Olympic Closing Ceremony London 2012: Review
THE musical director of the Olympic Closing Ceremony, David Arnold, said he had whittled down the Guinness Book of Hit Singles to thirty tracks for a curtain closer that would be a celebration of British music.
But was there really a pop song that hadn’t been played at these games over the last two weeks? Because from the moment Danny Boyle had his nurses flinging themselves around to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, London 2012 has been a cacophony of pop music.
Blaring out of every arena at every opportunity have been the choruses of Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers or Queen’s We Will Rock You. Many events seemed like they were taking part inside a nightclub with a sideshow of some sport to break up the rotation of full-throttle hits.
Not to take anything away from the jaw dropping sportsmanship and flawless organisation of these Olympics but I think some of the incredible atmosphere of these games has been down to the British love of and skill at in enjoying a party. We brought our festival spirit en mass to Stratford to turn it into a kind of Glastonbury of sport. And if the Closing Ceremony was meant to be the biggest party of them all, Arnold and director Kim Gavin were savvy in turning the stadium into a giant gig with the athletes as the audience. This is what we do best.
But what on earth was there left for them to play? Well, if the opening night has been about creative risk taking and cool, the closing event was meant to be about cheese – an unabashed, honking hunk of over ripe Stilton. Pitched somewhere between a wedding reception and tuning into Magic FM, the show swapped Oldfield for Brian May and the Arctic Monkeys for the Spice Girls. If this was meant to be a party for the athletes – most of who are under 30 – this was a good bet. The younger stars were the ones that really shone. One Direction, Jessie J, Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz may not be cutting edge but you can bet most of the participants recognised their infectious chart hits and they had the bounce to get the party going.
I think Britain should be proud of producing some of the best pop of the last 60 years and probably the best wedding DJs in the world too, but compared to Boyle’s high wire gamble this more conservative strategy was actually just as much at risk of disappointment. Where Boyle’s Isles of Wonder had set the tone for Britain to take collective pride in a modern vision of itself, falling back on the old familiars was in danger of plonking us back in the music-by-committee-feel of the Jubilee concert. If Cliff Richard were to have dropped by on a double decker bus, dressed in tweed and eating a cream tea we would have known that the exciting glimpse of a new kind of Britishness we’d had this month was really over.
But they’d clearly learnt the lessons of that occasion, so there was Madness, Blur, the Pet Shop Boys and Ray Davies with their brilliantly observed London anthems to keep things a little bit streetwise. Elbow brought their trademark indie grandeur to the athletes’ entrance. After her turn at the Opening Ceremony Emile Sande returned twice with some X Factor tear-jerking balladry. Read All About was mawkish but the words were perfectly in tune with the mood of the nation, “We’re all wonderful people/ so when did we get so fearful/ now we are finally finding our voices.” Arnold and Gavin went for emotional hot spots in their musical choices, particularly when a video of John Lennon singing Imagine with a deaf childrens choir but Take That's Rule the World was perfect, lighters-in-the-air romanticism for the climax of the ceremony.
There were some clear flaws: the obvious absence of top-drawer stars like Kate Bush, David Bowie and ELO glaring when their music was used. And where the stars were present there were way too many mediocre moments. George Michael gyrating to Freedom was perfect but allowing him to play an unknown and unremarkable current hit was a wasted slot and Annie Lennox was utterly underwhelming. The psychedelic section with Ed Sheeran playing Pink Floyd and Russell Brand doing a karaoke Beatles was too slow and Liam Gallagher was nasal and off key. The whole affair didn’t feel whittled down but rather way too long. If anything, the Closing Ceremony was not uplifting or cheesy enough apart from the Spice Girls who got the exuberant tone exactly right. Rio’s musical montage featuring Seu Jorge and Pele also hit the right buttons with its mix of sultry bossa nova, tribal rhythms and sequined samba.
A newspaper headline on the floor of the stage quoted Hamlet “The Rest is Silence.” Things will definitely seem mournfully quiet after these last few weeks but the Olympics have left some cracking music ringing in our ears for some time to come.