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Brit Beat: Blur, Pulp Promoter Talks ‘Second Summer of Britpop’ Next Year; Idles Eye Stateside Grammy Boost; 30 years of ‘Later… With Jools Holland’

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Winter has arrived in the U.K., but ‘90s diehards have the prospect of another Britpop summer to keep them warm until next year.

Britpop dominated the U.K. charts and media between 1994 and 1996 and one of Britain’s most popular bands of the era, Blur, has announced its biggest ever shows at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium on July 8 and 9 next year. Those shows will take place a mere week after another reformed Britpop act, Pulp, plays a huge outdoor show at London’s Finsbury Park.

“It does feel like a second summer of Britpop,” says Bob Angus, founder of Live Nation-backed Metropolis Music and promoter of both bands’ shows. “It’s still really popular music. The melodies are very good, the songs are very strong and people don’t forget that era with Tony Blair, ‘Cool Britannia’ and all that stuff.”

Pulp last performed in the U.K. in 2012. Blur last trod the boards in 2015, and never played such a large stadium during its original heyday. But both bands saw huge initial ticket sales, with Blur adding the second show just one hour after the first went on sale.

“I was always massively confident,” Angus tells Variety. “And I always had a sneaking suspicion that there’d be two [shows] in it, but you don’t want to push the idea too early to an artist; you don’t want them to feel they haven’t achieved the second one if [demand] is not actually there. But the timing was right, they’ve been away for quite a while and, with the audience profile now, it was the right gig for them to do.”

And despite Britain’s raging cost-of-living crisis and economic recession, Angus says he’s confident live music will weather the current storm.

“Certain things go on sale and miss the mark,” he says. “But certain things fly out, so it’s really hard to know. We haven’t particularly noticed anything soft in the stuff we’ve been working with. The average member of the public only goes to 1.3 events a year and people still want their release and entertainment,” he adds. “So, even when times are hard, they’ll save up for that show they want to see. I’ve been in business since 1985 so I’ve gone through multiple recessions, and it never really touched us. People still want the communal experience and escape that live music provides.”

Angus is adamant no further U.K. Blur shows will be added and said he had no knowledge of whether the band might play in America.

Now all that’s needed to really deliver Britpop 2.0 would be the reunion of the third member of Britpop’s ‘Big 3’ — Oasis, who remain inactive due to the ongoing estrangement between siblings/ founding members Liam and Noel Gallagher (although fans can go back in time with the “Oasis Knebworth” concert film, which revisited a 1996 U.K. festival performance attended by an estimated 250,000 people).

“I’m sure that one will happen some day,” laughs Angus. “But I don’t think it’s going to be any day soon…”

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It was a good year for U.K. acts in the Grammy Awards nominations, with the likes of Adele, Harry Styles, Coldplay and Wet Leg all represented.

Meanwhile, one more surprising nominee, the bruising alt-rock band Idles, is looking for a boost to its Stateside profile after nods for Rock Album (“Crawler”) and Rock Performance (“Crawl!”).

Idles manager Mark Bent of Mother Artists tells Variety that the double nomination has already led to a big American TV opportunity “that we could never get before these Grammy nominations,” and is confident more offers will follow.

“Idles are not a household name with TV producers and radio stations,” he says. “If they ever come to a show, they’re hooked. But a Grammy nomination is something everybody instantly recognizes. It completely opens the doors.”

Unusually for a U.K. rock act, Idles has spent a lot of time touring the U.S. and Bent says the band can now sell out 1,000-2,000-capacity venues wherever they play in America. They sold out two nights at New York’s Terminal 5 in October.

“That’s a real testament to how much work they’ve put in there and the word of mouth that has followed,” says Bent. “For a long time [in the U.K.], we’ve been put into this ‘punk band from Bristol’ bracket and Idles are so much more than that.”

With touring for “Crawler” now completed, Bent says the band will take a short break before starting work on its fifth album for Partisan Records.

“Everyone knows what they have to do,” he says. “The final missing piece of the puzzle is that undeniable song or collection of songs that people really take notice of and radio picks up on. Idles are one record away from really putting rock back at the forefront and being a global band.”

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Another ‘90s stalwart still holding up nicely is the BBC’s “Later… with Jools Holland.” The long-running live music show – now the last one standing on British terrestrial TV – celebrated its 30th anniversary last month with a special show at London’s Eventim Apollo.

“It’s fantastic to celebrate 30 years of ‘Later…’ as it’s a very important title to the BBC,” Lorna Clarke, the network’s director of music, tells Variety. “Its success rests on three key ingredients – Jools Holland, the global range and breadth of music, and the BBC. Nothing like this exists anywhere else in the world, nothing creates and supports music makers and the music industry in the way it does.”

Alison Howe, executive producer at BBC Studios Productions, has worked on the show since 1998, while director Janet Fraser Crook has been there since the very beginning, coming up with the show’s mold-breaking format, which sees all the artists perform in a circle.

“On the very first shows, people walked in and knew it was going to be gladiatorial because they were across from each other — particularly the Americans, who were used to being the piece of music on the end of a chat show,” says Fraser Crook. “But it became a room of musical friendships as well. There’s never been a show like it – it’s for musicians who love music and that shows.”

