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The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra presents ‘The Music of Bond’: Mary Carewe and Simon Bowman (vocalists), Honor Blackman (presenter), Carl Davis (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London 13.11.2008 (JPr)

‘Bond’ are a fairly well known young female classical quartet who play on electric instruments, but despite the name this was not an evening with them, even though that might have been more appropriate for a  Seen and Heard review. Instead here we hard a seemingly full Royal Albert Hall given an evening of splendid entertainment by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor and guests, in which many of the theme tunes and hit songs, as well as some incidental music, was played from well over 40 years of classic James Bond movies.

I was pleased that the conductor, Carl Davis, had done nothing to ‘soup up’ the arrangements of this familiar music  which mostly seemed to be performed in recognisably traditional versions. In nearly two hours of music,  most of the main title themes were played, more or less in the order the films were released. They even included
Burt Bacharach's  wonderful ‘The Look of Love’ composed for the non-canonical 1967 comedy version of Casino Royale. As ‘bonus tracks’ we were also given some of the background music to a few of the films, ‘Dawn Raid on Fort Knox’ (Goldfinger), ‘Ride to Atlantis’ (The Spy Who Loved Me) and ‘Ski Chase from Piz Gloria’ (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service); but as by its very nature some of this music is slightly repetitive,  it could only have worked well for those, like me, replaying the scenes from the movies in their minds.

The singers, Mary Carewe and Simon Bowman, had the unenviable task of bridging the differing styles employed by composers over 46 years from John Barry’s power ballads to Garbage’s hard rock, as well as, having to exorcise the ghosts of vocal greats such as Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Tom Jones and Tina Turner. Both performers sang with great commitment and professionalism but Ms Carewe found the ‘shade’ of ‘The Girl from Tiger Bay’ very difficult to shake off. Sadly, despite mimicking some of
Miss Bassey's signature gesticulations, Mary Carewe was not a natural mover on the concert platform and despite some piercing lung power, the  ‘Goldfinger’ and others made famous by Ms Bassey were shadows of their former selves. Simon Bowman was better overall and a highlight for me was his heartfelt rendition of my favourite song,  ‘We Have all The Time In The World’,  from my favourite Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In the second half, to the simgers' great credit, the passion and excitement they brought to the weaker theme songs - such as, ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, ‘You Know My Name’ (Casino Royale) and one of the encores, the closing credits’ ‘Surrender’ from Tomorrow Never Dies - seemed to give them more power and resonance to these concert versions than they had in the actual films. I know you can’t have everything of course but there were also some important omissions such as ‘All Time High’ from Octopussy.

Carl Davis, flamboyantly attired firstly in a long peacock blue, and then, a gold dress coat, used quite a lengthy baton and expansive gestures to  lead his splendid orchestra
enthusiastically through all the music. Sadly the amplification did the strings no favours and the bass trombone particularly, intoned too loudly for most of the concert. However some exquisite detail did sound through, particularly from the solo trumpet on a couple of occasions, including in ‘The Look Of Love’.

The almost final word must go to Honor Blackman’s consummate professionalism as the presenter  for this concert: there was no one better to take us on the journey through the James Bond history. Her script (by Hannah Davis and David Conolly) was full of interesting detail and anecdotes. Some of my favourites were how Ian Fleming said he wrote Casino Royale ‘To take my mind off that appalling business of getting married at the age of 43’; how Sean Connery was seen as the ‘epitome of well-honed manhood’ to which Miss Blackman’s riposte was ‘I’ll say that!’; and the problem with her name when she starred in Goldfinger. Ms Blackman  asked ‘What’s wrong with Honor?’ but of course the problem came from her character, Pussy Galore: apparently the American censors thought ‘there was something a little below the belt about it’.  Later she also revealed how Roger Moore gave up the role when he realised he was ‘considerably older than the mother of his co-star!’ Splendid stuff!

Even though this concert was – as Carl Davis said at one point – partly a ‘shameless plug’ for the new RPO CD ‘The Best of Bond’ with the same vocal stars, it also was one of the most entertaining evenings I have ever spent at the Royal Albert Hall.  I both was shaken and stirred!

There were many groups of schoolchildren present, some of whose parents were probably not even born when the first James Bond film (Dr No) hit the cinema screens in 1962. But in the interval there was  also a half-hearted ‘Mexican Wave’ limping round the Royal Albert Hall's circle to indicate that the rest of the audience was mostly made up of people who have been fans of these films from the early 60’s right through to Quantum of Solace in 2008 – and who are now much too grown up for these antics! For many of the youngest ones though, I wouldn't  be surprised if this was the first time they had been inside one of London’s premier concert halls to hear a large orchestra:  hopefully they enjoyed themselves enough to want to come back and try something else in years to come.

Jim Pritchard 



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