John Barry Biography

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Jonathan Barry Prendergast, 3 November 1933, York, England. Renowned as one of the leading composers of film soundtrack music, Barry began his career leading the John Barry Seven. This rousing instrumental unit enjoyed several notable UK hits between 1960 and 1962, the best known of which were ‘Hit And Miss’ and a version of the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run’ (both 1960). The former, which reached number 11 in the UK charts, was the theme to Juke Box Jury, BBC Television’s long-running record release show. Barry made regular appearances on several early pop programmes, including Oh, Boy! and Drumbeat and also enjoyed concurrent fame as a writer and arranger, scoring the distinctive pizzicato strings on numerous Adam Faith hits including the number 1 ‘What Do You Want’ (1959) and ‘Poor Me’ (on which you can hear strong shades of the ‘James Bond Theme’ in the arrangement). Barry also composed the soundtrack to Beat Girl, the singer’s film debut, and later took up a senior A&R post with the independent Ember label. In 1962 Barry had a UK Top 20 hit with the ‘James Bond Theme’, which was part of Monty Norman’s score for the film Dr. No, the first in a highly successful series. He produced music for several subsequent Bond films, including From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, the title songs from which provided hit singles for Matt Monro (1963), Shirley Bassey (1964) and Nancy Sinatra (1967). Such success led to a series of stylish soundtracks that encompassed contrasting moods and music, including The Ipcress File, The Knack... And How To Get It (both 1965), Born Free (which won two Oscars in 1966), Midnight Cowboy (1969), and Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971). Although his theme songs have enjoyed a high commercial profile, it is Barry’s imaginative incidental music that has assured his peerless reputation. By contrast, he pursued another lucrative direction, composing television commercials for disparate household items.

Barry’s consistency remained intact throughout the 70s and 80s, although several attendant movies, including the 1976 remake of King Kong and Howard The Duck (a second rate DC comic character), were highly criticized. ‘Down Deep Inside’, the theme from The Deep (1977), was a UK Top 5 hit for Donna Summer, and this disco-influenced composition emphasized the writer’s versatility. A View To A Kill (1985), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), The Living Daylights andHearts Of Fire (both 1987) demonstrated his accustomed flair, while his music for Out Of Africa (1985) and Dances With Wolves (1990) earned him further Oscars and Grammy Awards. In the early 90s his scores included Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (Oscar nomination), Indecent Proposal, Ruby Cairo aka Deception and My Life (all 1993), The Specialist (1994), and Cry, The Beloved Country (1995). His orchestrations combine elements of classical, jazz and popular themes and command the respect of enthusiastic aficionados.

In April 1998 Barry conducted the 87-piece English Chamber Orchestra in a concert celebration of his own movie music at London’s Royal Albert Hall, during which he previewed The Beyondness Of Things, a collection of ‘string-driven musical poems’. Regarded as more subtle than his film scores, it was Barry’s first non-soundtrack work for two decades. In the following year he returned to the Royal Albert Hall, and also released the soundtrack album Playing By Heart, which was inspired by the work of legendary trumpeter Chet Baker. In 2001 Barry composed the score for Enigma, in addition to recording a new album of non-soundtrack material, Eternal Echoes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.