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Thursday, February 3, 2011

John Barry 1933-2011 Part Two

Today, in the final part of Triple P's tribute to John Barry we will look at Triple P's favourite non-Bond pieces.




Firstly, another cocktail favourite, although this one is a bit jauntier than some of his Bond pieces.  Satin Smooth was recorded in his pre-Bond period at EMI in 1961.  It features piano and vibraphone with the strings coming to the fore in the second half of the piece.




In complete contrast, we have his stirring Zulu: theme from the film Zulu, which was Triple P's father's favourite film and is, indeed, one of ours as well.




An action film that is rather less well known, primarily because there is no US or UK DVD of it (Triple P had to obtain a Danish release of it) is High Road to China (1983) which has some strong and enjoyable themes including the main title and airborne.  Having had to turn down the role of Indiana Jones because of his new Magnum PI series Tom Selleck (in a role that was designed for Roger Moore) starred in this very Indiana Jones like tale which, sadly, never caught on as a series.




In many ways the High Road to China score is a dry run for Out of Africa (1985) (the main theme I had a farm in Africa is almost identical to High Road's) for which Barry won one of his five Oscars.




Another theme which has affinities with the High Road to China theme (or rather, technically, the other way round as Raise the Titanic pre-dates High Road to China) was the Prelude to Raise the Titanic (1980).  Containing one of Barry's strongest theme tunes the soundtrack was never released  (the masters are lost) but an excellent version of the score was recorded nearly twenty years later.  This was one of the first scores Barry wrote following his move to the US and set the standard and style for his slow, string-soaked scores which followed over the next twenty years.  It is an evocative and, at times, majestic score and is far superior musically to James Horner's Titanic, even if the film itself is not. Deep Quest and the haunting, piano led Memories of the Titanic are high points in a score that is very strong all the way through. 




Another score which is  better than the film it comes from is The Specialist (1994).  If Barry had ever written another Bond score (which is doubtful, as he had insulted the quality of the previous films to such an extent that the producers would never have had him back) it might have sounded like this.  Certainly, the Main Title and Bogota 1984 (Triple P's favourite track) would have been perfectly at home in a Bond film. Some of the music he wrote to portray Sharon Stone's character (Stone looked sensational in this film) was slinkily reminiscent of the music he produced for Body Heat, especially the Triple P cocktail playlist-worthy Lets see that Beautiful Face.  Ray meets May at her funeral is reminiscent of parts of Diamonds are Forever with added Moonraker style vocals.  We played this a lot when staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel (where part of the film was made) in Miami Beach a few years ago.




Our final favourite Barry film soundtrack is his stunning score for the Michael Caine thriller The Ipcress File.  Here Barry returns to his small combo jazz routes and produces an edgy, off beat score that is one of Triple P's top soundtracks of the sixties.  The score is almost a theme and variations but other than the excellent Main title another favourite is the Meeting with Grantby and fight track which is the complete antithesis of a Hollywood action cue.  The key thing is that you cannot possibly imagine the film with any other music; surely the sign of a triumphant soundtrack.




Next we have a few one-off tracks but these are some of Triple P's favourites.  Firstly, there is the theme to the Tony Curtiss and Roger Moore series The Persuaders; one of the best TV themes of the seventies and accompanying one of the best TV title sequences of all time.  This was released on a single in 1971 with the gorgeous The Girl with the Sun in her Hair (composed three years earlier) which was used for Sunsilk shampoo TV commercials in Britain.




Finally, we have the two instrumental suites that Barry produced at the end of his career; The Beyondness of Things and Eternal Echoes.  Triple P's particular friend S gave us a copy of The Beyondness of Things when in Vancouver in the summer of 2000. We were in our suite at the harbour end of the Pan Pacific hotel Vancouver, overlooking the water. It was sunset and she had brought a CD ghetto blaster in order to preview some music for the conference she was organising. We looked out of the curved windows over the "sails" of the convention centre, sipping Martinis, which we had ordered at enormous expense on room service, and this glorious music floated out the speakers as the sun went down...  So, the title track, The Beyondness of Things always reminds us of Vancouver at night and we always have it on our iPod as we fly into the city on the flight that lands in the evening. The other track that, for Triple P, is very evocative of slinky nights in Vancouver is Heartlands.  Famously, of course, parts of this album (certainly Meadow of Delight and Sadness) is based on music Barry wrote for the soundtrack to the film The Horse Whisperer. Barry and the director, Robert Redford, got into a terrible argument about the direction the score should go and Barry walked out on the project forcing Redford to employ another composer, Thomas Newman, instead.  It has been said that Redford rejected the score but the argument seems to have been about the music for one scene only.  Fortunately, this left Barry to do exactly what he wanted with the material.


Eternal Echoes came out in 2001 and was, with his score for Enigma (which is also excellent and one of his best later scores) which appeared at the same time; the last major work he produced (other than the unsuccessful musical Brighton Rock).  Again, it is a Vancouver favourite of Triple P and S.  Criticised for its stately pace we think that it is perfect music for the sort of reflection, companionable drinking and star gazing that you can only do with a particular friend.  Overall Triple P particularly enjoys Blessed illusion with its Copelandesque trumpet, but Lullabying and Winning are excellent as well.

Over the last few years Barry had been working on compositions for a third album in this style called The Seasons.  There was no sign of it, despite Barry mentoning it on numerous occasions and, rather like Sibelius' 8th Symphony, it may never see the light of day.  Still, there are still many soundtracks available that Triple P has yet to listen to.

So time for a final Martini.  This one, Mr Prendergast, is for you...


A debonair John Barry with Jane Birkin in an e-Type Jaguar. How quintessentially sixties is that?

1 comment:

  1. The only one of these I'm familiar with is Out of Africa. Will have to check out those others.

    ReplyDelete