ROCK ACT OF THE YEAR : It's all a bit of a Blur, really

The most popular film-maker in history got into history, and stayed popular. Glyndebourne rose again, handsomely. Pop ate itself, but survived. Steve Coogan was everywhere, and so was Hugh Grant; only one of them is praised here. The theatre had a thin time, but television drama serials made up for it. People defined themselves on Mondays at 9pm: were you for `Cracker' or `Chuzzlewit'? And again on Saturdays at 8pm: did you really believe that a 14m-1 shot would win?(Or did you do it for love of the arts?) It wasn't the best of years, but it had its moments. And here they are, in the fourth annual `IoS' Awards
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BLUR, you can have the sweeties, but only if you share them with your friends. Parklife is a terrific record. More important than Damon Albarn's yobbish sexiness, the Peppery arrangements and the musicianship, the album gives you the sadly rare f eeling that somebody's actually put some effort into the writing. It's a concept album, maybe, but it has a variety of songs unmatched by any record this year.

At their Alexandra Palace show in October, Blur were supported by Pulp, wonderful on the strength of "Babies" and the personality of Jarvis Cocker. Though both bands narrowly missed the Mercury Music Prize - which is catching up with the Brits on the pointlessness highway - the mood was celebratory, not just because of the bands' performances, but because of what they represent, like it or not. Blur are the forefront of a movement. This has been the year of proud British indie-pop bands magpieing the past and enjoying mainstream success. Blur's honours must be spread around. First, there is Suede, whom the press like to see as Blur's arch rivals. Their second album would have been an unmitigated triumph were its not for Bernard Butler, the Richards/Marr of the band, doing a runner before it was finished. Oasis blasted out a shockingly assured debut, Elastica had laidback cool, the Manic Street Preachers had straightforward heat.

Contenders of a less guitar-heavy variety include Galliano, the ever- surprising Beastie Boys, the ghostly Portishead, and the thoughtful, seductive groove of Spearhead. Meanwhile, old lags Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, Nick Lowe, Shane Mac-Gowan and Sinead O'Connor didn't let us down: each produced either their best work for years or the work which was closest to what their fans wanted, or both.

Kurt Cobain let us down rather badly. As far as we know, Nirvana recorded no new material this year - their gripping Unplugged in New York was recorded in November 1993 - but Neil Young, REM and Pearl Jam have all written beautiful songs in tribute to the tragic singer-guitarist-writer, and the "Where-were-you-when-you-heard-about-Kurt" conversations have already started. His suicide may be remembered as the most significant event in rock this year.

Previous winners: 1991 Primal Scream; 1992 Nirvana; 1993 Neil Young.