Barry Gray

sessions

Cathy Ford

to say that the music was a vital part or any of the Anderson shows would be stating the obvious. Yet, this particular area of production is probably the one we know least about. Over the years there have been very few articles on the subject and all of those approaching it from Barry Gray's perspective. In an attempt to remedy this, an introduction through Gerry put me in touch with Mr. Cyril Reuben who was a session musician in what we know as The Barry Gray Orchestra. Cyril introduced four more of his colleagues and a unique opportunity arose to look at the man and the music from the other side of the baton.

Over the years more than one hundred musicians worked on the Anderson shows, all of them uncredited, all of them unknown — until now. So, to begin, here are brief biographies of five people who contributed so much to the Anderson universe and the world of freelance music in general:

Gordon Lewin — clarinet, bass clarinet.

Gordon studied at The Royal Manchester College of Music from the age of 18, and first performed professionally with the Southport Municipal Orchestra. He moved to London after the war and can still remember his first job there, a review called Make It A Date with Max Wall at the Duchess Theatre. As well as many other shows, Gordon has also played for The Royal Ballet and in Paul Adams' jazz band, but after 12 years with the Television Orchestra under Eric Robinson he decided to go freelance. In the early 1980s he '...went very whole-heartedly into teaching', retiring from that about two years ago. Gordon joined Barry at the very begining in 1957 for The Adventures of Twizzle. His last work was on The Secret Service in 1969.

Tommy McQuater — trumpet.

A move to Glasgow from his native Ayreshire nearly stopped Tommy's career before it began. He had played with a small brass band but the move meant giving up and it was not until he went to a ballroom years later that he suddenly realised, 'Oh, I've got a trumpet!', and started playing again. In 1932, he joined a band known as Louis Freeman's Navy and spent the next two years entertaining passengers on trans-Atlantic liners. Three more bands took him to the war and, while in the RAF, Tommy became one of the founder members of The Squadronaires. On his return, Tommy went to work at the London Palladium. From there he joined the BBC Show Band, under Cyril Stapleton and later Jack Parnell. Tommy also had a long Gray/Anderson association which started with Supercar.

Cyril Reuben — baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and clarinet.

Cyril learnt much of his craft in the RAF, in both a proper military band and The Squadronaires dance band. He gleefully remembers getting out of 'square bashing' to play. On leaving the RAF, Cyril continued with dance bands, appearing with Jack Parnell and Geraldos. Over the years Cyril has toured the world with orchestras accompanying such stars as Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli and Shirley Bassey. He was also a member of the orchestra which appeared with Bing Crosby for his last concert at the Palladium. Cyril's recording credits are just as extensive, ranging from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to The Beatles. A decision to go freelance led to lot of film work, '...back when we had a film industry!'. Cyril first worked for Gray on Stingray and continued his Anderson association up to UFO.

Alan Hakin — percussion ('too numerous to mention with Barry writing!').

Having a percussion playing father and enjoying listening to Variety orchestras started Alan in music. He joined the Army in the King's Own Royal Lancasters Regiment, later transferring to the Coldstream Guards where he became principle of the band. On leaving the Army he joined Charlie Cheveral's Variety Orchestra which Alan remembers as a highlight in his career due to his childhood interest in such bands. 20 years with Jack Parneil at ATV gave Alan the chance to work on some 'marvellous shows' including all the episodes of The Muppet Show. His first fiim work was on the James Bond movie Doctor No. Now in semi-retirement, Alan still keeps his hand in with the occasional show, most recently Des O'Connor Tonight. Alan also joined Gray during the days of Stingray and can claim to be responsible for calling Marineville to battle stations! He has worked on most of the shows including Barry Gray's last: Space:1999 season one, and for Derek Wadsworth on season two.

Jim Buck — french horn.

Jim remembers being '...detailed to play the horn at the age of 14' as his father also played, although his mother started to teach him piano when he was seven. Eventually he was sent to the Academy of Music and on leaving there, spent his two years national service playing in a band. Jim has played with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, spent eight years with Yehudi Menuin's orchestra and has worked at The Royal Opera House which he left to go back to freelancing and better money! Whilst freelancing, Jim worked with several different orchestras and on a lot of films, including most of the James Bond series. He is now teaching. Jim has also worked on most of the Anderson shows from Stingray onwards.

The Barry Gray Orchestra, as most of us imagine it, never existed. The name was coined for use on the various records released during the height of Supermarionation. This was, of course, at the latter days of big bands and Barry Gray And His Orchestra or The Barry Gray Orchestra was simply a reflection of this.

