People complain that the Brit Awards are too mainstream, a boring glorifying of the major labels’ biggest cash cows, but there’s usually at least one surprise tucked among the predictable nominees. Idles are the wildest of wild cards, a Bristol punk band louder than everyone else at next week’s ceremony put together. Their tweeted reaction to finding themselves up against significantly tamer soul singers Ella Mai, Jorja Smith, Mabel and Tom Walker in the British Breakthrough category? “Fucking batshit mental.”
Their category is decided by a public vote, so we shouldn’t bet against them having a viral moment among neutrals and coming on top for the shock value. However, this is something very different from that Christmas single about sausage rolls. Idles songs have covered immigraton, male vulnerability, loss, class and the NHS. They’re raucous and often caustically funny, but never a joke.
This week the quintet enjoyed another honour, picked to open 12 nights of Brits-related charity gigs across London that will also feature Jess Glynne, The 1975, Jake Bugg and Anne-Marie. Frontman Joe Talbot plugged War Child’s text donation number tirelessly, an indication of the character behind music that sounded furious on the surface but had a rawness not of violent anger, but of wounds being exposed. “Thank you very much for allowing us to be vulnerable to you,” he said before Samaritans, a song which saw him mimicking Katy Perry and yelling, “I kissed a boy and I liked it.”
They had targets, of course, from the inferiority complex brought on by TV’s glamorous imagery on Television, to “the barren-hearted Right” on Divide & Conquer, to the blue passport brigade on Great. More often they were expressing positive pride – in their backgrounds on I’m Scum, in their hardworking mothers on Mother and in immigrants on Danny Nedelko.
All this inclusiveness didn’t make it any less intimidating when guitarist Mark Bowen began roaming through the crowd in just his underpants, thrusting his microphone at fans to scream White Privilege. Musically, however, they were relentlessly thrilling, and more than worthy of their place among the beautiful people at next week’s awards ceremony.