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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Dismay and delight over Mercury list
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News website

The nominations for the Mercury Music Prize have been announced, sparking the annual debate over the shortlist's mix of household names and new faces.

Richard Hawley
Richard Hawley says the list has given him faith in the music industry
Like cow-tipping and cheese-rolling, Mercury-guessing is a pastime that has become ingrained into a peculiar part of the British psyche.

Fans, journalists and musos take great delight in wasting hours trying to second guess the thoughts of the highly subjective and somewhat shadowy judges.

This year's Mercury season is in full swing and there is no shortage of material to debate.

Former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell and ex-Lamb singer Lou Rhodes made the cut while other female singer-songwriters Kate Bush, Lily Allen and Corinne-Bailey Rae did not.

Sometime Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley's brand of glorious melancholia was preferred to that of Morrissey.

It doesn't reflect what a great year it's been in music
Neil McCormick
Daily Telegraph
Thom Yorke's first solo album was considered good enough when it is no better than any albums by his band Radiohead - who have never won.

And the annual unsung old-timer's spot goes to Scritti Politti this year, while the obligatory jazz artist is Zoe Rahman.

It is an "absolutely terrible list", according to Daily Telegraph rock critic Neil McCormick.

"It doesn't reflect what a great year it's been in music," he says, citing Allen and Bush as obvious omissions.

"It doesn't capture what's actually happening in music in this country."

These are records you could say quite honestly to all your friends that these are really worth listening to
Simon Frith
Judging panel chairman
Professor Simon Frith, the chairman of the judging panel, disagrees. "I think it does reflect a good year in music," he says.

"We could probably have come up with three different lists, which would equally have been credible.

"One of the criteria we do have is that these are records you could say quite honestly to all your friends that these are really worth listening to."

He acknowledges that the frontrunners are the Arctic Monkeys, saying they were the only act all judges agreed upon.

"I don't think there was a single judge who wouldn't have thought the Arctic Monkeys was one of the records of the year."

Lou Rhodes
Lou Rhodes made her record on a commune on a low budget
But although the Arctic Monkeys will be considered hot favourites, the Mercury has a long and proud tradition of avoiding giving the award to the most obvious contender.

The artists who turned up to the nominations announcement in London on Tuesday were grateful for the decision not to put some of the bigger names on the shortlist.

"It partly restores my faith in the music industry that they have the radar on little records, not just the big corporate stuff," says Hawley.

"I hope things like this continue to be brave because the mainstream doesn't need it.

"What I think is important about the Mercury is that it does pull average people into HMV to take a risk on something a bit more left-field."

He recorded his album Coles Corner in just 24 days, he says - and several other nominees have been shortlisted for low-key, low-budget releases.

Rhodes, who spent her savings on releasing her album Beloved One on her own label, says the nomination will prevent it from "disappearing into obscurity" and will mean people "take me a little bit more seriously".

"It's one of those awards that I respect a lot," she says. "It's very much based on the music rather than ideas of celebrity.

"It's the thinker's music award. It's across the board and it's not just about people who are in the media eye."

Zoe Rahman
Jazz pianist Zoe Rahman runs her own record label
The singer, who lives on a commune on the Surrey/Sussex border, adds: "They seem to really champion the outsider quite a lot. I probably wouldn't be here if they didn't."

Rahman is another to enjoy the spotlight after releasing an album herself.

"I don't have a manager. I am my own record company. It's just me," she says.

Guillemots singer Fyfe Dangerfield considers the nomination "a huge deal", saying the Mercury is "the prize you want to get nominated for".

"It's the one that recognises ambition and musical notions rather than commerciality," he says.

"We really desperately hoped we'd get nominated. We were aware we could because we made sure we got the album out in time.

"We were up really against it getting it finished it in time. But to actually get it - it's like fancying someone at school and then realising they actually like you back. Which never happened to me. It's lovely."

And Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor was at the launch wearing a T-shirt reading: "It's not going to be a hit, so why even bother with it?"

The nomination means "we are momentarily thought of in a different light and then forgotten about when we don't win", he says.

"But in the interim period, our record sales increase and it's a way of drawing attention to interesting records that have been made throughout the year."


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