There’s a marked difference between the epic sound of Barry Gray’s scores during the mid- to late-sixties versus the early years (1957-1964), even though he worked almost exclusively for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
If scores such as the Thunderbirds feature films (Thunderbird Are GO and Thunderbird 6) and the sci-fi thriller Journey to the Far Side of the Sun / Doppelganger (1969) were big orchestral works, then the early material – Supercar (1961), Fireball XL5 (1962-1963), and Stingray (1964-1965) - were more orchestral pop, and tended to be written with far shorter running times.
The western flavour of Four Feather Falls (1960) is particularly jarring, but it’s entertaining for its freshness and sense of fun. The exoticism of tackling a western was furthered by the international sights and sounds of the Thunderbirds series (1965-1966), and the excerpted clips for the latter demonstrate Gray’s flair for lightly capturing other musical cultures while keeping an eye on a smooth orchestral sound – a standard element of his writing.
Even though Thunderbirds was starkly aimed at kids, the music (namely the CD’s two lengthy suites) was written with a direct focus on the drama, and never belittles the puppet characters, nor the formulaic plotlines involving spies, machinery, and countdowns. That series’ surprisingly big orchestral sound was definitely present in the theatrical diptych, whereas a pop sensibility and a theme song were strong elements of Captain Scarlet (1967). The heavy bass guitar was further augmented in Joe 90 (1968), with some spacey keyboards and a bopping rock beat.
The Secret Service (1969) is more orchestral lounge, with its wordless vocal, skittish beat and bell chimes, but it’s also a more tongue-in-cheek. The two sample cues bubble wit a breeziness and lightness, and are quite different from the jazz-rock tenor of UFO (1970-1971), with its Schifrinesque blend of drums, fat bass, and organ. There’s also a great small jazz combo version of the theme with drums, harpsichord, and beautiful improve on flute.
The last set of material in this collection is (naturally) devoted to Space: 1999 (1975-1976), the one series for which Gray is best remembered, even though the composer wasn’t asked to score the series’ second and final season.
The theme’s sharp electric guitar is pretty cheesy, but Gray’s theme is certainly a marvelous pioneering marriage between rock and orchestra, and while the show never really lived up to the romanticism and adventure present in Gray’s music, one gets an idea of how the show’s creators tried to juggle the impossible demands of multiple target audiences when the intellectual ideas and youthful visuals were offset by a line of toys for the kiddies. The cues in the assembled suites seem to be identical to the Gray-written cuts that appeared on the old RCA LP, minus the generic filler music that album’s editors used to bridge one short cue to another.
The best-sounding material (in full stereo) comes from the last two series, and the mono tracks for the older shows have been augment to ensure a balance among mid and high frequencies. As a sampler of Gray’s work, the Silva America album offers a good overview of Gray’s skills, and the changing musical styles he deftly adopted for later series, but the CD’s also helpful in deciding which related CDs to pick up, as all of the highlighted series (Four Feather Falls excepted) have their own full-length CDs, either via Silva or the limited Fanderson albums.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan