Madness at the Olympics

MADNESS AT THE OLYMPICS

This blog entry is shockingly tardy and briefer than usual (thank GOD, I know you’re all thinking. I recently had a short chat with a trumpeter friend of mine at a recording session who said “Your blog looks good.” “Oh really?” I said, flattered, “Which one did you like?” “Oh I haven’t READ it, it’s longer than bloody War and Peace! I have a job.”)

The best thing about being in the Closing Ceremony was telling people I was going to be in the Closing Ceremony. Not so they would think I was brilliant, but just because even the most cynical of family, friends and colleagues were beside themselves with yelpy excitement. We’d known since May that we would be performing with Madness but we had to keep it quiet on the ole twitters etc as not to spoil the surprise. Also none of us actually believed it would happen. We were poised for a scrub email saying the band had changed their mind, or there wasn’t room for a quartet. Session musicians get booked and unbooked all the time, we were “on hold” for weeks. Miraculously, it all went through and we were called to the stadium in the early hours of August 12th.



The strangest thing about the whole experience was our proximity to global superstars. It is hard, when queuing next to Ginger Spice (miniscule. Made me feel like a lumbering giraffe) in the catering crew backstage not to go “Fucking HELL! You’re a SPICE GIRL! Should you even be eating this? Isn’t there some Spice Girl food somewhere covered in union jacks? And what, pray tell, is a zigazig-ah?” It takes a lot of effort to walk up a staircase with Kate Hudson and Matt Bellamy sitting on it and say “Excuse me? Could I just get past?” like a normal person, when you want to scream how much you love everything Muse has ever written. (All of Raven love Muse unreservedly.) Instead one finds themselves affecting a ridiculous louche nonchalance, which is exhausting, but necessary to avoid making the dreaded celebrity eye contact. There is nothing more awkward than making eye contact with a celebrity. You know you’re staring, they know you’re staring, but you have nothing to say to each other because you DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW EACH OTHER. You just have to slink away, a rumbled stalker.

This is going to look like chronic name dropping, because it is, but you must remember that we didn’t actually TALK to any of these mega stars, we just observed them, like we were in a safari park. Or Madame Tussauds. We all had hours and hours to hang around, soundchecking, getting our hair and make-up done, so there was little else to do than star spot and drink coffee (which brilliantly had the olympic rings on the foam in chocolate.) You know who was there, so I won’t bore you with everyone we saw but there are a few that left me star struck.

PEOPLE THAT LEFT ME STAR STRUCK

1. Brian May - no explanation necessary
2. Timothy Spall - not sure why. His hangdog face and incredible talent made me a bit wobbly.
3. Pete Townsend - see #1.
4. Posh Spice - she’s just so famous it’s weird seeing her in the flesh. And she DOES smile.
5. Supermodels Moss and Campbell - the latter has a comb over. I’m sorry, but it’s true. It was a shock to me too.
6. Russell Brand -brilliant writer, particularly about addiction, which as you know is an issue close to my heart. And liver.
7. Kate Hudson -she’s like Jennifer Aniston. I love her and I have no idea why.
8. Matt Bellamy - musical genius. Also loves Kate Hudson.

If you were one of the people who avoided blinking during Madness’ 2 minute rendition of “Our House” right at the beginning of the ceremony, you may have seen Raven playing on the back a lorry that drove through the stadium. (If you missed it, here it is.)

It’s hard to describe what it was like. Actually no, it isn’t. It was a) brief and b) surreal. The band had done a dummy run a couple of days before, where a fake closing ceremony had been glamorously staged for rehearsal purposes in a car park in Dagenham. We dealt with the practicalities of how to play on a relatively fast moving truck without falling off on the afternoon of the ceremony. Entre nous, not everyone emerged unscathed.

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On an identical truck next to us were One Direction, looking about twelve years old, all skinny jeans and v-neck he-avage. Due to a technical cock up we were stuck on that truck for over an hour. We got bored and began to entertain the surrounding dancers and musos with some of our tracks, the most popular being our medley (terrible word) of Scottish reels. One Direction had a bit of a dance, jigging and clapping, like fashionable cherubs. I worry about those boys a bit. At the moment they are more famous than the Beatles, which I’d imagine would profoundly affect an 18 year old pysche. I hope the industry doesn’t chew them up and spit them out drug addled ego-maniacs.

