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Name: Hilary

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Bio: A lifetime spent juggling words and music. At University in London, I studied music and English and ever since have combined the two in my professional and leisure activities. Long may it continue!

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    About Hilary Robertson

    A lifetime spent juggling words and music. At University in London, I studied music and English and ever since have combined the two in my professional and leisure activities. Long may it continue!

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    Here are my most recent posts

    In the Crowd – The Jam 1979 to 1982

    May 9th, 2013

    In my experience, you’re a fan of either The Jam or The Style Council. Paul Weller either did his best work pre- or post-1982. In your opinion. And most people do have an opinion about Weller. About his songs and his performances. He’s that strange kind of pop star who shuns the title. And yet he’s one of the biggest pop stars the UK has produced.

    A new book out on 17 May gives more evidence for stalwart Jam fans of why this was a great era for British pop music. I met with photographer Derek D’Souza just before publication.

    “I contributed a few photos to last year’s Thick as Thieves and realised that I needed more space to do my photos justice,” Derek said.

    Thick as Thieves includes my favourite image of The Jam – one of a load taken by Derek in Chiswick Park in August 1981 for the single Absolute Beginners. It shows Paul, Rick and Bruce standing behind a wrought-iron gate. Paul is pulling at the bars as if in jail. A metaphor for how he felt at the time and in the months leading to the band’s split? Who knows.

    So, Ian Snowball and Stuart Deabill’s book was the spur that Derek needed. “In the Crowd was originally laid out in 1984, but it never saw the light of day. It always had the same title, taken from the track on All Mod Cons from 1978. That is what this book is about – being one of the crowd of fans observing their favourite band.

    “Some of the photos have been used over the years for other projects around The Jam, but more than 100 of these have never been seen before. It’s all about producing my best work – I wanted this book to be a quality piece of work that shows the respect I feel for the band.”

    In the Crowd shows Derek’s view of The Jam between 1979 and 1982. As a fan, most of the shots are looking up at the band on stage, but some are taken backstage and in soundchecks. “I sometimes had the opportunity to speak to the band and photograph them off-stage, but I didn’t want to intrude. They gave me more access than most fans ever get and I remain so grateful to them.

    “They gave me a great opportunity because they were really keen on staying in touch with fans and always knew we were important to their success. The Jam is one of those bands that – even now – their fans feel an intense connection to. Most of us know all the words to all the songs.

    “I wasn’t always strict on copyright of my photos, but I’m sorting that now. I’m proud of these photos and the collection is something quite rare. I obviously chose my best photos first for the exhibition last year and then for this book. It’s definitely a fan’s perspective of the band and I hope that it means something to everyone who buys it.”

    Out in a couple of weeks, In the Crowd is on pre-order on Amazon and it’s already in the top 50 among similar Music books. It looks like that first edition will sell out fast!

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    Brit Awards 2013: Frank Ocean, Emeli Sande and Lana Del Rey All Score Wins

    February 20th, 2013

    It’s right that the Brit awards should be presented by someone so truly, madly British as
    actor James Corden. If you’ve never caught the incredibly funny Gavin and Stacey, you really should take a look. He co-wrote it and stole the show. Genius. He really is one of our favourite sons and after last year’s embarrassing moment when Brit producers used him to cut short Adele in mid-speech, he did a great job of keeping sanity among some crazy awards and live performances.

    There was something slightly bizarre, then to have Taylor Swift presenting the first award, celebrating the best British female solo artist, especially when it came to be won by Emeli Sandé, consolidating the first of her three nominations into a win. Extraordinarily talented and – let me be honest here – WAY more engaging than Miss Swift, we’re proud of the Emeli we’ve met and come to love in the last 12 months. Sad that it didn’t go to Amy Winehouse, but there ain’t enough awards in the world to recognize that talent.

    Best British Group went, not surprisingly, to the totally, totally brilliant Mumford and Sons and then British Breakthrough Act – voted for by BBC Radio 1 listeners – to the humble Ben Howard. Last year’s Best British Male (I think they just meant musically, but who knows?) was presented by last year’s winner, Ed Sheeran then went to … Ben Howard. Who was still surprisingly humble.

