I am not the resident British music expert, I have to confess I was never into the whole British Invasion thing. I think bands like The Beatles, Oasis and Coldplay are great in their own right, but there are some great music acts that are hugely successful here in the UK but haven’t bridged the gap to mainstream fame in America and deserve a mention.
When I first visited England and was riding around the country listening to the radio there were certain artists and songs that were new to me and these sounds have now encapsulated my Anglophile experience. These are artists you just can’t hear anywhere else if you turn on the radio and they have become the sounds of the English summer to me. I kind of love that about living here, its like I am in on a secret but not in that smug music snob way.
This list was incredibly hard to narrow down but here is my list of the top ten artists that are huge in the UK but you may not have heard of. This is by no means a list of underground, undiscovered or up-and-coming acts, all of these artist have had a at least one top ten hit within the past year and have seen huge commercial success on this side of the pond.
10. The Script
The Script are an Irish pop rock band hailing from Dublin. Their sound reminds me a lot of The Police with a driving rhythm, a slightly hard edge and fantastic lead vocals. The Script had a top ten UK hit in 2008 with their single “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” that put them on the map. This single is probably the most poppy song among a collection of mostly rock tunes on their self titled debut album. I bought their album on iTunes on a whim one day and its gone into permanent rotation on my playlists. My favorite songs from the album are “Breakeven” and “Rusty Halo“.
Check them out if you like: Coldplay, The Police, Maroon 5
9. The Kooks
I am not an indie rock fan, but the reason The Kooks made it onto my top ten list is because there is something so British about them. I love when I can listen to a band or an artist and it just oozes Britishness and The Kooks embody this. As far as indie rock goes, I think The Kooks are Britain’s best kept secret. When I talked earlier about some of these artists being the soundtrack to the English summer for me, The Kooks come to mind particularly. When I was visiting England for the first time their single “She Moves In Her Own Way” was at the top of the charts and to this day when I hear this song it reminds me of the first summer.
Check them out if you like: The Strokes, The White Stripes, Violent Femmes
8. David Guetta
David Guetta is a French DJ who has made a name for himself among the English DJ scene and has been a regular at Ibiza. He wasn’t well known on the UK pop charts until 2006 when he re-released a track “Love Don’t Let Me Go” from his 2002 album as a mash up with “Walking Away” by The Egg. I bought this single on iTunes in 2006 and its still a favorite of mine. He has had lots of success this year, first with his track “When Love Takes Over” featuring vocals from Kelly Rowland (oh yeah, she has a successful solo career here) and most recently with a brand new single “Sexy Chick” featuring Akon. His latest album is packed with guest vocals from top artists like The Black Eyed Peas and Ne-Yo.
Check him out if you like: Daft Punk, Paul Oakenfold
You probably have heard of Estelle, she had a hit US single “American Boy” with Kanye West last year, but she was big in the UK before her collaboration with Kanye and she continues to make hits. She has a great urban R&B feel, soulful but with a distinctive hip hop edge. Her music is like a sublime mix of Diana Ross and Mary J Blige and she delivers her performances in the most elegant and sophisticated way while still managing to stay relevant. Her music and her talent really speak for themselves. She is currently working on her third studio album and is rumored to be working with artists like Missy Elliott, Jay-Z and Lady Gaga.
Check her out if you like: Mary J Blige, Beyonce
Mika is a Lebanese-born artist whose style is impossible to describe. He is a classically trained singer with a mindblowing vocal range and music so strange you have no choice but to be entertained. He has had some success in the US, but he was kind of a one hit wonder in the states with “Grace Kelly” but here his songs burn up the charts on a regular basis and he has had several top ten hits in the UK since 2006. The first single “We Are Golden” from his new album is performing well in the charts, although this could be due to the fact that he has promised his fans a nude video blog if they can get his single into the top 3 on the UK charts. After this announcement over Twitter, reports came in that some London record stores were sold out of the single.
Check him out if you like: Prince
5. Gabriella Cilmi
Gabriella Cilmi is an Australian artist who had a big hit in 2008 with “Sweet About Me” which I felt never stopped playing on the radio last summer but I never got sick of it. She hasn’t had many hits in the UK, but “Sweet About Me” made her a household name and I believe every girl who auditioned for The X Factor last year used it as their audition song. She has a distinctive raspy voice which will make any forthcoming singles of hers instantly recognizable. She just has one of those voices you can’t forget.
Check her out if you like: Amy Winehouse, Janice Joplin
4. Will Young
Will Young was the world’s first “Idol” and won Britain’s Pop Idol reality show (the show American Idol was modeled after) in early 2002. He has since enjoyed a very successful UK career and released 5 albums. He has a very grown-up style and hasn’t changed his genre much in the past 7 years and that is what I like about him. Some of the winners of these idol shows are so afraid of falling off the map they keep morphing their style but still manage to put out the same song over and over again. Will Young has stuck to his pop/adult contemporary roots and the formula has worked and he has become a well respected British artist.
Check him out if you like: Michael Buble, Justin Timberlake
3. Girls Aloud
British music would be nothing without groups. Girls Aloud was actually formed on national television as part of a reality show called Popstars: The Rivals where a group of 10 men and 10 women competed to become the members of two “rival” groups. Yes, they are a girl pop band, but what I like about them is that they can all sing (rare to find in any group these days) and they like to combine a lot of different musical styles. They bring an air of sophistication most girl bands lack and draw in an audience that spans all generations. Their most famous member is Cheryl Cole (married to Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole) who is a judge on The X Factor, a fashion icon and is about to put out a solo album featuring a second collaboration with will.i.am.
Check them out if you like: Spice Girls
2. Take That
Yes, I do mean the Take That who had a huge single in the 90s with “Back For Good” and you are probably wondering why I would put a boy band on this list. Well, in 2005 Take That got back together and made a new album (without Robbie Williams). Take That were even bigger in the UK back in the 90s than they were in the US, and their comeback was huge but what made it unique was that they came back as serious musicians. All of the remaining members of Take That have instrumenal and/or songwriting talents that make their music more than just run of the mill boyband stuff. When boy bands come back its usually a gimmick and an attempt to recapture some of the teen sensation magic but Take That went another direction and actually made really good music. Their 2006 comeback single “Patience” quickly hit number one and they have been continuously pumping out hits since then.
Check them out if you like: Take That circa 1996, Michael Buble
1. James Morrison
James Morrison isn’t at the top of my list by chance, he is by far my favorite British artist. I love listening to his music because it is mellow and soulful, but at the same time contemporary and upbeat. His latest album Songs For You, Truths For Me is definitely at the top of my most played list on iTunes. He is an incredibly talented songwriter with a distinctive voice and a knack for writing poignant lyrics. The biggest single from his latest album is “Broken Strings“, a duet with Nelly Furtado, and is his most successful single to date.
Check him out if you like: Jason Mraz, David Gray
Even if these acts aren’t your cup of tea, next time you are bored with whatever you have on your iPod and you are looking for some new music, try checking out the UK top 40 charts. Its a treasure trove of new current music. Although its often full of American stars like Beyonce, Kanye West and Pink you will find between all of these familiar tunes some artists you may have never heard of and they are worth a listen. The great thing about music these days is that all you need to do is visit an artist’s home page (links provided above) and their latest single will usually immediately start pumping out of your computer speakers for you to sample.