Cries & Whispers

AWARD ceremonies are seldom less boring on television than in person, but at least they're shorter. So I stayed in on Tuesday and watched the Mercury Music Prize shindig on The Late Show. Sure enough, the BBC - showing the Mercury for the first time - cut the claptrap and stuck to what we wanted to see: a couple of live performances, an idiot's guide to the runners and riders, and the announcement of the winner.

I went to the first Mercury event in 1992, and had trouble reconciling the winners (Primal Scream) with the dress code (tuxedos). The prize, for album of the year, claims to be open to 'both popular and classical' recordings, but that's disingenuous. In practice, one of the 10 shortlistees each year hails from the unpopular end of things. This time it was Michael Nyman's The Piano Concerto and MGV, which is great, but more of a hip film soundtrack than the best that 'classical' music has to offer.

As well as a panel of judges, there was a panel of Late Show pundits, including Tony Parsons, whose tendency to talk in headlines has not diminished during his summer break from our screens. We heard how Therapy? made sense within 'the sphere of noisy guitar rock' and The Prodigy's dance grooves spoke for the youth of today. I wondered what the youth would have said, if it had a voice of its own, about the Savoy, the chandeliers, the canapes and Shara Nelson in an evening gown. If the event spoke for anyone, it spoke for music-biz executives.

The pounds 25,000 prize - a fortune to some contenders, a new outfit to others - was won by M People, from Manchester. This was widely thought a good thing, on the grounds of what M People are not - not white, not all-male, not a guitar band. It wasn't just political correctness: white boys with guitars prevailed last year (Suede) as well as the year before, and they were in with a worryingly good chance this time (Blur).

What M People do was repeatedly described as dance music. Now may be the time to abolish this singularly unhelpful category. Most music gets somebody dancing. It might be hard to shake a leg to Michael Nyman, but not to Blur.

Two things need to happen. The DJs who rule clubland need to play a wider range of music. And both pundits and punters need to be precise - to say techno, gangsta, ragga, jungle, gangsta-ragga, jungle-techno, or whatever. To encourage us, Radio 3 is to run a bluffer's guide to the sub-sets of rock, presented by a 56-year-old peer, Lord Onslow. This is not a joke, at least not on my part. It's called Supertunes and it starts on 10 October.

HUGHES'S law of opera and advertising states that when admen use opera to sell things, it's fine; when opera companies use admen to sell opera, it's embarrassing. ENO is at it again now, trying to lure the uninitiated to Tosca. The tone of the copy is uncertain ('conveys the absolute essence of life and loss with manipulative ease'). That's perhaps understandable. The Coliseum is rendered as the Colisuem. That's not.

THE CLERIHEWS keep coming. (A colleague has a theory on this: he reckons that for the average poet, our pounds 5 prize is a fair fee.) A few are about me, which is flattering, but we did say they should be about a famous person. Last week's winner had nine syllables, and I wondered if anyone could do it in fewer. They have. Adrian Rondeau - almost famous himself, as Adrian of Adrian's Records in Wickford, Essex - scored eight:

Madonna -




Or should that be the other way round. Anyway, his winnings should be enough to buy at least a third of a CD.

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