A four-time Brit Award winner, and current holder of British Female Solo Artist title, Emeli Sandé released her first solo single in 2011. Within a year Sandé was as ubiquitous as Union Jacks during the 2012 London Olympics, appearing at both the opening and closing ceremonies and propelling her star across the globe. Before those incredible Games we were lucky enough to welcome Sandé here to Southbank Centre, where she performed as part of Equals Live at the 2012 WOW - Women of the World festival alongside Annie Lennox - herself an incredible eight-time Brit Award winner.
Forgive the shaky blurry footage, whilst Tom Jones may remain as evergreen as the grass of home, mobile phone screen resolution was not always what it is now. You see, whilst it’s not unusual for Brit Award winning giants of Welsh music to play Southbank Centre - indeed we’ve often seen Jones’ fellow countrywoman Shirley Bassey here on the Royal Festival Hall stage - it is perhaps a little less familiar to see such musical royalty busking on the riverside. Ten years ago Jones, who won the British Male Solo Artist Brit Award in 2000, pitched up outside Southbank Centre with a guitarist as part of a competition among musicians for BBC's Culture Show to see who could raise the most money for charity by busking. We’re not sure how much Jones raised, but he certainly pulled in a crowd.
No other musical award role-call is as eclectic as that of The Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act at the turn of the millennium. A treasure-trove of the the brilliant and bizarre, with no respect for genre or category; it is music’s equivalent of the middle aisle at Lidl. Where else could you find Cornershop and Gomez going up against Cleopatra and Steps? Or Belle & Sebastian succeeded as winners by S Club 7? In 2001 boyband A1 lifted the award ahead of some band called Coldplay, whatever happened to them?
But we digress. Before it’s midlife crisis the Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act was a little more on the mark when it came to picking out big names, with past winners including Culture Club, Gabrielle, Oasis and Lisa Stansfield. Sandwiched between Bros and Betty Boo, Stansfield lifted the Breakthrough Act award in 1990, before going on to collect the Brit for British Female Solo Artist in 1991 and 1992. An incredibly talented singer-songwriter we’ve been lucky enough to welcome Stansfield onto our stage on several occasions; most recently in 2014 when, with a nod to her Lancastrian routes, she appeared at the Royal Festival Hall flanked by Northern Soul dancers.
The 2017 winner of the Brit Award for British Male Solo Artist, Bowie was awarded the title posthumously, a year after his death. It was the second time Bowie’s name had appeared on the trophy, having first lifted the Award in 1984, following the success of his 1983 release Let’s Dance. Bowie first played at Southbank Centre in 1969, performing at our then relatively new Purcell Room, where the most expensive seats would’ve set you back 10 shillings. Thirty-three years later Bowie was back with us, this time as curator of a Meltdown festival; an event the man himself memorably closed with curfew-pushing two album spectacular on our Royal Festival Hall stage.
‘She funded her MA in theatre directing by working various part-time jobs including sales assistant at Agent Provocateur, singer in a burlesque cabaret, a bartender, a life model and a magician's assistant.’ If you were looking to find a statement to sum up the eclectic, eccentric, retro style of Paloma Faith that snippet from her wikipedia entry certainly goes someway to doing the trick. With a style of her own that slides along the spectrum from soul to jazz, Faith is up for the British Single Brit Award this year; having previously lifted the British Female Solo Artist trophy in 2015, ahead of FKA Twigs and Lilly Allen. In 2011, her first year as a nominee, Faith also performed twice here at Southbank Centre; joining Annie Lennox and VV Brown for Equals Live as part of the first WOW - Women of the World festival, and returning to the stage as part of Ray Davies’ Meltdown. She also returned to WOW in 2015, this time addressing crowds on our Riverside Terrace as a speaker.
Despite being nominated just once for the Brit Award for Best British Group - fewer times than Sugababes and Jamiroquai - Elbow strolled away with the accolade in 2009 from a decidedly eclectic field which included Girls Aloud and Radiohead. The band’s frontman Guy Garvey became a familiar fixture at Southbank Centre in 2016 as curator of our 23rd Meltdown festival. ‘I want my Meltdown to be a party where everyone feels invited and everyone leaves having had the best night out,’ Garvey told the press and there’s no denying he achieved his aim. Garvey’s rich bill included Robert Plant, Femi Kuti, Lift to Experience and another Brit Award winner, Laura Marling.
Laura Marling was perhaps something of a leftfield choice when she won the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist in 2011. A singer with her routes in folk music, Marling had performed with Noah and the Whale, and collaborated with acts such as the Mystery Jets and The Rakes before releasing her first album in 2008, the Mercury Prize nominated Alas, I Cannot Swim. In 2009, whilst still only 18, Marling had her own show on our Royal Festival Hall stage; Laura Marling and Friends (which you can enjoy, above). Marling has returned to Southbank Centre a few times since - most recently for that 2016 Meltdown appearance - during which time she’s become something of a permanent fixture on the British Female Solo Artist shortlist; nominated four further times, most recently in 2018.
Whilst acts like David Bowie and Tom Jones may span generations, others are very much evocative of a certain time and place. Shola Ama is one such name, as synonymous with mid to late 1990s as Beppe di Marco, Tommy Hilfiger jeans and Mo from Driving School. An R&B and soul singer from North London, Ama was just 18 when her biggest hit You Might Need Somebody stormed the charts, leading her to win the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist in 1998. Six years later Ama appeared here at Southbank Centre as we hosted the 2004 Urban Music Seminar; posing for publicity photos outside with, among others, Tim Westwood and a decidedly fresh-faced Jamelia.
One person we might soon be able to add to this list is Nile Rodgers. The recently announced curator of Meltdown, 2019, is up for Best International Group with Chic at this year's Brit Awards
by Glen Wilson