Sunday, 4 October 2009

Indestructible


Despite their classic status, Gerry Anderson’s hugely popular TV shows of the sixties creak a little in our whizz bang age, now seeming somewhat slow moving and stilted. Forty years on, however, The music of Barry Gray (pictured here with some fans) sounds just as dynamic and exciting as ever, and whether it’s the pounding drums and blaring horns of ‘Stingray’, the strident brass of ‘Thunderbirds’ or the dancefloor filling psych-pop of ‘Joe 90’, Gray’s unforgettable music still hits the proverbial spot.

Born in 1908, Gray had a long and varied career as a writer and arranger before joining Anderson’s fledgling production company AP in 1956. Initially working on charming but unsophisticated shows like ‘Twizzle the Battery Boy’ and ‘Four Feather Falls’, Gray was on hand to help Anderson make the evolutionary journey from puppet shows to Supermarionation, providing progressively ambitious music for Anderson’s increasingly complex shows.

In an era when TV themes were knocked out in ten minutes (and kids’s TV themes knocked out in five), Gray always insisted on using a full orchestra, supplemented with the occasional pop session musician or vocal group, and utilised a variety of unusual instruments seldom heard at mainstream sessions.

Gray’s favourite instrument was the Ondes Martenot, an otherworldly sounding organ / theremin hybrid that he used on his memorable scores for the two unmemorable ‘Dr Who’ spin off films starring Peter Cushing, as well as in the famous leitmotif for the sinister Mysterons in ‘Captain Scarlet’ (incidentally, how downbeat is ‘Captain Scarlet’? The body count is enormous.). Most effectively perhaps, he put its otherworldly sound at the forefront of his score for Anderson’s first all live action series, ‘UFO’ (1970), providing a brilliant mix of the groovy and the eerie, and a fantastically energetic title theme that I have asked to be played at my funeral.

After twenty years of successful collaboration, Gray and Anderson fell out over (of all things) the theme music for ‘Space 1999’, and they never worked together again. Gray died in 1984 at the age of 76.

Some memorable tracks from a long and fruitful career: 'Winged Assassin' from 'Captain Scarlet’ (a sort of Gray 101 in that it features most of the recurring motifs of his style), future raga 'Atonement' from the first series of 'Space 1999', the totally brilliant 'UFO' theme tune and the ethereal closing music from the same series, Ondes Martenot present and correct and creepy.

8 comments:

Dom1 said...

I'm enjoying your blog, thank you. Tremendous articles that are both literate and funny. Jack Hargreaves, Vince Taylor and John Betjeman, what a dinner party that would be.

Reimer said...

I share your awe at the 'UFO' end-title music - it still makes me shudder, and sums up the very-UK post-psychedelic creepy possibilities that sometimes came to the surface in the clunky show.

Same cue (almost) turns up in a fanastically-eerie scene in Anderson's 'Doppelganger/JTTFSOTS' film, 'UFO's clunky sibling.

Any chance of a Jack Hargreaves audio clip?

ta

R

Unmann-Wittering said...

I'll see what I can do about getting Hargreaves to speak from beyond the grave. Are you most interested in fish, dogs, horses or the general countryside?

Reimer said...

not too fussed, though I like dogs best. Is that Jack on your 'Hedge' track? He sounds a bit posh for a countryman. It IS a long time since seeing him on TV whilst Mum was cooking Sunday lunch.

Unmann-Wittering said...

Jack was posher than he liked us to think. Before being on telly he had been a Major in the war and an editor of men's magazines. Until I can sort out a doggy post, can you make do with a fishy post?

Try cutting and pasting this --

http://www.divshare.com/download/8823935-0a1

For all you will EVER need to know about The Grayling.

Reimer said...

Cheers for that. Reminds me to dip into a book about Eels I got cheap.

These "men's magazines" he was involved with...did her ever use his rambles to pass on wisdom over where to discreetly dispose of a wank-mag stash, or on the best picnic-spot car-parks for dogging?

Unmann-Wittering said...

I don't believe he did, but not going public with the information doesn't mean he didn't know. For the record, porn can only be disposed of legally in the woods, or anywhere near a railway line.

Anonymous said...

Hi

The title theme is good, but dated. The closing music is another thing entirely - it still sounds like space to me.

Thanks

Regards