Pop: English spunk triumphs

The Mercury Music bash was a zesty cocktail of arrogance and sweet cherridy. Emma Forrest supped
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The Independent Culture
If Tuesday night's Mercury Music Prize was a pop version of the Oscars, then Pulp's ordinary Joe shows 'em LP, Different Class, played a sort of victorious Marty to Everything Must Go (Manic Street Preachers's brutal On the Waterfront). Folkie Norma Waterson was Il Postino, the gentle low-budget production that became a surprise front-runner. Oasis's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? was Steven Spielberg, the repeatedly passed- over people's choice. Underworld were Seven, too disturbing to be in with a real shot. Mark Morrison was Jim Carrey to everyone else's Al Pacino. Courtney Pine and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies were the token foreign language films that never stood a chance. And, if nothing else, Black Grape should have got the Elizabeth Taylor award for not dying.

Rapper Kermit, still recovering from a bout of blood poisoning that almost killed him, boomed "Way to go, Jarvis!" when Cocker handed over his pounds 25,000 prize to Warchild, the Bosnian children's charity presided over by Brian Eno and benefited by another nominee, the Help! album.

Never in the history of popular music has a lead singer overshadowed his band the way Jarvis overshadows Pulp. Recalling a joint headline gig, Blur's Alex James admitted in Q that there are members of Pulp he "doesn't know the name of". In passing over his prize, Cocker's tone was unusually self-congratulatory. "We've already had our award, in that... (pause) quite a lot of people already bought the album."

Apart from inaugural winners, Primal Scream, who lost their cheque, all the winners in the five-year history of the awards have given their money to a good cause. Black Grape's Shaun Ryder had planned to donate it to a children's charity run by his Auntie Mary. The principle of the donation must have taken precedence over the possibility of the win in Ryder's mind because when asked, earlier in the evening, who he had put his money on, he barked, not "Pulp or "Oasis" or even "Black Grape, but "retarded children".

As it happened, a lot of people missed their chance to lay down money because William Hill closed betting on Tuesday morning, convinced that someone had leaked the name of the winner, despite the fact that the final judges' meeting would not convene until minutes before the announcement live on BBC2. At which point, Pulp's press agent was seen tapping on the BBC crew's a glass partition to try and distract the attention of Tony Parsons and Tracey McLeod, like a small child flicking V-signs behind Richard and Judy's head.

Any childish behaviour was surely inspired by the "school prize-giving" atmosphere of the ceremony. Richard Jobson's presentation style was pure geography teacher and, though you may not have been able to see it on your TV screens, the fancy dinner was snatched from the trembling hands of people who took too long to eat it. Meanwhile, it was quite clear that Black Grape were being encouraged to knock back their champagne and whoop hysterically every time their name was mentioned. It was inevitable that Mark Morrison's backing singers would try it on with every female in the room. And it was a pre-requisite that Noel Gallagher, in an interview taped on their US tour, should announce that not only did Oasis deserve to win, but they should have won last year too.

Well, they didn't, and reactions were mixed. Brian Eno, who has had considerable respect for Jarvis since the Michael Jackson / Brits incident, was thrilled. "He can think on his feet. What he did tonight was a very genuine, very clever thing to do. It shows someone who is truly alive."

Rob Stringer, boss of Manic Street Preacher's label, Epic, beamed like a cuddly bear. "I just think it's a real breakthrough that the Manics were nominated at all," he said. And, like a miserable Welsh bear whose Mercury award nomination was actually a splinter in his big toe, bassist Nicky Wire, echoed his sentiments: "It's nice, because everyone's always hated us."

Steve Hall, head of Underworld's label, Junior Boys' Own (the only independent to have an act nominated so far), scoffed. "Some of the nominees were shit," he sneered. "If you were giving the prize on the criteria they say they're judging it on, it would have to be Underworld." Band frontman, Karl Hyde, was less bothered: "Let's face it, Jarvis is the one who won the award. And he got it because he is an English bloke with spunk. In a public place that's a rare thing. And it's to be applauded. God bless him."

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