Themependium — A Neverending Story

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By Geoff Leonard
22 July 2012.

 John Barry - Themependium - SonyBack in the summer of 2006 I received a surprise phone call from a project manager at Sony/BMG. He had been given my name by David Stoner of Silva Screen Records, who had told him that as a fan of John Barry, I might be able to provide some “expert” assistance.

He told me that his company were planning two compilation CDs, one a previously postponed 4-CD box-set and the other a TV-advertised single CD.   Someone had been working on the box-set before departing from the company, so he had a provisional track-listing, but the single CD had to be a very commercial compilation which could be TV-sold.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to choose the tracks for both projects, identify the current owners, write suitable liner notes and lend them suitable photos and album covers etc.  In recognition of this I would receive a substantial fee.  Of course, like many of us, I would have been happy to take it on free of charge, as it was a rare opportunity to influence the contents of what Sony hoped would be the definitive box-set.  A year and literally hundreds of emails later, it’s fair to admit that a certain amount of frustration had crept in.

The first thing to happen was that my contact announced his departure to New York and the handing over of the Barry projects to two colleagues.  Yes, that was the first sign of possible trouble ahead in that I would be dealing with two different project managers.

John Barry - Themependium - SonyThey were both very enthusiastic but, not surprisingly for youngsters in the music business today, not necessarily very knowledgeable about the works of John Barry.  This became apparent when it came to the track selection for the “Greatest Hits” single CD when I was asked, in all seriousness, from which films were the tracks The Ipcress File, The Knack, Somewhere In Time & The Lion in Winter taken.

Anyway, back to the plot. My first task was to come up with around 30 of not necessarily the best themes, but the best known, for the TV-advertised CD. I was advised that this could be a joint-project with EMI so there was no problem including quite a few of the James Bond theme songs.  Whereas I could see this would be a good marketing opportunity, I could also see that it would invariably lead to the omission of some arguably better but less commercially successful tracks. However, I could only give my opinion.  What I was keen to avoid was any misunderstanding over the versions of the chosen tracks. I was very keen on original versions whenever possible, and at the risk of offending JB I was particularly anxious that it didn’t become a “Moviola III”. For those not familiar with Moviola volumes I & II, these featured re-recordings of Barry’s favourite tracks but with an often slow tempo and, in some cases, over-elaborate arrangements, which in the opinion of many, did not quite match up to the originals.  I knew this might be a hard nut to crack since Sony owned the Moviola albums and it would be tempting, easier and cheaper for them to utilise tracks from them, but I was determined to try.

We eventually agreed on a 26-track CD which included all the “hits”, plus one or two more unusual tracks.   I soon realised that I would have to spell out not only track title but also film, in many cases, if we wanted to end up with the correct version. While this was going on I was also fielding vast quantities of emails from the box-set project manager who was very often asking the same questions.

I was then told that because the licensing had taken so long, they had missed their “slot” for the Christmas market and so the TV-advertised CD would be postponed. In the meantime I would continue to work on the box-set which was altogether more challenging.   As I said, they already had a draft list of tracks provided by someone who had left the company after the original box-set had been postponed. I could tell that this must have been a Barry fan because they had included, just as I would have done, all the rare B-sides from Barry’s sixties sojourn with CBS (now Sony).  Unfortunately they had also made a few wrong assumptions and included tracks which either didn’t exist or would be impossible to licence.  So my first task was to remove tracks like Drink-a-pinta-milk-a-day and The Black Hole which my predecessor had linked to EMI. I also had to correct the owners of several of the listed tracks (to the best of my knowledge) and try and pick some replacements for ones I knew we would never be able to licence, or in some cases did not exist, such as L-Shaped Room.

I’d had some previous experience of licensing tracks, but was not really prepared for the lengthy delays which now entailed.   Not only that, certain tracks could not be cleared, frustratingly in some cases when it seemed obvious (well, to me) who the owners were. In one case EMI cleared six assorted tracks from the days of the John Barry Seven, but apparently refused a seventh, even though it was from exactly the same era, with the same writer (Barry) and publisher. The most baffling of the rejections was a track called Romance for Guitar & Orchestra which was an abridged version of Barry’s magnificent concert piece for the Bryan Forbes directed film Deadfall. This version had previously appeared on countless CBS/Sony LPs and CDs, yet now they were telling me it could not be licensed — from Sony?

Next up the TV-advertised CD project made a reappearance with a new project manager. He told me that they would have to reduce the track-listing by two tracks to fit everything in. This surprised me a little because I thought I’d already worked out the timings would not be a problem. It also meant losing a couple of non-Bond tracks, which was a blow to my hopes of keeping a varied line-up.   Then Mr & Mrs Barry entered the fray.  They vetoed my idea to include a JB7 hit, Walk Don’t Run (it had recently been used for a Debenham’s TV advert) and also wanted to remove The Persuaders on the grounds that it was not that interesting.  I’m happy to say the project manager stood his ground at this point, and refused to remove the latter.

