By Matthew Cheadle
Brit pop greats, Blur, have released an album of their Sunday night gig at London’s Hyde Park just hours after the concert finished. Available as a download on i-tunes, the gig which coincided with the Olympic closing ceremony festivities, may well be the band’s last ever.
In sharp contrast to the fireworks and razzmatazz of ‘The Symphony of British Music’ being held at the Olympic Stadium a few miles away, the concert, called ‘Parklive’ (after Blur’s iconic 1994 album, ‘Parklife’) arguably displayed as much passion for British music, and with The Specials, New Order and Bombay Bicycle Club in support; a stream-lined version of cool Britannia from across the past 35 years.
Opening up with an energetic “Girls and Boys”, the first thing that is strikingly noticeable is the voice of the crowd singing along with every word. In fact during all of the band’s most famous moments from “Beetlebum” to “Country House” and in particular to “Parklife”, where the audience yells out the titular response with unrestrained gusto, the feedback from the sixty thousand present reveals the love the British public still have for this band, how great a live occasion it is when they perform, and how much they will be missed if indeed this is their swansong.
Attacking the songs as if they were playing them for the last time, the band blast their way through to their traditional closer, “The Universal”. Already a bit of a lump-in-throat kind of tune in its own right, with its wistful chorus refrain played repeatedly by the horn section at the end, singer Damon Albarn could be seen blinking back tears as the crowd sang along, arms aloft….possibly for the very last time…?
Whilst it would be easy for a show such as this is to get bogged down in nostalgia, Blur still provide en element of the here and now. They sent out thoughts to Syria before inviting Khyam Allami, a young Syrian oud player to the stage to play on “Out of Time’ and also give a shout out to Olympic hero Mo Farah before launching into a ferocious “Song 2”, once again ably backed by the crowd! Also included is the song, “Under the Westway”, written in February in anticipation for the Olympics and that night’s gig, and particularly poignant amongst all the recent furor surrounding London, from a band whom, with the exception of The Who, were probably the most ‘London’ of all the artists performing at either of the Olympic concerts that night.
Interestingly the band was paid only £300 (around $460) for performing, but as Albarn declared, they weren’t doing it for the money but, “a chance to play to a lot of people in London. In the sense of the Olympics, it’s nice to get involved and celebrate this amazing city. Everyone’s feeling pretty good about London, and I’m there with that because I love this city.”
As the unofficial “cool” closing ceremony and the recording of Blur’s possible final performance, this album illustrates the special role that British music plays in British culture with as much power and perhaps more cultural relevance than it’s bigger brother across the city.