Back in the early nineties, David Arnold was doing the score for the film The Young Americans, with director and friend Danny Cannon, when he picked out a new singer for his first major collaboration. The whole thing was instinctual, it felt right and he trusted it.

Danny Cannon had fought to get Arnold the gig doing the music on the picture. They had worked together for all of Cannon’s student films in Luton, he was his guy, and this was their break.

Harvey Keitel was starring as a cop, with Viggo Mortensen and Thandie Newton in early roles.

While trying to work out who they would get to sing the film’s atmospheric final song, Play Dead, Arnold and Cannon were talking about either Kate Bush or Liz Frasier when this new singer Bjork came up.

"At the time, she only lived two streets away. Bjork had just brought out her first collaboration with 808 State and we were absolutely knocked out by her voice."

She came around to the house where they showed her the cuts of the film. Bjork committed to doing it and they were in the studio with her and the orchestra three days later.

"There was an urgency to it. We had finished recording the film score, and there was only three minutes or so left to record [the song] before the orchestra had to leave. Otherwise we go into overtime and spending money that we didn’t have.

"Play Dead is a three-minute track… We went to record with no click and the performance of the orchestra is a read through. It’s not even a rehearsed run. It was the first time anyone had seen it, and the only time it had ever been played."

That record was the doorway from which everything else opened up for David Arnold. Soon after, director Roland Emmerich approached him to score his sci-fi epic Stargate off the back of one of the tracks.

From there he did Independence Day and Godzilla with Emmerich, which firmly established his reputation in the industry - he had seized his opportunity.

Things happened quickly as he joined an elite career path, that of a movie composer, a person who audiences will never be able to recognise in the street but someone who triggers (and toys with) their emotions on any number of big-screen occasions.


David Arnold has five James Bond scores to his name including Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. It was 1997 when he first got involved with the iconic British spy franchise; however, it wasn’t a film score, but an album of Bond cover songs.

Shaken and Stirred was part homage to the overblown style of Bond scores - which he loved - and part tribute to his music idol John Barry.

With these songs, he evinced a way of modernising the Bond sound (which was really Barry’s sound) while remaining true to the originals. He took classics like Diamonds Are Forever, Live & Let Die and Thunderball and doused them with some 90s Brit-punk-pomp by enlisting the help of Iggy Pop, Leftfield, Pulp and David McAlmont.

He denies that this album was his pitch for the role of 007 composer. Instead, it was something he’d always wanted to do and it was a bit of fun, a relief for him after his heavy Stargate schedule.

Whether intentional or not, it worked.

"There was no agenda… I had talked to MGM already while doing Stargate. I said to them, look, I’ve always loved Bond, if ever there’s a chance that John Barry’s not going to do it, please let me have a crack."

"But by me doing Shaken and Stirred, the producers heard evidence and proof that the sort of lifelong affection for the music and films of James Bond could be positioned in a slightly different way."

His blueprint was to have one foot in the '60s, and one foot in the present day. By doing so, he helped to reinvent Bond for the modern era.


A personal highlight in Arnold's career undoubtedly came in 2012 when he was made musical director of the London Olympics under Danny Boyle. The Olympics felt like a culmination of his life’s work, because it is exactly the sort of large-scale collective and collaborative experience that got him hooked on music in the first place.

"I’ve realised that almost everything I’ve done has been a response to me experiencing it and wanting to be responsible for someone else getting the same feeling that I got…

"When I heard the school choir singing a song I liked for the first time, I thought, I want to be in that choir, because I wanted to be making that noise.

"When I auditioned in the school orchestra, the first time we played a piece… as soon as we hit the first note, which is a big ensemble C-minor, that is a lot of noise! If you have forty kids blowing as hard as they can, it sort of shook the room a little bit."

The London Olympics was a chance for him to give that great communal, musical experience to a new generation, allowing them to be inspired like he was as a child hearing the effects music could have on audiences.

Having being involved in making the music for a number of British institutions – Bond, The London Olympics, the BBC series Sherlock, even the satirical TV show Little Britain – how does he feel about that British identity since Brexit?

"When you work in different countries, in music, everyone feels like they’re the same. People who want to make great music, they just want to make music and they find a way of that happening regardless of differences.

"God, I sound like a hallmark card. But what saddens me is that it feels like someone has drawn a curtain between that now.

"There is a sense of isolationism, that you’re better off by yourself. And I don’t think that you are."

When working on Little Britain he wanted to come up with an alternative anthem for those people who lived in that other England (one that wasn’t political).

"I wanted to write a national anthem for the people who are in that show, for the England they lived in, which had to grand and it had to be ambitious… So I thought if we had great musicians but not enough of them for it to sound like it should.

"It was people straining for it to be better, yearning for it to be better, for it to be bigger and fuller and richer - and never quite getting there. Little Britain is obviously a comedy show, but you feel like these people would somehow prefer it if things were different."

"And now… maybe that will be our national anthem. I should write to Nigel Farage and offer it to him."


This week David Arnold returns to Dublin - a city that he has fond memories of from his childhood - to perform two shows accompanied by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Dublin has visibly changed, Arnold admits, since the days when he used to visit his father’s family in the Oliver Bond Street flats during the '60s and ‘70s. But what remains is that sense of freedom he felt when he arrived over for those summers as a child.

"I remember the whole place being slightly anarchic, which was nice, because our house back home was more controlled… Coming over here where no one really seemed to give a shit.

"There would be dogs chasing after you… You’d run out of the flat ,and play a game by just throwing bottles at some front door - you know, kids stuff. Basically eating, drinking and staying up late - nine to a room in these little flats, you had to look after yourself."

"It was this odd thing of coming over and thinking that this feels like how you’d want to live, very free and easy-going, and that never really left me… People seem to know how to enjoy themselves here."

Friday night’s concert with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is a retrospective evening of storytelling and song that looks back on David Arnold’s glittering career in music. The second show on Saturday is a live performance of the Independence Day score, alongside a screening; both are in Dublin's Bord Gais Energy Theatre - tickets & details here.