The Sound of 007 In Concert was one of those rare alignments of a constellation of musical stars that is unlikely to be repeated. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the premiere of the first Bond film, Dr No, this was a spectacular concert to pay tribute to the musical legacy of James Bond films.
The word iconic is often used with indiscriminate abandon. However, it is absolutely fair to argue that the canon of James Bond themes is truly iconic. From the sumptuousness of 1964’s Goldfinger (setting the frequently-followed blueprint of a big, bombastic motif) to the comparative sparsity of the 2020 No Time To Die theme, Bond themes have changed and adapted across the 60 years of 007 movies.
Produced by five-times Bond composer David Arnold, The Sound of 007 was an affectionate showcase to the music that that has accompanied the British Secret Agent across six decades. And who else could open such an event but the Queen of Bond herself, Dame Shirley Bassey.
With the audience on their feet and cheering before Dame Shirley had sung a note, the enormous affection for the ‘Girl from Tiger Bay’ was palpable. Opening the show with Diamonds Are Forever, the Royal Albert Hall was immediately swathed in mirrorball sparkles and not just from DSB’s fabulous bejewelled frock. With her own musical director Michael Alexander conducting the magnificent Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, only a peerless diva such as Shirley could get away with conducting her conductor to speed up. With a claimed showbiz age of 85, you only can but marvel at that voice.
Before the audience could quite recover, Dame Shirley launched into her signature song. Even though she has been singing it since 1964, Bassey always performs Goldfinger as if it is completely fresh for her. With the audience giddily clapping every crescendo and the singer delighting us with her trademark flamboyant armography, this was a star turn that managed to be both the epitome of camp and an irresistible explosion of talent. There is a moment where that final extended note of “gold” approaches and you draw breath – of course she smashed it.
As a delighted Dame Shirley skipped off to the roars of the audience, she left The Sound of 007 with a considerable problem: how do you follow that?
It was as if they had front loaded the finale. David Arnold joked that they “had to get someone to follow Shirley Bassey” before paying tribute to the man who created the sound of 007, “the guv’nor” John Barry. The orchestra gave an energetic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with clips of George Lazenby’s short-lived Bond in the giant gun-barrel screen that loomed as a backdrop over proceedings.
Looking very dapper in a sharp dark suit, Jamie Cullum was the first of the guest performers to interpret a Bond theme recorded by someone else. Introduced, as many acts were, by a voiceover from former-M actress Dame Judi Dench, Cullum did a great faithful version of From Russia With Love. His natural insouciant style with a perfect substitution for Matt Monro’s laidback crooning.
With an appealing warmth to Cullum’s lower register, his smooth take on the second Bond theme tune was well-received in the Hall.
The next original theme tune singer to take to the stage was Lulu. Wearing an oriental style jade-and-gold haori-style coat as perhaps a nod to the ninth Bond film’s location, the veteran singer looked delighted to be part of the event.
The Man With The Golden Gun is arguably the first theme song of the classic Bond era not to be regarded among the premier tier.
But Lulu performed it with customary gusto, her voice having barely changed in the intervening 48 years.
Musical theatre performer Emma Lindars gave a full-throttle version of Adele’s Skyfall. Dare we say Lindars’ live performance displayed an even greater range and power than the original artist’s.
The first unconventional interpretation of the night came from Celeste. As is her style, she gave an idiosyncratic and modern take on Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice. Against an orchestal arrangement to make you swoon, Celeste deployed some Bassey-style fingerography and a jazz sensibility to the timing of her vocals. While The Recs enjoyed her bold reinterpretation, the response from the audience was a little muted.
With the evening benefitting Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy and the BRIT Trust music charities, it seemed fitting that former Brit Schooler Ella Eyre should be part of the line-up.
In her first appearance, wearing a stylish black and white trouser recalling Gladys Knight’s tuxedo in the video for Licence To Kill, she confidently strutted around the stage performing the 1989 song – a track that was a hit five years before she was born. Whilst not having the pipes of Gladys Knight (who does!), Eyre started riffing more as the song went on, her vocal gymnastics added more notes than have ever been previously!
When she returned in the second half, Ella performed a beautiful Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me, the gentle tone of the song suited her voice much more, its space allowing her comfortably to extemporise vocally.
The second half opened with the final original Bond-theme artist of the evening. With Shirley Manson dressed in a spectacular silver foil dress – think Grayson Perry at the end of a marathon – Garbage rocked the Royal Albert Hall with their frankly underrated The World Is Not Enough. A rougher-than-the-recording live take of their song came as a timely reminder of the danger in Bond soundtracks.
Continuing the high-octane, edgier vibe, the previously-unannounced Skin from Skunk Anansie took to the stage to perform the song that is often cited as people’s favourite Bond song. Dressed in sparkly rock-chic and oozing swagger, she delivered a show-stopping Live and Let Die. While Dame Shirley was naturally the star of the show, the audience’s deservedly-rapturous reception indicated that Skin ran her a close second. She left us shaken and stirred! (Oh come on, you can’t write a Bond-related review without that reference)
David Arnold paid a touching tribute to “lost legend” Chris Cornell with a surprisingly credible, endearingly anglicised You Know My Name.
You would have thought that a larger-than-life number like Goldeneye and Paloma Faith would be double-O heaven… But it ended up as rather strange. Sounding more like a Tina Turner impersonator, it felt like this vocal choice tipped into parody.
What should have been one of the evening’s highlights was received with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm from the auditorium.
John Grant was the final guest singer. Much as Tina Turner is in the DNA of Goldeneye, it’s hard to imagine We Have All The Time In The World without hearing Louis Armstrong’s unique vocals. One of the most beautiful songs and certainly the most poignant in the Bond back-catalogue, Grant gave a safe, solid vocal that somewhat resembled the Divine Comedy.
What made the evening a truly outstanding and memorable evening was the chance to hear the 80+ Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra play some extraordinary instrumentals taken from various eras of the franchise. Among the delights were an imperious Astronaut from You Only Live Twice, a dreamlike instrumental from Goldeneye whose strings and woodwind recalled Bernard Herrmann as much as Éric Serra’s soundtrack, and a thrilling team up between Hans Zimmer and David Arnold on a No Time To Die suite that featured bongos, staccato beats and the 30-strong string section playing for dear life. While the soaring grandeur of the Bond musical legacy dominated, it was a welcome delight that Marvin Hamlisch’s disco-tastic Bond 77 found its way into the programme. His synth and waka-waka guitars reinterpretation of the 007 theme was the perfect reflection of Roger Moore’s lighter Bond.
Fans of the Bond oeuvre from 1979’s Moonraker through to 1987’s The Living Daylight‘s may have felt slightly neglected and the omission of Writing’s on the Wall (the only theme song to reach Number One in the UK singles charts) was something of a surprise, but it would be churlish to focus on what was missing than recognising that The Sound of 007 In Concert was an evening of unalloyed 007 musical delights.
We spied an evening of incredible performances of Bond music that had a licence to thrill – ★★★★★ (5 stars) for The Sound of 007 In Concert
The Sound of 007: LIVE from the Royal Albert Hall
The Sound of 007: LIVE from the Royal Albert Hall, an exclusive recording of the live 4thOctober charity concert, will be available on Prime Video globally following the event as part of the James Bond 60th Celebration.Head to Prime Video