BOND: Live & Let Write (Music) - John Barry - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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BOND: Live & Let Write (Music) - John Barry

Chris Morley plays hit or miss (mainly hit) with John Barry.

As we continue our delve through the music of Bond, we come to another important JB now in the form of John Barry! With eleven full scores provided for this suavest of spies between 1963-'87 he's undoubtedly top of the pile, a run beginning with From Russia With Love and ending in The Living Daylights ensuring his place at the top of the Bondian pantheon.

Born in York on November 3, 1933, it could be said that destiny led Barry to his vocation - his mother was a classical pianist & his father owned a cinema chain, of which he would later remember thinking back to his first glimpse of Mickey Mouse on the silver screen that...
"My father shows huge black and white mice for a living.”
Having received musical tuition from Francis Jackson, the organist of York Minster, he would then spend the bulk of his National Service playing trumpet before forming his own John Barry Seven and building on an interest in jazz which had seen him take a correspondence course with American composer Bill Russo (then playing with the Stan Kenton Orchestra during his time in the Army).

Among several chart hits for the Seven were Hit & Miss - which became the theme tune to the BBC series Juke Box Jury (in essence a forerunner to Top Of The Pops in which a panel of celebrity guests were asked to pass judgement on the week's single releases), a cover of Elmer Bernstein's theme to The Magnificent & an arrangement of Walk Don't Run (originally by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith & also proving a hit for The Ventures).

This success afforded Barry the opportunity to branch out a little starting with another BBC series, Drumbeat. This proved to be the beginning of his association with Adam Faith as both move into feature films starting with Beat Girl.

Beat Girl was John Barry's first film soundtrack commission, and a big break for Faith on the big screen. That wasn't the only first as Barry's music was later released as the UK's first soundtrack album!

From beat girls to Bond girls in view of what came next, you might say, as Barry was first approached following dissatisfaction with Monty Norman's original theme for Dr. No, working his magic on it and no doubt seeing lessons learned from his earlier jazz schooling & work with the Seven given full cinematic flight!

For From Russia With Love, Lionel Bart was commissioned to write the score. Perhaps unbelievably given his success in musical theatre, most notably with Oliver, Bart couldn't actually read or write music! Luckily somebody remembered John's name and he got himself the job with which his name is now probably synonymous.

Not that Barry knew much about Ian Fleming's creation at the time.
"When I was approached about Bond, all I knew about it was the cartoon strip in the Daily Express. Then we did. From Russia With Love, then Goldfinger, and the whole thing went mad. It made it much easier for me to get good work then. If you have a successful run, everything comes to you. Nothing succeeds like success."
It wasn't all strings & brass, though. Often overlooked is the fact that Barry was among the first film composers to make use of the synthesiser, the new tool in his sonic armoury first tested for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. And as GQ put it in the introduction to an interview with him for its Men Of The Year issue for 2006,
“Barry was the first man to make film soundtracks sexy, the first to treat them not just as part of the movie experience, but as particular pieces of music in their own right.

Music that swaggered with purpose. Back in the Sixties, when Britain's greatest film composer - with more than 120 scores for film and TV - was in his pomp, his themes epitomised glamour when glamour wasn't yet a career option, evoking a sophisticated world full of mystery, travel and sex.

He did everything on a grand scale, making music both delirious and maudlin, great orchestral sweeps that made you feel as though you were gliding through space, careering down a ravine, or driving at speed along an Italian motorway.

Take away the music from any James Bond film (and Barry scored 11 and worked on 12 of them), and you're left with a slightly arch caper movie. It was Barry who gave the Bond films their edge, who made them populist and sinister at the same time. Barry's Bond themes were dark, haunting and full of foreboding. As evocations of unbound sexuality, there was nothing to touch them. “
Can anyone have possibly summed it up better?

Maybe surprisingly Barry actually rated The Ipcress File as a bigger high point of his film-scoring career!

“Mike Caine was great in the role and the movies should have been bigger and better than Bond. They had this enormous potential, and I think actually were a truer reflection of the times.

The Bond people were smart; they made the same movie 12 times. They should have done something similar with The Ipcress File."
Coincidentally Michael Caine had been Barry's flatmate during the Swinging Sixties. The pair shared digs with Terence Stamp too! Speaking to Classic FM, Caine later revealed that he had been among the first people to hear the finished Goldfinger theme after being kept awake while his old friend worked on it!

"I came down in the morning and he was sitting there absolutely exhausted and said, 'I’ve got this tune for the Bond, what do you think of it?' And he played Goldfinger. I said it’s fantastic."
It was Caine who first famously outed him as a bit of a ladies man too. Newsweek concluding after he'd married Jane Birkin in 1965 that he...
"...drove off in his E-Type Jag with his E-Type wife."
John Barry passed away on January 30, 2011 at the age of 77, his place in celluloid history secured in large part thanks to James Bond.

Monty Norman

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