Tag Archives: James Bond

The Best of James Bond – Royal Festival Hall

The Best of James Bond - Southbank Centre

Another Bond film is slowly approaching; first speculation over the next actor to play the role merely resulted in confirmation that Daniel Craig would assume the mantle for the fifth time; now rumours – seemingly confirmed by the man himself – are rife that Danny Boyle will direct and is working on a script. The only other aspect of Bond preparation that garners so much attention is the song, which as well as being an early indication of the film’s tone, also has to live up to an illustrious history of incredible music that has represented Bond since 1963 – get it wrong and it could colour the reputation of the film.

And we love to rank them, type “Bond theme songs” into Google and most of the hits are for websites rating the songs from best to worst. Our favourite tunes may depend on the decade you were born and the incumbent Bond, in fact it may be easier to find a consensus on the least impressive songs – here’s looking at you Sam Smith (despite the Oscar), Madonna Jack White and Alicia Keyes – but the Bond song is indivisible from the film itself.

In the Daniel Craig era it seems that a poorly received Bond theme indicates a disappointing film, as the rather forgettable tunes that accompanied Quantum of Solace and Spectre attest. But that hasn’t always been the case and the Southbank Centre’s evening dedicated to the Bond theme performed by the London Concert Orchestra is a wonderful reminder of an unstoppable film franchise that has produced hit after hit for some of the most well-known artists of their day.

With the still fairly recent death of Roger Moore, sadly preventing any chance of every Bond actor being seen together, as well as the deaths of Chris Cornell in May last year and three-time Bond director Lewis Gilbert last month, plus the release of collectable 10p coins containing the gun barrel celebrating the Best of British, this concert is a timely reminder of how deeply the character and love of Bond is woven into our psyche. Whether born of endless Bank Holiday repeats, his Olympics special with the Queen or the sheer persistence of his reincarnations, a new Bond film is still a major event, getting it right is a matter of national pride.

Presented in chronological order, The Best of James Bond is a both a history of changing music tastes in the last 55 years and a tribute to the most talented songwriters, musicians and performers in (predominantly) British music. It begins, of course, with the instrumental Bond signature that has appeared in every movie since Dr No. Written by Monty Norman, arguably one of the most well-known pieces of cinematic music ever composed, instantly recognisable and brilliantly performed here by the London Concert Orchestra led by John Rigby.

Throughout the evening Rigby also acts as a warm and welcoming master of ceremonies, filling the spaces between songs with plenty of Bond music facts and introducing the two established musical theatre performers – Oliver Tompsett and Louise Dearman – who take on the unenviable role of doubling for singers including Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Lulu and Tina Turner. The structure is simple but effective, taking each film in turn, with the occasional digression into the wider cultural context, which makes for an entertaining and satisfying tribute to the continuing influence of the franchise.

As Rigby explains, it wasn’t until the second film, From Russia with Love, that the idea of the Bond theme was established and, with scores composed by John Barry for the remaining Connery years, this was a period of memorable music. The themes associated with the first Bond, played in full in the first half of The Best of James Bond, have much in common, and while those now familiar big brass sounds were becoming a core feature of the Bond soundtrack, heard together here, each lone voice has a haunting quality, a warning to Bond or his companions of the trials to come.

While Tompsett captures the smooth tones of wistful crooner Matt Monroe in the title track to From Russia with Love which was sung over the movie’s closing credits, he also brings the more dramatic passages of Tom Jones classic Thunderball, a particular favourite, to life – a feature of Tompsett’s performances throughout the evening – and gives a genuinely beautiful rendition of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World from the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which Tompsett evokes all the sadness of that particular movie moment.

