The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

Blow the Bloody Doors off!

Ben Eshmade is excited at the prospect of an evening spent listening to live performances of Michael Caine film soundtracks.

How do you define ‘cool’? Well, for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s something that never goes out of style, it’s something relaxed and effortless that you just can’t put your finger on. And if it has to be summed up as a person, you need look no further than Bermondsey-born Maurice Joseph Mickle, better known to us as Michael Caine.
For musical director Terry Edwards, this iconic actor is the link to an incredible evening of film music. It’s not a composer that links the evening, nor a director – it’s an actor, one person playing different characters. Just a few notes from the soundtrack to any one of these films and we half expect Michael Caine to come strolling through the doors (simultaneously blowing them off, obviously!).

Caine is the (well-tailored) thread to an evening that features scores from some of the best musicians and composers such as Sonny Rollins (Alfie), John Barry (The Ipcress File), Quincy Jones (The Italian Job) and Roy Budd (Get Carter). As Edwards says, these are Caine’s Greatest Hits: they make sense together, but they are also slightly different, bringing both British and American composers into the musical mix. There is a jazz influence and an orchestral influence, but the biggest influence of all is the common denominator that is Caine himself.

The success of the music all comes down to its limitation. As Edwards explains, you had a certain amount of time, money and musicians and these composers pushed everything they had to the limit. When you listen to particular soundtracks, you can hear how the tune has been played again and again for effect within the plot. But it doesn’t necessarily work as a piece of independent music. That’s not the case here. Far from it.

There is incredible depth to the music across four very different composers. You’ll hear the swinging tune Sonny Rollins wrote that defines Alfie and the swinging London of its time. In Get Carter, that single-note melody on harpsichord and piano IS the film. The Matt Monro song from The Italian Job, ‘On Days Like These’, has a certain lushness that really does set up the film. And you can’t go wrong with John Barry’s orchestration for spy thriller The Ipcress Files, a subtle, delicious alternative to his big Bond scores.

For this evening’s concert, musical director and multi-instrumentalist Edwards has brought together an ensemble of what he calls ‘rockers and readers’ – those who can read music but go beyond that and, like him, can turn their hand to more than one instrument. We have the likes of Seb Rochford (Polar Bear) who not only plays drums, but also the table; Mark Bedford (Madness) will be on both acoustic and electric bass; important flute and saxophone lines are supplied by Finn Peter (Jerry Dammers) and Jack Pinter (The Black Rider); and not forgetting the other sixties and seventies sounds and shapes created by hammer dulcimer, trumpet, string quartet and, of course, the Hammond organ.

Suave spy, conniving crook or self-absorbed lover: these are the characters played by Michael Caine, the Ambassador of Cool. Let’s admit it, though; at the end of the day, don’t we all want to be in these films ourselves? Maybe for one evening we can push up our NHS glasses, adjust our ties, close our eyes and imagine we are.

Blow the Bloody Doors off! takes place on Thursday 6 February 2014.

Watch the trailer: