Tying in with the BRIT Awards this month is another big event: the 30th anniversary of the BRIT Trust. Here its chairman, John Craig OBE, explains why the money raised by the BRITs is more important now than ever...
I write this from Los Angeles as I'm out here covering the Grammys, but my heart remains on London’s Oxford Street.
What doesn’t remain on London’s most famous shopping destination anymore is a big record shop, as HMV’s famous flagship store was one of the outlets not to be taken on by new owners Sunrise Records.
Everyone in the music business will welcome the survival of the last chain standing in Britain’s once glorious record shop landscape, even in reduced form. But it’s a real shame that central London – an area synonymous with music and music shops – will no longer have a music megastore to call its own.
Part of that is because, as a teenager, my record shopping visits to London would always include a trip to the twin Oxford Street citadels of HMV (their former gigantic flagship store at Oxford Circus, now a Sports Direct) and Virgin Megastore, as well as Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus.
Every record shop that disappears removes physical music as an option for a swathe of music lovers, and many of those sales will disappear forever
But it’s not just nostalgia that says a city built on music and the music industry should be able to sustain a large record shop as well as the many brilliant independent stores, however high the rents. Time will tell if Sunrise has another flagship location in mind – owner Doug Putman hints at such a move in this week's Music Week – but a central London store has symbolic value beyond its retail equivalent.
Here in LA, for example, the shuttering of Tower on Sunset (still standing and still branded, but no longer serving) was a metaphor for an industry in decline, just as the bustling Amoeba Music further down the same street visualises its recovery. Yet it was striking how many news reports on HMV’s administration featured people surprised to hear the chain still existed. Every record shop that disappears removes physical music as an option for a swathe of music lovers, and many of those sales will disappear forever.
Ironically, I relived my youthful pilgrimages during HMV Oxford Street’s last few hours of trading. I popped in for journalistic reasons, but left with a bagful of records – precisely the sorts of spontaneous purchases that can’t – and won’t – be replicated without a convenient High Street outlet.
As the slogan goes: London is open. Surely its biggest record shop should be too?
Last year’s Grammy Awards attracted plenty of attention. Sadly, most of it was for all the wrong reasons.
As the ceremony unfolded in New York’s Madison Square Garden, social media was ablaze with criticism of everything from the lack of female artist winners to the seeming omnipresence of Sting.
Assuming organisers have learned from last year’s mistakes – which included Recording Academy president Neil Portnow suggesting female artists need to “step up” – this year’s awards, held in the warmer climes of Los Angeles, should provide an opportunity for a more inclusive event that focuses on the music and turns last year's good intentions into some actual action.
Blockbuster TV awards ceremonies are an endangered species in the US, where demographic and consumption shifts make it ever harder to connect with a mass audience. But they remain one of the best ways to move the dial on a release or an artist, so at least everyone in the industry will be watching as keenly as ever.
The stamp of approval that comes with being able to put “Grammy-winning artist” in front of your name can still prove significant
This year’s crop of British hopefuls are notably younger and fresher than in some years. So (presumably) no Sting this time, but there are nominations for the likes of Ella Mai, Dua Lipa and Jorja Smith. And then there's Bring Me The Horizon; already boosted by scoring a UK No.1 album last week, Raw Power's Matt Ash told Music Week that the Grammy nod is already opening doors for the band Stateside. Imagine what a win could do?
So, while Eminem may famously have rapped that he didn’t give a damn about a Grammy, at a time when new British music is finding it tougher than ever to break through internationally, the stamp of approval that comes with being able to put “Grammy-winning artist” in front of your name can still prove significant.
While TV ratings are in decline – although our own hotly-anticipated BRIT Awards has more than held its own in recent years – the social media that did for the Grammys 2018 can also amplify the performers and speeches that do connect. Get the blend of performances, talking points and winners right – while avoiding tone-deaf errors – and the buzz should follow.
Time, in other words, for the Grammys themselves to step up.