I was saddened to hear last week the news that John Barry had died. I saw that some of my "contemporaneous friends" had paid tribute to Barry and was reminded of how his work had soundtracked my early teenage years like, I suspect, many other mainly male teenagers in the '70s.
I still have the sheet music here for Barry's The Persuaders Theme from when I was about ten years old. The Persuaders was an adventure/thriller TV series with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis shown on UK TV in the early '70s. The original reason for my having the music was because I couldn't "get on" with the classical music my piano teacher was trying to teach me and so we came to a compromise where I'd try to learn theme tunes of my favourite TV programmes. Making some approximation to how The Persuaders Theme sounded seemed to conjure up the glamour and the excitement of the programme itself.
Playing the CD of The Persuaders Theme now is like using a time machine: it brings back how excited I was by that TV series. This was before YouTube, Blu-Ray, DVD, Laserdisc (what?), Video, Betamax (say what?) and so when a programme was being shown, that was it, you had to watch it. If you missed a programme or wanted to see it again, you hoped that it'd be shown again but there wasn't any guarantee: it was way before the prevalence of the number of repeats that we see now. Never had there been such familial resentment when you missed a favourite TV programme because you were forced to go out to some family do.
Now that we have the flexibility to choose when to watch something I wonder if television hasn't lost some of the impact it once had, except perhaps for sporting or dramatic news events. The pressure in those days to be somewhere at a certain time and watch "there and then" made it an event. The Persuaders, or for me, nearly any other similar adventure show, meant that for the length of that show you'd be completely captivated and you knew all your friends would be too. And in the case of The Persuaders, this enchantment always began with John Barry's music.
Roger Moore went on to play James Bond after being in The Persuaders and, of course, I also still have the sheet music for the Bond Theme too. Yes I know, Barry didn't write the Bond Theme, it was Monty Norman: Barry arranged it. Everybody knows that apart from Daybreak, the Breakfast TV programme.
Moore's first Bond film, Live and Let Die, wasn't actually soundtracked by Barry but by George Martin of The Beatles fame. It was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema, at Reading's Odeon, in Cheapside, now sadly a block of flats. I remember how I'd oggle at the film poster and the stills of the film as I passed by outside and was excited when my grandmother bought me the paperback of the novel with the same picture of the poster on its cover. My Uncle Tony took his daughter and me to the film: what an event that was for a ten year old, it was so exciting. And of course in a way, in those days, watching a film at the cinema was just as much a "one-off" event as television, unless you were able to return during the film's run, were lucky enough to have your own projector (you could actually buy 8mm copies of films in those days) or the film returned sometime in the future as part of a double bill. There were no thoughts at the back of your head saying: "I'll get this on Blu-Ray".
A year later, everything was Kung Fu crazy, particularly me. Bruce Lee was all the rage and there was an American TV series Kung Fu, which for me had filled the gap left by The Persuaders series ending. The next Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun, was soundtracked by John Barry and had a martial arts angle to it too. I was desperate to see it. As a special treat (i.e. I was playing up) once again Uncle Tony kindly obliged and took me to see it.
Around this time, one Saturday morning my (other) grandmother phoned and asked what I'd wanted for my birthday. I'd seen in the newspaper a record: James Bond's Greatest Hits. The cover was in the style of the Live and Let Die and The Man with The Golden Gun posters with a few stills from the movies. The album included the song "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings (surely one of the best "song" Bond themes?) and of course the Bond Theme itself. That's what I'd like please.
It came to my birthday and as I unwrapped my grandmother's present I did my best to hide my initial disappointment: it wasn't the record I'd seen in the newspaper. But then I realised how this one seemed to be so much better. The Bond Collection was a double album, opened out like a book and had pictures of stills, premieres and posters from the pre-Moore Bond films. This must've been the deluxe deluxe DELUXE version! How luxurious and special it seemed, and I prize it still today. I'd been too young to see the pre-Moore Bond films at the cinema but I'd listen to those records, look at the pictures and imagine what they were like.
