Alt-J win Mercury Prize

Prestigious prize is scooped by Leeds group for their debut album

New Statesman
Joe Newman, Gwil Sainsbury, Thom Green and Gus Unger-Hamilton of Alt J win the Mercury Prize. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

In early 2012, Joe Newman’s father had been so confident in the quality of his son’s band that he tried to place a bet that their then-unfinished album would win that years Mercury prize. "He failed because the bookies didn't know what he was talking about. They didn't know who Alt-J were, what the Mercury Prize was and they certainly didn't know my dad. He would have made a lot of money," explained Newman.

It’s safe to say they will have heard of them now. Last night, Newman’s band were awarded the most prestigious prize in music for their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’. The 2012 Mercury Music Prize was scooped by the Leeds-based foursome who had, ironically, become the bookies favourite to win in the run-up to the event.

The ceremony marked a revamp for the iconic prize on its twentieth birthday. There was a change of venue – Camden’s Roadhouse, change of presenter – Lauren Laverne, and broadcaster, as the event was shown on Channel 4 for the first time after the BBC lost its long-term partnership.

As well as the prestige of being awarded the distinguished prize, the band received £20,000 in prize money and will be able to anticipate a boost in sales, even as much as “five or sixfold” according to HMV’s Gennaro Castaldo.

"Winning the Mercury Prize, and the recognition and huge exposure it brings, is just the catalyst they need to connect with a much wider audience and step up to the next level, like Elbow did a few years back” he continued.

Yet, recipients of the coveted prize have had careers which have notably fared quite differently. Some have been propelled to household names – notably Dizzy Rascal and Arctic Monkeys, whereas others, like 2009’s Speech Debelle, have failed to make a significant commercial impact.

Simon Frith, the chair of the judging panel praised the Leeds band for their unique sound, acknowledging that “we hadn’t heard a sound like that before”. This, he says, was one of the significant reasons the prize was awarded to them: "One of the things the Mercury has always been about is sounding fresh"

This year saw a strong line up, and critics agreed that there was no standout favourite to win. Amongst other contenders were folk singer Ben Howard, pop-synth singer Jessie Ware, past-nominee Richard Hawley and newcomers Django Django.