By Mark Savage
BBC Music Correspondent
The Mercury Music Prize ceremony in London has been postponed following the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The nominees had already arrived and rehearsed for the show, which was due to be screened on BBC Four, when news of the monarch’s death was announced.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with The Royal Family at this very difficult time,” organisers said in a statement.
An announcement about a future date will be made “as soon as we are able”.
Thursday night’s Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall was also curtailed as a mark of respect.
Alan Davey, controller of BBC Radio 3, took to the stage to announce the Queen’s death shortly after 19:30 BST.
The Philadelphia Orchestra then played the National Anthem and Elgar’s Nimrod, before the concert drew to a premature close.
The Royal Box remained empty and the curtain behind the seats was closed as a mark of respect.
It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the death of Her Majesty The Queen, and as a mark of respect, this evening’s Prom with the Philadelphia Orchestra will not be going ahead.
— BBC Proms (@bbcproms) September 8, 2022
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Meanwhile, the Royal Opera House called off the opening night of its new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
“We are enormously saddened to learn of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” the venue’s chief executive Alex Beard said in a statement. “Her patronage of the Royal Opera House was a source of great pride to all our artists and staff, and her longstanding support for the arts was deeply appreciated.”
The Opera House will also close on the day of the Queen’s state funeral.
Rap star Little Simz and art-pop singer Self Esteem had been the favourites to win the Mercury Prize, which recognises the best album of the year.
Other nominees for the prestigious award included Harry Styles, Sam Fender and indie newcomers Wet Leg, alongside lesser-known names like jazz musician Fergus McCreadie and rock duo Nova Twins.
Here is a reminder of all the nominated albums.
Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor
“The approach is jazz but the music is folk,” says Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie of his third album, Forest Floor. Like its predecessors Cairn (the Gaelic term for a stone mound) and Turas (pilgrimage), the record is rooted in the natural world, with tracks like Morning Moon and The Unfurrowed Field exploring how the changing seasons affect the ecosystem.
McCreadie, twice winner of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician Of The Year, is capable of incredible, intricate keyboard runs. But he mostly plays with lyrical restraint, drawing out beautiful, singable melodies that effortlessly evoke the beauty of the Caledonian forest.
The critics said: “His music may be rooted in the Scottish landscape but Fergus McCreadie is a world class act.” [The Jazz Mann]
Gwenno – Tresor
Welsh singer-songwriter Gwenno Saunders has had a varied career – from starring in Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, to singing with retro girl group The Pipettes, before settling into a rewarding psych-folk groove as a solo artist.
Tresor, her third album, is sung almost entirely in Cornish, a language she learned as a child from her father, the poet Tim Saunders. Its dreamy, gentle songs are largely a celebration of motherhood, sketched in layered harmonies and languid instrumentals that recall the French pop wave of the 1960s.
The critics said: “A thrilling psych-pop journey well worth the four-year wait.” [The Skinny]
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
A bright sunshiny collection of effortless pop, Harry Styles third album is also the first Harry Styles album where he sounds truly comfortable as a solo artist. The scat singing and synth horns on Music For A Sushi Restaurant capture his quirky charisma; while Boyfriends’ critique of toxic masculinity is the song every girl wishes Harry would sing to her while he painted their toenails.
Unusually for a big pop album, Styles’ voice is mellow and restrained, tapping into his love of Fleetwood Mac and Ram-era Paul McCartney for stylistic cues, instead of belting out the hooks, Adele-style. It makes the album less immediate than you might expect, but repeated listens pay off.
The critics said: “He’s pulled off the neat trick of making his music at once elegant and more refined but also warmer and more intimate.” [Rolling Stone]
Listen to this: As It Was
Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler – For All Our Days That Tear The Heart
Two years ago, Oscar-nominated actress Jessie Buckley and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler were strangers. But Buckley’s manager had a hunch they’d get along, and orchestrated a meeting. The result is a mysterious, brooding album that embraces everything from Celtic folk to Americana, anchored by Buckley’s bewitching vocals.
She can be smoky, intimate, yearning and quietly devastated, with a nuanced, elegant delivery that echoes Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling.
Highlights include the haunting Beautiful Regret and The Eagle and the Dove – a beautiful, flamenco-flavoured ballad whose lyrics reference the changing seasons, surging tides, wild beasts, love, faith and lust.
The critics said: “Buckley is certainly no luvvie on leave. This is, at times, a dazzling album.” [Telegraph]
Joy Crookes – Skin
“It’s a genuine reflection of being a human being,” says Joy Crookes of her debut album, Skin, that laces coming-of-age stories with social commentary and old-school soul melodies.
It’s a rich storybook of experience – honouring her Irish-Bengali heritage on 19th Floor; tackling anti-immigration sentiment on Kingdom; celebrating an ex-partner on When You Were Mine; and unravelling an experience of sexual assault on Unlearn You.
Crookes’ smoky, jazz-tinged delivery has been compared to Amy Winehouse – and for once the comparison is earned. But her self-aware lyrics and experimental sonics mean she deserves to be treated as an artist in her own right.
