Oldies But Goldies: When I Interviewed John “007” Barry
(This dates from 1987, a Creem story where I interviewed the great John Barry as two songs he co-wrote with Chrissie Hynde appeared in “The Living Daylights”. Barry “arranged” the famous 007 theme and composed the score for many many Bond movies. “I did the biggest arranging job ever in the history of the cinema”. He died in 2011. My gratitude always to Mark Pringle and the good folks at Rock’s Back Pages, for saving the article for prosterity -IL)
COMPOSER AND conductor John Barry has scored 12 of the 15 James Bond movies, which is an impressive part of a spectacular career. However, on the phone to London, I’m most interested in his association with the legendary jazz great Louis Armstrong.
Armstrong sang the Barry-composed (Hal David wrote the lyrics) ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was a beautiful swan song for a most personable man. “Armstrong was wonderful,” Barry says. “He’d been in the hospital for about a year prior to recording the song and was very low on energy. But it was a thrill to work with him. After the session he said ‘Thank you very much for asking me to do it.’ It was such a privilege to work with him that I almost cried. That particular song and him singing it, even when I hear it today, is still one of the most moving moments, in the Bond series anyway.”
Barry was raised in the north of England, and cinema — his father owned eight cinema houses — was in his blood. “It was the family business, and I learned everything about it. At 12, I could run the whole projection booth.
“But pop music was my entry into movies. I started off in England in the late ’50s with my own group, the John Barry 7. I was the trumpet player and we performed a mix of jazz, pop, rock — everything.
“Then I became musical director of EMI. There was a guy called Adam Faith and we had several #1 hits in England.” Along with Billy Fury and Cliff Richards, Faith was a rare, homegrown British rocker. “Adam was asked to make a movie, and that was the first movie I scored.”
In 1962, John scored his fifth film, the first Bond adventure, which was called Dr. No. Contrary to popular belief, though, he didn’t write the famous Bond theme. “Somebody else wrote that, and I was brought in to arrange. I did a hell of a lot of arranging on it. I did the biggest arranging job ever in the history of the cinema. I’ll leave you to figure that one out by yourself.”
John’s still strongly associated with the Bond series. Indeed, he’s just scored the 25th Anniversary Bond flick, the eagerly awaited The Living Daylights, featuring the new 007: Timothy Dalton. Dalton, a superior actor to the glacial and aging Robert Moore, should come as a relief. John worked with Dalton on The Lion in Winter (for which the composer won an Oscar) and believes The Living Daylights is a vast improvement on the past several Bond pictures.
But Barry isn’t just Bond. The three-time Oscar winner (last for Out of Africa) is a highly-respected film and song composer in general (both ‘Born Free’ and ‘Goldfinger’ were hit singles), more than able to pick and choose his assignments. In fact, he walked off Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child. “They wanted a high adventure-type score and that’s what I gave them. Then they previewed it and discovered people wanted Tibetan Hills Cop. I’d done what was requested of me and wouldn’t do more.”
Incidentally, in recent years, Barry has worked with the likes of Duran Duran, A-ha and the Pretenders on various Bond songs. Since none of the above are personal favorites of mine, I’ll just give you a Barry catechism: “When you’re dealing with a group, you’re dealing with a situation already in progress. There’s a lot of in-house politics and that can make life difficult.” (Barry also had his ‘Goldfinger’ covered by Howard Devoto’s late Magazine, but the composer claims to have never heard it.)
The Living Daylights includes two Barry/Hynde compositions, for once actually integrated into the film. “It was a lot of hard work,” claims Barry, who still managed to complete the synthesizer-oriented score in five weeks. “A tough one.” So will Barry continue to score Bond films? “Jesus, I don’t know. It comes around every two or three years, so we’ll see then.”
You can be sure he’ll remain busy. Post-Daylights, Barry has scored the new Dylan/Fiona flick Hearts Of Fire and purchased John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, which he plans to produce. “It’s a new concept: essentially it’ll be an album first, a musical suite of the journey across America. Then it’ll be a series of videos directed by 12 very major directors. It could wind up quite interesting.”
Which is an understatement in relation to Barry’s extraordinary career.