John Barry

1933 2011

John Barry

Composer • Conductor


Nearly everyone has heard the music of English composer John Barry, whether they know it or not. He is the man behind the music during the golden age of the James Bondmovies, in addition to many other film soundtracks. His ability to imitate other composers, combine existing styles and incorporate his own ideas in his works made him a true musical chameleon as a composer, allowing him to write music for film genres including adventure, action, comedy, drama, romance and thriller, in addition to music for television.

John Barry’s father owned a number of movie cinemas and as a result, John grew up in the theatre. His mother was a talented pianist. At the age of nine he began playing the piano, studying with Francis Jackson, and six years later, at the age of 15, John dropped out of school to work at one of his father’s theatres as a projectionist. Barry also studied with Bill Russo, a jazz arranger who had worked together with Stan Kenton. During this period, Barry combined his passions and composed music for all the films he saw. Barry also attended many stellar jazz concerts, as his father was an avid jazz fan, by groups led by Stan Kenton and Count Basie.

Barry’s musical interest grew to include playing the trumpet in dance bands and until 1955 an army band. After leaving the army, Barry formed his own rock/jazz band, The John Barry Seven. In 1960, three years after the formation of his band, Barry composed the music forBeat Girl (known in the US as Wild for Kicks) and the Peter Sellers film Never Let Go. He also composed hits such as Hit and Missfrom the TV show Juke Box Jury, Walk Don’t Run and Black Stockings. Barry associated with other creative figures such as Michael Caine and Terence Stamp and worked together with Adam Faith and Nina & Frederik.

Barry’s diverse musical background led him to compose in a unique style which fused jazz and pop elements. In 1962 he was approached to arrange Monty Norman’s theme song for the first of theJames Bond movies. To date there are more than 20Bond films, of which Barry worked on the first 12: Dr. No (1963), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever  (1971), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Moonraker (1979), Octopussy  (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987).

Of his Bond soundtracks, Goldfinger was so popular that it topped the charts, beating the Beatles’ hit songA Hard Day’s Night on the 1964 American charts, eventually leading to Barry’s first gold disc. After composing the music forThe Living Daylightsin 1987, Barry decided to move on from the Bond films as “all the good books had been done”.

In addition to the Bond films, Barry composed in a range of styles for films such asBorn Free (1966), The Lion in the Winter (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Mary, Queen of Scots(1971), The Cotton Club (1984), Out of Africa (1985), Dances with Wolves(1990) and Chaplin (1992).

Barry’s work on John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) greatly influenced the film music industry. For this film, Barry incorporated a number of pop songs, something that now seems quite normal, but was very cutting-edge at the time. According to Barry in 1997, “That movie is still shown at the cinema school at UCLA as the epitome of how songs should be used in the movies”.

Though Barry’s soundtracks are greatly influenced by jazz, pop and rock, he gave credit to many of the more classically trained Hollywood composers such as Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner. Elements of their music occurs regularly in Barry’s music.

For his film soundtracks, Barry received a number of Oscars and Academy Awards and several Academy Award nominations. In addition, he won Bafta’s Anthon Asquith Award and a Grammy. Barry was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1998.

Barry’s work influenced a younger generation of composers, especially David Arnold, the new Bond composer as of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Arnold arranged and compiledShaken and Stirred as a homage to the Bond composer. Arnold said, “For me the success of the Bond series was 50% Sean Connery and 50% John Barry”.

In 1989, after a cancer scare, Barry’s output slowed, but not his enthusiasm. He changed course with his tone poemThe Beyondness of Things (1998). About this project Barry remarked, “It's amazing to work without film or without a director or producer… I love doing films, but it's been refreshing to work with such total freedom”.

In his later years, Barry collaborated with Don Black and Michael Attenborough on a stage version ofBrighton Rock, which ran for a short time in London in 2004. He also worked as an executive producer on an album by the Australian group the Ten Tenors, which featured some of his collaborations with Black. They also composedOur Time is Now for Shirley Bassey.

Barry’s personal love life was often the source of gossip and rumours. He was married four times, each time to a teenage girl. In 1958 he married his first wife Barbara Pickard, with whom he had one daughter, Suzanne. After their divorce in 1963, Barry coupled up with lla Larson, with whom he had his second daughter, Sian. Barry married actress Jane Birkin in 1965, resulting in his third daughter, Kate. After divorcing in 1969, he married Jane Sidey in the same year. The couple moved to America in 1970 and broke up in 1974; they did not have any children together. Barry finally seems to have found the one, Laurie, who he married in 1976. The couple had one son and remained married until Barry’s death in 2011 at the age of 77, the result of a heart attack. Barry moved to Oyster Bay, New York in 1980, where he remained for the rest of his life.