Andy Richardson: Glittering awards night is a Brit of alright
Bright Lights, Bigger City are the impressions that Walsall’s high-flying Jorja Smith is likely to leave with when she makes her debut bow at The Brits.
Her appearance on Wednesday on the Emma Willis-fronted show will see her rub shoulders with the shakers and makers who wield power and grab the headlines in Britain’s music industry. She’ll be joined by the likes of Liam Payne and Paloma Faith, Ed Sheeran and Stormzy, Dua Lipa and Royal Blood, Alicia Keys and The Killers.
There’ll be memorable moments – in recent times, Madonna has fallen down a flight of stairs and Robbie Williams has challenged Noel Gallagher to a fight – though it’s tempting to say those accidents and stunts aren’t a patch on the sort of rock’n’roll stunts that once passed muster.
John Prescott’s New Labour mob were shown the door in 1988 when one-hit wonders Chumbawamba approached the Deputy Prime Minister with a bucket of water – and dumped the contents on his head.
In 1996, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker faux mooned his backside while Michael Jackson was playing Earth Song. He was taken to a police station and banged up until 3am, prompting Men Behaving Badly’s Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey to stage a Free Jarvis campaign outside.
And arguably the most outrageous stunt came when art-rock agit-proppers The KLF sacrificed a sheep before the 1992 after-show party. It shocked party-goers by wearing the message: “I died for ewe – bon appétit,” which was tied to its waist at the post-ceremony bun fight.
The Brits are all about the winners and HMV, amazon and the like will be inundated with music requests the morning after the ceremony. But it’s not just the winners who benefit. For all its tales of drunkenness and debauchery, of casual flirtation and well-meaning badinage, The Brits is where deals are struck, phone numbers are exchanged, ideas are conceived and collaborations are agreed. They are, in truth, a huge away day meeting for those who work in the record industry.
In 1996 – or, more accurately, Year Britpop – this was a case in point. David Bowie and Pet Shop Boys performed Spaceboy. Michael Jackson’s Earth Song was upstaged by Pulp’s Jarvis, who had himself performed Sorted for E’s and Wizz. Simply Red and Take That made up the numbers and the winners were Oasis, Paul Weller, Oasis, Prince and Oasis. Prince had appeared the year before, with the words Slave written on his face, prompting Blur drummer Dave Rowntree to celebrate his band’s record-breaking four successes by scrawling the word Dave on his.
I attended the Brits in ’96 and the after-show was more memorable and fun than any of the on-screen shenanigans, including Jarvis’s bum wave. After the show, Noel and Gang Oasis were swilling bottles of booze at their table. Despite winning three awards, Lord Gallagher of Hitsville was as approachable as ever and we chatted for a while once the cameras had stopped rolling. He asked me out to America, to watch the band on their upcoming US tour. I told my gaffer at NME and soon after boarded the plane to watch the band play at Kansas City Memorial Hall and St Louis American Theatre where the band were flush with the success of their What’s The Story (Morning Glory) record and already rehearsing songs from the follow-up. Noel recognised me in a royal box at one of the shows, giving me a wink and a nod mid-tune, bless him.
Other Class of ’96 stars hung around after the show to network. Supergrass, Black Grape, Cast, Elastica, Tricky, Massive Attack, Radiohead and more (mostly) got along over a beer or 13. And the likes of Liam Gallagher engaged in the sort of behaviour that rock’n’rollers do. Liam had been present at the NME Brats ceremony a month earlier – handing me his haul of trophies and telling me to hold onto them before disappearing to do, uh huh, rock’n’roll behaviour – y’know, Cigarettes and Alcohol and other stuff – and failing to reappear. I wondered about taking the trophies home and keeping them for a mantelpiece before thinking better of it and handing them back to one of his bodyguards. Rock’n’Roll Star, indeed.
The Brits were created in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which, to some Black Country fans, is a cause of disappointment. For early 1970s gun slingers Slade would surely have bagged a huge number of gongs had they been started a decade earlier.
Walsall’s Jorja Smith, nonetheless, will be doing the Black Country proud when she attends the Brits on Wednesday to follow in the footsteps of Adele by picking up her 2018 Critics’ Choice Award and performing. There’ll be enough drink to fill an Olympic swimming pool, the opportunity to speak to more fellow artists, agents and managers than she can shake a stick at. Who knows, maybe it will lead to chart-topping Stormzy-Jorja collaboration? Now that would be something.