A new book about the John Barry Seven is the definitive account of the composer's early years. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

IN September 1957, a young rock and roll seven-piece calling themselves the John Barry Seven managed to land a much-sought-after audition on the BBC Light Programme, radio's premier music outlet.

It came after much string-pulling by Barry's dad, York cinema impresario Jack 'JX' Prendergast, who had called in all his showbiz contacts, including concert promoter Harold Fielding.

The band - most of them jazz musicians who had been persuaded to switch to rock and roll by Barry, a man with his finger on the pulse of the latest music craze crossing the pond - had already caused a sensation at their first live performance, in the interval between Sunday night film screenings at Prendergast's York cinema The Rialto.

Originally booked to play just three numbers, they ended up playing nine, the audience apparently 'yelling out for more and more' so vociferously they band couldn't get off the stage.

That had been followed by a stint in the summer of 1957 supporting Tommy Steele and The Steelmen at the Blackpool Palace Theatre - again, partly as a result of Prendergast's contacts.

A reporter from The Stage went into raptures about the new band. "Harold Fielding, who presents the show...has expressed the opinion that the John Barry Seven, headed by ace trumpeter Barry, will prove the British equivalent of the States' Bell Boys," the reporter wrote. "From what I saw of The Seven's performance on Monday and the way the audience accepted it, he could be right."

York Press:

The John Barry Seven play Blackpool. Photo courtesy Les Reed (pianist)

It was radio that could make or break a budding music career in 1957, however - and no station was bigger than The Light Programme.

Fielding, who had arranged the audition, had left strict instructions for Light Programme producer Jimmy Grant about how to set up the band's instruments.

All looked set for another triumph. And then came Grant's verdict.

"This was a very rough rock and roll group," he wrote in a BBC memo. "The size was large for this sort of music - the arrangements very poor. The intonation in the band was very bad and there were no good soloists. The band was built around one singer - their leader, John Barry. He had not much drive or personality in his voice. No!"

It was devastating. But as the young Barry's older sister June Lloyd-Jones was to say many years later: "When he (Barry) made up his mind to do something, woe betide you if you tried to make him change!"

We all know now that June was absolutely right. Driven on by the determination of their leader (and helped not a little by his dad's money), the John Barry Seven went on to perform at venues across the country. They had several instrumental hits - including Walk Don't Run and Hit And Miss, the theme of BBC TV's Juke Box Jury - and became regulars with Adam Faith on the Saturday BBC teatime show Drumbeat.

But while Barry (real name John Barry Prendergast) went on to international fame as the Oscar-winning composer of more than 120 film and TV scores (including the music for 11 Bond films), the band which had been named after him was almost forgotten.

Now, however, two lifelong John Barry fans have written the definitive account of the band's early years.

Geoff Leonard, who spent much of his life in banking before becoming an independent record producer, and Brummie former DWP employment adviser Pete Walker, have spent years off and on in putting together Hit And Miss: The Story of the John Barry Seven.

For Pete, it goes back as far as 1982, when he walked into the cramped offices of the NME in London's Carnaby Street to look through back copies with a view to researching a planned article on the 'JB7' for Record Collector magazine.

In fact, it goes back even further, to the day when his parents took him as a little boy to see the film Born Free. The music blew him away, admits Pete, who is now 'approaching 60'.

"I noticed the name John Barry in the credits, and it went from there" he says, speaking with a distinct Brummie accent.

He soon realised that Barry's music was everywhere in the films he loved. "And the more I got to hear of his music, the more I wanted to know about it."

York Press:

John Barry 1959 signed photo, courtesy Emma Lloyd-Jones

That planned feature for Record Collector magazine never came off.

But then Pete got to know Geoff, a man who was such a Barry fan that he had even set up a record label to re-issue some of the JB7's early hits.

They decided to collaborate to write about Barry's life

Their first book, 'John Barry: The Man With The Midas Touch (co-written by Gareth Bramley) came out ten years ago. But it focussed on the full span of Barry's career.

There was a huge amount of information they had gathered about the John Barry Seven's early years that couldn't make it into the earlier book.

They have added to that since, with further research: with the result that the band now has a book of its own.

Put together from written records, contemporary media reports, correspondence, and above all interviews (with former band members, and members of Barry's family), Hit And Miss is the definitive account of an up-and-coming band at a time when British music was going through a transformation.

The John Barry Seven cut a dash in that period between jazz and skiffle, and the coming of The Beatles, when rock and roll was briefly king.

Meticulously researched, and packed with extraordinary photos of the band - many never published before - Pete says he hopes the book gives a 'glimpse into the working lives of jobbing musicians' at a unique turning point in modern music.

It does that, and more. For any devotee of John Barry, this will be the definitive account of his early years.

  • Hit And Miss: The Story of The John Barry Seven is published by Redcliffe, priced £30. It is available from https://johnbarry.org.uk/ for £22.50 plus £2.95 p&p.