Katy B and James Blake: From Goldsmiths to the Mercury Prize

Last summer, musicians Katy B and James Blake were celebrating their graduation from Goldsmiths’ Popular Music course.

One year on, Lewisham born James, 21, and Peckham girl Katy, 22, have both had their debut albums nominated for the coveted Barclaycard Mercury Prize, alongside artists including Adele and Tinie Tempah, after twelve months of increasing chart success and critical acclaim.

Katy’s dubstep-influenced album, On A Mission debuted at number two in the charts when it was released in April, and James’ eponymous album, released in February, earned him great critical acclaim. Katy B, recently named the “coolest crossover star of 2011” by The Independent, came to prominence when her first single Katy On A Mission topped the UK dance and indie charts last year. She enjoyed further success with the dance hit Lights On, featuring rapper Miss Dynamite, and her latest single, Easy Please Me, was released last month.

“It’s great to see so many strong females nominated so I want a girl to win,” Katy told the Daily Star. “It’ll be great to see Adele again on the night as we went to school together, but I don’t see it like a competition, it’s nice just to be recognised.”

James Blake’s soulful dubstep has won him a host of admirers. While still at Goldsmiths, Blake released the EP Air And Lack Thereof, which won him the opportunity to do a special mix on Gilles Peterson’s BBC Radio 1 show. In January of this year, Blake won Single of the Year (2010) for CMYK at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards. The single Limit To Your Love also received rave reviews.

Simon Deacon, Director of Popular Music Performance at Goldsmiths, revealed what the musical pair were like as students. He said: “Both artists were two steps ahead of most of their counterparts when they started the course in 2007. Blake was already relatively well known as a dubstep producer, while Katy B had established herself as an underground vocalist at the (then) pirate radio station Rinse FM.”

It is not the first time one of Goldsmith’s Popular Music graduates has been nominated for a Mercury Prize. In 2008, the Portico Quartet starring Goldsmith alumnus Milo Fitzpatrick was nominated as the Jazz contender and in 2009, the band The Invisible received a nomination while three of their members were tutoring at the New Cross campus.

The BMus Popular Music course had its first intake of students in 2004, and continues to produce around 30 graduates a year. The course is extremely popular and attracts a varied group of students from all ages and backgrounds. On why the course continues to produce excellent singers and musicians, Michael Young, Head of Department of Music, said: “The department fosters individual creativity, and offers so many opportunities for students to develop as musicians – playing and singing in bands, writing and performing, working with film, technology etc.”

The winner of the 2011 Barclaycard Mercury Prize will be announced on 6 September.

Words: Koos Kouvee