Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ten British Singers To Admire

It’s quite upsetting to read the papers every morning, because without fail one of the headlines is going to tell us all about how a musician, previously admired, has gone off the rails. There’s a massive problem in Britain, and not many other countries have it quite as bad as we do, where the media can’t stand to see someone succeeding in life. Not just the media, but the general public too. As the uber-wise Emily Haines once put it, “there’s an obsession with seeing how people aren’t their dreams.” It’s quite sad. And now that Amy Winehouse is a daily fixture in the papers, and it’s impossible to turn a corner without hearing people whispering dirty rumours about Duffy (note: lie), there’s a growing feeling that Britain is losing identity. Step in Wilftonville, heroic champion of the underdog, in all the forms that it can take. We don’t like to see this going on; and we know for an almost fact that what you’d like to read about is something positive, instead.

We can help with this. Instead of picking up a newspaper from now on, we suggest that you bookmark this blog entry, and re-read it every time you feel an interest in what the news of the day might be. It’s difficult to go cold-turkey, but if anyone can do it then you can. Here is a list, of singers who have managed to make us feel proud about Britain again, in their own different ways.

1: Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys, The Last Shadow Puppets)
A young lad from Sheffield, our Alex isn’t afraid of a bit of hard graft from time to time, as proven by his strong workrate over the past three years. He released an album a year with his first band, The Arctic Monkeys, and then went on to release another album earlier this year with a side-project called ‘The Last Shadow Puppets’. All three of ‘em take a look at British culture and declare it revived, in a way. A smart fella with a wry sense of self-deprecating humour, Turner is the sort of person you want at your award ceremony. It doesn’t matter what he’s done, just give him an award of some kind, let him go up to the mike, and enjoy.

2: Alison Goldfrapp (Goldfrapp)
Her music may have been brash and aimed directly at getting people onto the dance-floor, but Alison Goldfrapp has never been the kind of person who could be called socially active. Quite shy in front of a camera (although not as shy as her musical partner, who refuses to take the stage at their concerts), she shows a level of quirkiness that has been a part of Britishness for decades and decades. From Syd Barrett’s music-making to Churchill’s crazy decision to attack Germany for no reason, the British are known for being an odd sort, and Alison Goldfrapp is a pioneer of oddness. Dancing with giant owls, dressing up as an old woman, and all the while singing about breast implants, she needs to be recognised as the modern-day icon that she is.

3: Paul Heaton (The Housemartins, The Beautiful South)
Paul Heaton is from Manchester, a place synonymous with bricklaying, housing estates, and crime. He’s never let this get him down, though, and his songwriting has often tried to make Manchester seem like a much nicer place than it really is (sample lyric: “If rain makes Britain great/then Manchester is greater!”). Heaton is well-known as a collector of anything he can – he collects crisp packets, ‘do not disturb’ signs, and autographs, amongst others. What could be more British than the inbuilt desire to keep as much junk in your house as possible? He’s a funny bloke, too, although his choice to always wear a tracksuit top – even in concert – is baffling.

4: Ricky Wilson (The Kaiser Chiefs)
There was an incident a while ago where Ricky was walking through the streets of Leeds at night (oh what a beautiful sight), but was caught up in a hit-and-run incident, which left him with a broken leg. How, then, was he ever going to be able to complete the tour his band were currently partway through? Why, with a cast on his leg, of course! The dirty humour of Wilson is well-liked in Britain, and his reputation as a cheekie chappie is certainly bolstered by the strong, retro-fitted lyrics he’s given to sing by bandmate Nick Hodgson. With a constant grin on his face, and typically battered, Wilson represents the very noble spirit of stamina. The show must go on, after all.

5: Dame Shirley Bassey
The Dameship alone should be enough to fill you in on her legendary status, but if you want more: she has sung three different James Bond themes. The brassy Welsh diva – was she the first real diva to emerge from music? She’s certainly one of the most beloved – has an extensive career to date, and miraculously her voice has remained as powerful as ever it was. How does she celebrate this? By turning up seemingly every year for the Royal Variety Performance to sing something for the royals, who love it. When she went to Glastonbury to perform for the first time, she was smart enough to bring along wellies to keep her feet safe. However, she was also glam enough to have said wellies encrusted with diamonds that spelt out “DSB” on each leg. Class doesn’t cover it.

6: Dizzee Rascal
This list isn’t a fair representation, as Dizzee Rascal is the only black entrant. But race doesn’t matter – we’re more interested in Dizzee’s personality. As a rapper, you would expect his reputation to be linked with drugs, brawls, and so on. Heck, fighting and drugs were all that kept So Solid Crew in the papers. Yet Dizzee Rascal is not thought of in that sort of way. Instead, he’s seen primarily as a great spokesperson for young Brits, and also as a strong, charismatic performer. These traits, along with his recent barnstorming performance on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman, make him a Brit to be proud of.

7: Jarvis Cocker (Pulp)

Any list of true British heroes, who should only ever be spoken of in faltering, praise-filled hushed tones, is incomplete without Jarvis Cocker. An incredibly articulate and astute man, Jarvis writes songs which capture a moment in great detail, and in doing so raised points about class and culture which reverberated through Government. Although he has chosen to live his life in France, which is a terrible mistake on his part and will probably end in his brutal sacrifice just as soon as the French harvests fail, Jarvis manages to be filled with everything that symbolises Britain. He’s smart and funny, he was raised in Yorkshire, and he takes the piss out of everyone he sees. On top of this, he’s also a superb dancer.

8: Tom Jones

A true gentleman knows how to wear a suit, and Tom Jones can wear a suit better than anyone else in the World. He can also wear not a suit better than anyone else in the World. Continuing the strange trend of powerful singers from Wales (Shirley, Duffy, Cerys Matthews… The Automatic), Mr Tom Jones throws off class and sophistication everywhere he goes, even though somehow he has never lost his ability to appeal to the working man. With a collection of songs which would be the envy of any singer; Mr Jones has managed to sing tunes which have crossed continents and charmed millions of women, the suave geezer. And has he ever been caught up in drugs scandals? Has he ever been sent to rehab because of drinking? No. Because he’s a legend.

9: Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy)
Speaking of gentlemen, Neil Hannon surely epitomises the look of a modern Irishman. Instead of being dressed in the slave dungarees that are traditional for all who work in Ireland down on the potato fields, Hannon wears a suit and can recognise the idea of having a melody in his music, instead of histrionic shouting. Conducting together superb, baroque pieces of orchestra in order to compliment his deft use of words, he has created music that sounds more English than anything the English themselves could ever hope to make. In the process, he has suffered many hardships, but came through them stronger, and his recent output are arguably his best records to date. A superb musician to admire.

10: Kylie Minogue
We're claiming her.

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