Space: 1999 Years 1 & 2: Original Television Soundtrack – Barry Gray & Derek Wadsworth – Review

Space: 1999 was seen as being Britain’s own answer to Star Trek – a live-action production by husband-and-wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, it told the story of the denizens of Moonbase Alpha, struggling to face the unknown after the Moon was flung out of Earth’s orbit on September 13th 1999, following a terrible nuclear accident.

It graced our screens for two seasons, between 1975 and 1977, having been retooled for its second year in order to boost its flagging ratings, a move which included jettisoning some of the existing cast members, bringing in a new alien character, and replacing the Andersons’ favoured longtime composer – Barry Gray – with Derek Wadsworth, a composer and session musician who worked with Dusty Springfield, Judy Garland, and George Harrison.

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It was hoped that Wadsworth might provide the series with a more contemporary sound, with Gray possibly having fallen from favour following a change in the production team, as a new producer had been brought on board in order to revamp the show. Silva Screen Records’ brand new collection brings together music from both Gray and Wadsworth’s runs as the programme’s composer, with all of the musical tracks being remastered with the help of Fanderson – The Official Gerry And Sylvia Anderson Appreciation Society.

As well as this two-CD set, Gray and Wadsworth’s work will also be getting separate double LP releases on ‘Lunar White’ vinyl in September 2021, for anyone who wants to hear the scores in an ‘old school’ format which is both authentic and appropriate to the period when Space: 1999 was made and aired. Silva Screen has long been a ‘go-to’ source for superb soundtrack output, and this release – combined with their commitment to bringing out a range of scores from various series by the Andersons – really bolsters their reputation for delivering quality.

For anyone familiar with the Andersons’ oeuvre, Barry Gray’s work is synonymous with that, and he has a recognisable and distinctive style, which tends to be heavy on brassy military pomp and big orchestral sounds. It would be hard to think of one of the Supermarionation series without Gray’s scores or iconic theme tunes. He most definitely brought a grandiose, cinematic style which elevated those shows, and made them all feel much more expensive and glossy than the budget for them allowed; Barry Gray was therefore the natural choice to provide the music for Space: 1999.

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His theme tune for the programme – with a curious fusion of brass and electric guitar – was retained by Big Finish for the recent audio revival which launched in 2019, with a further set following on earlier this year; it goes to show how Gray’s music is seen as one of the defining features of Space: 1999, as it would have been easy for Big Finish to either make use of the replacement theme which was written by Wadsworth for its sophomore outing, or else go for something original (which is just what they did with their audio continuation of the BBC sci-fi drama Star Cops).

Gray’s contributions to Space: 1999 make up the first disc of the set, spanning some 28 tracks. For the most part, we have prime examples of Gray’s signature style, although there are the occasional sidesteps into electronic sounds, plus hints of ‘70s funk here and there. One could say Gray’s music is a very bombastic and unsubtle style, with its grandiose approach at times threatening to overpower the visuals; as such, you can almost see why it was felt to be behind the times, as it feels a product of a certain age, when underscoring was not as much of an approach as we see nowadays.

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However, Gray’s music is exactly what you would expect of it, yet he does have experimental moments too. A couple of the tracks also use classical pieces adapted for the show, such as Remo Giazotto’s composition ‘Adagio In G Minor For Strings And Organ’. One of Gray’s efforts to update his style comes in ‘Ring Around The Moon – Captives Of Triton’, and is filled with ‘70s wah-wah funk guitar riffs, which curiously sounds more dated now than some of Gray’s other work, and it feels out of place in his body of work.

Whatever the intention of the producers in their attempt to modernise the sound of the show for its second year, Derek Wadsworth’s compositions – making up all 18 tracks on the second disc – have fared significantly less well than Gray’s in their durability. To say that time has not been especially kind to his work would be understating things – the tracks on this disc all feel almost parodic at times, such have musical tastes changed over the years, and the sound of Wadsworth’s work here hails distinctively from the late 1970s.

Typical of many shows from around this period – including genre series such as Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica – is to emulate and incorporate what was popular at the time; unfortunately, this has led to a sub-genre which is perhaps best classed as ‘Disco SF’, something recently spoofed by the audio sitcom Dick Dixon In The 21st Century. Wadsworth’s scoring is heavy on the funk, and also heads into experimental jazz at points, all of which feel less than suitable for science fiction, but probably aim to match the far lighter tone being attempted by the show.

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In fact, some of Wadsworth’s pieces get so to close lounge music – or even muzak – at points, you almost expect them to be on an LP from Ronco or K-Tel, so much are they of their time. However, this all acts as an interesting counterpoint to Gray’s more conventional scoring, and is also significantly less outré than Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the Italian theatrical release of a Space: 1999 edited compilation made up of three episodes, which is quite frankly an assault on the senses, and considerably more avant garde than anything on this set.

An interesting contrast of two very different composers, and a very lovingly put together set, which is one both for fans of the Andersons’ productions, and anybody who loves eclectic and unconventional soundtrack collections.

Space: 1999 Year One & Year Two: Original Television Soundtrack – Barry Gray & Derek Wadsworth is out on 6th August from Silva Screen Records.

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