'It's about proper albums': Views from the floor at the Mercury Prize launch

'It's about proper albums': Views from the floor at the Mercury Prize launch

This time 12 months ago, a gaggle of music industry types gathered in the depths of the Langham Hotel in central London to gorge on free coffee and pastries at the Mercury Prize launch do.

BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens would soon be in attendance, to unveil a shortlist of 12 albums that included seven debuts. Hats off, once again, to J Hus, Stormzy, Dinosaur, Glass Animals, The Big Moon, Sampha and Loyle Carner. Former Music Week cover star J Hus saw a surge in sales in the aftermath.

There was the same hubbub this year, but only two artists made the cut with debut albums. Jorja Smith and Novelist were both in attendance, which went some way to nullify the hint of disappointment at the absence of acts such as Shame and Goat Girl, breaking independent acts who released acclaimed debut records during the past 12 months.

Last year, UK rap made its presence felt, too. It had to. Perhaps both the genre and Britain’s wider spectrum of new acts haven’t fared as well this year as last.

Not according to BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra’s MistaJam, who spoke to Music Week as a selection of the nominees ran the media gauntlet.

“It’s luck of the draw. The fact is there are a lot of jobs you need to do with the finalists,” he said. “Novelist having one of the nominated albums is brilliant for him but he’s not carrying an entire scene on his back. When you look at all of the genres represented, there’s something for everyone.”

“All the judges involved are from different walks of life with very different backgrounds in music and tastes and when you put those things together, you get what we’ve got as the final list.”

BPI CEO Geoff Taylor too, sporting a linen shirt to combat the fierce heat outside, chose instead to celebrate the artists and records that did make the list.

“It’s important for any industry to recognise achievement and the Mercury and the BRITs are the two biggest things you can win in British music,” he said. “I really think that has a lot of meaning. We hope both commercially and artistically it still has an important role to play.”

Wolf Alice (pictured) were certainly happy to be there, celebrating their second consecutive nomination following a nod for debut My Love Is Cool in 2015.

“It’s great to be flying the flag as one of the bands on the list,” said bassist Theo Ellis, who also underlined the importance of recognising their nomination as an achievement for their label, Dirty Hit.

If anything, though, Wolf Alice were keener to dig into their fellow nominations, gushing about “proper album, albums” from King Krule and Arctic Monkeys.

And those two records in particular feel like a victory for the format, amidst the seemingly ceaseless debate about what streaming and digital culture are doing to LP culture.


@jorjasmith_ and @lilyallen in the midst of @mercuryprize launch madness #mercuryprize

A post shared by Music Week (@musicweekinsta) on Jul 26, 2018 at 3:37am PDT

“Vinyl is massive now, that’s the ultimate way to listen to an album in that sense,” noted Ellie Rowsell.

And that’s really the point that emerged as the last stragglers left their coffee cups and scoffed the crumbs of salmon and cream cheese bagels: the Mercury Prize launch is about albums, and shining a light on 12 that the judges reckon deserve our time.

And while a lack of emerging talent relative to last year feels disappointing, and the familiarity of Everything Everything, Florence + The Machine and Arctic Monkeys mean parts of this list could have been zapped in from a few years ago, every record on the list is there because the judges believe it deserves to be.

Now, it’s up to the music industry to debate it, and fight for the artists and albums we love: just because an album isn't on the Mercury list doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve wider attention.

“It was harder than previous years because there’s just so much good music,” MistaJam summed up. “Going through all the albums, I made so many discoveries, some of which didn’t manage to make the list but have definitely made it into my personal playlists.”

To read our guide to how this year's contenders have sold so far, click here.

Revisit our piece on how former winners made the most of Mercury glory here.

Relive the best moments of last year’s Mercury Prize ceremony here.

PHOTO: John Marshall / JMEnternational

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