Indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are (wiaiwya) is releasing a new James Bond tribute album called A Girl And A Gun, featuring covers of 007 songs and soundtracks by contemporary acts including Papernut Cambridge, Darren Hayman and Ralegh Long.
I asked Robert Rotifer, whose version of Goldeneye is on the record, how he tackled Tina Turner’s Bond belter…
How did you get involved with the A Girl And A Gun project?
Robert Rotifer: John Jervis [who runs wiaiwya] asked, and I would never say no to him, because he is generally speaking one of the best people on the planet.
I think he was already quite far down the list, but at some point the idea came up – it may have been Darren Hayman’s – that all core members of Papernut Cambridge should do a song.
I seem to remember that they all had to have “gold” in the title as part of the concept as well.
Why did you choose to cover Goldeneye?
Well, I didn’t choose it – the choice was made for me. But I was happy to do it because it’s not one of the dauntingly cool John Barry ones, but U2 writing for an ageing Tina Turner, and it has dodgy 1990s production all over it (sorry Nellee Hooper) – so I didn’t feel too worried about ruining a classic.
Actually, I feel a bit of a fraud, Sean, because you are a real Bond connoisseur and I’m just a Bond tourist.
I didn’t even watch that film [Goldeneye] at the time, mostly because I disapproved of the BMW Z3 roadster. Where I’m from, in Austria, driving that car is akin to a public diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. Not a good look for Bond.
What were you trying to achieve with your version? Can you talk us through how you went about approaching the song and recording it?
I wanted it to have a dusty home studio vibe, but in a thoughtfully arranged way. As I was working out the chords, I found myself retracing the steps of Bono and The Edge, trying to go by the Bond handbook and be original at the same time.
That classic rising and falling chromatic sequence was there, but hidden deep down in Hooper’s arrangement. And then there’s a ludicrously anti-climactic, incongruous key change into the chorus that surely would never have happened to John Barry.
Bono and The Edge don’t do key changes, but they probably wanted to show a bit of sophistication there. Imagine those two in a tux, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. You can hear Tina Turner wonder where the hell this thing is going every time that change comes around because it’s just so unmusical. But then I tried to make it work by introducing a melancholy harmony part, and all of a sudden I started to really enjoy it.
By that time I had decided to replace Nellee Hooper’s quasi-trip hop beat with one of the beats on my old seventies Elgam Carousel groove box, embellished with some tambourine and egg shaker. I recorded the bassline next with my Höfner violin bass, then some double-tracked acoustic fingerpicking, at which point the chords started to sound quite beautiful.
Then I added some swells on the Telecaster with my volume pedal, some almost inaudible organ pads and some “harpsichord” using my Clavinova run through a Vox amp and one of Ian Button’s self-made spring reverbs.
Obviously, putting on the lead guitar part was the most fun. There’s this bit at the end, which offered itself for a solo, and I had a great time channelling Marc Ribot through Vic Flick. That was the idea at least.
The biggest problem was the main vocal, because Tina Turner is such a belter, so at first I was going for the opposite approach, really soft and quiet, but that was rubbish. I played it to my wife and the kids as we were about to go out for lunch, and they told me as much.
So I said “Five minutes!”, quickly ran up to the bedroom, perched the laptop on the dresser, put in some crappy earphones and sang it right into my little Zoom recorder without thinking. That was the best I could do to keep myself from getting too self-conscious.
Are you a Bond fan?
RR: That’s a very difficult question. The little boy in me was a huge Bond fan. I coveted that Aston Martin Corgi car with the ejector seat and changeable number plates so badly. Friends of mine had it – it was one of the best toys ever produced. Then when I got into the Mod thing as a teenager, I rediscovered Bond as part of the subculture and the influence he had on Jamaican Rude Boys. Desmond Dekker’s 007 Shanty Town alone justifies the existence of Bond in my book.
I really like the idea of loucheness among the civil service – the glamour, good shoes and well-cut suits, even though it’s always two- or one- rather than three-button jackets, which I still prefer.
But there’s never quite enough of that in the films for my liking. There’s too much fighting and shooting and not enough casino scenes. And I’m not even going to mention misogyny or casual racism here – that’s just too much of an open goal.
But then I’m speaking to a proper Bond fan here, so I’m way out of my depth.
What’s your favourite Bond film and song – and why?
RR: It has to be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and We Have All The Time In The World – a clean two in one.
The film because, while still being a cartoon figure (a good thing), Bond is just that little bit more fallible and credible in this one, and it’s actually emotionally engaging.
The song because the writing is just fantastic. Musically, it’s John Barry at his relaxed best. That’s what chord and key changes should be like. And the arrangement is brilliantly restrained, the acoustic guitar is gorgeous, the strings just the right side of dramatic, that beat is funky in an ever so subtle way, the bass keeps pushing it forward all the time, and then there’s Louis Armstrong’s wonderful stoner’s voice on top of it all that sounds aloof and will still bring a tear to your eye.
He already knew he was going to die, so he makes Hal David’s lyrics sound both consoling and existentially meaningful.
“Nothing more / Nothing less / Only love.” You have to be very confident to write that for a Bond song. It was 1969 after all, so people were expected to take chances.
Who is your favourite actor to have played Bond?
RR: George Lazenby – not because I’m an indie snob or trying to be contrarian, but because he was in the best film with the best song.
He was very good looking, too. I read he was a car salesman before he started modelling and acting. That’s exactly the sort of person who should play Bond.
What do you think of Sam Smith’s song for Spectre – Writing’s On The Wall?
RR:I think it’s very good. I just wish he didn’t do that self-pitying, tore-my-skinny-jeans falsetto. Transpose it down and sing it with your proper voice, and it would be a fine tune.
Arrangement-wise, I like the way it never really gets going and resists the temptation to drift into rock territory. I suppose that’s brave in a way.
A Girl And A Gun is released digitally on October 23 (wiaiwya).