Mercury Prize Nominees: What They Say
, September 13th, 2012 05:06
The Quietus donned its wristband, drank some Estrella and joined the press queue at the prize launch yesterday to get the nominees' reactions
The Mercury Prize 2012 announced its shortlist yesterday, kickstarting the annual cycle of celebrating British and Irish music by crowning one LP ‘Album of the Year’. Most of the nominees were at the launch, as was much of the UK’s music press, touting their dictaphones and haggling for attention. The Quietus lined up in between the tabloids and the NME and waited patiently.
First of the artists to appear was an excited Jessie Ware, who had earlier performed an acoustic version of ‘Wildest Moments’ from her nominated debut album Devotion. How did you react? “Oh man, I jumped up and down a bit and was overexcited and then remembered I had to keep it a secret.
“It's the one that you really wanna get a nomination for. It's such a wonderful prize and it really is about the music, so for me to be a part of this shortlist, I really am over the moon.
Michael Kiwanuka, up for his album, Home Again, another debut, was the launch’s other performer and said that the prize underlined the importance of the album as a format: “That's the thing, I think it just makes people aware that you can still listen to something in a long-playing form. People think ‘I better check the album out, maybe, if it's nominated’, and then they listen to the album, as opposed to one track that they here on a compilation, or something or off iTunes.”
Trading in his career as a wilderness survival teacher, among other things, to pursue his enthusiasm for folk music, Sam Lee received a nomination for his debut Ground of its Own. The album draws on his experience being ‘adopted’ for three years by the late traveller writer and musician Stanley Robertson.
“I think the people that I've learnt the songs from, the gypsy traveller community, I think it would be a recognition, a world of people, a community, who are so vilified and badly acknowledged in the mass media, that actually they have something very important to say and they have carried on our indigenous music to today and nobody's paid them any bloody attention,” said Lee. “If it takes an agent like me to negotiate that, then great, but actually it's them that this is in celebration of.”
“Most of the people I've learned these songs from are 80, 90 years-old or not alive travellers, so they haven't heard of the Mercury Prize, some of them don't even have a television, don't read or write. This world is an anathema to them, but if I was to say that some well-versed people in London think your songs are really great, they'll go 'well of course they bloody do, they're the best songs in the world', as they often do.”
Just pass the crush of people crowding round Plan B making some earnest declamations in his sole interview of the night, a charmingly merry Peter Brewis of Field Music explained that he was ready for a night on the tiles with his record label, and was “a little bit tipsy, but very, very happy as well.”
The band have been nominated for their fifth album, Plumb, widely recognised as a long-overdue recognition. Brewis talked about the negative perceptions associated with music prizes: “I'm the first person to do that, I'm a total musical snob. But when I hear something else that I like, I can't help but like it. You know, it has nothing to do with my snobbishness.
“They're not really a poisoned chalice. Having this is maybe good, maybe bad for a little band like ours, we're a minor concern,” he added. “Whether it's the best way to promote albums, I don't know, but it's good for a little band like ours, for more people to like hear it. I am sure that many more people after today are going to think, 'you know Field Music? Fucking shite'. But maybe more people are going to think, 'you know what, maybe that's alright?' I just hope that the people who like us already aren't going to think 'oh god, aye, here we go. Sell outs!'”
Django Django’s David Maclean and Tommy Grace, nominated for their self-titled debut, held a similar view. “With anything like this, it's just a bunch of people's opinions,” explained Maclean. “For me, there's a lot of albums that I'd rate, like the Jam City album, that maybe wouldn’t make the grade. There's so many albums come out in a year, thousands of weird stuff, so to be part of something like this is great, because you've become part of a narrow group of good albums, but also the fact that there's endless great records, so take it with a bit of a pinch of salt.
They also tackled the occasionally nullifying effect music prizes can have on bands’ careers: “For everyone that's a poisoned chalice, there's an xx,” said Grace. “Music's music: if it's good, it'll stand the test of time. I don't really see how a prize is going to make any difference. I think with the nominations, I'm just so happy to be nominated, I don't really care otherwise.”
Until the winners are announced on November 1, we’ll leave the closing words to host Lauren Laverne, who touched on her own favourite albums, not included in the list (but possibly featuring in the Quietus’s own Jovian Bow Shock Prize 2012 list): “For me personally, yeah, but it would be churlish to mention that today, because it's about saying congratulations to all these people who've worked really hard to make their albums. This is their day. But, I would guess, read below this post for some angry comments and probably a list of suggestions.
“And that's the reality of music - there isn't a best album, right? For me, working on this, and as a music fan, a) it's about shining a light on music at people who don't love music and are really into it and might not know about, and then get a chance to discover that and b) actually, the arguing about it is part of the fun! Who here who likes records doesn't like having a good argument about which one is the best and why?”