Pop Lifer is on record as loving the left field opening ceremony in all its energy and eccentricity, particularly enjoying the moments when it celebrated British pop. The games themselves were just as thrilling, leaving us with indelible personal memories and images of national joy, from Jessica Ennis’ outstretched arms to Mo Farah’s radiant victory smile.
So when it was announced that the closing ceremony would focus on 50 years of British pop, and rumours circulated of appearances from unlikely and reclusive stars like Kate Bush, we allowed ourselves to indulge in some fantasising. We imagined a closing ceremony which really did explore pop’s past and present in a smart and imaginative way, starring true British icons and not just the most obvious or the most available. Kate was at the centre of our dream, but we also found room to imagine Annie Lennox singing “Sweet Dreams” with a furious Plan B guest rap, a triumphant reunion for the original line up of Massive Attack, the Pet Shop Boys given free reign to showcase their genius and a fitting finale of Bowie performing “Heroes.”
We knew it couldn’t live up to that but we really did hope Brand GB might follow on where Team GB had left off and close 16 days of glorious sport, back slapping and smiling on the Tube with a fitting goodbye. So would it be a hearty hug, warm smile and a telephone number swap or an awkward peck on both cheeks and a clumsy bash of heads?
Ouch. As Tim Jonze wrote on his live Guardian blog, halfway through proceedings: “Just think: two weeks ago the world thought we were rubbish at sport and great at music”. Not any more, was the implication. Because this was not a musical feast. It was more a ropy buffet at the end of a wedding: a few dried out bits of pitta bread, some wilted lettuce, a few bits of crumbly cake and some nice chicken if you were prepared to hunt for it.
It all opened with a whirligig of Camden Market icons (Madness, Italian Job, Only Fools and Horses) which included oddly placed but hugely enjoyable performances from the Pet Shop Boys and Ray Davies, brief moments where it all seemed close to our fantasy. However, bar Annie Lennox’s captivating performance of “Little Bird” (one of the few left-field song choices, one in which she and her gothic cavalcade looked quite magnificent) and the Spice Girls providing some much needed energy (at Pop Lifer we truly love “Spice Up Your Life”, shamelessly), the ceremony went on to disappoint and infuriate. It was a parade of the bland (Ed Sheeran playing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with tedious solemnity), grotesque (a gurning Russell Brand miming to “I Am The Walrus”), obvious (John Lennon’s “Imagine”) and irrelevant (The Kaiser Chiefs covering The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”: just because they correctly predicted last year’s riots doesn’t make them relevant in 2012).
A grumpy-looking Liam Gallagher sounded as if he was singing with a clothes peg on his nose for the Beady Eye classic “Wonderwall”, a truly depressing moment for those with vestigial fondness for early Oasis. Eric Idle came close to undoing the multicultural verve so magnificently captured in the opening ceremony and underlined during the actual games with an embarrassing parody of Indian dancing, as well as a version of “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” which might have made us smile – a bit – just two hours before, but now felt like salt in our wounds. Twitter – having for two weeks been, for the most part, an oasis of positivity – reverted to being a pit of hissing snakes. We were guilty, too, our Pop Lifer promise to be a positive antidote to the usual online cynicism cracking under the sheer horror of the worst moments.
So many opportunities were missed. Kate Bush and David Bowie did not perform live, with Bush’s glorious “Running Up That Hill” merely remixed and tannoyed out. Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell demonstrating their ability to walk did not compensate. Where we had a celebration of achievement, progress and social change to open London 2012, 16 days later we signed off with Jessie J and Tinie Tempah on the back of flash cars. Only Take That’s rather lovely finale of “Rule The World” brought some dignity back to proceedings.
The reason it’s such a crushing shame that the send-off hit so many bum notes is because the Olympic extravaganza itself was so great. The London 2012 Olympic Games was a genuinely moving event. Team GB delivered. Men and women, black and white, rich and poor, represented and triumphed. People GB delivered. Stadiums and streets were filled and lined and most of us cheered legends and underdogs from all over the world and wiped away tears at the success and failure of our own and of others. Warmth has spread well beyond both sport and the M25 (brilliantly captured by Suzanne Moore).
Somewhere in this dark, murky disappointment a light did, toward the end of the night, begin to break through. Across London, in Hyde Park, tweets came through reporting that Blur had put in a storming and moving performance which successfully captured the mood and maintained the euphoria of the last two weeks by calling upon a back catalogue of some of the finest indie pop ever produced.
A copy of this performance – Park Live – is available to download today, and should be sent to every single person in the world as an apology and as a reminder that British pop really can be triumphant. Blur and the British public have had a long and tumultuous relationship, falling in and out of love with each other over decades, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and with similar levels of alcohol abuse. At the moment we are utterly in love with them. Over the next week we’ll be remembering the key moments where we fell hopelessly for Albarn and co, and the moments where, infuriated beyond all measure, we filed for divorce. Concentrating on this may help us – and you – forget the closing ceremony.
We’ll keep you posted… Literally.