The James Bond music

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Geoff Leonard & Pete Walker

Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth official James Bond film, opens around the world in December. David Arnold has written a marvellous score, his first of the series, which is already receiving rapturous reviews. Arnold is just the latest in a long line of talented composers who have left their mark on the series, but the overall musical style and format of a James Bond score was developed by John Barry. To date he has been responsible for eleven complete scores, and he had a significant hand in the theme for the very first, Dr. No, which was scored by Monty Norman.

Barry’s involvement in the series began in July of 1962. In those days, he was still mainly involved in the pop music world as musical director for EMI Records in London, despite having already scored a few relatively low budget films. Monty Norman, a noted songwriter, had been commissioned to write the score for Dr. No, but with time running out had been unable to develop an exciting and dynamic theme. Barry and his band, The John Barry Seven, had, by that time, acquired a reputation in the UK, which probably explained why Barry’s name had entered a discussion over the problem with the music at a hastily convened meeting. He was contacted by Noel Rogers, the head of United Artists music publishing division, then invited to a Saturday morning meeting with Rogers and Monty Norman. From this point onwards, opinions differ on exactly what part Barry played in the composing of what is now universally known as ‘The James Bond Theme’.

Whereas both Norman & Barry remain equally convinced they wrote it without any help from the other, music editor Peter Hunt (who was arguably closest to the situation) believes that it was a joint effort, with Barry moulding Norman’s basic melody line into the classic arrangement we know today. What is certain is that after accepting the assignment, Barry had to work very fast. He recalls now that he was so keen to further his film career, he would ‘score anything that moved on celluloid’! In fact, he completed the theme without seeing even a rough-cut of the film, basing it on the style of Mancini's Peter Gunn and Nelson Riddle's Untouchables.

Whatever one makes of the writing controversy, one can’t deny that The James Bond Theme remains a classic record. When it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, producer John Burgess remembers just how fastidious Barry was in arranging the orchestra prior to recording, giving special attention to the brass section in order to get the sound he wanted. This recording was so good that the Bond production team hastily inserted it, not only over the titles, but also throughout the movie, unbeknown to Barry, who only found this out after paying to see the film.

With Messrs Broccoli and Saltzman so obviously impressed with his rescue work on Dr No, he immediately came into the reckoning for the sequel, From Russia With Love. Barry recalls meeting Lotte Lenya, Ian Fleming and Robert Shaw at Pinewood, and then being flown out to Istanbul with Broccoli, Saltzman, Sean Connery and director Terence Young. During a conversation with John Williams, Mr Young looked back to those early days of the James Bond series. "John Barry came into our lives when we were making Dr No. We had someone else doing the music and although the score was all right, we didn't have anything exciting for the title music. I think it was someone at Chappell who said you must listen to him. He had a little band called The John Barry Seven and he came in and wrote this Bond theme.

Then, I don't know why, they were awfully wary about him. They thought he was too young and in-experienced in film music and I had a little bit to do with his finally doing From Russia with Love. Somebody wanted Lionel Bart to do the music. Lionel came into my life a few years earlier when I chose a song of his for a film I was making, Serious Charge. The song was called 'Living Doll' and of course is still around today. I said that if John Barry was in-experienced, then so was Lionel, and I think we owe it to John to give him a chance. Harry Saltzman, I think, was keen on Lionel Bart and I must say I was too, I liked him very much, but I couldn't see why they were doing John down because of his in-experience. If they had taken someone like Williamson who was one of the classical composers, it would have made more sense. Cubby Broccoli was on my side and in the end it was two to one - I think Cubby was the decider we should go with John. In the meantime, I think Harry had committed himself to Lionel Bart, and that's why Lionel wrote From Russia with Love, which was a charming song."

Still without a Bond theme of his own, Barry decided to introduce us to 007 as an alternative action theme, possibly not wishing to continually use The James Bond Theme, in view of Norman's writing credit. He also began his long tradition of making orchestral arrangements from the title song and reworking it into a love theme. The soundtrack album contained most of the important music from the film and also included a splendid track entitled The Golden Horn, which wasn't used in the film. Matt Monro was chosen to sing the theme and this was first heard briefly a few minutes into the film, as background radio music. Monro's recording is heard again though, in almost complete form, as the end credits roll. The highlights of the album included Girl Trouble, Leila Dances (though not the version heard in the film), 007 and Gypsy Camp. Many of these including excellent guitar work from Vic Flick, who was fast becoming a sought-after session player, following his decision to leave the John Barry Seven.

