x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A look back on the more raucous years of the Brit Awards

Want an insider tip for the 2012 Brit Awards next week? Don't expect the unexpected.

Want an insider tip for the 2012 Brit Awards tonight? Don't expect the unexpected. The Brits, like all the best pop music, has enjoyed a dazzling, phosphorescent life but it's all rather fizzling out now. The thrill may not quite be gone but it's packed its bags and is waiting on the doorstep for its taxi, smoking a cigarette and tapping its foot impatiently.

Some might go as far to say that the Brit Awards has grown up. Yet this analysis doesn't quite ring true. The truth is that the Brits, in the past 20 years or so, has reflected the vibrancy, or lack thereof, of British music. And, at present, British pop music is as toothless and safe as it's ever been. No wonder the Brits has become boring too.

You see, for the majority of the past 15 years, even though I've been a voting member of the Brits Academy, I've borne witness to only a few of the event's most controversial episodes.

There is a convincing argument that the sanitisation of the Brits is attributable to the organisers' determination to make it primarily a televisual occasion.

Certainly, the Brits has made a most craven capitulation to the TV buck. In recent years, the Brits has lain supine on its back and let the lecherous TV moneymen paw and grope it until it was unrecognisable from the unpredictable event of yore – remember Michael Jackson being upstaged by Jarvis Cocker in 1996? I do – it was my first time at the Brits. There's as much chance of anything like that happening again as there is of a Cocker/Jackson duet. As one of the Brits organisers told me, with little apparent shame, at the painfully dull awards a couple of years ago: "This is no longer a music event – it's a televisual event."

But it would be a mistake to suggest that all we need is a return to the good old days of the Brits when it was all dead sheep, pie-flinging and deputy prime minister dunking.

Don't believe me? OK, try this. Who was the first host of the Brits in 1977? The fuddy-duddy, king-of-beige, chat-show host Michael Aspel. Who won best group? The Beatles, who had been defunct for seven years. Best male? Cliff Richard. At a time when punk rock was rewriting rock history, the Brits were naming Cleo Laine as Best British Female Artist and Monty Python – yes, Monty Python, the comedy troupe who had been going since 1969 – as Best British Newcomers.

Fast forward 10 years to the advent of acid house. Who are the Brits acclaiming while British youth dances and parties? Dire Straits, Five Star and Phil Collins.

Unfortunately, the Brits has form in rewarding sales behemoths over new talent. That should be no surprise. It is, after all, a celebration of sales, not creativity. But when creativity starts to sell, then the Brits start to get interesting.

The early 1990s were when the Brits started to grab the public's attention. And that's because leftfield British music was starting to make real headway in the charts. In 1992, Seal may have mysteriously won the Best Album gong over Massive Attack's Blue Lines but the art-pop terrorists, The KLF, won Best British Group. How did The KLF celebrate their win? By dumping a dead sheep outside an after-show party. The tabloids went crazy and the vintage era of the Brits had begun.

It was a short era. The last even vaguely anarchic Brits ceremony was in 2000 when the pie-eyed DJ Brandon Block almost came to blows with the humourless Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood.

The event's subsequent dulling-down may be at least partly ascribed to the organisers' micromanagement and desire to provide wholesome television entertainment. That is to be deplored. After all, the very best pop music is all about surprise and unpredictability. But it's not all the fault of the Brits' organisers – they can only work with what they have. And it's inarguable that British pop music is at a very low ebb creatively. You only have to consider the two artists who are set to dominate this year's speechifying, Adele and Ed Sheeran. They both sell records, for sure. But they're not about to frighten the horses are they? And isn't that what great pop music (and, by extension, great pop TV) is all about?

Memorbale Brit Awards moments

  • Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood (1989): There is a theory that the pairing of the 6ft 6in Fleetwood Mac stalwart and the 5ft 1in pocket pin-up Samantha Fox as hosts of the 1989 Brits was a masterstroke of PR. If so, it certainly worked as the pair presided over a hilariously inept ceremony.
  • The KLF (1992): This two-man (Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty) band were one of the biggest-selling singles acts in the world in 1991. They celebrated winning Best British Group by opening The Brits with a live version of 3 a.m. Eternal with the punks Extreme Noise Terror. The end of the performance was marked by Drummond firing blanks from an automatic weapon over the heads of the crowd. Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep outside one of the after-parties.
  • Michael Jackson and Jarvis Cocker (1996): Enraged, so he claimed, by the pomposity of Michael Jackson’s performance of Earth Song, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker ran across the stage, lifted his shirt and thrust his bottom in Jackson’s direction.
  • Chumbawamba and John Prescott (1998): Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba threw a bucket of water over the deputy prime minister, John Prescott. Chumbawamba were unrepentant, claiming: “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the Brit Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him.”



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