Never one to take the cheaper options in life, James Bond’s 60th anniversary celebrations began early with an intimate bash at the Royal Albert Hall, with roughly 5,000 in attendance for The Sound of 007 in Concert. Curated by prolific Bond composer David Arnold, the evening saw performances of a variety of theme songs and instrumental compositions from the soundtracks of others – and featured a wealth of special guests along the way.
Several guest vocalists had been announced prior to the event, though not all were able to make it in the end. The big draw (& proclaimed concert headliner) was the incomparable Shirley Bassey; I’m sure most would have expected her to be saved for the very end, but a bold gambit saw her opening the show with Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger – when the audience’s enthusiastic ovations died down, that is. David Arnold described the move as akin to a Bond film beginning with a spectacular opening sequence, and it definitely paid off. Bassey rolled back the years with this powerful performance, fittingly wearing a sparkling gold dress for the occasion.
From then on, the numbers alternated between instrumentals (beautifully performed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra) and guest vocal spots. In the first act, highlights included Jamie Cullum’s eerily accurate rendition of From Russia With Love (originally sung by Matt Monro), the opening theme to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a spine-tingling performance of Adele’s Skyfall by Emma Lindars, and original soundtrack artist Lulu singing The Man With the Golden Gun. Celeste’s vocal style unfortunately didn’t really suit You Only Live Twice (originally performed by Nancy Sinatra), but it was wonderful to hear the gorgeous string intro performed live. Ella Eyre’s interpretation of Licence to Kill (originally sung by Gladys Knight) also shone through, and was a memorable final song before the interval.
Somehow the second act managed to up the ante, with Garbage taking residence at the front of the stage to perform their theme song The World is Not Enough (backed by the orchestra), before Bond lyricist Don Black came out to speak about the legendary John Barry. Other highlights from this half included Paloma Faith’s dramatic performance of Tina Turner’s GoldenEye (she certainly understood the assignment), an excerpt from the Spectre score, and composer Hans Zimmer joining David Arnold to perform some of his soundtrack to No Time to Die.
This act also featured my two personal favourite performances of the entire night. David Arnold quite rightly couldn’t leave You Know My Name off the programme, so he took on the responsibility of singing it himself – paying tribute to the much-missed Chris Cornell and giving the audience a real treat. Whoever matched Skunk Anansie singer Skin with Live and Let Die is an absolute genius; she completely made the song her own without losing the spirit & intent of the Wings original – and the pyrotechnics around the hall just added to the spectacle.
Given the volume of music available from the past 60 years, David Arnold did a remarkable job of making sure each era was fairly represented – the majority of the 25 films ended up featuring in one way or another, though I’m sure many people would have left the venue wanting more! It would have been helpful to inform the audience of the writing credits (and the films from which they were taken) of the instrumental pieces performed; some are obviously more famous than others, but the images or videos projected onto the screen at the back of the stage could only provide so many clues for the less well-known ones. It’s also a basic courtesy to the composers to give them a credit.
Unsurprisingly, the show closed with a performance of the James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman and arranged for the films by John Barry. It prompted such a rapturous response that David Arnold (on lead guitar) and the orchestra were forced into an unplanned encore of the theme – both performances featured a highlights reel of each Bond (from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig), making it hard to decide whether to watch the screen or the brilliant musicianship on display. This was an incredibly special way to celebrate such an enduring figure in the world of cinema.
My verdict? A phenomenal concert, expertly curated by prolific Bond composer David Arnold – the only way to celebrate this feat of cinematic endurance.
Sound of 007 was at the Royal Albert Hall on 4 October 2022. Highlights of the concert are available on Prime Video for three months.