Saturday, 9 July 2011

John Barry Memorial Concert June 20th 2011

I couldn't spot any but I was told there was just a 'few' empty seats in the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 20th June at the John Barry Memorial Concert. As I took my own seat I looked toward the stage where the brightly lit music stands and chairs were waiting for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And above, as if watching over it all, was a giant screen showing the same black & white photo of Barry which graced the cover of the generous Programme Guide. It showed him in serious repose, eyes fixed forward and hands clasped together, you could imagine him saying, 'go on then, let's hear how you're going to do this'.
The event was not only to thank Barry for the music, hear his family, friends and colleagues' memories and of course listen to some of his best scores but also to aid the recently established John Barry Scholarship for Film Composition at the Royal College of Music, a worthwhile scholarship if ever there was one and in which hopefully, the legacy of his music will live and ensure the future of superb composition and lavish orchestration in forthcoming film soundtracks. The Broccoli Foundation underwrote the concert and interestingly, listed in the benefactors was the Ian Fleming Family. Composer David Arnold also played a big part in the concert, more of which later, but he also put the Programme Guide (which will be much cherished by myself) together with Barry's wife, Laurie.

At just a couple of minutes past 7.30pm Nicholas Dodd strode up to the podium to start the much anticipated playlist. Dodd, who has conducted many Barry concerts in the UK and Europe, has a distinguished career of film work as both orchestrator and conductor including several of the 007 films.
UK writer and television presenter and friend of Barry's, Sir Michael Parkinson came onto the stage to welcome everyone to the concert and talked of Barry's 'limitless talent who understood the marriage of film and music like no others.' Barry's son JonPatrick briefly appeared on stage to rapturous applause, clearly very nervous and somewhat taken aback by the reaction his appearance bought and thanked everyone for coming and hoped we enjoy the evening. And then the orchestra struck up with an instrumental version of Goldfinger. Now, it doesn't matter if you own the best sound system in the world to listen to your music on at home, to hear a full orchestra play in the golden, acoustic globe that is the Albert Hall, and hear music you know every nuance of, is simply mind-blowing in it's rich and majestic delivery. Tears streamed as I listened to a piece of music I have probably heard over a thousand times.
The orchestra was magnificent and all evening they followed every note in every piece as you would hear it on the soundtrack except for a couple of instances which involved solo's which I will come to later. Then into The Knack and all it's jauntiness. A nice touch was that on the giant screen, which also projected the orchestra playing and each guest who appeared, each piece of music was highlighted with the cover of the soundtrack album. Each cover known only too well by all the fans present.

Sir Michael Caine appeared in a video piece apologising for not being there but he was currently filming and gave a clue as to what by saying 'well, you don't want to let Batman down do you'. He went on to tell the famous story of having no where to live for a couple of weeks so Barry said he could stay with him. On his first night in Barry's flat he heard him playing the piano all night long. In the morning he told Caine that he had finished. Caine asked what the piece was and Barry said the theme to Goldfinger, Caine went onto to say that he was the first person ever to have heard it but wished he hadn't heard it all night long!
His voice faltered as he said that he was at the Albert Hall in 2007 when he came on stage to introduce Barry conducting his own concert (I was there and remember applauding over enthusiastically as I thought it was JB who was walking on stage - but was not disappointed that it was Harry Palmer himself!) and that, tonight he was here again to say goodbye.
Appropriately the themes to Zulu and The Ipcress File followed, followed by the lush and sentimental Somewhere In Time.

Next on stage was lyricist Don Black who bought the fun element to the proceedings regaling tales of Barry being the man-around-town in the 60's, driving a Masarati, enjoying good wine and women! He went onto say how his life changed when Barry asked him to write lyrics for the Bond movies and how JB always demanded a straight forward lyric. Born Free followed which again was magnificent to hear especially when you are sat a few feet away from this famous orchestra, all clearly enjoying playing the music. But ..... The first blight of the evening occurred as the harmonica player Julian Jackson stepped up to open Midnight Cowboy. Whilst being a featured soloist on other Oscar winning soundtracks, he didn't, in my humble opinion, make a good job of this. He did not muster up the slow, achingly haunting first note of the piece which is now so well known. He then went on to 'embellish' the piece with 'flurries' which not only are not in the original piece but which simply do not suit the true nature of the story which the music paints. It was a major disappointment I have to say.