Goldfinger is without doubt Barry's favourite of all the Bond scores, and he has often stated how he believes he caught the mood just right. It contained the most internationally successful title song so far, sung by Shirley Bassey, despite only reaching number 21 during a nine-week stay on the UK best seller lists. It did, however, make the coveted number one position in Japan in June of 1965. Interestingly, Bassey's single featured a slightly different vocal to the soundtrack album version. Subtle differences can easily be detected in her phrasing of the words and also on the playout where she holds the note on "gold" far longer than on the album take.

Having been given the responsibility of writing the theme song for the first time, Barry invited Tony Newley and Leslie Bricusse to compose the lyrics. According to Bricusse, he and Newley had known Barry on a personal basis for some time, though they hadn't worked together professionally. Barry also frequented Bricusse's restaurant, The Pickwick Club, where along with his friends Michael Caine and Terence Stamp, he lunched every Friday. Moreover, he also shared the same divorce lawyer as Newley. According to Barry "Goldfinger was the craziest song ever. I went to Tony Newley to ask him to write the lyric. He said, "What the hell do I do with it?" I said "It's Mack TheKnife - a song about a villain. The end result worked just perfectly." In fact, Newley and co-writer Leslie Bricusse initially dumbfounded Barry after he played them the opening bars of Goldfinger, by singing the next line as "Wider than a mile" - a line from Mancini's Moon River!

Although sales of the soundtrack album were steady in the UK, they were absolutely sensational in America. There, Goldfinger succeeded in knocking the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night from the top of the album charts, and in winning John Barry his first gold disc for over a million dollars in sales. It sold over $2m worth in six months, was number one for three weeks and stayed high in the US charts for seventy weeks. The score also won a Grammy nomination. The US album contained less music than the UK release, omitting Golden Girl, Death of Tilley, The Laser Beam, and Pussy Galore's Flying Circus. However, unlike the UK release, it did contain the instrumental version of the main theme, which had been released as a single both in Britain and America. The CD re-issue disappointingly stuck to the original American format, but completists were able to pick up the missing tracks by purchasing the double CD: The Best Of James Bond - 30th Anniversary.

For Thunderball, the fourth film in the Bond series, the producers realised from the outset that Goldfinger would be a difficult act to follow. They had already started introducing more and more gimmicks into the films and for this outing they felt it a good idea to drop the normal title song, (Thunderball was thought to be lyrically difficult in any case). They therefore decided to use the name by which Bond had become known in Italy and Japan - Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Accordingly, Barry based the entire score around this title song which had lyrics written solely by Leslie Bricusse (Newley was working in America at the time). The Bond team had even chosen Dionne Warwick as singer, after Shirley Bassey's original version had failed to impress. Barry takes up the story: "Dionne's was a marvellous song and she did a great arrangement for it. It was a really strange song. I had about twelve cowbells on it with different rhythms, along with a large orchestra, and thought it a very original piece. Then, at the last minute they got cold feet and decided to have a song called 'Thunderball'." The official reason for this sudden change of mind revolved around the possible controversy surrounding the sexually risqué song title in conservative America. More pertinent, possibly, was an alleged court action from Miss Bassey herself following her replacement by Warwick. Obviously if the song wasn't used at all, there could be no case to answer!

Whatever the reason, it led to Barry's long partnership with Don Black, who took over as lyricist as a result of Bricusse’s inaccessibility through working in America. When director Terence Young heard Thunderball for the first time, he said it sounded like 'Thunderfinger'. Barry's laughing rejoinder was to the effect that "I gave them what they wanted." Incidentally, both unused vocals are on the double CD: The Best Of James Bond - 30th Anniversary, along with a lengthy suite of music also excluded from the soundtrack album.