These records were some of the few occasions where Gray actually conducted a full orchestra for the Anderson productions. Usually Barry employed small ensembles of session musicians, creating a line up to fit whatever he was writing. To find these people, Gray could have had the pick of thousands of session musicians who would advertise in the music press. But that was not his way — he always called on people he knew and felt comfortable with. Aware of these musicians' capabilities, Gray knew who would be best for a particular session. If someone was not available, Barry trusted the advice of his other musicians to find a replacement. By the time Thunderbirds was in production, a small core of 'regulars' were established for the recording of the incidental music which Barry would call together every couple of weeks or so as new episodes came along. This group would average three woodwind, three percussion, two trombones, two trumpets and a horn, sometimes supplemented by a small string section. These Jim remembers as being '...a varied bunch who seemed to be changing all the time!' The changes, though, would have been recommended by the regular string leader, George French.

Barry organised all of his recording sessions himself. Initially he would contact the musicians by phone, as did any other Musical Director. Then, a couple of days before the session, Barry would send everyone a card with a reminder of the date, written in his instantly recognisable copperplate. More often than not, the card would also carry a little caricature of a musician carrying an appropriate instrument. 'lt made you feel a little bit special,' said Cyril.

If Gray's hiring methods were unique, his recording sessions were more so! With the exception of film and record work and the later series credits music, all of the Anderson music was recorded at Barry's home. At his first house in Dollis Hill, one room was the recording studio and another the sound studio, where the musicians sat. The house was sound-proofed with egg boxes, even the hall was lined with them. These arrangements lasted from Twizzle to Thunderbirds, but during the production of Captain Scarlet, he moved to a larger house in Esher and converted rooms into a professional studio. Neither of these studios would accommodate a full orchestra, so if an orchestrated sound was required, it would have to be recorded in its seperate sections and Barry would overlay all the tracks to create the finished piece.

Easy atmosphere

Although these sessions are fondly remembered as being very sociable, even down to Barry's mother brewing tea for the interval, everyone was there to work, and work they did. A session would be three hours long, usually 10am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm or 6pm to 9pm. No one recalls the sessions as being pressurised even though everything had to be finished in those three short hours. This was achieved through the skill of both musicians and composer. Session musicians do not rehearse — they are hired, arrive at the date, and play. Their skill is based not only on their playing ability, but in sight reading — that is, being able to read the music and interpret it simultaneously, even though they have never seen it before. As Gordon recalls of session playing, 'You had no idea, when you went in, if you were going to find something that was easy to play or a virtuoso piece. It could be anything, but you were expected to sit down, look at it, (and play). First time through there might be an odd mistake. Second time through it had to be right. Third time through it was in the can and that was that.' Barry's sessions were no different.

What did make those sessions different was Barry himself. His approach towards, and understanding of, his musicians made an important contribution to the easy atmosphere remembered by all five musicians. Sessions always got off to a good start with a chat over a leisurely set up. 'It was a social occasion as well,' says Cyril. Jim summed it up: 'There wasn't any aggro if something went wrong, whereas with other people there's always some excuse for aggravation. It's partly a way of getting rid of stress, but one doesn't remember ever experiencing stress on one of Barry's dates. If he asked you to play something that was quite awkward or difficult to play, you would always get another chance. If a string broke or a valve of something, he just waited while you fixed it. Anybody else would be tearing up the wall.'

Any pressure that may have been on Barry, from producers or directors, never filtered back down to the sessions. Gordon recalls that they would occasionally duplicate a session, 'presumably for the same sequence or episode', but they were never bothered with why. Conducting was another skill Barry Gray got just right for his players. Flamboyant, arm-waving conductors get in the way and can inhibit musicians by their lack of diplomacy. Gray, however, is remembered as being 'very efficient' and 'unobtrusive', a 'working man's' conductor who gave a steady beat. He probably perfected this technique years before, during his time at Blackburn Cathedral, where he would have learned that conducting a choir needs a clear beat.

Orchestration and arranging

Barry's music has an unquestionable appeal to both its sound and use. Even today, all these years later, the music for Thunderbirds still works. It is still just right for the series, both suiting and expressing the scene. Jim mentions that the music is very popular with brass and military bands, probably due to its broad rhythms. He says, 'I've played them myself with bands and they come out well. It's a great art to write something that is playable and sounds good.'

So, does Barry's music have a particular style? The answer is both yes and no. 'lf you listen to the Thunderbirds theme there is definitely a particular sound to it,' said Alan. 'lf you think of the intensity of it. A lot of people have tried to copy that, but that was Barry.' Yet, on the down side, Barry only really worked in film and television music. Sadly, he left us nothing else such as a musical, a review or even a suite for light orchestra with which to compare. Although his sound is unique within its sphere, we do not have a broad enough spectrum of composition to identify the true Barry Gray.

So the session ended. Just enough time for another cup of Mrs. Gray's tea, a final chat and a play in the garden with Barry's radio controlled car. Alan remembers arriving at Barry's Esher home on one occasion to find there wasn't even a session in the first place, but a game of snooker! Even if it were a studio session with a big orchestra, it may have lacked 'home comforts' but never the friendly atmosphere. 'And they were exciting, weren't they?', smiles Cyril.

text © Cathy Ford
article originally published in FAB #15