Monday, October 21, 2002

GREAT BRITONS? GREAT HAIRY BOOS, MORE LIKE: The BBC has been filling acres of empty air-time ("carrying out an important historical survey") to discover 100 Great Britons. Of course, trying to draw up a list of the 100 greatest people is difficult, especially when you're relying on people from the poorly educated ranks of the early twenty-first century Britons to vote for them. As a consequence, while, say, no visual artist made the list, there was a sizeable collection of music-related people in the 100-10 segment already decided. Even more scarily, John Lennon is one of the ten chosen to slug it out for the all-time title - although since Diana, Princess of Sunbathing is also there, it doesn't seem quite so incongrous somehow. Anyway, here's a rundown of the Great Musical Britons, for those of you who were too busy buffing your gun-metal cigarette cases last night to watch:

Bono - been a good month for Mr Hewson, having been claimed as the most influential person in music and now lauded as one of the hundred greatest people ever to have lived within the British Isles. We actually managed to pull together a list of several thousand greater people, simply by picking up the Liverpool - Residential phone directory and striking out every third name.

David Bowie - if this was a list of Great People in Music, we might have been amongst the first to offer Bowie a glass of cheap supermarket champagne and a small plastic figurine. But when you've only got a hundred slots and several thousand years of history, we're not sure that Absolute Beginners, Laughing Gnome and the nazi salutes should not be enough to keep him out the finalists.

Boy George - ex-smackhead, Sunday Express writer, the singer on Karma Chameleon. He makes the list, George Orwell doesn't. That can't be right, can it?

Richard Branson - now, we - as I'm sure you know - can't stand the grinning PR gnome, but we're inclined to understand the reasons for his inclusion. Although Tubullar Bells and The Stereophonics are both on his rap sheet, for a while he headed up a record label which was prepared to take risks, and his bravery in allowing his gurning visage to be associated with a lot of rubbishy products (the cola, the Stereophonics, the trains) probably deserves some sort of recognition

Michael Crawford - we suspect that somewhere, there are is a sinister cabal of old ladies whose delight in getting The Phantom of the Opera into the 100 is only lessened by the failure of the Marti Webb campaign

Edward Elgar - it's not all pop pop pop, although music is curiously only represented by people working in the twentieth century (although you could stretch a point and suggest that Blake worked, unaware, as a lyricist). Elgar is the oldest of these, and perhaps the most popular. More importantly, he actually came up with something iconic in the form of Land of Hope and Glory

Bob Geldof - much as we wish this award had something to do with getting wanked off by Paula Yates in the back of a car, or even for I Don't Like Mondays, it's probably going to be more to do with Band Aid, isn't it? Nothing for Midge Ure, you'll notice. See, not swearing at people may make you liked, but it'll never make you popular, Midge...

George Harrison - had the good fortune to drop dead during the voting, otherwise he'd have been about as likely to make the final cut as Ringo. On the TV show last night they were clearly trying to drum up reasons why the one who didn't write any of the songs anyone actually liked should have been rubbing shoulders with the top table, and didn't really do any better than us.

John Lydon - admittedly, not the only self-aggrandising hypocrite on the list, but we think it says it all that he was also featured last night speaking up for Enoch Powell. Lydon clearly doesn't have the smarts he so desperately wishes us to see in him, but to make apologies for Powell's stinking "If I'm careful, I can make it seem like it it wasn't me stirring up trouble" speech just marks him out as the sort who was attracted to punk for the excuse to be nasty and brutish, in short.

Paul McCartney - This must hurt. Like a bloody knife, Lennon in the top ten and him left out in the cold of the lower reaches (although, a man who made Give My Regards To Broad Street must have much experience of languishing in the Isthmian, the Ryman, the DocMartens leagues.) It pains us to say it, but he's probably got as much right to be here as anyone else - you can't ignore the Beatles impact and aftershocks, even if you're not stuck in Yellowsubmarinepool. And as one half of the powerhouse behind, he'd have to be included we reckon. That's our teeth gnashing, that noise, by the way.

Freddie Mercury - Okay, I have to say, I really don't get it. Yes, popular at the time, and you can see why their pantomimic pop would have been pleasing, offering a slightly more macho version of glam/ less uninviting take on metal / briefer reworking of prog. But the continued dominance of Bohemian Rhapsody in Best Ever polls, and Dame Freddie fopping in next to Nye Bevan and Boudaceia -why, in God's name? How does anyone make the leap from 'fairly amusing musical act' to 'greatest person who ever lived'? And how do so many people make the shift that he actually comes so high up in the listing? Is it just that the teaching of history and the permanence of memory has eroded so far in the UK that 1976 is pretty much as far as people can grope backwards without fear of dinosaurs and getting lost?

John Peel - winningly, Peel popped up to say that he thought he was being set up for some sort of hidden camera show when he was told of his inclusion in the chart. I'd be tempted to put him on my list of the Greatest Living Englismen, and, yeah, given enough to choose, I'd certainly include him in an all-time list. While Lydon may have defined punk (albeit to a recipe dictated by McLaren, using ingredients made by the New York Dolls), Peel championed punk. However, Peel had already championed glam and rock, and would go on to champion a million other forms of music, while Lydon went on to become a club class, club bore.

Robbie Williams - the presence of Robbie Williams in the poll winners casts the air of credibility enjoyed by the returning office in Baghdad over proceedings. We suspect that the pile of votes written in sparkly gel pens on My Little Pony notepaper wasn't lost behind a BBC radiator simply to demonstrate how impartial and fair the process had been - "see" says the presence of Williams, "so equally was every vote treated, we even resisted the understandable and righteous temptation to anull votes for The Bloke Who Was In Take That and Sings A Bit in the interest of making the event seem a bit more solidly based." Well, that's how we're choosing to see it, anyway.

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