On You Only Live Twice, Barry teamed up again with Leslie Bricusse to produce a beautiful song, sung over the opening credits by Nancy Sinatra. However, the appearance on the American issued Bond 30th Anniversary double CD, of a completely different song entitled You Only Live Twice - demo, raised a few eyebrows. The vocal is by an unnamed female session singer with Barry and Bricusse credited as writers. Leslie Bricusse confirmed that this was their first attempt at the title song, which they eventually discarded.

The singer turned out to be Julie Rogers, best known for her hit, The Wedding. Julie was quick to point out that her recording was not intended for demo purposes. On the contrary, she was actually chosen to sing the new Bond title theme on the strength of her aforementioned hit. As she rightly points out, "Successful TV and recording artists do not record demos!" Her song was recorded at CTS studios, Bayswater with Barry himself conducting a sixty-piece orchestra. Julie believes that only late pressure from the producers resulted in Nancy Sinatra eventually taking over as vocalist. Although Sinatra did indeed get the job, she was by no means second choice either. According to Bricusse, Barry had already lined up Aretha Franklin on the eve of her signing for Atlantic Records. However, the producers were insistent on using Nancy Sinatra who had just topped the charts with 'These Boots Are Made For Walkin'. Barry recently revealed that it took twenty takes before he was completely satisfied with Sinatra’s performance, due apparently to her nervousness in front of the microphone.

Unusually, Barry composed an instrumental to open On Her Majesty's Secret Service, probably as a means of resolving the problem of fitting a suitable lyric around what is a rather cumbersome film title. Although Barry's most recent ‘Bond Theme’ collaborator, Leslie Bricusse, was convinced of his ability to write a suitable lyric, the decision to opt for an instrumental proved the right one.

The film's screenplay was closely based on Ian Fleming's original story relating Bond's romantic entanglement and eventual marriage. To compliment the courtship scenes Barry wrote a beautifully haunting melody with the working title, We Have All The Time In The World, directly lifted from one of Fleming's own lines from the book. This combination of music and title provided Hal David with the skeletal framework around which a lyric could be constructed. Although he had only just left hospital after a long illness, Louis Armstrong was considered the ideal person to sing the finished song, on John Barry's own suggestion. "There was a line in the script, almost the last line – ‘We have all the time in the world’, as his wife gets killed, which was also in Fleming's original novel, and I liked that as a title very much. Now I'd always liked Walter Huston singing 'September Song' in the film September Affair, where as an older character he sang about his life in a kind of reflective vein. So, I suggested to Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that Louis Armstrong would be ideal to sing our song in this fashion." Tragically, it was to be his last recording before his untimely death. "He was the sweetest man alive but having been laid up for over a year, he had no energy left. He couldn't even play his trumpet and still he summoned the energy to sing our song – if only a verse at a time. Afterwards, we were able to edit everything together to produce the marvellous recording you hear today. At the end of the recording session in New York City he came up to me and said ‘thank you for this job’. I couldn’t believe it, he was my hero and he was thanking me!"

The Armstrong song was a huge hit in Italy, thanks fortuitously, according to Barry, to a DJ based in Rome, who played the record virtually non-stop for an entire evening. Such saturation coverage sent it hurtling to number one, where it remained for nine months!!! Barry commented: "Italy was the only country where we had any success with the song. It was a very heavy song so we couldn't use it as the title track. It was buried inside the film and that probably hurt its chances of success. The song itself was written for a very emotional moment. I had pictured Sean Connery in the role of Bond when Hal and I first wrote the lyrics. If it had been Sean who married Diana Rigg and then lost her to Blofeld, then the song would have been beautiful and highly appropriate. Having Sean Connery and Diana Rigg together in the last scene would have really created a bombshell of a moment. With all due respect to the inexperience of George Lazenby, he couldn't have created a boiled egg in that last scene! He turned up for one of the recording sessions and seemed surprised that my music worked for a particular scene. He congratulated me as though he was doing me the biggest favour I had ever had – it was as though he hadn’t realised I wrote film music for a living!" Lazenby’s other ‘contribution’ towards the music was to suggest ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ to perform ‘We Have All The Time In The World’, though he later admitted he was wrong.

The failure of Armstrong's song to dent any chart outside Italy, was remedied in England almost 25 years later after it was used for a Guinness television commercial. EMI saw fit to issue the song, as a result of public demand, at which point it climbed to number three in the charts.

