Wednesday 27 March 2024

License to Sing

Among the many days that have traditional names ascribed to them (e.g. New Year’s Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mother’s Day) is Spy Wednesday, which is today. It’s the name given to the Wednesday before Easter Sunday and marks the day that Judas Iscariot decided to betray Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Some Christian denominations still mark this day in their services.

So, as I did a few years ago I’ll mark Spy Wednesday by writing about the world’s most famous spy, James Bond. My intention was to write about the gay artist who designed many of the original book covers, but I had already done a bit about that last time. What I hadn’t done is write about the Bond themes and their lgbt+ connections. This is the first of two articles about the music of 007.

Music has always been a significant element of the Bond films, especially the title songs and the iconic Bond theme itself. I’m a fan of the Bond themes (except the bland Daniel Craig songs). Over the years a handful of lgbt+ singers and songwriters who have contributed to the Bond franchise. Some of the songs and music were rejected or used elsewhere, and these will also be covered.

Here is the chronological list of known lgbt+ singers and songwriters from the pre-Daniel Craig era.

“From Russia With Love” (1963) – The second Bond film and the first to include the film’s title in the theme song. He writer of the song was Lionel Bart (1930-1999), perhaps best known for writing the musical “Oliver!”

It may sound strange to some of you, but Lionel Bart is one of the many songwriters and musicians (like Elton John and Paul McCartney) who can’t read or write music, but could play an instrument (it’s like speaking without knowing how to read or write, as long as you make the right sound). Lionel would play the song on piano, perhaps record it, and a fellow musician would convert what he or she heard into musical notation. In the case of “From Russia With Love” it appears that John Barry, the main Bond composer of the 1960s, wrote down Lionel’s song and gave it the full orchestral arrangement for the film. That is why John Barry is often given a co-writing credit for the song.

“Thunderball” (1965) – Several other artists recorded a theme song, including Johnny Cash, which were all rejected. Twelve years ago, some 47 years after the film was released, a rejected theme for “Thunderball” by the above-mentioned Lionel Bart was rediscovered by Bond music expert Jon Burlingame.

As well as the title song, Bart also composed several variations which were probably intended to be used as incidental music. These all may have been demo recordings and not submitted officially to the Bond producers.

“Casino Royale” (1967) – Although not a part of the official James Bond franchise, this spoof film has become something of a cult. The film score was composed by music legend Burt Bacharach who, with his lyricist Hal David, came up with what is regarded as the film’s signature song, “The Look of Love”. In fact, the song almost never made it into the film at all.

The sequence in which “The Look of Love” features was directed by James McGrath. He played the song “The Girl From Ipanema” on set many times. When he came to shoot the seduction sequence with Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress he felt “The Girl From Ipanema” fitted the scene. However, the producers thought this would be too “arty” and threatened to cut the scene out altogether. So, McGrath asked Bacharach and David to come up with a song that gave the same feeling. They came up with “The Look of Love”. Thank goodness McGrath decided to keep the scene against the producer’s wishes or we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of hearing one of the best Bond songs ever.

Credit for the success of the song must also be given to its singer, the lesbian icon Dusty Springfield (1949-1999). A favourite singer of Burt Bacharach, Dusty’s smoky voice emphasises the sensual nature of the scene. Bacharach always referred to “The Look of Love” as a sexual song, not a love song. Fortunately for all concerned, the song was a massive hit and was nominated for an Oscar (it lost to “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Doolittle”).

“The Living Daylights” (1987) – It would be another 20 years and 12 films later that any lgbt+ singer or songwriter is known to have written for Bond. However, this time the song never made the film. It also connects us quite neatly with Dusty Springfield, because the group whose song was rejected was the Pet Shop Boys, featuring openly gay Neil Tennant (b.1954). The Pet Shop Boys are often wrongly credited with bringing Dusty Springfield out of “retirement” in 1987, when in fact Richard Carpenter had done so several months beforehand with the song “Something In Your Eyes”, but that’s another story.

The Pet Shop Boys wrote their “The Living Daylights” theme song in 1986. The story goes that someone connected with the production of the film had remarked that the group may be approached to write the theme song. The identity of that production crew member is uncertain, as is the exact nature of the “approach”. Perhaps it was just a rumour, or a case of the Pet Shop Boys being one of many names mentioned informally as a possibly suitable commercial choice. In the end the Pet Shop Boys wrote their song and recorded it, only to find that the band A-ha had been chosen instead.

Not letting a good song go to waste, the Pet Shop Boys reworked the song into a track called “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave”. It was featured on their 1990 album “Behaviour”. Recording the theme song for a Bond film only to have it rejected is not uncommon.

“Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Moving on another ten years, we come to the film with one accepted and one rejected son featuring lgbt+ artists.

Not all Bond films have their signature song played over the opening credits. One or two are played over the closing credits. The most famous of these is “We have All the Time In the World” (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”). One less well-known end credit song is overshadowed by the opening credit title song in “Tomorrow Never Dies”. The end credit song is sung by another lesbian icon, k. d. lang (b.1961).

Unlike many other Bond songs, the producers of this film let it be known that they would be willing to accept any prospective Bond theme from any artist and writer. This led to more possible Bond songs that before, 12 in all, officially. One of the songs was written and sung by Marc Almond (b.1957). Unfortunately, his song is one of several that has never been released commercially or has been reworked and recorded fro public release, so we may never hear it.