    Critic’s Choice went for the first time to a man. Tom O’Dell would have been my choice, if they’d asked me. So that’s all right then. A prodigious talent.

    We love Lana Del Rey, who walked off with International Breakthrough Artist in 2012, so it’s fitting that she won International Female Award 2013, even though she now lives in the UK, so technically she counts as one of us.

    The nominees for British Live Act included The Rolling Stones but was stolen from them by Coldplay, while the Best British Single was a really tough call, although nominations were based on the biggest sales success in 2012. Although Adele couldn’t make it to the event, her ‘Skyfall’ scooped the award and no doubt her rehearsal for the Oscars gave her a valid excuse for absence. Sadly, the award for Best International Group also went to an absentee – The Black Keys.

    International Male award went to Frank Ocean. Nice choice from the Brits and another popular winner was Special Recognition for War Child UK. Check out their work if you can.

    There really was no competition for British Album of the Year. Had to be Emeli Sandé’s ‘Our Version Of Events’. Maybe, albeit grudgingly, the Global Success Award was similarly deservedly won by One Direction. Can’t argue that they’re popular. Still confident that the night went to Emeli Sandé for closing the whole thing.

    Other live performances at the O2 were kicked off by Muse, followed by the awesome Robbie Williams. Fatherhood has definitely not dimmed his talent. Justin Timberlake did it the way only he can on stage and even One Direction weren’t awful – especially as their single is raising funds for Comic Relief this year – and then there was Taylor Swift. Thankfully, Ben Howard wowed and Mumford & Sons split the audience – love them or hate them, they all proved a pretty healthy state of British music right now.

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    50 Years and 50 Moments Of The Beatles

    October 31st, 2012

    I caught up with Paolo Hewitt, author of a fleet of books that collectively manage to capture British culture at its best. His latest book is Love Me Do: 50 Great Beatles Moments, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the start of the Fab Four phenomenon.
    This time last year, Paolo published Fab Gear: The Beatles and Fashion and Scuse me while I kiss the sky: 50 Moments that Changed Music. That last one takes moments like the Live Aid concert and the suicide of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain and looks at the background and the impact of those moments. Publishers Quercus decided the same format would work for the approaching 50th anniversary of The Beatles.
    So here we are, 50 years after the start of something truly remarkable with the release of the Fab Four’s first single, Love Me Do. This latest book examines the best bits – and there are loads of them – of the Beatles phenomenon. And it’s one of those books that is difficult to put down. Turn the page and there’s another image or a passage that grabs you.
    Paolo said: “For me, the moment that defined the Beatles was their first meeting with Brian Epstein, a middle-class prosperous powerful man who six months later was being ridiculed by John Lennon for trying to dress like The Beatles. Also that point where they start working with George Martin. A band that truly transcended class says a lot about their power that they attracted a man who knew a lot about Sibelius and not a lot about bands in dingy cellars.”
    The epiphany for Paolo came with the release of She Loves You. “Suddenly, here was a band talking to boys about girls and it captured my imagination. I clearly remember the extraordinary broadcast of All You Need is Love. It had such a positive vibe.”
    And that’s what you get with this book – great research and detail, alongside Paolo’s personal insights. Now there’s an exciting new project in the pipeline, although he won’t be drawn on the subject. For a man whose life is peppered with the prolific publication of books on a combination of music, football and fashion, he promises this will be something new. So, you’ve probably got a few months – but not much more – to catch up on some of his output. It’s definitely worth a few hours of your time.

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    Thick as Thieves – Personal situations with the Jam

    September 20th, 2012

    For most of us of a certain age, The Jam was an unavoidable part of our youth. There was a time when you couldn’t ignore them and you couldn’t avoid their music – songs like ‘Town called Malice’, ‘Eton Rifles’ and ‘That’s Entertainment’ have influenced hundreds of us and dozens of new bands.

    But it wasn’t the album sales, the record company support or the legendary management techniques of Paul Weller’s indomitable father, John, that made this band so successful. It was the passion of the fans.

