Score values: from Bond to the Olympics
Prolific film composer David Arnold talks to our music critic about his eclectic career - and helping cousin Damien Rice to bring out his first album
David Arnold was at the peak of his career - a Grammy-winning composer of Hollywood blockbusters and James Bond films - when he got a call out of the blue from Damien Rice's grandmother.
Mary Rice was not a stranger; she happened to be the sister of Arnold's grandfather and was hoping Arnold could help to give her grandson a much-needed boost. He had spent many summer holidays with relations in Ireland - his father was one of 21 children born in Dublin's Liberties - and that huge extended family included the Rice clan from Celbridge, Co Kildare.
But Arnold did not know that the young Damien was a singer and about to make an album.
"She wanted to know if I would listen to his music and maybe give him a bit of advice," Arnold says. "I said, 'Of course I will,' but part of me was worried that the music would be awful, because what do you say then?
"So he came over to me in London and he played me the songs and I was just blown away. It was obvious straight away that he was exceptionally talented. He just needed the right people to hear his songs."
Arnold helped finance the final recording of what would become O and he helped out on string arrangements here and there. "I only played a small part," he says. "And I'm delighted that so many people got to hear it."
For his part, Damien Rice has never forgotten that pick-me-up. "I'm glad that David was mad enough to help me record O," he says. "Though we were officially related, we hadn't actually met before because the family was so big. It was, in a sense, help from a stranger and there was power in that.
"David gave a lot of musical support but never pushed me anywhere I didn't want to go. I remember that one day I took an artistic U-turn and instead of talking me out of it, he let me be. Maybe one day I can be so naturally generous with someone."
Few may be able to pick Arnold out of a line-up and others might wear a quizzical expression when his name is mentioned, but the genial Englishman's music hardly needs an introduction.
The legions of fans of BBC's hugely popular Sherlock series will certainly be familiar with its now-famous theme - the sprightly and playful composition is Arnold's work. He's been with the show since its inception.
"It's been great to work on music that has connected with a lot of people," he says, "and the score is an important part of the whole Sherlock experience."
It's been a very different project to work on than Bond, he says, where it's so important to be respectful of the past. "You have to be mindful of the great legacy its soundtracks have when you work on it, but that doesn't mean you're in a straitjacket when it comes to putting your own stamp on it."
Arnold provided the soundtrack for five 007 movies in all - from 1999's The World is Not Enough to 2008's Quantum of Solace. His scores straddled the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig eras.
"I had such great fun on them," he says, his enthusiasm still palpable. "I had been such a huge Bond fan growing up" - he saw You Only Live Twice as a boy shortly after it came out in 1967, and was blown away - "so it felt like a dream come true to be working on them, to be part of a franchise that has meant an awful lot to generations of people."
He landed the gig after impressing veteran Bond composer John Barry with an album in his honour. Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project was a labour of love that featured such contemporary names as David McAlmont, Pulp and Shara Nelson tackling iconic songs from the Bond films. "I was doing something new with them, but paying homage to a composer I'd such respect for."
Barry was so enamoured with his efforts that he recommended Arnold to Bond producer Barbara Broccoli. The job was his - and remained his until Sam Mendes was chosen to direct both Skyfall and Spectre. Mendes brought his own go-to composer, Thomas Newman, with him and Arnold was out.
In any event, he says he was unavailable for the first movie, having been convinced by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle to work on the music for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
Now, Arnold will be bringing his evocative music to Dublin's Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, with a little help from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. There are two shows and each night promises to be very different. The first, on May 19, is devoted to a selection of Arnold's most noteworthy compositions; the second, the following evening, centres on his soundtrack for the 1996 alien invasion blockbuster Independence Day.
"It happened before I became involved with Bond," he says, "and it was a film that had the potential to be a huge hit at the box office. There was something thrilling in knowing that the music could reach a lot of people."
Arnold had got the Independence Day gig because he had worked with its director, Roland Emmerich, on another sci-fi film, Stargate, a couple of years before. It was only his second film soundtrack: his break had come from old school friend Danny Cannon, who had been seeking a composer for his film debut, the Harvey Keitel-starring The Young Americans. Arnold's smart, sexy score got him noticed and his arrangements for one of its key songs, Björk's 'Play Dead', put him into the charts.
Although he has been happy to work on such populist Hollywood fare as Godzilla and The Fast and the Furious, there's been a delightfully unpredictable streak to his CV. He's also provided the music for such eclectic projects as the BBC comedy series Little Britain and the West End musical Made in Dagenham (he also scored the film version).
"I like to be busy and to have different projects on the go," he says. "And there's something about the limitations of soundtrack work that really appeals creatively. You have to frame the music to visuals, storyline, characters. It focuses your mind.
"As do deadlines - and even on the bigger projects, you'd find that if they need certain parts redone, you might just have a few days to do it."
Arnold is an engaging raconteur who seems to be happy to chat about well-travelled aspects of his career and he says he is content to be a background man, untroubled by the pressures of fame. He doesn't appear to have much ego.
"I won't be taking to the stage in Dublin on a cloud of dry ice and in a swan-drawn chariot," he says with a chuckle. "And I really want to tear down that wall that can exist between audiences at classical music concerts and performers. I want them to have fun."
David Arnold and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra are at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, on May 19 and 20