Actor Charles Gray met an early death in You Only Live Twice in the guise of Dikko Henderson, Bond's initial contact in Japan, but was reincarnated in the form of Ernst Stavro Blofeld for Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh film of the series! Sean Connery was persuaded back for a final appearance as James Bond, after United Artists promised to back two of his own future film projects, plus the payment of an enormous fee for his services. John Barry needed no such encouragement to work on his own seventh Bond score, although afterwards he was reportedly furious with co-producer Harry Saltzman's low opinion of his theme song, performed by Shirley Bassey in her own inimitable style. According to Don Black, Saltzman thought that the lyric "hold one up and then caress it, touch it, stroke it and undress it" was "dirty". Apparently, after questioning Saltzman's competence to make a critical analysis of the song, Barry virtually threw him out of his Cadogan Square apartment. His anger with Saltzman even influenced his decision not to score Live & Let Die, the next film in the series, but fortunately few shared the producer’s opinion, since the song went on to win an Ivor Novello Award for Barry and Black. As usual, Barry produced some memorable action cues, yet they failed to find their way onto the soundtrack album, dominated as it was by those cues that reflected Las Vegas mood music.

By 1973, Barry was heavily involved with Don Black in the writing of the musical, ‘Billy’. He had agreed to give this project priority over any film music assignments and his disagreement with Saltzman hardly helped matters. Filming of Live And Let Die (Roger Moore’s debut in the title role) began in the Bahamas with no decision made as to who would score the film; that was until Saltzman received an unsolicited title theme song tape demo from Paul McCartney - and they weren't going to turn THAT down! After embarrassingly suggesting a female singer to perform the song, the producers eventually agreed to McCartney tackling it himself, with friend and mentor George Martin commissioned to write the score.

After turning down many other film-scoring opportunities due to his involvement with 'Billy', Barry was now faced with a particularly heavy schedule, and may not have been able to devote sufficient time to Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Apparently, he wrote the complete score in just three weeks, and was, according to Don Black, dissatisfied with the title song they wrote together. Vocalist Lulu was not at her best on the recording session, either, due to a sore throat. Not surprisingly, the resultant single sold very poorly - one of the few Bond theme vocals to miss the charts completely. Even though the soundtrack was a reasonable representation of the film score, Barry appeared to be signalling a certain boredom with the JB formula.

In fact, soon afterwards, Barry left England to initially live in Majorca, before moving permanently to America. He was badly missed on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, although his replacement, Marvin Hamlisch did write an excellent theme song - Nobody Does It Better (with lyricist Carol Bayer Sager). Sung by Carly Simon, it was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. However the rest of his score didn't really match the requirements of a 1970s Bond film, in spite of receiving an Oscar nomination - something even the classic Barry scores failed to achieve. The score has its good moments, but ‘Bond 77’ and ‘Ride to Atlantis’ both have a very dated 70s sound.

A dispute with the Inland Revenue almost deprived the Bond camp of Barry’s services for Moonraker (1979), until it was decided to partially shoot in France. As a consequence, recording at the Davout Studios, Paris became a practical necessity, enabling Barry to avoid entering the UK. Now resident in America, Barry was reunited with lyricist Hal David to write a title song with Johnny Mathis in mind. Unfortunately, his vocal failed to work in the way it was envisaged. Barry was reflecting on this dilemma one day in a Beverly Hills hotel, when Shirley Bassey happened to walk in. Eureka! Problem solved. Moonraker became another excellent, haunting song, performed admirably by Bassey in her most sensual fashion, and it was a major surprise when the single failed to register in the charts. A much faster, almost disco-oriented rendition accompanied the end credits. Both versions made up the aforementioned single, although in Britain, the label credits were reversed - doubtless causing considerable initial confusion to radio presenters!

It was John Barry himself who persuaded the producers to appoint Bill Conti as his replacement for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, when he found himself unavailable because of the aforementioned tax problems. Conti’s main worry centred around the theme song. After scrapping his original version on the advice of a friend, he combined with lyricist Michael Leeson to create an Oscar-nominated title song, performed during the opening credits in vision by Sheena Easton – the only occasion on which this has happened during the series. Unfortunately, the rest of Conti’s score was dominated by the then very fashionable disco beat, which has since dated the score rather badly.

