Why T4’s ‘Orange unsignedAct’ Was Every Kind Of Wrong

If last Sunday you felt like some distant eruption in world events had set the very fabric of the entire universe on a new course as you went about your hoovering/paper reading/love-making/pet-grooming et cetera et ceteraaaaa, but weren’t quite sure what this mysterious cataclysm was, then let me be one to clear things up. The winner of T4’s Orange unsignedAct was announced!

I know, I know, it must hurt to have missed it. Fuck Obama’s inauguration in terms of ‘I swear I was there’-factor.

Tommy Reilly, the spunky wee gadgie from Torrance, Scotland, with ney but his wits, a crop of bonnie curls and a battered old acoustic to his name, has claimed the coveted mantle of, (cough, splutter), “the best unsigned musical talent in the UK”.

The savviest of readers will have detected a very subtle air of sarcasm running through this post. Here’s why. Whilst the televisual talent show format may work things like ‘Pop Idol’ and ‘The X Factor’, as was proved over the past few months of the show it’s just not a concept that can be applied to real bands and songwriters.

Whilst it’s perfectly plausible that there’s some shrinking violet with the voice of an angel that hasn’t quite worked out a way of prying his/her way into the impenetrable big-bad pop machine, the fact of the matter is: it’s really not that hard to get signed.

Such is the established grassroots infrastructure of rock’n’roll in the UK, countless terrible bands, with no future whatsoever, manage to put out records through some vague kind of label at some point. Most of which seem to end up on my desk.

Since the interweb swallowed the music industry whole, the whole process of bands getting discovered has been kicked into ‘Star Trek’-esque hyperdrive. These days, sticky-mitted suits are finding out about bands before they’ve even formed. Just look at White Lies getting signed for 250k at their industry showcase-type first ever gig.

The thought that a decent, functioning beat-combo can’t in this day-and-age get someone with some vague connection to someone in a position of music industry authority to hear them through the tried and tested routes of gigging, web-promotion, and good’ol mailing of CDs, doesn’t really cut it.

The fact of the matter is: tons of fledgling bands all over this country on a daily basis get it together enough to put out singles on little local indie labels, manage to put together mini-tours, or get into contact with the right people in their locale. When they’re good enough, this buzz proliferates, causing waves that eventually bring in bigger and bigger industry support, and securing wider exposure.

Labels/mags/bookers/agents etc are so hungry for good new bands right now, the thought that a life-changing, credible act could bypass all these ravenous roaming radars is a bit silly. What’s even sillier, is that the notion that if, hypothetically speaking, some amazing new band had somehow managed to go completely undetected by anyone at any point, or perhaps were at an incredibly early budding stage, that they’d really want their rise to stardom to be pinned to a TV show of this nature.

All the bands featured throughout this yucky marketing fiasco were testament to the above. It should really have been billed as finding “the least worst of the worst unsigned UK talent”. But I guess that doesn’t have quite such a ring to it.

Whispertown 2000
The Scarlet Harlots on the show

It was really hit home, when after sorting the, erm, “wheat” from the chaff, they were whittled down last week to the final three of:

The Scarlot Harlets, a band that’s bowel-quaking live jungle-meets-shmindie audio-diarrhoea sounds stiflingly like the misguided drunken party jam of a gaggle of wayward GSCE music students in 1998, about as fresh and appealing as Tutankhamun’s mummified willy.

Aside from those lot, who NME ran a mile from when we stumbled on them supporting Mirror Mirror on our ‘Indie Map of the UK and Ireland’ last August, we were left choosing between wee Tommy Reilly, and The HipParade, who respectively, bless ‘em, ply earnest acoustics, and jangly rock’n’roll with terminal pub-bound mediocrity. The reason these guys are unsigned isn’t because they’ve been miraculously overlooked, it’s just because they’re shit.

What was sadder than watching the parade of “talent” fight it out for the sham of a record deal – which, btw, comes with absolutely no commitment to actually release or promote any music whatsoever – was the array of faces putting their names to such redundant proceedings. A mixture of faces, that REALLY should know better that endorsing this ridiculousness, and dressed-up “authorities”, with as many credentials as the guy I just bought my tuna melt from.

Now, taking Kenickie’s name in vein, it’s an act I’d never do rashly, believe me. But as the competition drew to a tantalising close, punctuating a Sunday brunch of my flatmate’s stolen baked beans and crusty brown loaf (sorry Cuddy, replacements are on their way) , I became panicked for the prospect of future viewing of racy mid-90s grrly brit-pop gold like this:

You can’t help but squirm for Lauren Laverne, by far one of the most likeable ‘Brit yoofy’ cultural-type TV presenters on the box. Will I ever be able to chirp ‘Punka’ along in quite the same gleeful way again? Well, only time will tell.

Alex James? As a life-long Blur obsessive, I bought the book, I ate the cheese, I read the Independent column, I tuned into classic FM for him, I even dipped into the Observer Food Monthly entries, but this was a step too far. Guys like these should know better than building the dreams of patently doomed bands up, with transparently empty encouragement, all in the name of, well, what we can only assume to be Orange’s big, fat buck.

The final straw came in the guise of Amanda Ghost. Wheeled on as the tough-talkin’, Simon Cowell-esque deity-like authority on all that is songwriting. Billed as the “songwriter that’s penned hits for everyone from James Blunt to Beyonce and Shakira”, this is a little misleading. Amanda was one of five people in the room when James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ was written, as she was when Beyonce and Shakira’s awful collaborative also-ran single ‘Beautiful Liar’ was penned. Aside from that, she’s done Jordin Sparks (no, I don’t know either) and, erm, had a disastrous solo career.

It’s not often I’d feel compelled to hammer out a massive, ranty blog of this nature, but as all these pieces clicked together on my Sunday afternoon, I felt the unsurpassable need to vent. It was every kind of wrong on every kind of level. A towering pile of grimness. Good, unsigned bands out there, as you were! Wee Tommy Reilly, I’d invest that album advance VERY wisely gadgie.

P.S. I just listened to ‘Punka’ again, and it still sounds ace. So Lauren, you’re off the hook! Alex, stop eyeing-up that ‘Celebrity Badger Baiting’ contract dude, while there’s still a shred of integrity left.