Howe and Fraser Crook, along with series producer Caroline Cullen, camera supervisor Sophie Penwill and producer Samantha Wynn, make up the largely female production team on the show, which gave early exposure to the likes of Adele and has helped break many artists over the years.

That means competition for slots is fierce, with room for only around 30 acts per season.

“It’s a painful process at times,” Howe tells Variety. “You get short bursts of absolute joy when you’re able to say to somebody, ‘Would you like to come on?’ In the last series, we had Simple Minds on. They had never been on ‘Later,’ and they really felt it – Jim Kerr was like, ‘Why haven’t we been on?’ And the only answer is, ‘Would you like to come on now?’

“They’ve just made a great record, they’re an incredible live band and it just felt right,” she adds. “They did it and it was brilliant. But it’s nice to be in your 30th year and suddenly you’re having artists on for the first time that have been around even longer than you have.”

Howe and Fraser Crook describe the perfect “Later…” episode as a mix of familiar artists and those just coming through, from a range of different genres. And the show is enjoying a new lease of life post-pandemic, with a move to Alexandra Palace and enhanced production values.

Howe hails the long-standing support of the BBC across the decades for the long life of the program, which originally developed out of the BBC arts magazine strand, ‘The Late Show,’ and is also broadcast on BBC America. Few other music shows have received the same backing in recent times, but Howe is optimistic there is still room for more music on the schedules.

BBC Studios recently produced “A Stormzy Special” for BBC One, featuring the U.K. rapper performing and in conversation from Abbey Road Studios, and Howe hopes that will lead to further commissions.

“We’d all love to see more music on TV, particularly more pure music shows outside of the chat shows and entertainment shows,” she says. “We’re all excited to see how [‘A Stormzy Special’] works because next year there will be a lot of big artists returning with new records. If there’s now a way to deliver big artist specials, we’d love to do more of them.”

Howe and Fraser Crook also confirm that Glastonbury coverage will be back on the BBC next year, although it’s not clear if there’s a new long-term broadcast deal in place with the festival. And “Later” will also return to extend its run into 2023.

“It’s a real accomplishment,” says Fraser Crook. “At the time, we thought we were going to make a series of six programs and fingers crossed it would work. We did the first one, never thinking I’d be sitting here 30 years later talking to Variety!”

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Also enjoying a big anniversary this year is the Official U.K. Singles Chart, which celebrated its 70th birthday this month.

Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” was No. 1 for the occasion, marking seven decades since the first chart ran in NME magazine, when it was compiled by phoning round a couple of dozen record shops.

The Official Charts Company’s methods have changed a lot since then, and the company is now also involved in producing charts in Ireland and France. But CEO Martin Talbot tells Variety the U.K. chart remains unique.

“One of the things that’s overlooked sometimes by the industry is just how important the U.K. chart is, and how it cuts through in a way that charts don’t in other markets,” he says. “The cultural significance of the chart in the U.K. far exceeds any other market around the world, aside from perhaps America.”

Talbot is hopeful that further international expansion will be on the cards for the OCC, but remains unsure about the need for an all-encompassing global chart.

“It’s something we would look at,” he says. “But in practise, a global chart becomes less meaningful than your local charts, because all the local repertoire becomes subsumed by all the big international acts. We are moving towards a more global marketplace, but that means the local takes on additional value.”

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Meanwhile, British record labels and streaming services are breathing a sigh of relief after the U.K.’s Competition & Markets Authority published the final report of its independent study of the music streaming market. It concluded that a full investigation of the sector was not needed.

The report found that consumers had benefitted from the move to streaming, saying prices were down by more than 20% in real terms between 2009 and 2021. It also said that “neither record labels nor streaming services are likely to be making significant excess profits that could be shared with creators” although it acknowledged creators’ need for more remuneration could still be addressed through government legislation.

A spokesperson for labels body the BPI dubbed the report “objective” and “evidence-based” and said it “reinforces our view that the most effective way to enable even more artists to have a sustainable career in music is for labels to keep investing in talent and grow the market.”

But campaigners for artists and songwriters to receive more money from streaming saw it rather differently. #BrokenRecord campaigner Tom Gray dubbed the report “pathetic” on Twitter, while a joint statement from Music Managers Forum CEO Annabella Coldrick and Featured Artists Coalition counterpart David Martin called for “renewed focus” on the various government working groups looking into issues around remuneration, transparency and data.

The statement warned: “If these outcomes fail to materialize, then the MMF, FAC and other creator-led organizations will call on the Government to intervene and fulfil their promise of legislative action.”

Earlier in the month, a Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee follow-up session to its inquiry into streaming (which concluded the sector needed “a complete reset”) revealed little progress has been made in those working groups so far, and also exposed some simmering tensions between the two sides of the debate.

Giving evidence, Tom Gray (also chair of songwriters body the Ivors Academy) declared: “The political will that is needed to bring about the profound change which you instructed us to do is not there.” And, while BPI CEO Geoff Taylor insisted negotiations were proceeding well, he endured some tetchy questioning from DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight MP over what alternative forms of remuneration labels would – or wouldn’t – back.

The issue now looks set to rumble on into 2023, so continue to watch this space for more …