Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Road to Tweedom is Paved with Hood Pretensions

What were they thinking? (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

The dignity of Britain came to within a wimple of being restored. Danny Boyle had drawn a firm line in the sand with his opening ceremony. A mend'n'make-do celebration would be in keeping with the nation's straitened circumstances and provide an opportunity to showcase its reputation for ingenuity in the face of adversity. Remember the bouncing bomb? Mmm, bad example maybe. I know, cracking the enigma code. The invention of radar. Dame Vera Lynn singing, 'there'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover' in a dress made from a decommissioned parachute.

And then this. If one could pick any fly on the wall to be, I would be the one buzzing around the heads of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe when the headgear discussion was had. Taking the piss out of yourself is a fine art. The chances of looking like a right prat are quite high, and escalate to around 100 per cent if you put a bag over your head - or even the heads of those chauffeuring you on, er, tricycles? Try to imagine yourself as the fly hearing a sentence like, 'coneheads is always a good fallback look. I know where we can get some cheap.'

That whole made-from-scrap shtick almost worked. The overall design was part community centre papier-mâché class and part Dr Who set circa 1968 with a smidge of Prisoner thrown in for good measure. The bowler hats with light bulb garnish were eerily Clockwork Orange but obviously very practical. There was half a good idea there, or rather lots of halves of potentially good ideas. 

The bouncy castle renderings of landmark structures, copious inflatables and dirigibles, black cabs, psychedelic buses, high wire and other variety acts - all very London summer festival. In fact, all very British summer festival - especially when you throw in the Morris dancing and dustbin-lid beating. Fatboy Slim in a plastic octopus - wicked. Eric Idle and roller-blading nuns - beyond wicked. Zounds, it was almost decent knees-up-mother-Brown musical hall.

Here's where it came unstuck. Creating a show out of whatever and whoever can be pulled together from the back of cupboards and advanced-care facilities is very brave and blitz-spirited and all but it's not too far in before you start to notice what's missing. The projections of really quite important people in British post-war popular culture who have been dead an awfully long time only served to amplify a certain threadbaredness in the canon department. My second most desired fly-on-the-wall moment would be the one where the decision was taken to construct the Lennon death mask out of Styrofoam blocks. Is it just me or was that a bit of a downer in this context?

It was really the absence of people still very much alive who apparently found that the gig clashed with important hair-washing duties coupled with the inexplicable decision by director Stephen Daldry to carry on with inferior substitutes that fatally undermined the event. This weakness was compounded by the idiocy in allowing a star turn to sing a song that no one knew instead of the one that everybody remembers - that would be you Annie Lennox. And then to immediately follow it with letting George Michael do a song that was (1) brand new when this is supposed to be a retrospective, duh! (2) really crap.

Bowie hasn't performed since his heart attack in 2004 and washes his hair a lot, by all accounts. The last sighting of Kate Bush was in about 1987. We had a nice photo-montage of Bowie to remind us of the many different ways he can do his hair. Kate Bush was represented by Styrofoam blocks. Should we be reading anything into that?

One's beloved Guardian has conveniently provided a list of performers who turned down the gig. The Rolling Stones and Sex Pistols get a mention. The no-drugs rules and strict weapons surveillance were going to put some off, obviously. But what about the ones who don't appear to have been asked? Like Elton John. Candle in the Wind is the biggest selling single of all time in Britain. Oops. Sorry. Okay, moving on. Sting? And what about Adele and Leona Lewis? Both were born within a bus-ride of the Olympic stadium and can actually sing.

Odder still are the groups that only partially turned down the opportunity to participate. Pink Floyd was represented solely by drummer Nick Mason. The feud between David Gilmour and Roger Waters is legendary but they got together for a whole 23 minutes in 2005 for Live 8. Surely they could have managed five for the Olympics. Instead we got an incongruous performance of Wish You Were Here by Ed Sheeran, rendered utterly ridiculous by a high-wire artiste shuddering nervously towards a dummy who would be set on fire to replicate a cover-art piece in which an actual man not being approached via tightrope was really ignited back in the low-tech 70s. Somehow, cheap substitute doesn't quite cover it.

Only slightly sadder than seeing the perpetually warring Gallagher brothers together, is to witness one of them trying to do something alone. Liam looked dismal singing his absent brother's song Wonderwall

And that typified what was wrong with this whole Closing Ceremony. It was far more notable for what wasn't there than for what was there. We won't even go to the place where Victoria Beckham is named as a 'top' British designer but Stella McCartney - designer of the Team GB kit - is not. 

It all miraculously held together, but only in the way that the end-of-year pageant at a not-terribly-good school does. I found myself relieved that everyone got through it - although I admit I was praying for one of those Spice Girls to topple off the top of her taxi.

And the finale? A couple of grand-dads talkin' bout their generation. Even the surviving half of The Who, who really have nothing else going on, apparently turned the gig down twice before finally being persuaded to close out the show but, crucially, not to smash stuff up! Talk about a missed opportunity to remind everyone of how mightily defiant British youth culture was two actual generations ago. I'm guessing the riots of last year were too firmly embedded in recent memory to risk it, but what fun that would have been.

It could have been worse. Susan Boyle might have been persuaded to sing Wild Horses