The Mercury music prize has lost its way – here’s how to fix it

Eliza Carthy
Eliza Carthy

The ‘token’ jazz, folk and avant garde nominees for the UK’s most prestigious music prize are the ones who stand to gain the most from it – but they are being ignored

Jude Rogers

The question posed most often, and most crabbily, in the history of the Mercury prize is: what’s the point of the “token” acts on the shortlist? Jazz, folk and classical nominees are only ever there to make the judges of the UK’s most prestigious music award look clever; they certainly never win.Talk to the acts themselves, however, and a different story emerges. “I don’t care if we’re called a token jazz act if we sell 3,000 more records,” says Shabaka Hutchings, whose jazz group, Sons of Kemet, are among the favourites to win. “And it might be a coincidence, but I’ve noticed things happening since we were nominated this year.” Their gigs are selling out more consistently and the band are getting better stages at events. They’re getting support they don’t get from the Mobos, Hutchings argues, as he has before, and don’t start him on the Brits. “That side of the industry doesn’t care. But this is like a little stamp: you are given a level of validation that reverberates. And if it sells more albums or tickets, it helps subsidise our music and push our scene as far as it can go.”

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