As some of you may know, I’m a bit of a James Bond fan. I’ve been one ever since I was a little kid, giving a show and tell to the rest of my class on the names of all the villains and henchmen, movie titles and Bond girls. (The thought of a nine-year-old talking about Pussy Galore must have given my teacher a chuckle.)
And if you’re a subscriber of mine, there’s been no lack of 007 on the channel over the past 8 years from my pretty naff Skyfall review to my Let’s Play of Everything or Nothing and especially my still-not-finished-but-I’ll-get-there-at-some-point project where I review every James Bond film (give me a break, it’s a mammoth task!)
As well as my digital exploits I’ve also made an effort over the years to visit as much Bond stuff in person. Going to the films themselves is a bit of an obvious example and something I tried to make slightly more special last time when I saw Spectre. What better than to see the brand new film on the biggest screen in the UK? It’s just a pity then that the film was absolutely pants…
The Music of Bond
Turn back the clock to October 31st, 2010 and you’d see me and my friend George take a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to watch the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform The Music of Bond…royally. It was the first big trip to London I’d done with a friend and it ended up being a fantastic show. There’s something magical about hearing fully orchestrated music in the flesh – the hairs on the back of my head stood up and my eyes darted about to focus on each individual instrument being played.
It was presented by former Bond girl Honor Blackman who played the aforementioned Pussy Galore and throughout the show she sprinkled some quips and insights of her time filming Goldfinger way back in 1964. Two singers were tasked with the audacious job of covering James Bond’s varied collection of theme songs - Simon Bowman and Mary Carewe. Mary was certainly the better singer but that’s to be expected when the songs lean so heavily towards female vocals. Sorry Simon!
One highlight of the concert was a literal one - conductor Carl Davis was adorned in a wonderfully multicoloured coat that sparkled in the spotlights. So much so that he could have nipped over to the West End and joined in with a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Afterwards I decided to purchase a CD recording and even managed to get it signed by Carl Davis too. What a shame that as he was signing all I could think of to fill the air was nervously mutter “…I really like your coat”.
Bond in Motion
Chronologically, next up is my trip to the London Film Museum which I visited in both July 2014 and more recently in September 2018. Since 2014 the museum has been dedicated to the Bond in Motion exhibition that boasts the largest official collection of James Bond vehicles. By no means am I a petrolhead (learning to drive would be a good start) but as a fan of the series I was keen to see the Bond cars up close.
From the classic Aston Martin DB5 to the infamous Lotus Esprit and everything in between, it’s an exhaust-ive array of memorable motor vehicles. So inclusive is it that it even features the crocodile submarine from Octopussy and Blofeld’s bathosub from Diamonds Are Forever…albeit sadly lacking bashed up Blofeld inside. Oh, and if you’re not overly into cars don’t worry - there are plenty of props scattered throughout too!
It’s cheap as chips for a ticket and bang in the centre of London at Covent Garden so if you’re in the city I’d definitely recommend a visit. Just avoid the terrifying waxwork of Sean Connery…
An Evening with Peter Lamont
Not all of my 007 trips have been sunshine and roses however. In fact it was during a cold, dark November night in 2016 I went to see An Evening with Peter Lamont at The Cinema Museum in - you guessed it - London. If you’re wondering who Peter Lamont is he’s none other than the Oscar-winning production designer who worked on 18 of the James Bond films from Goldfinger all the way up to Casino Royale.
(You may shrewdly notice that from Goldfinger to Casino Royale is actually 19 films. He missed Tomorrow Never Dies since he was too busy earning that ‘Oscar-winning’ title working on Titanic.)
With such credentials under his belt, an evening with Peter recounting his James Bond stories and memories seemed too good to miss. Unfortunately I didn’t have the best of times. For starters, the staff at The Cinema Museum were so rude! …Ok, it was just one member of staff really but he really set the evening off to a miserable start by acting so incredulous when I asked about the toilet facilities. I’m not sure why that was such a perplexing question to him but nonetheless he was very patronising.
More crucially I found Peter very hard to follow as he spoke. It wasn’t a large venue by any means (there couldn’t have been more than ~50 people in the audience) but either he wasn’t mic’d up at all or the sound system was very poor. Equally the man was 86 years old at the time and didn’t have the clearest eloquence which meant a lot of his anecdotes were lost on me unfortunately.
And as the cherry on top of problems that evening, I had to leave early to catch the last train home. I’d calculated that if the event ended on time I’d be fine but sadly it overran which meant I had to awkwardly and embarrassingly leave the small venue in front of everyone else whilst Peter was still talking. Oops.
Thankfully there was a silver lining - the event coincided with the release of Peter’s new book, cheesily titled The Man with the Golden Eye which was on sale at a discounted price during the intermission. I managed to nab a copy and even get a signature from the man himself…
Casino Royale in Concert
In October 2017 I returned once again to the Royal Albert Hall for a brand new experience - Casino Royale in Concert. As the name would suggest it was a screening of Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing the score.
It was touted as “the first time an entire Bond score has ever officially been performed live” and featured Gavin Greenaway conducting David Arnold’s fantastic score. Speaking of David Arnold, he was there himself for a preliminary Q&A session before the show began. To be honest the Q&A was too short to contain anything of substance but it was a neat addition nonetheless.
Much like back in 2010, hearing the orchestra perform live was a wonderful experience and brought the film to life before my eyes…and ears. Who needs surround sound when you’ve got the real deal right in front of you? I tried my best not to focus too much on the film itself and savour the live performance by watching the musicians instead. It’s no easy feat, let me tell you! Often I’d snap out of the film and force myself to pay attention to each section of the orchestra.
