The Gareth Hudson CBn Interview
A wonderfully balmy summers evening in London last July saw Bond fans flock from far and wide to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank of the Thames. The event? Just one night in a series by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra known as the ‘South Bank Summer Pops.’
On July 16th, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra presented a one-off James Bond concert in central London: Shaken Not Stirred- The Music Of James Bond included many of the title songs from the series as well as numerous action and romance cues from the film scores that rank among some of the most memorable in both popular and movie music genres.
Gareth Hudson, the conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during Shaken Not Stirred is based in Dublin where, after being Executive Producer of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, he was recently appointed Associate Conductor of the orchestra with a brief to further develop the orchestra’s light music, family concert and entertainment output. He has conducted over 300 concerts and broadcasts with the RTÉ CO and he also conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra. After making his debut with the Odense Symphony Orchestra, Denmark, in the summer of 2003 he was immediately re-engaged to conduct the orchestra in the ’04/5 season. He recently made his first appearance as a conductor for BBC R2’s Friday Night is Music Night.
He has received a major national Irish award for his “Outstanding Contribution to Music in Ireland” in recognition of his work with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra. Gareth Hudson’s abilities on the podium as a conductor and presenter are matched by his innovative programming ideas from the lighter classical repertoire and the finest quality light music. He has conducted over 100 concerts in his series of family concerts Music for Fun with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra that has also been the subject of a TV Documentary.
His programmes are created for the individual needs of each orchestra from his library of first class arrangements of light classical and ballet music, music theatre and film music (including silent film accompaniment). Other programmes he has devised have included Elation, Movie Classics, Shaken Not Stirred, The Ratpack, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Supertroupers, String Serenade, Valentine Day Classics and Love Against the Odds.
Gareth Hudson has a close association with the world of musical theatre. In 1995 he was selected from over 50 Broadway and West End conductors to be Principal Conductor and Musical Director of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Phantom of the Opera for which he recruited the singers and musicians from over 25 countries for a special production in Basel, Switzerland. This ran for two years, was recorded by Polygram and he was subsequently asked by Cameron Mackintosh to conduct the London Production. His work for the BBC has included a very favourably reviewed production of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot (starring Paul Nicholas and Jason Donovan) for BBC Radio 2.
Half an hour before the concert started, CBn was able to sit down and have a chat with Gareth Hudson, the Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra about the series of 007-themed concerts and his views on the Bond cues that span 40 years of film music.
Do you follow all of the Bond film scores? Or are you just familiar with the title songs? If so, is there a favourite?
To an extent, the concert is a blend, mainly of the title songs. But what makes this concert different is that over the years there have been Bond concerts featuring orchestras and if you were lucky – with one singer, but generally doing an awful lot of “orchestrations” of the songs. I wanted to put the thing back to original sounds. So you’re talking about having three singers; we’re covering the main Bond songs; and there’s a certain amount of the instrumental music too.
One of the reasons this sort of thing hadn’t been done before is that a lot of the arrangements that would had been done for the film soundtracks; the actual orchestrations that had been done for the film had been lost, burnt or whatever. So sometimes these things never get reconstructed. So – if you like, some of the stars of tonight are the team of arrangers and orchestrators who put together the Bond sounds as originally heard.
But, yeah, you were asking about my favourite film; I guess of all of them – it’s very difficult when there have been 20 because you tend not to have seen the most recent ones as many times – but I think the George Lazenby one, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [is my favourite]. I like it very much. I know it’s controversial, other people like it and other people give it the thumbs down and that’s partly because there were so many rumours like what he [George Lazenby] was like to work with. Was he fired after one? And then there’s another [rumour] that says he was actually more complicated than that. I personally think anyone replacing Sean Connery would have had a hell of a time. Looking at it from a musical point of view a lot of the best usage of music was in there. And it did have some solid acting in there: Joanna Lumley, etcetera. Telly Savalas didn’t do a bad job and Loius Armstrong’s song… things like that. It’s a bit different. Certainly John Barry’s finest score.
With David Arnold incorporating electronic sounds into the scores, was that an issue for you at all?
Obviously, one of the things that’s more different about symphonic Bond concerts is that we carry a full rhythm section. We do this concert on a three-hour rehearsal. If you had more time you’d be balancing it all with synthesisers and things like that. The truth of the matter is, it’s an acoustic concert and therefore you’re trying to give the taste of the original sound. It’s all there, but as you know they spent hours and hours recording and rehearsing the soundtracks and our concept is that we first walk in [to rehearsal] at 3pm and leave at 7:30pm. There is a full rhythm section so a lot – not all of the machine stuff – but what can humanly be done is actually there.
I think David Arnold has actually managed a very difficult situation because they went through a stage with the Bond scores where they wanted to sound hip and get more modern, but they turned their back on the old John Barry sound. Then David Arnold found this way of being hip and bringing it all up to date as well as paying homage to Barry. So I think he’s done an extraordinarily good thing. It seems to me that that whenever a composer turns their back on the original Barry sound, it never is quite so good. There was a French composer [Eric Serra] who almost deliberately said, “I’m not going to use Barry” – and that didn’t work. It’s rather funny that Barry has created this thing; can you imagine as a film composer for the phone to ring and [be asked] “Would you do the next Bond?” Superb. But actually, you couldn’t really be your own man. You’d have to pay tribute to Barry.
As these concerts are essentially your own project, how long has it taken in preparation from the start to now?
This is the fourth or fifth time we’ve done it. I’m attached to this professional orchestra in Dublin; they have a symphony and concert orchestra, rather like the BBC does. Part of my job is to look at new angles on things. We start working on something like this, I mean, I enjoyed it actually, it’s Bond, so it’s a question of listening to all the soundtracks and saying “What would work in a concert in this situation?” In actual fact, this isn’t in any way to insult the Bond genre, but there’s obviously a lot of incidental music, that from a purist’s point of view, you might put a record on and say “Oh, I remember what scene that is from…” however in a concert situation it just wouldn’t work. So, in actual fact, I found that there is about a two hour concert on what I would call the best music. Particularly with all the strict copyright, they don’t like us to show films. The marketing people had a hard job; Eon Productions are actually quite strict on what you can and can’t do. On one hand, a Bond concert sounds like a marketing dream, but in actual fact, it is a tough one because of what we can’t do.
Who would you like to perform the next Bond title song? Do you have a favourite? Should it be instrumental (as with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) or a more traditional lyrical number?
I think it would have to be with lyrics. Who is the contemporary person to fit into that genre now? It’s a very good question. Madonna would have been such an obvious choice for the last one. I don’t mind telling you, when it came to picking something from Die Another Day, I went all the way through the soundtrack and we had to get something in, and I’ve actually used this piece, “Welcome to Cuba”, which in the film, after a few bars is turned right down, but as a two-minute piece of Cuban music is actually lovely. But unfortunately there’s no way to take the Madonna piece and turn that around for the stage….At the moment there’s no-one that really jumps out at me as the singer for the next one.
With thanks to Gareth Hudson, patrickgarvey.com and Chris Evans at the RPO.