Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledges Paul Weller's contribution to a $65billion music industry A FEW YEARS ago at the Brits Awards - Britain's Grammys - Alex James of the band Blur declared when accepting a fourth award: 'This is ... industry!' Rock 'n' roll is big business, indeed, especially for Britain. According to a government source, the nation's music sector now contributes no less than GBP4.6billion ($65.78 billion) a year to the nation's GDP. More than GBP1.3 billion of that is generated by overseas markets - including Hong Kong. Britain's popular music industry went global in earnest when The Beatles jetted off to appear on America's Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and, in June of the same year, flew to Hong Kong to play a show here. Three years ago, The Rolling Stones rocked us out of our Sars slump at the Harbourfest. This year's hot tickets are Coldplay in July and Robbie Williams in November. And at present, more than half of the HMV music chain's international Top 40 releases are recordings by British talent. As London Mayor Ken Livingstone recently put it: 'Music has been one of Britain's greatest cultural and economic exports for 50 years.' The winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's Brits was Paul Weller, who played a short set that included a single from last year's brilliant As Is Now album and 1982's Town Called Malice. Weller's contribution to British popular music cannot be overstated. An entire generation was raised on the songs he wrote as frontman of The Jam. The Jam's single Going Underground, released in March 1980, was the track that first started talk of 'the greatest group in Britain since The Beatles'. For the next two years, Weller, the young singer-songwriter guitarist (who could uncannily play lead and rhythm at the same time) and his two old school friends who made up The Jam trio ruled Britannia's New Wave. And then, at the peak of their powers, Weller called it a day, not wishing that the group become 'old and embarrassing like so many other groups'. He was a mere 24, but five years on from The Jam's first hit single he had become the nation's elder statesman of rock, and suddenly as iconic as John Lennon. The Jam's sound was as palpably British as anything recorded by Weller's jukebox favourites The Beatles, The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks - all crucial influences when he was developing his craft in the London dormitory-town of Woking. Weller also mixed in a good measure of Motown, which is part of his recording alchemy even today. The Jam was a major redemption for those record buyers born too late for the '60s. My father's generation might have had The Beatles' Penny Lane, The Who's My Generation and The Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man, but we had That's Entertainment, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight and The Eton Rifles. Weller's next endeavour, The Style Council, delivered the goods, too. Despite not quite achieving the same popularity as The Jam, the group found a global audience. He briefly dropped out of sight until the relatively low-key release of his first debut solo album in 1990. It was good but did not set the world on fire. For that, Britain had to wait for his second solo effort, Wild Wood. The cover art, a backlit-profile photo of the troubadour, somehow said 'instant classic' even before you had taken off the cellophane. Many commented that in Wild Wood Weller had found a new influence in the folk-rock of Traffic. In any event, it provided supremely comfortable and intimate listening. When Weller followed this up in 1995 with Stanley Road, he was well and truly back and became a major player in, and mentor for, the Britpop explosion of the mid-1990s (that's Weller's guitar solo on the 1995 Oasis anthem Champagne Supernova). The following year he formed one third of the supergroup The Smokin' Mojo Filters, with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and Oasis songwriter-guitarist Noel Gallagher. Gallagher's songs derive no small amount of inspiration from the Lennon-McCartney songbook, but in attitude he is closer to Weller's shtick. The result was a one-off charity release, a cover of The Beatles' Come Together - three generations of unquestionable genius, with Lennon's ghost in the studio (the song was a Lennon composition). Profits from the recording went to child victims of the then-raging Bosnian conflict. Weller has stepped up his touring schedule in recent years, while releasing one acclaimed studio album after another. Back to that Brits Award. Weller scored his first hit in the year of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, 1977, so winning this gong in the year of her 80th birthday seemed somehow apt for the Woking working-class hero. Ahead of the awards, he was typically laid back, remarking to the British music press that: 'Apparently, it was between me and Macca [Sir Paul McCartney]. And I thought Macca should have it, but Macca wasn't arsed, so it fell to me.' For more than two decades Weller has been a font of inspiration for Britain's most vibrant cultural export - popular music. His musical DNA can be found in many of today's bands, including Oasis and Franz Ferdinand, and newcomers such as the Arctic Monkeys and Hard-Fi. He gave the latter the ultimate endorsement last month by joining them on stage at the end of a London show. The perennial Weller is back in the charts as well with his new live double-album, Catch-Flame. Disc two ends with three nostalgia-tripper gems: the sublime Long Hot Summer; the audacious Motown-influenced Shout To The Top (who the devil did he think he was when he wrote it in 1984 - Al Green?) and the live favourite Town Called Malice - Weller's picture postcard of a wistful England that has endured through the generations. In another age he would have been an eminent poet. On the other hand, thank goodness for the invention of the electric guitar.