Bom-Bom, Bom, Bom-Bom-Bom-Bom. A very specific pattern of seven drum beats, which have become shorthand for a call to action and adventure in the company of Captain Scarlet in his ceaseless fight against the Mysterons from Mars, thanks to the sheer brilliance of Barry Gray, the in-house composer used by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons was the most adult of all the Supermarionation productions by the Andersons, as the series focused upon the war between the faceless alien would-be conquerers the Mysterons, the sworn enemies of all Earthmen; and humanity, defended by Spectrum, a global security organisation. Key to the fight is one Captain Scarlet, AKA Paul Metcalfe, who was rendered indestructible thanks to a twist of fate which ultimately made him mankind’s best hope.
It was a darker, grittier series than the Andersons’ previous efforts, and it revelled not merely in explosive mayhem and carnage, but also death, with the invulnerable Scarlet being put in all manner of inventive scrapes, only to return to life if his luck happened to run out. The interstellar conflict taking place here presaged the Andersons’ live action show UFO, as well as Gerry Anderson’s later Terrahawks; Captain Scarlet certainly paved the way for both of those.
In many ways, Barry Gray felt like the Andersons’ equivalent of the ‘Fifth Beatle’, in that he was such a vital component of all the Supermarionation series, completely indivisible from the finished product, and a key ingredient of their success. It must be said that Gray’s style is instantly identifiable, and it made the shows seem much grander and dramatic; his body of work really does deserve reappraisal, as his significance is often overlooked, perhaps due to some stigma connected to being a composer for children’s TV.
Thankfully, Silva Screen Records are working hard to right that egregious wrong, with the good people of Fanderson – The Official Gerry And Sylvia Anderson Appreciation Society – having access to Gray’s original studio tapes and carrying out remastering, meaning his compositions are being made available in the best possible quality, to the widest possible audience. Gray’s scores for Captain Scarlet are the latest to be brought out in Silva Screen’s increasing range of his work for that powerhouse duo of Gerry and Sylvia.
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Overtones of Gray’s earlier military style which was used on Thunderbirds – with its strong brass and marches – can be found here, but Captain Scarlet also sees him going back to his roots in electronic music, in order to capture that eerie, otherworldly nature of the alien aggressors. Gray had used electronic sounds previously when scoring Fireball XL5, so Captain Scarlet saw his return to some of that more daring and experimental approach.
The joy of the tracks which are selected for inclusion on this release is that they do demonstrate his range, as well as his skill. Take ‘White As Snow – TVR-17 Pop’, which manages to evoke the sound of 1960s instrumental hit parade tracks like ‘Telstar’ by The Tormados; Gray seems to almost effortlessly combine electronica with electric guitars, and then – just for good measure – mixes in strings for a richer orchestral depth to the track. The mixture of styles might sound jarring in the wrong hands, but Gray fuses them together with ease.
Gray’s playful side comes out in the tracks from the episode ‘Big Ben Strikes Again’, where he incorporates the chimes of the famous bell into the score, and turns them into a louche, stylish piece of lounge music. Those 1960s travelogue films are fully captured in pieces such as ‘Model Spy – Serenade de Monto Carlo’, with its jazz flute riffs, as well as its use of the accordion, which makes a reappearance in ‘Seek And Destroy – Walking With Angels’, where it initially sounds wistful and longing, then turns more upbeat and hopeful.
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Credit should also be given for Gray’s ability to play around with the various themes he created for the series, such as using the four notes which represent ‘Captain Scarlet’, and giving them a sinister twist when required throughout the soundtrack, as he creates mood and atmosphere. Whenever any action is required, Gray kicks the tempo into overdrive, usually accompanied by frantic percussion like wild bongos from some Beatnik happening.
Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons: Original Television Soundtrack shows a master craftsman at the height of his powers, and across the span of its 35 tracks – which include the famous theme tune in its several variations – we get to see clear evidence of exactly why Gray deserves to be more highly regarded and recognised for his oeuvre.
Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons: Original Television Soundtrack is out now from Silva Screen Records.