Paul Gambaccini: Ivor & me - celebrating a 25-year relationship
The broadcaster is proud to be hosting the Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting again this year. He tells Kate Youde why he is backing Adele to win
Sunday 13 May 2012
When Paul Gambaccini hosts the Ivor Novello Awards on Thursday, he will have his eye on Adele. Not because the 22-year-old singer has four nominations, but to check her posture. "I will be watching: is Miss Adkins slouching?" he says. "Am I boring?"
This is not paranoia on the part of a radio DJ who can hold the attention of millions of listeners nor even a nod to etiquette, but the voice of experience. "I gave a talk at the BRIT School a few years ago and there was this girl in the front row slouching and I thought to myself: 'Am I boring?' " he recalls. "And later on, I found out that that was Miss Adkins."
The 63-year-old broadcaster must be doing something right: this is his 25th year hosting the annual awards, presented by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. Thursday's ceremony marks the first time there has been an all-female album shortlist, with Adele, PJ Harvey and Kate Bush vying for the prize. This reflects the fact the "female voice is currently the dominant voice in popular music", says Gambaccini.
He is clearly proud of his Ivors role. "I have been uniquely privileged to welcome the country's leading songwriters and recording artists at the moment of their greatest happiness, because they come to the stage and they've just had the news that their peers think they're good. And that makes them far happier than winning a critics' prize or a public prize because the Ivors are chosen by fellow songwriters and composers."
Born in New York, Gambaccini studied at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he was the top-rated DJ and general manager of the biggest student radio station in the United States, and at University College, Oxford, where he also wrote for Rolling Stone magazine. He got his big radio break in 1973, when John Walters, John Peel's producer, offered him a slot on a new Radio 1 rock magazine programme.
It was while at Radio 1, in 1984, that he says a News of the World reporter telephoned to say it was in his best interests to meet him at once because the paper was considering running a story about him. Gambaccini agreed to meet at Patisserie Valerie "because I thought at least I'd get a good cake out of it".
"The story was that I had had sex with a No 1 male pop star on the floor of my kitchen during my birthday party while the guests, who included Boy George, watched," he says. "Well, the only true thing about that story was that my kitchen did indeed have a floor. Everything else was false. Anyway, this was during the Murdoch reign of terror, when they would come for anyone they thought would help the circulation of the newspaper and, at that time, I was a Radio 1 DJ, I was out, and they wanted scandal." The story never ran.
A founding presenter on Classic FM, Gambaccini today presents a BBC Radio 2 show and chairs the BBC Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. This year, those episodes of the show previously recorded in Manchester have moved to Salford. This throws up an unlikely revelation: Gambaccini, the New Yorker, is "one-eighth Salfordian". "Now this is not part of my image because of my surname and I am half-Italian, but my mother's mother's parents emigrated from England; they got married in Salford cathedral, moved to London, emigrated to America," he says. "So bizarrely, I'm probably the only BBC broadcaster who can say that when I go up to Salford, I'm going home."
His actual home is a penthouse apartment on London's South Bank. A row of trophies, including one marking his induction into the British Softball Federation Hall of Fame, stands on the piano; a slew of memorabilia illustrates his passion for comics. But it is the walls that reveal him as the "Professor of Pop": floor-to-ceiling bookcases house CDs featuring every piece of music he loves or may wish to play on the radio.
No doubt this includes "Someone Like You", which he hopes wins on Thursday and on which he thinks Adele and Dan Wilson "reached a peak of song craft". Whatever the outcome, Adele's achievements are such that Gambaccini, who will have a civil partnership ceremony with his partner, Christopher, next month before getting married in New York, believes the 57th Ivors is important.
"I mean, she's sold 22m albums so far, when the music business assumed no one would ever do that again, so she has defied every trend and every expectation," he says. "This is history in the making." Adele may be slouching, but the broadcaster is sitting up and listening.
Paul Gambaccini's Ivors memories
Stevie Wonder Sang part of his 2001 acceptance speech. "To have Stevie Wonder singing, with his full emotional commitment, was an honour for everyone who was there."
Coldplay The band didn't show for "Viva La Vida" in 2009. "The minute I left the stage at the end, there were these two people who went up to try to pilfer the Coldplay statue."
Midge Ure & Bob Geldof Before becoming Ivors host, Gambaccini presented an award for "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in 1985.
Marlon Richards He collected a special award on behalf of his father, Keith, of the Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger, in 2005. "He said, 'This is going on eBay tomorrow', so that was not in the spirit of humility and modesty that so many others exhibit."
Lily Allen A multiple winner in 2010, she "shed a couple of tears, totally non-image; the person really came through".
The Shamen The band sent a video message in 1993 when winning Songwriters of the Year. "I just thought to myself, 'You're never going to win this again and there will come a time when you will wish you had been here'."
Elton John The singer is "always good value. For a combination of wit and irreverence, Elton John is your man."
Nominations for the 57th Ivor Novello Awards
Best song musically & lyrically
"Rolling in the Deep", written by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, performed by Adele; "Shake It Out" (Paul Epworth, Kid Harpoon and Florence Welch) Florence + The Machine; "The A Team", written and performed by Ed Sheeran
Best contemporary song
"Promises" (Joseph Ray, Daniel Stephens and Alana Watson) Nero; "The Wilhelm Scream", (James Blake and James Litherland) James Blake; "Video Games" (Lana Del Rey and Justin Parker) Lana Del Rey.
Best original film score
"Life in a Day", composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert; "The First Grader" (Alex Heffes); "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (Jonny Greenwood)
Best television soundtrack
"Leonardo" (Mark Russell); "Page Eight", (Paul English); "The Shadow Line" (Martin Phipps)
Most performed work
"Rolling in the Deep" (Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth) Adele; "Someone Like You" (Adele Adkins and Dan Wilson) Adele; "The Flood" (Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams) Take That
21 (Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth) Adele; 50 Words For Snow, written and performed by Kate Bush; Let England Shake, written and performed by PJ Harvey.
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