Franz Ferdinand - Brits 2005

Matt F 02/04/2005

I know what you're thinking. And you're right - talk about shooting fish in a barrel. This will be, I'm sure, a fusillade of sparkly crap from start to finish, but I want to try - really try - to approach it with a sense of humour and an open mind.

What can I realistically expect, leaving aside the fact it's all one big advert for Mastercard and Chris Evans…? Actually he's making a visible effort not to be a twat; he's all jolly and full of innocent wonder, like an eccentric uncle or someone recovering from a powerful tranquilliser.

What else? Well, there's a cosmetic moshpit of starry-eyed young girls to hide the sinister music biz figures lurking in their dinner-jackets; Robbie Williams looks like a sad, worried turtle; there's lots of cool zooming stage lights and stuff.

Scissor Sisters - they've got “Deliverance” style costumes, they're surrounded by singing watermelons, and they've got this bright, perky children's prog manner like “Sesame Street” but not as sleazy.

Then you get Matt Lucas and David Walliams undoing all their good work with an embarrassing unfunny turn - it's “the best song of the last 25 years”. Queen, Kate Bush, R Williams, W Young, Joy Division (wha??!)… It's R Williams of course. Tight-lipped and grey-faced, he accepts the award as no more than his due and makes some mean-spirited crack about “my boyfriend Jake”. Maybe he's trying to be funny, with that scowl it's hard to tell.

Franz Ferdinand. It's odd seeing all those pop kids go mad for four indie blokes hammering out trebly old mono-chord punk funk. God love em for ushering in the Nu New-New New Wave and that, but it's all a bit flat; the guitars lack bite and the warbling's glutinous. Still. They have Alan Bennett on drums.

Half an hour in and I'm already checking my watch. Don't be such a snob, try to drop the affected cynicism I tell myself, but this is sorely tested by Jo Whiley. Through her fixed grin she sounds the first defensive note of the evening with some anodyne burble about “acts that aren't kiddy pop - they'll still be here in ten years' time”. Who is this aimed at?

Consider it: Keane, still with us in ten years. All I can say is, if they look bad now… A cheap shot, but I'm reminded afresh that the frontman has to be one of the most mesmerisingly ugly blokes I've ever seen - I don't catch much of what he says because I'm staring at him in fascination - “the guts to be ourselves”, blah blah, “we've had a certain amount of stick”, blah blah - well fair play, he's right. But this brave message of individualism is somehow undermined by the big Mastercard logo on the lectern beside him. Another oddly defensive comment from Brian May (obviously wondering what he's doing here and who all these people are), something about “proving that rock is totally and utterly alive in Britain today”… Then Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield do their thing. He belts out his vocals with the grit and gusto of a building society manager auditioning for one of those musical adverts, seizing his chance like a happy little bull terrier, skittering across the stage and barking over his sister's asthmatic whine… “You. Make. Me. FEEL. >Ah. Oh. Uh. Yeh. You. MAKE. Me. Feel. AH. Ohuhh. Uh.” Who are these people and why are they shouting at each other?

I'm a bit punch-drunk by now and stop paying full attention for a while. I scribble stuff that doesn't make much sense later - “The Streets sound/s like the new Beautiful South (depressing Spanish guitar).” When Green Day emerge it strikes me for a moment how much more the current bunch of spiky guitar bands might owe them than they'd like to admit: school uniforms. Eyeliner. >Clanking trash guitars… Actually, maybe not - it's gone all American FM radio: squealy solo, chest-beating vocals, quiet bit then drums pounding toward knackered ropey climax - and fireworks!

McFly with their squeaky bewilderment and touching, youthful glee.I feel a bit queasy. Eminem gets drunk and hits people, apparently.Chris Evans confides “we've got more creepy moments coming up” and it takes me a second to realise he said There's an uncomfortable “comedy” interlude where he harasses his ex-wife, and sitting behind her you can see the old industry lags leering and chuckling, the kingmakers and power-brokers with their puffy, wicked faces… Is Jonathan King out of jail yet?

There's a tinkly 70s tea-time hammond organ and some bluesy noodling Eric Clapton might've binned as a bit tired - it's Joss Stone. She frowns like she's got a headache and sings in American - worthy but dull, and only exceptional if you remember the current female pop vocal norm's a thin plasticized wail. Later on she does a toe-curling duet with R Williams (he raises his game by trying to explode his own scrotum with heroic vocal straining).The pine air-freshener muzak, the aching, gurning sentiment… Which brings us back to Keane. It's just too easy, so I won't bother, except to point out their song sounds suspiciously like Radiohead's “No Surprises”, but drearier and sorrier. They said it couldn't be done…

By this stage any protective good humour has long since evaporated and I'm really, really wondering why I bothered (no doubt you are too). Some strange masochistic urge, maybe; certainly that and sheer obstinacy are all that keep me watching. I was hoping for a bit of colour, a Jarvis Cocker flashing his cheeks type moment - just something mildly amusing would do. It's dispiriting to realise I have to dig back in memory to the pub-rock Dark Ages of Britpop for any laughs; that was the last time I watched this musical screensaver, and what I'm watching now feels like a variety show, with the same deadening atmosphere - the same shiny suits - it's Jamelia and Lemar - oh God, the same corny horns and paper-thin guitar raunch - are they covering ZZ Top? No… It's…? No… It is! It's “Addicted To Love”.

What is funny's when the occasional scruffy rock act slips through eg. PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and you can almost feel the blank looks in the audience, or when two surly, conceited old twats from New Order lumber on to present an award, their body-language an unappealing mix of awkwardness and menace; there's a sense of two worlds in uneasy co-dependence. >Emphasising this, Best British Group's presented with teeth-clenching pantomime archness by Sharon and Kelly Osbourne and dedicated to John Peel, which I'm sure he'd appreciate. Thing is, it's the same few groups who've been in every other frigging category already. I shouldn't be surprised. Who are Maroon 5?)

I'm not telling you what won Mastercard Best British Album ™ in a blizzard of statistics. You'll just have to read about it in the broadsheets or something, the business section most likely. Anyway, it's nearly over - all we need to administer the death-blow's Jools Holland, and here he is - in fact, this is all rather like a substandard edition of one of those beige Mojo Favourites shows he does every New Year. He's here to give the Best Still Alive Then Premium Bonds to… Bob Geldof. There's an absolute Crimewatch ID parade of leathery old stagers paying tribute - Sting, Bono, you know the drill. Then on comes Bob to cap the night off with two songs and a chance to demonstrate how quaintly out of touch with proceedings he is: “Ehhm…One's a sort of psycho-drama and one's a tenement opera.” After such a heavyweight intro I almost hoped they might be funny, but no - it's a cheesy punk musical with strings, an appropriately badly-fitting end to a truly third-rate couple of hours, and Chris Evans leaves us with these wise words…


Well it's all harmless fun, but what was the point - and where was the fun? >Apart from reconfirming various personal prejudices and received ideas, I mean (music industry's screwed and probably deserves it, most good music's largely going unnoticed in what passes for the real world, etc).Again, you have to wonder who they think's watching this stuff; mine's a blank cheque, ta.