The Completely Flawed Guide To Predicting The Mercury Music Prize Winner

The Mercury Prize is just like the Grand National, except with singers instead of horses. Here's why.
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The Mercury Prize is just like the Grand National, except with singers instead of horses. Here's why.

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The most important thing to remember in the great Mercury Music Prize Prediction Game is to recognise the similarities between it and the Grand National. Each year both feature a huge field with odds-on favourites who rarely win, longshots in the middle hoping for a lucky day, and the absolute no-hopers taking up the rear.  Such is the depth of the runners, however, that it’s not unheard of for longshots to storm through, as proved by Speech Debelle’s improbable win in 2009 (or Mon Mome’s 100-1 victory at Aintree the same year).

With this in mind let’s look at rule number 1 that The Brits and The Grand National share, which is a nice way of shipping one or two mares out early doors: never pick someone that has won it before.  PJ Harvey in 2011 notwithstanding, a previous winner has never come out on top in the Mercury Prize, and we have to go back to ’77 and Red Rum to find this last instance in the National.  Therefore we have to regretfully doff our caps to the Arctic Monkeys, and nudge them off the stage in the direction of the bar, where Grimmy will be waiting with an embrace and a consolatory bump of Harry Styles’s gear.

Next rule is: you win everything with kids. Now admittedly two eleven year olds- Neptune Collonges and Auroras Encore- have come out top in the last two Grand Nationals, but before that only two over the age of 10 were victorious in 16 years.  So let’s stick to that rule and apply it to our favourite independently-minded music prize.

As far as I can gather Anthony Hegarty (of the Johnsons) and Guy Garvey (of Elbow) were the oldest winners, both at 34 in 2005 and 2008, respectively. So let’s cut out anyone 35 and over, which means bye bye BOWIE. This will upset the mega-fans backing The Next Day, but they would have had the big guy’s back if he’d released an album of guffed Chas and Dave covers, so let’s move on.

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Now to take these previous rules a little further: in the last 21 years, 14 of the winners of the Mercury have been artists releasing their debut albums. Two thirds is good enough odds for anyone, so like the proverbial in-advised racial clanger, let’s drop anyone for whom this isn’t their first record.  Vamos Villagers, Foals, James Blake, Jon Hopkins and Laura Marling. (On a personal note, I would have actually liked to see Foals win; Holy Fire is a genius album- funky, sexy, sad and never less than massive. Their shows at Ally Pally next February are going to transcendental.)

This leaves us with a relatively paltry five still in the chase- Laura Mvula, Rudimental, Savages, Disclosure and Jake Bugg.   With supposedly little between them let’s lean on another Grand National standard: never bet on the favourite.   Since 1999 only three favourites have won the National. The last couple of Mercury Prizes might have seen the favourites-Alt-J and PJ Harvey-  come out tops, but before that they had a reputation for picking an outsider, like the already mentioned Debelle and her much maligned but actually okay Speech Therapy record, or the glorious I Am A Bird Now from Anthony and the Johnsons. So if we’re offing the favourite that means- according to this website- saying doodle-do to Disclosure, which is annoying because I think Settle will probably end up winning. Ho hum, never mess with the system...

Equally as important as never bet on the favourite, is never, ever bet on the rank outsider. So that gets rid of Laura Mvula, which is pleasing because her music is nice-but-dull and she definitely won’t win.

Now we come to the business end of things and Lord knows decisions must be made between Bugg, Savages and Rudimental.  It is in the final selection that you have to go with that most shaky yet vital of gambling foundations- instinct.  You also have to engage something this piece has largely been devoid of- emotion.  With that in mind, I’m going to say I just don’t think Bugg will win.  I’m actually surprised he was nominated, at the expense of people like Krule, Everything Everything and A Grave With No Name, the latter of whom was never really in with a nomination shout, but released an incredible, soul-tingly album in Whirpool.   Regardless, Bugg doesn’t stir the old emotional soup-bowl that much, and would be far too obvious a choice, so no.

Now, if you were looking for a dark (ish) horse, the act to jump/gallop/canter off the page would have been Savages, with their raw post-punk striking a heavy chord. Listen to the first minute and 20 seconds of ‘Shut Up’ and you’ll know that this is a band who are as uncompromising in attitude as they are their music.

But here’s the thing: the sound of 2013 has been defiantly dance. Reviews of all the major festivals (other than ones that Rolling Stones played at) alluded to the fact it was dance and its derivatives that was drawing the most ardent crowds, and stealing the heart of the kids. And probably no tune, other than maybe a ‘Latch’, has sent the kids in those crowds wilder than ‘Feel The Love’ by Rudimental, with good reason because it’s an absolute shit-curler of a song.

The Mercury judges will generally want to reflect this prevailing mood within the industry, and it is because of this I don’t think they would pick Savages, no matter that they were lapped up critically and got top 20 in the charts. Thus if we are to put our faith in the system, without which we have nothing other than quite-educated guesses, then said system suggests putting your hard-earned on Hackney heroes  Rudimental, whilst I say slap a secret back-up fiver on Disclosure.

See you in the bookies queue.