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The Midas touch of David Arnold and his influence on Bond

18-Oct-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

He nearly worked in Blockbuster, but blockbusters are David Arnold’s forte - reports The Times.

“That mid-period Bond became so silly,” David Arnold chuckles in his refined movie nerd whine. “I think it was Octopussy where there’s a bomb in a circus tent and Bond has to dress up as a clown to get in. I’m thinking, hang on, why don’t you just say, ‘My name’s James Bond, I’m MI6, there’s a bomb in here, I need to go in and defuse it please?’ There are jumping-the-shark moments but then you get to Daniel Craig and you forget about all that.”

Arnold, a 46-year-old Bondophile from Luton, has had as much of an influence on 007’s swaggering 21st-century rebirth as Craig’s child-sized trunks. As the composer of the past five Bond scores (Tomorrow Never Dies to Quantum of Solace) his racy dub-metal sounds – part Portishead, part Audioslave – have gradually stripped Bonds of their camp Eighties orchestration and scrawled on a daring modern edge. He’s the man, after decades of Bassey, ballrooms and brass, who made Bond rock.

“I had the idea of bringing in rock’n’roll ideas, whether it’s Queen or Massive Attack – of making it contemporary without losing the essence,” he says, hunched over the mixing desk at Air Studios in Hampstead, looking not unlike a bearded Blofeld.

Born in the same year as the film Dr No, Arnold has found Bond a lifelong inspiration. As a child he would gaze from his bedroom window over the Electrolux factory and dream of flying over Japanese mountain-tops in Connery’s Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice. He was drawn to the gutsy fantasy of the themes: “John Barry did what a lot of great pop song-writers did. He made the point very succinctly and very elegantly. The opening bars of You Only Live Twice are utterly distinct. Within ten seconds you’re in that world.”

In 1993 his score for his Luton friend Danny Cannon’s lowbudget first film The Young Americans (showcased by the majestic Björk-sung Play Dead) earned him a call from Harvey Keitel’s office offering him a first-class flight to LA on the day he was due to swap his labouring job for working at Camden Blockbuster. But even as he began scoring Hollywood big-hitters, including Stargate and Independence Day, his eyes were on a golden-fingered prize.

“I went and saw the head of music [at MGM],” he recalls, “and told him I was a lifelong Bond fan and if ever John Barry didn’t want to do it please give me a call.” Arnold then recorded an album of Bond songs called Shaken and Stirred with singers including Jarvis Cocker and Iggy Pop. Barry got the hint; one listen to these wry modern twists on his classics and he recommended Arnold as his replacement.

Technically, scoring Bonds is unglamorous graft, repeatedly viewing scenes while composing strictly timed interludes, but the Solace director Marc Forster encouraged Arnold to write blind. “I was writing themes that weren’t driven by what I was seeing but by the script. It was a more impressionistic approach. Then they cut that music into certain scenes in the film, so there was music which I wouldn’t have written had I seen the picture.”

Did you change your style to suit Craig’s performances? “Definitely,” Arnold says. “The whole idea was following on from the way he plays it. He doesn’t look over his shoulder, he does it completely unafraid of what’s gone before. It’s more muscular, it’s less flowery, it’s more rhythmic, it’s darker, it’s dirtier. Though you’re still utilising the sound of an orchestra, the approach is punk-rock. We ask the players to hit their instruments hard and be aggressive and there are lots of dirty horrible guitars and drums. But if it doesn’t stick to the screen it’s useless.”

Arnold isn’t just on the big screen. He’s behind the soundtrack to Little Britain and its US offshoot, even making a cameo appearance in the first series of the former as a prime ministerial adviser.

He worked on string arrangements with Kaiser Chiefs and Paul McCartney at the Electric Proms last year and has penned Bond songs for Garbage and Chris Cornell (the Grammy-nominated You Know My Name). So you sense disappointment that he wasn’t more involved in the writing of the song by Jack White and Alicia Keys for Solace, Another Way to Die. “I had dialogue with Jack about what I thought the song should be about, basically taking him through story points . . . It was just Jack’s thing, he’s like Prince in that respect, he does everything.”

Didn’t Noel Gallagher submit a song for Solace? “I didn’t hear it,” Arnold shrugs. “A lot of prominent writers and great artists say, ‘I’ve written a song for the film’ and I always think, ‘I know you haven’t read the script, so how can you know if it’s right for the film?’ Perhaps what you’ve done is written a song that sounds like a Bond song so therefore it should be in a Bond film.”

Sorry Noel; when it comes to Bond’s melodic legacy, unlike Octopussy, Arnold doesn’t let any old clown in.

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