Final year music students at south London’s BRIT School last week performed two BRIT Is Born concerts as part of the school’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
The evenings, last Wednesday and Thursday (15/16), featured songs by alumni who went on to forge hugely successful careers, including Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Jessie J. The second half was based on recreations of music by Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and others, from the all-star 1990 Silver Clef Award Winners concert at Knebworth that helped provide the school’s initial funding.
A joyful commemoration
The event was a joyful commemoration of the BRIT School’s own achievements since its foundation in 1991, and of the impact it has had on the lives and careers of the 10,000 students to pass through its doors. It also recalled the moment at which the British record industry took the bold and imaginative decision to support the founding of a free arts school in Croydon. The institution has gone on to nurture young artists in all walks of the arts, not only in music but visual arts, production, theatre, film, digital, dance, musical theatre and community arts practice. All of these disciplines are now filled with BRIT alumni, be they centre-stage stars or equally talented and creative facilitators.
Other music artists who studied at BRIT include black midi, Kae Tempest, FKA Twigs, Imogen Heap, Loyle Carner, Dan Gillespie-Sells and Richard Jones of The Feeling, Kate Nash, Katie Melua, Jade Bird, Rex Orange County, Leona Lewis, Ella Eyre, the late Lynden David Hall, Dane Bowers, Shingai Shoniwa of Noisettes, Tania Foster, Polly Scattergood, Jamie Woon, Joel Pott of Athlete, Octavian, Freya Ridings, Luke Pritchard of The Kooks, and numerous others.
Among the stars of stage, screen, and TV who developed their skills at the BRIT School are Tom Holland, Robert Emms, Blake Harrison, Cush Jumbo, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Emily Head, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Joivan Wade, Ashley Madekwe, and Kellie Shirley. Other alumni include Paralympian Will Bayley, authors/poets Laura Dockrill and Laura Angela Collins, radio presenters Gemma Cairney and Rickie Haywood Williams, and journalist Jamie Moreland.
Celebrating Amy, Adele, and more
To open the show, final year students offered vibrant reworkings of such BRIT-related tracks as Winehouse’s “Back To Black,” Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” Tempest’s “The Beigeness,” Carner’s “Loose Ends,” FKA Twigs’ “Cellophane,” Jessie J’s “Domino,” and black midi‘s “Western.”
The second half was illuminated by contemporary versions of rock classics as performed in June 1990 for a live audience of 120,000, and millions more on television worldwide, at the Knebworth Park event, long before any of the students were born. The extraordinary line-up on that day also featured Dire Straits, Elton John, Genesis, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and Status Quo.
McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” was remade with a full horn and brass section in a 21-piece performance; “Immigrant Song,” delivered that day by a reunited Plant and Jimmy Page, also featured along with Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” The focus of the set was the music of Pink Floyd, with classics from that 1990 set such as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Comfortably Numb,” recreated with great musical and visual flair.
As BRIT School director of music Conor Doherty noted: “The creation of the BRIT School 30 years ago meant that a specialist vocational arts education became available to those who showed significant ability and dedication and, critically, without charging fees. The long list of BRIT School alumni who have made a life in the arts is a testament to the foresight of a number of visionaries back in the late eighties. This show [celebrated] music from BRIT School alumni, British artists in general and of course music from the original 1990 Knebworth concert.”
The School’s BRIT Transforms Campaign, with the hashtags #BRITTransforms and #AlwaysBRIT, is building on its legacy with a fundraising drive to raise £10m that will continue to transform the lives of young artists through the unique opportunity of a free arts education. It’s supported by Mastercard as a Diamond partner, Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Live Nation (Platinum partners), and PRS for Music and The Other Songs (Gold partners).
Principal Stuart Worden said: “We are successful because the school is free. It is the most important thing about the BRIT School. No one pays to come here and when arts education is free, everything becomes possible. With your support, the future for young people and the cultural industries is optimistic and hopeful.”