As you’ve no doubt guessed if you’ve been reading this blog since I started it, I love soundtrack music. This is one of the reasons I never put my music on shuffle and play it without earphones – there is too much soundtrack and classical music in my library for many people’s tastes, so I keep it out of the way. However, I’m not afraid to write about it!
A while ago after the death of Gerry Anderson, I was up late (again) and found my way into the extremely ephemeral part of YouTube, only to stumble upon this little gem:
Of course, that’d only be a gem if dung were considered to be a precious stone. The new music, poor recording standards and complete lack of expression of the new voices, and unnecessary script changes annoyed me. I shared it with my siblings, who, whilst nowhere near as interested in Thunderbirds as I was (am?), all agreed it was just terrible. Indeed, my sister made an interesting point – “It’s actually unbelievably bad; I just don’t understand how this ISN’T a spoof. It’s amazing how important the voices and music were to making the show bearable.”
As is usually the case when my sister makes observations, she was dead right. The voice acting is certainly key to bringing the puppets to life, but if it weren’t all underscored by appropriately dramatic music, it wouldn’t feel right. When action in Thunderbirds and its related shows isn’t accompanied by music, you notice, and it often seems odd. Part of this is because the music, like so much in these shows, was of an extremely high quality.
Barry Gray (1908-1984) composed music for all of Gerry Anderson’s productions, starting with the little known Adventures of Twizzle in 1957, and ending with the first series of Space:1999 in 1975. Gray always had access to superior resources – Anderson would lavish huge amounts of ITV money on his productions, and as a consequence the session orchestras for many of the Anderson programs consisted of at least 40 musicians. For the film, Thunderbirds Are GO! (1966), the orchestra swelled to a massive 70 musicians, and good grief, do you notice it.
Hear the difference between the TV show recording…
…and this hugely symphonic arrangement from the film.
Thunderbirds (1965) follows the thrilling adventures of International Rescue, a secret organisation dedicated to saving lives when all conventional methods of rescue are exhausted. This premise called for impressive, full-on heroic soundtrack composition, and Gray contributes this in droves. There are currently two CDs on the market containing a great amount of Gray’s work for Thunderbirds, and much of it is still unreleased!
I was fortunate to be a trumpet player when I was at school, and so any soundtrack that had a heavy emphasis on brass never dissatisfied me. So, not only was Thunderbirds the coolest thing eight year old me had ever seen, the following year I would be able to dream about actually playing its music!
My parents and family were very indulgent (fortunately), and so when ten year old me discovered that the internet was a marvellous repository of Barry Gray’s music and I began playing it all the time, I was humoured and rarely told to turn it off. This attachment to the Anderson shows and their music has stayed with me to this day – and amazingly, so has my family.
Gray’s ability to compose across a multitude of genres – science fiction, action, drama and the inevitable corny jokes of any Anderson show – speaks to his massive flexibility and innovation in his music. Gray was a key advocate of the Ondes Martinot, a French modification to the theremin that was controlled by a keyboard. Becoming a pioneer in electronic music, Gray would eventually be highly sought after for his talents in the spacey sounds department. His use of bongos through many of his action cues does, admittedly, date his scores somewhat, but they are no less effective in conveying fast moving excitement. What train of danger…
…or crashing plane…
…in a film today is accompanied by fanatic bongos and frenetic strings? Not to mention the amazing brass!
Unafraid to experiment with various styles, Gray’s scores are laced with disgustingly French accordion music…
…lush Arabic chord progressions (some time before Maurice Jarre’s impressive score for Lawrence of Arabia I might add)…
…funky plane-tracking bossa nova beats…
…and straight out, unabashed heroism.
Of course, this is only Thunderbirds. Throughout his association with Gerry Anderson, Gray continued to use and refine his techniques and styles. There is a sense of continuity between programmes due to the re-use of music from earlier scores in later ones, and also a re-use of stylistic motifs. I would argue his best music was written for Stingray (1963) and Thunderbirds, but there are scores (pun!) of great pieces from all Gray’s Anderson works.
Because I saw Thunderbirds before Star Wars or even James Bond, I credit that programme directly for my interest in soundtrack music. Finally, the sounds of Barry Gray inspired me as a musician, and I owe him a lot.
Including this earworm, which has been stuck in my head at least once a week since 2001. But seriously, thanks, Mr Gray.