5.04pm: It's Mercury prize time again! Those annual awards where the nation's music fans unite to say "It's a totally pointless industry ceremony dishing out an arbitrary prize" before banging on about what a disgrace it is that *insert triumphant band here* won it when it really should have gone to *insert less triumphant but more obscure band here*. And so on and so forth.
There is, as always, a spot reserved on some wobbly stool on the balcony for your humble Guardian blogger. And there is, as always, a luxurious chair or two reserved on a table below for the not-so-humble Guardian blagger. Not that I'm bitter. Oh no.
Join us from 7pm when the ceremony starts. There should be live songs and stuff. And let us know, to quote directly from the tome of learning that was Keane's debut album, your hopes and fears for tonight: who would you love to see win? And who do you think is going to win? Here's a quick recap of the nominees …
Adele – 21
Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
Everything Everything – Man Alive
Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
Gwilym Simcock – Good Days at Schloss Elmau
James Blake – James Blake
Katy B – On a Mission
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
Metronomy – The English Riviera
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy
Oh, and as for my prediction? Well, surely it's going to go to Gwilym Simcock with his classically trained piano-jazz, the only doubt being whether or not the Mercury panel can afford to dish out the prize to yet another jazz nominee? As for the others … sorry, not done any research on that lot. I've put all my chips in with Simcock. If he doesn't walk away with this I'm buggered …
6.46pm: Ok, we're here at last. Sat on our perch in a novel position that manages to obscure the view of not one, but two of the three stages artists will be performing on tonight. That's some skill. Early chatter both here and below the line seems to be in favour of PJ Harvey winning for the second time (she scooped it in 2001 with Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea).
@Lauritas comments: "I suppose PJ Harvey has already won the prize before. But on artistic merit? Just for that black feather hat, surely she should win? Oh, that and the brazenly bonkers appearance on the Andrew Marr show."
Lauritas is, of course, referring to THIS (hope you liked it Gordy)
6.52pm: I've got Greg Cochrane from BBC Radio One with me here who has some "hot goss" from the red carpet. Apparently Adele is resting her voice after cancelling part of her tour due to a chest cold – that means she won't be playing tonight, and she skipped the red carpet bit too. Almost worth having a chest cold to avoid being asked what her favourite colour is over and over again by 'sleb journos if you ask me.
It also appears Tinie Tempah is following in the footsteps of Dizzee. In more ways than one – like the Rascal himself last year, Tinie is juggling tonight's awards show with the GQ Man of the Year ceremony which is happening over the road. Also like last year, my invite to the latter event seems to have been lost in the post.
And finally ... if Ghostpoet wins he's going to celebrate by drinking a can of Tango. You read it here first. And probably wish you hadn't bothered.
7.03pm: Jools Holland is waffling on somewhere on one of the stages I can't really see. Whatever Jools, the Guardian's Rebecca Nicholson is here and she has even more hot goss from her own time on the red carpet. Apparently Metronomy revealed EXCLUSIVELY TO HER their own victory celebrations should they win – and it's better than drinking a can of orange fizzy drink. They are planning a sexy group snog, in fact. Whatever one of those is.
Right, that's your lot. Tinie Tempah is onstage – the other stage I can't see – playing a medley and it requires my full critical concentration.
7.11pm: Tinie's medley was, well, it was a medley wasn't it? Sounded a bit flat to tell the truth. He was wearing a red suit jacket, though, which makes him more extravagantly dressed than most people here. They've just gone through all the nominees to a range of cheers of differing volume. Amazingly Gwilym Simcock got the biggest roar by a mile. Could he win it? Let's hope not because, unlike the claim I made in my hilarious joke earlier, I literally know dick-all about him.
Anna Calvi is on. She's playing Desire which has to be one of the best songs on all the albums up for nomination tonight.
7.13pm: If you're sat there thinking that this live blog seems slightly "distanced" from the real action, relax. I can see Anna Calvi's feet quite clearly from beneath the big chandelier. She's wearing black shoes.
