Film composer John Barry, famous for his James Bond themes, has died at the age of 77. Here David Arnold – who also composed music for Bond films – pays tribute to his friend and idol
I first heard John Barry’s music when I was eight years old, watching You Only Live Twice on an old 16mm projector. It was the first Bond film I’d seen, and within five minutes, his arrangement had me hooked. The music moved me profoundly – and has gone on doing so throughout my life.
It’s music that goes directly to your core. That’s why you hear it at weddings, funerals, birthday parties. John Barry’s work has affected us all – it’s been on the radio since the 60s, on adverts, on the films we watch with our families at Christmas. He gets to your home, he gets to your heart, he gets to your head.
When I got the chance to produce new versions of John Barry’s scores, it was like touching the hem of God’s frock. I can’t approach his talent. His music is extraordinarily elegant – it feels simple but it’s actually harmonically complicated. His melodies are very demanding to sing, but they sound so natural. That’s his genius.
But what people overlook these days is that he didn’t just write film scores, he had chart hits too, with the John Barry Seven. He even played the NME Awards in the 60s. He understood the economy of writing a great tune. That’s what set him apart from other film composers. Within the first twenty seconds you know immediately it’s a John Barry composition.
His best score? I really couldn’t pick one, though obviously at a time like this I’m drawn to the symphonic sadness of soundtracks such as Mary Queen Of Scots. It’s one of the most elegant and moving melodies he ever wrote.
I first met John in 1995 and we became friends. We spoke every couple of weeks, and he was such good company. As well as an extraordinary love of music, he also had an extraordinary catalogue of stories. He could tell you tales over a champagne cocktail that would make your jaw drop – none of which I could possibly repeat.
He knew everyone. In the 60s he shared a flat in Chelsea with Michael Caine. He lived the life of a hundred men. Thank God we gave so much amazing music to remember him by. He was a real master, and he will go on influencing musicians for a long time. It’s a profoundly sad loss.
David Arnold produced ‘Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project’, an album featuring new versions of the themes from various James Bond films, in 1997