A RELATIVELY unknown Scottish band last night stunned the music establishment by being voted Best Newcomer by Radio One listeners at the 1999 Brit Awards.

Glaswegian eight-piece Belle and Sebastian's efforts to scrape together enough cash to send two members to London, in case they overcame the pop hysteria surrounding fellow nominees Billie and Steps, paid off as they were announced as winners.

Ex-Take That star Robbie Williams also tasted success at the Brits after scooping three awards - including the one he craved for his songwriting talents.

There were no real shocks when The Manic Street Preachers, Natalie Imbruglia, Fatboy Slim, and Celine Dion won their coveted Brits.

However, music fans greeted the news of the Belle and Sebastian win as a triumph of real musicians over those entertainers picked for awards by the music establishment.

While the Glasgow band's public profile has been limited, a growing number of often obsessive fans have been drawn to their intelligent, lyrical brand of folky pop.

Last year, their fourth album, The Boy With The Arab Strap, reached number 12 in the charts but a copy of their debut album Tiger Milk can fetch #1000 a copy on the black market as only 1000 were pressed.

The six men and two women in the group - none of whom is called either Belle or Sebastian - refuse to be photographed together and main songwriter Stuart Murdoch often declines to be interviewed at all.

However, their profile has gradually grown, mostly through word of mouth, allowing them to win enough votes from Radio One listeners to see off the competition.

Robbie Williams, 25, took the titles for best British male artist, best video, and best single for Angels, the last voted by radio listeners.

The former problem drinker and drug user stole the show when he abseiled down a wire on to a crash mat for a live version of Let Me Entertain You, complete with dozens of helmeted dancers.

Fatboy Slim, also known as Norman Cook, accepted his trophy for best dance act before returning to his table to a hug and kiss from Zoe Ball, the Radio One presenter and his new fiancee.

Earlier, while presenting an award, Ball thanked host Johnny Vaughan for his congratulations and flowers, and said: ''We have not named a day yet. Late summer, maybe.''

As well as a night for prizes, it was a night for politics.

The Eurythmics dedicated their nostalgic medley to the families of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence and musician Michael Menson, victim of a suspicious death.

Vegetarian Boy George launched a crusade against genetically modified foods with the cry: ''Tony Blair, stop messing with our vegetables, please.'' Numerous representatives of New Labour were in the audience, including Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, and Mrs Cherie Blair.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Thomas Winning, rock star Bono, and former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali yesterday became unlikely allies as two separate campaigns began in the fight against Third World debt.

Cardinal Winning, was launching the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund's 1999 Lent Campaign aimed at having African debt cancelled.

The cardinal appealed to Chancellor Gordon Brown to write off the UK's Third World debt and encourage other Western countries to do the same.

Bono and Ali joined other celebrities to help launch the Drop the Debt campaign. It will include logos on CD packaging and talks are taking place with concert promoters and publishers. The aim is to influence grassroots opinion and exert pressure on the UN.

The Brit Awards backed the campaign to end Third World debt by awarding the Jubilee 2000 coalition, which supports it, the Freddie Mercury award.

Accepting it, U2's Bono said: ''They don't want our money, we don't have to spend a thing. We just have to stop asking starving people to give back the money our governments loaned them plus interest.''

He then introduced boxing legend Muhammad Ali in support of the campaign, and the former heavyweight champion got the biggest cheer of the night.

The winners

qBritish Group - Manic

Street Preachers

qMasterCard British

Album - This Is My Truth

Tell Me Yours, Manic

Street Preachers

qBritish Newcomer - Belle

& Sebastian

qBritish Dance Act -

Fatboy Slim


Recording - Titanic

qInternational Group -

The Corrs

qInternational Newcomer

- Natalie Imbruglia

qInternational Male Solo

Artist - Beck

qInternational Female Solo

Artist - Natalie Imbruglia

qBritish Male Solo Artist -

Robbie Williams

qBritish Female Solo Artist

- Des'ree

qBritish Single - Angels,

Robbie Williams

qBritish Video -

Millennium, Robbie


qOutstanding Contribution

To British Music -