LONDON (AFP) – Not that long ago, music from Britain consistently topped the US pops, but in recent years, no British pop music act has managed to excite the American public quite like the Beatles in the 1960s, even if Coldplay, a rare recent success in the United States, offers a glimmer of hope. The figures speak for themselves: in this week’s US top 100 album chart, there were just four British singers or bands. Coldplay, Chris Martin’s young rock band, came in at number 36 with “A Rush of Blood To The Head”. But they trailed well behind The Beatles, who reached notch number 26 with “Let It Be … Naked”, 40 years after the Fab Four first hit the US charts and 23 years after the murder of John Lennon.
But the highest British placing went to another rock veteran, Rod Stewart, at 18 with “As Time Goes By”. Sting, the former Police frontman long turned solo artist, was at number 61 with his latest album “Sacred Love”. Sam Shemtob of the Association of Independent Music noted that both soul star Craig David and Coldplay have “sold well” on the other side of the Atlantic. “So some bands, some UK acts are bucking the trend a bit,” he said. “Possibly things have improved.” But Conor McNicholas, editor of British music weekly New Musical Express, was less optimistic, and does not see Coldplay as an augur of better times ahead. “It isn’t a sign of a renaissance at all. We just do not have the bands to do that at this point,” he recently told the Guardian newspaper. “Coldplay are exceptional for a whole host of reasons. They are by far and away the best British band that are working at the moment, and I include Radiohead in that, too.”
Back in 1986, British “new wave” bands like Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys and Simple Minds seized a remarkable 32 percent of the US market. Thirteen years later, however, the British share had slumped to 0.2 percent, and Fat Boy Slim’s “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” was the only British album to make the US top 100 in 1999. A British Council report in 2002 found that 92 percent of the US music market was made up of homegrown music talent. British music, the report found, suffered in a market which was “increasingly fragmented and localised and therefore more complex and costly to access”.
It also blamed “the negative attitude” of certain British bands for contributing to the drop in sales, especially the antics of Oasis and its volatile singer Liam Gallagher. At the end of the 1990s, Oasis “encapsulated both the positive and negative sides of the British music ‘brand’,” the report found. “Rightly or wrongly, Oasis were viewed as one of the leaders of the last readily identifiable British US musical invasion under the banner of ‘Britpop’ — an invasion that, in retrospect, clearly failed to match the impact of its predecessors,” it concluded.
The bold solution, according to the British Council, would be to establish a British music office in New York to promote British music. But so far, the project has not got off the ground. According to Shemtob, “talks are still ongoing regarding the UK music office in New York City.”