British pianist/vocalist Benjamin Clementine has picked up the Mercury Music Prize, an accolade that has historically sent artists into the musical stratosphere.
His debut album, At Least For Now, displays the Londoner’s miraculous vocal delivery, set over his deeply self-deprecating lyrics, and delicate piano playing, often documenting his 20’s, where he busked in London’s underground, and slept rough in Paris for three years. The album is as dramatic as it is extremely stripped back, but also occasionally almost steps into areas of show music, and then into Nina Simone-esque moments.
But overall, a picture of reflective beauty and sombre calmness emanates from the speakers as you work your way through the track listing. His lyrical content is imaginative and complex, often fitting extended lines within a certain phrase that suggests poetry transcribed to music, but the result is enough to have captured the imagination of the judges, who described his entry as “bold”, “astonishing” and “brilliant”.
Clementine saw off competition from acts such as Florence and the Machine, Aphex Twin, Jamie XX and Gaz Coombes – formerly of Supergrass, to pick up the £20,000 cheque – but more importantly, massive exposure to people who are interested in creatively legitimate music, most of whom would never have heard of him otherwise.
Clementine joins an exclusive list of names of previous winners, including Arctic Monkeys, Primal Scream, PJ Harvey, Suede, Portishead, Pulp, Badly Drawn Boy, Roni Size, Franz Ferdinand, Alt-J and James Blake.
The Mercury Prize is judged by industry figures including the editor of NME, a number of radio presenters and festival organisers, and in general, wining the whole thing secures a career in the industry when in many cases it may never have transpired.
For Clementine, who broke down in tears at the awards last night when accepting the accolade, the last week has been very much bittersweet. The Londoner spent three years busking in Paris, and dedicated his award to all his friends and fans in the city so recently blighted by the cowardly and callous acts of terrorism that the entire world has witnessed and reacted to.
The artist went back to Paris to visit his friends there before returning to the awards ceremony, and he dedicated the award to the French capital. “I have always believed in my music, but after Paris I was very down,” Clementine said after the awards. “It just goes to show that if you are sincere in your work, people will listen.”
The nominees in full:
Aphex Twin – Syro
Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now
Gaz Coombes – Matador
C Duncan – Architect
Eska – Eska
Florence + The Machine – How Big How Blue How Beautiful (pictured)
Ghost Poet – Shedding Skin
Jamie xx – In Colour
Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys
Slaves – Are You Satisfied
Soak – Before We Forgot How To Dream
Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool