2012 is a milestone year for Bond fans, seeing both the 50th anniversary of the first episode in the film franchise, Dr. No, and the release of the 22nd in the series, Skyfall, due this month. As a teaser, Adele’s eponymous theme song was unveiled last week – of which more later. As TGTF’s celebration of all things Bond-ian, we run through a short history of Bond movie themes.
Where better than to start than at the beginning, with Dr. No, which, strictly speaking, didn’t have a theme song of its own. The honour it did have, however, was to introduce an unsuspecting public to the sinister, bombastic delights of Monty Norman and John Barry’s title theme, the story of which is just as tortuous and thrilling as any Fleming plot. Norman had to go to court to defend his authorship of the James Bond theme three times; the latest in 2001, after a Sunday Times article alleged it was primarily a John Barry composition. Norman won all three cases, and received royalties unchallenged for years before and since. No matter its authorship (and a keen ear can hear the influence of both Norman and Barry), the song itself is a near-genius piece of composition. Expertly conjuring an orchestral breadth from its big band arrangement, and featuring a guitar riff timeless in both tone and melody from the superbly-named Vic Flick, the appearance of major sevenths in a minor key and liberal use of the ‘blue’ diminished fifth generates a macabre tension in the harmony, which Barry’s brass blasts amplify to almost unbearable levels of drama. Surely the most recognisable movie theme of all time, and amongst the finest 2 minutes’ of music ever conceived.
Monty Norman never again worked on a Bond film, in contrast with John Barry, who went on to score eleven more, including the title songs (except Lionel Bart’s competent if somewhat tame From Russia With Love). Goldfinger is where the franchise really hit its stride: Barry is at his menacing best in the opening brass fanfare and contrasting demure strings; the first of three Bond outings for Shirley Bassey matches the orchestra’s passion with a barnstorming vocal never bettered in the whole series, although Tom Jones almost achieves that high accolade with Thunderball, another tour de force performance from composer, orchestra, and singer alike, Jones famously fainting after holding the song’s final note for as long as he could manage. You Only Live Twice sees Nancy Sinatra in a more reflective mood than the bombast of the previous two episodes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is blessed with Louis Armstrong’s final recording, and Bassey returns along with Connery for Diamonds are Forever.
A Barry hiatus saw him temporarily replaced on composition duties by the wonder pairing of George Martin and Paul McCartney, whose Live And Let Die was recently, and rightly, voted the best Bond theme of all time by no less an authority than the listeners of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review. (You can watch the iconic Macca/Wings-infused title sequence below.) The first rock band theme, but no less Bond-ian for it, the McCartney/Martin effort strikes the perfect balance of lushness and aggression: an apposite way to signal the franchise’s change of tone as Moore picks his way through the mean streets of Harlem. Barry’s return, for The Man with the Golden Gun, carries more than a whiff of self-parody in its wah-wah guitar and blaxploitation overtones, and is, by Barry’s admission, his weakest ever theme, Lulu’s charms insufficient to drag it into the charts on either side of the Atlantic.
Marvin Hamlisch’s expert handling of the Barry style for The Spy Who Loved Me generated a worldwide hit for Carly Simon in ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and makes one wonder why Hamlisch never returned to the franchise. It being the late ‘70s, synthesisers and disco influences were creeping into the traditional big band style, to mixed effect. Moonraker is about as humdrum as a Barry/Bassey recording is likely to get: the tone more gentle and orchestral, presumably to reflect the yawning silence of space; the thuggish brass is sorely missed.
By the time of For Your Eyes Only (again Barryless), the rot – the 1980s – had truly set in. The truly dreadful Sheena Easton title song, seemingly played on a child’s synthesiser, is notable solely as a historical artefact, demonstrating how the 1980s FM radio sheen invaded even the most hallowed of musical institutions. Barry returned for Octopussy, but Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’ was barely better than Easton’s effort. Was this really Bond’s fate, to drown in a deluge of 1980s schmaltz?
Thankfully, to draw the Moore era to a close, Barry reached out for help, and found inspiration in a collaboration with Duran Duran. They knew how to harness the electronic sound for drama and tension rather than sickly sentiment, whilst Barry kept the orchestra bubbling underneath: The samples of ‘A View to a Kill’, its stratocaster and synth stabs add up to the finest Bond theme of the electronic era, charting higher than any Bond theme before or since on both sides of the Atlantic. [It also has a hilariously ridiculous spy-themed promo video, which you can watch below. - Ed.] Presumably, recruiting a-ha for The Living Daylights was meant to engender the same success – it didn’t, the resulting collaboration being a mostly forgettable, insipid thing. And thus ended the Barry era of Bond music. Patchy, but at its best, particularly in the early years, nothing could come close.
