Choosing a favourite James Bond theme song is a lot like choosing, well, a favourite James Bond. Just as fans spend hours verbally sparring over who the best 007 is, Bondophiles will equally defend their favourite Bond theme. Be it Nancy Sinatra’s sweeping “You Only Live Twice”, Garbage’s haunting “The World Is Not Enough”, Duran Duran’s upbeat “A View To A Kill” or Madonna’s controversial “Die Another Day”, the James Bond themes each have their fans and are one of the biggest talking points of each new Bond adventure. However, for many, it is Shirley Bassey, who performed a record three title themes, who immediately springs to mind whenever the words “James Bond theme song” are uttered.
CBn spoke with Joanne Farrell, who had the honour – and challenge! – of covering not one, but all three Shirley Bassey classics for last year’s Totally… James Bond album.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been a professional actress and singer since the age of sixteen, when I left home in Manchester to pursue a career in London. I’ve worked extensively on television and in London’s West End, as well as in bands and on recordings.
How did you come to be involved on the album?
Several years ago, I was involved in a theatre production where the Musical Director was Ian Hughes. In November 2003, I was backstage at Children In Need where purely by chance I happened to see Ian, who was the Musical Director for the evening. He told me he was working on the Totally… James Bond album and was looking for someone to sing the Shirley Bassey songs. He invited me over to his studio the next week, where we sang through the songs. He decided my voice was right for the tracks and we agreed to record them in early 2004.
Tell us about the recording process.
I recorded three sessions in total. We recorded “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds are Forever” in one morning. We recorded “Goldfinger” first as it’s a big song. We recorded “Moonraker” on another day and the backing vocals for some of the other tracks on another morning.
Was it a conscious decision to have you cover all three of Shirley Bassey’s title songs?
Yes. It made sense to have the same voice. In no way did I want to try to imitate Shirley Bassey, but just have a slight flavour of the style of the songs.
Did you meet any of the other artists on the album, or attend any of their recordings?
Yes. I’ve known Zoë Tyler (“For Your Eyes Only”, “All Time High”, “You Only Live Twice”) and Nicola Hughes (“GoldenEye”) for quite some time, so hanging out in the studio was a bit of a social event for us too!
Were you given any marching orders in recording the song? For instance, were you told you could play with the vocals, or to stick to the original?
It would be impossible to recreate what Shirley Bassey produces with these songs, so we decided to be a little flexible and allow me to bring some of my own style to them. It’s no use being a poor version of someone else, so I wanted to sing each song the way I felt it.
Did you hear anything specific about what Shirley Bassey said about the songs that you considered before performing them?
No. I’ve grown up listening to the songs, but never heard anything that was said about them. In a way I think it’s better sometimes to come to a piece, be it acting or singing, with your own fresh ideas. I guess it goes back to what I’ve already said about not wanting to be a lesser version of somebody else. I can’t be Shirley Bassey, but I can try to be the best I can be.
Do you have a favourite of the three that you performed, and in turn, do you have a different one in mind when performed by Shirley Bassey?
I love “Diamonds Are Forever”. I had the great pleasure of working with lyricist Don Black and performing this song in 2000, when I worked on a show celebrating Don’s music called Black Goes with Everything. He’s really cool!
I wasn’t too familiar with “Moonraker” but it really grew on me – it’s a
But when performed by Shirley Bassey, it has to be “Goldfinger”. It just
blows you away. So sexy and so powerful.
Which of the three songs was the most challenging?
“Goldfinger”. It’s massive.
Were there any other 007 theme songs that you’d like to have performed?
Ha! All of them! They’re all fantastic songs.
Do you have a favourite James Bond song, out of them all?
I couldn’t possibly choose.
Who would you like to perform the next title theme?
Could you put in a good word for me?
Tell us about your other musical pursuits.
I’ve recorded tracks on several albums and I really enjoy it. I’d love
to work on more. Let’s see what the future holds.
Are you a 007 fan yourself?
Tell us about your non-Bond-related work.
I work mainly as an actress. Last year I played fire-fighter Nicky Higgins in ITV’s new drama Steel River Blues about the Fire service. I also played Sarah-Jane Harvey in Crossroads and in dramas such as Cold Feet, Holby City, Waking the Dead, Heartbeat, Dream Team and lots more.
In the West End, I played Sandy in Grease, Stephanie in Saturday Night Fever, Ellie in Showboat, Janet in The Rocky Horror Show, and in Smokey Joes Café, to name but a few.
I love having the opportunity to work in a variety of fields.