Mercury Prize – What Does Debelle-Gate Mean For New British Music?

It’s an easy shot but when Boris Johnson is your most vocal public benefactor, some would argue that’s not exactly the most accurate marker of mindblowing progessive creativity.

I’m not in the business of bullying for bullying’s sake. From all her TV spots, Speech Debelle genuinely seems a nice enough lass. But then again, so does Cheryl Baker, and as great as Bucks Fucks/Record Breakers/those adverts for female hair loss were, she’s never exactly been an obvious choice for any prize celebrating new British music.


At first I thought it must be a case of stuffy hyper-sensitivity brought on by my particular job role, but then after some proper revision of the the award’s winners, it only served to certify the unparalleled absurdity of this year’s result (and, lets face it, the precedent set is hardly flawless). Even M-People, at the time felt vaguely of-the-moment…

There comes a point, when, with one’s “caring for all that’s right and just in new British music” hat firmly on, you have to wonder: what message – as a supposed golden chalice of aspiration for burgeoning creative talent in the UK – is this sending out to new British musicians?


Let’s forget for a second the fact that Speech Debelle’s ‘Speech Therapy’ has literally not one big tune on the entire album (sorry, that is just a fact. I’ve really looked, hard), and ponder – with as rational and technical a pair of goggles on as possible – what characteristics such an award should be looking to locate, highlight and celebrate.

To do this, a good place to start would be indentifying some highlights from the award’s history: winners that one way or another have come to bolster the Prize’s reputation and integrity. Whether it’s:

Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’ (1991)

Dizzee’s ‘Boy in Da Corner’ (2003)

Klaxons’ ‘Myths Of The Near Future’ (2007)

Portishead’s ‘Dummy’ (1995)

Ms Dynamite’s ‘A Little Deeper’ (2002)

Pulp’s ‘A Different Class’ (1996)

Roni Size’s ‘New Forms’ (1997)

or Antony and the Johnsons ‘I Am A Bird Now’, (2005)

Despite routine criticism of what the award represents, there’s undeniably more than a hefty chunk of hugely important albums to create an illustrious Mercury legacy. Those just listed, and various other winners to boot, made classic albums of their ilk, pieces of music that in one way or another felt either/or both:

A) Capturing of a moment in time to the point of being iconic.
B) Trying something new or envelope-pushing to massively influential effect.
C) Representative of the best of one particular ‘scene’ or happening that feels definitively fresh, unique or exciting in said year.

Now, who can actually make any of those arguments for ‘Speech Therapy’?

I’d be genuinely fascinated to hear one.

As, if I’m not very much mistaken, the obvious elements that spring to mind when listening to ‘Speech Therapy’ are some of the most startlingly dated, tired, played-out and generally yucky sound-a-likes that any disillusioned UK pop-picker could hope to fuse.

With that then, I leave you with a equation that somehow manages to make Kasabian’s latest offering seem a landmark of progressiveness:

Acid jazz

+ broken beat

+ terminally underwhelming UK back-pack hip hop

+ slam poetry


Is this really then the most inspiring example of where new British music is at or where it is headed? How well will that last video ever sit alongside the above list of ‘classics’?