Licence to Kill mystifyingly chose Gladys Knight’s MOR r&b over a re-recorded version of the original theme tune by Eric Clapton and original guitarist Vic Flick. Evidence that the plot had well and truly been lost. It would be 6 years before Goldeneye released Eric Serra’s underrated avant-garde electronic minimalism on unsuspecting Bond fans. Featuring familiar themes given unfamiliar treatments (the main riff played on timpani, anyone?), anyone who spent hours playing the superb Nintendo video game will be more familiar with the nuances of Serra’s soundtrack than any other in the series.
David Arnold helmed the next five films, spanning 13 years, and failed to deliver a true classic theme for any one. Which brings us to Adele’s effort. Thomas Newman appears to be adopting the David Arnold “no surprises” approach – no blast of horns, no sneering vocal, just a gentle piano intro, developing strings, smooth, diva-ish vocal, choir call-and-response, and end. The intro’s too long, and there are some dreadful “moon in june” rhyming couplets. Not bad, not special, not enough to break the 27-year drought since ‘A View to a Kill’. Time and hindsight may treat the recent themes more kindly, but arguably the line “Nobody does it… quite as good as you… baby you’re the best,” could well have been written about the great John Barry himself.
Missed Martin’s field report of the Saturday of Split Festival? You’re in luck; read it here.
Where Saturday at Split Festival 2012 was noisy in the main tent and more subtle in the other, the situation is roughly reversed on Sunday. Field Music turn in a lithe, precise set on the main stage. Since this writer has, more by coincidence than anything else, seen them four times this year so far, I can safely say that they are better every time, and have never played the same set twice. A hometown gig is always a bit more special, and the crowd are duly appreciative.
Saint Etienne’s comeback continues apace – Sarah Cracknell looks glorious, her sparkly mini-dress picked out by a central spotlight, and she sounds just as good. In a set heavy with material from this year’s ‘Words and Music’, the synth-pop sound is just as present and correct as in years gone by. The volume and tempo is gently increased as we proceed, Cracknell elegantly gyrating, flourishing a feather boa. Close your eyes, and new songs like ‘When I Was Seventeen’ can make you believe it’s 1992 again; Neil Young has never sounded as warmly glorious as when they cover ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’.
A guilty candy-floss pleasure compared to the gristle of Future of the Left, whose noisy Welsh surrealist punk deafens everyone in the small tent. Andy Falkous, drenched in sweat, screams out such deadpan masterpieces such as ‘Sheena was a T-shirt Salesman’ and ‘Failed Olympic Bid’. The humour perhaps isn’t immediately apparent, but the skit climax, “if Margaret Thatcher was alive I’d ask her what her favourite film was” surely clinches the deal.
What’s the point in running a festival if you can’t headline it yourselves? After last year’s absence, The Futureheads are back with what is essentially a greatest hits set. They kick off with the superb ‘Beeswing’ from this year’s a capella album ‘Rant’; four-part harmonised vocals have always been an essential part of the ‘heads sound, but this song, shorn of any instrumentation, demonstrates just how accurate and heartfelt they can be with just four voices.
But it’s not long before the electric guitars come out, and the band rattle through the best bits of their back catalogue, climaxing with a majestic ‘Hounds of Love’. The audience are enraptured throughout, as well they might be: this event is more than just another show, it’s a celebration of Sunderland, its people and its music. And on the evidence of Split 2012, Sunderland is in very rude health indeed.
Not satisfied with releasing one of the albums of the year, garnering a well-deserved Mercury Prize nod along the way, Field Music are treating their fans to a covers-only release. The sound is consistent with their original material, that is to say with a heavy ’70s influence, complete with thuddy bass, crashy drums, and plenty of harmony vocals. The material is admirably varied: the Syd Barrett obscurantism of ‘Terrapin’ is a brief shock of an opener, ‘Born Again Cretin’ introduces swathes of new fans to Soft Machine stalwart Robert Wyatt, and Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Heart’ is the first of two tracks direct from Wallsend Boys’ Club, sumptuously rearranged for live band and duly reverential lead vocal.
The beauty of a covers collection is two-fold: to hear a band you love perform others’ songs gives a deeper insight into their own talent for arrangements, their voices and instruments guided by another’s hand; to hear songs from another era which have been otherwise loved to death, resurrected by a contemporary outfit, is equally as rewarding.
