Veteran DJ Paul looking forward to BRITS

JO MALONE DJ Paul Gambaccini talks to Jo Malone in the run up to the 25th BRIT Awards, which he has been attending since 1977.

JO MALONE

He's been given a rather smart- looking car to promote this year's music-business BRIT Awards. It's provided by sponsors MasterCard and he's most happy to be photographed beside it, in front of it and inside it. He'll smile masses, too, and pat it confidently.

But don't expect DJ Paul Gambaccini to drive about in the silver Mini Cooper as he tours Britain waving the flag for the 25th anniversary of these prestigious music awards. He's travelling by train, and he likes it that way.

“I am not a great motorist. I don't have a car, I prefer walking,” he says, later adding that Norwich station has some of the best floral displays he's seen in a station.

We like that about Paul Gambaccini. He tells it how it is. He did when he was on Radio 1 for 18 years and still does now he is broadcasting on Radio 2.

So he doesn't make excuses for our groups when asked why there are no obvious Norfolk or Suffolk links to any of the couple of dozen bands nominated for prizes at this year's BRIT Awards.

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“If The Darkness had made a record we would have Norfolk, or Suffolk, links,” he says. “We are in a time where artists take two to three years to make a record. Musicians should be making music and the Darkness should have had a record out to consolidate their success.”

The family of Tom Chaplin, the lead singer of BRIT nominees Keane, are from Norfolk and his extended family were in the audience when the band played in Norwich last year. But Paul draws a blank as he scans the nominations for any other local link to the BRIT Awards, which will be screened on TV a week tomorrow.

“It has been a quiet year for Norfolk,” he says in his understated way.

But even though the BRIT Awards are not going to put our area on the national music map, they will be worth watching.

They began in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Year, 1977, and besides a few early years when there wasn't a ceremony, they have been growing in opulence, celebrities, gossip and profile ever since.

Paul, who has been passionate about music for as long as anyone can remember and remains a veritable encyclopaedia of who wrote, sang and performed what, when and with whom, is most happy with the British music scene.

“Last year was the best year for British pop music since the late 1980s. I was very encouraged. There emerged several artists who generated their own material and across the spectrum of music. This suggests that there was an attitude within them that they want to express themselves rather than take direction,” he says, adding that British music is not just the Simon Cowell (Pop Idol judge and pop-band package creator) industry.

It may have been a good year for British music in 2004, but it is still a long way off Paul's all-time favourite year, which was 1965.

“We had the Rolling Stones, we had Satisfaction, we had Stop In The Name of Love, we had Yesterday, we had Unchained Melody,” he says, clearly ready to list dozens more hits.

He definitely loves music – and he knows why, too. Born in New York City in 1949 and with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from University College Oxford, Paul speaks in a measured and informed way.

“Without sounding like I am going off the deep end, I believe that music is directly related to whatever is divine,” he says.

This, to him, includes the laws of maths and architecture because they are known to be true and to be the same throughout the universe.

“Music at its best is an expression of maths and architecture,” he says, pointing out the architecture of Mozart's music and the maths of Bach's. And it's this divine quality that keeps his interest in music.

“The music that gets me the most is the music that's the most expressive,” he says, and from this year's BRIT nominations, that includes for him Joss Stone's album and The Streets' Dry Your Eyes.

Paul, who currently presents America's Greatest Hits on Radio 2 and Jazz 40 on JazzFM, feels the BRIT Awards are important and the 25th anniversary is an impressive milestone.

“The BRIT Awards have taken on a role in the national life. This year, ITV is giving it an extra half an hour with a 2½-hour programme, an acknowledgement that people are interested. The announcement of the nominations was a TV show in itself. “It has a place in the calendar,” says Paul, who feels our music scene is as strong as ever.

Some fans may suggest it's not as strong as in past years. We have had the news that Top of the Pops is moving from BBC1 to BBC2 and who knows anyone who actually buys singles from the shops any more?

Paul doesn't defend TOTP as he feels a move was inevitable. He says it lost its audience by alienating older fans and trying to cater for the younger sector.

“I thought they were aiming the programme wrong towards the end. The young audience does not have the allegiance to the TOTP brand. The younger audience has all the other music shows and are never going to be as devoted to TOTP as the older generation,” he says.

But he adds that the listening to, and the buying of, music is massive in Britain, showing a thriving music industry. While purchase of physical singles from the shops has fallen so far that there were only 265,000 sold one week earlier this year – the lowest since national weekly figures began in 1969 – downloads from the internet are now huge and are beginning to be more important than physical single sales in the music market.

“The download chart is going to be woven in this year in the UK and the US. Consumption of music is increasing,” says Paul.

He's looking forward to a glittering and exciting BRIT Awards night packed with live performances, and no doubt a few surprises when the winners of each category are announced.

Now spokesman for event sponsors MasterCard, Paul has been donning his dinner suit and attending the awards for years.

“I attended the first one in 1977 and I remember Cliff Richard did a knockout version of Miss You Nights and Simon and Garfunkel had to start Bridge Over Troubled Water six times as they hadn't played together for so long,” he recalls.

t The BRIT Awards with MasterCard take place on February 9 at Earls Court and will be shown on ITV1 the following night.

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