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The Hi-Fi That Loved Me: Eric Winstone Plays 007
A leader of British big bands in the 1930s-50s teams up with library music legend Syd Dale for an album of James Bond themes
My continuing foray into James Bond-inspired albums has turned up some colorful characters with strange and amazing backgrounds, but few are quite as odd and tumultuous as that of pianist/accordionist and big band leader Eric Winstone. Among the highlights of his interesting life is a public feud with 1950s British bombshell Diana Dors and the construction of an iron partition running through his home to separate him from his fashion model wife and child. In between those things and getting a restraining order to prevent his mother-in-law from visiting his home, Winstone managed to record a run-of-the-mill but pretty enjoyable album of James Bond themes. Released in 1973, Eric Winstone Plays 007 was one of the last things he recorded before his death in 1974 at the age of 61.
Winstone was not a prolific recording artist under his own name, sticking primarily to live performance and, later, work with TV and movie music libraries. Winstone was a clerk at the Westminster Gas and Coke Company and played music in his spare time, at least until performances with the company band led to more professional gigs. He opened an accordion school and started two dance bands in the 1930s, Accordion Quintet and Swing Quartet, the last of which frequently featured popular vocalist Julie Dawn (whose father, incidentally, was head waiter at the famed Savoy Hotel; for more on that place and its ties to James Bond and cocktail history, I humbly suggest you check out my book, Cocktails and Capers: Cult Cinema, Cocktails, Crime, & Cool).
Like many British musicians who record Bond albums, he cut his teeth in the Royal Air Force band entertaining troops during and after World War II. Apart from his military performances, he became a staple of the Butlin's Holiday Camps resorts. It was while playing at one of these camps in the 1950s that Winstone's feud with Diana Dors was ignited. She had been contracted to perform with Winstone and his orchestra for 15 minutes and could not make the performance, owing to a throat infection. Rather than shrug it off, Winstone complained about her to the audience and, shortly thereafter, filed a lawsuit for breach of contract. Dors, in return, filed a defamation suit against Winstone. When the case went to court, the judge was so astounded about so much noise being made over a gig that paid a pittance he awarded each side a token pittance—£5 to Winstone, and because England is weird, 100 guineas to Dors (about £105). Dors donated her settlement to charity.
By the 1970s, his big band style was both out of style and somehow back in style, at least in that the spirit underpinned a lot of the jazzier covers of pop tunes that were being released on budget LPs at the time. Eric Winstone Plays 007 was an instrumental project put together by Syd Dale, a legend in the world of soundtracks and library music. Dale was a master of the sound that would come to define late-1960s and 1970s British spy and cop shows, largely through recordings for his own Amphonic Music company. Dale combined classical orchestration, jazz funk, and fuzzed-out guitars on many of his arrangements (which are still being used to this day), but he was also a huge fan of big band and swing music (even recording some himself), so it must have been a treat to collaborate with and old hand like Winstone.
Although Winstone and Dale's version of the James Bond theme has a great, meaty 1970s beat to it without veering into disco, and there's some solid action from the brass section. The arrangement of "From Russia with Love" is one of the weirder tracks on the album, with a 1970s funk beat keeping time with what is almost Herb Aplert-esque trumpet playing. It's pretty solid. "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" has always been a track to show off a little muscle, although Winstone's version is a little jazzier than the usual, anchored by some sax work rather than the trumpets one usually hears on the song. "Diamonds Are Forever" gets a slow cocktail jazz treatment, again with hints of Herb Alpert in the mix and some quality vibraphone action lending it that extra lounge mood. The faux-Caribbean style of "Underneath the Mango Tree" is jettisoned entirely in Winstone's version, which opts for a groovier almost sunshine pop meets swinging London lite sound. You can imagine it being performed on one of those pop music Tv shows with a bunch of young women in go-go boots and miniskirts dancing on platforms of various elevations. Good arrangements of "You Only Live Twice" and "Thunderball" round out the Connery years.
That dancier groove carries over into "The Man with the Golden Gun," which was already going for a Swinging London in the original film version performed by Lulu. However, given the vintage of Eric Winstone Plays 007, this is an original composition (The Man with the Golden Gun wasn't released until 1974). The only film theme from the Roger Moore years available to Winstone and Dale was "Live and Let Die," and they do a pretty cool version of it that, again, cocktail lounges it up a bit. The only other non-Sean Connery film released at the time was On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starring George Lazenby in his one and only outing as James Bond. So take your pick, Winstone: both the OHMSS theme and "We Have All the Time in the World" are absolute 007 classics that would work perfectly with the overall vibe of this album.
And so they go with..."Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Made?" Which is certainly...a choice. I admit, it's never been my favorite piece of James Bond music, and there's a reason very few of the artists who recorded Bond cover albums chose this one to include. But, points for originality, I reckon. Maybe Syd Dale was influenced by the fact that he was in the middle of recording an album of big band Christmas tunes. Anyway, devoid of the children's chorus lyrics, this version of "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Made" is given a mellow late-night lounge sound that isn't half bad. Still, it would have been great to hear them tackle one of the two more popular tunes from the movie.
Of course, I'd also love to hear Ray Winstone Plays 007, but I suppose that's not likely to happen.