Travel

James Bond Has Long Shared a Surprising Connection to The Beatles

As 007's big-screen debut turns 60, we look back at the franchise's ties to the legendary recording studio Abbey Road.

The first time 007 crossed over with the Beatles ranks as one of the rare times in the spy’s 60-year history in which he comes off as uncool. In 1964’s Goldfinger, Sean Connery drops a one-liner that has aged about as well as the flat champagne he would no doubt refuse to drink. “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit,” smirks Connery to a blonde bedmate. “That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”

At the time, this line was intended to reveal 007’s sophistication. A worldly, debonair man like himself might put on some jazz to set the mood, but he’d never bother with anything as crass as “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” But like so many things about James Bond, his taste in music has evolved with the times-to the point that Paul McCartney was tapped to write and perform “Live and Let Die” less than a decade after Connery slagged off the Beatles. Today, James Bond and the Beatles are arguably the two greatest and most enduring British pop-cultural exports of the 20th century-and the path to both leads straight through Abbey Road.

Though it was founded in 1931 as EMI Recording Studios in Greater London’s City of Westminster, Abbey Road is most associated with the title of one of the Beatles’ best albums (and for inspiring countless tourists to annoy local motorists by pausing in the middle of the road for a photo in an otherwise unassuming pocket of northwestern London). The studio was renamed in 1976 to capitalize on its association with the Beatles, who recorded 190 of their 210 songs within its walls and released their Abbey Road in 1969, but its alumni list also includes Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Radiohead, and multitudes of other top artists.

But for all the iconic groups that have laid down tracks in Abbey Road’s Studio Two, which is renowned for its ever-expanding role in rock history, the list of film scores recorded at Studio One-a space large enough to accommodate a full orchestra-might be even more impressive. It’s there that Abbey Road’s history with the Bond franchise ends up cutting deeper than you might expect. Since 1988, the famed recording studio has been equipped with speakers from Bowers & Wilkins, a renowned British audio company whose founder could have been a contemporary and colleague of 007 himself.

Bowers & Wilkins
Bowers & Wilkins
Bowers & Wilkins

John Bowers, the company’s eponymous founder, was just 17 when he joined the Royal Corps of Signals at the onset of World War II. Already fascinated by radio, he was recruited by MI6, the same organization that James Bond himself reported to in the 20-odd times he’s saved the world. As a real-life MI6 operative, Bowers maintained clandestine radio contact with both British agents and resistance fighters across Europe. He also met Roy Wilkins, a colleague who quickly became a friend, and the pair agreed that they’d go into business together after they’d won the war.

Setting up a small shop in Bowers’ hometown of Worthing, England, Bowers supplemented the primary business of selling, renting, and repairing radios for fellow enthusiasts with a sideline in manufacturing his own speakers. Bowers, a classical music fan, was frustrated that no speaker could simulate the feeling of attending a live performance, and his tinkering aimed to make listening to a recording as close as possible to actually being in the room with the musicians. By the time Bowers’ obsession with finding new ways to building a better speaker became the company’s actual future, the 1960s were nearing their end, with Sean Connery handing over his tuxedo and Walther PPK to George Lazenby for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (and then promptly taking it back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever).

It was nearly two decades later-and two Bond actors later-when Abbey Road officially adopted Bowers & Wilkins’ Matrix 801 speakers as the reference speakers used in its recording studios. Those speakers had been the result of four years of research, and were designed by engineers explicitly encouraged to do everything they could think of to make the best possible loudspeakers in the world, without concern about previous conventions or cost. Shortly after, in the 1980s, Abbey Road’s famed Studio One, the world’s largest purpose-built recording space, became the gold standard for recording bombastic film soundtracks, welcoming movie franchises including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Given the full weight of history, there was something especially potent about Abbey Road playing host to Adele and a 77-piece orchestra for the title theme of 2012’s Skyfall-an instant classic, a song that made Daniel Craig cry, and the first Bond theme to win an Academy Award. (Sam Smith also dropped in to Abbey Road to record parts of “Writing’s on the Wall,” the Oscar-winning theme he co-wrote with Jimmy Napes for the 2015 Bond movie Spectre.)

Bowers & Wilkins
Bowers & Wilkins
Bowers & Wilkins

“Skyfall,” along with the iconic “James Bond Theme” and Shirley Bassey’s immortal “Goldfinger,” were reprised by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at a recent event held at Abbey Road to celebrate Bowers & Wilkins’ latest crossover with the Bond franchise, including a special set of headphones made to match the midnight blue tuxedo Sean Connery wore in Dr. No. At Abbey Road, 150 attendees were invited to do their best Bond impressions by showing up in evening gowns or tuxedos. (No one was brave enough to try to pull off Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale swim trunks.)

Still: For one evening, Bollinger champagne was popped and Vesper martinis were poured in Abbey Road’s Studio Two, just across the hall from where Adele recorded “Skyfall.” Walking through the halls of the building feels like an intimate tour of recent Hollywood history-and not just because the walls are lined with signed posters bearing gushing handwritten messages from filmmakers and stars.

But the studios, and their control rooms, carry a different kind of weight: The history of so much genuinely iconic work, now heard on radios and in movie theatres across the world, but first performed and heard here in these rooms, which are large but somehow intimate. It’s fitting that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra also recently commemorated the franchise’s 60th anniversary by recording new arrangements of all 25 James Bond theme songs at Abbey Road-an exhaustive tribute to the full history of 007, and a franchise built around music that has managed to be both of-the-moment and timeless.

“The Bond theme has been in our lives for as long as we can remember,” said Skyfall director Sam Mendes earlier this year. “You know, you’re in the womb… what do you hear? The heartbeat and the Bond theme.” Addressing the crowd gathered to celebrate 007 at Abbey Road in November, David Arnold-the composer behind five Bond films, including the franchise-relaunching Casino Royale-noted that no one in the room was likely old enough to remember a time before James Bond was a global icon. Watching a video that paid tribute to the series’ history, including his role in it, made Arnold “weirdly emotional,” he said. “It still feels like an enormous honour.”

“Why did I start writing music? Because when I was eight years old, I saw You Only Live Twice,” said Arnold. “I wanted to be a part of the thing that made this noise. To make you feel the way I felt.” And standing there in Abbey Road, it was hard to imagine feeling any different.

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Scott Meslow is a contributor to Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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