The Brits: Firing Blanks Again
The Brit Awards 2013
London O2 Arena, SE10
Wednesday 20th February 2013
Although your editor is strongly of the opinion that we shouldn’t give The Brits the oxygen of publicity (let alone the oxygen of oxygen) it would appear that a lot of people who otherwise have good taste are obsessed by them. My Twitter timeline the other night was full it on Tues, a lot of it coming from our boss who wrote an “open letter” to “them” yesterday. So read on for more musings about the shambles that is The Brits.
“I think the things The KLF do are fantastic,” enthused musician Dunstan Bruce following 1992’s ceremony. “I’m a vegetarian but I wish they’d sawn an elephant’s legs off at the Brit Awards.” Of course, Dunstan’s band Chumbawamba would instigate Brits misbehaviour of their own years later when, as part of their performance, the band ad-libbed “New Labour sold out the Dockers, just like they’ll sell out the rest of us” before attempting to rile visiting tubby thumper John Prescott by throwing a bucket of iced water over him.
But back in ‘92 The KLF had gained notoriety as post-rave hit makers, announcing their arrival in the charts with a rip of MC5’s rallying cry, “And right now… right now… right now it’s time to… kick out the jams, Motherfucker!” Their collaborations with both Gary Glitter and Tammy Wynette helped ensure they had become the biggest-selling singles act in the world. It seems their intention was to effectively dissolve themselves with a deliberately antagonistic thrash metal rendition of 3: A.M. Eternal with grindcore heroes Extreme Noise Terror. Incredibly, it transpires that the version broadcast was heavily compromised. Legend has it that Bill Drummond had to be dissuaded from severing his hand with a meat cleaver and throwing it directly into the throng of multinational representatives. Another story suggests he intended to disembowel a sheep on stage and dispose of the resulting gore by chucking it, along with buckets filled with blood, into the audience, drenching the observing dignitaries. With these plans thwarted, a kilted, cigar-chomping Drummond hobbled around the stage on crutches and fired blanks from an automatic rifle at the gobsmacked spectators, including conductor Sir Georg Solti who fled the scene in terror.
Departing with the announcement “The KLF have now left the music business,” they were prevented from collecting their award for Best British Group (it was later “found” buried in a field near Stonehenge) and forced to share it with the excremental Simply Red. Later, the pair deposited the carcass of a freshly-slaughtered sheep at the entrance to one of the after parties wearing the message “I died for ewe – Bon Appetit.”
Select Magazine had called it “the last grand gesture, the most heroic act of public self-destruction in the history of pop. And it’s also Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s final extravagant howl of self-disgust, defiance and contempt for a music world gone foul and corrupt.” After that, they were finished, except for ritually incinerating a million pounds in cash on a remote Scottish island, and briefly returning a few years later for a one-off performance dressed as two pyjama-clad, elderly reprobates who reeked of Dettol, had horns strapped to their foreheads and whizzed around in motorised wheelchairs.
In the aftermath of last year’s awards, I wondered whether The KLF may have had a more profound impact on The Brits than initially thought. “Adele cut off and shows finger” is retweeted endlessly, and for a moment I imagine New Boring’s Prom Queen at the podium “fanking” everyone, hacking away at a hand and then proudly holding a dismembered digit aloft for all to see. Sadly though, there was to be nothing so spontaneous or unconventional at The Brits, which has long since reverted to being a circle jerking light entertainment show at which musical innovation, rebellion or genuine rivalry has been firmly suppressed.
As we stumbled painfully through last night’s agonising 135 minutes, it was with numbing inevitability that the ubiquitous Emeli Sandé took up the baton of Barlow beige from Adele, just as Ed Sheeran handed over the male equivalent to someone named Ben Howard, yet another tediously earnest balladeer who seemed as baffled by his double-win as Twitter did. The truth is there have been almost no shock wins since Belle and Sebastian triumphed over favourites Steps in a public vote, causing Pete Waterman to have an aneurysm and later babble insanely about vote-rigging. It’s now as stagnant as in the 80’s when, regardless of output, the trophies were carted off by Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, whose shelving units probably still groan under the weight of the things. Sure, they give awards to the populist unit-shifters who make money, we get that. But when the charts are clogged up with such depressingly conservative and homogenous acts, it makes for a phenomenally dull programme.
It’s not like anyone’s expecting Throbbing Gristle to have the Lifetime Achievement bestowed on them, but ever since punk and disco were notably absent from the inaugural ceremony in 1977, award winners are generally a poor indication of the vitality of British music. Radiohead, PJ Harvey, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Primal Scream, The Clash and even The Rolling Stones have never been honoured. Pulp never won one either, although Jarvis Cocker did scupper their chances by bum-rushing Michael Jackson’s distastefully messianic performance.
It’s almost enough to make you long for the heights of televisual incompetence scaled in February 1989 when Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox, bewilderingly cast as presenters, succeeded in ballsing-up everything that could conceivably be ballsed-up in one of the most shambolic atrocities in TV history. Sure, acid house, grunge and hip-hop were ignored in favour of a group called Fairground Attraction, but the fact that the entire ceremony could implode at any moment was always part of its appeal wasn’t it?
These days it’s glued together by condescending comedians who seem as unconvinced by the lines they’re forced to deliver as the viewers are, and attempts to inject any edginess into the proceedings are hideously misguided. Not least of all in 2004 when Cat Deeley emerged, legs astride a giant-sized bottle of champagne to assure us that “Rock ‘n’ roll is back.” She actually meant that The Darkness were probably going to win everything, which they did. 2013’s sole rawk moment was Dave Grohl presenting Best International Group to The Black Keys, but even then no-one could be arsed to even collect the sodding thing, let alone give a speech. “Long live rock ‘n’ roll,” said Dave, with the sarcasm of a man who knew he was outnumbered. Today would have been Kurt Cobain’s 46th birthday, you know.
Acceptance speeches now play out like the graduation assembly at Croydon’s state-funded hit factory, which endlessly churns out a tiresome procession of inoffensive, wispy songstresses, free of controversy and who appear to have been groomed specifically for these events. The public tend to enjoy the gaffes and slurred scuffles, but these people seem adept at draining pop of any deviation from the status quo. There’s nothing that goes against the grain. It’s all just so fucking cosy.
Tonight, Coldplay are officially our greatest live band, having filled our stadiums and festivals with bland songs about seas rising and tears streaming and lights guiding and bells ringing and choirs singing and lords a-leaping, and shows which visually resemble, as one Twitterer memorably put it, “a Nazi rally styled by kindergarten teachers who once did an E.”
Elsewhere, One Direction were handed some sort of made-up consolation prize, after the fab five had bounced their way through a terrifying Blondie/Undertones mash-up.
Aside from Sandé, the night belonged to Mumford and Sons, four hugely punchable Cameron-endorsed pricks that Britain (and indeed the US) is inexplicably clasping to its bosom, probably because this kind of simpering arse gravy now somehow passes for authenticity because it’s got, like, proper instruments and everything. In their case though, authenticity sounds like being locked inside Fearne Cotton’s Live Lounge for all eternity. Tonight they entertain the Brit School alumni with all the panache of, well, a decomposing sheep.
Kick out the jam jars, more like.
All words by Kevin Robinson. You can read more from Kevin on LTW more from Kevin on LTW here.