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Mercury sinking

Elizabeth Alker wonders where Manchester’s gone wrong with the Mercury Music Prize

Published on August 9th 2007.


Mercury sinking

Between the nominations in July and the prize-giving on 4 September it’s worthwhile pondering the lost gravitas of the Mercury Music Prize in the world of popular culture. Former nominees included Primal Scream, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Saint Etienne and PJ Harvey - who can argue with that? In more recent years this eagerly sought after award has sparked mixed reactions amongst those with enough time on their hands to mull such issues.

Let’s just thank pop’s lucky stars that Lily Allen and her so-called geezer pop isn’t anywhere to be seen. While this means Keith’s autobiography won’t be getting any more exposure (shame) it will save Lily and all her Myspace friends from another mental relapse.

One particular criticism is the number of repeat offenders on the award’s annual list of nominees. A number of artists manage to worm their way into the panels’ affections year after year, which might say more about the judges than the artists themselves? This year’s list features no less than three repeat offenders as Amy Winehouse, Dizzee Rascal and the Arctic Monkeys all conspicuously outstayed their welcome on the shortlist.

Before delving further into the downfalls of the Mercury’s generally, let’s first consider the significant lack of Mancunian talent on this year’s line up. In the past Manchester’s rising stars have always been recognised by Mercury judges. Elbow, The Doves, New Order, Badly Drawn Boy, Lou Rhodes, Take That and Simply Red are, on the whole, fitting choices. Manchester has a knack for turning out a constant stream of credible indie talent which suits the Mercury Award’s remit perfectly. However, on this year’s list no new acts are representing our Mancunian cause on planet Mercury. This writer believes the likes of Stephen Fretwell, Liam Frost and Cherry Ghost could all have bagged a nomination, especially the latter who’ve rocketed from relative obscurity to a major label deal, regular national airtime and one of the most prolific touring and festival schedules known to Man.

Perhaps it’s down to the sad fact that Cherry Ghost and the other above mentioned Manchester acts, despite their clear song writing abilities and critical acclaim are not in the NME, Hoxton in-crowd. NME Editor Connor McNicholas was one of the judges this year and his influence is clearly reflected in the final list. The Klaxons, Jamie T, Amy Winehouse and the New Young Pony Club are all darlings of Britain’s populist music rag. All of which leads onto the further criticism of the prize itself and in particular its penchant for favouritism.

Nominating an act who won the award last year is dubious enough but this is a prize which is supposed to recognise a significant increase in album sales. It therefore seems incredibly inappropriate for the Arctic Monkeys, who achieved world domination nearly two years ago, to be nominated for the second year running. The British music scene is supposed to be at its healthiest in years, no longer held back by the shackles of Brit pop, but strutting with the same confidence and, let’s face it, much better haircuts. Surely there are other bands worthy and possibly more in need of the exposure and £20000 cash prize than Sheffield’s richest teenagers? Could it be that the panel are more concerned with raising their own profile rather than that of musicians with talent?

Tokenism is another popular criticism of the Mercury’s and one which could easily be applied to this year’s list. The View are obviously there to keep the Scots happy, Amy Winehouse, alcoholic/tabloid queen/gobby Londoner/singer is no doubt ticking the pop jazz box while Basquiat Strings (yes Basquiat who?) seem to be there to represent obscurity.

On a more positive note, despite a couple of familiar faces and ill advised choices, there do appear to be more new, emerging and lesser known artists on the list for 2007. Thom Yorke and Mark Lanegan significantly raised the average age of Mercury hopefuls in 2006 but this year the nominees are, on the whole, bright eyed and bushy tailed with the likes of the New Young Pony Club, the Klaxons and Jamie T all adding a youthful edge.

Finally let’s just thank pop’s lucky stars that Lily Allen and her so-called geezer pop isn’t anywhere to be seen. While this means Keith’s autobiography won’t be getting any more exposure (shame) it will save Lily and all her Myspace friends from another mental relapse should she fail to win.

So perhaps there is a bright side and while it’s easy to get nostalgic about Manchester’s Mercury days, the awards haven’t always got it wrong. Although 1992 looser Mick Hucknall might disagree.

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AnonymousAugust 9th 2007.

is a mercury as easy to buy as a brit award or is it as expensive as an olymipic games?

AnonymousAugust 9th 2007.

Might it be that Stephen Fretwell, Liam Frost and Cherry Ghost whilst clearly having songwriting ability are just not that exciting? The Mercurys are about music which sounds exciting and new. Just being good isn't enough.

JohnAugust 9th 2007.

I set up a label for a band that I was managing some years ago and found to my surprise that being a Mercury Music Prize Nominee simply means that your label has attached a cheque for a couple of hundred quid to their nomination.Needless to say, the rather good album didn't make it on to the short list but the nominations party at The Roof Gardens in Kensington was literally a blast as the Israeli Embassy bomb went off half way through the ceremony causing the assembled media to abandon the musical hopefuls and leg it across the road with such alacrity that they caused the only injury of the incident by knocking over one of the diplomatic staff who then broke a limb !!So really if you want to see more Manchester acts nominated just cough up some money.

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