Interestingly, the Bond films are now frequently shown on television even before teatime in the UK. Much was made of their UK TV premieres and I still have the scrapbook with some of the newspaper and magazine cuttings of the time. This was before video-recorders had become commonplace and so once again, certainly for me, this was "event TV". I even remember where I was when I first saw Dr NO (the first Bond film): it was 7:30 in the evening; my father and I had just moved house and I'd only started a new school that week - just after Autumn half-term. Everything was brand new to me, a completely different and new life. Yet, amongst all this newness, watching DR. NO for the first time is one of the things I still remember, soundtracked of course, by John Barry's arrangements and music.
The remaining pre-Moore Bond films were subsequently shown on UK TV at about six monthly intervals over the next three years. Although I was progressing through adolescence and starting to develop "other priorities" each TV premiere of a Bond film continued to be a "special event", each finally completing or rewriting the picture of what I had already imagined. I knew I'd missed out seeing the films at the cinema on their release but this was the next best thing.
Controversially, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS) is my favourite Bond film. I think the story works well, the characters are believable, and the set pieces, particularly the finale, don't seem to be shoehorned in. It's also the film with my favourite John Barry soundtrack; the OHMSS theme tune stood out amongst all the other tracks before I'd seen the films. I also don't think the much-maligned George Lazenby did as bad a job as some make out. In fact as I watched the film last night, I was struck by the vulnerability that he brought to the role. For example, if you watch him as he sits and hides on the skating rink from his pursuers, he has this all-pervasive look of loss, as if to say, "I've had it". I don't think a Bond had ever looked so lost, or so human, except perhaps for the same film's brave, sad, apparently hated, ending where he has lost. I think they tried to do something similar with Daniel Craig's Casino Royale and although good, didn't quite pull it off.
A few years later, as I progressed through my teenage years and started what appears to be a lifelong study into heartache and lust, I became entranced by Roxy music. I'd been aware of Roxy and Bryan Ferry before then but I don't think it was until the single Dance Away that I was drawn in. Dance Away was from the album Manifesto, their first album after a four-year hiatus. It's a matter of opinion but this second phase of Roxy is not considered their best. It's almost analogous to how some consider that the pre-Moore Bond films are superior to the later ones.
And what of the "superior" first-phase Roxy? I was too late. I'd missed the halcyon, mythological, formulative days by almost ten years and I was only able to glean something from a few books that were published during this "second phase". There was a dearth of information and I would devour any interview that I was lucky enough to come across. Of course the music and the albums themselves should have been enough but Roxy were so stylish and conjured up such magnificent images that, along with the stories about Ferry, you wanted to find out more. For me it was like the pre-Moore Bond films all over again: I had to build up my own picture of what it was all about.
Of course, these days with the internet, it would have been so much easier: old performances and interviews from all over the world can be found. A reminder though of the "here and now" mindset of yesteryear is the elusive recording of their performance of Pyjamarama on Top of the Pops circa '73. In those days broadcast tape was so expensive that TV companies had to re-use it and apparently that particular performance was recorded over and "lost forever", though I suspect it'll turn up one day.
In fact not only can old performances can be found but last week footage of Roxy's current tour was posted by concert-goers almost barely before the sweat could have dried. I know it's not true for everyone but I wonder if technology is not encouraging our general morphing of the "here and now" mindset into a "keep forever" or "I must share this" one, and if it doesn't somehow detract from our enjoyment of the "experience", the "event" itself.
So tonight is possibly the final ever Roxy show in the UK. For most hard core fans the setlist has been a dream: for the more casual fan (and some journalists) perhaps less so. But for both groups let me encourage you to party in the "here and now" like it is 1975 again, for it might be your last chance. And for you future-proofers, don't worry, there's going to be a DVD anyway.
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