Ulster Orchestra Do Bond
Graeme Stewart is shaken and stirred by the Ulster Orchestra's rendition of Bond classics
Sean Connery introduced the suave secret agent in Terence Young’s Dr No in 1962 with the immortal lines 'Bond, James Bond'. Little did Connery know that he was about to become part of both the most successful film franchise of all time and the most enduring silver screen musical legacy.
The music is synonymous with Bond himself, as important as the Aston Martin DB9, or the shaken not stirred Martinis. Everytime that electric guitar begins to strum and those strings start moving up and down in semitones, Bond is back.
Monty Norman was the man hired to create the music for Bond's first film outing, but British composer John Barry is the man most often associated with the films. The sound Barry created for Bond brought together two different worlds: jazz and symphonic music.
Conductor Carl Davis and the Ulster Orchestra kick off the evening with 'The James Bond Theme', all rousing brass and big strings. It's followed by an authentic, if slightly weak version, of Lionel Bart’s timeless theme to From Russia with Love. I find I miss Matt Monro’s dulcet tones.
The orchestra are joined on stage by soprano Mary Carewe, who sings 'Goldfinger', one of the most beloved of themes made famous by Shirley Bassey. Carewe handles the epic part well, and the orchestra performs strongly on an arrangement true to all the hallmarks of the original.
One of the great aspects of the concert is the inclusion of some of the incidental music to the films. 'Goldfinger' is followed by 'Dawn raid at Fort Knox', a nostalgic reminder of the film's final sequence.
Next up is the theme to Thunderball (Sean Connery’s favourite of his films) originally sung by Tom Jones. It's an epic for the horns, and the strongest of Barry’s themes aside from 'Goldfinger'. The Ulster Orchestra's arrangement of the piece for me is weak compared to the original, but it's nonetheless a stellar performance by all.
The next piece is Burt Bacharach’s 'The Look of Love', followed by the theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. First seen in 1969, the same year as Woodstock, when ‘flower power’ was at its height, the film's new Bond, Australian George Lazenby, divided fans. Luckily Barry's score was as popular as ever, and represents a major leap forward in the music of Bond. It features one of the series’ most iconic and popular songs, 'We Have All the Time in the World'.
In the 1970s, Broccoli and Co explored new ways to take the franchise forward, including casting a new Bond in the form of Roger Moore. The themes from Moore's films are certainly among the best in Bond history. One was written by Paul McCartney and, like George Lazenby, divided the fans.
My own personal view is that McCartney struck gold. The orchestra’s performance of 'Live and Let Die' is the best of the night. The arrangement is fantastic, true to the manic and energetic original, with a great piano solo to begin. The same can be said of 'Man with the Golden Gun'. Two fantastic performances back to back.
After the interval we come to films like For Your Eyes Only, Moonraker, and The Spy Who Loved Me. All these films represented a departure for the series, in both storyline and music. In For Your Eyes Only, Moore’s personal favourite, Rocky composer Bill Conti was asked to write the score. He utilized the pop music style of the day, particularly synthesizers, but this does not translate into a symphonic piece as well as some of the others.
Moving into the 1990s, and Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as Bond with GoldenEye. Bono and the Edge wrote a fantastic theme for the film, originally performed by the iconic Tina Turner. The orchestra's arrangement lives up to the original, although the signature finger clicks are missing.
David Arnold’s modern Bond music began with 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, and the orchestra performs a rare rendition of his end credits track 'Surrender'. It's a great piece that harks back to Barry's brassy sound in Goldfinger and is one of the strongest songs of any Bond film.
The theme from The World Is Not Enough is also a bright moment, as is the rousing and grungy theme 'You Know my Name' from Casino Royale. Mary Carewe's performances are fantastic, particularly Quantum of Solace’s 'Another Way to Die'. In my view she presents a much better version than the original.
On some levels it is hard to replicate the magic of the Bond soundtracks in their original form, but the Ulster Orchestra did a fine job. There isn’t a Walther PPK in sight, but the musicians certainly have a license to thrill.