The critics said: “If the point of a debut album is getting to know an artist, then Skin is a masterclass.” [The Guardian]
Kojey Radical – Reason To Smile
The first voice you hear on Kojey Radical’s debut album is his mother. Speaking in the Ghanian dialect Twi, she gives the east London rapper some advice on becoming a father: “Keep focused, do good, this is what your son will see. And it will guide him.”
Fatherhood informs the entire album – as the 29-year-old looks at the people, situations and music that made him who he is; and the lessons he wants to pass on to his son, Zach. With assistance from Ella May, Wretch 32 and Kelis he cooks up a compelling celebration of blackness, family, love and hard work, set to an infectiously sunny blend of psychedelic funk and soul.
The critics said: “Not just an album, but a beaming victory lap.” [DIY]
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Contrary to the title, Little Simz is bursting with confidence on her fourth album, which takes you on a journey through her family background and artistic struggles over a funky, orchestral brand of hip-hop.
On Little Q, she raps from the perspective of her cousin, who was stabbed in the chest in south London. The moving I Love You / I Hate You, meanwhile, is addressed to the father who abandoned her when she was 11. “Never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak,” she observes.
The star’s laid-back delivery balances the sadness with empathy and understanding, and the music pulses with an unstoppable life force.
The critics said: “The kind of project that cements her status as one of the most talented artists of her generation.” [Under The Radar]
Nova Twins – Supernova
The London-based duo of Amy Love and Georgia South once described their band as “two mixed race girls who shout through distorted mics and play gnarly bass riffs”. In other words, expect noise… and lots of it.
Their second album is appropriately in-your-face, especially in the lyrics, which rip into the racist and sexist critics who’ve questioned their place in rock music. “Blacker than the leather that’s holding our boots together,” Amy raps on Cleopatra. “If you rock a different shade, we come under the same umbrella.”
Puzzles is an electro-punk anthem to lust; while KMB tells a cartoonishly gory story of murdering a boyfriend. And when it all threatens to get too heavy, the band sweeten the pill with a series of sweetly addictive pop melodies.
The critics said: “Aptly titled, Supernova sees Nova Twins burning brighter than ever with their gloriously self-made sound.” [Kerrang]
Listen to this: Cleopatra
Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under
Like his hero, Bruce Springsteen, Sam Fender’s sympathies lie with the working men and women who scrape a living in the face of what he calls neglect from an uncaring government.
On his second album, that means turning a spotlight on his hometown, North Shields, and the havoc that deprivation wreaks – from broken homes to drug deals via pub fights and political alienation.
And yet there’s a thread of hope in his tenacious vocals and the insistent saxophone that punctuates the record’s more anthemic moments. The end result is an album that’s both socially compelling and primed for a stadium singalong.
The critics said: “A towering piece of work.” [Line of Best Fit]
Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
Unapologetically direct, Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s second album as Self Esteem is a battle cry for fed-up women everywhere. She slams down sexism and celebrates femininity, confronts her own toxic behaviour and that of others, and refuses to succumb to other people’s expectations of womanhood.
It’s all delivered with a mixture of righteous anger and knowing humour. “When I’m buried in the ground I won’t be able to make your birthday drinks but I will still feel guilty,” she deadpans on the self-help anthem I Do This All The Time.
The music, meanwhile, is as big as her feelings: Drums pound, choirs scream, synthesizers explode. It’s all hugely cathartic and intensely physical, as her sold-out live shows have proved.
The critics said: “With its witty authenticity and propulsive rhythms, Prioritise Pleasure is a glorious stirring manifesto on female self-worth.” [The Forty-Five]
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Hailing from the Isle Of Wight, Wet Leg were formed by musicians Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers after their respective solo careers failed to take off.
Almost immediately, they hit upon a rich vein of surreal-but-catchy indie rock. Their first single, an innuendo-laden ode to the Chaise Longue, became an immediate viral hit, racking up millions of streams in the middle of 2021.
It’s the sort of song that rings the “one-hit-wonder” alarm bell, but Wet Leg proved everyone wrong on their debut album, which took that dry humour and injected it into a brisk and inventive collection of indie disco anthems.
The critics said: “Hooks for days, cheek for weeks.” [Rolling Stone]
Listen to this: Chaise Longue
Yard Act – The Overload
Acerbic and mischievous, Yard Act’s skittery post-punk anthems are peppered with wry observations on post-Brexit Britain.
Frontman James Smith populates his songs with white-collar crooks and red-faced racists who declare: “If you don’t challenge me on anything, you’ll find I’m actually very nice” – painting a picture of a country divided by wealth and suspicion.
But there’s an undercurrent of empathy, especially on Tall Poppies, which tells the story of a handsome football prodigy who never pursued his dream. And by the closing track, 100% Endurance, Smith is observing “the key to peace lies within us”. Perhaps things don’t have to be so bleak, after all.
The critics said: “A hugely impressive debut bubbling with sardonic wit, wisdom, anger, and compassion.” [Under The Radar]
Listen to this: The Overload
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