    It’s approaching the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of The Jam and yet those Jam fans are still as passionate as ever they were. Out today is their story in Thick as Thieves. For the book’s authors – Stuart Deabill and Ian Snowball – their job was made easier by the fact that so many people wanted to tell their stories about their own memories of being part of The Jam history.

    “There have been plenty of books written about The Jam over the years, but this wasn’t about setting the record straight,” Ian told me. “This book is mostly about the people who were there at the time and who saw them live. It’s not about the fact, but more about the state of the carpet in the venue. The stuff you could only know if you were there and that made the whole experience real.”

    When Paul Weller, who left The Jam to form The Style Council with Dexy’s Mick Talbot and then to pursue his solo career, has welcomed ‘Thick as Thieves.’. Pictured above with Ian, Stuart and Jam super-fan Mark Baxter, Paul called it: “The best book on The Jam and its audience I’ve ever seen.”

    “For me, getting Paul to write the foreword to the book and to support us was amazing,” said Stuart. “We had more than 90 contributors, including most of the people who’d been around at the time, including Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton, plus Polydor A&R man Dennis Munday. Everyone was happy to give us their reminiscences.”

    And this book is definitely a celebration of a band that changed lives. Lyrically, the songs themselves were inspirational and retain that quality after three decades. Many people talk about their favourite performances and how relevant it all was to their own lives.

    Alongside the words are unseen photographs from concerts, back stage meetings and informal gatherings of the band. No matter how many times Paul is asked to reform the band, it seems an unlikely happening. In which case, this is probably the closest you’ll ever get to The Jam. Get your copy soon. This is one you’re going to want to be dipping into for years to come.

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    Ten things you need to know about Plan B

    September 17th, 2012

    With album sales dropping as we all choose our own playlist to make up the soundtrack of our day, the Mercury prize announced its nominations for Best UK Album 2012. Among the contenders is Plan B’s soundtrack to his film directing debut – Ill Manors.
    Here’s what you need to know about this man.
    1. His full name is Benjamin Paul Ballance-Drew.
    2. As an actor, he came to fame in 2008’s Adulthood.
    3. He’s soon to appear alongside Britain’s favourite cinematic hard man, Ray Winstone (The Departed, Nil by Mouth and Quadrophenia) in The Sweeney, a new take on the classic 1970s British TV cop drama.
    4. He created an alter ego of Strickland Banks for his 2010 album The Defamation of Strickland Banks.
    5. The film Ill Manors is both written and directed by him, released in June 2012.
    6. As an actor, he has worked alongside archetypal London actors Michael Caine and Adam Deacon.
    7. After teaching himself to play guitar, he went on to write rap and hip hop music, seeming to find that suited his style and voice best.
    8. His song Kidz was inspired by the high profile and shocking murder of Damilola Taylor.
    9. He covered Cheryl Cole’s ‘Call my Name’ in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge.
    10. He’s collaborated with some of the biggest names in UK music, including Professor Green, Killa Kela, Skrein, Shameless, Elton John and the Mitchell Brothers.

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    What Is It With Male Fans? Are They shy?

    September 5th, 2012

    I play in a band where I’m the only female musician. Actually, I’ve always played in bands where the men outnumber the women. That isn’t the problem.

    The problem is that, while girls come up to chat up the boys, no-one shows an interest in me. Now, I’m not THAT ugly and I’m not a terrible sax player, so what am I doing wrong?

    Answers on a postcard, please.

    If you’ve never seen me perform, you probably can’t judge, but I guess I come across as intimidating. Or terrifying, perhaps. I can’t remember a single occasion when a fan – and yes, I have had some fans – has offered me their phone number. Meanwhile boys have had numbers written on underwear thrust at them.

    My last few gigs saw a number of people tell me how much they liked my playing. Great. But I make no secret of the fact that I’m single – actually, that might be the problem – and they can’t all be married, so where’s the problem? Do men want to keep their distance from women who perform on stage?

    If any female musicians out there are beating them off with a stick, then please let me in on your secret.

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    Edinburgh International – A Festival At Its Best

    August 29th, 2012

    The end of August – and probably the worst summer on record here in the UK – sees the end of Edinburgh’s International Festival and If you’ve never been, you should maybe book time to do it next year.

