Nick hums a John Barry tune or two.
nick setchfield, features editor
Tragic confession time: I cannot enter an airport without cueing John Barry on my iPod. Suddenly there’s an alluring contessa in every departure lounge, double agents in the Duty Free, international assassins spooning noodles in Wagamama. With a Barry soundtrack any airport becomes a portal to peril, possibility and intrigue. Yes, even Luton.
If John Barry’s music enhances my world just imagine what it did for James Bond’s. It’s a sound embedded in 007’ s double helix, as essential as Connery’s finely- tailored machismo or Ken Adam’s opulent sets. Think of the serpentine menace of the Thunderball score, the urgent pulse of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the zero gravity grandeur of Moonraker’s “Flight Into Space”.
Barry dubbed it “Million- dollar Mickey Mouse music” but it’s so much more. Somehow it’s always autumn in Barry’s world, and just on the edge of cool blue twilight. Built from lush, aching strings and bombastic brass, his music has a signature mix of romance and malevolence, impregnable glamour and rattlesnake shiver: the perfect soundscape for Ian Fleming’s superspy.
In his ’ 60s prime Barry cut a figure every inch as dashing as 007. There’s a starkly suave black- and- white shot of him with second wife Jane Birkin ( above). The pair look as untouchable as showroom- fresh E- type Jags. In earlier days he shared a bachelor pad with Michael Caine – future archaeologists may conclude that this was the very epicentre of Swinging London. Caine recalls hearing his flatmate finally nailing “Goldfinger” at 4am, just as the sun rose: “I was the first person in the world ever to hear ‘ Goldfinger’, and I heard it all night…”
Barry was more than Bond, of course. The doomy, liquorice- dark minor chords of The Persuaders! were a brooding counterpoint to Roger Moore and Tony Curtis’ sunkissed hi- jinks on the French Riviera – a countermelody, almost. Meanwhile The Ipcress File was as seedy and haunted as a bedsit voyeur, an antidote to Bond glamour still stamped with Barry’s trademark cool.
But it’s Bond that makes Barry endure. A 1970 compilation album was titled “Ready When You Are, JB”. John Barry? Or James Bond? In the end they’re indivisible.
John Barry with his then wife, actress and singer Jane Birkin.