In a break from last-minute preparations, the Grammy and Emmy award-winning composer took some time to discuss the event, what it’s like to play that iconic theme and collaborating with the late, great Chris Cornell.
STARBURST: So, why Casino Royale?
David Arnold: There’s never been a Bond film performed with a live orchestra before, which makes the occasion very exciting. After Independence Day, just talking with the Albert Hall about doing another one, and knowing how popular these films are still, and how much reach they have, it was a bit of a no-brainer. Of course, there’s a lot of people involved in the rights and quality aspect. But EON said that if I maintained an overall control of the thing, then they’d let us do it. I did the music, but it’s their thing really. It’s a very exciting thing, though, to watch that film with around 4000 people because even if you see it in a multiplex it’s only ever around 400 at most. So, if it goes well, then hopefully they’ll be other ones.
Is there a fundamental difference between putting Casino Royale on to Independence Day Live a year ago?
Well, Independence Day was almost entirely an acoustic score in that it was performed by an orchestra, with a very traditional symphonic structure. Casino Royale is a film that has many sections that have electronic aspects; there’s a lot of African percussion at the front end, a slightly more high-tech angle as we go through Miami airport, as well as the glorious, sweeping vistas and soundscapes we’ve come to expect. It’s a lot more complicated technically as you need to have people who are playing synth parts. There are some parts that are coming off track as they can’t be performable by a standard symphony orchestra. So, instead of having 40 bongo players for the African section, who’ve nothing else to do for the rest of the film, that’s on track with the dialogue. Around 98% is performed live. Then you have the problem of synchronisation, as if everyone can’t hear everyone else, it can all get off track. Technically, it’s a much more demanding piece and has taken a lot more construction to get it into a performable piece. And then there’s all the things that can happen in the dub of a film, when they can control what you hear in the film, and that might not be exactly what we recorded. So, you have to go through the film from the first frame to the last, and make sure what you hear matches what you see on screen. All these things happen in any film, as the music gets moved around like the picture does, but you have to make it conform, and that happened to maybe 60% of the score.
Well it’s taken around six months to get it to a performable piece, where the orchestra will get the right music.
Given that preparation, are you able to relax on the day and enjoy it?
I’ve never done two shows in a day before, but I’m more worried about the band. On the Saturday we have a technical run through in the morning so on the day they’re going to have to perform the score three times in total, with only maybe 90 minutes in between. It’s going to be pretty exhausting. A lot of the time, the thrill of being in the Albert Hall, with an audience in front of you… Dr. Adrenaline does an awful lot in terms of making things work. But it has to be right in the first place and an awful lot of talented people have done an awful lot of work to get us to this point. And I’ve literally been the person who says, “That’s fine.” We’re very lucky that those talented people have done the heavy lifting as it could have been a year if I’d done it.
Sadly, we have to ask about Chris Cornell, given the significance of the song, and his part in what is such a significant film.
I’ve kept Chris’ vocal. It was such a horrible situation. I’d emailed the day of his death to ask if he’d sing at the premiere, and I know that he was extraordinarily proud to be a part of the history and the legacy of these films. Speaking for myself, I had the best time with him, and I’ve spoken about this in the programme notes. The thing for me, more than the working relationship, what I value more than anything is striking up a genuine friendship with someone, one based upon kindness, curiosity, and a need to look after people through the welfare of others. We would get together when he was in the country, and go out and eat and talk, and mainly about family rather than music. He was so proud of his kids and his wife, he seemed like a person with no concerns, and what demons he had seemed to be behind him. He was a wonderful person. He looked like a god, and sang like one. To have formed a genuine friendship out of these things is rare.
Hard to follow that, but to talk about You Know My Name a little, you’ve said before that this was a “less than subtle” introduction to Daniel Craig’s Bond. And there’s very little in film-related music that garners so much interest as a Bond song.
It was meant as a warning, from Bond. And Chris’ take on that was perfect. I needed someone who sounded how Bond looked. I needed someone who smashes through a wall vocally in the same way as Bond does in those early scenes on the construction site. For me, if you’re going to have a singer there’s not many who could do that, and Chris could. As for the event, the same amount of care goes into it regardless of the horrible circumstances, but I think that when the song comes on and Chris’ credit goes up, it will be a very poignant moment. As far as being involved in a Bond song, it’s like the Holy Grail of composition, not only doing the music but the theme song as well. It’s not often that happens, and it’s a tricky thing to navigate. You’re trying to get an understanding of the film, as you likely haven’t seen it all, and you need to get it done so they can cut and produce the credits. You don’t want to just write it to the picture, and you have to find something that goes a little below the surface of what’s going on. They’re not all like that. When Don (Black) writes Diamonds Are Forever or Thunderball there’s a very knowing aspect to the lyric, drawing you into the film you’re about to see. Daniel has brought a level of reality to the character and you have to respond to that.
You’ve talked before about playing the iconic Bond theme, and that it’s always been a thrill. Will you be playing it on the night?
The great thing about this film, and the reason we won’t be playing it before it appears in the film is that Bond hasn’t earned it until near the end. Probably one of my greatest experiences and memories from doing the five that I did, was playing the theme in Casino Royale. It all went down live, there weren’t any overdubs, and everyone was on the edge of their seats as you don’t hear it until that point. You hint at it, but never hear it. So, it feels like an explosion, and that’s how it is in the film, it just feels so full of energy. The guitar sounded good, the brass sounded great; everything about it just worked. That’s why I was super-pleased when they used it in Skyfall and SPECTRE. It just seems to belong to Daniel’s Bond. When it happens at the event hopefully it will be just as big a release. I have one guitar I play the Bond theme on, and that’s all I do on it. In all the films, but not always live; it’s too precious. I did it at John Barry’s memorial concert though. It’s a lovely, big old Gibson. That will be dusted off!
Three performances of Casino Royale in Concert will take place at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, September 30th (2 screenings at 2.30pm and 7.30pm) and Sunday, October 1st (one screening at 1.30pm). Check the website for last minute tickets.