The John Dunbar theme followed and quickly restored the earlier excellence of the concert. Conductor Dodd then introduced new singer/songwriter Rumer to sing a Barry composition of which he was particularly fond of because it was originally recorded by one of his hero's Louise Armstrong. Rumer glided onto the stage to sing We Have All The Time In The World. Unfortunately one of the down sides of being projected up close on a giant screen is that if you are nervous and hesitant, it very clearly shows and she was both. I am a fan of Rumer and her old style songs and fabulously seductive voice but she drew the short straw here and made a complete hash of this song even to the point of coming in too early at one point which threw her for the rest of her performance. To be fair it's a song which only could be sung by Louis Armstrong (have you ever heard it covered by anyone else? I haven't) and so should not have been performed in my mind though I understand totally why it was, due to Barry's fondness for it.

The interval followed and unfortunately it was the talking point of those around me. Such a shame.
And so part 2 started with a theme which is a particular favourite of mine and which I was eager to hear, Body Heat. The saxophonist was Nigel Hitchcock and whilst he played it to the letter, it lacked the sultriness plus any other of the high emotion which the film and the score possesses. Whilst the orchestra were flawless and captured the very essence of each piece they played with a deep richness, the soloists to this piece and Midnight Cowboy seem to just play the music without feeling it. But once again the next piece bought us back to sheer perfection as well known trumpeter Derek Watkins came onto the stage. Watkins has recorded and toured with Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand and was clearly feeling every note of Remembering Chet. he was duly applauded for his prefect solo.

Out of Africa followed and throughout the evening, short clips of JB working, talking and conducting kept us enraptured on the big screen. Even old footage of Sir Richard Attenborough talking about the Chaplin score was shown. Full use of the screen was used in a poignant montage of black & white photo's of Barry as a baby right through to the end of his life whilst the orchestra played The Beyondness of Things.

It was time to shed a tear again as I realised that it was over after this concert, no more new scores. The end of an era and the end of a journey in my own life with a composer who has meant so much to me and many others in the hall. Whilst my friends were discovering The Beatles and listening to The Rolling Stones, the soundtrack to my life was the music of Barry. Right from The Girl With The Sun In Her Hair from a tv ad to the theme to The Persuaders plus all the movie scores. But I was glad I was there and of course his music will go on forever. Barry listened to a lot of classical music and next to grace the stage was Wynne Evans to sing a favourite of JB's: Ave Maria, and sing it beautifully he did.

Ex James Bond and classical actor Timothy Dalton came on to read the blessing which was written by John Donoghue, a piece of writing which was always on Barry's desk. Dalton read it with much gusto which underlined the loss of the man we were remembering and he did it all without a single glance to the piece of paper he had placed on the lectern which I was most impressed with. Composer David Arnold was introduced next and walked onto the stage with an acoustic guitar. He talked about how Barry was with us tonight, in the high strings, in the brass section and that he was also probably with us somewhere 'in the bar'. He then sang one of the last songs Barry ever wrote called Tick The Days. I didn't know he could sing, he has a wonderful voice and sang it so, so well.

Then came the James Bond Suite: The James Bond Theme, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, 007, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. It was loud, exciting and difficult to not be caught up in as conductor Dodds face showed every facial emotion possible to get the best out of this fantastic orchestra. It bought a well deserved standing ovation. Sir George Martin was the next to sing the merits of the Barry catalogue and for me had the most resonance of the evening as he recalled hearing those pizzicato strings for the first time when Barry was working on a song for Adam Faith and how he would play unusual instruments to create the right atmosphere for a film. He then introduced the headliner for the concert as 'one of the finest dramatic singers ever', then Dame Shirley Bassey, in glittering dress, took centre stage.
She performed Diamonds Are Forever with all the theatricals we love her for and ended as the concert had started, with Goldfinger and yes, she hit that end high note without any trace of effort!
Another standing ovation! A surprise extra was next as David Arnold returned to the stage this time with an electric guitar and like a kid who got the best toy in the Christmas sack, he nailed the James Bond theme with full orchestral backing.

Laurie Barry graciously walked onto the stage to say all the thank you's and was joined again with her son. When she thanked conductor Dodd, he picked up his music book from the podium full of his/Barry's sheet music and with both hands raised it above his head as if to say 'this is it, this is what it's all about'!! The playlist was obvious and had too much emphasis on the Bond scores and for the true fans like myself, I am sure it was a little disappointing. But featured the most was the sweeping orchestral brilliance of Barry and this makes sense. The combination of the Royal Philharmonic and the Royal Albert Hall meant that the playlist demanded to be what it was.
The concert was over, the musicians left the stage, the lights went up and we started to leave the hall. Still on the screen watching, was the huge black & white picture of Barry. I couldn't take my eyes off it and just as I started to go down the stairs, I took one last look and quietly said 'thank you John'.

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