MIMO - When Music is Your Fix

Shaken and Stirred

I have a very curious relationship with James Bond. No, we’re never mistaken for each other – although I can claim more than a little responsibility for kick starting Pierce Brosnan’s movie career that ultimately led him to that coveted role (I persuaded a reluctant John Mackenzie to cast Pierce in The Fourth Protocol). I’m one of the select few to have composed for James Bond and am lucky enough to be associated with one of the most memorable sequences in the 50 year history of Bond – the classic tank chase through St. Petersburg.

I had been enjoying a fruitful few years of collaborating with the exceptionally talented French composer Eric Serra. As his orchestrator and conductor I had already worked on two Luc Besson movies – Atlantis and Leon:The Professional. Leon had caught the eye and ear of the Bond producers looking to reinvigorate the dormant Bond series with a new Bond (my friend Pierce) and a fresh approach to the music.

Although I was working on my own movie score at the time (Funnybones) I was excited to play a role in the Bond adventure – who wouldn’t be! We began work on the score but it gradually became apparent that the producers weren’t sure that Eric’s radically contemporary approach was really what they wanted. Matters came to a head when they began dubbing the tank chase – and a decision was made to go for a more traditional Bond approach. I received a call on a Friday morning asking me to go to Pinewood Studios for a meeting that afternoon. It became apparent that Eric wasn’t prepared to rewrite the tank sequence and that they had decided to change composer for that scene. I was offered the chance to score it, but insisted that Eric had to be asked if he was happy with me doing so as I had come onto the project with him. He gave his OK and off I went. To tell you the truth I knew exactly what I was going to write – every composer working in movies dreams of scoring a top notch James Bond action scene and the music just flowed out – so much so that I decided to do my own orchestration (I had a couple of orchestrators on standby because of the deadline pressure). I orchestrated on the Sunday, the music was copied into individual parts on the Monday and we recorded on the Tuesday evening with 100 musicians! The session was a joy – to hear the Bond theme interwoven with my variations was quite an experience. The dub was finished the next day and the film opened the following week – such was the deadline pressure.

At the New York premiere the tank chase received a standing ovation, and it was recently voted the number 2 all time favourite James Bond sequence. Although I was uncredited on screen (the credits had already been finalized) word got out via the internet and it’s now common knowledge that I was the composer so I’m not giving away any secrets here. The Tank Chase is performed regularly in concerts of the music of James Bond, there is a chapter devoted to Goldeneye in Jon Burlingame’s terrific new book The Music of James Bond, and my association with Bond continues in a strange way – I have been doing live gigs with jazz vocalist Monty Norman – who composed the James Bond Theme 50 years ago!! I persuaded him to come out and sing in public – something he hadn’t done for many years, and we had a blast! Even James Bond himself couldn’t think up such a strange twist of fate!

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About the Author


John Altman is a BAFTA and Emmy award winning composer, musician and conductor and was recently made Doctor of Music at the University of Sussex, School of Media, Film and Music. John has a long and distinguished career in music, including performing with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Sting. His film credits include period music for Titanic and Shall We Dance. In addition, John has scored over 5,000 TV commercials and is cited as among the top composers in British advertising.

A brief look at who John Altman has shared the stage with or worked with since the 1950s:

  • the 50s - appeared with Judy Garland onstage at the London Palladium
  • the 60s - played with Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Muddy Waters
  • the 70s - played with Bob Marley, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Elton John. Wrote for Monty Python and the Rutles
  • the 80s - wrote for Simple Minds, George Michael. Played with Slim Gaillard, Chet Baker. Sting, Phil Collins, Jeff Beck
  • the 90s - wrote for Bjork, Tina Turner, Barry White, Diana Ross, James Bond, Titanic. Played with Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, Bill Wyman
  • the 00s - played with Prince, Amy Winehouse, Pharrell, Black Eye Peas, Jessie J, Joss Stone
  • the 10s - still standing!

Posted in: Music History 101


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