Who needs a giant mechanical bull? The Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony (BBC One) lacked the raging bovine beast which stole the show at the opening bash 11 days ago.
Instead it had infectious energy, vibrant spirit and surprise VIP guests. This was a fitting celebration, both of a triumphant Games and a city firmly in the ascendant. As Friendly Fire Band’s theme song says, it’s a Brum ting.
After a slightly anti-climactic final day of sport (Sunday felt like the more natural crescendo), it was time for the athletes to take their last bow at Alexander Stadium and formally hand over to the Australian state of Victoria, hosts of the 2026 Games.
The 90-minute show was created by choreographer Amber Rimell and director Chris “Bronski” Jablonski, known for staging productions at Glastonbury and the Brits. Its stated aim was to “showcase the region's musical talent from the past, present and future”. Well, it certainly did that.
A live audience of 30,000 and millions at home were treated to an eclectic medley, unexpectedly headlined by homecoming hero Ozzy Osbourne. Fancy-dressed dancers and industrial set design traced the history of the city, from post-war rebuilding and 1950s immigration, through to the present day.
Those of a certain age experienced sonic flashbacks to 40 years ago. Pop-soul survivors Dexys Midnight Runners opened the show with “Come On Eileen”, while Musical Youth rolled back the years to “Pass The Dutchie”.
Both topped the charts in summer 1982 - clearly a halcyon season for Midland music. Reggae veterans UB40 continued the 80s revivalism with “Red Red Wine”. Goldie brought some “Brum ’n’ bass”, collaborating with Wolverhampton diva Beverley Knight on a bounce-inducing tribute to the area’s rave heritage.
Among the most eagerly awaited performances was a sneak preview of the Peaky Blinders spin-off stage musical, The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, which will have its world premiere next month as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival. Writer Steven Knight’s hit BBC drama has been one of Birmingham’s major cultural exports of the past decade.
By order of you-know-who, baker boy caps and flapper girl frocks were donned on the roof of the Garrison Tavern. Laura Mvula crooned newly commissioned ballad “Open the Gates”, inspired by the gangster epic’s theme tune, Nick Cave's “Red Right Hand”.
All it lacked was Cillian Murphy’s cheekbones and slo-mo strutting, although the moody pose-striking by contemporary dance company Rambert came close.
Other standout turns included Jorja Smith, Jacob Banks, Apache Indian, Panjabi MC and The Selecter. It made for a genre-hopping mash-up, cross-fading from bhangra to ska, grime to glam. The pace flagged in the middle when organisers tried too hard to be cool, overloading the bill with lesser known acts. A horribly bland Australian segment didn’t help. Strewth, mate, that was dull.
Clare Balding anchored proceedings with her customary class, albeit sporting a slightly strange technicolour dream coat. Hailing the Games as “a festival of friendship”, she was joined in the studio by netballer Ama Agbeze, and swimmer (and new Strictly signing) Ellie Simmonds.
There were fireworks, belching flames and many, many montages. Sports reporter Tim Warwood was given the unenviable task of chipping in from Victoria Square, while struggling valiantly with noisy crowds and sound delays. Hazel Irvine and Andrew Cotter were on co-commentary duties. Both were solid but two Scots seemed overkill. Surely a local voice could have been found?
Anyone tuning in for the 10pm news was in for a shock. Proceedings overran thanks to a surprise finale from Solihull’s own Ozzy Osbourne, reunited with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi for a thunderous rendition of 1970 anthem “Paranoid”.
Grinning wolfishly, the 73-year-old signed off by bellowing “Birmingham forever!”. The Prince Of Darkness was preceded by an actual Prince: Edward, Earl of Wessex, delivering a disappointingly generic speech.
The 22nd Games have seen 4500 athletes compete in 280 medal events, fully integrating para sports for the first time. The first few days were overshadowed by England’s Lionesses winning the Euros. However, the Games hit its stride over the past week, producing a steady stream of rousing moments.
From its accent to its architecture, Birmingham has too often been ridiculed by the rest of the nation. Neither North nor South, our second city seldom gets the credit it deserves. Thankfully, recent years have seen a resurgence in civic pride and overdue appreciation of its rich heritage.
This uneven but exhilarating show was another step in Birmingham’s resurgence. It’s hard not to compare such ceremonies with London 2012 but tonight’s party had a balti-spiced flavour all of its own: less theatrical, more musical and grittily urban.
It brought the curtain down on a slickly hosted sporting extravaganza which has put the city in contention to host the 2040 Olympics, not to mention Eurovision 2023. Bravo, bab.