Bonding for Life – An Irishman’s Diary about David Arnold, a music composer uniting two very different worlds

David Arnold. Courtesy of RTÉ Concert Orchestra

David Arnold. Courtesy of RTÉ Concert Orchestra

 

You might be forgiven for thinking that, the names apart, there is no connection between Dublin’s Oliver Bond House – an inner city flat complex – and James Bond, the fictional super-spy. But you’d be wrong to think that, as events of this weekend will illustrate.

I was writing about the flats here only a few months ago, when residents marked the 80th anniversary of their opening. And as I said on that occasion, the 16-block complex was among the great early achievements of an impoverished Irish Free State that had inherited some of the worst housing in Europe.  

Designed by an heroic Englishman called Herbert George Simms, Dublin’s city housing architect during the de Valera years, the flats were modelled on best practice from mainland Europe, including Art Deco trimmings.  

And although this part of the south inner city has suffered severe problems in intervening years, the built environment wasn’t one of them. Like most of the 17,000 housing units Simms built before taking his own life, his Oliver Bond flats are still standing and in good condition. If they had a fault, however, it was that they would have been rather small for even average-sized Dublin families of the era. So they must have been severely stretched in the case of one family, the Arnolds. This extended to 21 children, eventually, a complex in itself. And yet they seemed to have managed, somehow.

We know this because one of the 21, George, moved to England in later years, where his own children included David Arnold, now a celebrated film composer. David used to spend summer holidays in Dublin during the 1970s, at the same complex. And even then, it was a bit crowded.

“There’d be three triple-bunk beds in one bedroom, and the same in the next,” he recalls. “Grandparents would be sleeping on sofas. But nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was just the way things were.”

Another memory of his Dublin visits was how musical his relatives all seemed to be.  

Maybe you needed big voices to be heard in such a large family. But at every get-together there was singing, and of a strikingly high quality. Given the chance, he thinks, “they could all have been professionals”.

At least one of the extended family – his second-cousin from Kildare, Damien Rice – has since made a career in song.  

As for David himself, his future was to write music for cinema. And with which famous movie franchise was this son of Oliver Bond House, once-removed, fated to become associated?  Yes, naturally, it was the other Bond.

He was already a successful composer by then, with the score of the 1996 Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day to his name. But between 1997 and 2008, Arnold wrote the soundtracks for five Bond films in a row, including Die Another Day. The sequence ended only when he became musical director for the London Olympics.

So when he joins the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre tonight, it will be to perform a greatest hits collection, including the Bond stuff, Stargate, Sherlock, and more. Then tomorrow, at the same venue, he will introduce a full screening of Independence Day, with the orchestra performing his score live.

As readers may know, Independence Day is a sci-fi thriller set in a world invaded by aliens, and hingeing on a US-led counterattack on the Fourth of July. For this reason, its 20th anniversary aside, the film made renewed headlines last year when Donald Trump adopted it as a campaign theme, predicting that November 8th would be a new Independence Day for America.

Events since then have threatened to make satirists (if not science fiction) redundant.

But they’re still trying, gamely, and a recent Saturday Night Live skit reprised the film’s theme, with Trump responding to the alien invasion amid suspicions that he is compromised by his business dealings with the Planet Zurblatt.

Back on Planet Dublin, meanwhile, you can still see the outdoor exhibition on the history of the Oliver Bond flats – it’s on the surrounding streets. And the local Robert Emmet Community Development Project continues to host commemorations, including a very apt one next week.

It’s a cliche to describe working-class neighbourhoods as “tight-knit”. But there is more than usual justification in this one, where for generations textile factories were the main employers, especially of women. So starting on Tuesday, the Emmet centre (recdp.ie) is inviting veterans of the factories to drop by and share stories, which will be stitched into a “community sewing project”.