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Who won the Mercury Prize through the years?

BY READERS DIGEST

7th Sep 2022 Music

Who won the Mercury Prize through the years?
As the Mercury Prize celebrates its 30th anniversary, we look back on the winners, the controversies and the evolution of music that have shaped its history
The Mercury Prize turns 30 this year, marking three decades of awarding the most innovative albums made by UK and Irish musicians. 
Today, the prize is known as one of the most prestigious awards in the British music industry. To even be nominated is an ultimate accolade for many artists. 
This year’s shortlisted nominees are:
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, we’ve put together a who’s who of all the Mercury Prize winners to date. With a reputation for picking out the most out there and leftfield submissions, the Mercury Prize’s history is rife with surprises and controversies. 
It also gives a riveting insight into the twists and turns that British music has taken since the early Nineties—from acid house’s breakthrough to Brit pop’s supremacy, the emergence of grime and a new era for genre fluidity. 

Primal Scream, Screamadelica, 1992

Primal Scream’s previous album had been a flop, but a chance encounter led to them collaborating with acid house DJ Andrew Weatherall, who mixed and rearranged their recordings into hybrid rock and dance anthems.
The result is a rapturous tribute to rave culture, which NME called “pretty much a perfect album”. 

Suede, Suede, 1993

Often credited as the originator of Brit pop, Suede’s debut album lacks the “lads and ladettes” swagger of its successors, instead favouring an artful moroseness.
A combination of Morrissey’s maudlin, David Bowie’s yelping vocals and 1970s glam rock helped Suede become the fastest selling debut since Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasuredome.

M People, Elegant Slumming, 1994

Brit pop was in full swing, and Blur’s Parklife looked a-shoo in for a win, yet it was M People’s house-inflected dance-pop record that defied expectations.
Some rock journalists were particularly vocal in their outrage. M People’s Mike Pickering would later comment, “I thought the aftermath was fantastically amusing: the indignation it caused among the little inky boys.”

Portishead, Dummy, 1995

Sampling was the order of the day in the mid-Nineties, when hip hop, house and techno artists repurposed clips en masse from old records and films. But Portishead did things differently.
Geoff Barrow still wanted to pursue the hip hop sound, but decided to incorporate live instrumentation as well. Add Beth Gibbons’ captivatingly depressive vocals, and you have one of the hallmark albums of trip hop.

Pulp, Different Class, 1996

Seventeen years after the band first formed, Pulp finally burst into the charts with an alternative vision for Brit pop.
While Oasis presented themselves as the Northern heroes against Blur’s bourgeois indie, Pulp embodied an arty, socialist and satirical working class—best demonstrated by Jarvis Cocker’s acerbic lyrics in “Common People”, which mock members of the elite attempting to slum it. 

Roni Size & Reprazent, New Forms, 1997

In the BBC Sounds documentary Turn It Up, Roni Size remembers attending the awards mainly for the free food and alcohol, never expecting to surpass more mainstream greats like Radiohead and Spice Girls.
In a dramatic twist, the judges granted the prize to Roni Size and Reprazent’s jazz-infused drum n’ bass, which helped to catapult the underground scene into the mainstream. 

Gomez, Bring It On, 1998

In 2016, BBC 6Music listeners voted Gomez’s debut as their favourite Mercury Prize winners of all time, but back then the indie band were still relative unknowns.
A group of friends with an obsession with tape machines, they recorded Bring It On in drummer Olly Peacock’s dad’s garage. When they accepted the award, Peacock told the audience, “We had people like the police saying ‘Keep the noise down’.”

Talvin Singh, Ok, 1999

Talvin Singh had already caught the attention of Björk and was running a night at Hoxton’s Blue Note, where he championed the Asian Underground movement.
Ok became his magnum opus, which pulled together sounds from all over the world—from recordings of folk singers on Okinawa Island to Indian sitars, light smatterings of drum n’ bass rhythms and classical music movements

Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, 2000

At the turn of the millennium, the sun was setting on Brit pop’s dominion in the charts. Badly Drawn Boy’s sensitive vocals and quiet yet experimental acoustic numbers heralded a new era for sad boy bands, like Keane and Coldplay, who would replace British pop stars’ old Nineties bravado. 

PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, 2001

PJ Harvey became the first solo female artist to win the Mercury Prize in 2001 with her tribute to love in New York, widely described by critics as the best album of her career.
The ceremony that year was more sombre than usual. It came the morning after 9/11, and PJ Harvey accepted the award over a phone link from Washington, where she had witnessed the attack on the Pentagon through her hotel window. 

Ms Dynamite, A Little Deeper, 2002

In another first for women, Ms Dynamite went on to become the first black woman solo artist to win the prestigious prize.
At a time when British rap was yet to find its feet, Ms Dynamite was commended by critics for rejecting her American colleagues’ preoccupation with wealth and status to address a more authentic street culture and social consciousness. 

Dizzee Rascal, Boy in da Corner, 2003

Grime has played a big role in helping British rap to find its voice, and Dizzee Rascal was among the first to push it into the limelight.
Boy In Da Corner fused elements of garage, drum n’ bass and rap to create a bassy picture of growing up on a council estate. At just nineteen years old, Dizzee became the youngest ever Mercury Prize winner. 

Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand, 2004

In a win for Scottish musicians, Glaswegian art rockers Franz Ferdinand were joined on the shortlist by fellow Scots, Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian.
This was the second wave of indie guitar bands entering its heyday, with Franz Ferdinand taking inspiration from outfits like Joy Division, Orange Juice and Josef K. 

Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now, 2005

Antony and the Johnsons are remembered for making the biggest jump in the charts in the Mercury Prize’s history, moving all the way from No.135 to No.16 after their win.
This album features several notable cameo voices, including Boy George and Lou Reed, but none more captivating than Antony’s—now Anohni’s—androgynous vibrato notes.

Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, 2006

To look back on Arctic Monkeys’ beginnings is to remember an era defined by Myspace and Limewire.
In their early days, Arctic Monkeys would give out free CDs at gigs, which their fans then uploaded online. When their first album finally dropped, a committed fanbase was ready and waiting to make it the fastest selling debut ever in British music.

Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future, 2007

In the late Noughties, new rave held youth culture in its grip, with glow-sticks, glitter and neon paint resurrecting the spirit of Nineties for a new generation of guitar bands.
When the Klaxons won the prize with their new rave debut, the judges commended the “ecstatic musical adventure” it had taken them on. 

Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid, 2008

“I had a tenner on Radiohead,” Elbow frontman Guy Garvey told NME after his band scooped up the prize.
18 years after they first formed, and seven years after their first nomination, Elbow finally cracked the code with this poetic album—not least with the sumptuous “One Day Like This”, which Garvey viewed as Elbow’s answer to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” or Primal Scream’s “Loaded”. 

Speech Debelle, Speech Therapy, 2009

Prompting one of the biggest head turns in the Mercury Prize’s history—The Guardian’s music editor Tim Jonze once recalled most of the room falling silent at the announcement—Speech Debelle’s Speech Therapy is notable for its reliance on instruments rather than samples (as is more typical in hip hop) and her conversational girl-next-door style of rap. 

The xx, xx, 2010

As if to underscore the loneliness and heartache that saturates The xx’s debut, Madley Croft and Oliver Sim initially crafted many of its lyrics by email.
Jamie XX also proved his mettle on this album, enhancing its live instrumentation with sparse electronica, which has made him one of dance music’s most sought after producers. 

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake, 2011

PJ Harvey is the only artist to have won the Mercury Prize twice, which she pulled off with her eighth album that portrays the trauma of World War One—and the subsequent failures to prevent conflict.
Drawing inspiration from poets Harold Pinter, TS Eliot and the work of Salvador Sali, Let England Shake has been called one of PJ Harvey’s most complex records. 

alt-J, An Awesome Wave, 2012

alt-J’s debut defied categorisation so much that critics invented a new term for it—”folkstep”.
Combining a Mumford and Sons-esque folkiness with electronica, dubstep, hip hop and art pop sensibilities, alt-J were hotly tipped to win the prize, even in spite of their relative obscurity in the music press. 

James Blake, Overgrown, 2013

Widely crowned “prince of post-dubstep” for his debut, James Blake’s second album Overgrown incorporates new sounds from R&B, gospel and dub–though it still touts a more reserved style than dubstep’s wobble bass.
The title track was written just after Blake met Joni Mitchell on a plane, where they talked about outliving the flash-in-the-pan nature of commercial music success.

Young Fathers, Dead, 2014

Scottish newcomers Young Fathers were rewarded for their gut-punching, avant-garde hip hop with a win that surpassed the likes of FKA Twigs and Damon Albarn—and that’s in spite of Dead being the second lowest selling album on the shortlist.
For their unique fusion of punk, soul, gospel, hip hop and electronica, judge and DJ John Kennedy asserted, “This is a different British voice.”

Benjamin Clementine, At Least for Now, 2015

Benjamin Clementine captivates with little more than his voice and piano in his debut, a skill that he honed while sleeping rough and busking for three years on the Parisian Métro.
In his acceptance speech, Clementine paid tribute to Paris—which was then still reeling from the Bataclan attacks the week before—where two music producers had first discovered him.

Skepta, Konnichiwa, 2016

Skepta finished what Dizzee Rascal began back in 2003—Konnichiwa’s win signified grime’s definitive move into the mainstream. It even managed to beat David Bowie’s posthumous nomination to the crown.
When previous winner Jarvis Cocker presented the award, he said, “We as a jury decided that if David Bowie was looking down on the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, he would want the 2016 prize to go to Skepta.”

Sampha, Process, 2017

After making his name as a producer and singer for artists like Beyonce, Drake and Frank Ocean, Sampha announced himself as a skilled solo artist in his own right with his debut album Process.
In part inspired by his mother’s death from cancer, Process is a heartbreaking meditation on grief and fear, brought to life by Sampha’s falsetto. 

Wolf Alice, Visions of a Life, 2018

The second time they were nominated, alternative rock band Wolf Alice closed the deal with their sophomore album Visions of a Life.
When they collected the award, bassist Theo Ellis recounted how a label head once declined to sign them due to their genre-bending approach to indie, which had now found its place in the Mercury Prize hall of fame. 

Dave, Psychodrama, 2019

Judge Annie Mac commended Dave for his "true artistry, courage and honesty" on Psychodrama, which was inspired by his brother’s time in prison.
Structured like a therapy session, where inmates engage in role playing exercises, the album casts its eye over Dave’s own life to see how his experiences as a Black man growing up in Britain have shaped him and his mental health.

Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka, 2020

Fusing rock, soul and psychedelia, Michael Kiwanuka’s eponymous third album sounds like it came straight from the 1960s—which the samples from Civil Rights protests on “Interlude (Love The People)” help to cement.
Kiwanuka received the award in the first year of the pandemic. The traditional ceremony was suspended but, for the first time, the awards managed to secure premium airspace on BBC One. 

Arlo Parks, Collapsed in Sunbeams, 2021

Rejecting the incessant news cycle of 2021, Arlo Parks’ debut applies a microscopic look at more intimate themes like mental health, sexuality and heartbreak.
For her diaristic and highly empathic songwriting, Arlo Parks has been named the “reluctant voice of Gen Z”. The Mercury Prize judges also complimented her for reinvigorating people’s interest in “the timeless art of the album” in the age of streaming.
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