The tear-stricken faces peering up adoringly at James Bond producer Michael G. Wilson, seated in the royal box at Royal Albert Hall, during a lengthy standing ovation at “The Sound of 007” concert said it all: It’s not just movie music — the music, for this franchise at least, is the movie.
Tuesday’s charity event at London’s grandest venue preceded the Oct. 5 release of feature documentary “The Sound of 007” on Amazon’s Prime Video (the streamer’s top executives for Europe were, unsurprisingly, in the box next to the Bond guardians), and didn’t hesitate to remind both Bond novices and grizzled veterans that the franchise is virtually synonymous with some of cinema’s most iconic tracks.
The concert — part of a cavalcade of events marking the British spy’s 60th anniversary on screen — was produced and overseen by five-time Bond composer David Arnold, who was front and centre the entire evening, shredding with Hans Zimmer on an electric guitar or belting out late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s divisive rock anthem “You Know My Name,” from “Casino Royale.” Arnold was musical director for Danny Boyle’s London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, but this — you could tell — was a night he relished.
Dame Shirley Bassey, who dazzled Royal Albert Hall at the BAFTA Film Awards in March, was back to kick off the concert with “Diamonds are Forever” and “Goldfinger.” (The audience gave Bassey a standing ovation well before she’d even sung a single note.) Other vocalists included the movies’ original performing artists Lulu and Garbage, who sang “The Man With the Golden Gun” and “The World is Not Enough,” respectively, and were warmly received by fans.
Other standouts included BRIT School graduates and powerhouse singers Emma Lindars, who ably took on Adele’s hit song “Skyfall,” and Ella Eyre, who smashed both “Licence to Kill” and “Nobody Does it Better.” Deborah Anne Dyer, better known as Skin, also put her own riff on Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” with thrilling results. Performers were accompanied by the spectacular Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd, which had many in raptures over a three-minute rendition of “Come In 007” from “The World Is Not Enough.”
It’s puzzling why Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” title track or even Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall” from “Spectre” were omitted, but one can only assume that Arnold and his team were keen to pay homage to the 60-year-old franchise’s older films, such as “Thunderball” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” (both of which received moving orchestral pieces) in addition to the more pop-heavy entries of the last decade.
The evening also paid tribute to the late John Barry, who composed the original Bond theme tune for the first movie and wrote for 11 of the films. Don Black, a lyricist for several Bond pics and a close friend of Barry’s, regaled the audience with memories of the debonair British composer, who once described writing “The Living Daylights” for the titular movie with Norway’s A-ha to “playing table tennis with four balls.”
“Our collaboration was like a marriage,” Black said of his work with Barry. “And like a wonderful marriage, it was too short. Unfortunately for John and for everyone else, you only live once.”
Over the course of its three hours (including a 25-minute interval), “The Sound of 007” masterfully reflected the franchise’s diversity of music through its six decades, which spanned everything from classical, funk and jazz, to the rock and modern pop of the recent films. Each song, always so distinctive and of its period, transported us back to another place and time, when we were different — when Bond was different. No wonder artists consider it the utmost honor to be asked to write the song for a Bond film: These tracks take on a life of their own apart from the movie, and in some cases, transcend the movie entirely. As Wilson and co-pilot Barbara Broccoli now look towards the next chapter for their legendary spy — who will, they suggest, be a 30-something recruit — there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the melodies will follow in lockstep.