7.19pm: "England are going to win tonight, 3 - 1" says @TonyMoretti down in comment land below. And with that comes the sound of the eight readers still bothering to read this live blog saying "Bloody hell, I forgot England were playing!" and legging it to find a TV. For what it's worth, I predict England will win too – a diving header from PJ Harvey after a nicely timed cross by Gwilym Simcock. Or something. Talking of which, The Simcock is onstage (the stage I can see!) now and playing some piano. In fact, he's not just hitting the keys – he's turned the inside into a kind of beatbox and is smacking the strings and wood. Well that certainly made people pay attention to the "token jazz" guy.
7.20pm: Adele wasn't the only one to skip red carpet duties tonight. Apparently James Blake gave the journos a wide berth too for the less medical reason of being "too shy". Just what we all look for in a pop star, I'm sure you'll agree.
Elbow had no such difficulties and Guy Garvey charmed the aforementioned Mr Cochrane with the news that, whenever he feels down, he likes nothing better than to watch YouTube footage of his band winning the prize back in 2008 for Seldom Seen Kid. Ah, the silly sentimental sod.
There's a short break now before the next artist arrives ...
7.26pm: White frock. Head dress. Autoharp. Yep, I've certainly come sporting a strong look tonight. Embarrassingly, though, PJ Harvey's come in the exact same outfit. She's singing The Words That Maketh Murder and sounds awesome. Everyone wants her to win and I have to agree it would be a good choice – Let England Shake being a phenomenal piece of music.
7.33pm: I think the Peej probably will win, but I'd be equally happy to see these guys scoop it – King Creosote and Jon Hopkins are onstage now playing from their fragile, ambient folk record Diamond Mine. Would make a good "surprise" choice I think.
7.38pm: Metronomy are on, doing their squiffy electro-indie thing. The English Riviera is a decent enough record, but I can't really see the prize going to an indie band this year. Over the last few Mercurys we've had the XX, Klaxons, Arctic Monkeys and Elbow all winning. Same goes for Everything Everything, I'm afraid. Now sit back and watch me be hopelessly wrong ...
7.42pm: Metronomy thank everyone and sounds a bit polite. Everyone thanks everyone and sounds a bit polite. Makes you long for the time Klaxons won and took to the stage quite clearly gak'd out of their tiny minds waffling on about alien invasions and whatnot, doesn't it? (er, there appears to be no YouTube link to this ... I'm guessing their label weren't best pleased)
7.47pm: Over 50 comments already and we haven't even reached the most exciting bit of the night yet. I am, of course, referring not to the bit where Jools Holland reveals the winner but to the bit where I reveal the menu. Every year I've covered the Mercurys there seems to be an obsession with what musical types scoff at these bashes, possibly because it's always fancy and posh. And that's just not right in these credit crunched times. They should be dining on a Pret sandwich like me. Who's up for getting a campaign going?
7.57pm: Katy B is playing Katy On A Mission. She's another one I'd quite like to see win – On A Mission is a great summer dance album, although I do find it mildly terrifying that it makes me nostalgic for the 90s.
Talking of which here's Mr Shy himself, James Blake, tearing the audience a new arsehole with, er, a muted rendition of Wilhelm Scream. Actually, hold the sarcasm, it has some synths and cymbals in the mix too. Napalm Death won't be sleeping easily tonight.
8.04pm: James Blake thanks everyone and is quite polite. And now for yet another nominee who would be quite deserving of this award – Ghostpoet. Both his Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam and James Blake's self-titled album seemed to have "Mercury prize" written all over them when they first came out. That caused a bit of a backlash in Blake's case – almost as if it had been written his record with the express intention of winning a Mercury. But Ghostpoet isn't well-known enough yet for any kind of backlash. Let's hope Mike Skinner's Favourite New MC (TM) wins and gets to experience the delight of idiot journalists like me saying he was "better before he won the Mercury"
8.13pm: In the comments section there's a late surge of comments from the likes of @coolbritannia and @monsta that say Anna Calvi for the win. As with Katy B, Ghostpoet, King Creosote/Jon Hopkins and PJ Harvey, this would suit me just fine. And from what I saw of her shoes tonight, she has done absolutely nothing to dissuade me from this view.
