David Lister: Have the Brit Awards really run out of lifetime achievers?

The Week in Arts
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The Brits are a highlight of the music calendar.

While the Mercury Music Prize is a sombre affair, fittingly presided over by a professor of music, the Brits are pure showbiz both on stage and behind the scenes. When Fleetwood Mac received a special award they requested that their dressing room be painted beige. For medicinal purposes, I gather.

This week, changes to the annual pop awards were announced, including a redesign by Vivienne Westwood of the bronze, helmeted female statuette, and a revamp of the voting academy. I have to approve of the revamp of the voting academy, as I have been invited to be on the new academy, though I look forward to mass student protests demanding that voting academy members be paid.

Another major change is the scrapping of the "outstanding contribution" award, effectively a lifetime achievement prize. This was won last year by Robbie Williams, and in the past has gone to Paul McCartney, the Bee Gees, Oasis, and with a liberal interpretation of the word Brit to Bob Geldof, U2 and those beige lovers, Fleetwood Mac.

I wonder why this is being scrapped. Perhaps the organisers feel that they have run out of lifetime achievers, especially those that will appeal to a prime-time ITV audience, unfortunately a much bigger consideration in determining the outstanding achievement award than you might think.

There's no shortage of outstanding achievers in British music who remain unrewarded. Quite why Ray Davies, one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 20th century, has never made it on to the list is beyond me. His chronicling of English life in his days with the Kinks must rank as an outstanding achievement. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music are also curious absentees.

And then there is that host of British talent that doesn't fall into an easily identifiable pop category, but has contributed hugely to the development of British music. Take Richard Thompson and others such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span who grew out of the folk boom of the Sixties. I suspect their names have never been mentioned at a Brits committee meeting, but they would be imaginative and different choices, which would highlight an area of British music neglected at awards ceremonies.

Come to that, don't the Clash have a special place in the development of British music, or the Stranglers or Madness or so many others? Britpop, too, took place long enough ago to merit an outstanding achievement award. Damon Albarn, for his work with Blur and in promoting world music, should be in with a shout, as should Blur themselves. A performance by a reunited Blur would round off the Brits evening nicely. So would performances by other acts who have not made it on to the outstanding achievement podium, such as those little known pub bands Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Again I sense a fear of what ITV might or might not like taking precedence over artistic considerations.

There's no shortage of outstanding achievements in British rock and pop music, just a shortage of imagination among the organisers of the award, if they really think that they have exhausted all possibilities.

Opera house needs a reality check

The Royal Opera House launched a reality TV approach to opera and ballet, putting out a spoof TV talk show. The Jerry Springer-style show depicts three "real life" stories based on famous operas – Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet and Rigoletto.

The result is three clips: "I'm a slave in my own home, I want to divorce my family" (Cinderella), "My racist father is holding me hostage" (Romeo and Juliet) and "I'm sleeping with my father's boss, behind his back!" (Rigoletto).

I'm certainly don't want to knock it. Opera and ballet need new audiences and younger audiences, and anything is worth a try. But, surely everyone knows the story of Cinderella. It doesn't need a spoof talk show to bring home the plot or its drama. Likewise, in broad outline, Romeo and Juliet. Viewers won't be any wiser or any more inclined to see the productions after the spoof than they are now.

As for Rigoletto – "I'm sleeping with my father's boss behind his back." That's the plot of Rigoletto? The Royal Opera House needs to mug up on classic opera. "I was kidnapped by my father's boss's servants and forcibly handed over to him" is more like it. Actually that might have got more people to buy tickets. Back to the drawing board, I'm afraid.

Flying auctioneers reach new heights

Congratulations to leading French art dealer Bertrand Epaud of the Opera Gallery in Paris, who is to hold the first auction of great art – and his gallery has works by Picasso and Dali – on an aeroplane. Mr Epaud has done a deal with the airline Etihad to have the auction on a flight between Europe and the Middle East. It will, he says, be a marvellous way of using up that dead time in a long plane journey. "How do you catch a top businessman?" he said to me. "I will have them there for seven hours."

Sounds good. Except, I'm informed by an art lawyer, contracts signed in mid-air are not valid. So if you want a Picasso or a Dali dirt cheap...