I somehow managed to fuck up the site so I haven’t been able to log into WordPress recently, but we’re back now. I’ll post some new stuff this week, but in the meantime here’s something I wrote for Sabotage Times about the Olympic Closing Celebrations in Hyde Park.
What a couple of weeks we’ve had. There was plenty of scepticism going into these Olympics from the media, and a feeling that people just wanted it over with as soon as possible. All that changed with Danny Boyle’s fantastic Opening Ceremony. Now, as the Closing Ceremony was happening across in East London, Hyde Park welcomed the best of British music for a proper celebration.
Even before Bombay Bicycle Club took to the stage the park was full. The band were just finishing school when the last Olympics in Beijing was running, and being from London themselves this must have been a very special moment for them. The crowd, a real mixture of old and young, were fully engaged as they stormed through tracks from all three albums.
A reformed New Order (sans Peter Hook) were next up. The years may not have been kind to Bernard Sumner, but it was like he’d never been away during the short set that included ‘True Faith’, ‘Blue Monday’ and even Joy Division classics ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Isolation’. ‘World in Motion’ would surely have been a fitting addition to this unique day, but alas there was no sign.
Throughout the park you couldn’t move for t-shirts emblazoned with The Specials‘ name. Considering the fact that the Opening Ceremony didn’t avoid some of Britain’s not so great moments alongside those that we celebrate everyday, it seemed fitting that a band known for their protests songs were invited along. Ska is a genre that even yours truly can dance to. The crowd, whether celebrating the lyrics or not, agreed as the entire park erupted into a running man.
The reason we were all there, though, was Blur. It had been a little over three years since I had last seen them, which as it happens had also been in Hyde Park. The reunion back then promised much moving forward, but all we got were greatest hits and special compilations. That was until the announcement of this gig and the performance of two new songs on a roof, written specifically for this date. Despite the omission of ‘The Puritan’ from this performance, ‘Under the Westway’ was a huge success. Early on in the encore. Damon introduced it as a track special to them and to the evening. By then, the emotion was starting to show in his eyes.
That was almost two hours into the set. A set that had started in with the familiar early crowd-get-goer ‘Girls & Boys’, quickly followed by the rarely performed, but very apt, ‘London Loves’. Further tracks that the band love playing live came up next in the form of ‘Tracy Jacks’ and ‘Jubilee’.
‘Beetlebum’, ‘Coffee & TV’… the hits kept coming. Damon then, in typical Damon form, brought up a Syrian musician by the name of Khyam Allami to help out on ‘Out of Time’. He loves his world music, and the fact that Syria are currently banned from the Olympics no doubt had a huge part to play in the decision to include Allami.
We had been promised the rarity of hearing ‘Caramel’ live, and that promise was fulfilled. Phil Daniels (and bizarrely a tea lady played by Harry Enfield) joined them on stage for ‘Parklife’. Not that he was needed as the entire crowd shouted the lyrics at the top of their voice. I could go on and list every song they played, but of course we heard ‘Country House’, ‘Song 2’ and crowd favourite ‘Popscene’, before ending the main set with ‘Tender’ and ‘This is a Low’.
It was during the feature length encore that what this concert meant to them shone through. After the aforementioned ‘Under the Westway’, Damon took to the piano for a wonderful performance of ‘End of the Century’. The set was finished with the perfect pop of ‘For Tomorrow’ and of course ‘The Universal’. This all seemed a bit too much for Albarn, who stood open mouthed on the stage while the crowd sang every word back at him.
As the band thanked the crowd, there was real emotion there. I think Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave, along with everybody there, knew that this was probably the last time we’d see them together. One of the true great British pop bands had just delivered the perfect send off to an amazing two weeks.