In 1983, Barry decided the time was right to work again England. In order to do so, he not only chose to settle an outstanding tax bill, but also bought a property to use as a London base. He returned to the same Cadogan Square in which he resided during the sixties, and where he had written so many of his successful scores. John Glen had started his long run as Bond director with For Your Eyes Only, but Octopussy was the first time he and Barry had worked together as director and composer. However, as he recently told JohnWilliams, he had known Barry from many years prior to this: "In the fifties when I was a national serviceman stationed on the East Coast of England, playing at the local town hall was the John Barry Seven. Later our paths were to cross again. As a film editor I was associated with John on several movies. I remember On Her Majesty's Secret Service particularly well, as this was my introduction to the 'big time'. John wrote a particularly memorable score for the ski chase sequence using a moog synthesiser, at that time a novel instrument. He was always searching for that unique sound, sometimes new and sometimes from an ethnic source. Of course, the search for the broken guitar, which gave the James Bond Theme in Dr No such a great quality, is legendary in Bond circles. Never to be repeated as Vic Flick apparently threw it away. What else would a great guitarist do with a cracked guitar? John was lost to the Bond films for a number of years and I was fortunate that he was able to return for three of the films I directed: Octopussy, A View to A Kill and the Living Daylights. As a director what can one say to John Barry about the music for a Bond film? His contribution to the success of the series has been enormous. His needs were always very simple. A piano, a Moviola and not very much time. Six weeks was about as long as he got. Bond films always had a pressing release date and then there was always the title song."

On the subject of the Bond title song, the majority have eponymous themes, but there are occasions when this is not possible - Octopussy, an obvious example. When Barry and his new lyricist Tim Rice began working on the theme, Barry set Rice an unusual task. In order to satisfy the producers, he asked Rice to write half a dozen lyrics, on the basis that they would like at least one of them! Rita Coolidge was the surprise choice to perform All Time High in view of her low profile at the time. However, the producers were convinced that here was a potential ‘standard’, requiring someone of the class and easy-listening singing style of Coolidge to perform it. In the event, their conviction proved accurate. After reaching only number 75 in the UK charts it has since become something of an evergreen. The original soundtrack CD was issued on A & M but quickly withdrawn due to a printing error. Bond collectors have been known to pay hundreds of pounds for a copy. Thankfully, Rykodisc have recently re-issued it, complete with detailed booklet notes and photographs from the film.

John Taylor, of Duran Duran, a keen Bond / Barry fan, had cheekily suggested to Cubby Broccoli that the group would be ideal to write and sing the theme song for A View To A Kill. However, when they got the job, their initial reaction was one of fear! Of course, this was one offer they simply couldn't refuse, particularly with Barry apparently keen on working with them. Lead singer Simon Le Bon: "He didn't really come up with any of the basic musical ideas. He heard what we came up with and he put them into an order. And that's why it happened so quickly because he was able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones, and he arranged them. He has a great way of working brilliant chord arrangements. He was working with us as virtually a sixth member of the group, but not really getting on our backs at all."

Barry was amused by John Taylor's knowledge of his work: "He knows more about stuff I've done than I know myself. He'd pick out a scene from an old movie, and I mean old, and talk about it like I'm supposed to remember it as if it were yesterday!" Following the departure of CTS's resident engineer John Richards to America, A View To A Kill was the first occasion on which Dick Lewzey had been entirely responsible for the mixing. He was also responsible for recommending the orchestrator Nicholas Raine to Barry. The two have worked together on many occasions since. ‘A View to a Kill’ remains the only Bond title song ever to make number one in America (it reached no. 2 in Britain).

A View To A Kill marked the end of Roger Moore’s long run in the title role and his successor, Timothy Dalton, made his debut in The Living Daylights. For the first time in the series, Barry wrote a separate theme for the end titles sequence. He commented: "I thought it would be lovely at the end of the movie, instead of going back to the main title song, to have a love ballad which is the love theme that I used throughout the four or five love scenes in the picture." This theme was sung by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, who also wrote the words. Another Barry / Hynde song was included within the body of the film, and both of them were recorded with synthesised backing at Paradise Studios in Chiswick, London.

