The John Barry Seven – Drumbeat [Silva Screen Records, 2010]

John Barry Seven - DrumbeatThe John Barry Seven take pride of place above the title on this 40-track CD, called Drumbeat after a BBC TV series that enjoyed a one-off 22-week run in the summer of 1959. Buddy Holly, Cliff Richard, Russ Conway and Connie Francis were in the top ten that hot summer, and Barry’s guest artists, though not of that elevated status, did feature singers who were about to become stars and remain household names, including Adam Faith and Dusty Springfield, one of the Lana Sisters.

To replicate the atmosphere of the TV studio, Drumbeat was recreated live at Abbey Road, by Parlophone, Barry’s record label, before an uninhibited crowd of screaming teenagers. A number of other tracks come from a different label, Fontana, direct from the television soundtrack and without an audible audience presence. The spirit of a youthful audience dominates the content, adding festive party high jinks that’s hard to resist but which sometimes drowns out the performances. Every phrase sung by ‘guest artist’ Dennis Lotis, a singer in the big band tradition, is greeted with cries of ecstasy.

For the rest, it’s that pulsating, driving beat that pumps up the decibel level as a parade of bands, soloists and vocal groups give their all. Adam Faith (before Barry honed him into the singer we know from What Do You Want?) imitates Elvis Presley, Roy Young makes a passable impression of Tommy Steele and Sylvia Sands, wife-to-be of Stewart Morris, later to be the driving force behind Top of the Pops, sings Love Me in the Daytime, a song modelled on Doris Day’s popular hits of the period. In an era of cover versions, Vince Eager sings a viable alternative vocal to Buddy Holly for It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, with a perky arrangement by Barry, and his Seven perform several instrumentals alongside bigger ensembles like Bob Miller’s band reminding us that the end of the 1950s was a transitory time for popular music, when the new beat co-existed with more traditional forms.

Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker have written an authoritative booklet that begins by setting the scene between ITV and the BBC in the battle for teenage audiences. Details of all the artists and some of the writers are included and amongst the artwork is an original billing of Drumbeat from the Radio Times. This fascinating CD offers an enlightening view of the working practices of popular music from half a century ago. Barry, who masterminded Drumbeat, was on a tight schedule to arrange a dozen numbers each week for its run. He later exercised a similar discipline in the film studio when he scored his first Bond film, Dr No, three years later.

Adrian Edwards

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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