An open letter to Danny Boyle…
So there we were sat there all ready to hate the whole Olympic opening ceremony.
After all these things are usually the worst of Britain as Sir Gary Barlow showed us during the Jubilee affair.
Danny, we knew you were up to something, after all we had heard the rumours about the madness you had up your sleeve, but we still expected hours of Cheryl Cole miming and dancing awkwardly, some quickly forgotten Cowell puppet prancing around grinning desperately at the camera, Jedward desperately gurning at their swift disappearing fame and then Sir Gaz Barley himself plonking through some ballad at the end and getting a gong for ‘organising’ the whole limp lettuce affair.
But this was about as punk rock as it gets. That is punk rock as it was in the first place – a punk rock of big gestures, surreal art, edgy music and a powerful message that jolted you awake. Taking the message to heart of the establishment. This was situationism at work. The Queen acting in a mind blowing surreal play that made a powerful political statement from industrial revolution to, apparently (according to LTW reader Terry Clarke) during the Emilie Sande’s performance of the FA cup favourite Abide With Me, there were 96 – note, 96 – dancers, ( a reference to the Hillsborough 96 for whom we have just been touring, with the Clash’s Mick Jones in the fight for justice).
But then Danny we knew you had form. Good form. Trainspotting was the defining nineties movie, a great take on Irvine Welsh’s classic book – a dark, trippy romp through the peeling wallpaper of the not so royal Britain where smack is the currency and lives are desperate. The film also had a great sound track, so we knew that you were on the case on the music front. But we were worried that by the time you had jumped through all the hoops and the conventions of the Coca Cola games that you would have had your creativity watered down to a dribble.
We should have known that a Bury boy was no push over though.
We knew that you had a bit of power because you had Slumdog Millionaire, a massive worldwide hit of a film. With this you could tell them to fuck off if you had to and we knew you creative powers because you have made a series of pretty original films that show a keen eye for the mind blowing effect and sense of vision. When we heard they had asked you to do the opening ceremony we thought, ‘A ha, they are pulling a weird one.’
Despite all this we didn’t expect what you delivered. It looks like you were given a total free hand. No wonder that daft Tory MP from Cannock, Aiden Burley, was choking on his caviare and complaining about the political nature of the event on twitter, typing with his prissy fingers about the leftie nonsense and multi culturalism. He received a barrage of angry responses from Twitter users, many claiming the multicultural nature of London is one of the main reasons for their pride in the capital and has made a half assed apology, claiming to have been misunderstood in that time honoured modern way of Twitter.
In your magic event Danny you managed to celebrate all those things that put the Great in Britain like the NHS and our generous spirit that welcomes people and culture. You incorporated our wonky history without the usual triumphalism – a history of normal people doing great things and not just the history of kings and queens and empire. You got CND symbol into a dance sequence and celebrated the way that more than any other country in the world we can soak up waves of immigration and ideas and make them all feel British.
The soundtrack was stunning. It was to hear the Clash’s apocalyptic London Calling – an anti nuclear war song blasting out was quite emotional and then the Sex Pistols Pretty Vacant blasted at high decibel as the Queen sat there quite safe in the hands of James Bond was pretty surreal. The Queen becoming a Bond girl for the night in the highlight sketch of the whole thing. Danny we would like to ask you, does the Queen actually have a sense of humour? it’s never easy to tell.
That bit where the Queen was ‘parachuted’ into the stadium. You must have been pissing yourself laughing as you put all this together – turning the whole notion of an opening ceremony on its head. It was like the special guest on the xmas Morecambe and Wise show from our youth but on steroids. Even if some of it was hard for people to follow it looked magical all the way though. I’m still amazed that they let you get away with all this- no empire pumping, half an hour on the NHS, harry potter and pop culture- are you watching Mitt Romney and your stupid, dumbed down Disney take on the world and your slobbering piggy eyed greed and stupidity?
The set was outrageous. It almost made the sponsorship woes and greed of the fizzy burger mob who own the games worthwhile. It looked so much like middle earth that we were waiting for hobbits to come bounding out, instead what we got were cottages with smoking chimneys, a waterwheel, 15,000 performers, 40 live sheep, 12 horses, ten chickens, three cows, two goats, nine geese and three dogs that somehow told the history of the UK as it went from middle ages agriculture to the industrial revolution to the post industrial age to pop culture machine- pretty ambitious Danny and you made it work.
The playing with our amazing pop culture was quite stunning and that aformentioned meeting of the Queen and James Bond will become an iconic piece of footage, whilst showing the world our pop culture – the stuff that we do the best – was a brilliant move.
Mitt Romney (oh no, him again – the dumbed down version of George Bush) may have slagged off our capability of putting on the games, after all he had put the Coca Cola Olympic games on in Salt Lake City and everybody remembers that opening ceremony (nope, me neither). The Americans seem to think they own the games – they seem to be held there most of the time. We don’t.
Danny, you took the opportunity to show the world what we do best and what people love us for. It was a surreal, tripped out, hilarious, quite mental display of pop culture madness. A mash-up and celebration of our colourful island and its fantastic soundtrack.
You proved you knew your music. Frank Turner was a surprise addition at the start of the show and he has never sound better – and we would like to congratulate you on the sound – the groups sounded amazing – none of the usual muffled, rubbish messes but sharp and live and abrasive – a long way away from Cheryl Cole miming, that’s for sure!
Taking full advantage of this, the Artic Monkeys were simply stunning – have they ever sounded better? Alex Turner sported the greatest quiff since the Beatles in Hamburg or prime time Stray Cats. Their breakthrough hit, I Bet You Look So Good On the Danceloor’ had an urgency and power that I have never heard before and their performance of the Beatles Come Together was a gripping and powerful take on the song that John Lennon initially wrote for Jerry Brown’s campaign to be governor of California in 1969 before taking it back for the Beatles Abbey Road. There was also transcendental, noisegaze artists Fuck Buttons getting played in the soundtrack and let’s not forget the event’s musical score produced by Underworld.
After this it was a blur of more mad dancing, more wacky costumes than a Damon Albarn play. It was a pop culture roller coaster with the Beatles, Stones, the Who and a live appearance by Dizzee Rascal bringing it bang up to date.
Even Pink FLoyd sounding morose and melancholic really fitted because instead of the American fixed grin displays we are not scared of the rainy day psychedelia that soaks our island. It was great that you incorporated all of this Danny. We hate all that phoney jolliness like Sir Gary Barlow did for the Jubilee.
If only Macca hadn’t had that sound fuck up for the mighty Hey Jude then the whole thing would have ended on an emotional high.
Good work Danny – this was the punk rock moment of the decade.