Entertainment & Arts

Do Brit School graduates have an unfair advantage?

Brit School graduates Adele and Jessie J
Image caption Adele and Jessie J have helped Brit School alumni to sell a combined estimated total of 65m albums

Rap duo Rizzle Kicks became the latest Brit School graduates to score a top 10 album at the weekend when Stereo Typical entered the chart at nine. But do the school's alumni have an unfair advantage over other acts?

"The Beatles obviously didn't need any help," says the Fab Four's producer Sir George Martin.

"But if you had other bands of that era, yes the Brit School would have been a tremendous help," he says of the state-funded institution, which has also received £6m from the British Record Industry Trust.

"It would give them an idea of how to work with each other and how to get ideas in music and how to grow them within the studio."

Martin, who was instrumental in founding the Brit School more than 20 years ago, says the south London institution - which teaches 14 to 19-year-olds - is "of tremendous assistance to young people and the talent that's come out of it is great when you see all the names".

Those names predominantly belong to female singers and include Adele, Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Katie Melua, Leona Lewis and Jessie J.

But not everyone holds the school in such high esteem.

Criticism in online forums includes that it churns out "a string of production-line pop stereotypes in order to sell records" and that Adele is "just another Brit School product - boring".

Q Magazine associate editor Paul Stokes says there is "a snobbishness that it's not the rock 'n' roll way of doing things".

"The Brit School is more geared up to producing the kind of success that will result in a mainstream and therefore quite loud success.

"That's rather than, say, if you're a band that are struggling away in your basement. You don't shoot straight to being signed and being on the telly, you have to work and play lots of gigs."

Image caption Rizzle Kicks had a number one single with their Olly Murs collaboration Heart Skips a Beat

He praises the Brit School for helping to "create an artist" because record labels "can't afford to develop artists in the way that they would have 20 years ago".

But he says the school is "quite good at developing similar sorts of acts without actually developing anything that's wildly different or pushes music forward as an art form".

"As great as Amy Winehouse was and as fantastic a personality as she was, she did not push music forward, it was reinventing what was already there."

Latest Brit School successes Rizzle Kicks - if not necessarily pushing music forward - break the mould somewhat with their pop rap "incorporating the fun elements of the old school hip-hop era circa 1988-92".

Unlike the majority of Brit School acts who have invaded the charts, neither rapper Jordan Stephens nor singer Harley Alexander-Sule, both 19, were taught music there.

Image caption The Arctic Monkeys joked they were Brit School alumni at the 2008 Brit Awards

But former media student Stephens says he and ex-theatre student Alexander-Sule wouldn't have "made it as soon as we did" had they not attended the school.

"It was such a comfortable environment, making music on the side and stuff and doing something creative as well. I think it's to do with being creative, it was quite relaxing."

And he says that while "there's a lot of hook-ups" with the music industry at Brit School, the band's record contract was "mainly down to YouTube" and the following they built up on the website.

"People say, 'Adele, Amy Winehouse, Katy B, there must be something going on there'. Well either that or it's just a good college.

"Some people think you have to pay for the Brit School as well, which is a pity because it's the only free performing arts college around."

He says perceived criticism of the school by his friend, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, in his hit You Need Me, I Don't Need You is "just a comment on him fitting all the stereotypes of Brit School but not actually attending it".

"I sing fast... I will blast and I didn't go to Brit School," Sheeran sings.

Accepting a prize at the 2008 Brit Awards, Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner pointed at Brit School students in the audience and joked: "We all went to the Brit School, we remember you all."

He added: "After we graduated we formed the Monkeys and we've had a fantastic time since."

Brit School principal Nick Williams dismisses Turner's speech as "a bit of fluff".

"It was a bit of a joke by Alex Turner and it's been made into something which is ludicrous."

But he acknowledges there is prejudice against the school saying "there's nothing we can do about that".

"My view is that everybody in the creative industry, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, George Martin, they've all had a leg up.

"The Beatles had George Martin, they had their own education and all we're doing is something which is a slightly more organised version of the same thing."

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