    Across this most beautiful of cities and exploring everything from music to film and TV, literature, dance and comedy comes together and by far my favourite bit is the Fringe, where live music features in many theatres and a huge number of comedians choose to hide behind a guitar.

    This year, there were 42,096 performances of 2,695 shows in 279 venues. 47 countries sent performers and probably more sent audiences. It’s impossible to see everything and madness to try, but there were some highlights for me this year.

    Comedy and music seem to go together. Maybe musicians know that they can’t take themselves too seriously. Or that comedians find music a useful way to express the stuff going on in their head. Long may it continue. There’s a lot of satire. A lot of properly British comedians who might need some translation. Paul B Edwards is one of those with a particularly wry look at the world who spent his month playing to audiences every afternoon in a dingy basement. His show is part of the Free Fringe – he stands at the back with a bucket as you leave. I was happy to leave with a CD that, actually, I can’t play to many others, given the frequency of swearing. Worth every penny.

    Youth theatres are a speciality of the Fringe and this year saw thousands of young people from schools, colleges and theatre groups bring comedy, drama and dance to the streets, churches, theatres and tents. It’s a great opportunity to perform in front of audiences and some rise to the occasion. Some fail to impress and find swiftly that word spreads and dodgy plays eventually play to tiny audiences.

    You get ensemble cast performances like Big Spirit’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ that quickly sell-out every seat in their five-night run. Well-deserved and in direct opposition to ‘Rubber Dinghy’, which was truly surreal. And not in a good way.

    ‘Work Songs’ was a great drama that features two young men playing out the politics of the workplace using music and wrestling. Yes, wrestling. Whilst having a conversation. Sometimes I think I might have been able to do an office job if it was a bit more physical. And had a soundtrack.

    I managed to fit Edinburgh into the Olympic break and excitement is now building towards the Paralympics and a climax to the most amazing UK summer. Who needs sunshine?

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    Closing The Olympic Circles

