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July 1, 2011
John Barry: The Memorial Concert
Composer of Goldfinger, Born Free is remembered by sold-out crowds at Royal Albert Hall by Jon Burlingame

Photograph by Marilee Bradford

LONDON—Composer John Barry, whose music for James Bond films as well as epics like Out of Africa made him England's most beloved film composer, was eulogized as a supreme melodist and film-score innovator at a memorial concert June 20 attended by more than 5,000 at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall.

The two-and-a-half-hour event, which featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, actors Michael Caine and Timothy Dalton, singer Shirley Bassey and Beatles producer George Martin, was a fundraiser for the Royal College of Music, which has established a "John Barry Scholarship for Film Composition" in memory of the five-time Oscar winner.

Nicholas Dodd conducted the 84 musicians in more than a dozen Barry themes including Goldfinger, Born Free, Midnight Cowboy, Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, Body Heat and Somewhere in Time. But it was the 15-minute "James Bond Suite" – including such Sean Connery classics as Thunderball and You Only Live Twice – that brought the crowd to its feet.

Dame Shirley Bassey then delivered theatrical renditions of two early Bond songs that she had introduced: Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. They were met with wild cheers and bouquets of flowers, demonstrating how much Barry's themes still resonate more than 40 years later.

Excerpts from documentaries in which Barry talked about his rock 'n' roll past and his approach to film scoring were interspersed throughout the evening.

Nicholas Dodd leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the theme from <i>Midnight Cowboy</i>.

Nicholas Dodd leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the theme from Midnight Cowboy.
Photograph by Marilee Bradford

Caine, who had planned to attend but was stuck elsewhere shooting the next Batman film, sent a video message in which he became visibly moved while talking about the man he called "one of my closest and oldest friends."

Caine recalled crashing at Barry's pad in 1964 and being kept awake all night while the composer worked out some new film theme at the piano. "I was the first person to hear 'Goldfinger,'" he said, "and I heard it all night."

TV personality Michael Parkinson referred to Barry's "intuitive understanding of how to create the perfect union of music and the moving image," while lyricist Don Black (who, with Barry, won an Oscar for the theme song to Born Free and later penned the words to 007 title tunes for Thunderball and Diamonds) said that the dashing young composer, with his taste for the good life, was widely perceived during London's Swinging Sixties as "the coolest man on the planet."

Ex-007 Dalton called Barry "a kind and generous man, warm and funny," before reading an excerpt from John O'Donohue's Eternal Echoes (the title of Barry's last concept album). Sir George Martin – another old friend from their early '60s days as record producers at EMI – recalled first hearing Barry's "startling and wonderful" arrangement of the "James Bond Theme" that catapulted him into the forefront of young film composers.

Dame Shirley Bassey sings the theme from <i>Goldfinger</i>.

Dame Shirley Bassey sings the theme from Goldfinger.
Photograph by Marilee Bradford

British pop star Rumer sang "We Have All the Time in the World" from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Welsh tenor Wynne Evans (a last-minute substitute for the ailing Alfie Boe) performed "Ave Maria" with the orchestra. Among the other Barry themes performed were The Knack, Zulu, The Ipcress File, "Remembering Chet" from Playing by Heart, and the title track from The Beyondness of Things.

The composer's widow Laurie – who produced the event with longtime family friend, Bond film producer Barbara Broccoli – appeared at the end of the evening, along with son Jonpatrick Barry, to thank the crowd.

David Arnold, who in 1997 succeeded Barry as Bond's primary composer with Tomorrow Never Dies, made a rare public appearance as a performer by singing and playing guitar on one of Barry's last compositions, a song titled "Tick the Days Off One by One." He later joined the RPO for an encore: the Barry arrangement of the "James Bond Theme."

Arnold spoke warmly of their friendship in recent years, and of "the elegant ease with which he could write a melody." Added Arnold: "Some people see a Picasso and want to be a painter. I heard John Barry and I wanted to be a film composer."

©2011 Jon Burlingame
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