'The world needs it': Team Wolf Alice on why the Mercury Prize still matters

'The world needs it': Team Wolf Alice on why the Mercury Prize still matters

As the music business awaits the verdict of the judges at the Hyundai Mercury Prize ceremony on Thursday (September 20), there’s an ongoing debate about the viability of the LP in the streaming era.

The industry has already acted by launching the inaugural National Album Day next month as a chance to shine a light on the enduring 70-year-old format. But there’s no doubt that streaming has skewed consumption towards tracks - and Mercury-shortlisted Wolf Alice are a case in point.

The band’s sophomore release Visions Of A Life is one of the most acclaimed albums of the past year, but its sales to date of 57,215 (Official Charts Company) lag some way behind the 126,407 tally of 2015 debut My Love Is Cool (also nominated for the Mercury). 

However, as EMI MD Clive Cawley told Music Week earlier this month, the Mercury effect is not just measured in UK album sales.

Speaking in the latest issue of Music Week, Wolf Alice’s manager Stephen Taverner, of East City Management, agrees that the impact of a nomination can benefit the whole campaign.

“Just being shortlisted is an exciting prospect for any artist and the prize comes with a fair amount of kudos,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything about the Mercury losing impact, and my personal take on that is that if the winner is commercially viable in the global market then it’ll travel a long way.”

While Wolf Alice faced the initial disappointment of losing out to Shania Twain in their race for No.1, the band are currently outselling the Canadian superstar (53,966 sales for Now) and their global live campaign has been exemplary with a sell-out Alexandra Palace show, a blistering headline performance on the BBC Radio 1 Stage at Reading & Leeds and plum support slots with Liam Gallagher and Foo Fighters. Wolf Alice are still touring the album with dates leading up to UK shows in December at the O2 Academy Brixton and O2 Victoria Warehouse.

“We sold out O2 Academy Brixton in a day and it looks like the second date will sell out pretty quickly as well,” said Taverner. “Has the Mercury had any impact? Maybe. I don’t think you can underestimate it. Obviously it gets talked about in the media, but people definitely want to check out the [shortlisted] albums and then make their own decision.”

Has the Mercury had any impact? I don’t think you can underestimate it

Stephen Taverner

While a decent proportion of Wolf Alice’s album sales come from streaming (22% for the debut, versus 25% for Visions Of A Life), rock has generally struggled on platforms such as Mercury digital music partner Spotify and Apple Music. But Taverner says the Mercury can help a band’s album cut through on DSPs.

“Stats are important from an industry point of view, but if you’re a music fan and you’re faced with the streaming services search button every day, it helps as a filter,” he said. “I’d rather people were arguing with each other than being very blase and skipping tracks on a playlist. Engaging with an audience about music is very important and skipping tracks is not so great and could be damaging in the long term, it makes things too disposable.”

Wolf Alice were keen to show their support for the prize by attending the nominations launch event. While Arctic Monkeys and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - the two biggest sellers among the nominees - have yet to confirm a performance at the ceremony, Taverner disputed any suggestion that the prize is losing its touch as it nears the 27th edition.

“I always hope to have something on the shortlist,” he told Music Week. “Everyone involved is very genuine about the music, it’s a fantastic thing and we need it. The world needs it.”

As revealed in the latest issue of Music Week, several acts have seen uplift in social media followers following the nomination. 

To read Music Week’s Hyundai Mercury Prize preview pick up the latest issue. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here

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