John Barry: A composer of scores as famous as the films
Monday 31 January 2011
John Barry was the composer whose scores were as famous as the films for which he wrote them.
As the long-standing Bond soundtrack guru, he oversaw the stunning musical settings for films such as Goldfinger, From Russia With Love and You Only Live Twice.
Alongside his 11 007 soundtracks, Barry was also behind TV themes, sweeping compositions to films such as Born Free, Dances With Wolves and Out Of Africa and a short run of early 60s' guitar hits.
But it is his lengthy association with James Bond which will overshadow all else - his scores effortlessly switching from breathless chase scenes to the intimacy of a tryst as the secret agent indulges in yet another seduction.
Barry was brought up in York, where he attended a Catholic convent school and was encouraged with his musical gifts by the organist of the city's Minster.
His movie career perfectly channelled his family's interests - his father was a cinema owner and his mother a classical pianist.
Barry himself learned the piano as a child and was also a capable trumpeter. During his National Service he furthered his musical knowledge by taking a correspondence course in composition.
After leaving the army he formed a rock and roll band The John Barry Seven, notching up hits with Hit And Miss, later the theme to TV's Juke Box Jury, Beat For Beatniks and a cover of the twangy guitar track Walk Don't Run.
His work on TV series Drumbeat - for which the group had backed chart star Adam Faith - led to Barry being enlisted for the singer's first movie role, Beat Girl.
Producers of the first Bond film Dr No took him on to spruce up the James Bond Theme which had been written by Monty Norman. His skilful work on the tune, with its tricky jump of time signatures, led to him being taken on to handle the whole score for subsequent film adaptations of the Ian Fleming novels, beginning with From Russia With Love.
His work on the Bond Theme led to a notable court case in the late 1990s when Norman successfully sought to assert his authorship of the tune.
Barry artfully brought together wildly different sounds - big band, guitar riffs, lush string flourishes, jazz and Latin beats - and he provided the musical settings for such title songs as Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice.
He was also at the forefront of innovation with his use of a synthesiser which underpins On Her Majesty's Secret Service and his theme for TV's The Persuaders.
Even tiny excerpts from his scores have gone on to have lives of their own - the string flourish from You Only Live Twice was the inspiration for Robbie Williams's Millennium, and a short sample from the Goldfinger score was used in the Sneaker Pimps hit Six Underground.
Other celebrated film scores included Midnight Cowboy, the Cold War atmosphere of The Ipcress File, and Born Free - for which he won two of his five Oscars.
He also landed Academy Awards for The Lion In Winter, Out Of Africa and his most recent, in 1991, went to Dances With Wolves. Of his choices of film, he has remarked that he was drawn to movies which had a strong "sense of loss".
Barry's musical prowess led to work on mega-budget movies such as King Kong and Raise The Titanic in the ensuing years. And he continued to work on further Bond films, although he was not always the go-to man, with Sir George Martin and Marvin Hamlisch among those who stepped in.
He worked with Duran Duran and A-Ha during the 1980s, and on Bond themes for A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights. He once recalled, surveying his vast body of work: "When I look back on it, I think, how the hell did I do all this?"
Barry was married four times - his second wife was the actress Jane Birkin, a marriage which lasted three years. He had been married to his current wife Laurie since 1978.
He relocated from the UK in the mid-1970s, setting up home in the United States with a long-established home on Long Island, New York, although he kept a London base for many years.
In 1999 he was honoured with an OBE and was awarded a Bafta Fellowship in 2005.
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