Together Tania Davis (violin), Eos Chater (violin), Elspeth Hanson (5-string violin/viola) and Gay-Yee Westerhoff (cello) complete the bevy of talented and beautiful women that make up BOND.
Since BOND’s original debut, the girls have sold well over 4 million records worldwide, making them the best-selling string quartet of all time.
These sassy string players, who shook up the classical world at their launch, are also nudging up their 10-year anniversary. In their decade-long success story, it is safe to say that BOND became a truly international phenomenon; often copied but never equalled.
Now is a perfect time to reflect on the career that placed its members at the top of the classical/pop tree. Lead violinist Tania Davis begins: ‘Performing with Pavarotti singing Caruso and playing the Sydney Opera House were beyond special for me,’ she notes, Australian accent still present and correct. Cellist Gay-Yee Westerhoff adds, ‘Hugely spectacular was playing in front of the Giza Pyramids last year to help Zaha Hadid celebrate her amazing new building in Cairo.’ ‘And then there was Wall Street, when we were styled by Patricia Field [of Sex and the City fame],’ notes violinist Eos Chater, ‘arriving in convertible Lincolns, stopping off and playing before ringing the closing bell. Then it was straight off to play in Times Square!’ ‘And Beijing, at the Olympics handover,’ chirps in newest BOND member, Elspeth Hanson.
How did all this happen? Back in 2000, at the turn of the millennium, before Simon Cowell and his Britain’s Got Talent franchise were dominators of the crossover landscape, four music college students decided to break with convention. The traditional apprenticeships of sweating it out in long black dresses in an orchestra pit were starting to look slightly less appealing to them than performing with the pop artists (including the Spice Girls, The Divine Comedy, Cocteau Twins, Julian Cope, Gabrielle, Mark Knopfler, Primal Scream, Talvin Singh, Sting and Bryan Adams) they had played with when they were budding classical string students.
The possibilities of merging the two forms, of using their own naturally energetic and compelling performance aspect and becoming as dazzlingly contemporary and relevant as a pop act were too delicious to resist. Perhaps a third way, somewhere between pop and classical, really did exist?
‘In an orchestra, you are, to a large extent, fulfilling someone else’s creative vision,’ says Tania. ‘With what we do, we are the producers and the artists, directing the process. These are our mistakes to make.’
In an era when classical crossover has transformed magically into Saturday night prime-time entertainment, it is all but impossible to remember what controversy BOND caused when they first broke through the fourth wall of the classical world and smashed its glass ceiling as sexy, glamorous, provocative young women lending a little gloss to the genre. Within a week of their debut album hitting number one on the classical charts, it was banned for ‘not being classical enough’.
Because they have never been hampered by the restrictions of language, their highly energetic cross-pollination of pop and classical music has traversed the globe. Originally labelled ‘the classical Spice Girls’, they have achieved unprecedented platinum status in over 60 countries and topped the classical charts around the world.
With a new four-piece line-up in place and gigs around the globe since their last release in 2006 keeping the women busy, it was time to think about a new album. ‘Definitely time, especially to celebrate our ten years as a quartet,’ says Tania.
Last year, the quartet was commissioned by Peugeot to create its own version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Says Gay-Yee, ‘It was so exciting being at the centre of the creative process.’ ‘The reason everyone knows The Four Seasons is because the tunes are so fantastically good,’ says Elspeth. ‘And we wanted to turn them on their heads,’ adds Eos.
The Four Seasons was the starting point of the new album. Before long, BOND were running through a huge selection of material that began to reflect the global audience they had acquired over the years. As well as original material, a gung-ho pop/classical version of A.R. Rahman’s Jai Ho, made famous with Slumdog Millionaire, sits perfectly next to a rewiring of the original string line from the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time (made more famous by The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony), set to BOND’s electronic pulse.
The Bollywood excursion was simply returning a favour after the first BOND hit, Victory, had been covered as the theme tune to a major Bollywood smash. Says Tania, ‘Everything fitted perfectly into place in the studio.’
This quartet is clearly excited about the new recording, made with long-term collaborator Magnus Fiennes (‘we trust him like a brother’), Graham Stack (of Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Take That, Westlife and Girls Aloud fame) and the team at Metrophonic.
Says Gay-Yee, ‘For a fresh sound, they were unbeatable – we got our hands dirty with this record, writing and arranging so much of it ourselves. Now we just want to take it out on the road. The live experience is always where we’ve had the best fun. And we can’t wait!’