BOND: Live & Let Write (Music) - Monty Norman - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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BOND: Live & Let Write (Music) - Monty Norman

Christopher Morley begins a new series looking back through the various composers who have worked on the James Bond films.

For our look back at the composers behind the music of the James Bond films, it's fitting that we start with M. And perhaps the best known M of the lot.

Not Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Judi Dench or Ralph Fiennes. Not even John Huston, David Niven or Edward Fox. Rather Monty Norman, the composer who originated the famous James Bond Theme as first heard in Dr No.

Born in Stepney on April 4, 1928, it was a spell of National Service with the RAF that convinced Monty Norman to pursue a career as a singer - starting out with big bands led by the likes of Ted Heath & Cyril Stapleton and sharing variety show bills with comedians before switching focus to composition by the later Fifties. During that time he wrote songs for Cliff Richard & Tommy Steele as rock & roll began to take hold of British airwaves. Alongside that he maintained a parallel career writing for musicals, Cliff Richard's Expresso Bongo seeing his music reunited with the former Harry Webb once more.

A sideways step into Hammer horror followed as the Sixties dawned, The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll & The Day The Earth Caught Fire allowing Norman to flex his film-scoring chops before getting down to work on Dr No.

He's been receiving royalties on the James Bond theme since 1962, one estimate suggesting he'd earned about £600,000 alone between 1976 & '99! The theme has its roots in Bad Sign Good Sign, originally composed for a musical adaptation of the VS Naipaul novel A House For Mr Biswas, hence the strong Indian vibes!

But a listen to the piece reveals the basic make-up of what would greet first-time viewers of big screen Bond, & as its composer wrote when it was first released from the vaults in 2005...
“As time moved on, many people suggested I record the progenitor of the signature theme first heard in Dr No.

So, with musical cuts of the middle production area, and with the help of Mehboob Nadim’s evocative sitar and Pandit Dimesh’s terrific tabla rhythms the embryonic melodies of the James Bond Theme, for the first time in nearly forty-five years, can be heard in their original form.”
Yet the film's producers were unhappy with the repurposed/rearranged theme, & so asked John Barry (more of whom next time out) to step in & rearrange it. Which he did, then claimed to have written it in the first place!

The resulting furore caused two court cases, the outcome of one being a libel action win against the Sunday Times in 2001 after they claimed that Barry had indeed been the composer.

The man who did write that most unmistakeable of themes is even now amazed by its longevity!
“I accept the good fortune that I wrote something that has not only lasted more than 50 years but will last another 50. There are musicals I have written that took six months and I think, “Oh God, James Bond took just six hours.’’’
Yet he knew relatively little of Ian Fleming's creation when he was called to a meeting with producer Cubby Brocolli, whose business partner Harry Saltzman told him...
“We are doing Dr No in Jamaica. Why don’t you come with us, get a feel for the music and the place and bring the wife? All expenses paid.”
How could anyone say no? Monty's reaction was somewhat understated!
“Wahey, I thought.”
Wahey indeed. And upon arrival he met no less than the author himself.
“We went to Goldeneye, Ian Fleming’s house, with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress. It was not that nice a place really. Noël Coward was a bit snooty about it – but, my God, it was in a beautiful spot.

I thought Fleming was James Bond, actually. He was everything the novel said about Bond: upper class and urbane. He had this cigarette holder and he could take his drink.”
Norman can take credit for another piece of music heard on that beach in the opening scene, as well!

Underneath The Mango Tree, as sung by Bond girl Honey Rider, was also Monty Norman's work, dubbed in the final cut with vocals by his then-wife. Dr No's Fantasy from later in the film was originally under consideration as the main theme before he revisited his earlier Indian infusion.
“ It was good but too ethnic, with this Indian feel. But I got the idea of splitting the notes and putting them to a guitar. From that moment I was sure I had the right James Bond sound: absolutely positive.”

Enter Barry, brought into proceedings to orchestrate the twang of the guitar which had started out as a sitar.
“I knew I was going to need someone who understood the pop sound of the day, and various people suggested John Barry. I was a composer and had come into that through singing, therefore my focus was melody and I had never learnt enough about orchestration.

I told Barry exactly what I was after. He went away and came up with a fantastic orchestration. He upped the tempo and obviously there was the brass, which was a big part of big bands.”
The man playing the guitar riff was one Vic Flick.

He would continue to make contributions to Bond soundtracks up to the late Eighties, later selling the Clifford Essex Paragon Deluxe he used in 2003 for the simple reason that he & his wife could enjoy the fruits of the proceeds!

As he remembered on the eve of its sale,
“It was always in the trunk of my car along with a 12-string guitar, Spanish guitar, banjo and an amplifier. I definitely used it on Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger.

After the “Bond Theme,” the Clifford Essex shared the 007 honors with my second Fender Stratocaster. The first Stratocaster was stolen a couple of months before the Dr. No session.”
From sitar to guitar & full orchestra treatment, quite a journey for what was essentially a re-write...

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