John Barry, the composer of dozens of amazing, stirring, wonderful film scores, has died at the age of 77.
Barry was born in York in 1933, and though once he left he never returned due to ‘difficult childhood memories’, he was quoted as saying that ‘York is the most beautiful city in the world.’
For me, as a York filmmaker, John Barry has always been an legend, and for my dad, a filmmaker and TV editor who grew up in the era of The Beatles and the Renaissance of British music, he was an icon.
My earliest memories of Barry’s music are from long family car journies when my dad would blast out his homemade John Barry collections, from Bond to Out Of Africa, and my mind would travel off into the skies with the bold brass and the soaring strings.
At first, Barry seemed pretty Old School to me. I grew up worshipping John Williams by dint of following the film careers of Lucas and Spielberg, and though I was a fan of the Bond movies, I didn’t quite realise what I liked most about them until I started listening to my dad’s extensive collection of Bond records on vinyl.
It was in 1990, when Dances With Wolves was released, that I had a new favourite soundtrack, and it was John Barry’s majestic, moving score for what is still Costner’s finest hour.
His ‘John Dunbar Theme’ was heroic and beautiful, and when listened to while cycling down the long streets and wide open spaces of Harrogate where I grew up, it made me feel heroic and noble, and moved to begin writing film scripts. Sure, it took about 15 years to write something I thought was any good, but I can recall returning home from a bike ride scored by Dances With Wolves and sitting down to write.
I was a frequent visitor to the excellent Movie Boulevard shop in Leeds, which I just found out today has sadly closed after 27 years – what a doubly sad day. It was here that I obtained and discussed film soundtracks in my teens and twenties, and learned facts about Barry from the two chaps who worked there. They were film music aficionados and told me stories of meeting Barry and James Horner and many other film composers at various concerts.
Barry was a man who would not compromise, they said, unlike Horner who would tailor his scores to suit the director’s vision. If you hired John Barry, you were hiring a composer of such magnitude and fortitude that your film would fit around his score.
I always respected that, even now as a film director, because it is often music, in the end, that informs the audience how to interpret what they are seeing on the big screen. And why would you want to change or edit a single note of Barry’s perfect scores?
In the end, the legacy Barry leaves behind is one of a deserved legend, because there will never be another one like him. His music has been a a huge influence on contemporary composers I admire such as Michael Giacchino, and in no small way on the soundtrack to one of my own films. Buy it now. Blatant plug over.
I could write an essay merely about all the best Bond cues he’s written, from From Russia With Love to The Living Daylights, all of which enhanced and often bested the film they were scoring. There just isn’t room or time to do it, although I am tempted.
What I’d like to end by saying is that without Barry, the backbone of modern film music would look very limp indeed. His scores are inimitable, beyond memorable, and part of the genetic makeup of many film and film music fans across the World.
Sadly, there was talk of trying to get Barry back to York next year for a proposed concert in a similar vein to this year’s Herrmann & Hitchcock event in March. For a while, even though I thought it unlikely, I had entertained hopes that I may get to meet York’s most famous filmmaking son.
Although it was not to be, his legacy lives on and I hope, in the way these things tend to do, that his death brings his music to a new generation of music lovers.
RIP Mr. Barry.