His name is Barry - John Barry: the creator of award-winning film-scores passes away

Posted: 1st February 2011

Despite being ill for some time, it came as a shock to learn of John Barry's death yesterday, 31st January, not least because I had just been playing a piece of music from his later work, "The Beyondness of Things", when the announcement appeared on BBC Breakfast News. That is the thing with Barry's music - despite being purpose-written for some of the most memorable films that cinema has screened, you can listen to his majestic yet playful scores at any time, in any environment. That's genius, that is...

My first introduction to John Barry's creativity was undoubtedly while watching a James Bond film, but not an obvious choice. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was the first Fleming vehicle that I ever watched and I remember the brooding and moody theme very well - I was a bit scared of it, truth be told. It was sinister, not like "Goldfinger" or "Diamonds are Forever" - at the time, I had no idea that all three themes were written by the same person. Incredible.

My next introduction to Barry was probably while watching the lion-cub hugging movie, "Born Free". I'm sure I didn't blub, I'm positive. No really. OK, maybe just a bit at the sweeping melodramatic theme music. But not much. I was a tough ten year old. Really. I was. I loved that music (the theme was sung by Matt Monro, a regular Barry contributor).

My final introductions (and I deliberately make this bit plural) was while listening to the various cover versions and influences of the man himself. "Goldfinger" covered by Magazine (and then subsequently guiding ex-member Barry Adamson towards his splendid solo career and a great cover of the Monty Norman-penned and Barry-arranged Bond main theme), "The Persuaders' Theme" respectfully digitized by Paul Haig, "Walk Don't Run" given a new lease of life by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, "You Only Live Twice" gracefully covered by The Chameleons' Mark Burgess and the undoubted influence upon Orbital's "The Box" EP.

Basically, pretty much any band that decided to stick an instrumental on one of their albums, owed a nod to Barry - hello, New Order. Indirectly, his overall sound followed me through my record-collection, and still does.

He wrote many famous themes for "The Ipcress File", "The Persuaders" and "Midnight Cowboy", as well as the theme-tune for Jukebox Jury and a thoroughly beautiful own-composition classical album, the aforementioned "Beyondness of Things". John Barry's final soundtrack release was the code-breaking thriller, "Enigma", an awfully apt and fitting title for a man who inadvertently soundtracked more people than we all thought possible. RIP.

Paul Pledger