Roxy Music’s ‘If There Is Something’ (stream below) segues nicely into Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’, which loses nothing of the original’s portentious dread – lovers of the song will find little new here, yet its beautiful production emphasises the 70s influence heard throughout the album. The Beatles’ spirit is invoked in ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, not one of the Fab Four’s greatest songs in terms of popularity, and the song most transformed by Field Music’s attentions – their re-imagining of non-linear, stop-start arrangements, and showcases their perfect evocation of 1968 studio technology. Wherever you are recording this stuff, guys – don’t move anywhere! The brief end coda, which belongs to another song, assures they’re not.
The penultimate piece is perhaps the most literal cover, but daresay still unknown to a considerable portion of the target audience. Despite John Cale’s recent fondness for audiences, his material is still relatively unheard outside those who have made the effort to seek him out firsthand; Field Music’s cover of ‘Fear is a Man’s Best Friend’ sounds more like a gentle tribute than a genuine reinvention: Cale is too shrewd for that, his recordings always sounding as if they’ve been made a couple of decades too soon.
Conversely and perversely, ‘Rent’ is a welcome re-imagining of the Pet Shop Boys’ classic. Shorn of the electronics, the yearning lyrical content shines all the more brightly, bolstered by a proper acoustic drum kit, electric guitars of various guises, and who knows who on backing vocals. A welcome update of a classic pop song bookends a fine collection.
If this was the only release by Field Music this year, it would be a notable event. As a throwaway companion piece to their own original material, it’s an unexpected treat. To those who dismiss them as prog rock revivalists, this will neither confirm nor deny those rumours. Yes, the band are prone to semitone chord changes, unexpected pauses, and four or five movements within their songs. A perceived anomaly: pop music has been doing more or less the same for several decades, as this collection amply proves. For a virgin listener, this is an accessible door through which to enter the Field Music world. For a long-term fan, this is a thoroughly decent stopgap, if one were needed; an insight into the Brewis’ rehearsal room guilty pleasures, whilst the protagonists leave South Tyneside for an attempt at world domination.
PS It’s surely a great sex soundtrack.
‘Field Music Play…’, a considered album of covers from Field Music, is out today on Memphis Industries.
Split Festival has the finest grass in all of fest-dom. Even though the square of the Ashbrooke Cricket Club at which it is held is fenced off, the outfield still proudly displays its evenly-cropped blades, a far cry from the slopping mud too often endured by festival-goers elsewhere. This year sees Split subtly bigger and improved: there is a vintage tent, an arts tent selling the crop of local music photographers’ work and a veritable globe’s worth of international cuisine. The Creole food deserves a particular mention. But the real treat is a comprehensive musical programme, with a distinct tilt towards the regional – unsurprisingly, as local heroes the Futureheads are in charge of the whole thing.
As with all good, small festivals, there are two stages; as one band finishes in one arena, another starts in its counterpart. The slight figure of Kyla La Grange belies her impact; her epic gothic-tinged songs are as if designed to be played on an outdoor stage, at once majestically swooping and delicate. The avuncular King Creosote is up next in the acoustic-themed tent: his performance is a masterclass in understated delivery; with just a djembe and bass for accompaniment, there’s a surprising amount of dynamic on offer, and with material as strong as his, it’s a fine way to gently shift gear into evening.
And shift gear is what Leeds’ Pulled Apart by Horses most certainly do, in a whirlwind of coruscating grungy noise and a frenetic stage show. Nobody seems to be injured – a rarity apparently for a PABH gig. Whilst not strictly punk, one has the feeling that the noise and aggression on display here is directly inspired by the antics of Rotten and his peers over 30 years ago.
Before we get to him, there’s folk headliners the Unthanks. Sisters Becky and Rachel, backed up by a string quartet, grand piano, and band, produce a captivating set of gentle drama and fragile beauty. There’s no artifice or pretention; the sisters’ best trick is taking the sound of authentic Northumberland-influenced folk music, updating it with more mainstream arrangements for a wider audience. That and the clog dancing. Probably the most unlikely support act that Johnny Rotten has ever had, but not less effective for that.
The anticipation in the air of the main tent before Public Image Ltd take the stage is palpable, and to cut to the chase, the crowd are not disappointed. Rotten has an instantly recognisable stage persona, at once cheekily humourous yet genuinely threatening. His singing voice is a strange thing – one can’t really claim that his vocal lines have proper melodies, but it’s never really out of tune; his oft-employed keynote-drone-with-microtonal-variations technique wouldn’t sound out of place reciting echoing Koran verses in some dusty Eastern European mosque. His lyrical content wouldn’t be welcome, however. Naturally, there’s plenty of anti-establishment rhetoric, and even a moment towards the end of the set where the audience is exhorted to worship Rotten-as-musical-deity, which they are only too happy to do.
