In 1992, the British Phonographic Industry and Association of Record-Dealers created the Mercury Music Prize as an alternative to the BRIT Awards, Mercury being the ill-fated communications-company involved with the initial sponsorship. They have kept the name on the silverware, so to speak, but now Barclaycard help sponsor it. Since '92, many artists have benefitted from getting exposure for their nominated album, although M People in 1994 was a strange winner (ahead of Blur and The Prodigy) but still, it's had high-points - you can't argue with Primal Scream's "Screamadelica", Suede's "Suede", Portishead's "Dummy" and Elbow's "Seldom Seen Kid".
We won't mention last year's though - it was a moot point when retailers ran out of Speech Debelle's "Speech Therapy" after the winning announcement was made. The label couldn't get enough produced in time, leading to a possible loss in sales, which at least proves the award isn't as staged as first thought.
It's an industry award, plain and simple, that tends to veer towards the unusual in its nominations list. 2009 witnessed the obvious (Bat For Lashes, Florence, Friendly Fires), the left-field (The Invisible, Lisa Hannigan) and roots-driven (Led Bib, Sweet Billy Pilgrim), sometimes even venturing into the (gasp) tricky fields of jazz and classical, but no-one from that area has ever won it.
The nominations are announced on 20th July, with the winner announced on 7th September.
2010 looks like being an interesting year for the award, not least because of the higher standard of music out there. Candidates for this year's nominations should surely include Delphic, These New Puritans, Corinne Bailey Rae, Los Campesinos!, Hot Chip, Massive Attack, Goldheart Assembly, Gorillaz (although there is an element of overseas help on the album), The Fall, Foals, the obligatory roots or classical title and The Durutti Column. No, I'm not joking with the last one.