Next week you need to know about . . . the Mercury Prize

Sat, Oct 27, 2012, 01:00

The music world’s attention will be focused on the Roundhouse in London on Thursday, as we find out which of a dozen shortlisted artists will win the prestigious Barclaycard Mercury Prize for album of the year, not to mention £20,000 in prize money.

When it began, in 1992, the prize was clearly modelled on its literary forebear the Booker Prize, with a group of judges deliberating over a shortlist of worthy albums released by British and Irish acts over the previous year, culminating in a high-profile shindig at which the winner is announced and a generous cheque is handed over. And, within days, expect the usual stories about how much sales of the winning album have increased since the win.

It also shares with the Booker a certain high-brow cultural self-importance, with the implication that its focus on “serious” music elevates it above the usual grubby awards fray. This is not to say that the award doesn’t recognise and reward excellence: seminal albums by the likes of Pulp, The xx and PJ Harvey – twice – have been so anointed, although the list of winners also includes M People and Gomez. (Bizarrely, Radiohead have never won the thing.)

We may all dream of the year when the token folk nominee picks up the gong, but the likelihood remains that this year’s winner will come from one of Plan B, Alt-J or Richard Hawley (below). The hot money is on the admired and yet perennially underappreciated Hawley, but Mercury predictions are about as reliable as phone reception in Leitrim.

In any case, the music is what counts, right?