Shortlist for Mercury prize 'out of tune with the public'

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The Independent Culture

The shortlist for this year's Mercury Music Prize was criticised yesterday for ignoring some of Britain's most popular artists.

The 12 entrants – swiftly whittled down to 11 by the withdrawal of Gorillaz – left Radiohead and Basement Jaxx as joint favourites for the competition, which is designed to reward the best album of the year.

But the failure of well-known acts, such as Craig David and Dido, to make the list was seized on as a weakness. The nominations included a number of debut albums by relatively obscure bands with names unfamiliar to many record-buyers, such as Turin Brakes, Susheela Raman, Elbow and Goldfrapp.

The omission of Craig David followed his crushing disappointment at this year's Brit Awards, when he failed to win even one award despite being nominated in four categories.

While awards have always emphasised the craft of the singer or songwriter, music industry insiders said they were disappointed not to see more acts that had enjoyed commercial success.

John Harris, a former editor of the music magazine Select, said: "What the list lacks this year is one big album that has welded with the public consciousness. Oasis and Catatonia have both made the list before but the closest they've got this year is Radiohead and that's pretty obtuse – you don't hear it pumping out of people's car windows all over the country.

"The British music scene, that is music that is artistically credible, is very quiet at the moment."

His criticisms were echoed by the broadcaster and pop expert Paul Gambaccini who said the British music scene was "pathetic" compared with that in America.

"The US scene is so much better than what the UK is doing," he said "We've got so many more talented new artists. This country's artistic repertoire is pathetic. Why isn't Craig David on the list? His is the most important British album of the year.

"The problem is British record companies are more interested in their quarterly profit statements and focusing on the singles charts. The industry is going down the tubes."

Simon Frith, chairman of the Mercury Prize judges, defended the panel's decision not to include Craig David. "We don't start with a long list and knock people off," he said. "No one felt passionately that he should be on the list, so he isn't."

Mr Frith and Mr Harris both said they would like to see PJ Harvey take the award this year. "This is someone who writes for her own purposes with no nod to commercial trends," said Mr Frith "and that's often what makes great British rock."

While Mr Harris agreed that PJ Harvey was "stripped down rock music at its best", he said the smart money would now go on Basement Jaxx or Radiohead. "If you want to award it to a band that break with the pack and make a mockery of the others then you've got to give it to Radiohead," he said, "but it's about time a pop record won – not because it will be experimental but because it is well executed."

The Mercury Music Prize is regarded as the Booker of the music world, often catapulting an obscure band to stardom.

Previous winners have ranged from already popular acts such as Pulp, who donated their prize money to the War Child charity in 1996, to less well-known groups such as Portishead, who won in 1995.

Last year's event, which was eventually won by Badly Drawn Boy with Hour of Bewilderbeast, included six debut albums with no place for bands such as Moloko or the Pet Shop Boys that had achieved chart success.

Previous Mercury winners catapulted to fame by the award include Gomez, Talvin Singh and Roni Size.

The winner will be announced at the Mercury Prize show on 11 September. It will be broadcast on Channel 4 and Radio 1 the following evening.

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