Thursday, 3 February 2011

John Barry 1933-2011

A sad week for film music with the news of John Barry’s passing, a true Lion of a composer whose legacy speaks volumes…

Listening to his work, as I have been since I heard the news on Tuesday morning – indeed I immediately selected his album ‘The Beyondness of Things’ to underscore my walk into the office that day – I was struck by the innocence to be found within his melody making. That album, followed by the equally brilliant ‘Eternal Echoes’ absolutely represents Barry at the peak of his orchestral composing. They’re very personal albums I think. It’s as if he had all these little musical ideas stored away and needed to get them out, share them with the world. That was a while ago now, and it’s been ten years since he actually scored a picture – Enigma being his celluloid swansong.

Of course everyone has been talking about James Bond and Barry is 007’s composer laureate. Those scores – and songs – are a legacy in themselves when you think just how important they are in conjuring the very essence of that character and those classic films. Me? I was never a Bond nut – I was too young to really jump on that fan-wagon, and I can’t think of a film scored by John Barry that I was able to appreciate fully. The later films were a bit heavy for a young Beek, though we did have Dances With Wolves on video at home…

It’s very easy to herald the brilliance of someone when they’ve left us and I feel something of a hypocrite in many respects when I do this today, as I admit to never giving Barry’s music as much time or enthusiasm over the years as other composers’ work. When I think back now I realise that it comes down to age. I was a child of the late 80s/early 90s and thus John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer are the composers who I was drawn to initially, and still hold in the highest esteem. Look at my CD collection and it’s those four names, in that order, which rank highest in terms of sheer numbers. Barry CDs? You’d have to look hard and go way down to the bottom, and even then it’s just a couple of compilation discs. Go to my hard drive though and it’s a different story. I have, in recent years, managed to gather 23 Barry albums… it’s a start.

Barry is as great as John Williams – certainly had as many Oscars – and was actually a year younger than the American. Some of Barry’s big successes came before Williams’ most famous, and in the 80s a John Barry score was sought after. Barry was the go-to composer for a deep, dramatic, mature sound… which Williams proved he could do much later. When Williams ‘came out’ as a serious dramatic composer with the likes of JFK, Schindler’s List and all that followed, it seems Barry was out of a job…

So while I haven’t had chance yet to listen to all his major works, the truth is Barry has been almost omnipresent all through my years. Whether it’s Bond films on the telly, or those great great themes for the likes of Zulu, The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free and Out of Africa… These things are used, re-used, played again and again in concert, on television and alike, so in many ways I’m a Barry fan by default. I do have favourites though and Somewhere in Time is top of my list, followed by Out of Africa and Body Heat. I recently acquired The Deep and must finally play Moonraker… I’m actually quite excited to think there’s a whole world of ‘new’ music for me to discover for the first time.

John Barry, I am now your fan – I’m sorry it’s taken so long, but thank you for all the wonderful music you’ve left for us to enjoy, discover and rediscover.

1 comment:

  1. Great tribute Mike. "I feel something of a hypocrite in many respects when I do this today, as I admit to never giving Barry’s music as much time or enthusiasm over the years as other composers’ work"

    i'm also with you/in agreement on this statement..but there will always be a place in my heart for those masculine horns in the bond series!

    RIP JB..