Freddie Matthews writes from London: It’s time for another annual British music tradition in the form of the Mercury Music Prize, or is it the Mercury Prize? Well, in actual fact, thanks to sponsorship reasons, we must now call it the Barclaycard Music Prize, as if the bankers know anything about pop music. It’s a prize for the best album from Britain or Ireland in the last year since the award was won, usually from September to September. The Mercury part, which in actual fact is what most people know this award as, is because of the original links with Mercury Communications, the first sponsor. And because it sounded more record company than sponsor, the name has bizarrely stuck.
I’ve always held a soft spot for this award as it’s the unexpected artists who, against all or the normal rules and odds and while beating off the big bands, often end up victorious.
All of the final 12 nominees will experience a sales increase purely from the nomination alone, let alone by winning the prize and that’s got to be a fabulous position for anyone. This recognition from the most respected music industry insiders is worth its weight in gold especially as potentially new fans will also be generated. Within the new music scene it’s cool to know the next best thing before the mainstream do, and woe betide anyone who’s part of that scene but hasn’t yet heard of the next big thing. Of course a ‘scenester’ will ditch the newest big thing as they’ve already been there, to them it’s ‘old news’ and they’ve already moved on to the next cool up and coming music scene.
So what of 2012’s Barclaycard Music Prize Album Of The Year? There are some artists you’ll know and others, unsurprisingly, you have never heard of.
Plan B and Richard Hawley are the bookies’ favourites at odds of 4/1 each. OK they’re two artists you’ve probably heard of. However, then come two virtual unknowns in the form of Alt-J’s ‘An Awesome Wave’ and Django Django’s self-titled debut follow with odds of 5/1.
“This has been a year of musical excellence with these albums representing a diverse range of styles from UK artists,” said Rupert Adams of William Hill.
The 12 finalists for this year’s Barclaycard Mercury Prize were announced in the second week of September. They are:
Plan B with their album called Ill Manors. You may think that Plan B is the front man in the band but you’d be wrong as Plan B is the name of the band and the front man is the highly talented Ben Drew. Yes, he is still often referred to as Plan B. He’s an actor, singer, rapper and film director. The 2010 album ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’ was a musical masterpiece, a UK No. 1 album, and the 5th biggest selling album of 2010 with over 1 million sales to date. So what I’m thinking is, “Do Plan B really need to win this award?”
Seven albums later Richard Hawley’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge is another great LP in the running. Sheffield born Richard has been making music since 1989 and if anyone needs a break and the acclaim that the BMP brings then ladies and gentlemen here is your winner. This is probably one of the reasons he’s a strong favourite.
There are two other albums in this list I’ll pay homage to. Firstly, the long player by The Maccabees, called Given To The Wild. In my humble opinion this is an accomplished masterpiece from start to finish. You could not go far wrong in a search for unique new music this year, if you download or buy a copy of this album. Secondly, if you’re an Ed Sheeran fan, you know the ginger haired British singer/songwriter with the small acoustic guitar who’s cleaned up in the last year, and you’ll probably already be a fan of Ben Howard and his new album ‘Every Kingdom’. This is a sensitive sounding album – more akin to background music – to listen to while slowly sipping a 2002 Shiraz and relaxing in a deep, comfortable leather chair, in a dark British heritage pub, on a cold winter’s Sunday afternoon, in deepest Surrey.
Four albums down and eight left but are these pretenders to the crown or do the following actually stand a chance? They are:
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave / Django Django – Django Django / Jessie Ware – Devotion / Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again / Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough? / Sam Lee – Ground Of Its Own / Field Music – Plumb / Roller Trio – Roller Trio.
The overall winner of the 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Prize will be announced at the Albums of the Year Awards Show at the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday 1 November 2012. All we can do is hope for a big surprise.