The last time PJ Harvey won the Mercury Prize, the 11 September terrorist attacks stopped her from flying from the US to London to accept the award. