Backstage at the Brits, and everyone's looking for Charlie; ROCK

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Indy Lifestyle Online
No rude words from Oasis, then. No deflation of a megalomaniac's ego. All there was for Tuesday's papers to report about this year's Brit Awards was that the Spice Girls strutted away with two prizes - and that was merely an excuse to print pictures of Geri wearing (only just) her Union Jack dress. Still, if you actually took the awards seriously, I suppose that "Wannabe" being deemed a superior single to those of The Prodigy, Underworld and the Manic Street Preachers must have seemed like a controversial decision. And if you didn't think so beforehand, you would have done after the Manics played their nominated single, "A Design For Life", at Earl's Court on Monday. It was a performance to raise the hairs on the back of the neck, and it served as an emotive finale to a year which saw the band completely vindicated. If James Bradfield's voice veered out of tune on almost every line, that was only because it was so laden with passion.

The Manics certainly provided the evening's musical highlight. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince's dated, glossy funk, the Bee Gees' medley, and the duet between Diana Ross and Jamiroquai were all acceptable but forgettable. The most notable points were that The Artist had on the high heels that David Bowie wore last year, Ross had the same long wig/wind machine interface problems that dogged Madonna two years ago, and the Bee Gees sounded suspiciously like three comedians putting on squeaky voices in order to do a Bee Gees impression. The main debate of the evening was whether Skunk Anansie's gutsy, grinding, sleaze-dripping metal version of "Teenage Kicks" was a triumph or a disaster. I was of the former opinion: Skunk Anansie were, after all, the only band that attempted something different for the occasion.

If the ceremony was well-run, entertaining but hardly outstanding, at least Tuesday's televisation was no worse. ITV had learnt their lesson from last year, when they censored the very incidents that made the event worth watching. This time around, to their credit, they included Irvine Welsh's salute to the Liverpool dockers and Nicky Wire's protest on behalf of the comprehensive schools "which the Government is trying to eradicate". A little bit of politics, as Ben Elton, the show's host, would say. Most daringly of all, ITV broadcast the evening's best joke, which dealt with the prickly topic of pop stars and cocaine. "Charlie, wherever you are, can you make yourself known," requested a beatific Mrs Merton. "They're all asking for you backstage ..." For bloody-minded subversiveness, Caroline Aherne's wicked grandmother was this year's Jarvis Cocker.

As for the segments which were left on the cutting-room floor: that was probably the best place for them. You needn't lose any sleep over missing half of Crispian Mills' prattish speech, a joke apiece from Frank Skinner and Eddie Izzard, and several from Elton. He was an enthusiastic, professional MC, but apart from the endearing, desperate-for-the-toilet shuffle-dancing he did to the music, his most amusing moment was saying that George Michael was "a great choice" for Best British Male, and I'm not sure that that was meant to be a joke.

The organisers had a sense of humour, though. Why else would they have had Samantha Fox accepting the Best Dance Act award on behalf of The Prodigy? And wasn't it cruel to make Naomi Campbell present the prize for Best British Female, when her own pop career never made it off the runway, let alone the catwalk? The sadists will have her presenting the Booker next.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Gene concert in the Southampton Guildhall the other day. I was listening to their first album and I found myself being shocked by how sparkling and unforced it was. Olympian (Costermonger) was largely overlooked on its release in 1995, partly because there were so many excellent albums coming out at the same time, and partly because it sounded so much like the Smiths, despite the band's protestations to the contrary - and my goodness, there were plenty of those. In an attempt to make more of a splash with their second album, Drawn to the Deep End, Gene have let their music become ever louder and more grandiose. Not a wise idea: They'd do better to leave hard rock out of the Gene pool. On "Fighting Fit", for instance, Martin Rossiter's voice strains painfully out of its range, and Matt James, the drummer, sounds as if he is beating time on a slave galley.

These failings are exaggerated in concert. Sad to say, Gene are a barely competent live band, with no idea of how to give their show decent sound quality, let alone structure or momentum. Rossiter has formulated a mannered, buttoned-up persona - he wears a grey suit, and has a Superman kiss-curl falling over his square forehead - but it's no substitute for natural charisma. He seems to sense this himself, and is unsure of whether to stick to his over-rehearsed banter or not.

So, one wonders where Gene would be without Steve Mason. Quite apart from being the only handsome member of the band, in a young-mod sort of way, his guitar-playing is pretty, flowing and unflashy, like Dave Gilmour without the pomp. His subtlety is all the more impressive considering he has to put up with Rossiter bursting a blood vessel on his right and James playing Space Odyssey drums on his left. If the rest of Gene were to follow Mason's example, and to realise that imitating Aerosmith is a worse move than imitating the Smiths, they might realise their potential for Gene genius. Rossiter has the writing skill, but if he's going to go around telling people he's one of the century's best lyricists, he can't get away with rhyming "hates" with "delicate".

Gene: Nottingham Rock City (0115 9412544), tonight; Norwich UEA (01603 505401), Mon; Exeter Univ (01392 263538), Tues; Bristol Colston Hall (0117 922 3682), Wed.

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