The first half entirely belongs to Dearman however who is introduced to the audience performing probably the most famous Bond song of all time, and the blueprint for every film and theme to come, Goldfinger. Entirely unintimidated by having to represent the inimitable Shirley Bassey, Dearman is superb and the power of her voice produces chills as she belts out this most memorable of songs. The artists don’t exactly impersonate the original musicians but, with fans in mind, equally they don’t often depart from the way each song was originally performed, so Dearman demonstrates her range as she perfectly recreates every trill and change of tone with ease in both Goldfinger and, later, Diamonds are Forever. You Only Live Twice between them just lacks the reflective softness of Nancy Sinatra’s tone, but there’s no denying the power of Dearman’s voice, and the accompaniment by the London Concert Orchestra is faultless, even as they tackle the instrumental theme to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The second half of The Best of James Bond which moves into the 1970s and the Roger Moore era, surprisingly omits Paul McCartney’s superb rockier tune for Live and Let Die, but the Orchestra is saving that for the encore. So, Dearman opens the second half with Lulu’s Man with the Golden Gun and then a medley of Nobody Does it Better, Carly Simon’s stunning theme to The Spy Who Loved Me and Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only. The cheekier Moore era loved a romantic ballad, focusing on women in love with Britain’s irresistible spy and the Orchestra take centre stage with instrumental performances of Moonraker and All Time High from Octopussy, that brings in the saxophone as the 80s dawned.

While women have never enjoyed much agency in Bond films, often little more than lovers to be cast-aside between movies or unconvincing nuclear physicists, in the music, solo female performers have far outnumbered men, and this was particularly true in the Moore years where most of the themes were performed by female artists. It’s some time, therefore, before Tompsett reappears in the second half, signalling the brief moment in the 1980s, linking Moore with his successor Timothy Dalton, where two bands provided the title music – Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill  and A-ha’s The Living Daylights (also favourites which stand well in the canon). Both suit Tompsett’s voice extremely well and offer the Orchestra more interesting challenges to recreate their distinctive synthesised sounds.

The evening concludes with a quick race through the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig eras, as Dearman sings a medley of Gladys Knight’s Licence to Kill, Tina Turner’s Goldeneye and Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies (one of the few instances where the song is probably better than the film). In the only gender-swapped performance of the evening, Tompsett offers an excellent rendition of Garbage’s accompaniment to The World is Not Enough, brilliantly supported by the orchestra, before the artists tackle Skyfall and The Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre. Of course, ending on one of the most divisive themes isn’t ideal, so Live and Let Die anachronistically becomes the rousing encore, showcasing the incredible skill of this most accomplished orchestra.

Carefully arranged to give due precedence to the most high-profile or complex Bond themes, the show is far more than a quick succession of performances. To add further texture, the London Concert Orchestra also perform a collection of well-known melodies from crime series down the ages to reflect Bond’s centrality to our wider interest in crime and detective fiction. Arranged into three ‘guess the theme tune’ sections, which create a bit of audience interaction, the first comprises some well-known British programmes including The Sweeney, Poirot, Sherlock, Morse and The Bill (the composer of which is part of the Orchestra), while an American compilation links the music to Hawaii-Five-O, Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues. And, as those are all rather male-dominated, there is also a section devoted to a mere seven female crime fighters, including Miss Marple, Murder She Wrote and The Gentle Touch, that tells you all you need to know about the relatively poor representation of female-hero figures in the last six decades of television.

55 years, 6 Bonds and 24 films, the music of Bond has been the soundtrack to most of our lives. Monty Norman’s original ‘James Bond Theme’ is a by-word for a character recognised the world over, and although he may still be a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’, he’s part of the fabric of British society, managing to look backwards and forwards at the same time. Danny Boyle is promising a Bond for the #MeToo era, a much-needed tonic to the victim Bond girls of recent years, and it will surely be reflected in the choice of music. Whether it’s another soloist or, perhaps, the return of the band remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure, on the basis of The Best of James Bond, they have an illustrious musical history to live up to. Let the speculation begin…

The Best of James Bond was performed at the Royal Festival Hall on 23 March. Visit their website for future events. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1

Winter Wanders 2016 – Walk London

Walk London Guided Tours

Walk London’s thrice yearly free guided tours have become somewhat of a fixture in the London cultural calendar. Having first discovered them exactly a year ago, I try to take part in two every weekend it’s on – although I missed the Autumn Ambles which clashed with the final weekend of the London Film Festival and, for me, the premiere of Steve Jobs. The latest Winter Wanders  were bigger than ever and I decided to try two new additions to the programme one examining film and TV locations in Bloomsbury and the other along the Piccadilly Line, and for the first time I began to wonder if these guided tours have become a victim of their own success.

There was only one opportunity for the Scenes on Screen – Film and TV in London walk, and on turning up to Russell Square tube station there were easily 100 people crowded together. It quickly emerged that two guides had been allocated but one had already left and this multitude were under the care of poor Stella the remaining guide who admirably shepherded the hoard on a 100 minute tour. There was a fair amount of pushing and shoving, and for some it turned into a running tour as they dashed past to be first to the next location so it wasn’t always as well spirited as these usually are. Hard to estimate popularity but given the huge interest in TV locations generally a second tour time might have been anticipated.

But Walk London is actually onto a bit of winner here and has designed a walk that it can easily franchise in other parts of the city, nicely combining film, TV and advertising. It starts off light with a local costume collection at the former horse hospital behind the station before taking in Martin Freeman’s walk through Russell Square in the opening episode of Sherlock and the embarrassed Russell Hotel refusing to acknowledge its role in a Smith and Jones film about aliens despite sharing a dining room designer with the Titanic. From here we looped back round Russell Square Station to look at the McCann Erickson art deco offices – a famous advertising agency responsible for high-profile campaigns.

It stops outside the Brunswick Centre, former home of Catherine Tate and one-time film location for Jack Nicholson before taking in the former home of Kenneth Williams on Marchmonth Street and London’s first gay bookshop that was recreated in Hampstead for the film Pride staring Dominic West. Round the corner was another shop used as the exterior for Black Books, as well as a strip of Georgian shops opposite Euston Station that once contained a Eurovision Song Contest flashmob but most famously doubled for Dover in ITV’s version of The Clocks staring David Suchet as Poirot.

This walk saves most of the big stuff till last, St Pancras and King’s Cross used frequently in programmes like Downton Abbey or major films including The Imitation Game, The Ladykillers, Batman and, of course, Harry Potter which is set to become even bigger news this year when Jamie Parker assumes the role of the grown-up Harry in a new stage version. It’s a good tour covering a lot of ground and different types of famous location in under two hours despite the cumbersome size of the group. Arguably it missed a couple of tricks; a diversion of 5 minutes to the other side of Euston Station would have taken us to North Gower Street, the actual location of Sherlock’s front door and Speedy’s café in the modern version which would have been a big draw, and the McCann visit could certainly have warranted a Mad Men reference given the rivalry with Stirling Cooper throughout the series. Nonetheless this tour is a great addition and Walk London should consider adding more like it – certainly a Strand to Westminster film walk could cover some major blockbusters like X-Men First Class (Somerset House), Four Weddings and a Funeral (Southbank Skate Park), Suffragette (Parliament) and, of course, multiple Bonds (Westminster Bridge and Thames), as well as countless more Sherlock locations. Maybe one for the Summer Strolls given how important the film industry is to the financial and cultural life of London?

The second walk was also new to the programme and is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve done so far. The Piccadilly Line – Featuring a Cricket Bat and Sherlock Holmes is a superb 1.5 hour wander through the heart of London starting at Green Park and ending at Covent Garden. Celebrating 150 years of London tube design, this walk was added especially for this year but is definitely one to retain – particularly as it is a cunning way to encourage people off the tube and to walk this relatively tiny distance. In a considerably smaller and friendlier group of 30-odd, the excellent guide Ian (pictured above) kept the tour together despite passing along London’s busiest streets on a bustling weekend.

At the start we learn that the Piccadilly Line was built in 1906 running mostly under the road because permission was easier to obtain from the council-owned roads than the private landlords on either side. The Line shares its birthday with The Ritz, our first stop, built we learn by Cesar Ritz after having managed the Savoy Hotel and sits close to the Wolseley, a now famous restaurant which was once a car showroom. Across the road we learn that Burlington Arcade is clearly the place for me as whistling is banned within its parade of shops and strictly enforced by security unless you’re Paul McCartney who has dispensation to whistle there. A former garden, the shops were originally built, we learned, by Lord Cavendish the frustrated owner of the neighbouring Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) who was sick of drunks throwing oyster shells (the 18th century kebab) into his courtyard on their way home.

From here we visit St James’s Church in Piccadilly, built by Sir Christopher Wren and damaged in World War II, but from the gardens we can see into Jermyn Street where Florins is visible and is the oldest continuously situated shop in London, fictionally visited by James Bond. Over the road we’re directed to look at Cordings the country clothing store who offered their best customer Eric Clapton a share in their business, while the group is set straight about the statue at Piccadilly Circus – not Eros but Anteros, the God of requited love. Leicester Square steers back to the tube as we compare the red terracotta entrance on the north edge – each station having its own colour, Ian tells us, so people who couldn’t read would recognise which station they were at – with the 1930s sleeker design next to the Wyndhams Theatre.

En route to Covent Garden on the final leg of the walk we take in the former offices of cricket publishers Wisden, a peg for policemen to hang their jackets in the days before traffic lights, Stanford’s map shop which employed Kenneth Williams and was the fictional cartographers of choice for Sherlock Holmes before stopping finally outside the Transport Museum in the heart of Covent Garden with tales of the actor’s church, St Paul’s, itself a lovely summer theatre spot.

In a little over 90 minutes, this tour covered about a mile of easy walk, 300 years of history and was jam-packed with brilliant anecdotes and little tube trivia questions to think about between each stop – a fine addition to the Walk London programme. So another great weekend of learning about London and while TFL need to think about resourcing some of the more popular walks, they are a great opportunity to get to know more about our city from the learned guides. Looking forward to May already.

Walk London free guided tours, sponsored by TFL run three times a year in January, May and October. The programme covers a large part of London and can be viewed on the Walk London website. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1

Up at the O2

Londoners love to go up stuff. We like to be able to stand high above the city and look over its vastness, as far as the eye can see, and point at buildings we recognise. The viewing platform comes in many guises these days and it is something that has become peculiar to city life. No one seems to build these in the middle of the countryside where arguably there are lots of beautiful things to look at – this is presumably because any suggestion of building in green places tends to result in the locals brandishing pitchforks; if you want to see views in the country, you go up a hill.

Nonetheless, city dwellers love standing hundreds of feet above ground and looking down at the cars, train stations and densely packed buildings in order to feel part of it all. You can go up the Shard, up St Paul’s, up the London eye, up the unpronounceable Orbit-thingy at the Olympic Park, and increasingly up to roof-top gardens and events across the city. Now, you can also go up the Millennium Dome. And yes, I know it’s called the O2 these days but another thing Londoners do is to call things by their original or ‘quirky’ name no matter how many times it’s rebranded (see also Olympic Park – no offence to HRH but who is going to remember the Queen Elizabeth bit?).

The first person to go up the Millennium Dome was actually James Bond when he accidentally fell on it, and there are references on the website cautioning you against a repeat of this iconic moment. The excellent pre-title sequence of The World is Not Enough in 1999 sees Pierce Brosnan’s Bond chase some baddies down the Thames in a boat before he ends up falling off a hot air balloon and bouncing down the side of the dome. It’s a great film opener and also a great film if you pretend Denise Richards wasn’t in it – “I’m a nuclear physicist”, yeah course you are love.

Anyway I digress. Your journey begins at base camp – yes I know but go with it – where you are shown a safety video and how to use your kit.  This includes a lovely sleeveless jacket, a safety harness which wraps around your shoulders and legs, and a special pair of hiking style boots designed to maintain grip on the bouncy walkway. This is still quite a new activity so the shoes are in good condition, don’t worry it’s not like going bowling. Once you’re fully rigged up, the instructor / guide checks everything and you climb the steps to the base of the roof, where you stop for a quick promotional photo (available later in the shop).

It’s like abseiling, so you’re attached by a pulley-like contraption on your safety harness to a line which runs to the top of the dome, 52 meters above ground, and one-by-one you begin your ascent. It’s step-free but the initial angle is quite steep, although as you climb higher the gradient is reduced until it flattens out completely at the Summit. The climb itself isn’t too bad, and certainly far less strenuous than the steps to the top of St Paul’s, taking around 20 minutes depending on the group’s ability. You may find the bouncy walk-way a little disconcerting at first but it doesn’t move as much as you might fear.

Once at the top, you’re given 15-20 minutes to look around and take photos – cameras and phones are the only items allowed with you, anything else is left in the locker-room. From the top you can see close by to the naval college in Greenwich, across to Canary Wharf and down to the Thames Barrier, as well as getting the Bond-eye-view over the top of the Dome itself. Then you begin the descent down the other side of the Dome, which some may find a little steeper, but here’s where the shoes come into their own with their helpful grip to keep you slip-free until you reach the bottom. All the way along the instructor is beside you ready to help if needed or point out particular landmarks, but otherwise leaves you to get on with it, which is great and certainly increases your sense of achievement.

