Taylor was present and correct at the Langham when the list was unveiled last week, milling around with a selection of the nominees including Anna Calvi, Dave, Slowthai and Nao. Revelling in the quality of the records on the list, he was in fine fettle.
“I’m really pleased with the list,” he beamed. “It’s very diverse. We’ve got five debut albums in there, there’s something for everybody. What characterises it for me is the intelligence of the songwriting and the lyrics, the ambition and the originality. That’s what the prize is all about.”
Read on to find out how Taylor plans to change things up for the Mercurys 2019, as he reveals plans for a possible podcast series, livestreaming and more…
What were the aims going into this year’s edition?
“To broaden support. The BPI wants the Mercurys to be a platform for artists and labels to help promote their amazing work and to sit alongside the BRITs for perhaps a different kind of artist at a different stage of their career. We’re trying to build reach so it’s as powerful a platform as it can be. That means working with the BBC, and working with Amazon Music this year, to reach as many fans as possible. I would like the BBC not just to broadcast it on BBC Four, I’d like them to livestream it on YouTube, so we’re in those discussions. That will reach those fans we were just talking about. It will reach fans who aren’t necessarily watching BBC Four, and that’s good for the BBC, the prize and the artists. It’s the right thing to do."
How else can you move things forward?
“We’re constantly looking for ways we can build our digital strategy, we’ve invested more in that this year to make sure we’re everywhere on social media, working closely with the artists and their teams. I’d like to do a Mercury podcast, a series in the run up to the show that goes in depth into each of the albums. We’re talking to the BBC about that. We’re continually trying to develop while retaining the core of the Mercury Prize: independence, integrity and the authenticity of the judging process. Provided we do that, it’s really got something to add to the music industry. We just need to make sure people engage and use it as a way to find new music.”
I’d like the BBC to livestream the show on YouTube
Many predicted major label success stories such as Lewis Capaldi and Tom Walker might make the list…
“It’s a very strong showing from the independent sector. That’s down to the judges. Tom Walker and Lewis Capaldi have had amazing success, every year you can debate it and say, ‘I think this should have been on the list’. But I can also see why. All the albums on the list have a lot to commend them; it’s always highly competitive. We’ve got some amazing artists, highly respected broadcasters and critics on the judging panel and they’ve done a good job of picking out albums that have something really fresh to say and will provide discovery for a lot of music fans, and ultimately that’s what the Mercury Prize is all about. For albums that perhaps haven’t had as much promotional support or much media coverage, if it helps those to get a spotlight then it’s playing a really distinctive role in the industry.”
You had Stormzy and Jorja Smith as judges, that’s a coup, isn’t it?
“I work very hard on trying to make sure we have a really interesting, eclectic panel of judges. We were thrilled that Stormzy, Jorja, Jamie [Cullum] and Gaz [Coombes] agreed to do it, it makes the prize more valuable to those who get nominated, to know they’re being judged by their peers and the best critics. It was important to bring in artists who will appeal to a younger fanbase and make sure the prize continues to evolve and bring in new fans. Hopefully we can strike that balance, there are people who’ve followed the prize every year and are now probably in their 50s, but I want 15-year-olds to be engaging and I think they will, a load of the artists this year are very fresh and will appeal to young fans.”
Dave’s nomination backs up that idea. What does he mean to British music?
“I don’t really feel worthy to comment! He’s come through with an album that has a lot to say, is really authentic and I think the songwriting is of tremendous quality. He’s having tremendous commercial success independently. It’s a great story for British music. I also think Slowthai and Little Simz, Black Midi… they’re showing originality and intelligence. It gives us reason to be really confident about the future of British music.”