Why the Mercury Prize is a farce…and why it really isn’t

To me, the Mercury Prize has always seemed uninteresting and inaccesible, with it’s lack of Girls Aloud or Will Young (and I hope he never is cool enough to be on the shortlist), but this year the inclusion of interesting acts such as M.I.A, Antony and the Johnsons and the Go! Team, none of whom I’d seen perform on TV before, persuaded me to watch the show on BBC4.

It got off to an OK start, as I found that it was presented by Jo Whiley, who is fairly likeable for a Radio 1 DJ, and Colin Muuray had been left to the radio show, meaning there’d be no chance of him appearing unexpectedly at any point. Pheeew! The presenter on stage was Jools Holland, who I presume presents it every year, but I think they need to get someone new for ’06 cos he is officially the most boring presenter ever. He appeared not to make one spontaneous comment throughout the whole evening – everything he said was entirely predictable and uncontroversial.

The first act on were the Kaiser Chiefs, and I have to say Ricky was looking pretty nervous and uncharacteristically serious, doing none of his usual messing around. Maybe it was the daunting task of going first or the expectations of them due to them being the favourites to win (which of course means they never would, unless the judges went for a double bluff), but I think it was the audience. They were all sat down at their tables, and when the performers were on no-one so much as moved their heads, let alone stood up or danced! It seemed more like the bands were an interruption to their posh night out, so I could totally understand the pressure the acts must have been feeling. They shouldn’t have been nervous though, since the general public have such little interest in what these critics have to say. Yes, the winner will get great publicity and I’m sure their albums sales will increase rapidly in the next few weeks, but music critics do not dictate musical tastes anywhere near as much as they’d like to think. I’m not suggesting all music buyers have a mind of their own because that’s certainly not true either (hence Crazy Frog), but the people they listen to are not the people who are desperate to be listened to. Desperation is not appealing!

Luckily those who followed the Kaiser Chiefs seemed more relaxed, perhaps because Ricky and co. had escaped with their lives, and they produced some excellent performances, although they would have still benefitted greatly from some signs of enjoyment or enthusiasm from the audience. I shan’t go through every performance but I will mention a few of the highlights.

My most pleasant surprise of the evening was Seth Lakeman, who is not only a really nice guy but also extremely talented and not at all as boring as I had expected. I had mistakenly believed that his music was purely instrumental violin with no pop tendencies, but in fact his song was very enjoyable. The Patrick Wolf fans among you should give this guy a listen, actually. I doubt I’ll be rushing out for his album but I hope lots of other people do because he is lovely and great.

The most amusing moment for me was when Hard-Fi went up to collect their award (every artist gets an award for being shortlisted, which I’m sure confused quite a few people who tuned in late) and either the lead singer is a bit odd or he was totally ‘sloshed’, and considering he had a bottle of beer still in his hand, I’m guessing the latter. Of course drunk singers are hardly a new phenomenom, but what was funny here was the way no-one commented or took any notice of it all, so desperate they were for professionalism. And yes, they may have achieved professionalism, but they were missing something more important and with far less letters – fun!

Definitely the best performers of the night were the Go! Team who put on an absolutely fantastic performance, ruining the typical guitar band set-up by adding 5 or 6 black girl singers in red sportswear, chanting along to the song in a cheerleader-ish way and doing unchoreographed cartwheels and handstands in the background. It was utterly brilliant and has made me really want to see them live. They brought enough fun and energy to the proceedings that the boring presenter and audience could be completely ignored for the duration of the performance. Another special mention for bringing a bit of fun to the show should go to the singer from Maximo Park – more lead singers should do the splits in the air mid-song!

When at last the results came through, Jools took ages reading it in a boring and predictable manner, until he finally revealed that the winner was…Antony & the Johnsons! At first I was a little bit disappointed because although I like the idea of him I haven’t really been able to get into his music, so I would have preferred M.I.A or the Go! Team for example, but when he came up to accept his award he just seemed such a lovely, wonderful, adorable young man that I just feel straight in love with him and now I’m really really pleased he won. He deserves it for personal aceness alone! And I pledge to pay him more attention in future. I also think he sets a great example for new bands starting out – being cool won’t win you £20,000, but being weird will, and we do like weirdos on Dirrrty Pop, whatever type of music they make.

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