Thunderbirds Thursday: Barry Gray’s Supersonic Symphonies

Thunderbirds may be famed for its futuristic worldbuilding, thrilling rescue scenarios, advanced puppetry, and ground-breaking special effects, but the series’ soundtrack is another crucial element to its success. The genius musical mind of the series’ composer, Barry Gray, ensured that Thunderbirds would be gifted an appropriately epic soundscape that enlivened the series’ awe-inspiring sense of scale. This Thunderbirds Thursday, and with the forthcoming concert, Stand By For Action! 2: Tunes of Danger, coming this weekend, we’re celebrating the musical contribution of Barry Gray!

A Musical Education

Musician and composer Barry Gray had been an integral member of the A.P. Films crew since the very early days of the company’s experiences of making puppet films. His first Anderson-related compositional work was scoring The Adventures of Twizzle, making his audible evolution between that and Thunderbirds all the more fascinating to listen to. From Twizzle’s gentle, nursery rhyme-esque stylings to the symphonic bombast of Thunderbirds, Barry’s musical contribution to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s body of work throughout the 1960s and 1970s remains undeniably impressive.

Barry came from a musical family background, quickly gaining a passion for musical performance and composition. His early professional work consisted of working for a London music publisher, producing orchestra and piano arrangements for radio, theatre, and variety performances. His extensive musical experiences continued during his service in World War II, and afterwards, he became the arranger for Dame Vera Lynn. In 1956, Roberta Leigh acquired Barry as the composer for her children’s TV series, The Adventures of Twizzle, to be produced by an up-and-coming production company that would eventually specialise in fantastically far-flung science fantasies filmed using puppets and miniature models.

Although The Adventures of Twizzle was Gerry Anderson’s first step into puppetry, for the far more experienced and versatile Barry, it was the start of a new avenue in an already illustrious career. Barry’s technical aptitude for music production and growing fascination with electronic music proved to be a perfect fit for Gerry’s own understanding and passion for filmmaking. A positive professional relationship soon flourished between the pair, with Barry going on to provide the scores for A.P. Films/Century 21 Productions’ body of work throughout the 1960s and early 70s.

Composing the Future

By the time Thunderbirds arrived in 1965, Barry’s musical style and the facilities at his disposal had evolved alongside many other elements of the Andersons’ puppet empire. Throughout the soundtracks of Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray, Barry continued to pursue electronic music mixed with his regular mixture of symphonic and percussive musical styles that was quickly becoming synonymous with the sci-fi creations of Gerry and Sylvia. His use of orchestras was growing as well, blossoming from a 24-piece orchestra for Stingray to a 38-piece orchestra for Fireball XL5.

The music of Thunderbirds is just as vital to the series’ creative foundations and eventual success as its writing, acting, directing, and other typical elements. For Thunderbirds, Barry utilises a swirling mixture of components: surging symphonies, blistering bursts of brass, and thundering percussion, all of which illustrate the suspenseful disaster-rescue action of the series. Thunderbirds‘ use of percussive rhythms in particular is a strong carryover from the musical DNA of Stingray‘s ‘Battle Stations’ alarm.

Thunderbirds‘ musical prowess isn’t restricted to the more dramatic side of things. A skilled keyboardist, Thunderbirds‘ music stretches into less intense areas, including sublime pastoral passages and jazzy, piano-led items. One wonders how much Virgil Tracy’s own pianistic talents were rooted in Barry’s own musical skills! All of this music showcases Barry’s natural and spellbinding musical abilities, but it also displays how well tuned-in he was to understanding the musical requirements of something like Thunderbirds. At the centre of many celebrated pieces of music composed for the series is the stirringly heroic Thunderbirds March, Barry’s most everlasting and beloved musical contribution to Thunderbirds.

One of Barry’s most ambitious soundtrack provisions for Gerry and Sylvia’s sci-fi puppet fantasies is surely the score to Thunderbirds Are Go. The emboldened, cinematic do-over of the classic Thunderbirds theme holds up tremendously well, but the grandiose Zero X theme is the film’s high watermark. Shooting Star, performed by Cliff Richard and the Shadows, is a pleasing reminder that Barry was just at home composing brilliantly catchy pop songs, too, as also evidenced by other memorable tunes such as Dangerous Game. Barry’s importance to the success of these productions would be crystalised in the filming of a live rendition of the Thunderbirds March for the film’s end credits, performed to stimulating effect by the Royal Marines.

Musical Legacy

Barry’s scores would continue up to the first series of Space: 1999. His work would increase in its eclecticism, matching the moods of each series perfectly: the globe-trotting espionage adventure of Thunderbird 6, the grimly intense attitude of Captain Scarlet, the quirky spy-fi of Joe 90, and The Secret Service, culminating in the swinging grooves of UFO and the cosmic surrealism of Space: 1999. However, Thunderbirds remains one of Barry Gray’s most enthralling and triumphant bodies of music, a perfect musical realisation of the series’ techno-disaster adventures.

You’ll be able to hear the music of Thunderbirds and several more of Barry’s astounding scores live this Saturday at Symphony Hall Birmingham with Anderson Entertainment’s forthcoming concert; Stand By For Action! 2: Tunes of Danger. Book your tickets now for this fantastic celebration of the musical worlds of Gerry Anderson!

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Written by
Fred McNamara

Atomic-powered writer/editor. Website editor at Official Gerry Anderson. Author of Flaming Thunderbolts: The Definitive Story of Terrahawks. Also runs Gerry Anderson comic book blog Sequential 21.

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