Ghetts addresses confusion over gig restrictions at Mercury Prize nominations launch

Rapper Ghetts has told Sky News the handling of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions for the music industry “doesn’t make sense” and that the government is doing “a terrible job”.

The grime star spoke about returning to live music on the red carpet at the Mercury Prize nominations launch as he was named one of 12 musicians and songwriters to be shortlisted for this year’s award.

Ghetts is in the running for his third album, Conflict Of Interest, alongside other acts including Celeste, Laura Mvula, Mogwai, and previous winners Wolf Alice.

Wolf Alice - Joff Oddie, Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis and Joel Amey - won the 2018 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize
Wolf Alice – Joff Oddie, Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis and Joel Amey – won the Mercury Prize in 2018

With venues shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a difficult year for the industry. While lockdown restrictions lifted on Monday, the government announced on the same day that providing proof of double vaccination will be required to enter nightclubs and other “crowded venues” from the end of September, with proof of a negative test not accepted.

With rules changing, many artists feel like nothing is certain.

“I’m very much confused,” says Ghetts, whose real name is Justin Clarke. “I don’t understand how things are being run, a lot of things don’t make sense to me. It’s just like, we’re going left one day, [then] going right. I’m questioning everything at the moment ‘cus it just doesn’t make sense how we’re handling things. I think the government’s doing a terrible job.”

Many have questioned why tens of thousands of football fans were able to watch the Euro 2020 final as part of government test events, while live music appears to be trailing behind.

“Absolutely, 100%,” he says. “You can’t talk about safety when it’s one rule there, another rule there. And then so it becomes about, okay, that’s generated such and such amount of money, we can’t afford not to have that on because it’s generating this – but then it’s not about safety, is it?”

The star said that while it’s important to keep people healthy, he would not insist on people at his shows being fully vaccinated. “Not if it goes against their free will. I don’t want to be part of anything that goes against anybody’s free will. I think that’s wrong.”

For many music stars, releasing albums during a period in which they haven’t been able to tour has been strange.

However, Ghetts, 36, said there had been some positives. “What was nice, there not being any clubs, I feel like music with content was being digested so I kind of felt like it benefited my album, being the way it was. I feel like music with a deep content, deep and meaningful, layered music was really being digested differently during that time.”

Laura Mvula is nominated for the Mercury Prize for the third time, for her third album Pink Noise
Laura Mvula is nominated for the Mercury Prize for the third time, for her third album Pink Noise

Mvula, who is nominated for the Mercury Prize for a third time for her third album, Pink Noise, also spoke about the impact of COVID-19 and said it had been “really weird and sad” releasing an album but not being able to perform the songs live.

“I really miss just that very necessary part of the process, just sharing it in the moment,” she told Sky News. “I love writing, producing, I love committing myself, investing in that process, but I think I’m way more alive on stage, with an audience… so I feel like that’s all I think about at the moment, all I’m focused on.”

The issue of getting back to performing and balancing safety as COVID-19 cases rise “is really hard”, she says. “I’m staying focused on the small steps so I really hope that I make it to the next gig that happens, goes ahead, but I personally just sort of spent a lot of time… and allowing it to be like a delayed gratification thing, embracing the fact that okay, you’re going to have to wait until it’s safe, it’s gonna come.”

Arlo Parks is one of the 12 nominees for this year's Mercury Prize, for her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams
Arlo Parks, who is nominated for her debut album, says she will do her best to make sure people are safe at her gigs

Parks, who is nominated for her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, following a win at the Brit Awards for best new artist earlier in the year, says although she hasn’t been able to play shows it is “incredible and unexpected” that the record has connected so well.

“I wasn’t able to actually be out in the world touring the record but the fact that it’s still managed to be a source of support and comfort and joy for people, I mean, it’s connected on this level where I’m standing here [nominated for a Mercury Prize] is incredible and unexpected as well.”

Parks, 20, says she has been “craving” touring throughout the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

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“Being in front of people, seeing people smiling, seeing people giving me energy back… I feel like I’ve missed that human connection aspect of sharing music in that way.”

But despite being desperate to gig again, health comes first, she says.

“It is something that we have to take day by day,” she says. “For me personally, it’s just about making sure that the shows I play are safe, that provisions are put in place to make sure everyone’s safe, to make sure my band is safe, to make sure that my crew is safe, and just taking it day by day because we can’t predict what’s going on.”

On the issue of people being fully vaccinated to attend gigs, Parks adds: “I’m double jabbed and I feel like it’s important to do as much as possible to make sure that everybody is safe, it’s as simple as that. So moving forward I’m going to make sure that everybody’s safe.”

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