It was all meant to be so poignant. Back in the nineties, Blur were the band who rescued the “Brit” in Britain; back when the union flag had become at worst an emblem of the far right, at best a party political anachronism involving cricket and village greens.
Blur sang about the shipping forecast, the Queen and sugary tea. Who better to soundtrack the final hours of the Olympic Games in London with their own probable goodbye gig? The Games had been a mass therapy session; we had all come out of the closet daring to wear red, white and blue and we had gasped, fist-pumped and cried together, daily.
And here was frontman Damon Albarn, eyes visibly damp, union jack tucked under his arm, the acupuncturist here to release our bad energies once and for all in a grand unembarrassed party of patriotism, put on by BT London Live as an alternative closing ceremony.
The motto of London 2012 was “inspire a generation”, here was a man who already had (albeit a generation now closer to Steve Redgrave in age than Tom Daley) with his teammates Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree. Albarn even did the Mo-bot.
Just a small problem – and the merchandise stalls held a clue. Racks of T-shirts emblazoned with the title of Blur’s second album: Modern Life Is Rubbish. Were the rumours about noise limit rules in Hyde Park true? We feared so. We couldn’t hear Blur.
Between songs the crowd chanted “Turn it up, turn it up!” It wasn’t a request for the lesser-known album track of the same name (Turn It Up, 1993) but a plea from the densely-packed masses for some volume. Fans tweeted “Sound quality heartbreakingly poor” and “Blur deserve more”.
Things improved a little when the crowd took over singing duties on 1999’s Tender. “Come on, come on, come on, get through it!” we exhorted and it seemed to work a little. Either the wind changed or the sound engineers had indeed turned it up. Perhaps we’d just accepted our fate because by this time the moshpit classics had been and gone; Girls and Boys, Parklife (featuring Phil Daniels and Harry Enfield), Country House and Song 2 all gobbled up by the sound demons.
Maybe it was meant to be that the sound only improved in time for the sad songs. No Distance Left To Run, perfect for those already in post-Olympic comedown, chimed out across the night sky. “It’s over, I knew it would end this way,” sang Albarn and one wondered whether to think of Rebecca Adlington in slo-mo, the end of Blur or simply that elusive graphic equaliser knob.
Final salvation came via new song Under The Westway. That’s right, the best song from the swansong band was the new song, and the stage set – a concrete flyover – had been built in its honour, the west London dual carriageway visible from Albarn’s studio.
The singer said he wrote it with the last day of the Olympics in mind, “so this one’s just for you really”. “There were blue skies in my city today,” it went, bells chiming, piano twinkling, a gospel choir, “when the flag’s coming down and the last post sounds… just like a love song.”
And it was the epic, poignant moment we had all come for after all.