I asked for some guidance on the length of liner notes required, since my co-writer Pete Walker was anxious to make a start. We also wanted to establish if these notes should be a reduced version of our notes for the box-set or completely separate.  I was surprised to be informed our services were no longer required. We had apparently been replaced by TV and radio presenter Jonathan Ross, who was willing to do it free.  Moreover they could use his name to “sell” the CD, unlike ours. No argument there!

I carried on with the box-set and when the original project manager came back briefly to work on the TV-advertised CD, I took the opportunity to check if the right versions of The Lion in Winter & Séance on a Wet Afternoon had been included. A few weeks later the CD was released. I never saw any TV advertising for it, though Sony/BMG did send me a video file of it, so I know it existed. They spent ages trying to think of a catchy title — something similar to Themeology, which had sold well for them back in the nineties. In the end we got yet another “The Very Best of …”

Sad to relate, this was very much a low-budget affair in production values. A rather tacky booklet cover with made-up film images relating to some of the tracks. No photos whatever of John Barry and the briefest of notes by Ross which could have been about any composer.

The other problem was the tracks themselves and now it became apparent why they’d had to drop a couple for space reasons. Somewhere In Time, though credited to pianist Roger Williams and MCA, from the original soundtrack, was in fact a nine-minute suite taken from Moviola — the very thing I‘d been anxious to avoid. What’s more, they’d licensed Nancy Sinatra’s main title song You Only Live Twice from EMI, but included her pop cover version for Reprise! 

I’ve neither time nor energy to outline all the comings and goings involved in the compilation of the box-set, now named Themependium.  Suffice it to say the listing changed almost daily as tracks were acquired, refused, replaced or rejected (mainly by the Barrys). 

I had suggested it would be a good selling point to make sure there were 100 tracks spread over the four CDs. This proved somewhat difficult in the hectic last few days before the deadline as most of my suggestions for new tracks were rejected for a variety of reasons. In the end I managed to sneak in a couple of tracks from a CBS compilation album which the project manager was unaware were actually further cues from OHMSS. If she had been she would have refused them on the grounds that she only wanted one track per film.  Sadly, this led to The Lion in Winter Part 2 featuring Alan Haven, being rejected, as I could not disguise its origins.

I did my best to make sure nothing was overlooked in the effort to make this a truly definitive box-set, often getting good advice and suggestions from friends and colleagues. I was pleased we managed to include a few rarities, such as the aforementioned CBS singles, and also that 98% of the tracks were originals or re-recordings by Barry himself. I would have preferred original versions of everything but licensing proved very tricky in some cases and we simply ran out of time in the end.

When it came to the mastering, there were more problems when Sony/BMG couldn’t obtain anything for at least a dozen tracks. The only solution was for me to lend them CDs from my own collection, which I did. I was sent CDRs of everything, and they all contained at least one wrong track.  I think their budget, or lack of one, meant little attention was paid to reducing the noise on the 45s, such as Sleep Well My Darling & Barbra’s Theme, which was a pity.

Now it was time for the notes. Sony/BMG also wanted photos, scans of LP covers etc.  I was told it was a 24-page booklet so if we supplied notes to fill 20 pages, they would fit in the various photos as required.  This was no problem at all and Pete and I duly wrote around 12,000 words, managing to sum up JB’s career and also mention the majority of the tracks. There was another problem, however, because Sony had realised they had nowhere near enough space to accommodate our notes, because of the room taken up by the track credits and the photos. All my photos/scans had been rejected and instead they had accepted an offer from the Barrys to provide photos. They sent me scans of these and I noted three of them were photos John had “borrowed” from me back in the nineties! 

We had to edit our notes considerably but Sony still wanted all the tracks to be mentioned. This was not an easy task, as we didn’t want it to become merely a long list. Nevertheless I was quite pleased when we got it down to around 9000 words without losing the thrust. But this wasn’t good enough for them and we had to make two further edits before finally notes of around 8000 words proved acceptable. Both Pete and I were disappointed that our efforts to inform had been somewhat thwarted, though we hoped it was still readable.

I was told that JB had personally approved both the track-listing and the notes and I should be delighted with my part in the project.  Well, yes, it was good to be so involved in this definitive project, but incredibly frustrating in the time it took (well over a year) and because of the tracks we couldn’t include.

So, if your favourite track is missing it probably wasn’t for the want of trying that it wasn’t included.  Of course, since the box-set was released, many more Barry soundtracks have been released, and some of the omitted tracks are now available.

Now, what else was there?  Oh yes, what about the substantial fee?  Still waiting …..

Geoff Leonard

Read 67518 times Last modified on Friday, 04 December 2020 11:54

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