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Ezra Collective’s Mercury win ‘icing on the cake’

The agent of Mercury Music Prize winners, Ezra Collective, says while he has been inundated with enquiries about the band, the accolade for album Where I’m Meant To Be is “the icing on the cake” rather than a game-changing moment for the London-based act.

Claudio Lillo, who works for CAA, took over as representative for the act in 2019 and admits to being constantly surprised by the five-piece, who were chosen as this year’s Mercury winners at a ceremony on 7 September. Also on the shortlist for the prestigious award were Arctic Monkeys, Fred again.., J Hus, Jessie Ware, Jockstrap, Lankum, Loyle Carner, Olivia Dean, RAYE, Shygirl, and Young Fathers.

“When I took them on, they already had a Roundhouse on sale and that show sold out,” recalls Lillo. “I remember just seeing from afar that they’d sold out a KOKO very easily, which was pretty impressive for a UK jazz act in the early days of the scene.”

Noting that the band’s decision to go ahead with that November 2019 Roundhouse show “felt punchy, from the outside looking in,” Lillo reveals that once he started working with the quintet and understood their thinking, it became clear the connection they were making with fans was special.

“They announced [the Roundhouse] in April and the show was at the end of the year. I inherited it and the sales were okay, but during the summer, when usually sales drop off, they just kept selling tickets – all through July and August, when normally things really petered off. So the show ended up selling out in advance, which was very impressive.”

“They’re just so damn good live. Wherever they play, they make new fans, and those fans tell their friends”

With a strong foundation to build on – and a UK tour already booked – Lillo worked quickly to put together a 2019 European tour. “We didn’t hit that many markets and we didn’t go too wide or far. But then the band signed to Partisan Records and that allowed us to properly plan far ahead with a tour alongside the new album.

“We also embarked on a little underplay tour as well, which lots of people say they want to do, but because it’s so expensive that ends up not happening. But for Ezra Collective, they invested in playing some small shows, which increased hype and built up their name, while they also did a bunch of press, which was super valuable.”

Lillo believes that the band has a guardian angel, as their run of luck when it comes to their live career is remarkable.

“They have a charmed life,” he says. “They have goals that they set, and the goals just seem to always work. Looking back, when we did the Asia and Australia tour in March 2020, they were just riding this wave where they’d play a show and then that city would close down to Covid. It was pretty stressful, but they managed to get home without having to cancel any shows. In fact, when they were in Osaka, they got a call from the government that they needed to come off the stage because the city was now closed. But they persuaded the authorities to let them play the show, and that was literally the end of music in the city.”

Delighted with the Mercury Prize triumph, Lillo is not, however, surprised. “They’re just so damn good live. Wherever they play, they make new fans, and those fans tell their friends. With some acts, sometimes you feel like you’d rather play in a tent, but with Ezra Collective, the bigger the stage, the better the show – they just step up to the plate and smash it out of the park.”

“They are going to be playing some iconic rooms – one in London that wouldn’t necessarily be where you would think a jazz band would play”

Indeed, such is the agent’s confidence in the band that he has held out for better slots or bigger stages at recent summer festivals. “We actually passed on the original Glastonbury offer, because it wasn’t going to be televised,” reveals Lillo. “We know how hard it is to get offers at Glastonbury, but we believed we deserved to be on TV and Steve Symons and Emily Eavis agreed, so we got the slot we wanted.”

With the Mercury win sure to further elevate interest in the band, Lillo reveals that it has barely altered plans for 2024. “The last European tour and all the festivals they’ve played this year have laid the foundation for the next tour, which is solid. It’s pencilled for Q4 2024, depending on the release date for the next album, but I can say that they are going to be playing some iconic rooms – one in London that wouldn’t necessarily be where you would think a jazz band would play.”

While Lillo admits that he has been fielding more requests than usual about Ezra Collective, he notes that the fact the band are capable of selling thousands of tickets already has them at headline status, and loyalty to the promoters who have been working with them for years will take precedent.

“We already have such a strong plot in place, based on how well the record did, how well the tour did, how well the summer did, and it’s amazing that they won this prize – it’s a badge of honour.”

While the remainder of this year will see Ezra Collective headline a sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall for Pitchfork on 7 November, plans are already advancing for 2024, when the band is expected to launch its next album. However, disclosing the band’s commitment to encouraging young people to take up music, Lillo adds, “We receive multiple offers for festivals, but in the summer I have to block off time where they can’t play festivals because they’re in the trenches with the kids: they live and breathe this, and I think people can see that.”

Lillo adds, “They deserve everything that comes their way… They go the extra mile, and these guys are authentic. It’s real joy; it’s real happiness.”


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