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London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

Dress Rehearsals.

It has taken me some time to come down from the buzz that was taking part in this great occasion and focus again. Following on from my last blog I have also been lucky enough to wear a blue bowler hat with a light bulb on the top and take part in the closing ceremony. However returning to our rehearsals for the opening ceremony they continued apace leading up to 2 dress rehearsals that were to take place in front of friends and family as well as armed forces personel and other volunteers. In between practising our entry onto the field of play, the rhythms and marching down stairs we were able to see how the other parts of the ceremony were coming together and experience the work that other volunteers were putting into the greatest show, which was nothing short of outstanding. We were at various rehearsals measured for our various costumes and prepared for the first full dress rehearsal on the 15th July. What away to spend my 50th birthday, with an incredible group of people and practising for the greatest show on earth.  Fabulous yet at the same time slightly surreal to leave my birthday celebrations at home and travel to the stadium.

Industrial Revolution / Pandemonium Outfit London 2012

However to feel and see the full effects of the music, the Pandemonium drummers in full flow as well as the huge workforce that was ” Working men and Women ” transform the stadium during the  “Industrial Revolution” segment, was something akin to Dante’s Inferno to the driving pulse that was our rhythm and the music of the Underworld was just incredible. Marching down through the slightly bewildered audience to the field of play and to finish in the smoke of the fireworks from the ” Forged ” Olympic rings ensured that all the senses were fully engaged and moved by this experience. Also to soak up the atmosphere of performing to 80,000 people was something special.

The Opening Ceremony.

The opening itself will always be etched onto my memory as one of the most important life experiences so far. The hard work had been completed by us all and we were all called to the Olympic Stadium for around four thirty to be costumed for half six, even though we would not be on till much later. Huge numbers of men and women sat in the changing rooms, making small talk, playing with drum sticks, reading, sitting outside out of the public gaze sunning themselves or eating another sandwich lunch feast. I arrived early ( Those that know me well, will not be surprised by that fact ) and was lucky enough to catch the soundcheck for the Artic Monkeys and bump into Rick Smith from the Underworld whose masterpiece this was to be.

Copyright R Watters

Ray and Rick Opening Ceremony Day London 2012

He is just an incredible guy and those 17 minutes that made up mine and 999 fellow drummers contribution to the ceremony are just an amazing piece of music called ” And I Will Kiss ” (The final performance due to time constraints had been cut to 12 minutes) I then caught Evelyn Glennie sorting her drums out and returned to the holding area. After a number of walks around the Olympic park soaking up the atmosphere I changed into my costume and made small talk, while we waited for the call to collect our drums. Anyone who knows anything about music will know that it entails a huge amount of hanging around and the Olympics was no exception. The ceremony was going live around the world at 2100 hours UK time, so we had plenty of time to kill. The call finally came to collect our drums and the costume department had a quick run over our costumes as we left to make sure we were as authentic as we could be for our part. We then streamed out in our groups collected our drums/buckets as we had done so many times before, put them on and then made our way to where we were to enter the stadium. The weather that had been threatening in the late afternoon darkened and a short light shower dampened the ground but not the spirit. As we sauntered to our place, I was always amazed by the numbers of the public queuing for food and drink instead of being sat inside. As we reached where we were to enter, I quickly grabbed a Policeman to take a group 33 picture and we took individuals photo’s and waited for our queue. There was group and individual big hugs, smiles and kisses and we waited for our cue.

Group 33 waiting.

Me, Kurt and Matt waiting to go on.  My opening ceremony drum.

Technical updates from Steve Boyd came through our in-ear monitors and we listened to the unfolding pre-amble and the start of the ” Isles of Wonder ” music segment has we had heard so many times before leading into Nimrod, Kenneth Branagh and that speech from Shakespeare’s Tempest. Then we heard the ticking of the click track start and we were called to start our rumble and walk to our first position. The entire audience was now surrounded on all sides by the noise of the huge rumble of a thousand drums which was closed by a huge shout of ” Hoye ” They were engulfed in a huge sound bowl with drummers surrounding them on all sides as another rumble shook us, them and the stadium. Then we were into the rhythm.

If you want to understand the power of rhythm, just ask anyone who was there that night, or at the dress rehearsals, or the people working at the stadium and they will tell you what a thousand drummers sound like. The BBC coverage does no justice, but check out ” Youtube ” to really get a feeling of the drums. One of the comments on one of the uploaders is that his chair was shaking as we were playing. We drummed our way down through the audience, pausing at the bottom of the stairway before the field of play and standing motionless for the ” Poppies ” segment (A haunting whistled melody that features on ” Calibans Dream ” as well as ” And I Will Kiss “) that commemorates all those who have fallen in all wars regardless of race, creed, colour or nationality. Then we were back into the rhythm again and finally onto the field of play for the finale of the segment, as the Industrial Revolution took hold and changed our island landscape forever. We were brought closer to the forging of the Olympic rings an amazing sensorial experience where you could feel the heat, the smell of the fireworks, the taste of the smoke, the driving rhythm of the music and the beat of the drums filling your senses. Just incredible. We paused for applause and to show what had been done and then left the stadium, to return as marshals later, but that is another story.

Reflections.

Each person as they reflect back on watching or taking part in the ceremony will come up with unique experiences and for me here are a few. In the short 3 monthes that we were together drumming and rhythm produced a number of fantastic experiences. It forged firm friendships and relationships between people who  I would not normally have met. It produced patience and understanding to some including me. It introduced some people who would never have drummed to drumming and they are now hooked. It produced a spectacle never to be repeated and never to be beaten, a spectacle of emotion and power. I think it demonstrated the power and impact of drumming to a new audience who would never have been exposed to it either on TV or live in the stadium.

Hopefully for people like myself who use drumming in their everyday life or as an integral part of their work it will have opened peoples eyes to its potential not just to entertain, but to galvanise, to release and cope with emotion, to educate and to help people to just be.

BOSH and HOYE.

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