P.J. Harvey won the 2011 Barclaycard Mercury Prize for best British or Irish album last night, beating other artists including Adele, Elbow and Anna Calvi.
The singer-songwriter, 41, is the first person to twice receive the U.K.’s top musical award, which started in 1992. Her CD “Let England Shake,” inspired by war and boosted by good reviews, was the favorite in betting.
A decade ago, she was the first female Mercury winner with “Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea,” a record based on her affection for New York.
“It’s really good to be here this evening,” she told the audience in London’s Grosvenor House hotel. Harvey was on tour and unable to attend when she last won on Sept. 11, 2001, “in Washington D.C., watching the Pentagon burning from my hotel window. So much has happened since then,” she said.
The winning album, on Island Records, is experimental rock with greatest resonance in the U.K., featuring state-of-the-nation titles such as “The Glorious Land,” “England” and “The Last Living Rose.” Harvey sings: “Take me back to beautiful England/ and the gray, damp filthiness of ages.” The judges said the CD is “gripping and profound.”
The Mercury has often been given to new or non-commercial acts and pits different genres against one another, ranging from folk and jazz to hard rock and classical. The winner receives 20,000 pounds ($32,310), although the boost from album sales can be worth much more.
The 12 shortlisted albums racked up an additional 400,000 sales between the list being announced in July and the ceremony, the U.K. Official Charts Co. said in an e-mail yesterday.
The award focuses on musical quality and doesn’t take into account sales, media profile or live performances, according to a statement by the judges, a mixture of critics and music industry figures. Commercial acts such as Adele, Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams have often lost out to cutting edge performers such as Harvey.
All of the acts performed at the ceremony apart from Adele, who apologized and said she was temporarily unable to sing because of a bad throat infection.
While the Mercury judges are known for their surprise choices, this is the second straight year that the favorite has won. Last year, London band the xx triumphed with its debut CD of understated indie rock. There were surprise winners in 2009 (Speech Debelle), 2008 (Elbow) and 2007 (Klaxons).
Shortlist (with earlier betting odds from William Hill Plc): Adele -- “21” (XL Records) 6/1 Anna Calvi -- “Anna Calvi” (Domino) 7/1 Elbow -- “Build a Rocket Boys!” (Fiction Records) 33/1 Everything Everything -- “Man Alive” (Geffen) 10/1 Ghostpoet -- “Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam” (Brownswood) 8/1 Gwilym Simcock -- “Good Days at Schloss Elmau” (Act Records) 50/1 James Blake -- “James Blake” (A&M Atlas) 5/1 Katy B -- “On a Mission” (Sony) 20/1 King Creosote & Jon Hopkins -- “Diamond Mine” (Domino Records) 10/1 Metronomy -- “The English Riviera” (Because Records) 7/1 P.J. Harvey -- “Let England Shake” (Island Records) 6/4 Tinie Tempah -- “Disc-Overy” (Parlophone) 40/1
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)