Golden age of home-grown music fuelled by downloads

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The music industry has hailed 2006 as a new golden age for British rock and pop after UK artists achieved their best sales figures in nearly a decade.

A slew of strong-selling debuts from the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Corinne Bailey Rae and a buzz around digital formats saw British performers take a 61.9 per cent share of sales.

Seven of the top 10 albums of the year were by British acts with Snow Patrol's Eyes Open the biggest seller, selling more than 1.5 million copies. Another four British acts sold more than a million copies of their albums - Take That, Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks and Razorlight. Altogether, this was the best result since 1997, a year when The Spice Girls, The Verve, Oasis and The Prodigy dominated the charts.

Announcing the figures yesterday, Peter Jamieson, chairman of the British Phonogoraphic Industry, said: "Two years ago, we predicted we were entering a new golden age for British music.

"These numbers confirm that British music is going through an outstandingly creative period which is capturing the imagination of music buyers." He praised British record labels for finding and promoting a diverse range of talent.

All three top-selling albums in 2006 were from acts - Snow Patrol, Take That and the American band Scissor Sisters - signed to the UK label Polydor.

There were 14 debut albums from British artists in the top 100 compared with eight the year before. They included the singer-songwriters James Morrison and Paulo Nutini, The Fratellis, Lily Allen and Shayne Ward, the winner of the 2005 X Factor contest.

It was a year when the internet came into its own with Arctic Monkeys fans generating an enormous buzz around the young Sheffield band even before the release of their first single.

Their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, became the fastest-selling debut album of all time, with more than 363,000 sales in the first week of release. It was the most successful debut of the year.

And downloading moved from being the preserve of the clued-up music geek to the norm. Digital accounted for 79 per cent of all singles sales with the biggest single of the year, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy", selling in excess of 400,000.

The numbers are so high that they finally prompted a rethink of the charts, which are now being prepared under a new system which will include all digital releases irrespective of whether an accompanying physical format is being made available.

The first charts compiled by the Official Charts Company under the new rules will be released tomorrow.

Some retailers fear that this might encourage record labels to abandon physical formats altogether in the long-run.

But Peter Jamieson said the rebirth of the singles market driven by downloads proved that music could reinvent itself through new technology.

"Just a couple of years ago, some commentators predicted the death of the single," he said. "We are now looking at a market which has doubled in three years, thanks to downloads."

The singles market was up 39.7 per cent in 2006 thanks to the massive increase in downloads, returning it to the sort of levels seen in the 1990s. Digital album sales have also increased although they still comprise only 1.4 per cent of the total album market. Some British artists have secured corresponding success in America, which has traditionally proved a tough market to crack. Both James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" and Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten" made the year-end top 10 singles chart.

And Blunt joined K T Tunstall and Bailey Rae in hitting the American albums chart as well.

Then and now


* Oasis

Oasis's rivalry with Blur dominated Nineties Britpop. In 1997 the band released its third studio album, Be Here Now, which broke UK sales records in its first week, topped the chart for five weeks and sold eight million copies worldwide.

* Spice Girls

The Spice Girls' debut album, Spice, was released in November 1996, selling 3 million copies in the UK, where it stayed at No 1 in the charts for 15 weeks. The album sold 8 million copies in Europe, where it was the biggest-selling album of 1997.

* The Prodigy

The Prodigy's third album, The Fat of the Land, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. It caused controversy with the videos for "Firestarter" and "Smack My Bitch Up". The album stayed at No 1 for six weeks in the UK and also topped the charts in the US, selling more than two million copies.

* The Verve

The Verve's third album, Urban Hymns, went to No 1 for six weeks in the UK in 1997, selling more than 3 million copies. Hit singles from the album included "Bittersweet Symphony" and "The Drugs Don't Work", the band's only UK No 1.

* Radiohead

The Oxford band's critically acclaimed third album, OK Computer, went to No 1 in the UK for two weeks. It won a Grammy for best alternative music performance.


* Arctic Monkeys

The Sheffield band famously achieved success through handed-out demos and word-of-mouth on the internet. Their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not was the fastest-selling debut in UK chart history and won the Mercury Music Prize.

* The Kooks

The Kooks 2006 debut, Inside In - Inside Out, sold more than one million copies in the UK. They will be recording their second album in early 2007, before playing at UK and US festivals in the year.

* Razorlight

Following two years of success, Razorlight's second album, Razorlight, consolidated their position as the students' favourite. They will be touring extensively in the UK during spring 2007.

* Lily Allen

The singer's first album, Alright, Still, was well received in mid-2006, with the single "Smile" forming the soundtrack to many people's summers. She is currently on tour in Japan and Australia.

* Corinne Bailey Rae

Bailey Rae's eponymous debut album of 2006 entered the UK charts at No 1 and garnered three Grammy nominations. Rumoured to have been recording in late 2006, Bailey Rae will be touring in the UK, Europe, Japan and Canada throughout the first months of 2007.

Michael Begg