Mysteries of the Mercury Music Prize

This year's nominees on what the controversial album award means to them

Paul Bignell
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:45
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It divides critics, musicians and fans alike: every band wants the coveted Mercury Music Prize, despite that fact that winning can prove to be more curse than blessing. Regardless of who takes home the trophy, one thing is certain: debate about the winners and losers of next month's award will still be raging when next year's prize-giving comes around.

This year's committee of journalists, musicians and music executives has opted for a more tried-and-tested line-up, with acts including previous nominees such as Paul Weller and Dizzee Rascal – his third nomination to date. However, it is west London newcomers The xx who are the bookies' favourites.

Established as an alternative to the industry-dominated Brit Awards in 1992, the Mercury has a reputation for caprice, frequently handing the gong to outside chances rather than the frontrunner. In 1994, the award for best album was given to M People for Elegant Slumming, ending in a decision that still produces consternation today – not least with Paul Weller, who lost out with his album Wild Wood.

The IoS asked some of this year's nominees who they think should win on 7 September and what the Mercury Prize means to them. The xx and Laura Marling were away and unavailable to comment.

Paul Weller

Nominated for Wake up the Nation

"I think I should have won when I was nominated in 1994. I don't really know why I didn't. M People did, which was a bit weird. I don't really know why. It is good for it to be unpredictable, as long as it's not for the sake of it. There isn't really anyone else who I think should have won, apart from me."

James Johnston

Bass and vocals, Biffy Clyro

Nominated for Only Revolutions

"The xx are one of the most original bands of the past few years. I love how their album is so lo-fi, yet has that emotional impact. Elbow are my favourite previous winners. They finally got the recognition they deserved."

Yannis Philippakis

Vocals, Foals Nominated for Total Life Forever

"The Mercury Prize can be political sometimes, but I don't think it's too much. That's what makes it interesting – you don't want it to be predictable. It's really important for it not to be like other awards. With all the problems that albums as an art form are having, it's important that the Mercury Prize is valued."

Connor J O'Brien

Singer/songwriter, Villagers

Nominated for Becoming a Jackal

"I don't really listen to any modern music, to be honest, just a lot of old stuff. A lot of Faith No More. I also loved Robert Wyatt's last album. My favourite previous winners are Pulp because of the sharpness of their lyrics, and I think there's a certain unegotistical charisma that Cocker exudes. He's so natural."

Peter Jobson

Bass, I Am Kloot

Nominated for Sky at Night

"To be honest, I think the Mercury Music Prize provides nothing but good exposure. It's just a really great opportunity to listen to different stuff, things that you perhaps might not have listened to before, or haven't heard of, like Kit Downes's album. I think the fact that it's the prize for best album is really important – it's an award that is totally about music and diversity."

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Dizzee Rascal

Nominated for Tongue N' Cheek

"The shortlist – there's a lot of tough competition, a lot of big acts there, some serious albums. It's good to be on the list and good to be in the charts fighting against the most respected musicians. It's really about the music, not about popularity. It's really credible around the world as well. Got me a lot of recognition when I won it the first time. I don't know how I would have got that recognition at that point by myself."

Kit Downes

Pianist, Kit Downes Trio

Nominated for Golden

"I hadn't heard of any before the shortlist was announced. I'm pleased to have heard Laura Marling (she has a nice voice) and I Am Kloot – very natural-sounding. Roni Size and Reprazent's New Forms – I liked that when it came out. The Mercury is very healthy for the industry."

Corinne Bailey Rae

Nominated for The Sea

"My favourite nominee is Paul Weller. His new record is great. My favourite nominee from the past is Portishead, with Dummy. The fact that Paul Weller's Wild Wood was passed over for M People's record in 1994 is incredible. They're such amazing songs and the album is so beautifully recorded."

Hayden Thorpe

Singer, the Wild Beasts

Nominated for Two Dancers

"Our previous favourite winners were Antony and the Johnsons, as they showed the magic of the Mercury Prize. It rewards vision and integrity, and Antony had that in bundles. It's great because the record didn't have the right features to be played on Radio 1."

Ben Lovett

Vocals, keyboards, accordion, Mumford & Sons

Nominated for Sigh No More

"The prize is so well respected and it champions albums to the rest of the world and makes them take notice, as it's decided by experienced people. Arctic Monkeys – they're a true British talent, flawless. The fact they won shows the Mercury Music Prize wasn't trying to avoid the obvious. Johnny Flynn's album is a masterpiece. I don't know why he hasn't been nominated for the prize this year."

Interviews by Olivia Evans and Jessie Bland

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