Unlike most of London’s other viewing platforms, this one is completely outdoors from beginning to end which makes it a much more interesting experience. The whole process from checking-in to packing up your kit on the other side is smoothly managed and you never feel even remotely unsafe. It’s also really fun and certainly feels more of an accomplishment than getting the lifts in the Shard. So as one of the more unique experiences, I would definitely recommend climbing the Millennium Dome to survey our fair city from yet another angle. It may not make you James Bond but as Londoners (or visitors to London) it is our duty to go up as much stuff as we can – do it, you know you want to!

Up at the O2 costs £26 on a weekday and £33 at weekends and all equipment is supplied. Restrictions on climbers do apply and is not suitable for anyone under 10 years old, shorter than 1.2 meters or weighing more than 21 stone. Twilight climbs are also available.

Bond in Motion – London Film Museum

2014 was supposed to deliver the 24th Bond film, but after the success of Skyfall, Sam Mendes was asked to direct again so the next edition has been delayed until October 2015 while he completes other work – trivial things like directing King Lear at the National! What to do in the meantime…? Go to the Film Museum in Covent Garden for an exhibition of vehicles covering 50 years and 6 actors. This isn’t about the smooth, womanising aspects of our favourite spy, but purely focuses on the action sequences.

London has hosted a number of Bond exhibitions in recent years; the Imperial War Museum had an excellent show on Ian Fleming a few years back, covering the author’s life in wartime naval intelligence with a bit of book and film memorabilia at the end. Some of the latter appeared again in the brilliant and extensive Barbican ‘Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style’ exhibition in 2012 which had everything from Odd-Job’s bowler hat to Daniel Craig’s pants, as well as then unseen costumes and props from Skyfall. So, is there room for more Bond in London – always!

Bond in Motion begins in a small mezzanine gallery with some of the original artwork and scripts from several films, giving you an insight into the process of creating those iconic action sequences which look something like a graphic novel. There’s also a scale-model of the MI6 building, Vauxhall Cross, used to design sequences in The World is Not Enough.

And so to the cars, villain, henchman or Bond, there’s an impressive selection in the main gallery starting with Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce Phantom III. Across the way another Rolls this time from A View to a Kill in which Bond’s sidekick in murdered in a carwash. Round the corner are Bond’s Aston and Zhao’s Jaguar used in the car-case on ice from Die Another Day with all the gadgets visible. There’s Tracy’s car from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  Bond’s remote controlled BMW from Tomorrow Never Dies and the little yellow Citroen from For Your Eyes Only, before possibly the most exciting piece of the exhibition, the submarine Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me.

All that and I haven’t even mentioned the Astons – there are several, including the iconic DB5 from Goldeneye, one from the The Living Daylights and two from the Daniel Craig era; a scraped and battered DBS from the frenetic opening sequence of Quantum of Solace and, more famously, the same model from Casino Royale that holds a world record for the number of somersaults (7 ¾) when Bond swerves to avoid Vesper lying in the road.

If that’s not enough, there’s even more to enjoy among the other vehicles – essentially anything that Bond characters have travelled in – motorbikes, a jet pack, the horse-box aeroplane from Octopussy, the little boat (Q’s retirement ship) from the Thames chase in The World in Not Enough, the cello case from The Living Daylights, a submarine crocodile and, of course, Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice. As you can probably tell, I enjoyed this exhibition, and it’s a rare chance to see a broad collection. Everything is accompanied by clips from the films which is a nice touch and a top-trumps style overview of specifications.

A couple of tiny grumbles though – there’s no obvious curation or order, more on how the stunts were managed throughout the exhibition would have been nice, and you can’t move the information screens along so have to wait until the page you were reading comes round again. But none of that really matters; this is a great opportunity for fans waiting for Sam Mendes to deliver the next instalment. Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig – whoever is your favourite Bond and whatever your favourite film (mine is Roger Moore and The Spy Who Loved Me) this is a comprehensive overview of 50 years of Britain’s favourite action hero and the 23 times he saved the world.

Bond in Motion is at London Film Museum in Covent Garden throughout 2014. Entry is £14.50 with concessions available.

%d bloggers like this: