Anyone familiar with the productions of Gerry Anderson – both in puppetry and later live action – will know that a key ingredient of the formula has always been the music, being as much an integral part of the programmes as the scripts and special effects. In many ways, the score feels so critical to the finished product that it would be hard to imagine the shows being quite as successful without it. Unlike some of the soundtracks of today, which feel very timid and almost apologetic at times, the music of Anderson’s output was so bold and dynamic.
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Whilst the composer most closely associated with much of Anderson’s creations was Barry Gray, there were a number of different composers who worked on his series during his lengthy career. On a night in Birmingham back in April 2022, a special concert was put on to celebrate what could best be described as the Andersound – that musical accompaniment of so many childhoods, heralding excitement, adventure and entertainment. Hosted by Jon Culshaw, an orchestra would bring to life the much-loved theme tunes, along with some tracks from the programmes themselves, for an appreciative and adoring audience of all ages.
Speaking as someone who was fortunate enough to be there for that memorable April evening, it was truly an emotional experience hearing so many familiar pieces from your youth being recreated in full symphonic splendour, accompanying clips being played on a big screen. Nostalgia can certainly be such a powerful thing, and there were very few people in the audience left unmoved when that 55-piece orchestra struck up a tune which was so meaningful to them for one reason or another. Being the first such event of its kind for the creative accomplishments of Gerry Anderson, it was a privilege to be present for such an auspicious occasion.
Luckily, the whole event was captured for posterity on both video and audio, and courtesy of Silva Screen Records, the concert has now been made available to listen to, as well as to relive for those fortunate enough to have been there for Stand By For Action! Gerry Anderson In Concert. Opening with Barry Gray’s opening theme to Thunderbirds, things certainly get off to a flying start, getting the pulse racing as one of the most memorable and identifiable tunes for a TV show blasts out, sounding as glorious here as it ever did on screen, the orchestra definitely doing it justice.
From this point on, the concert is mostly a chronological run through Anderson’s shows, beginning with his first dabble in puppetry with The Adventures Of Twizzle, then followed by Torchy The Battery Boy. Both of the themes are rather twee compositions, but these do fit the more childlike tone of the series, when compared to some of the later productions from the Anderson stable. Four Feather Falls, a cowboy series, has a suitably Western-inspired sound, and the two additional tracks – including the song ‘Two Gun Tex Of Texas’ – have a very enthusiastic rendition courtesy of a vocalist who clearly is having a whale of a time.
In addition to the main theme, Supercar also gets a swinging turn with ‘King Cool’, giving a more New Orleans jazz vibe, in contrast with the orchestral offerings during the remainder of the concert. By virtue of its having different opening and closing themes, Fireball XL5 gets to have two entries here, a fair old stab being given at matching Don Spencer’s vocals on ‘I Wish I Was A Spaceman’. Things really kick up a gear with the driving, intense drumbeat and strident brass sounds of Stingray, which is also represented by the curiously-named but evocative ‘March Of The Oysters’, as well as the haunting strains of ‘Aquamarina’ which closed out each episode.
Thunderbirds is next one up, with the rather louche, lounge feel of ‘That Dangerous Game’, full of lush strings and sultry saxophone, making it just the sort of sound you could almost bathe in. A trio of tracks are served up for Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, which includes Ed Bishop’s opening narration, as well as a rather passionate, if somewhat loose, rendition of the closing song, with the singers going a little bit off-piste compared to the original version. While not the greatest of Anderson’s oeuvre, Joe 90 still has a banger of a title track, and the electric guitar and organ are just delicious to hear in full flow.
Joe 90’s ‘International Concerto’ and ‘Hijacked’ are both an utter delight, with the latter being toe-tappingly funkadelic. Following Joe 90’s closing credits, we get a sidestep from the small screen onto the silver screen, in the form of Anderson’s venture into feature filmmaking with Doppelganger, which has one of Barry Gray’s more sombre, serious compositions, one that the orchestra carries off well. Levity and lightness is restored with ‘Legacy’, which showcases all Gray’s strengths in just a tad over two minutes, followed by the wonderfully offbeat choral styling of The Secret Service, which must be a true challenge to even the most accomplished singers to pull off.
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Things move away from the purely orchestral onto a funkier footing, with the theme tunes to UFO and Space: 1999, all of which have quite frankly never sounded better than they do here. Perhaps the highlight of the concert is hearing a suite of Richard Harvey’s work from Terrahawks, with the original pieces having been performed originally on synthesisers, but here are given the full orchestra treatment, and it gives the music a very different – but pleasingly so – interpretation. At this point, we veer into much more recent territory here, with Anderson’s Space Precinct, Lavender Castle and New Captain Scarlet, and Crispin Merrell’s themes for all three of these are superbly recreated.
Closing things out, we have yet more Thunderbirds, with the powerfully evocative, dramatic ‘Trapped In The Sky’, and the familiar ‘Thunderbirds March’, which is undoubtedly just the perfect high with which to wrap up the concert. All in all, you can say Stand By For Action! Gerry Anderson In Concert is a superb trip down memory lane for anybody who has watched Anderson’s various creations over so many decades, and it is certainly well worth picking up something which can truly be described as FAB.
Stand By For Action! Gerry Anderson In Concert is out now from Silva Screen Records.