Live Music + Gig Reviews

Bond @ Royal Albert Hall, London

20 September 2000

Something new, something different, not run-of-the-mill, an interesting direction.

These are perhaps the words that ran through the minds of some the top brass of Universal, Decca Records’ parent company, when they dreamt up the idea of manufacturing a band called Bond.

The concoction goes thus: 1) find four giggly gurrrls of pleasing aspect who can play two violins, a viola and a cello rather well and get them talking. Classicists and contemporary classical freaks will love it, surely, and 12-year-old girls will have heroes to look up to – hence record sales. 2) Dress said girls in Abbaesque white trousers with sparkly bits, pleasing the fashionable ’70s retro bores, then teach them some folk jigging techniques – at a stroke keeping the country and folk fraternity sweet. After all, pretty girls with violins worked with The Corrs. 3) Add a band comprised variously of electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion and keyboards, pleasing the pop-rock element of the record buying public (add more strings to drown out the ensuing ghastly keyboard effects – Oceanic of course had to have water sounds, didn’t it). 4) Get them to cover popular themes like Tchaik’s 1812 and – I kid you not – the Theme From Dallas – things became intolerable long before the James Bond Theme was offered up to our ears – but make sure the girls write some of their own songs, in case anyone says they’re manufactured. 5) To enhance the authentic feel of the product, make sure that at least two numbers are played on “acoustic” instruments rather than electric ones. 6) Offer the product for public consumption at the Royal Albert Hall for free, plaster ads everywhere and hire a circus to dance in the aisles (translate this loosely as “spend a fucking fortune on a band that hasn’t performed anywhere or released anything”).

So it was that every possible market was catered for and a pop sensation was born. Well, no, not quite. After an unexplained delay of around half an hour, during which the half-filled Albert Hall’s audience fidgeted and stretched, on came Bond. The audience who, we in the audience were told, had flown in from all over the world (cue recital by a gurrrl of interminable list of countries whose subjects and citizens had given up their evenings to see this), were thanked for their toil. What followed, to promote the debut album Born, was a brave but fundamentally foolhardy attempt at fusing Decca Records’ classical and contemporary classical heritage, a beat of sorts and the kind of mega-marketing more usually associated with The Spice Girls. I mean, this was the debut performance and Carlton TV were filming it in the Royal Albert Hall, for fuck’s sake.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking big and thinking a tad different, trying new angles, but this product (for I choke on calling it a band) misfires on every cylinder. From the drummer beating out a totally inappropriate time in 1812 Overture to the faux strutting of the gurrrls, this whole show was cringe-worthy. The hand-clapping to the beat in one of the songs, presumably induced by the PR people from Universal, only added to the effect of falseness and insincerity surrounding what we were witnessing. In the Royal Albert Hall, home of The Proms, such patriotic stuff was not out of place, but what was happening on stage was. Anyway, long before the third rendition of “the single”, bullishly called Victorious (we were piped the music before the band even appeared), half of the contents of our box had already left in disgust. It is perhaps timely to note once again that this was a free gig.

The single over with and the obligatory applause over with too, we were asked if we’d like another tune. Some members of the audience, holding drinks, bayed for more, so they got the single again; this time with what amounted to a street carnival appearing in the aisles of this excellent venue. At the end of this, the beaming Bond bowed and left us to head for the exits as Victorious began to be piped yet again at us through the PA system.

Decca Records seems to want to have an act that gets it some recognition. Ute Lemper recently released an excellent album on the label and was savaged for her – and her collaborators’ – efforts. This world is not fair if Decca fails to make a pop star of Ute but manages it with Bond. But with the marketing spend behind this act you begin to wonder how it can fail. The act is different enough to make people curious – and if the act doesn’t do it then the girls’ looks will sell some records too. More’s the pity that countless artists continue to scrape a living in the hope that Universal or another of the Big Five will see sense and sign them and an act like this gets such marketing and money. This act is the Millennium Dome of bands, the white elephant of girl groups, the jack of all trades and master of none. If this band is successful, music no longer matters in the music industry.

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Bond @ Royal Albert Hall, London