    August 12th, 2012

    Two of the most amazing weeks in London’s history ended tonight with a spectacular closing ceremony and within a very few minutes it became clear that I would quickly run out of adjectives.
    Without doubt, the London 2012 Olympics were a success for the UK’s sporting heroes and the nation as a whole, with 70,000 volunteer Games Makers in addition to our staggering haul of 65 medals. This was a proud moment for the UK and the closing ceremony was an informal time for celebration with a symphony of great British pop music.
    Emeli Sande performed twice, her beautiful solo voice with piano accompaniment belting out ‘Read all About It’. Within minutes, we had actor Timothy Spall dressed as Winston Churchill performing Caliban’s speech from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ while the stadium filled with taxis, trucks and traffic wrapped in newsprint. A truly professional choir and orchestra (conducted by one of the UK’s unsung heroes, Steve Sidwell) helped give the impression of the chaos that these wonderful Olympics brought to the streets of London.
    Within minutes of Prince Harry”s arrival and the National Anthem, we had Michael Caine and a Robin Reliant car exploding to free comedy Batman and Robin, reminiscent of TV show ‘Only Fools and Horses’.
    In quick succession, we had Madness ‘Our House, the UK army’s finest ceremonial musicians performing Blur”s ‘Parklife’, the Pet Shop Boys with ‘West End Girls’, One Direction, performers from the exceptional musical ‘Stomp’ and dancing troupe ‘Spellbound’ who managed to create a red London bus out of human bodies.
    Ray Davies of The Kinks performed London’s informal anthem ‘Waterloo Sunset’, surrounded by children from schools around London creating a representation of the Thames. The entrance of the 204 flags was stunning, but dwarfed for sense of theatre by the spectacle of the thousands of sports men and women walking through the 80,000 spectators to take their place on the floor of the stadium. More music included Elbow’s, ‘One Day Like This a Year’. What is it about UK recording artists and their ability to write and record inspirational songs?
    It’s a tradition that the medals ceremony of the Men’s Marathon event takes place in the closing ceremony and the next segment where the athletes recognised the volunteers who made these games possible.
    The opening of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ led into John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ sung and signed by a children’s choir, made complete by film of Lennon himself leading the song. The intro to George Michael’s ‘Freedom’ caused uproar in the stadium and everyone joined in. We do love him and he really entered into the spirit of the event, declaring in no uncertain terms that ‘I’m alive’.
    Kaiser Chefs performed The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’ while iconic Lambretta scooters so loved of Mods was followed by a celebration of British music and fashion to the tune of David Bowie’s ‘Fashion’.
    Another highlight came with Annie Lennox performing ‘Little Bird’ from Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ on a bizarre ship, clearly being enjoyed by the whole stadium and she milked it – parading across the whole stage with a huge cast of dancers. Ed Sheeran with members of Pink Floyd and Genesis with ‘Wish You Were Here’ before Russell Brand on top of a bus sang the Beatles”I am a Walrus’ through a megaphone in a psychedelic segment.
    You’ve probably never heard of Fatboy Slim, but he’s a DJ and producer we loved in the 1990s and his ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and ‘Funk Soul Brother’ were accompanied by lycra-clad dancers. Jessie J came on in a convertible singing ‘Price Tag’ and the audience just took over the lead vocals before Tinie Tempah emerged from a following car. His ‘Written in the Stars’  was followed swiftly by the third car revealing Taio Cruz who launched into ‘Dynamite’. Together, the three sang ‘You Should be Dancing’, which the borrowed from the Bee Gees but made totally their own.
    The pace dropped as a fleet of London taxis brought on the Spice Girls who were then completely overshadowed by Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye in ‘Wonder Wall’ with full orchestra backing.
    Throughout the event there were some bizarre theatrical pieces, often seeming to celebrate British eccentricity and the next segment led into Monty Python’s Eric Idle leading the stadium in ‘Always Look on the Best Side of Life’. Extraordinary, especially with the skating nuns, Bollywood dancers and bagpipes. Bonkers. Magnificently so.
    Segue into Muse and ‘The Resistance’, followed by a massive Freddie Mercury, 21 years after his death and then Brian May’s guitar antics. Quintessentially British. especially when ou add Roger Taylor’s drums and the gorgeous Jessie J rocking out ‘We Will Rock You’. Interesting to choose a girl to sing the lead and bring it right up to date.
    The tension dropped suddenly with the formality of the end of the Olympics and a handover to Rio in anticipation of 2016. Crazy dancing, singing, comedy and Pele proved that we’re in for a treat then – maybe they can throw a party as well as we’ve done.

    The archetypal British boy band Take That sang ‘Rule the World’ before Darcey Bussell and dancers of the Royal Ballet led up to the extinguishing of the Olympic flame. Who else then, but The Who. Epic.  

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    The Rhythm Is Still Gonna Get Me

    August 7th, 2012

    Before we start, I should explain that I’ve always loved music festivals. This is nothing new, but as I am approaching 50, I am perhaps enjoying them more than ever. This year, I helped behind the scenes rather than on stage at Rhythms of the World in Hitchin and it gave me a whole new perspective.

    Of course, in the UK, even summer music festivals mean encountering rain. Lots of it. Usually in a field where the ground rapidly turns to mud. My experience of live music is generally as a performer rather than a member of the audience, which holds some benefits.

    An Access All Areas pass means there’s always somewhere to dry off and get a cup of tea, it also usually means hanging out with like-minded people and listening to bands from the side of the stage, where the sound might not be perfect but the vibe is awesome. Unfortunately, being part of the organising team often brings responsibility for the elements that make a festival fun, or even things like putting the signs back up on the ladies’ toilets.

    Working on a festival requires the ability to self-manage and motivate. Stuff needs doing. Do it. If you don’t know how, then ask someone. Spending the day before festival lugging signs around the site and trying to avoid patches of mud is par for the course.

    People sleep in cars and charge laptops in the production office. They make daily sorties to Starbucks to stock up on caffeine and wifi. They go to briefings on safety, licensing, ticketing, passes, and remember somewhere along the line that there are some great bands that have to get on and off stage. When they finally arrive. And when they’ve made it past the security, mud and fans, all conspiring to ensure that not a note gets played or sung.

