South London pianist singer/songwriter Sampha capped off a triumphant summer with one of the greatest accolades in UK music – the Hyundai Mercury Prize – awarded for his debut album Process.
It’s fair to say the unassuming 28-year-old – one of five south Londoners nominated for the prize this year – won’t let the sudden £25,000 windfall go to his head though. When asked what he intended to do with the money, he replied ‘Put it away? Save it up? Saving is always good… I just want to see my family and friends, have a couple of drinks.’ However he did concede that, in a harsh industry climate, the prestige and sudden cash injection ‘definitely does give you a boost.’
Sampha had emerged as the bookie’s firm favourite in recent days, amid a strong field that included Stormzy and Kate Tempest. Tempest’s striking new state-of-the-nation LP ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ has won acclaim from across the critical spectrum.
Despite soaring commercial success, fellow nominee Ed Sheeran was deemed unlikely to take the gong, although another young debutant J Hus was hotly tipped.
Alt-J, who won the prize in 2012, were also nominated this year for new record ‘Relaxer’, but it wasn’t to be. ‘My sister has put a bet on J Hus, which is reassuring’ singer Joe Newman told The Guardian ahead of the ceremony.
The judging panel included musicians Ella Eyre, Jamie Cullum, Marcus Mumford and Lianne La Havas, deputy music editor of the Guardian, Harriet Gibsone, DJ MistaJam, Times rock critic Will Hodgkinson, Mojo and Q magazine editor-in-chief Phil Alexander, the head of music at Radio X, Mike Walsh, and Jess Smith, head of music at BBC 6Music and Radio 2.
Actor Idris Elba presented Sampha his £25,000 prize at a ceremony, which included a haunting performance of his hit ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’, a tender number that pays homage to his late mother, who inspired much of the album ‘Process’.