Five-time Oscar-winning film composer John Barry made his first live concert appearance in 24 years, wowing a sellout crowd of admirers Saturday night at this venerable London venue. The remarkably diverse audience ranged from elderly appreciators of melodic orchestral music to Barry’s new following of young hipsters just tuning in to the retro ’60s sounds of his James Bond scores.
The specific occasion was last week’s U.K. release of Barry’s new Decca album, the non-film-related “Beyondness of Things,” although selections from that collection of instrumentals made up just 18 minutes of the concert’s 2-1/2-hour duration. The vast majority of material consisted of movie themes spanning his more than 35 years as the leading British-born film composer.
The 87-piece English Chamber Orchestra, which has performed several of Barry’s recent scores, played with precision in the acoustically superb Royal Albert Hall. Barry, whose last public conducting assignments were at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973 and in Japan in 1974, proved an expressive conductor.
Opening with the sassy trumpets of “Goldfinger,” his biggest Bond hit, Barry recast many of his most familiar themes in grand symphonic arrangements, including “Born Free,” “Out of Africa” and “Midnight Cowboy,” the latter featuring veteran L.A. harmonica player Tommy Morgan. He closed the first half with a long (22 minutes) suite from “Dances With Wolves,” making the second half seem much livelier with jazzy versions of ’60s cult films like “The Ipcress File” and “The Knack,” and a rousing finale of seven classic 007 themes including the original “James Bond Theme,” “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice.”
Actor and longtime Barry pal Michael Caine introduced both halves of the concert with anecdotes about their past. Barry spoke only briefly, introducing a handful of pieces including “Moviola” (originally written for “The Prince of Tides,” a theme Barbra Streisand “didn’t like,” he said) and three cues from his romantic new score for “Swept From the Sea,” which (retitled as “Amy Foster”) is about to open in England.
Surprising audience favorites were the dramatic “Space March” from “You Only Live Twice” and his ’70s TV theme “The Persuaders”; encore was “The Girl With the Sun in Her Hair,” waltz-tempo jingle for a shampoo commercial that ran for years in the U.K.
Lighting design was problematic throughout, with distracting attempts at following the tempo with rock-style colored spots and a meaningless pseudo-psychedelic look for “The Persuaders.”
Musically, the show was a stunning showcase for Barry’s diverse canon; organizers hinted that Saturday’s concert may be the prelude to a European tour later this year.