The 25th James Bond film is creeping ever closer and with each step towards its release on April 3rd comes more and more information. Sponsorship brands, 30-second Super Bowl spots and now the biggie – the theme song!
It was announced on January 14th that none other than teenage singer/songwriter sensation Billie Eilish would be performing the titular track and to be honest, that didn’t come as much of a surprise. There were rumours months ago she was in the running and her current status matches EON’s typical formula of picking what they hope to be a surefire number 1 (and whaddya know, it was). With that prior inkling, my reaction was a solid – ‘mmh’ – and that was about it. She’s hugely popular for a reason and with such massive success so young, she’s got to be doing something right. Sure, her music isn’t my exact cup of tea but I wanted to reserve judgement until the song was released.
Come midnight on February 13th and up it pops on her YouTube channel. Bleary eyed I plugged in my earphones and got listening. My immediate reaction was…well, it’s a tad disappointing but not awful – i.e. the same reaction I had listening to ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ for the first time.
Initially I felt as though the song was just a bit too similar to Spectre’s theme. Slow piano introduction, haunting lyrics, orchestral swells and a final crescendo – Adele, Sam Smith and now Billie Eilish have together cemented Craig’s era of Bond themes as emotional ballads. Sure, Chris Cornell’s fantastic ‘You Know My Name’ kickstarted his tenure and Jack White and Alicia Keys’ not-so-fantastic ‘Another Way to Die’ followed suit, but since then it’s been a croon-fest.
In itself, the choice of a ballad isn’t a bad thing. After all, ‘Nobody Does it Better’ is a power ballad and that’s perhaps my favourite James Bond song of them all. The issue is it’s now been three in a row and maybe the formula is getting a little stale. Just like ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, at first I thought ‘No Time to Die’ lacked punch and needed a bit more pizazz. They picked an edgy artist who just wasn’t edgy enough in this case. Bit I’ve given it some time, I listened and relistened and I can safely say I’m warming to it.
Ok so it’s not my dream 007 theme. Not by a long shot. And let me just get a lil’ bit of moaning out of the way first. The song teases us with those iconic James Bond horns and guitar twangs. I’ve seen reaction videos of people fawning over those specific parts but to me it’s just a bit lazy.
“Hmm, how do we make sure people know it’s a Bond song?”
“Just shove a trumpet in and end on that guitar chord, I wanna go home.”
Perhaps it didn’t go quite like that but I’d love if the theme went a bit more retro, especially with the old-school title of ‘No Time to Die’. Give us the full-on, no holds barred Bond experience! That being said, I’ve given it a little thought and have come to my own conclusions as to why that wasn’t the case.
This is Daniel Craig’s final performance as 007. It’s going to be an emotional farewell to this era of Bond which has lasted a whopping 14 years. ‘No Time to Die’ reflects that pretty well I’d say. And maybe there’s no room in today’s music tastes for a belter like Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ but my guess is if they are to do one like that, they’re waiting until Bond 26. Why? Because it’ll be a brand new actor stepping into those big shoes, someone’s who got to please a very judgemental audience (remember all the backlash Craig received for being blonde?). What better way to cement this new actor’s debut to the franchise than put it alongside a theme that evokes classics of the past? Here’s hoping anyway…
But back to Billie Eilish and ‘No Time to Die’. I’m really starting to dig it. Fittingly it’s got a dark, moody tone that no doubt will match whatever nasty revelation Bond is going to discover in the film. In that respect Eilish was a brilliant choice and Hans Zimmer’s orchestral arrangement features all sorts of little ominous cues to parallel. It’s slow, it lingers and creeps along – I can’t wait to see what opening titles are put alongside it.
Prior to its release, I read a few comments worrying about Eilish’s vocal strength and whether ‘No Time to Die’ would just end up a whispery, mumbly, breathy mess. Eilish’s style is certainly divisive but my only knowledge of her music beforehand was ‘Bad Guy’ and that was mainly due to memes. Give the song a listen however and you’ll quickly discover she easily has the ability to carry a Bond song. If anything ‘No Time to Die’ has given Billie Eilish the chance to spread her wings vocally. Sure there’s a lot of gentle singing but that eventually makes way for a suitably intense finale. And most importantly, Eilish’s voice doesn’t have that same ear-grating whine to it that Sam Smith’s does.
I promise the purpose of this post wasn’t just to bash Sam Smith but when I think back to Spectre, I think of all the potential it had and the disappointment that followed. And unfortunately ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ is just lumped in with that sentiment. And let’s be honest, its lyrics were pants which came as no surprise when Sam almost boasted that they wrote the theme in 20 minutes. Most of it was pretty schlocky but at least with ‘No Time to Die’ there’s a couple nice lines, the standout being “That the blood you bleed is just the blood you owe”. Maybe that’s just as schlocky but I like it.
Anyway, this was meant to be a quick post but as per usual I’ve rambled far too much. Long story short – I’m impressed. It took awhile but the song has grown on me to the point where I might even prefer it to Skyfall – perhaps someday I’ll do a Bond theme ranking. Will Billie Eilish be scooping up an Oscar just like Sam Smith? Probably not due to the timing of its release which is a pity since it’s much more deserving. Not long to go now until the film itself – you could say there’s no time ‘til No Time to Die.
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.)
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…