Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Think of the Thunderbirds theme in your head. Now imagine it being deafeningly performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra. That was my evening tonight.

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Barry Gray was the guy who composed the music for Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball XL5, Joe 90... basically all those sort of shows. (ones made by genre-legend Gerry Anderson) His music could be magical, doom-laden, or as racing as Thunderbird 1, and before tonight I had to wonder what the point was of listening to a live performance of it. Surely no new arrangement of his work could possibly top the ones that he himself had recorded?

Well, I'm not enough of a fan to judge, but the opportunity to experience his background music taking-centre stage was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And so it was that this evening I sat at the back of London's Royal Festival Hall as the performance opened with the Century 21 ident. This was the branding-jingle that Gerry Anderson's TV shows used to open with, and when that single shrill violin-note sliced through the tops of everyone's consciousnesses, before plunging all the way down to ground beneath our seats, you knew that the evening was to be a labour of love.

Genre-actor Brian Blessed picked his way excitedly across the stage to introduce the festivities. Being the notoriously loud Brian Blessed, I had to wonder if he was going to bother with using a microphone tonight, and in retrospect it's a good job he did. After all, even his booming voice would have a fight to be heard against the music of Barry Gray.

Blessed's enthusiastic persona appeared to be just that however. Sticking to his script, he made several errors, (including twice calling Space 1999 just "Space 99") but never failed to be a pleasure anyway. Let's face it, he's Brian Blessed - he can do no wrong.

I guess I take these things apart too much. It's tough to stage a one-off charity concert and find performers who are all aficionados on the subject, so when the vocal band Voces8 tackled their first number Supercar, I found I was scrutinising them carefully for any trace of singing-down to us. I found none – they were great performers who knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, any early doubts that I had had about their ability were well and truly dispelled when they actually made it to the end of the closing music of Fireball XL5 without getting cut-off by a Thames TV logo. After that impressive feat, they could do no wrong.

Turn over to BBC-1 now, no more programme to see here.
Fig. 1: This didn't happen.

Next up Voces8 tackled Gray's commercial single Robot Man, for which they clearly got the joke, and from then on it was TV heaven all the way.

After a suite from Four Feathers Falls came incidental music from the Thunderbirds episode Terror In New York City, synchronised with footage from the episode on a screen. I guess it was inevitable that having in recent years watched both silent movies and cartoons with a live orchestral soundtrack, next it would have to be puppets.

Then it was the Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons section, and the track that I was really hoping to hear got an incredible full-length airing. The piece shows up in a couple of episodes, but I've never been able to find it on any CD... and here were sixty people playing it in front of me live!

During the interval, I was able to ascertain the track's title: 'White As Snow'. Now I know what to look for.

The second half featured selections from Stingray, Joe 90, The Secret Service and UFO, but of course my favourite had to be the Space 1999 theme, which I enjoyed for much the same reasons as I loved watching the opening credits to Superman™ Returns a few years back. I owe Neil Norman so much.

Since he was a music man, there isn't much film footage about of Barry Gray, so the final number was performed to some cropped home movie shots of him from a trip to the beach he'd been on with his family. You have to admire that.

Then there was a standing ovation.

It's just like being there, isn't it?
Afterwards I wandered about a bit and discovered Gerry Anderson himself signing autographs just outside the auditorium. I wasn't really that interested in getting his signature, but I joined the group for that purpose anyway because I certainly wanted to meet him. I thanked him for a lovely evening, to which he made it clear that he hadn't been the one to organise it, and in the circumstances I found myself speechless to counter his humility. Barry Gray's music had not been his creation of course, but surely he must have recognized his own contribution to the show that had just been staged?

He kindly signed the last autograph in my programme and made-off. I headed home too, knowing that two things were stay with me from this night.

A renewed appreciation for Barry Gray's music, and the knowledge that I had actually met Gerry Anderson.


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