Review: David Arnold: Live in Concert

06_david_arnoldRoyal Festival Hall, London, 7 July 2014

Film music concerts used to be rare as hen’s teeth, and yet now you can throw a baton up into in the air and you’re likely to hit one. Hot on the heels of Danny Elfman’s Tim Burton concert and scheduled before Zimmer’s, Morricone’s and Desplat’s movie concerts this winter, David Arnold took to the stage with a 75-piece orchestra and guest vocalist to wow the South Bank. Bond, Sherlock, Emmerich sci-fi and more. Who could resist?

Apparently there were still some tickets available on the day but to the naked eye the main Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank looked close to capacity as the excellent session orchestra blasted out the rousing Wing Commander (fun theme, awful movie) under the watchful eye of regular Arnold conductor Nicholas Dodd. Arnold then gave himself his own PA introduction and was welcomed with rapturous applause. If he was nervous, he wasn’t showing it. David Arnold is a raconteur and does a great line in self-effacing put downs. “I know you’re thinking ‘Hasn’t George Michael let himself go’, ” he deadpanned, and the quips continued throughout.

And what of the music? As expected, his holy trinity of Roland Emmerich sci-fi movies – Stargate, Godzilla and Independence Day – all received air time, one getting a generous 20-minute pre-interval suite and another played as the pre-encore finale. When not required, Arnold would slip off stage, though more often than not he would provide accompaniment on one of three guitars, his Roland keyboard/Mac book combo or provide vocals.

And who knew he could sing? His vocals on a song from the upcoming Made in Dagenham musical were terrific, and he channelled Garbage (the band, not the rubbish) in the title track from The World is Not Enough. Perhaps wisely he avoided the Chris Cornell vocals on Casino Royale theme song ‘You Know My Name’, instead rocking up the harmony on electric guitar.

As hoped, Arnold’s breakthrough single ‘Play Dead’ was in the programme, though to no-one’s surprise Bjork wasn’t around to sing the vocals. Instead the flamboyant David McAlmont took singing duties, making the song his own. The singer had previously appeared on Arnold’s Shaken and Stirred album with a high camp Diamonds are Forever and received a huge round of applause with his ‘Play Dead’. He returned later in the concert to perform the song that was originally planned as Tomorrow Never Dies’ main theme but was ultimately bumped in favour of Sheryl Crowe’s track. Included on the soundtrack album as ‘Surrender’ by K D Lang, McAlmont now had the opportunity to rectify what this reviewer sees as a great injustice, and boy did he belt it out.

With five Bond films on his score CV, it’s no surprise that they dominated the second half of the concert. ‘White Knight’ (“our audition piece”, said Arnold) from Tomorrow Never Dies never sounded brassier and Barry-er(?). The audience lapped it up all the Bondage, even the ‘Night at the Opera’ cue from the less-beloved Quantum of Solace. And just when we thought we’d hit Bond nirvana, the orchestra whipped up a rousing version of the James Bond theme (no, let’s not go into authorship here) with Arnold going 100% Vic Flick on guitar.

And no review of this concert would be complete without reference to Arnold’s other popular score of recent times – that to Sherlock, co-written with Michael Price. Price himself took the baton (and snapped it during the frenetic waving) for a suite that included the jaunty main theme, the weeping strings of Irene Adler’s theme and Sherlock’s rooftop descent from St Bart’s. In truth I could have done with this being a bit longer, but we did also get an intro from co-creator/Mycroft Mark Gatiss and Amanda Abbington (Mary Watson). “I’m waiting for them to play Skyfall,” Gatiss cheekily teased, knowing that Arnold did not score the most recent Bond movie. Arnold thanked his Sherlock producers Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue for the opportunity to work on the show, and they were spotted in the equally-appreciative crowd, as was Martin Freeman (Abbington’s real-life partner).

Inevitably with such a range of work at his disposal there were going to be omissions – though were they ever feasibly going to play The Musketeer for me? Add a sprinkling of The Stepford Wives, Last of the Dogmen, Amazing Grace and the medal collecting theme from the 2012 Olympics and that’s a huge variety of themes over the evening.

Verdict: For his first ever live soundtrack concert David Arnold has set the bar incredibly high for the inevitable and follow-up gig. 9/10

Nick Joy

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