Then & Now
pop star:THE NOMINEES for the Mercury Music Prize 2012 will be announced later this month, and bands are biting their nails in anticipation of seeing their names on the shortlist.
For some, including past winners Primal Scream, PJ Harvey and Elbow, the Mercury is the ultimate music biz accolade; for others, it’s the kiss of death – where are Speech Debelle, Talvin Singh and Ms Dynamite these days?
The Mercury judges have often been criticised for their choice of winner; in 1994, musos were appalled when they awarded the prize to house-lite popsters M People, passing over such strong contenders as Blur’s Parklife, The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation and Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers.
The winning album, Elegant Slumming, featured the worldwide pop-dance hit Moving On Up, which showcased the warm, soulful vocals of Heather Small. But it was the band’s leader, Mike Pickering, who was the real soul of M People, naming the band after his first initial, and tapping into his club DJ roots to create one of the UK’s biggest chart act of the 1990s, with 10 Top 10 hits.
Lancashire lad Pickering spent his early career in AR, signing such bands as Happy Mondays and James to Tony Wilson’s Factory Records. By night, he spun the wheels of steel at Wilson’s famous Hacienda club, and helped to soundtrack the birth of generation E. Combining his twin skills, he gathered a talented group of musicians together to form M People. The group blended acid-jazz with house beats and a good helping of blue-eyed soul to score such hits as One Night in Heaven, Open Your Heart and Sight for Sore Eyes. Winning the Mercury didn’t do them any harm either – they went on to score their biggest smash, Search for the Hero, which became immortalised in a Peugeot car ad.
The hits ran out by the late 1990s, but Heather Small went on to enjoy some solo success.
Pickering, meanwhile, went on to even greater success – as the head of AR at Columbia Records, owned by Sony BMG.
Artists he’s worked with include Calvin Harris, Kasabian, The Ting Tings and The Gossip.
But he hasn’t hung up his decks, keeping his hand in with regular DJ slots. In July, following the Stone Roses gig at the Phoenix Park, he DJed the aftershow party at Dublin’s Button Factory, reviving memories of the Hacienda for many old ravers.