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Bowie, Monkeys Beaten to Mercury Prize by Outsider Blake

James Blake
James Blake performing live. The 25-year-old, who has a University of London degree in popular music, was the winner of the 2013 Barclaycard Mercury Prize. Source: Barclaycard Mercury via Bloomberg.

James Blake won the 2013 Barclaycard Mercury Prize last night, beating better-known and hotly tipped acts such as David Bowie, the Arctic Monkeys and Laura Mvula.

Blake’s album of hypnotic electronic music, “Overgrown,” was a 33/1 outsider in the odds by bookmaker William Hill Plc. Bowie’s comeback “The Next Day” and “AM” by the Arctic Monkeys were both backed more strongly after acclaim, while Mvula was the late favorite after large bets on her “Sing to the Moon.”

The award for the year’s best British or Irish album pits different genres against one another, from folk and jazz to hard rock. Blake gets a trophy and 20,000 pounds ($32,130), although the boost from sales can be worth much more. Record industry figures show that previous victors such as the Arctic Monkeys can have another 100,000 sales in the month after the ceremony.

In addition, the 12-strong shortlist can in total sell an extra 400,000 copies, the U.K. Official Charts Co. said in an e-mail. This year, Rudimental, Jake Bugg and dance duo Disclosure had the biggest boosts since appearing on the list published on Sept. 11, the statistics company said.

Blake, 25, was left almost speechless as he appeared on stage after a concert and gala dinner for record company executives and journalists at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. Blake managed to say “I lost a bet” and he thanked his parents for making him self-sufficient.

Clown Outfit

While Bowie was not at the show, the audience was treated to the premiere of his new video “Love Is Lost” which features a Pierrot clown like that in his 1980 hit “Ashes to Ashes.”

Among the live performances, classically-trained Mvula played solo piano, while London drum-and-bass group Rudimental rocked the hall with the loudest number of the night.

Alt-J won last year’s prize for “An Awesome Wave,” beating Plan B and Jessie Ware. P.J. Harvey won in 2011, defeating Adele, Elbow and Anna Calvi. In 2010, London band the xx triumphed. There were surprise victors in 2009 (Speech Debelle), 2008 (Elbow) and 2007 (Klaxons).

The Mercury focuses on musical quality and doesn’t take into account media profile or live performances, according to a statement by the judges. Popular acts such as Adele, Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams have often lost out to cutting-edge performers such as Harvey.

Blur and Pulp were beaten by the so-hip-it-hurts M People in 1994, Robbie Williams by too-cool-for-school Gomez in 1998. Both victors faltered after. The award is often seen as an albatross that also finished off Roni Size & Reprazent and Talvin Singh.

The Mercury organizers have faced calls for more openness about the judging (the panel is made up of musicians, executives and writers whose names aren’t disclosed until the ceremony), selection process and financial involvement of record companies.

It was established by the British Phonographic Industry in 1992. The first award went to “Screamadelica” by Primal Scream.


Shortlist (with betting odds from William Hill Plc):
Arctic Monkeys, “AM” (Evens)
David Bowie, “The Next Day” (14/1)
Disclosure, “Settle” (7/1)
Foals, “Holy Fire” (10/1)
Jake Bugg, “Jake Bugg” (50/1)
James Blake, “Overgrown” (33/1) WINNER
Jon Hopkins, “Immunity” (16/1)
Laura Marling, “Once I Was an Eagle” (16/1)
Laura Mvula, “Sing to the Moon” (2/1)
Rudimental, “Home” (40/1)
Savages, “Silence Yourself” (20/1)
Villagers, “Awayland” (50/1)

Muse highlights include Frederik Balfour on Hong Kong art, Lance Esplund on U.S. art, Greg Evans on U.S. television, James Russell on architecture and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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