Why the new Bonds never struck a chord with John Barry

Why the new Bonds never struck a chord with John Barry

24 September 2006
The Express on Sunday
(c) Copyright Express Newspapers 2006

Composer John Barry reminisces about the part he played in the swinging Sixties and tells CHRIS GOODMAN why he has little faith in the modern 007.

At his impressive house in Cadogan Square, Chelsea, 72-year-old John Barry still cuts a hip figure. "Stand straight," barks his American wife, Laurie, as her husband, some 20 years her senior, poses for our photographer with an easy air. Barry intermittently yells four-letter expletives at her while appearing charm personified to everyone else in the room.

Laurie glowers, half out of pride, half with anger, and Barry glances schoolboy looks at her to check that he has got away with his language.

The huge tapestry on one wall seems to waver, then settle as they flash smiles between each other. Older now, perhaps wiser, this is Barry's fourth and most successful marriage, 28 years strong.

Barry, one of Britain's finest composers and certainly its most iconic movie composer, was the archetypal Sixties swinger. It cost him three marriages but established his professional credentials.

When he married 19-year-old model and actress Jane Birkin in 1965, a Newsweek article dubbed him the man "with the E-type Jag and the E-type wife".

Barry is in London to prepare for a special concert at the Royal Albert Hall on September 28. He recently produced an album for the Ten Tenors, an Australian crossover opera troupe who recorded some of his finest film compositions. Barry will conduct two of the most famous - We Have All The Time In The World and Goldfinger - two classics from the period when he composed 12 scores for James Bond films.

Despite guiding Adam Faith's early career, composing soundtracks for Out Of Africa and Dances With Wolves and having five Oscars to his name, Barry will be forever linked with Bond. It was his scores that gave Bond its action, tension and glamour, inventing a Cold War identity for a Britain stripped of its empire and languishing behind the USA and the Soviet Union.

Tellingly, as the Bond franchise prepares to kick into gear for Daniel Craig's debut in the upcoming Casino Royale, he has little faith in the modern 007. "I haven't been a fan of Bond for a long time,” he says in a soft Yorkshire brogue.

"I gave up after The Living Daylights in 1987. I'd exhausted all my ideas, rung all the changes possible. It was a formula that had run its course. The best had been done as far as I was concerned."

Barry identifies co-producer Harry Saltzman's sale of his share of the franchise to United Artists in 1975 as the turning point. "There used to be one solid school of people.

When that broke down, I didn't know who was running the show any more. That's why, when you see them on television, you don't say: 'Oh no, it's an old Bond, 'you say: 'Wow, it's an old Bond, that's great.' "You see one of the newer films is on and you think: 'Forget it, I'll watch something else.'" He's still friends with Barbara Broccoli, current Bond producer and daughter of original Bond co-producer Cubby, but Barry will not be rushing out to see the new film.

Barry sees Bond soundtracks as a clumsy excuse to advertise pop songs, inserted into the action with little thought. As a result, he does not even visit cinemas any more, let alone work on soundtracks. "I see a film on television and I don't know where these people are coming from,” he says. "When this guy sat down to write this, what the hell was he thinking about?

"We very carefully planned these films. Everything was intertwined. The sound effects weren't running all over the music or vice versa. It was orchestrated in the real sense of the word. Now there doesn't seem to be a plan and it doesn't just go for music, it goes for the screenwriter and art director.

It's a different world - but I don't want to sound like an old fart."

Monty Norman penned The James Bond Theme but it was Barry who orchestrated the piece to such effect. From the second film, Goldfinger, Barry became the sole composer, writing the scores and the songs.

Barry maintains that he was brought in when Norman and Saltzman fell out, admitting to his own problems with the difficult producer.

Saltzman had told Barry that Goldfinger, sung by Shirley Bassey, was one of the worst songs he'd ever heard before it became a massive international hit. The song only made it into the film because it was too late to take it out.

One of Barry's fondest memories of the swinging Sixties is a lunch at his favourite haunt, the Pickwick Club. Barry's tenant, Michael Caine, was there with his girlfriend Edina Ronay, along with Terence Stamp and Jean Shrimpton.

"Goldfinger had just become a hit and Saltzman walks in and says hello to Michael and then turns to me and says, 'Thank you, John.'

"Terry Stamp shot up and shouted, 'You f****** a*******.' It was so theatrical, everyone was on the floor and Harry just continued walking out the door. I remember everything about that moment of triumph."

He remembers other moments less well - like his marriages. "My daughter from my first marriage to Barbara [Pickard] came by the other day and showed me some old photos.

I said, 'Who's that?' She said, 'It's Barb,' her mother. It sounds awful but I really couldn't remember what she looked like then."

This amnesia extends to the reasons for his marriage break-ups, perhaps even the reasons why he married. "I can't remember those kind of things, "he claims, "the emotional significance. I recall London then, going to see my friends in Denmark Street every day, the music, the coffee bars. I love my family life now but a little part of me would go back to all that in a second!"

He has four children; the youngest, Jon Patrick, is just 11.

The success of Bond in the Sixties, Barry argues, was a result of everyone working at the top of their game in a special period. It is difficult to imagine that anyone involved in Casino Royale will have such a unique set of influences to draw on as did Barry. Maybe the golden age of 007 really is over.

The interview is. "All right, I'm coming!" Barry shouts, as his wife announces that they are late for lunch.

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