The Mercury Prize, now in its twenty-fifth year, has been an award most young musicians dream of being nominated for, never mind winning. To be considered at all, the artist or group must be British and made up of over half British members, so it really is a nod in the direction of home-grown talent.
A multi-genre platform that can catapult lesser known acts into the mainstream, it is an annual go-to for any music connoisseur, whether at the front line of downloading their Apple Music library, or the seasoned record collector who plays an LP once only to store it in a freshly ironed sleeve for the music lovers of the future.
The Mercury Prize is one award and one only, the winner receiving the accolade “Album of the Year”. A welcome change from the contrived and supposed glitz and glamour of The Brits or The VMAs, where endless categories and shortlists seem to reflect the happenings of gossip columns of TV and showbiz fanatics, rather than true intellectualism in the musical art-form. There really is a difference between record companies’ marketing strategies, relying on PR companies who can get the most exposure, and who is a genuinely talented musician creating a musical masterpiece in the form of an album.
The album is something which we have all but forgotten in the present day. Who of us can remember once a week getting pocket money and going to Our Price to search the newest releases, buying the record or CD, taking it home and obsessing for days over the sleeve, realising that the producer for Blur’s Parklife was in fact also the in-house engineer of The Smiths “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” that you absolutely love too?! A time of genuine obsession that lasts a lifetime and becomes internalised like the alphabet.
To be an artist who grabs attention to the point where people will spend time digesting a full album, in the day of instant digital gratification where anyone can be an “instant Einstein” is a skill in itself. To be an artist who can be whittled down from more than 220 album submissions to the final shortlist of just twelve is an even finer skill. For the winner tonight we can only wonder what awaits around the corner of the Mercury Prize success, with forty past albums hitting platinum status after being shortlisted.
The shortlist is hugely varied and is a tough one to call. Over half of the contenders have first-time albums, proving to all of us here in the British music industry that we are producing a great many upcoming artists covering all realms of music – from guitar bands like Blossoms, Glass Animals, The Bad Moon, underground/hip-hop artists like Stormzy, JHus, Loyle Carner, singer/songwriter Sampha, to the fully passionate spoken word Kate Tempest, and the jazz-fusion Dinosaur.
Those that are wet around the Mercury ears are up against some heavyweights of commercial success. Will Ed Sheeran really find a place in the Mercury Prize Hall of Fame, and does he, on his third album, deserve it? In a sense he must be worthy of the nomination otherwise he surely would not be in the mix? The XX and Alt-J are also up for nomination, both of whom are previous winners and if they do find success, would match PJ Harvey as claiming the award twice.
I, for one, would not want to be in the debate to decide the artist who will take this accolade – or maybe I would, as a fly on the wall to witness the diversity of opinions. The judging panel is made up of critics and performers alike, all of whom hold their viewpoints as passionately as the next.
Tonight I shall be watching a healthy album award ceremony with an unhealthy album obsession, and cannot wait to see who will come out on top!