Early Years

The first NME Readers Poll appeared in a late February edition of the paper in 1953, whilst the accompanying Poll Winners Award took place at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April. Readers Poll and Award ceremony continued to take place until 1968.
NME 24-04-1953 Page 1
The pinnacle of the awards was perhaps the mid 60s when tens of thousands of fans came to watch the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield play at Wembley’s Empire Pool and Elvis sent in hand written notes thanking the magazine for his many wins.
As the 60s became the 70s, the award ceremony was discontinued but the Readers Poll continued. It wasn’t until 1994 that they were re-born as The Brats to celebrate Britpop and laugh in the face of The Brits.
Let’s take a look back at some selected highlights.
People called ‘Dickie Valentine’, ‘Ted Heath’ and ‘Jonny Dankworth’ won awards, back when NME was a jazz paper, for the simple reason that rock n roll hadn’t really been invented yet. These were the Johnny Rottens of the time, people. And THIS certainly didn’t happen then….
Of the event we said in the paper: “We on the NME are feeling very proud of ourselves this week. Although this paper has only been going for just over a year, we took on a major undertaking that might easily have brought grey hairs to a hardened promoter with many years of experience.”
More crazy jazz sounds and people calling other people “cats” (possibly) as the previous years winners (Dickie Valentine, Ted Heath) are joined by The Johnny Dankwork Seven and the compere is Nat King Cole.
Elvis Presley couldn’t make it in person, but sent NME a handwritten note instead. This was just before he was demobbed from the US army. It read:

To the readers of NME. I want to thank you sincerely for your support and for voting me No.1 in your poll. I was very surprised and pleased! Thanks, Elvis Presley.

Cliff ‘the actual’ Richard won an award but was booed when he went to perform with The Shadows. ‘The fans’ wanted them to play their instrumentals, not tracks with Cliff warbling all over the top. Fair enough really. This is the first year the ceremony is televised, and it’s watched by a reported 15 million peeps. Winners included Connie Francis and Adam Faith.
We’re still in pre-rock and roll territory. The big winners this year were Ted Heath (yes him again…), Billy Fury, Helen Shapiro and Cliff and the The Shadows. Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band cause the crowd form a mass circle pit and trash the Albert Hall. OK, we made that last bit up.
Bye bye bad jazz, hello rock and roll. Chiefly The Beatles, who, according to NME’s Alan Smith, “look like being Poll Concert residents for many years to come.” Clever guy, that one. Also appearing were Cliff And The Shadows, Adam Faith and Joe Brown.

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A vintage year, which we modestly flag up as the “Greatest Pop Talent Parade The World Has Ever Known.” Hosted by Jimmy Savile, The Rolling Stones played live, performing ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’, and a cover of Bo Diddley’s ‘I’m Alright’. Our reporter noted the band’s “hip hip movements and wear-what-you-like clothes.”
The Beatles won a stack of awards – presented to them by Roger Moore – and performed the following set, which apparently ignited a “hurricane of stamping, cheering, crying and screaming”:

  1. ‘She Loves You’
  2. ‘You Can’t Do That’
  3. ‘Twist And Shout’
  4. ‘Long Tall Sally’
  5. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’

Gerry And The Pacemakers also performed, as did Roy Orbison, Dave Clark Five, the Shadows and The Hollies. But the best bit was perhaps Elvis Presley sending a recorded acceptance speech type message.
Want to know what Elvis said? Here goes:

Hello everybody. This is Elvis. I am sorry I cannot be with you all for the New Musical Express Poll Concert, but I’d like to congratulate all the winners and thank you for including me.
I am especially proud of all my friends in Great Britain, and I hope to be able to bring you all the songs and pictures that you want. I would like to wish The Beatles much continued success, as well as the other great recording artists in England. Thank you.

Basically an amazing who’s who of the music scene in the mid-60’s. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Moody Blues, The Walker Brothers, Them and The Kinks, plus solo spots from Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Donovan and Dusty Springfield.
The Beatles came as The Velvet Underground. Well not really, but they all dressed in black. They were joined by The Walker Brothers, The Who and The Small Faces.
Jimmy Saville hosted, before his ‘jangle, jangle, jewellery, jewellery’ became a trademark. Bands playing on the evening included The Beach Boys, The Small Faces and The Troggs.
Future James Bond smoothie Roger Moore was the host. The Rolling Stones make a surprise appearance. NME journo Nick Logan writes: “You could feel the Empire Pool shaking to its foundations as the roar went up for their first British concert appearance in nearly two years and on came Mick, Brian, Keith, Bill and Charlie. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, their new single, was inaudible above the din and ‘Satisfaction’ was only recognisable because of its familiarity – but no-one cared about that. So who says today’s pop lacks excitement ?” Not us, guv.

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Jimmy Saville hosts as Love Sculpture, The Move and Steppenwolf rock it up.
The end is nigh! There’s a divide between the contents of the magazine and who plays at the Poll Winners show. The risible likes of White Plains, Edison Lighthouse, The Pipkins, Dana, Brotherhood Of Man, Pickettywitch, Vanity Fare and Blue Mink all played. Eek.
Creedence Clearwater Revival knock The Beatles off the pole position and Led Zeppelin drop into third place. Diana Ross, a newcomer, tops the Female Singer poll, while a young pup named Elton John tops the New Disc Singer category.
In terms of solo artists, Elvis and Cliff have dominated the reader poll for almost a decade now, and the format is consequently getting a bit stale. Hence, from 1971 the awards – as a live show – fade into the shadows for a couple of decades. And though the readers’ polls continue (we’ve collected all the results here for you) the live Awards ceremony won’t reappear until the advent of Britpop in 1994…

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