Diary of a Mercury Prize nominee



We all watched as The xx made their meek acceptance speech over the sound of popping champagne corks during the televised conclusion to the evening but what's it like to be nominated and what happens on the day? Newsbeat's music reporter spent the day in the back pockets of nominees Foals to find out...

Early afternoon

A hazy looking Foals arrive one-by-one from London Grosvenor House hotel's luxurious lift looking sleepy eyed.

After soundchecking in the basement venue of tonight's awards (7 September) the evening before they were put up in one of the building's swanky suites.

Image caption The fivesome head to the bar before doing the pre-awards press run

"£5 I've just paid for some water with herbs in," exclaims keyboardist Edwin Congrave holding a cup of tea. An A4 'day schedule' is shoved into the Oxford band's hands and a long day begins.

Mercury Prize goes to trio The xx

Meanwhile, many of the 12 nominated artists begin congregating in the hotel foyer.

Paul Weller looks every inch the confident favourite (or he might just look cool because he's wearing sunglasses inside), The xx clutch their suit bags and Biffy Clyro chat with Wild Beasts.

"I'm feeling a bit jittery now. I think I'm quite nervous, or it could be the hangover," says Foals guitarist Jimmy Smith cupping a wine glass of water walking from the lobby to the basement venue where the awards take place tonight.

"I've got to perfect my losing face. I don't want to be disappointed."


"The room looks pretty amazing now," says Jimmy surveying the ceremony being prepared as the final tables are set out and the chandeliers dusted.

Taking to the stage after Biffy Clyro and Laura Marling the fivesome breeze through single Spanish Sahara for their television rehearsal and greet host Jools Holland.

Now, normally the nominees would head back to their plush hotel rooms to get changed into their Tuesday-best at this point. Not Foals though.

"This is the first thing we've ever done like this so we weren't sure how to play it," confides Jimmy looking down at his T-shirt. "We were going to go for the proper DJs. I'm glad we didn't.

"It's all about the music and about being yourself and looking like the band you are - which in our case is awful."

Rehearsal complete, Jimmy looks to capitalise on a free minute. "I'm going to go for a lie down," he says looking like he needs a lie down.

Early evening

An hour later, the five members reconvene in the hotel lobby preparing to be sent down the media shuttle run after Paul Weller, Villagers and Wild Beasts. "Can we go to the bar?" offers lead singer Yannis Philappakis.

Image caption Yannis and Edwin walk the red carpet before the awards

One shot each later, chests puffed out and they're being sprayed by the flashes of about 30 paparazzi bulbs before wandering down the red walkway in the hotel courtyard to chat to the assembled media.

"If we broke up tomorrow, getting nominated here would feel like a concrete achievement," says Yannis to a BBC colleague udring one of their many interviews trying to sum up what being nominated for the Mercury Prize means to them.

Meanwhile, he's also the only person we've ever seen light up a string of cigarettes on a red carpet.

Attendees Martine McCutcheon, Mr Hudson, Seasick Steve and Mat Horne all brush past them.

Show time

After the "dazzling" of the red carpet the band are guided through a warren of corridors into the venue and to their table - decorated generously with alcohol.

Foals on stage
Image caption Foals perform their track Spanish Sahara during their Mercury performance

Foals nervously wait their turn to play live on stage during the pre-recorded Mercury programme. "Some pretty great performances so far," says Jimmy anxiously. "Laura Marling was my favourite."

Following on from jazz outsiders Kit Downes Trio, Foals take to the Mercury Prize stage and rattle through their track confidently to huge applause from the hundreds of guests seated in the room. Murmurs around them suggest the 14/1 outsiders could have swung the judges (not that they're supposed to take it into account).

Post track Jimmy nips out for a cigarette: "I feel pretty good now. I didn't realise how nervous I was.

"It's a different kind of show, just all these eyes staring.

"It's an hour and a half until we find out who the winners and losers are and we get dinner in the meantime. I hope there's a cheese platter."

The result

After a nerve jangling wait (and a cod dinner) the hyped atmosphere is almost at breaking point as host Jools Holland arrives on stage to deliver the result live on BBC2.

Foals, and the 11 other nominees, collectively hold their breath. He opens the small envelop to reveal… The xx.

"Gutted, gutted," says Jimmy leaving the table. "Everyone didn't know what to do with themselves. I was looking over at Mumford's [And Sons'] table and everyone was stone cold still.

"We tried not to get our hopes up at all but then you do, don't you? I thought Paul Weller had got it.

"The xx though - I'm happy. They're doing something unique, they're causing a stir. They're great and they're humble about it."

Late evening

Sat still at their table as The xx are rushed off to be drenched in the media spotlight the band share a reflective moment.

"What happens now? Now, we all get dropped by the label," laughs Jimmy half on his way to the after-show party. "We're looking in Yellow Pages for jobs. No - now I think we all go hang out and have a few drinks."