Sound mixing is no easy task but I do think it could have been better for such a world-class venue. The film dialogue was lost at times due to the volume of the orchestra and the balance wasn’t quite right. Although arguably if it was the other way around I think people would’ve quickly been demanding a refund.
As we all know Casino Royale withholds the titular theme until the very end with Craig’s first delivery of the classic line “Bond…James Bond”. What a tease! But what an ending it provided with the orchestra swelling to the famous theme. The Royal Albert Hall roared with applause and concluded a marvellous evening in London.
The James Bond Concert Spectacular
It was thanks to a brilliant 007-centric YouTuber that I ended up attending my next James Bond event. Calvin Dyson is someone I’ve been watching for many years now from his film reviews to his own playthroughs of the Bond video games. He certainly knows his stuff and back in April released a video reviewing Q The Music’s live show - the James Bond Concert Spectacular.
Spectacular, eh? Well, Calvin seemed to think so which led me to check the band’s tour dates for future performances. Lo and behold they were due to play in Folkestone, a slightly closer venue and one that’d make for a pleasant change from the typical London setting.
Q The Music describes themselves as “the World’s leading James Bond tribute band” and have been performing since 2004 under the founder and manager, Warren Ringham - a “huge James Bond fan” himself. I eagerly booked tickets and headed to Folkestone’s Leas Cliff Hall in August of this year.
And spectacular it was! Dare I say that despite the smaller orchestra it was actually better than the grandiose Royal Albert Hall concert back in 2010. It was compèred by Caroline Bliss - none other than Miss Moneypenny herself from Timothy Dalton’s tenure as 007. Yes, it may well be she’s not top of most Moneypenny rankings but that doesn’t negate the fact she’s absolutely lovely! Along with introducing the songs, she described a little about her own audition process and time spent filming The Living Daylights and License to Kill. It was an engaging insight into the films’ productions and overall she seemed like a wonderfully down-to-earth, charming lady.
The show was packed with a plethora of the classic Bond tunes and a few surprise ones too. Matthew Walker took care of the male vocals for songs such as From Russia with Love and You Know My Name and did a perfectly fine job though at points his voice was lost among the music. It’s also fair to say his singing was more suited to the crooning vocals of We Have All the Time in the World or Thunderball rather than A View to a Kill for example.
Without a doubt it was Kerry Shultz who dominated the show and made it an evening to remember. She covered the varied styles of Bond themes effortlessly from the boisterousness of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger to the dramatic ballad of Adele’s Skyfall. Every performance by Kerry was spot-on as she sashayed her way around the stage in a multitude of dazzling dresses. Together with the occasional fireworks, she truly set the night alight.
At nearly three hours long, the production certainly didn’t lack any songs. Well ok, wisely they chose to omit Die Another Day from the setlist. Unlike the general consensus I happen to think the song is decent but I don’t think even Kerry could’ve tackled the electroclash genre of it live. Instead there were more unexpected inclusions such as the disco-influenced Bond 77 theme from The Spy Who Loved Me and plenty of unused tracks too. Both k.d. lang’s Surrender from Tomorrow Never Dies and Dionne Warwick’s Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang from Thunderball were performances I never envisioned hearing live. The same goes for No Good About Goodbye which is argued to have been a potential theme for Quantum of Solace.
The true testament of the show’s quality lies in that I actually preferred some of their performances compared to the real deal. Kerry’s rendition of Writing’s on the Wall was far superior to the squeakiness of Sam Smith’s and her duet with Matthew singing Another Way to Die harmonised much better than Jack Whites and Alicia Keys’ ever did.
My only criticism was the lack of any strings in the orchestra although this may have been due to the size of the venue. Regardless, I promptly grabbed a copy of their CD and met Kerry afterwards to have it signed. A superb end to a spectacular show indeed. The good news for me is that they’ll be back next year and I strongly recommend you check their website for a performance near you too.
Skyfall in Concert
Most recently I returned to the Royal Albert Hall for a second ‘Films in Concert’ screening, this time of Skyfall. Visiting that gigantic concert hall never gets old and I love exploring all the different levels, admiring the views and enjoying a drink or two while doing so.
Once again the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played alongside the film and overall it was a very similar experience to the one back in 2017 with Casino Royale. I really can’t decide which score I prefer but Thomas Newman’s Skyfall soundtrack is very good (so good in fact that Spectre’s is remarkably similar).
Thomas Newman was there himself in a surprise visit to introduce his brother David who conducted the performance. Equally surprising was Sam Mendes, Skyfall’s director, who came onstage beforehand to give a very brief introduction to the night’s proceedings. It was a nice inclusion to have them both there but I must admit it did seem rather pointless. Why bring two hugely influential creatives onstage for only a few minutes? I’d have much preferred an earlier start time and the inclusion of something more substantial with them. Oh well - perhaps they arrived to watch the performance just like the rest of us…
I did notice a few improvements compared to before, namely the decision to add subtitles to the film screening which helped when the dialogue wasn’t quite loud enough. However the sound mixing this time around was far, far better anyway and never did it feel like the orchestra and the film dialogue were battling against each other to be heard. As the audience applauded the finale for what seemed like an eternity, another tremendous James Bond event in London came to an end.
And that just about does it. I say just about, somehow I’ve managed to write ~2500 words all about James Bond but I guess that goes to show how much I love going to these sorts of things. I’m always keeping an eye out for events in the future so I hope they’ll be many more to come. Speaking of which, I’d better get ready to book No Time To Die tickets at IMAX…