Boozy Brits always put on a good show
Ed Power on the highs and lows of these top awards
If only all awards ceremonies were as boozy and uproarious as The Brits. While The Oscars specialise in teary acceptance speeches and The Grammys inevitably descend into an orgy of gratuitous backslapping, the Brits feature drunken rock stars doing what is, after all, part of the job description: making idiots of themselves in public. So it'll be interesting to see just what happens at tonight's show.
From Liam Gallagher's verbal assault and battery on Michael Hutchence to Jarvis Cocker's attempt to puncture Michael Jackson's ego by dancing effetely, the Brits have never failed to shock, terrify and delight.
For instance, how many other awards spectacles would, as tonight's show does, find room both for a duet between Dizzee Rascal and Florence And The Machine and a nomination for Pope Benedict ? (B-Diddy is up for best classical album for the record Alma Mater -- Music from the Vatican).
Surely the most high-profile Brits controversy was Pulp frontman Cocker's attempted bum-rushing of Michael Jackson's 1996 centrepiece performance of 'Earth Song'. Somewhat the worse for wear and offended by what he regarded as Jacko's attempt to portray himself as a Jesus figure, Cocker left his seat and vaulted onto the stage.
Before being arrested he managed to wiggle his bottom provocatively at an audience which couldn't make its mind up whether to be amused or appalled. One person who definitely didn't see the funny side was Jackson -- he lamented the stunt as "disgusting and cowardly", and said he felt "sickened, shocked, upset, cheated and angry" (a bit like anyone who had shelled out 20 quid for the HIStory album, then).
Finally released from police custody at 3am, Cocker was unbowed. He castigated the music industry for indulging Jacko's fantasies, claiming they were "a bit sick". In a strange twist, it emerged that comedian Bob Mortimer -- who also happened to be a qualified solicitor -- intervened on Jarvis' behalf and managed to spring him from jail.
The Britpop era was a high-water mark for bad behaviour at the Brits. At that same 1996 ceremony, Liam Gallagher launched a chillingly nasty tirade against INXS singer Michael Hutchence as the Australian presented Oasis frontman with an trophy. Swaggering up to the mic, Gallagher took pleasure in turning the knife of the hapless Australian, sneering "has-beens shouldn't be giving awards to gonna-bes".
As you would expect, Oasis have had a stormy relationship with the Brits. In 2000, Liam was dragged into another controversy when his 'beef' with Robbie Williams overshadowed the ceremony. Collecting an award, Williams hijacked his own acceptance speech, challenging the lairy Gallagher to a public boxing match, with the winner pocketing £100,000.
Also in 2000, DJ Brandon Block -- having obviously availed of the free bar at very great length -- lurched mistakenly on stage to accept a gong. In fact, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood was about to announce the winner of 'best soundtrack' and was, putting it mildly, rather miffed at being confronted by Block. An altercation ensued, culminating in Wood flinging a glass of water in Block's face.
You could say the Brits are the entertainment industry equivalent of the Christmas office party. Irresponsible antics are tolerated so long as you have the decency to appear vaguely embarrassed the next day. There are exceptions, however. In 1998 Dan Nobacon of protest rock band Chumbawamba took the concept of direct action a mite too far and upended a bucket of ice water over British deputy prime minster John Prescott.
Recently, the Brits has become rather slicker and more grown-up, as would have been clear to anyone who saw The Pet Shop Boys cuddling up to The Killers' Brandon Flowers and Lady GaGa in 2009. Still, like an ageing lager lout, it hasn't entirely shed its bad-boy ways. Three years ago, Russell Brand -- quelle surprise -- kicked up something of a firestorm with some poorly judged japes about UK politician David Cameron, Robbie Williams and, most controversially, the death by "friendly fire" of British troops in Iraq.
"I think a good international breakthrough would be if the British and American soldiers tell each other where they are standing," he quipped.
"Alternatively they could use a system I learned at school, where one team takes off their tops and the others don't. This makes the team distinction clear. It allows you to see fat lads' boobs, which can really lift the mood in a drab football match -- or indeed a war."
In Brits folklore, though, no year has gone down in infamy quite like 1992. Receiving an award for best band, The KLF's Bill Drummond decided the perfect way to demonstrate his gratitude would be to shower the crowd in buckets of blood. Talked out of it by the KLF's lawyers, Drummond instead peppered the room with blank machine gun fire and dumped a dead sheep at the post-awards dinner. Beat that, Lady GaGa.
The Brit Awards are televised live on ITV1 tonight, starting at 8pm