Don's Diary

September 28, 2001

Sunday

A two-page spread in the Sunday Herald rehearses every cliché about the Mercury Music Prize known to rock criticism, dismissing Susheela Raman's Salt Rain as "tokenistic". Music writers, it seems, are driven these days not by curiosity but by the need to sneer at anything not on their playlist. The writer has obviously not heard Salt Rain .

Monday

My plane to Luton lands an hour and a half late, but I manage to get to the Royal College of Art for my appointment with Jostein Gripsrud, a colleague from the University of Bergen, who interviews me about the art school effect on British rock culture for a Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation series on "cultural disorder".

We film by the Albert Memorial until we are challenged by the park's manager. I walk to the Grosvenor House Hotel, pick up my security pass and watch Goldfrapp and Elbow soundchecking. I have dinner with the prize organiser. We cannot predict who will win this year.

Tuesday

Wake up in my luxury hotel suite and think of my film and media colleagues at Stirling University, setting off even now for a departmental away day. I rehearse my walk-on part in the Mercury show and marvel at the steady transformation of the Great Room from scruffy, cable-covered rehearsal space to glitzy dining theatre.

Back in my room I watch the pictures from New York with increasingly numb incredulity. At 4.15 I go down to meet my fellow judges. They are subdued and not in the mood for music. The purpose of this session is to hear the case anyone can make for each shortlisted album, and we are soon fully engaged in the arguments.

By the time we adjourn for the show, we still have four possible winners and four more albums people would like to go on discussing. Chat volume during the performances is louder than ever (why do music industry executives talk so urgently through music?) but the audience is moved by the intensity of Elbow's song, and by Raman's shortlist trophy acceptance speech - she points out that her band contains a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu and a Jew. I reflect that music matters more than ever on a day like this and our final judging session, over dinner, goes remarkably smoothly.

We agree that P. J. Harvey's Stories from the City , Stories from the Sea should win. She is in Washington DC and, rather to my amazement, we manage to get through to her by phone.

Wednesday

An early morning call from Radio 4. The BBC's head of radio has been through the day's schedule and removed anything "trivial". This includes the live discussion of pop music planned for Laurie Taylor's sociology programme, Thinking Allowed . We agree to record it for next week instead. I reach Luton Airport to find super security measures in place. My plane lands in Glasgow two hours late. I have missed Channel 4's Mercury Music Prize programme.

Simon Frith is professor of film and media at the University of Stirling. He was chair of the judges of the Technics Mercury Music Prize.

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