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The perils of patronage

During the recent Mercury Music prize press blitz, you’d have been forgiven for thinking John Bramwell, better known as I Am Kloot, was only in the running because he was pals with Elbow’s Guy Garvey. The media, looking for an angle, decided the comparision between the struggling indie band and the massively-successful indie band was the hook on the story. Garvey, for his part, saw a chance to get his mate some attention and commendably did his utmost to promote him. After all, he’d been there himself during the ‘Chris Martin’s favourite songwriter’ period. But does it actually help in the long-term?

It’s not new, of course. Badfinger were very much the less talented mates of the Beatles in the public’s eye. R.E.M. were so famous for collaborating with people they liked that it led the NME, harshly but amusingly, to christen these acts as ‘the sad friends of R.E.M.’  It’s laudable of artists to do this, of course. Usually born of a genuine desire to see an act they like and feel have not had the attention they deserve, they use their status to bring them to the attention of a wider audience.

The problem is that artists are often stigmatised by this. There seems to be a feeling from the music-buying populace that if they were really all that good, then they’d be there without AN Other rock star telling us how good they are. There can also be credibility issues – Noel Gallagher, for example, has punted a fair amount of utter dreck our way over the years.

It’s debatable how much it helps those on the receiving end of the attention. People still remember ‘Fuzzy’ by Grant Lee Buffalo for Michael Stipe’s patronage rather than it’s heartbreaking beauty. To some, the shadow is too big to ever escape from. Elbow, incidentally, are a case in point; they were the Coldplay mainman’s favourites for years, but it was their Mercury win which propelled them into the houses of the masses.

Patronage from an established act may well give a short-term boost to a struggling act, but overall it seems to create an identity crisis that the public just cannot resolve. So while having a famous pal to plug your wares and tell the nation ‘he’s a much better songwriter than me’ may seem a natty trick in getting yourself over, in the end it can be an absolute millstone an act just never loses. Best of luck to John Bramwell, but if his obituary reads ‘Guy Garvey’s mate’, then we’ll know.


One Response

  1. REM were sometimes right…Vic Chesnutt, Hugo Largo and 10,000 Maniacs. And often they were wrong.

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