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Reviewed: Wrestling With Elephants

Sunday, 08 June 2003 12:56

The Biography of Don Black 
Author: James Inverne, Don Black
Foreword: John Barry

Format: Hardback
(222 pages, plus 16 pages of separate b & w photos)
Published: Sanctuary Publishing
02 Jun 2003
ISBN: 1-86074-468-0
List Price: £16.99


Don Black - Wrestling with Elephants"Born a working-class East End boy in the 50s, over 40 years Black went on to write hundreds of songs for some of the most enduring hits of film and stage, such as "Born Free", "Diamonds Are Forever", "Sunset Boulevard" and "Out of Africa". He picked up a weatlh of accolades along the way, including Academy Award nominations and five Ivor Novello Awards, as well as collaborating with musical legends such as John Barry, Michael Jackson, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Quincy Jones. This biography covers the true rags-to-riches story of Don Black, up to his successes with "Bombay Dreams" and "Romeo and Juliet". "

Review by Geoff Leonard:
08 June 2003

Black Goes With Everything

Or so they say. It was certainly the name of an excellent musical I saw a few years ago, in Bromley, Kent, when around 30 of Don Black's songs were performed by a variety of talented artists and dancers in a two-hour show. The show hasn't yet found a home in the West End of London and doesn't get a mention in James Inverne's compelling biography, Wrestling With Elephants - The Authorised Biography of Don Black, just published by Sanctuary Publishing. However, it appears to be about the only thing which doesn't get a mention in this fascinating 'rags to riches' tale, which chronicles both successes and failures in an illustrious 40 years plus career in the music, film and theatre business.

Inverne clearly got plenty of help from his subject and his immediate family, as he did from several of Black's collaborators and singers of his songs, like John Barry, Elmer Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elaine Paige and Lulu. This is a big advantage for a biographer and not only does it create a feeling of integrity, it also gives the impression of frankness and honesty throughout - a refreshing change for a musical biography.

Black himself comes across as a very modest fellow. Proud of his success, yes, but never boastful, and always prepared to admit when something hasn't worked out and keen to establish the possible reason. So, we are entertained and thrilled by stories of his Oscar win for Born Free or his first, massive, stage musical hit, Billy, but can empathise with him when Budgie, which appeared to be a perfect idea for a musical, unaccountably failed to attract an audience. We can laugh along with his stories of John Barry offering to fight John Phillips of the Mamas & Papas, or his own beginnings as a stand-up comic (Don Black - A Living Joke), whereas we can share his sorrow and frustration as manager of Matt Monro, a wonderfully talented singer who could not stop drinking. Monro was obviously a very close friend of his, it was much more than manager and star relationship, and for the first time Black talks about how he fought to hide Monro's alcoholism from the public.

Overall, though, this book is about a successful career and having a lot of fun along the way. It's also a story of a man who is a bit of workaholic - he worries if he hasn't written anything for three weeks, for example. It's about a man who cherishes lyrics and cares deeply about every word he writes. To this end, he goes further than many of his contemporaries by explaining in detail why he takes a certain route in writing a song and even presents his 'Ten Golden Rules of Lyric Writing'!

Black is never one to dwell too long in the past and is always looking for a new challenge. In this respect, John Barry fans will be pleased to hear that Brighton Rock, the stage musical he is writing with Barry, is still going to plan. He even relates an amusing story of telling JB that the ten melodies he had sent were all melancholy and they couldn't possibly have ten sad songs. To which Barry retorted "It's not a ****ing picnic, it's about hell."!!

The book contains some rare photos of Black, his family, friends and collaborators taken throughout the course of his life and career. It also contains a moving foreword by John Barry, in which he talks of a deep mutual respect, trust and loyalty. It's easy to see why the two friends have worked together so happily for almost 40 years.

I recommend this book unreservedly to one and all. I'm about to read it again!!

Geoff Leonard, June 2003.

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PIA website

Have a look at our old "Play It Again" label website here.

Play It Again Records CD catalogue offered the discerning listener a wide choice of digitally re-mastered recordings from film and television, and rare collections of work from the likes of Don Black and Ron Grainer.

Contact the JB site

If you wish to send an email, for example with content for the website, please contact Geoff Leonard:

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Bristol, UK

Geoff (owner) and Ruud (webmaster) have been running the John Barry website since June 18, 2001.

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John Barry related Events or Concerts

Submit your Event or Concert, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. We will not be responsible for any errors or inaccuracies.

A lot more James Bond concerts collected on the link below, I have put them all in this news item. So check it out from there!

Q The Music Show - James Bond Tribute Band
Live James Bond Concerts

Sun 6th May 18
New Victoria Hall, Woking
with Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me)

The Music of BondThe Music of Bond
Royal Albert Hall
Wednesday 19 September 2018
Starts: 7:30pm


Presented by Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace). Over fifty years of timeless James Bond themes from all your favourite 007 films.

Hits from Goldfinger, Licence to Kill, Casino Royale, Skyfall, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, Spectre, From Russia with Love to name just a few, all sung by outstanding vocalists Alison Jiear and Matthew Ford.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Gareth Hudson Conductor
Alison Jiear Vocalist
Matthew Ford Vocalist

James Bond fans are in for a treat in January 2019, as renowned Band, the popular Q The Music Show, are putting on a special concert - performing all the music from Moonraker on

26th January 2019

at the

Wycombe Swan Concert Hall,
High Wycombe,
United Kingdom.

You can back the project and buy tickets here

They are drafting in professional musicians from London to create a 100-piece Orchestra and Choir to recreate all of John Barry’s iconic cues from the 1979 film. As there is only around 50 minutes of music in the film, they will perform the best of the James Bond songs in the second half in true Q The Music style, but with full orchestra.

Because of the nature of this concert, and the huge costs involved, they are crowd funding it, so tickets have to be purchased by 6th May this year for the concert to go ahead on Saturday 26th January 2019.

Q The Music Show are popular with James Bond fans all around the World thanks to their dedicated and authentic versions of the music and were chosen to perform at Sir Roger Moore’s Memorial Event at Pinewood Studios in October last year. The concert will be compered by Bond girls Madeline Smith and Caroline Munro, who have been working with Q The Music this year on their theatre tour of the UK.

The concert will not be available to buy on recording after the show, and the Moonraker score has never been performed live, so this is a unique opportunity for fans to see it. If the project is a success, Q The Music plan to go on a do a different Barry/Bond score each year.

You can back the project and buy tickets here

*Please note, this is a music only performance – no images or footage from the film will be shown, and Q The Music are not associated with EON, Danjaq LLC, or the James Bond Films in any way.

Warren Ringham
Q The Music Show - James Bond Tribute Band
The London Showband - Party & Covers Band