Earlier this month the Mercury Award nominees, one of the most esteemed prizes in UK music, were revealed. The list is famed for providing a great, genre-spanning list, which prides itself on the musical equality it offers. The shortlist had some more established names in the form of rockabilly, ex-Pulp man Richard Hawley, and soul singing rapper Plan B; Django Django, Field Music, The Maccabees and Alt – J cover the bases of alternative, electronic pop and indie rock; acoustic rock and experimental folk are represented by Ben Howard, Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka and Sam Lee; two powerful female artists, the soulful Lianne La Havas and club-pop star Jessie Ware; and to top it all off, and make sure that as many genres as possible are represented, Roller Trio, a MOBO nominated instrumental jazz trio.
Certain acts like Ben Howard and Michael Kiwanuka were always rather likely nominees after both artists enjoyed high sales and successful festival seasons due to their redefining of their respective genres. Ben Howard with his fresh, rock infused alternative folk music has been one of the surprise hits of the summer with his album Every Kingdom, but, along with Michael Kiwanuka and Home Again, and his somewhat expected success after winning the Sound of 2012, these artists may just be too popular to be in with a chance of winning this year’s Mercury Award. It seems to be the acts that are on their third, or even sixth, albums that are the favourites to win this year. Richard Hawley, who was of course nominated for the prize in 2006 for Coles Corner, and being a strong favourite then too, has never appeared to slow down. According to critics, his album Standing At The Sky’s Edge‘s main challenger this year is Londoner Plan B, who’s third album Ill Manors, the soundtrack to his film of the same name, has seen him turn back to rap and once again strip back ‘broken-Britain’.
…bands are reinventing themselves…
Another band enjoying sudden recognition for their third album is The Maccabees, who began as a quite traditional indie guitar band, but have since shown, in their newest album Given To The Wild, that they are capable of much more inventive style of indie music. The resurgence of alternative acts in the Mercury shortlist may seem like British guitar bands are making a comeback, but rather than a reiteration of past indie acts, it is more the fact that these bands are reinventing themselves. Instead of catchy hooks and clanging guitars, acts like Django Django, Alt-J, and indeed The Maccabees, are focusing on production, layering their sounds and introducing styles from other genres, giving British indie music a more artistic, fuller feel and a much wider market.
Last year’s winner PJ Harvey, the only artist to win the award twice, enjoyed huge boosts in sales after winning with Let England Shake, which then went on to re-enter the charts and subsequently win the Uncut Music Award and an Ivor Novello. Despite the already alternative nature of the awards, her win served to heighten the interest in the popular folk renaissance, and the art, folk-rock style of Let England Shake means artists such as Sam Lee, with his creative and uniquely charming reinventions of traditional songs on Ground Of Its Own, are not only recognised as powerful competitors, but will no doubt enjoy a boost in sales from those who follow the folk artists in the charts. As usual, the competition is wide open, and with a £20 000 prize at stake each artist, whether they are established or not, will be wanting the award and recognition that comes with it. It seems like a year for alternative indie, but with powerful, soulful solo artists around the corner, and after a year in which many genres have been redefined and reintroduced into the mainstream, it is anyone’s guess who will win on November 1.