We all know his music. It’s roaring and consuming like a giant wave. Working with big bands, sweeping strings and jazz and latin beats John Barry didn’t believe in subtle introductions. For me, his music is the sound of being young. In the deepest, brownest 80s. There I sat watching the lions on Born Free, with the soundtrack mirroring the epic landscapes and joy on my chubby cheeked face. The lion my favourite animal (see: post 80s Simon King love), I was besotted: “Born Freeee…” – you can imagine. Similarly I remember sitting on the creaky dining room chairs whilst my mum did the ironing and watching James Bond films, Goldfinger and Dr No in awe. Even writing these words I have the soundtracks playing in my head.
On the day of his death, composer, Howard Shore of Lord of The Rings said in an interview with Rhod Sharp: “The world John Barry created with his music was enormous, iconic. He wrote scores for some of the greatest films in the latest 30, 40 years [...] “If he had just written the 11 Bond films it would’ve been an incredible legacy to the world of music and art.”
But he did so much more than Bond. He won Oscars for his music for Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, The Lion in Winter and two for Born Free. Barry also gained an OBE in 1999 and a Bafta Fellowship in 2005. What’s so obvious is his ability to capture the essence of the film. As Shore said: “He loved getting inside the film.” This you can really feel. His music is dramatic, emotive and despite the BIG MOTION PICTURE SOUND, it’s very real.
Illustration by Kayleigh Bluck
John Barry was born in 1933, in York, England. His father ran a chain of cinemas, and his mother was a pianist. They had a grand piano in their living room and Barry worked at the cinema. It was there that his love of film was nurtured. He started with classical piano and then moved onto Jazz, before playing the trumpet in the army. The 1950s saw him form a Jazz Rock group called The John Barry Seven and together with singer Adam Faith, they enjoyed hit singles.
Barry wanted to be a musician more than a pop star however, and moved into film with the 1960s movie, Beat Girl. This caught the attention of Dr No’s producers. In an interview with The Associated Press in 1991, Barry said: “The James Bond movies came because we were successful in the pop music world, with a couple of big instrumental hits. They thought I knew how to write instrumental hit music.”
Another of the 11 Bond soundtracks by Barry: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Barry went on to create many other film scores, including; the Beloved Country, Jagged Edge, Walkabout and The Deep. He also worked with Duran Duran and A-ha in the 80s and won four Grammys, the aforementioned five Oscars, a Bafta for The Lion in Winter and a Golden Globe for Out of Africa. Sir Richard Attenborough said of him in 1992; “He’s never satisfied with what he does. Every day he wakes up and believes that into his mind and soul is going to come some magical arrangement of notes that he’s going to ultimately either entrance you with in a concert hall or cinema.”
My personal John Barry favourite is Midnight Cowboy. I love the strings he is so famous for.
Barry is survived by his fourth wife, Laurie, four children and five grandchildren.
Bafta, BBC Radion 5 Live, Born Free, Goldfinger, Grammy, Helen Martin, Howard Shore, James Bond, John Barry, Kayleigh Bluck, Midnight Cowboy, new york, Oscar, Out of Africa, Rhod Sharp, The Lion in Winter, York
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