David Lister: The Week in Arts

How to gatecrash with style and panache
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The Independent Online

There are too many award ceremonies, and most of them are self-congratulatory and boring. But this week something wonderful happened at an awards ceremony, something unexpected, something deliciously embarrassing. It made awards ceremonies almost seem worthwhile.

The blessed Deborah Harry and her band Blondie were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some of the original members of Blondie are still in the band; some are not. As the band was being inducted, there was a commotion in the hall. Two of Blondie's original but now discarded members had shown up at the ceremony and demanded to be inducted. They would not be moved. To the horror of the current Blondies, the ex-Blondies mounted the stage.

At this point there was that real rarity of awards ceremonies, a very public row. Deborah Harry turned on her erstwhile colleagues and snarled at them, evidently wanting them to leave the stage. But they weren't going anywhere. In the end, Harry and her guitarist and former lover Chris Stein, who have been embroiled in a long period of infighting over financial issues with the other original members, had to agree to allow their one-time bassist Nigel Harrison and former guitarist Frank Infante to join in the induction. However, the invitation did not extend to their set, which included a couple of their hits. How inappropriate the titles suddenly seemed to the warring former bandmates on stage. The first was "Call Me". This was followed by "Rapture".

On the podium, Infante tried to play with the band, asking with mock humility, "Debbie, are we allowed?" She snapped: "Can't you see my real band is up there?" Infante retorted: "I thought Blondie was being inducted."

I love it. Until this point I had thought the highlight of award ceremonies was one I had attended in which a teary Vanessa Redgrave thanked the stage carpenter. But Deborah Harry's shoot-out with her former band members beats even that. It does provoke a couple of questions. How did the ex-Blondies (with their instruments) get into the event? Did the organisers invite them hoping for a showdown?

Well, good on them. I have some sympathy with the ex-Blondies. The thing about lifetime achievement awards, particularly in rock music, is that they often commemorate an outfit whose personnel has changed over the years. But the original members are entitled to feel that they have a right to be recognised, generally in the citation and, yes, physically on the day of the award.

The ex-Blondies have ushered in this week a new arts prize, the gatecrashing award. At last, awards ceremonies can be interesting, unpredictable and truly dramatic. It just needs disgruntled non-recipients to gatecrash them. My ideal awards gatecrashers will not enter into any argument. They will simply take to the stage at the same time as the official award winners, smile at the audience, thank their parents, shed a couple of tears and begin playing, while the official award winners just gawp.

How this week's event must have brought mischievous smiles to various drummers, bassists and keyboard players, as they wait for lifetime achievement awards to be bestowed upon their more illustrious band colleagues.

Their time has come. Let's have as many as possible from the ranks of the musically disgruntled following in the footsteps of the ex-Blondies. And at the end of the year I will announce on this page the winners of the annual Award Ceremony Gatecrashing Awards.

A world beyond London?

The Royal Shakespeare Company is staging a riveting production by Dominic Cooke of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. How strange, though, that the RSC programmed it only for a meagre four-week run.

I went to see it this week and was enthralled by Iain Glen's intensely affecting portrayal of John Proctor, the farmer caught up in the Salem witch hunts. I'd like to say that Glen, right, was a dead cert for a major award, but of course he wasn't. The top theatre prizes, the Laurence Olivier Awards, go only to productions that have been seen in London, which is a dreadful snub to shows staged outside the capital. Fortunately the West End producers Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright have decided to bring The Crucible to the Gielgud Theatre next month.

Ms Holt tells me one of the prime reasons was that this unmissable production should be eligible for honours. In the longer term, the London-centric bias of the Oliviers must change. It's patronising, to say the least.

* The trustees of the V&A are meeting next week to discuss the future of one of their holdings, the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. It is possible that this item is on their agenda only so that they can give the Theatre Museum a resounding vote of confidence. But that's not how things work, and closure looks a likely option.

I hope that some tribute to theatre can remain. Part of the problem is the word "museum". Theatre and museum are two contradictory notions. Theatre is live, in your face, involves the unpredictably of human beings and is constantly changing. The trustees should keep their Covent Garden venue and keep it as a permanent tribute to theatre. It should include live performance, film of seminal productions, and provocative debate. There could even be a drama and dance school on site. And it should not, repeat not, be called a museum.

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