Wolf Alice have won the 2018 Hyundai Mercury prize for their second album, 2017’s Visions of a Life.

On receiving the award, frontperson Ellie Rowsell said: “This means so much to pick this up with my three best friends”, while bassist Theo Ellis recalled how the band were knocked back by a record label head for their image, for Rowsell wearing makeup, and for their genre-resistant take on indie rock and post-punk, adding: “But here we are, so fuck you!”

Prior to the ceremony, Rowsell struggled to express how appreciative they were for the nomination: “We were so happy we got nominated. It’s hard to show that. We’re just gormless!” At the show, the London four-piece performed their single Don’t Delete the Kisses, twice – once during the show, and then shortly after to celebrate their win.

Up there … from left, Joff Oddie, Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis and Joel Amey.
Up there … from left, Joff Oddie, Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis and Joel Amey. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Wolf Alice formed in 2010, initially as a duo comprised of Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie. Drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis joined the band in 2012. They signed to the independent British label Dirty Hit, also home to the 1975, and in 2015 released their debut album My Love Is Cool, after building their profile through extensive touring. The album was nominated for the 2015 Mercury prize but lost to Benjamin Clementine. They have been commended for their genre-fluid approach to guitar music, incorporating elements of dream-pop and, on their blistering 2017 single Yuk Foo, hardcore punk. In 2017 they also starred in On the Road, a fictional romance film directed by Michael Winterbottom, set on a Wolf Alice tour.

Rowsell was a judge for the prize in 2016. In a press conference following their win, she said that “you get given almost 300 albums to listen to ... and I feel privileged to have that insight, because I know the dedication and intensity it takes to come to that decision.” Guitarist Joff Oddie said winning the prize was “the closest thing to an actual dream-like state – it sounds like such a cliche but that’s what it felt like for me.”

Nadine Shah was the bookmakers’ favourite to win for her third album, Holiday Destination, leading the jazz outfit Sons of Kemet and south London guitarist King Krule. Before the ceremony, Shah criticised what she perceived as the prize’s creeping similarity to the more mainstream Brit awards. “Now the Mercury is actually run by the same company, the BPI [British Phonographic Industry], I think it needs to find its feet again. It’s controversial of me to say so, but I do criticise it for that. It needs to establish once again, what is it that they’re trying to do. Why is Noel Gallagher being nominated? Why are there only two debut albums?”

She questioned the lack of women artists nominated for the prize, and expressed hope that one would win this year. For an independent artist like herself, she said, “it gives me the opportunity to speak to more people and that’s the most beautiful thing, that’s what I wanna do with this album – speak to more people”.

Nadine Shah performs at the ceremony.
Nadine Shah performs at the ceremony. Photograph: JM Enternational/Rex/Shutterstock

Wolf Alice were presented with the £25,000 prize at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London. Prior to the ceremony, the band described it as a “substantial” amount of money that would allow any band to record an album with high production values.

Wolf Alice are the first female-fronted act to win the award since 2011, when PJ Harvey won for a second time with her eighth album, Let England Shake.

The ceremony – at which most of the shortlisted artists performed – coincided with the publication of nominee Lily Allen’s memoir, My Thoughts Exactly. The singer’s publicist was holding a copy of the book, which has been the subject of tabloid intrigue, as Allen walked the red carpet and welcomed the recognition for her musical achievements. “I don’t know if it’s vindicating, but I do feel that my record label have been a little bit crap with promoting this record,” she said. “I dunno if you’ve seen any posters or advertising. So it feels amazing that people that care about music have decided to put me in this list.” She suggested that the revelations in her book – Allen’s first – were responsible for the underwhelming effort on behalf of her label, Parlophone, and claimed it had received a copy of the finished memoir two weeks before she did.

Lily Allen performs at the Mercury ceremony.
Lily Allen performs at the Mercury ceremony. Photograph: JM Enternational/Rex/Shutterstock

Albums by leading female solo artists have performed poorly in recent years: Allen’s No Shame is no longer in the UK Top 100 albums; Florence + the Machine’s High as Hope sits outside the Top 40. Allen suggested that this was due to male industry executives who felt threatened by the #MeToo movement wielding their power against women. “The music industry is rife with abuse and abuse of power, and the more power that women have the harder it is for the men to get away with the shit that they’ve been getting away with forever,” she said.

The prize is decided on the night by a panel of judges, which this year consisted of musicians Ella Eyre, Jamie Cullum, Lianne La Havas and Marcus Mumford, broadcasters Clara Amfo, Danielle Perry and MistaJam, critics Harriet Gibsone (the Guardian), Will Hodgkinson (the Times) and Phil Alexander (Kerrang!/Mojo), plus radio industry figures: Jeff Smith, head of music at BBC 6 Music and Radio 2, and Radio X head of music Mike Walsh.

The Mercury judges line up.
The Mercury judges line up. Photograph: JM Enternational/Rex/Shutterstock

Arctic Monkeys, winners in 2006 for their debut, were nominated for a fourth time for their sixth album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. The band are in the midst of a residency in their home town of Sheffield, and did not attend the ceremony.

The attention that comes with the Mercury prize traditionally drives sales and streams for the nominated artists. Winners Wolf Alice experienced one of the smaller increases in attention since nomination, their combined sales and streams rising just 3.9%. Jazz four-piece Sons of Kemet got the biggest commercial boost, with a 38.3% uplift; Florence + the Machine had the second biggest,32.8%; with Jorja Smith gaining 30.8%.

The full list of this year’s nominees was: Lily Allen, No Shame; Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino; Everything Everything, A Fever Dream; Everything Is Recorded, Everything Is Recorded; Florence + the Machine, High as Hope; Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Who Built the Moon?; King Krule, The Ooz; Novelist, Novelist Guy; Nadine Shah, Holiday Destination; Jorja Smith, Lost and Found; Sons of Kemet, Your Queen is a Reptile; and Wolf Alice, Visions of a Life.

Margot James, the government’s creative industries minister, said: “Once again it’s a strong and varied list of finalists, showing why the UK’s music scene is one of our strongest calling cards. We are doing all we can to support the talent of tomorrow so the industry continues to grow and build on this country’s rich musical history.”


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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