The Week in Arts: The quiet artists who miss out on the awards

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The Independent Online

I've never known a week quite like this one for awards. There was news about them everywhere, without a single one actually being presented to a recipient.

First there were the Golden Globes, where the actors came out, or at least refused to come in, as a gesture of support for the striking writers. Then the Brit Award nominations were announced. And after that we had the Bafta nominations, with Britain's own film awards revelling in the prospect of actually outdoing the Oscars for once, as over here we will be unaffected by the American writers' strike. Let's hope that they aren't wrong-footed by the new burst of film star trades unionism.

Who's to say that this newly discovered solidarity won't cross the Atlantic?

But the award that interested me most was one which didn't seem to get any press attention. It is the Brit Award for lifetime achievement, or "outstanding contribution" as it is officially termed. And it will be given to Sir Paul McCartney.

One can't really argue with that, any more than one could argue with previous winners like David Bowie or Paul Weller or Eric Clapton or The Who or Queen or even Cliff Richard, all of whom have had a distinctive say in the evolution of British rock and pop music.

So have previous winners such as the Spice Girls, Eurythmics and Elton John. One might question why The Police and Sting both got one, Queen and Freddie Mercury likewise, or why McCartney, Lennon, the Beatles and their producer George Martin took up four years' worth. One could certainly raise an eyebrow at U2 and Van Morrison, as Ireland is not actually in Britain; but then Los Angeles became an honorary part of Britain when Fleetwood Mac (with just one British member) got the award, so perhaps we're all Brits when it comes to the Brits.

My bigger problem, looking back over this award, is that some of the best architects of British music have been notably absent. I don't mean the Rolling Stones, who have no wish to have anything to do with something remotely connected with the establishment or the honouring of long service, give or take a knighthood. But what about Ray Davies, surely the archetypal British songwriter, his songs, both with The Kinks and as a solo artist, chronicling not just the zeitgeist but also harking back with a poignant lyricism to a Britain long gone? What about the singer songwriter's singer songwriter Richard Thompson, or his former pioneering folk group Fairport Convention or fellow interpreters of folk music, Steeleye Span? Does music that celebrates and modernises the rich tradition of English folk music not figure at all in an award celebrating British music?

I ask what the reason can be. And yet I'm quite certain that I know what the reason is.

I know why Ray Davies has never received the outstanding contribution award, but Tom Jones has.

I know why the Brit Awards committee might feel nervous about giving the award to Robert Plant or Led Zeppelin, but happily gave it to Duran Duran.

It is because the awards ceremony goes out on prime time TV, and the recipient has to be an artist or band that a prime time TV audience has heard of, listens to on the radio and probably has in their record collections. It's a good way to keep advertisers and sponsors happy. But it's not a good way to run an awards ceremony, or to honour the key figures in contemporary British music.

A step too far for Sir John

When the great opera singer Sir John Tomlinson was drafted in at the 11th hour to play Wotan in Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House last year, he received deserved acclaim from the critics. Both they and the audience were particularly impressed with the 61-year-old's athleticism, not least in his dicing with danger by taking a mighty leap from the stage

at one point. So I was interested in an interview that Tomlinson, above, has just given about the stresses in an opera singer's career. He mentions, en passant, his performance as Wotan, and how that production was difficult for the performers, as it had steep ramps and extreme lighting. He says: "Because of the lighting, I literally walked off the stage. I dropped a couple of feet and landed in a heap. Of course, everybody thought it was part of the production."

Quite what that says about athleticism, critical perception and Wagner's magical mysticism, I'm not sure. But if there's an operatic award for honesty, Sir John should get it.

* The most important spot at any arts venue is the box office. And I have been puzzled in two recent visits to well known venues to find the box office in decidedly odd locations.

The Barbican, after its expensive revamp, has two box offices. One is rightly by the main entrance.

The other is right at the other end of the building. That far off one is the one where you pick up your tickets for that night's performance. It could hardly be less convenient for people rushing in at the last moment to collect their tickets. The Battersea Arts Centre box office has a window on the street, and one has to queue on the street to collect tickets. There is no canopy under which to shelter. When I pointed out to the lady at the box office that this was rather annoying as it was raining, she gave me the immortal reply: "Ah, you should see it when it snows."