The Hyundai Mercury Prize is over for another year, though this one will be remembered for some time for both its winning record (the acclaimed Psychodrama from Dave) and also a wide range of performances that had the audience cheering and out of their seats.
Here's Music Week's 2019 round-up of highlights of the ceremony at the Eventim Apollo...
Dave's acceptance speech after his name was announced by Annie Mac was very much about family. "I want to firstly thank God and I want to invite my mum up on stage," said the UK rapper (whose full name is Dave Omoregie). With his mother joining Dave for a touching embrace on live TV, he referenced the older brother, Christopher, whose imprisonment is the real life story behind the concept album. "Most importantly I want to thank my brother, who inspired the album - this is your story that we told," he said.
Dave also acknowledged his fellow nominees, including Top Boy co-star Little Simz (one of the standout performers). "I want to thank all of the exceptional musicians that came and performed tonight - I did not expect this," he said. "You guys, I respect you - Simz, 'Thai, Nao, I love you guys."
While other nominated artists are more outspoken about the state of the nation and such things, Anna Calvi's Hunter was in many ways the most daring LP on the list with its lyrics exploring gender fluidity and sexual identity. Perhaps some Mercury TV viewers' interest was piqued by the Domino artist's current soundtrack association with Peaky Blinders.
Calvi's performance of Don't Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy will was just as dramatic and hard-hitting. With her big shoulder pads, baleful stare and powerhouse vocal, Calvi was indomitable at the Apollo. Amazing guitar work, too. This was her third consecutive Mercury nomination, so she knows what she's doing.
Are guitars coming back? As well as Black Midi, whose remarkable performance is covered below, this was a Mercury ceremony where rock bands seemed confident and brimming with exuberance, anger and energy. Fontaines DC provided a welcome blast of Irish indie, featuring an insouciant performance by frontman Grian Chatten (acknowledging his influences with a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds T-shirt).
Idles had to follow Black Midi, though still managed to get perhaps the biggest reaction of the evening with their stroppy yet anthemic punk rock. A couple of members ended up in the audience, while a pink-haired Joe Talbot made a point of handing their award for being shortlised to Slowthai. A nice gesture from the band, who admitted backstage that they didn't really need the Mercury Prize anyway.
Has anyone ever shown such flagrant disregard for the coccyx on stage at the Mercury Prize as Black Midi in 2019? During the band’s brilliant, faintly preposterous rendition of bm bm bm, the crowd was audibly freaked out to see an acrobatics display that involved a front flip and accidental charging into hard, inanimate objects from guitarist Matt Kwasniewski. The South Londoners played their breakout song as if they were moving a heavy sofa down an iron staircase, and it was a juddering mess. Crucially, though, they were on excellent, muscular form, snapping every sinew to make clear why so many have been so excited about them for so long. They had a window of opportunity and they smashed right through it, offering real weirdness and a welcome hint of chaos. The teenagers will be back.
Rap game UK
While Dave would eventually take home the trophy, the Mercury Prize show offered a bite-size look at the UK rap scene in 2019, with huge performances from Little Simz and Slowthai as well as the man behind Pyschodrama. Little Simz, from North London, began behind the piano, all in white, leading her band through a rendition of Selfish that showed soul and snarl in equal measure. Dave’s performance of Psycho was powerful, poignant, the space between bars showing the deftness that characterises his music. Then, Slowthai arrived, hoisting a model of Boris Johnson’s head from a rucksack and bellowing “fuck Boris, fuck everything” and trampling around the floor chucking chairs about and ripping his shirt off. The Northampton MC’s was a delirious, deranged performance, souped up on anger. Right now it feels like anything goes in UK rap, and the Mercury 2019 encapsulated that fearlessness. At the same time, this was a raw demonstration of the frustration coursing through British music these days. We’re living through important moments, and there were plenty to remember here.