As a spectacle, it was difficult to deny.
In case you didn’t notice, the Olympics rolled into town two weeks ago, bringing with them all manner of Jingo-istic nonsense. Bah humbug, says I, and carry on doing my work. Yet there’s something ineffably humane about the games – the way it produces heroes from seemingly everyday discourse – which is almost implausibly contagious. The second Mo Farah crashed over the line to claim gold in the 5k arms were aloft, doubts went out the window and Team GB posters were bought.
So when it came to the final night of BT London Live – a concert series spread across the length of the Olympics – hopes were, inexplicably, raised high. On entering, though, the old doubts came flooding back. This is Hyde Park, remember? A place where even the combined forces of Springsteen and McCartney can’t struggle their way through red tape.
Thankfully missing out on Bombay Bicycle Club, New Order have just opened their set. Strangely choosing to open with a flurry of lesser known material, the set list does nothing to warm up a sluggish crowd. ‘Isolation’ lacks the fury and alienation of the original, but a perfect rendition of ‘586’ does much to raise spirits.
The sound remains dulled throughout, with Bernard Sumner’s voice placed low in the mix. No Sinatra at the best of times, the frontman’s delivery lacked any kind of bite meaning that he failed to make any kind of real impression. Throw in some seriously eckie’d dad style dancing and you have a less than impressive afternoon from the frontman…
That said: he is still Bernard Sumner and this is still New Order. ‘Blue Monday’ rings out and arms are thrown aloft, before ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ becomes an anathema – if somewhat ironic – closing statement.
Intended as a sort of pop Olympiad, the line up for this final BT London Live concert was almost immediately called into question. Far from a reliable cross section of British pop music, the evening does contain an expertly controlled performance from The Specials.
One of those re-unions which couldn’t help but make you smile, the band’s legacy is matched by a fiery set in the evening sun. Each hit seems to be scorched onto the collective memory of the crowd, with the material – written, don’t forget, under a Conservative government marked by a recession economy – ringing out across the London landscape.
Which brings us neatly to Blur. A band informed by the city unfolding around us, the group are the obvious – and perfect – choice to close the concert. Pulling down the curtain on the latest aspect of their re-union, Blur come out all guns blazing: ‘Girls & Boys’ opens the set, with Damon Albarn ranting and Alex James laconically smoking a cigarette.
The set contains more than a few surprises. Sure, those Britpop era classics are in place – a run of ‘Tracy Jacks’, ‘Jubilee’ and more has the band rampaging across the stage and into the crowd – but there are also lesser heralded moments. ‘Caramel’ makes an appearance, while Damon Albarn grabs a loudhailer for ‘Trimm Trabb’.
The interaction, too, is worth watching. Damon Albarn can barely stop smiling through, while Graham Coxon does his best to steal the show. ‘Country House’ is brought forward, and the guitarist responds with some outright noise adding a feedback squall to a song he in truth never liked. ‘Parklife’ is unfurled, and as a special treat for the crowd Phil Daniels emerges clutching a Union flag before Harry Enfield trots out onstage dressed as a tea lady – a neglected British institution, notes Albarn.
A fluttering of material from ‘13’ takes the breath away. After praising the Olympics – no adverts on the BBC, y’see – ‘No Distance Left To Run’ is brought forward, with Coxon gently teasing the riff out over the heads of the vast Hyde Park crowd. ‘Tender’ proves to be a typically unifying moment, before Blur draw their set to a close with ‘This Is A Low’. A wonderfully British pop song, the power of the performance, the moment is difficult to shrug off.
Returning for a brief encore, Blur surprise by offering recent cut ‘Under The Westway’ before a majestic, atmospheric rendition of ‘The Universal’ brings the performance to a close. At the end, Damon Albarn silently stares at the crowd his face broadcast on enormous screens around the circumference of the park. Will we see their like again? Only they can tell.