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Soundtrack Review

Cover Image

Fireball XL5
Original Television Soundtrack


Composer: Barry Gray
Label: Silva Screen Records
RRP: £13.99
SILCD1595 (CD), SILED1595 (download), SILLP1595 (vinyl)
Release Date: 11 January 2021

Fireball XL5 is a sometimes overlooked gem in the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson catalogue, principally because it was made in black and white and has therefore been deprived of modern repeats. The series, however, boasts production values that are often every bit as good as Stingray and Thunderbirds, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the music department. Barry Gray’s soundtrack for Fireball XL5 is excellent and at times outstanding...

The opening three chords of the main theme are really punchy – think Beethoven’s 5th in space – heralding a launch sequence that has obtain iconic status [if only for the shadow on the cyclorama]. It’s an exciting pairing that became a hallmark of the Anderson brand and this is where it all started.

The quality of Gray’s music is its ability to match the mood of the visuals and enhance the emotional content of on-screen events, which is useful as marionettes aren’t very good at displaying how they feel. If Steve Zodiac is in danger the music acts as his body language – it’s often a shorthand for a character’s mental state; it’s also used to enhance the sense of danger when things are going wrong and, of course, there’s the ‘sense of relief’ and ‘victory’ themes as well to help round out events. Without doubt, Barry Gary’s contributions to Fireball XL5 once again demonstrate just how much he added to the success of Gerry and Sylvia’s work.

There are plenty of standout tracks on this release, many containing themes that would be reused in later shows. Parts of ‘The Mystery of Planet 45’ and ‘Foiled’ would get recycled for Stingray and Thunderbirds, ‘Formula 5’ had an equal longevity [and is clearly inspired by Dave Brubeck’s famous ‘Take 5’], while ‘Exploring the Tanker’ and ‘Hypnotised’ hint at what was to come for UFO. And, like his work for UFO, Gray takes the main theme and weaves it through many of his incidental episode scores.

What’s great about much of the score is that it’s really cinematic – it borrows heavily from classic big screen musical tropes, using some readymade styles that immediately throws cues to the viewer. The ‘Aphros Theme’ conjures up an Egyptian sand dance, ‘Circus Dreams’ is the big top bonanza to top them all and ‘Ice Skating Waltz’ could have been used in The Sound of Music and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

The music is by turn dramatic, funny, stirring and suspenseful… and always memorable. For a children’s show that’s almost 60 years old that’s a real achievement. Most importantly, it’s great fun. It’s certainly been on regular rotation in the Clark house since I received my review copy. This is simply a fantastic album and a must have for fans of both Barry Gray and the puppet series of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

Go and order it now…


Anthony Clark

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