If Ed Sheeran gets a Mobo nomination, it's high time to kill them off

The week in arts: The pointlessness of Mobo, an embarrassing encounter with Marc Quinn and Margaret Thatcher by moonlight

David Lister
Saturday 03 November 2012 01:01
Jessie J poses during the MOBO Awards 2011 at the SECC on October 5, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Jessie J poses during the MOBO Awards 2011 at the SECC on October 5, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Warning: these awards patronise black musicians": I'm still thinking about whether to march up and down outside the Mobo Awards tonight with a sandwich board bearing this message. I should. I've written similar things before about the most absurd awards in the arts calendar. And I'm astonished that they still continue, illogical, and ill thought-out, yet carefully packaged with political correctness to avoid overt protest at their retrograde nature.

"Music of Black Origin". What on Earth does that mean? It's certainly hard to know, when previous winners have included white chanteuses like Jessie J and Joss Stone, who learned her trade on the mean streets of Paignton. Surely The Rolling Stones, who are about to tour and with more of a black blues heritage than most bands living, should be up for an award tonight.

It's not just the blues, of course. The origins of rock'*'roll, with early stalwarts Chuck Berry and Little Richard, are steeped in black music. So pretty much any band going should by rights be eligible for a Mobo. The Mobos, when they started in 1996 were solely for black artists. But the organisers must have realised how separatist and ghettoising that appeared, especially in an industry which is thankfully all embracing, and in which there is also thankfully no shortage of black stars. So they rapidly moved to celebrating urban music – another term which does not always bear too much analysis – and now the ludicrously vague Music of Black Origin. The nominees at tonight's ceremony in Liverpool include Plan B, Tulisa and Jessie Ware. Music of Black Origin? Maybe, but, as I say, which artists could really claim not to owe something to the blues and to rock'*'roll?

I've long wondered why others don't protest about these awards, and, happily, this year someone else has come out against the Mobos. The singer/producer Labrinth said about tonight's awards: "I think it's a bit weird because Ed Sheeran doesn't make black music, and neither does Conor Maynard – he makes commercial pop. Even I'm not making black music."

Labrinth's views are interesting, not least because he is nominated for four awards at tonight's Mobos. If a four-time nominee thinks they make no sense, then surely it's time to call a halt. I hope Labrinth has his sandwich board ready.

Black musicians don't need this patronising gesture, white musicians don't need an award that is all but meaningless, and the music industry doesn't need to be dragged back to its unhealthy, separatist past.

Musical wheels within wheels in Moscow

British art and artists are thriving in Russia. I have just been to Moscow to see a fine exhibition in the Kremlin about the Tudors and Stuarts, with a number of objects and paintings lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum. An exhibition on a related theme will be staged at the V&A next year. I took the opportunity while there to attend the opening at Moscow's Multimedia Museum of a retrospective by Marc Quinn. The exhibition is called The Big Wheel Keeps On Turning. I said to Quinn, proudly, that I knew where the line came from. It was a lyric from a Dire Straits song. He looked a bit blank and responded that in fact he had taken the phrase from a Massive Attack song. The lyric is used by both bands, but it's tough with art these days. Getting the musical attribution wrong can probably get you barred from an art history course. It certainly gets you a funny look from the artist.

The lady was for turning, on the dancefloor at least

As the season approaches for people to choose their books of the year, I would certainly put in my top five a just-published autobiography by former Fleet Street journalist John Izbicki, whom I, also a one time education journalist, knew when he covered education for The Daily Telegraph. It is a fascinating history, not just of newspapers, but of his personal life, fleeing Nazi Germany, as a child in the 1930s.

I was particularly intrigued by his tale of an occasion, in the 1970s, when Margaret Thatcher was education minister, and she was being subjected to fierce questioning by journalists during an evening of dance at a teachers' conference. The chivalrous Izbicki came to her rescue by asking: "Do you dance Mrs Thatcher?" He then whirled her around the room before asking if she had seen Scarborough by moonlight. She hadn't, so he took her for a walk to do just that.

In all the years that followed, just think how many people, not least journalists, suffered the sharp edge of the Thatcher tongue. All the time, the solution to gaining her confidence and trust was so easy – it was just a dance and a walk in the moonlight.

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