Before the actual ceremony, we were stationed excitedly backstage. We could hear everything that preceded us in our in ear monitors, the weird French announcement “Mesdames et Messieurs, Bienvenue to the closing ceremony etc”, the National Anthem, Julian Lloyd Webber playing Elgar accompanied by Stomp, Emeli Sandé (whose performance was unfairly slated by loads of people on twitter. If she was flat, it wasn’t her fault. How anyone sings live and in tune under those aural circs is beyond me. What she could hear and what viewers at home could hear were eons apart. We listened to her warm up as her dressing room was next to ours her voice is flawless. Just as I was listening in awe to her performance, I checked twitter: the very first tweet was “Fucking hell, Sandé’s as flat as a fart! Where’s Adele? #closingceremony.” I hope she didn’t read that. She may have balls of steel, but that would hurt.) In the vom (short for vomitarium) next to our truck were hundreds of dancers, dressed up to the nines. They were brilliant. They’d had none of the VIP treatment we had received, they’d rehearsed more, hung around for hours, earned nothing, and were covered head to toe in lightbulbs, bandages, mud, sludge, paint and foil. Despite this they were entirely responsible for the party atmosphere backstage. They whooped and high fived everyone they passed as they ran into the packed stadium, to the roars of the crowd and flashing lights.

I don’t know about you, but I am allergic to sport and mostly indifferent to national sporting events. That was until I saw and heard Mo Farrah, who might be my favourite person. I cried when he won his gold medals, then cried some more when he humbly said “It’s just about grafting really. Anything’s possible if you work hard enough.” After that I started to feel unfamiliar sensations when watching th’olympics….like pride and enthusiasm about team GB. The atmosphere in the olympic village was honestly like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m not the kind of person who bandies about words like “electric” when describing an ambience, but it really felt that way, even backstage.

The moment finally came when the truck started its engine, we all wished each other luck, and the piano intro to Our House started. We were driven into the stadium playing, and we saw what 80 000 people looked like. I’ll be honest. The wave of adrenaline I experienced was tidal and not entirely pleasant. My stomach felt like it was next to the back of my throat and my skin crawled, but to be honest that can happen in the fruit and veg aisle in Tescos, such is my omnipresent neurosis. It was pretty special though, obviously. We Ravens did a bit a squealing as we caught a glimpse of the spectators: thousands upon thousands of tiny heads, roaring along with Suggs as he sang “Our House, in the middle of our street”. A dance routine was happening in sequence all around us involving hundreds of smily dancers as we moved through the stadium. We had memorised our parts to play along with the track (which we’d re-recorded a while back) so my head was filled with trying to remember what to play and in what order. Lee, Madness’ saxophonist, infamous for his cheeky japes, wore a kilt, and was lifted up about 15 feet above us during his solo to delighted screams from the audience…..I tried not to look up lest my olympic experience was blighted by a flash of scrotum.



All too quickly, the truck reached the opposite side of the stadium, greeted by clapping, cheering dancers waiting to go on backstage. We clambered down and packed our instruments away, sad that it was over, and tried to use our artist passes to blag our way in to see the action, but we couldn’t. Natalie, Raven’s blagger-in-chief, tried her very best, but even she was knocked back. (In case anyone was wondering, security was tight as a nun’s gee backstage. When we arrived at the stadium with Madness on their tour bus, we had to stop, unload and watch as it and our luggage was searched by sniffer dogs. We went through an airport style security scanner thing and got frisked by men in uniform (not remotely as exciting as it sounds). A jobsworth military man made Madness’s Cathal throw away a bottle of expensive aftershave, which was a bit of a pisser. Obviously, at one of the biggest gigs of his life, he wanted to smell nice, but the army weren’t having it. So he STANK. I jest of course. He was perfectly fragrant.)


After watching what we could of the ceremony from our vom, watching fleet after fleet of crazily dressed dancers rush onto the asphalt (?) to do their thing, we retired backstage where the acts were quietly watching the proceedings with their entourages and bottles of Moet. Liam Gallagher was swaggering about, pleasingly in what I thought was his stage Manc swagger. Turns out that’s just how he walks. All the time. Like he’s just held up an Aldi in Longsight. To compliment the free piss were chocolate dipped strawberries and silver trays of salmon sashimi. I couldn’t help thinking whether or not the medallists were getting the same treatment. Surely Mo and Usain should have been placed regally watching from Sudan chairs made of gold, eating grapes peeled for them by minions?

We were starting to check twitter and facebook and gather the reaction to the ceremony. It was mixed, the negative commentary coming mainly from fellow musos who love a good moan. I won’t enter in the debate of what was wrong with it….there have been complaints about everything and everyone but from our side of the goggle box, it was pretty incredible. Admittedly, the line-up was eclectic and not every act could please everyone. I can’t decide whether or not Jessie J is a talented pioneer or a lycra clad nuisance, obsessed with saying her own name during every 8 bar intro, which does to me smack a little of narcissism. “Jessie J yeah…!” We KNOW. Taio Cruz sang a ditty from a Rolls Royce, which I had never heard before….I may not be his target audience. To be honest, I was just excited to have any involvement at all, however brief. I approach big gigs with the kind of evangelism of someone who thought they’d stopped playing altogether a mere five years hence: the technicalities are trifling when you’re given the opportunity to play a great song with a great band in front of 80 000 people and millions of viewers, on the same hallowed ground where all those medals had been won by hard working heroes.