6pm, and there’s carnage at the tables. Huw Stevens hides in a corner with NME editor Mike Williams and the Eavis family look on aghast as the entire gathered UK music industry gorge on exotic consumables and gossip over who’s already hitting the hardcore sauce.
And that’s just at the Nando’s across the road. In the actual Academy the pop star tables are abuzz with showbiz back-slaps and snarling, simmering rivalry. Bands enviously eye each others’ booze mountains, supermodel entourages and Kendrick aftershow wristbands, all judging their level of importance in distance from Liam’s table. And through it all casually wanders Ricky Wilson, a practiced Awards veteran, skiving off early from the tea factory to get dolled up in his best “leftover clothes from The Voice – I’m getting my licence fee back one suit at a time”, and soak in the cut-throat camaraderie.
“What I like about the NME Awards,” he says, “no matter how naughty you are, you’re never the naughtiest person there. There’s usually someone that gets overly excited, like a lower-league label worker who does something that really affects their career. You can do whatever you want and as long as you’re not the person who knocks over the table, like the guy from Bring Me The Horizon who knocked over Coldplay’s table, sweet.”
We go hunting for this year’s table-upturners. First through the doors are Blossoms, midway through a reported inter-band spat. Are they going to cause a riot with fellow Manc hero LG? “No,” says drummer Joe Donovan, eying up Liam’s two tables, “you don’t go up to your hero and go ‘alright mate, how you doing?’ We’re gonna be cool and, from a distance, do the Mancunian nod.”
“We’ve not had a night out, all five of us, for a while,” says Tom Ogden, “so we’re in it for the long haul.”
They should take some tips from Haim, for whom the VO5 NME Awards are just one big, very very purple blur. “2014, we drank a lot that night,” says Este, “we won an award that night, that felt great. Everything after that is just a blur because we just started binge drinking. We ended up at some afterparty that was purple-hued, lots of purple lights. It was very purple, from what I remember. We plan to do the same thing tonight.”
“Where’s Shirley Manson?” says Danielle, “Garbage was a big band in the Haim household.” “She’s really inspiring and powerful,” Este adds, “she’s kind of a badass so I find that personally inspiring.”
Peace’s Harry Koisser has certainly seen a few flying Awards place-mats in his time. “Everything starts at the table and falls apart from there,” he says, “it’s an unravelling.” Harry’s best Awards memory is of communing with Damon Albarn. “All I can remember is him saying to me ‘look mate, you’ve just gotta keep on writing and it’ll be fine’. Then I saw him in Notting Hill and I went ‘Damon!’ and he didn’t look round.”
The Vaccines’ Justin Young had an even closer scrape with greatness at their last Awards. “Foo Fighters played for, like, ages,” he says, “Dave Grohl got on our table.”
It’s become one of Felix White’s lingering Awards fears. “It’s always filled with a horrible tension these days, because people imagine something should happen. You’re just nervous that someone’s going to jump on your table. It usually ends in total chaos, the NME evenings, I’m trying not to do that this time but I’ve said that the last five years in a row.”
Few of tonight’s attendees have experienced an NME Awards that have ended in quite as much chaos as Muse, though. Matt Bellamy is, he tells us, still getting flashbacks to the 2000 shindig when, after collecting the Best New Band award, they hopped on a private plane to Germany to support Bush only for the plane’s engines to catch fire. Within hours. They were back at the awards, drinking their PTSD away. “I keep getting flashbacks to how weird it was with that award, going down the runway and seeing the fire go off. The best thing about it was we didn’t get to play with Bush that night.”
Was your first thought to save the award? “It was a tiny little plane, four or five seats, and you could actually wind down the window like an old car. I had the award ready to lob out just in case.”
Conversation turns, as it does as such events, to the state of rock, which Matt characteristically views on a macro-political scale. “It correlates to the decline in people’s belief in democracy,” he says, uber-Bellamyishly. “It coincides with people’s beliefs in demagogues and dictatorships. We live in the age of the single-minded solo artist who does everything on their laptop, doesn’t collaborate with anyone, they’re now coming to the forefront. Whereas the much more challenging thing is trying to get four or five egos together in a band and trying to negotiate and democratise your creative process. That’s a lot harder and fails a lot more often, but working completely alone, with nothing but your own laptop, you are your own god, you can do whatever you want. Everyone’s empowered now, everyone can make music on their own laptop, even if you’re not a musician. I don’t know how many new bands are coming through, but not many of them are surviving the distance.”
Crikey. Party later, Matt? “Yeah, where’s the Warners one? The Ivy? I’ll end up there probably.” Lovely.