The band are razor-sharp, particularly Fagin-esque unsung guitar virtuoso Lu Edmonds: swathes and shards of his guitar overlay the pulsing, deep bass and tireless drums. Lydon is an enthusiast of dub reggae, and there’s plenty of this influence on display, but towards the end of the set the band turn up the tempo and become essentially a live dance music act, more akin to the now defunct Faithless than any traditional punk outfit in spirit and sound, with Lydon gargling brandy and preaching from the pulpit like a demon priest.
His one misstep involves a throwaway comment about the police, cumulating in the line, “the boys in blue aren’t all bad… well maybe they are,” a clanger of monumental bad taste considering the tragedy in Manchester just a few days previously. His opinion on Jools Holland is too scabrous to repeat here, and considerably more amusing, considering the band’s date on his show the following week. In case nobody knew, PiL are a challenging, uncompromising listen, led by one of the greatest frontmen of all time, still firing on all cylinders. Is there any higher praise?
Stay tuned: Martin’s roundup of Sunday’s bands at Split 2012 will post early next week.
Father Sculptor are an as-yet-obscure five-piece originally from Glasgow but now residing south of the border. In order to keep them out of mischief, their self-imposed summer holiday homework consists of releasing a song a fortnight; at the time of writing seven songs have been released.
In attempting to describe their sound, there’s no getting away from it – Thomas David has spent years brandishing gladioli in the mirror, perfecting the tenor catch in his voice as patented by Morrissey circa 1986… either that or it’s an uncanny coincidence quite how much he resembles the flighty grandfather of Salford miserablism. Marr influences are felt in the guitars as well, but nothing here is as dowdy or trite as the Smiths could be; instead we have ethereal backdrops over which urgent rhythms play out, at-times-impenetrable lyrical themes vie with unashamedly vintage reverbed, flanged guitars – at once clean and yet harking back to a pre-digital age.
The songs which bookend the current releases, ‘Ember’ and ‘Aristide’, are the most accessible works. The former is a lovely jangly waltz perfectly showcasing David’s Mozza impression, backed by an encyclopaedia of guitar work, whilst the latter is a bit more trebly and upbeat, more modern-sounding, and no doubt an excellent indication of Father Sculptor’s future direction. Although no doubt named after the first Haitian president, with lyrical couplets like “How could you just part those thighs / For a man who loves like a hired gun”, no doubt the whole Aristide reference is a proxy for a deeper meaning, or simply a red herring.
For those for whom the 1980s never ended, here are Father Sculptor to prove it. All the tracks released so far can be heard at their official Web site. Below is an embed of track ‘Aristide’, which is also a free download.
The tent is packed away. The wellies have been demuddied and chucked in the back of a cupboard, not to be seen until next year. By September all the big summer music festivals have been and gone in a haze of traffic jams, mud, and the occasional transcendental musical performance. But for the music fan that wants more, there are a few notable events still yet to come – of which Split Festival in Sunderland is one. A modestly-sized, two-day, outdoor-but-under-cover shindig just outside the city centre, Split has a great local feel to it, showcasing a superb blend of North-East talent and national acts.
Following on from the success of 2011, which saw the Drums and the Charlatans headline a rich and varied bill, 2012 promises to be even bigger, better and brasher. The pièce de resistance, perhaps curators Futureheads’ greatest coup ever, is the appearance of Public Image Limited in their headline slot on the Main Stage on Saturday night. Johnny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols outfit reformed in 2009, and in May released ‘This Is PiL,’ their first album of new material in 20 years. Expect a razor-sharp band featuring guitar virtuoso and Fagin lookalike Lu Edmonds, and coruscating bar-room banter and plenty of brandy-swigging from Lydon himself (pictured right at Primavera Sound 2011). As the last PiL date before their American tour in the autumn, this is simply a no-brainer. One to savour.
Elsewhere on the bill we find a double dose of West Yorkshire noise in the form of Pulled Apart by Horses and That Fucking Tank, postmodern chanteuse Kyla La Grange, the dreamy pop of St. Etienne, and finally our hosts The Futureheads wrapping things up on Sunday night on the Main Stage. If the ears finally succumb to noise, there’s a fine tent of folk at the Tunstall Hill Tent on the Saturday (Kathryn Williams, King Creosote, followed by The Unthanks to close out the night), which turns noisy again on the Sunday with headliners Future of the Left. Last year saw a food tent with international delicacies galore, and a wide selections of real ales to dig into, both of which make a welcome reappearance this time around. Split is a great way to wrap up to a fine season of festivals, and with tickets a veritable steal at £40 for the weekend and day tickets for £25 for either Saturday or Sunday also available, it’s bound to be Rotten.