The story of how k. d. lang ended up singing the closing theme and not the opening one was different. In 1997 British film composer David Arnold (“Stargate”, “Independence Day”, and the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, amongst other projects) produced a Bond music tribute album called “Shaken and Stirred”, consisting of Bond songs covered by other artists. For “Diamonds Are Forever” Arnold chose gay singer-songwriter David McAlmont (b.1967). The Bond producers heard the album and offered Arnold the job of scoring the whole “Tomorrow Never Dies” film. However, the first thing Arnold did was to ask McAlmont to co-write the theme song. Basically, the melody is McAlmont’s, the arrangement is Arnold’s, and the lyrics are by Bond legend Don Black. McAlmont was the singer on the demo tape.

However, the Bond producer’s had decided that none of the artists who submitted songs would be commercial enough to use, so they chose a popular singer of that period, Cheryl Crow, to write and perform the eventual Bond opening song instead.

Not to be outdone, Arnold rescored his theme, now retitled “Surrender”, with k. d. lang as the singer. The producers agreed to put the song at the end of the film over the closing credits. It’s a typical Bond song, with blaring trumpets, strong bass chords, and soaring vocals. I wonder it wasn’t chosen for the opening titles precisely because it too stereotypically Bond.

There’s actually a video on YouTube in which someone has put k.d. lang’s “Surrender” over the opening credits of “Tomorrow Never Dies” (below). I think you’ll agree, you can’t get any more “Bondy” than that.

That’s about it for today. I’ll continue this look at 007’s queer music in May.

Friday 1 March 2024

City Pride: Singapore

I haven’t done a “City Pride” for a long time. In fact, I think the last one I did was for Paris to celebrate the Gay Games in 2018. So, last year I decided it was time to highlight another city and its lgbt+ heritage. The question was, which city? Then I noticed I had a lot of readers in Singapore, and I realised that I knew hardly anything about its lgbt+ community, except for Pink Dot. So, after months of looking for appropriate points in Singapore’s queer history and culture I have selected the following. The main task was to find places that are grouped together which are as diverse as the community itself.

If you’re from Singapore I doubt any of these will be unknown to you, and I hope I have done my research correctly.

As before, the map is not intended to be used as the means for you to get from one location to another. It is intended purely as a rough guide to where the locations are situated. Many roads and streets are omitted, but I hope there is enough information for you to find them on proper maps.

1) Crocodile Rock, Scotts Road - The oldest and longest-running lesbian bar in Singapore, operating between 1992 and 2007. Alternatively known as Croc Rock.

2) KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Bukit Timah Road - More Singaporians have been born here than in any other hospital in Singapore, so naturally this would include a lot of lgbt+ people. However, the reason I put it on this list is because it was also the hospital which performed the first male-to-female sex-assignment surgery in the country in 1971.

3) Pelangi Pride Centre, Rowell Road - This is the original location of Singapore’s first lgbt+ centre. It was founded in 2003 by the city’s Action for AIDS (AfA) charity in the offices above their headquarters. Both the Pelangi Pride Centre and Action for AIDS have moved to other premises (see number 4).

4) Action for AIDS (AfA), Kelantan Lane - The charity’s present location. AfA was founded in 1988 by dermatologist Dr. Roy Chan (b.1955) who is still it’s President. Dr. Chan competed for Singapore in swimming at the 1972 Olympics.

5) The Substation, Armenian Street - The first independent contemporary arts centre in Singapore, founded in 1990 on the site of a former power station. It has organised many exhibitions of lgbt+ artists and interests. It was the venue of the monthly forum of People Like Us (PLU), 1993-4, an lgbt+ lobby group formed in 1993.

6) Suntec Singapore International Conference and Exhibition Centre - Venue of Singapore’s first National AIDS Conference on 12 December 1998. At this conference Paddy Chew became the first person in Singapore to come out publicly as having HIV. He died the following year. His life was the basis for the play “Completely With/Out Character” by Haresh Sharma. More recently, it was the venue for the wrestling competition at the very first Youth Olympic Games in 2010 (see number 8). Here, the oldest of the 9 lgbt+ athletes, 17-year-old Jenna Burkert, competed for the USA.

7) Rascals, Pan Pacific Hotel - Rascals was a club that organised a gay night at the Pan Pacific Hotel every Sunday. On 30 May 1993, Singapore police raided the club and interrogated its customers. It is regarded as Singapore’s “Stonewall”, an event which had a significant effect on the lgbt community and its future.

8) The Float, Marina Bay - With my specialist interest in the Olympics it comes as no surprise that I mention it several times. The very first Youth Olympic Games were held in Singapore in 2010. The opening ceremony was held at The Float, and is the first Olympic opening ceremony to be held on water, despite what Paris 2024 thinks. The Singapore Youth Olympics were also significant for currently having the most known lgbt+ athletes, 9, though none of them were publicly out at the time. Among them was British diver Tom Daley, the only one of the 9 who had competed in a previous Olympics (Beijing 2008, aged 14). If Tom makes it to Paris 2024 without injury, he will equal US equestrian rider Robert Dover’s record of competing at 6 Olympics. Only one lgbt+ Youth Olympian won a medal in Singapore 2010, a gold for Austrian sailor Lara Vadlau. She, like Tom Daley, has qualified for Paris 2024.

 9) Pink Dot, Speaker’s Corner, Hong Lim Park - Location of the annual Pink Dot Pride event. The first was held here on 16 May 2009, when it attracted the largest attendance for any gathering at Speaker’s Corner up to that date. The only years it was not held here were during the covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 when they were held online. Pink Dot events have been held in other cities around the world, all following the same signature format of attendees wearing pink.

10) Boat Quay - Before this area was redeveloped in the 1990s, the streets around Boat Quay were popular cruising grounds for gay men.