As the Mercury Prize approaches, excitable rumours about who could and should win are in full flow. But what’s it like to be an actual nominee, someone who’ll always be badged with the prestigious award whether they win or not? And what’s it like to be a judge, one of the twelve people deciding on a potentially controversial winner? “I’ve been lucky to see it from both sides of the fence,” notes Ghostpoet, who was nominated for his 2011 debut ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ and judged the prize last year, where Young Fathers won with ‘Dead’. Obaro Ejimiwe gave his take on what it’s like to be in two very different roles.
ON BEING NOMINATED…
It was completely out of the blue. Especially as it was my debut record. I never expected anything like that in my wildest dreams. Being nominated instantly puts you in this weird Mercury Prize bubble. Everyone wants to know what you’re doing. Mainstream press wants to talk to you. It was a bit weird, for me. But I looked at it as a big opportunity. And it was a privilege because I’d argued and moaned the Mercury Prize, discussing it just as a fan of music.
The day of ceremony - I just wanted to enjoy it. I was never of the mind of being like, ‘I’m gonna win this!’ If I win, great. But I was seeing the benefit of being nominated. With the work, I could really get something out of it. I was of the mind of just enjoying the night. It was in Grosvenor Hotel. And the first thing I thought was how much it was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s like, ‘I’m in the television!’ This is what people see on TV. Way smaller than I thought it was gonna be. It looked so much grander from the other side.
I got to meet other people, and all of us were of the mind that it was a celebration of music. It’s not a competition. I don’t think nominees feel that way. It’s a celebration of British music and we’re part of that party - let’s enjoy it. Maybe it’s a British thing. Our attitude isn’t to be too competitive. Everyone got on and it was a great party. There was that little moment just before Jools opened the envelope and I was like, ‘It… could be me!’ The camera team are close to you, it’s like, ‘Is it me?’ But then they shout out someone else’s name and it’s like, ‘Where’s the wine?’ I remember we stayed in the hotel that night and got a taxi back to South London. I had the Mercury Prize statuette and the taxi driver asked me, ‘Oh, you’ve been at the Mercury?’ I didn’t mention I’d been nominated, but it was done - it was over. It’s like a knighthood though. It’s constantly in your life. It can be a pressure constantly having that in your title, but for me it’s a great experience.
ON BEING A JUDGE…
It was a similarly great experience, being a judge. I judged last year, where Young Fathers won. Seeing it from that side, you’re deciding who wins, who gets nominated, the final twelve. It was a great pride for me, seeing a lot of the artists I wanted to be nominated, who were all in there. Not in a God way, but it’s a proud uncle moment. Hopefully they have the right attitude and they can do something from it.
Deciding who won, it wasn’t squabbling. Just a discussion. You had a room full of passionate people, which was great - nobody was blagging it. And there’s a mediator making sure everyone comes to a decision. Ultimately we’re all passionate about music. And they all wanted to make sure the integrity of the Mercury Prize was intact, and that was great to see. It has to be unanimous. Everyone has their favourites in terms of people they’d like to win, but we came to a happy compromise and decided on Young Fathers. I was really happy with the result and the process. It’s very transparent and for me as an artist, that’s of utmost importance.
I took it on board not to allow the performances to help decide. I’d never judged anything before, but it was a great experience. If I don’t get nominated - which is very likely - I could get asked to do it again. I would love to!
The 2015 Mercury Prize shortlist will be unveiled on 16th October, with the winner announced on 20th November. Taken from the October 2015 issue of DIY, out now.
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