A collection of John Barry film music, focusing primarily on the score for the 1970 Nicolas Roeg
The Walkabout title theme is unmistakably Barryesque with those bitter-sweet qualities he
so often manages to invest into his music and these darker undercurrents are further explored
in 'The Children' with its slightly portentous tone, incorporating the nursery rhyme
'Who Killed Cock Robin'. Other notable cues would certainly be 'Night in the Outback',
an evocative piece, employing a telling string and voice motif that creates a strong
sense of anticipation and unrest, while 'Together at Sunrise' features an affecting,
poetic theme that lingers in the memory.
Despite the fact that there's only just over twenty-seven minutes of music, this is
a rather fascinating work with many disparate influences and styles that remind the
listener of a whole array of other Barry soundtracks. Everything from Bond to
Mary Queen of Scots to things like King Rat and even Born Free seem to surface as
the score shifts from one mood to another. It's really all very accomplished and
the composer appears to have delved deep into his formidable bag of tricks to conjure
up something just a little different. A moving, at times enigmatic work that deserves attention.
Supplementing this are a number of themes and suites from various other Barry films,
beginning with the 'Main Title/The Game's Afoot' from the George C. Scott starring
They Might be Giants (1971). After a rather low-key opening, a catchy march-like
theme takes over and although this was a score that Barry only supplied the thematic
material for (due to his workload on the musical Billy), it still retains his unique stamp.
In contrast 'Moviola' is actually a rejected theme from The Prince of Tides (1991)
(after disagreements with star/director Barbra Streisand) which was eventually adapted
for the Imax 3D film Across the Sea of Time (1995). A solid example of characteristic
Barry dark romanticism, there's always the suggestion of not only great highs but
potentially just as greater lows.
Going back a little further in time, the title theme from The Chase (1966) which starred
luminaries Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, has a very dramatic opening in
the best Bond tradition, but surprises when it develops into a memorably catchy, harmonica
led pseudo western theme. A radical change of pace though is found in
'Curiouser and Curiouser/You've Gotta Know When to Stop/The Me I Never Knew',
a suite from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972). Barry wrote some very nice
melodies for this all-star adaptation of Lewis Carol's classic children's tale and
personally I feel his work on the production is often underrated. This relatively
brief cue gives you at least a taster of his work, but I would recommend trying to track
down the complete score if possible.
The 'Main Title/Love Theme' from The Betsy (1978) proves that the soundtrack was undoubtedly
the best thing about this version of Harold Robbins' soapy best-seller, although unsurprisingly
given the quality of the material, the musical accompaniment is competent rather than inspired.
Another well-known work (although a play this time) of a somewhat higher calibre is
The Corn is Green and Barry provided the music when it was remade for American television
in 1979 starring Katherine Hepburn. The central theme is a simple, somewhat sentimental
piece and it's probably fair to say this is a lesser Barry work, but all the same it's never
anything less than agreeable. 1984's Paris set romantic drama Until September has a far more
interesting theme and is thankfully free of mush, something this composer has a wonderful
knack of avoiding. Even his most overtly romantic works like the wonderful Somewhere in Time
manage to steer clear of the cloying simplicity that many other composers seem to fall back on.
Finally, the suite 'Main Title/The Kidnap/The Ransom/End Title' from Bryan Forbes'
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) has a slightly jazzy, enormously atmospheric feel that
highlights Barry's innovation and originality. Here he utilises flutes and piccolos backed
by instruments like harp and xylophone to give the score a haunting, almost otherworldly quality.
Very classy stuff. Incidentally the middle section is quite reminiscent of Wildred Josephs'
rejected theme for the TV masterpiece The Prisoner (although it still turned up in several
episodes as incidental music).
What really makes this more than worthwhile as a purchase is all of the bonus material that
is included on the disk. Not only is there the fine score for Walkabout, but these other
themes and suites make up a very attractive and satisfying overall package, efficiently
performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring the Crouch End Festival
Chorus and conducted by Nic Raine.
Paul Tonks adds:-
In all but name, this is essentially Silva's Classic John Barry Volume 4
(you may recall they didn't subtitle last year's Zulu as the Volume 3 it clearly
was either). The hook this time is the premiere recording of the surreal 1971
movie Walkabout. For new collectors, the addition of They Might Be Giants,
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, The Betsy, The Corn Is Green, and
Sťance On A Wet Afternoon will also be a draw.
Launching straight into the half hour suite from the title piece, it's a lovely
surprise to hear a harpsichord straight away. It becomes one of the ways in which
Barry's traditional romantic style is skewed to suit the surreal nature of director
Nicholas Roeg's odd tale. Another way is the irregular dropping in of a chorus to
enigmatically quote verses from the 'Who Killed Cock Robin?' children's song. The
suite twists and turns in time to the picture's unpredictability, and leads to what
must be a one-off in Barry's oeuvre; the unusual interpolation of didgeridoo beneath
strings and piano in the cue "The Deserted Settlement / The Final Dance".
They Might Be Giants is an interesting immediate follow-up since both pieces joined
together exhibit something uncharacteristic for Barry. The "Main Title"
is rather kooky in its synth-aided tick-tock beat, and "The Game's Afoot"
is a stiff upper Brit military march. Thankfully, the booklet notes acknowledge that
Ken Thorne was called upon to adapt what little material Barry could supply in-between
being hard at work on the Billy stage musical.
The album's second half may hold less appeal to the listener, as the concise suites
seem to flit by. The City of Prague's recording of Moviola is faster than Barry's
own for starters! There are lots of fun tricks to mickey-mouse the screen during
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, and we do end on a high with the minimalist
approach to Sťance On A Wet Afternoon. But up to then the string section really
will seem to have earned its fee by one lush peak-and-trough combination after another.
The Betsy offers the most gorgeous of these romantic love-like themes and has some
particularly nice moments for horn and harp.
At 4 volumes, this series is comprehensive enough. Let's hope that any number 5
can avoid the slight over-familiarity this latest has allowed to creep in.