the stage at 7.35 p.m.. He was greeted by loud and enthusiastic applause, plus a few screams! He began at once, without a word, and it was as though nothing had changed from those triumphant concerts of the late nineties as he took the orchestra through a powerful performance of Goldfinger, always his concert opener.

But everything changes. With just a wave, he departed the rostrum and Paul Bateman walked on to replace him. And we soon noticed more than just a change of personnel. Bateman was conducting the usual suspects, Born Free, Chaplin, Body Heat and Mary Queen of Scots, but even on these slow numbers, an increase in the usual tempo was very apparent. I don't know if this was deliberate or due to slight unfamiliarity with Barry's repertoire, but it worked beautifully, giving the performances a freshness. Frances was one of the highlights of this first half, which also included Walkabout & Wednesday's Child (both possibly premiere concert performances).

Bateman ended with The girl with the sun in her hair, which destroyed my idea of a possible encore for John Barry. During the interval I could hear a few people grumbling about the lack of a programme – "what was the fifth piece they played?" – but it was also clear they were enjoying themselves and praising both orchestra and conductor. There was speculation as where the Ten Tenors would position themselves as room on the stage seemed to be at something of a premium.

John Barry reappeared at around 8.50 and we thought maybe we would see him performing again. But no, he briefly introduced the Ten Tenors and "our conductor tonight, Paul Bateman". He then departed, not quite quickly enough to avoid an earful of extremely powerful vocal from the TT's opening number. If I had to sum up the TTs, powerful would do it. Though this can be an advantage on certain numbers, and in particular on Here's to The Heroes, for me it doesn't work so well on all Barry's ballads. I still can't get on with We Have All the Time in the World, and the lyrics to "Places" (Out of Africa) are not Don Black's finest. However, they certainly gave it their all and I was impressed at how well they maintained their recorded sound in a "live" environment. They sang all the Barry numbers on their new CD, so many had the opportunity of hearing the three new songs for the first time. It's hard to estimate how they went down with the audience, since everything was applauded with the same vigour! They stood / sat right at the front of the stage, so Bateman had his back to them and conducted with the aid of headphones.

In between, Paul Bateman conducted a wonderful performance of The James Bond Suite. The augmented English Chamber Orchestra was in terrific form and once again there was a noticeable increase in the tempo. This was the best received piece of the evening, receiving prolonged and enthusiastic applause. John Barry returned to the stage for the usual ovation, and was happy to share the occasion with the TTs and Paul Bateman. He himself conducted the final performance, the TTs singing "We Have All The Time in the World".

And that was it. The second half was only about 50-minutes long, from memory, and although this was partly due to Bateman's impressive brisk style of conducting, we could have done with a couple more orchestral numbers to finish off. Zulu would have been a wonderful finale or even an encore for John. Never mind, it was wonderful just to see him again, looking a little thin and frail, as usual, but without any apparent nerves and with a smile on his face!

Here's to next year?

Geoff Leonard

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