Barry started work on The Living Daylights in May 1987 by making full use of a 24-track digital technology available at CTS, Wembley. Both Barry and Lewzey were impressed with this format with Barry recalling how he recorded the very first digital film soundtrack, Disney's The Black Hole. "I love digital - it's just that much better than analogue, everything major I've done has been onto digital." A majority of the score used synthesised rhythm tracks and Barry added: "I wanted to put in these tracks and they really cut through. We've used them on about eight pieces and when we got them mixed in with the orchestra it sounded really terrific with a lot of energy and impact - a slight freshness and a more up-to-date sound."

Barry wrote some 57 minutes of music for this film in just four weeks! Band tracks were laid down at Maison Rouge Studios in South London, overlaid orchestrally at CTS, and finally remixed at the Power Station in New York. John Barry was reportedly unhappy with A-ha’s approach towards their performance of the main theme, comparing the experience as "Like playing ping-pong with four balls."

He was even less pleased with their attitude following completion of the theme song, when they refused to have anything further to do with the film. There was undoubtedly a certain amount of creative friction - "The old meeting the new", said Aha, who had been recommended to Michael G. Wilson by Ray Still, who had been involved with the Duran Duran project, and was then director of the US label, Warner Brothers Records. Pal Waaktaar, leader of the group, liked the idea of working with Barry but afterwards described it as "a strange experience - the song is not really a favourite in its current form!"

Illness prevented Barry from returning to score Licence To Kill, in 1989, even though production was delayed in the hope he would recover in time. Vic Flick did return, however, to play guitar on Michael Kamen’s sessions. Originally, Flick and Eric Clapton were to have performed the title theme as an instrumental but the producers reneged on the idea - hence Gladys Knight, and what was to lead to a worrying trend in demarcating song and score chores. Kamen, recruited to write the score following a string of successful action assignments, provided an interesting blend of traditional elements and a new approach with Latin guitar. The new tradition of having a different end-titles song continued via Patti LaBelle with ‘If You Asked Me To’, but this wasn’t written by Kamen, either.

Legal wrangles prevented any further James Bond adventures until 1995’s GoldenEye, by which time Timothy Dalton had decided it was time for him to hang up the tuxedo and revolver. Barry, too, apparently decided enough was enough, and although courted at length by the producers, claimed he was too busy on other projects to be able to give the film the time and attention it deserved. Director Martin Campbell was keen to use Eric Serra, famous for his electronic, synthesiser scores for Luc Besson’s films. Barry thought that a change in direction was certainly one option, especially after a six-year gap, but warned it might prove difficult to move away from a long established format. Words that were to prove only too true when Serra’s score was heard. In truth, it wasn’t a bad score as such, but didn’t seem appropriate for a Bond film. It is rumoured that had the producers more time, they would have rejected the score completely, but as it was they did insist on replacing the music for a key tank chase sequence with an orchestrally scored version of the James Bond theme. This was arranged by John Altman, Serra’s conductor for the sessions, as Serra was of the opinion that what he had written should be left in the film! Only the title song, written by Bono and The Edge and sung by Tina Turner can be said to be satisfactory, but even that is very derivative of the Barry/Bassey approach. Serra also made an error by electing to sing his own end-titles song, which was not entirely suitable for that purpose.

This leads us back to the current score to Tomorrow Never Dies. David Arnold has written a traditional Bond score, cleverly utilising elements of previous Barry scores while simultaneously updating it and imposing his own personality. He has also composed an excellent song, ‘Surrender’, sung by k d lang, with lyrics by Don Black, which is disappointingly relegated to the end titles sequence. Like Barry before him, Arnold has incorporated parts of his theme into other cues in the score, but this cannot be said of the main title song by Sheryl Crow. Fans of techno are rewarded by a version of The James Bond Theme by Moby, and it is encouraging to note that the overall length of the album is, like GoldenEye before it, well over fifty minutes. Now that the musical baton has been successfully passed onto a self-confessed Barry connoisseur, one can only hope that the true spirit of Barry’s original blueprint will live on into the millennium. Tomorrow, as they say, never dies.

Geoff Leonard & Pete Walker

Read 114504 times Last modified on Friday, 04 December 2020 12:14

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