8.17pm: The main debate in the comments section seems to be whether anyone should be allowed to win the Mercury twice. Opinion seems to be split between "If PJ Harvey wins, it's fine ... if Elbow wins, it should be banned". At least, that's the opinion in my head.
Now we've got a film to watch of poorly Adele playing Rolling In The Deep on Jools Holland. If she wins the Mercury I might have to campaign against the idea of anyone being allowed to win it full stop. I mean, what would be the point? It's sold bucket loads already, it's made zero artistic strides forward and it's got that bloody awful ballad on it that makes people cry for some inexplicable reason whenever a contestant sings it on X Factor.
8.26pm: "I'd quite enjoy James Blake covering Napalm Death. This should happen." says @TheLuckyC down below the line. Stick with me pal, I can make stuff like that happen. Actually, who am I trying to kid? I can't even find a spot at the Mercurys where I get served a hot meal :(
Adele is onstage now, by the way. She's doing a good "poorly" voice, but soon snaps out of it. Apparently she's "fucking gutted" she couldn't play tonight. Despite my criticism of her music, I'm the first to accept she's a great pop star and has more charisma than the rest of the nominees rolled together.
8.25pm: It's time for some Everything Everything. They're not playing MY KZ, UR BF. Seeing as that is possibly their only decent song, it seems something of an oversight.
8.27pm: The violins are out in full force. Not for Everything Everything, obvs – I'm talking about the fact that I've accepted another year without a posh meal and have opened my bag of ready salted crisps. Ready salted! I couldn't even get my act together for some prawn cocktail ...
8.35pm: Guy Garvey is talking about how he's had a "couple of whiskys". He's full of praise for the Mercurys and comes armed with a load of generally heartwarming sentiments. Hate to break it to you Guy, but if you win the Mercury this year I will eat my white head dress and swallow my autoharp for pudding. Build A Rocket Boys might delight the faithful but it doesn't go anywhere the band haven't been before. To be honest, I was surprised to see it up for nomination. Surely SBTRKT or Wild Beasts would have made a better, bolder choice?
8.43pm: It's my favourite time of year! Live blogging while a bunch of suits enjoy a three course meal! It was hard enough the first time, whereas by the second time I was reduced to recycling the same old jokes and hoping nobody noticed. This time, I really don't know how we're going to get through this together.
But, er, in case you're even thinking about going elsewhere for an hour, let me inform you that England are beating Wales by a goal to nil and George Osbourne is still messing up the economy. Literally nothing else of any note is happening in the world so you might as well stick here with me.
8.56pm: "If Blake is covering Napalm Death, can we get Adele covering Arch Enemy?" says @HeartofFire. How long can we spin this one out? Oh hang on, there's no need ... I HAVE LOCATED A MENU
8.58pm: So here's what everyone down below is eating tonight. Drum roll please ...
Warm feta, pea and asparagus tart, broad bean, tomato and mint dressing, pea shoots
Grilled sea bream, stir-fried vegetables with lemongrass and ginger, champ potatoes, oriental jus, sliced spring onion and red chilli
Grand Marnier creme brulee, caramelised oranges, lemon sorbet
Coffee and petits fours
"Oriental jus"? Really? Did punk happen so that Everything Everything could sit here and eat something smeared with oriental jus?
9.27pm: "Hate to break it to you Tim," says @TommerS down in the comments, "But 6music beat you to the mark on the menu this year - Matt Everett mentioned those warm feta and pea tarts hours ago. At least you can count yourself a trend setter!"
Gutted. But do you want to know the really sad thing? This year I managed to get hold of the menu almost as soon as I got here but I didn't want to "blow my load" so to speak by announcing it too early. So I saved it for the chasm of nothingness that is this meal. That's what has become of my career.
And who knew I had competition! I will have to bear this all in mind for next year.
Oh Lord, please don't let me be live blogging this meal again next year.
9.33pm: "Is there a vegetarian main course option?" asks @ollib. Man, this is really why I first set my heart on music journalism. I will, of course, investigate.
