The big guns were wheeled out at the Royal Albert Hall for a concert celebrating the music of James Bond. And let’s face it, when it comes to vocal lung power, guns don’t get much bigger than Shirley Bassey’s. Rocking an off-the-shoulder gold sequin gown and glittering necklace so packed with jewels it could have doubled as a chandelier, the Dame still looked the part of ultimate Bond chanteuse at 85.
More importantly, she can still hit and hold the long, melodramatic notes of Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger, teasing them out with resonant delight on slow, luxurious versions of her signature theme songs, backed by the full might of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The 5,000-strong audience rose in delighted awe the moment Bassey took the stage, and a standing ovation after her opening two-song salvo threatened to go on so long you’d have thought the show was over before it had begun. Eventually, Bond composer and concert organiser David Arnold arrived to move proceedings along, noting with comical relief that the ceiling of the historic Victorian venue was still intact.
Bond movies always have spectacular openings, so it was fitting that a concert celebrating 60 years of musical action should begin all guns blazing, even at the risk of making the rest of the night anti-climactic. The film of Dr No premiered in London’s West End 60 years ago today, introducing not just the first cinematic incarnation of suave superspy 007 but a very particular musical world – created and perfected by John Barry – of seductive torch songs and thrillingly overblown themes replete with sinister slow-moving chord sequences, raspily lubricious brass, jagged strings and, of course, a spidery electric-guitar motif in the theme tune composed by Monty Norman that may be the most fetishised piece of music in movie history. This hugely entertaining charity concert (with proceeds going to music-therapy charity Nordoff Robbins and the BRIT School) delivered all of the above in a spirit of both reverence and fun.
The audience had come dressed for the occasion in stylish tuxedos and fabulous dresses, while the bars did a roaring trade in champagne and martinis. On stage, an impressive cast of singers might have been auditioning for roles of villains and vamps. The ageless Lulu sported a mini kimono and soulfully attacked her anodyne 1974 theme The Man With the Golden Gun as if she could finally beat some life into it, whilst Shirley Manson arrived on stage in what looked like a tinfoil ball gown to perform the undercooked 1999 theme The World Is Not Enough with her rock band Garbage.
Among substitute singers, shaven-headed rock star Skin ripped up Live and Let Die with infectious relish, Paloma Faith vamped through Goldeneye in blushing pink and pop singer Ella Eyre sported cuffs that looked like lethal weapons for a soulful Licence to Kill. Other performers included Jamie Cullum crooning From Russia with Love, John Grant digging deep on We Have All The Time in the World, and Celeste – rather uncomfortably out of her element – attempting melancholy jazz variations on You Only Live Twice. West End Theatre singer Emma Lindars drew the short straw of standing in for Adele on Skyfall but earned an ovation by taking all the big notes with aplomb.
A big surprise of the night was composer David Arnold himself tackling the late Chris Cornell’s raw-throated rock vocal on the Casino Royale theme You Know My Name, then ripping out the Norman lead guitar runs for a climatic instrumental James Bond Theme in a blizzard of confetti.
Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond may be over and the superspy’s future still undecided, but on this evidence his musical legacy remains in safe hands.
The Sound of 007: LIVE from the Royal Albert Hall will be available to stream globally on Prime Video