Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?

Poor old (sic) Gary Barlow… might as well be hung for a sheep as much as a lamb.

Unless his ego really did get in the way, he’d probably have been wiser passing on the offer of curating the music for last evening’s Diamond Jubilee concert in London.

Because... attempting to span the breadth of pop represented throughout HM’s 60 years on the throne was a big ask and GB was on a rank-outsider from the moment the invitation was proposed and the flag dropped.

Even so, it was as if Barlow G had convened a cast of performers while reading from a pop(ular) music health and safety manual. Don’t upset anyone, least of all the ducks in the fountain and the Corgis across the road. Keep it strictly middle of the road. In that respect he succeeded but, crikey, it was mind-numbingly tedious.

Yet it began on a wave of possibilities… Norman Wisdom (in the guise of Robbie Williams) unexpectedly came out of the musical traps like Usain Bolt; thronged by implacable trumpeters from one of the cavalry regiments, he grabbed the occasion by the scruff of the neck and… hit the bulls eye.

That it continued with a whimper like a damp firework is testament to the sheer ordinariness of some of the bill assembled, the manner in which some of the songs chosen were sung and the sheer ineptitude of most of the in-between-acts link–deliverers.

Of course, only a lunatic would have expected a degree of subversion, a hint of radical, a touch of extremism to follow – all being basic staples of rock ‘n roll. Yet, it was if punk… ska… reggae… BritPop… psychedelia… had never happened; as if that vast swathe of music that Britain should be justifiably proud of never existed.

Instead we were treated to the abysmal caterwauling of Jessie J. And, can anyone enlighten me as to the reason Will.I.Am was granted stage-time? Similarly Cheryl who, allegedly, is now such an important personage in the pantheon of pop that she’s disposed of her surname; both of these horrific musical miscues emphasized by their inability to actually hold a tune (what tune?)… in tune – yep, both sang flat as pancakes.

There was the irrelevancy of something called JLS while Ed Sheeran looked like a frightened rabbit startled by headlights. The exceptionally gifted pianist, Lang Lang was on the wrong stage entirely while Alfie Boe and his suit weren’t the only part of his act that failed to fizz. Ruby Turner showed the also-rans how to actually sing but, oh how one longed for the Pet Shop Boys backed by a troupe of Welsh miners; Tennant and Lowe dressed in oil-skins, belting out Go West. Now… that was happy and glorious. And where was Adele or Rumer, Aswad or Coldplay, Eric Clapton or Oasis even…? (the list of non-invitees / attendees is / can be as long as you like).

It was partially saved by… here’s…. Grace; Ms Jones – who’d evidently tipped an economy-sized bottle of baby-oil all over (possibly to aid entrance into her latex sheath-dress) fabulously hoola-hooped all over Slave To The Rhythm which, sadly, so obviously lacked the real grit-rhythm that should have been provided by Sly ‘n Robbie.

Annie Lennox sang with angel-wings and then some; grasping the implausible situation and breathing life into a, by then already dying on its feet, musical corpse. Yet, unlikely as this is, the nation’s favourite posterior totally blew her four minutes centre-stage: oh Kylie… why did you screw up so royally? And frankly, the least said about GB’s decision to allow Rolf Harris to wobble-sing his Two Little Boys to the back of The Mall the better.

Even by now, with the concert cadaver barely breathing, one’d have thought that dear old Sir Tom of Jones and Sir Riff of Pilchard – beat-veterans twain who, in their prime, were rightly touted as Brit-rivals to Elvis’ crown – would have amassed a bit of vocal clout… and excitement… between ‘em.

But no… the former dignified grey but facially orange struggled to engage let alone get out of third gear; the latter proved pink wasn’t a wise choice by his stylist. His hits medley fell at the first like an elderly racehorse who should have been put out to grass long ago. So… why on earth didn’t Sir Cliff perform with Bruce, Brian and Hank – the three remaining Shadows? After all, wasn’t it John Lennon who once said “Before Cliff and The Shadows, there was no music in Britain worth listening to".

A shame – and yet what was equally fascinating was the amount of ‘rockers of yore’ who’d clearly nipped to the chemists in order to purchase age-defying hair-products; indeed, one wonders if Cliff holds shares in the same follicle-aid company that Sir Paul of MacCartney and Sir E John of Weybridge and other compounds clearly do.

And Gary B… he trashed one great idea by over-egging it. The essence of meandering around the Commonwealth and thereby creating a song from so many disparate sources and players was hardly new but nonetheless alive with fascinating possibilities.

But, that’s not dissimilar to creating a mouth-watering sauce from contrasting components – and to quote Michel Roux “You can always add ingredients but its impossible to take them out. The trick is knowing when to stop.”

One had to feel for the remarkable Aboriginal singer / guitar player and the equally gifted strange-stringed-instrument player from Kenya; the extraordinary rhythm kings from the rubbish heaps of South Africa and the young Rasta hand-drummer. All drowned out by the non-sensical – way too early in the mix – inclusion of Gareth Malone and his massed ranks of Military Wives. The incision of a chorus within the tune wouldn’t have harmed it either.

The finale of Madness vertiginously performing Our House atop the roof of the Palace reeked of irony – a remarkable playground for their lighting designer and he (she) justifiably did that opportunity proud; the gently-moving strings-wash of the Irish quartet’s Beautiful Day set to images of Her Majesty through the years purveyed more than a hint of double-irony; Stevie Wonder put a spell on everyone but muddled what the actual occasion was and Sir Paul Of Macca – always the show-closing safest each-way bet – belting out Beatles tunes brought it all to a wonderful… anodyne… finale.

Yeah… it was safe – it was never going to be toxic; it was never really going to even come close to celebrating British music (as it should have done / as it was touted to) over the last 60 years. Nope… this was The Royal Variety Show under another guise; a Diamond Jubilee Concert that was as safe as milk and about as interesting. No harm done because it was as harmless as it gets.

And Gary B will probably earn a knighthood in the next Honours List… for not upsetting anyone. How very British. How very rock ‘n roll.

1 comment:

Drew Brown said...

To paraphrase an old nugget of wisdom...

Give a man a few Ivor Novello Awards and he'll dine-out on them for a few years. Give him a net to capture the musical essence of a realm and commonwealth covering the last six decades and many will starve of cultural famine.
Respect to Barlow for his mainstream pop achievements, which in no way qualified him for this task, I'm afraid.
Was Bob Harris even considered for the role?