    Rhythms of the World is unusual in that for ten quid (a bit less than $16 US) you can see bands with international reputations alongside those with a local fan base that for the rest of the year doesn’t extend much beyond their friends and family.

    Highlights of Rhythms of the World this year included The Damned, one of the most exciting British punk bands from the 1980s and still as good on stage today, reggae star Little Roy and awesome UK rapper Speech Debelle. Rapping is fairly new to the leafy suburbs of Hitchin and some of the crowd were decidedly bemused, but she was well received, partly because her band was amazing.

    The thing about a festival like Rhythms of the World is that – with 140 bands on seven stages over two days – if you don’t like a particular artist, you can be sure that there’s another one on soon or on a different stage that you will love. I was introduced to the delights of Polish punk from RUTA, who have to be seen to be believed, with their combination of folk and punk. There were also some delightful singer/songwriters who took to the stage single-handed to woo their audiences on the more intimate stages. I particularly enjoyed Lee Clayden, who’s great on the ear and just as good to sit and stare at for 40 minutes.

    Who even knew that Blair Dunlop, the only actor to play a young Johnny Depp in a movie (Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), could sing like he does. At only 20, he stole not one, but two stages and had to spend several hours signing CDs for his newly-adoring fans.

    Rhythms of the World takes in Bollywood and Irish dancing and a taste of Brazilian carnival in the shape of drumming troupe Toque Tambor. The music for the weekend seems to come from every corner of the world and then back again to local bands who just want the chance to play in front of thousands, come rain or shine.

    A summer of festivals across the UK gives loads of scope for new introductions – I have a feeling that next year is going to be just as busy as this has been, even without the Olympics. And it’s a Glastonbury year, which promises great things. Probably including mud.

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    Isles of Wonder: A Nation’s Desert Islands Discs

    August 1st, 2012

    We loved the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony and the music chosen by director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire) and musical directors Underworld was really just our nation’s desert island discs, with a bit of dancing. Oh, and the Queen parachuting into the stadium.
    For those of you who’ve never heard it, Desert Island Discs is one of the BBC’s most popular radio programmes, broadcasting individuals’ favourite tracks since 1942. Everyone from Tom Jones to Tim Minchin, from Eartha Kitt to Annie Lennox and a few politicians and some good people have named the tracks they would want to take on a desert island.
    The London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony began at precisely 20:12 on Friday 27 August, was watched by 80,000 people in the Olympic stadium and was seen by peak TV audiences of 26.9 million in the UK and a record 40.7 million viewers in the US, despite not being screened live. That last statistic makes it the most-watched non-US Olympic opening ceremony ever.
    During the course of the four-hour ceremony, the music played included TV theme tunes as all as some of our favourite blasts from the past – London’s Calling by The Clash, God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols (minus the rude bits) and the Jam’s Going Underground.
    Classical music included Edward Elgar’ Nimrod from the Engima Variations performed by the LSO On Track, featuring young musicians from ten London boroughs. Memorial sequences to the two world wars were accompanied by 1,000 percussionists performing Underworld’s And I Will Kiss led by Dame Evelyn Glennie. As the Union flag was raised, the national anthem was performed a capella by the Kaos Signing Choir for deaf and hearing children.
    Classic rock contributions came with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and a humorous rendition of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire featuring Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean. More up to date performances included Bonkers by one of East London’s favourite sons, Dizzee Rascal.

    Emeli Sande performed Abide with Me in tribute to the victims of the 2005 London bombings.
    Oh yes, and then there was The Pet Shop Boys, the Bee Gees (wh0 we are still definitely claiming as British), U2 and David Bowie. No-one is really sure whether Sir Paul McCartney’s performance was great or a little ill-advised. Judge for yourself.

    After the parade, Arctic Monkeys performed I Bet You Look Good on The Dancefloor.
    Within 48 hours the soundtrack, released immediately as a download, topped the iTunes album chart in Britain, France Belgium and Spain and was at number 5 in USA. A two disk CD is set to be released tomorrow and will, no doubt, storm the charts around the world. I think even those of us who have many of the tracks already in one form or another will be getting our credit cards out.

    Arctic Monkeys – London Olympic Games 2012 from Arctic Monkeys France on Vimeo.

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