So the Dear Green Place’s time under the sun has come to an end. It’s over a week now since Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games officially finished and, it would be fair to say, it was an overall success; a certain Jamaican’s comments aside perhaps. It was certainly easy to be caught up in the spirit and the occasion: the 20th edition had been billed as the ‘friendly games’ and it was definitely that. The hordes of happy volunteers lured you in with their ever-present smiles, and even the rain left the West of Scotland alone for most of the 11 days.
However, now that the last remaining athletes have returned to their respective countries, and the media attention in the UK swings eastward for another important date coming up in Scotland’s calendar, a retrospective look at how Glasgow fared is in need – not so much in the actual competition in which Scotland achieved a record medal haul, nor in the streets where the ‘Clydesiders’ did their city proud. It’s the game’s ceremonies that need a further appraisal, as there can be the tendency to get caught up in the grand spectacle of it all at the time (myself included) and not really say if it was indeed well-executed or not.
Opening with, rather obviously, the opening ceremony, this part of any worldwide event such as the Commonwealth or Olympics acts as the host countries opportunity to show themselves to the rest of the world: their idiosyncrasies; their landmarks, and their people. But for tourists and diasporic peoples, there is the propensity to have a fantasy-like, almost imaginary, view of their ‘homelands’; the themeparkisation of the place often masking its true identity. For Scotland, this is commonly referred to looking at the country as being like Brigadoon. This was a popular musical and film in the 1950’s and is partly responsible for fuelling the ‘tartan-wearing, whiskey-drinking, highland-dancing’ view of Scots by outsiders. And this whole idea is seemingly what inspired the ceremony, particularly the first half. Host for the evening, local pantomime star Karen Dunbar (note: for the closing ceremony’s other out-of-their-depth pantomime star, see Des Clarke), took us on a bus tour around Scotland with John Barrowman’s voice belting out songs in that weird Americanized twang of his: there were dancers with whisky barrels and Tunnock’s tea cakes; there was an abundance of pipers; there was even an oversized kilt and, of course, a large plastic Loch Ness monster. Organiser David Zolkwer had promised that it would show the world how Scots see themselves – in truth it was more how we perceive that the rest of the world sees ‘Brand Scotland’.
Dunbar effused of our country as ‘a land of inventors and poets’ that are ‘enlightened and fun’ but nowhere was this supposed creativity and ingenuity seen. Sure, there was plenty of heart and gusto, mainly due to the participants being local volunteers of all ages, but this really only served to give the whole thing a feeling of being an am-dram production – not befitting of such a world stage. Even the plastic pieces and statues on the set in the middle of Celtic Park looked more like a toddler’s plaything than anything else.
This is not to say that there weren’t good moments, parts of genuine quality: The Scottish terrier dogs accompanying each country in the parade of nations were an inspired (and adorable) touch; using the opportunity to raise money for UNICEF, although it gave the whole event a sense of being just another telethon, was ultimately well executed and very worthwhile; and the aforementioned Barrowman’s gay kiss when he stopped singing terrible tunes professing his love for Nessie was a moment of pure genius and a powerful statement to the countries competing that still have laws against homosexuality. And the Scottish Ballet’s understated arrangement of the Proclaimers’ 500 miles was a moment of class completely separate from the blur of overblown stereotypes that had preceded it – if it had followed in the same tradition as the start, I’d have expected the Reid brothers covered in garish tartan atop a floating Irn-Bru can bellowing their normally rousing and loud hit.
Too often though, the good was outweighed by the very dismal – for every bit like Amy McDonald’s pretty song about Glasgow, there was a moment of Susan Boyle nervously singing Mull of Kintyre and forgetting the words. The dreary and overstuffed production was always going to be hampered by a lesser budget than, say, London’s 2012 Olympics, but there is so much artistic ability and talent bursting from all areas in this creative city for it to be criminally and clearly underused in Glasgow’s biggest of spectacles. And on Glasgow, I was left with the distinct feeling that the organiser’s had forgotten that this was the city’s Games and not Scotland’s; apart from a song about the city and a few landmarks here and there, most of the show focused on other areas of the country, those more in keeping with the Brigadoon ethos. If anything, the opening ceremony was more suited to belonging to Edinburgh – the centre of Scotland’s tourist-baiting, tartan industry.
If the opening ceremony is about showcasing the host city, the closing ceremony is more to do with the passing of the torch over to the next host; it’s the official ending of this edition and one last chance for a celebration and another fireworks display. So with this in mind, organisers titled it as ‘All Back To Ours’ and said the theme was a typical Glasgow night out. Indeed, the whole thing came across as a giant Hogmanay party (there was the obligatory chorus of Auld Lang Syne at the show’s conclusion) crossed with the T in the Park festival as volunteers held tents all over the Hampden field. The three acts that opened the festivities were also the main problem with the ceremonies overall – the music.
Glasgow is a UNESCO city of music, a place rightly renowned for its local scene and the brilliant acts it has given the world. And so on the night we were subjected to firstly Lulu, who sung her major single ‘Shout’, a hit half a century ago, followed by Deacon Blue and Prides. The former were a modestly successful band in the 80’s while the latter are a newly-formed harmless synthpop group and while they performed without fuss or fanfare, there were clearly better options to both to display Glasgow’s rich music heritage and thriving local scene: classic bands such as Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Primal Scream; up-and-coming outfits like Chvrches and Paws. As a representation of this great musical city, it was woeful (the opening ceremonies trio of Susan Boyle, Amy McDonald and Rod Stewart were no better).
After the usual dull compendium of speeches by various important people, the next host city, the Gold Coast, took over proceedings, littering their section with a shameless and cringe-worthy advert for the region and a Kylie Minogue (everyone’s favourite Aussie) part, which swiftly became a full-blown concert of hers. As she sang 7 – yes, 7 – of her hits, this point was also where the theme of a typical night out was supposed to be played out. But, apart from some volunteers eating presumably greasy chips from pokes, nothing stood out. If this were truly a archetypal Glasgow night on the town, there would have to be a slew of drunken happy people consuming deep-fried food, with Tennents and Buckfast aplenty, all against the background of great music; I’m not quite sure what neighbourhood of the city this colourful, exuberant camp-fest usually takes place in. And while the organisers obviously wouldn’t want to paint a completely true picture of a typical night out, Glasgow’s idiosyncrasies were ignored again. Once Kylie had finally left the stage, it was time for that last fireworks display and a poignant rendition of Caledonia by Dougie Maclean.
It’s tempting to say that the closing ceremony was marginally better than the opening as the Gold Coast’s section limited the time available to squeeze in as many stereotypes as possible but there was not much between both levels of kitsch and cliché. They served their purpose well – showing what the tourists want to see, meaning they’ll continue to visit in their hordes, as well as providing enough moments of pure joy at having such an event to host in the first place, but as a whole it seems like an opportunity was missed to really show modern Glasgow and its wealth of culture. It must be said, however, that when people remember Glasgow 2014, they won’t first think of the ceremonies: they’ll remember the amazing competitors and events that are what the Games are truly about. Next time though, lets just leave out the bad highland dancing and plastic imaginary monsters.