Friday, 24 July 2015


Aug Stone on Bond

Atlantic City, 1984. I’m eight years old and we’re on a family holiday. It’s now evening and the adults are off at the casinos whilst my older cousins are doing their version of babysitting. I’m playing with some penguin-on-wheels toy my grandmother has bought me earlier that day on the boardwalk when I hear my cousin Mark exclaim, “Yes! James Bond is on!” The excitement in his voice is that usually reserved for Van Halen coming on the radio and I wander into the other room to investigate what could possibly be so thrilling. On the television screen there are men in all black on skis intently pursuing a figure slightly ahead. I sit down captivated. There was just something about it all.

The film being shown is of course On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And so I was introduced to the world of James Bond via George Lazenby. Who – although the question is a difficult one to answer – in the days before Daniel Craig, I would still rate as my favourite Bond. And OHMSS as my favourite film, and of course, I think most people are in agreement on this, the best book. A few years later in the sixth grade, I brought in OHMSS for our quiet reading time and the teacher called my mother saying this was ‘wildly inappropriate’. The OHMSS theme is also one of the coolest pieces of music ever written.

Let’s jump around a bit, shall we? The year before this, I fondly remember my father telling me one day, with an unusual excitement in his manner, that we are going to the movies this afternoon. This was no casual trip to the cinema. There was a new James Bond film out. Importance hung in the air. As the room darkened and The Living Daylights began I was once again enthralled. That opening scene, again a pursuit down a snowy mountainside, this time Bond and Maryam d’Abo escaping via a cello-case-cum-sled. Timothy Dalton was a damn good Bond. The Welsh one, after Lazenby’s Australian. Before the reboot with Daniel Craig, effectively a year zero, there was each a Scottish (Connory), Australian (Lazenby), English (Moore), Welsh (Dalton), and Irish (Brosnan) Bond. In my wildest imaginings, should they ever crazily opt for an American, I’m still game. Strange about Roger Moore. Much as I love his work, he was much more Bond as The Saint than he was actually portraying James Bond. It somehow became all one-liners then. But of course the films and the books should be treated as separate entities. I was very lucky. Before I saw any of the more outlandish films, my grandmother gave me her rad 1960s Pan editions of the books.

When I first moved to London in September 2003, I brought OHMSS with me to re-read on the plane. And was gutted mid-way through the flight to find that pages 160-168 had at some point become loose from their binding and had parachuted out of the book, deep now on a mission I knew not where. One of the first things I did, after checking in to my hotel off the Moscow Road, was to hightail it to the Notting Hill Waterstones and read those missing sections. That first three-and-a-half month stay in London was one of the best times of my life, and of course a wildly drunken affair. So much so that when I returned to the U.S. in January 2004, something quite special popped into my head. The character of James Vagabond, star agent of Britain’s Drunken Secret Service. It was the most ridiculous idea I’d ever had, and therefore I knew it was worth pursuing. I sat down and in five weeks wrote the first draft of Off-License To Kill . It was marvelous fun to revisit all the old Bond books and watch the films again. What particularly struck me was how in Moonraker it’s actually the girl (Gala Brand) who saves the day. How different from Holly Goodhead in the film. An over-the-top affair overall but I’m still thankful for it. Shirley Bassey’s theme is such a gorgeous piece of music. Back to the books, there was a bit in Goldfinger that has always stuck with me for some reason. Fleming writes about a British agent who had attempted to asphyxiate himself in order not to crack under Nazi interrogation. But he couldn’t do it. Life always wins out.

Goldfinger for me has all sorts of cool and strange resonations. The titular character’s first name being Auric, that ‘Au’ reflected in my own name, and of course being the chemical symbol for gold. Another film having an Avengers presence with Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore (both Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley are in OHMSS and Patrick McNee – R.I.P. – in A View To A Kill. If only Linda Thorson had appeared in one…) Years later I learned of a rather amazing coincidence involving Goldfinger. There’s a minor character in the story named Mr. Solo who opts out of the gold heist and is then crushed to death in his car. One of my favourite songwriters, Mikey Georgeson from David Devant & His Spirit Wife, began a musical project in 2006 under the name ‘Mr. Solo’, taking the moniker from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In 2011, Mr. Georgeson was driving home one night and was hit by a vehicle carrying two tons of gold coins just stolen from Tower Mint. Crashing into Mikey thwarted the thieves. You can read the whole account here 

I wonder how many other such strange coincidences between two of my big loves – Pop Music and James Bond – lurk somewhere beneath the visible aspect of their connection, the James Bond theme tune. A song of cultural importance. This is a fact that needs to be recognised and gotten back on track. LET GOLDFRAPP DO IT. They’d make something worthy of the grandeur. The last time we had a really great theme was ‘View To A Kill’, 30 years ago.

It was exciting to learn in 1997 that various bands were asked to contribute songs for the Tomorrow Never Dies theme. Pulp did one, later surfacing as a b-side of ‘Help The Aged’. I’ve heard that Marc Almond and The Cardigans, as well as a few others, were also approached. And Saint Etienne contributed one.

Now, as obsessive as I am about Bond (more evidence here ), I may even be more so for Saint Et. When they’d play in Boston, Sean Drinkwater and I would go to that show then make the five hour drive to NYC for the two shows there, sleeping on floors and suffering miserable colds. But it was worth it. You can’t imagine the excitement when, after joining the fan club in 1999, I received my copy of the Built On Sand: Rarities 1994-1999 cd and finally got to hear their truly excellent Bond theme. And this only in demo form. When John Jervis asked me to contribute a cover to this

project, their ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ immediately sprung to mind, and the first thing Sean replied when I asked him was ‘Can we do St Et?’

Back then Sean and I always talked about having a St Et style band of our own, the two of us and a female singer. Who sadly we never found. The name of the project would’ve been the R.A.F. But we were busy anyway with Lifestyle. Sean at one point wrote a Bond theme of his own, ‘Never Go Uptown’ ( ). (I think we only ever played this once, at one of the first Lifestyle shows of the 2001 line-up. A good tune though, that should be revisited.)

But things always have a way of coming together. This year Sean and I have been producing Ani Glass’ solo songs (Ani from The Pipettes and The Lovely Wars. First single out July 20th. Have a listen here - ). We record trans-Atlantically with us in Massachusetts and Ani in Cardiff. And when the opportunity arose, the three of us contributed our respective strengths to make a version of Saint Et’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ I couldn’t be more pleased with.

Postscript - On my first visit to Cardiff last year, on a night out in Grangetown, Shirley Bassey’s name came up and Ani pointed towards the bay and said ‘she was born right over there’. And that’s of course what used to be known as Tiger Bay, the title of Saint Etienne’s third album.

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