Paul Gambaccini

In May, broadcaster and TV personality Paul Gambaccini will host the Ivor Novello Awards for the 26th time. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and an enviable contacts book, Paul is a well loved character in British public life.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 17 Apr 2013
  • min read
He currently presents America's Greatest Hits on BBC Radio 2 and For One Night Only on BBC Radio 4 and, until recently, he presented the Classic Countdown on Classic FM.

Earlier today he announced the nominations for the 58th Ivor Novello Awards and we spoke to him afterwards to hear more about his experiences of hosting the most important event in the songwriting calendar.

How important are The Ivors to the British songwriting community?
I think The Ivors are pivotal to the songwriting community. It really is the only measurement they have of how their peers rate their work – and that’s why it’s taken seriously by songwriters. This award, unlike almost every other, is hype resistant. There are no pressures from record companies, the judges aren’t trying to please anybody, and we’re not trying to curry interest from different parts of the music community.

You said in today's press conference that the nominee list represented a mixed bag this year – could you elaborate on that a little?
Well, any year in which Dmitri Shostakovich is nominated has got to be pretty unusual! [A sample of his work appears on nominated Plan B song Ill Manors] No one dominates this year – there are three groups of people with nominations. One is Emeli Sande and her co-writers, then there's alt-J and also Ben Drew with his Ill Manors team. They’ve only got two each; this is not a sweep by any means. Therefore it’s definitely going to be an interesting day. The press are going to try to look for trends, but I don’t see any.

The Ivors have a lower public profile than The Brits or the Mercury Music Prize. Do you think the event suffers for that or does this enhance its community spirit?
There are two factors that separate these awards from all the others. The emphasis is on writers not artists. But I tell you, those artists who are also writers or co-writers treasure these awards more than the ones they receive for their performances. This is an artistic evaluation. Everyone, of course, loves to know that their peers, their colleagues, think they’re good. It’s a real ego boost. After a while, if you are a successful artist, achieving another million-seller is nice but it doesn’t say anything new about you. Winning an Ivor Novello Award is a career-defining moment. Also, it’s a very beautiful award. I know people who have won a lot but still display them on their mantelpiece, people like Elton John and Sting.

You’ve presented The Ivors for a long time now – what is the most memorable moment so far for you?
There have been so many memorable moments! I do consider it to be one of the honours of my life to have been able to welcome to the stage all of the great songwriters of the last quarter of a century. I am welcoming them at the happiest moment of their professional life.

Is there any moment that sticks out?
Last year, for example, there was Adele. I had mentioned in an article for The Independent that I had given a lecture at The Brit School and when I had done so, there was this girl in the front row slouching. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god! Am I that boring?’ It turned out it was Ms Adkins and five years later she is Adele. So when she was chosen as Songwriter of the Year, she got up on stage and for the first 45 seconds says to me, ‘I know you thought I was slouching but I just had posture issues! We’ve always loved you in our home; my mother and I always listen to your shows.’ It was so sweet, I couldn’t believe it. That will stay with me.

And then there are the odd moments too. I’ll never forget when Tony Mortimer (from East 17) won Songwriter of the Year. In this acceptance speech he said something along the lines of, ‘I’m going to tell my children that life is shit.’ And I thought, ‘If ever there was a bad acceptance speech…’ He clearly wasn’t walking on air when he picked up that one...

We’ve had so many wonderful moments I cherish them all. Elton John is always good for some rude jokes, for example….

It all happens in the pub afterwards doesn’t it?
It’s weird, there is a ritual and almost everyone goes to the same pub afterwards. I don’t drink myself but you can see it all happening around you. Also, it’s a good way of finding out if anyone resented my ad-libs.

What’s the furthest you’ve pushed your ad-libbing?
With Imogen Heap – she had an album that was an anagram of her name and I said, ‘Imogen is so lucky to have an interesting anagram for her name. You’re going to think differently of me 10 seconds from now but I have to tell you, the only anagram of my name is pubic anal magic!’ The room exploded!