9.44pm: Our new music community man Adam Boult has been in touch. "Hi Tim, hope you're enjoying your Pret sandwich!" he says.
Why you cheeky little ... oh, hang on, calm down, he's actually just emailing to let me know the results of our Facebook poll on who should win the Mercury Prize. The world is not against me. There is no need to hurl the laptop over the balcony onto Ghostpoet's feta and pea tart in despair.
So here we go ...
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - 34%
PJ Harvey - 24%
Metronomy - 14%
Anna Calvi - 7%
James Blake - 5%
Ghostpoet - 5%
Elbow - 4%
Katy B - 4%
Everything Everything - 2%
Gwilym Simcock - 0.5%
Adele - 0.5%
Tinie Tempah - No votes
In the spirit of full disclosure, Adam notes that Everything Everything and Adele were left off the poll for the first few hours. Er, sorry about that. Tinie Tempah, however, was up as an available option for the whole time :(
9.53pm: Whoever wins, it probably won't just be because they've made the best album but also that the time is right and it will create a good story in the press (sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but this is normally how these things work).
@JackSkeleton makes a very good point below: "PJ Harvey will win; it's the right narrative... the whole 10 years 9/11 thing, the anti war album, etc. (plus she's a critical darling who can't give away the album - the record company needs a boost)"
He's referring to the fact she first won this prize exactly a decade ago, and that this was overshadowed by the atrocities of September 11th. We're currently dealing with the after effects of the failed military campaigns that Harvey documents throughout Let England Shake. It does feel like this would make for the best "story" which is no doubt part of the reason why she's the favourite to win.
10.09pm: @Gummibarchen asks why I didn't bring a hip flask with me. I wondered this myself at first, imagining how a nice 12 year old Caol Ila would take the edge off things. Then I remembered that Guardian reporter Lexy Topping has been smuggling me glasses of red wine up here for the last two hours. I'm now on my fifth, which is almost certainly why this live blog is threatening to go completely off the rails. Have I really been liveblogging this past hour about a Pret sandwich? And can I stay sober long enough to bring you the results of the Mercury prize? I'm shhhure i willl be jussht finne and PJ HaVeh Shhould winnn
10.14pm: Ok everyone! I'm still standing and they're about to announce the winner! When I say "about" I do, of course, mean "after some waffle"
10.18pm: Jools Holland is onstage. He has an envelope. I'm getting that sense of dread again that the laptop will suddenly die. Ah, nostalgia.
10.20pm: Jools went away. Now he's back again. Before he reveals the winner, there's a bit of a recap ...
10.22pm: And the winner is ... England! They beat Wales by a goal to nil ... oh, sorry, wrong liveblog ...
10.22pm: And the real winner is ... PJ Harvey! For the fabulous Let England Shake!
"Thank you for the recognition of my work!" she says, before mentioning how it's nice to be here in person considering she ended up watching the Pentagon burn from her hotel window last time she won the prize (as discussed previously, she won it on September 11, 2001).
10.32pm: So there we have it – PJ Harvey is the winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2011 for her eighth album Let England Shake. I'm sure most people will agree with the decision, even if they're left feeling slightly disappointed at the lack of shock factor on the night.
While giving Let England Shake a five star review back in February, the Guardian's chief pop critic Alexis Petridis opined that, before this record, Harvey had been the kind of artist a lot of people admired rather than genuinely liked. I'd go along with that, because Let England Shake is the first album of hers that I've truly fallen in love with. Like many of the nominees here tonight, it was a record that knew how to craft a decent melody. But unlike the other nominees, it was also a record inspired by the likes of Harold Pinter and TS Eliot, a record that dared to explore brave new lyrical territory (unless I've drastically misread the Katy B record, I didn't hear it referencing the 1915 Dardanelles Campaign).
You can see PJ play The Colour Of The Earth in our studios here. I'm about to sign off for the night, so thanks to everyone who read and commented. You've kept me halfway sane. See you next year for another three course meal watched longingly from afar ...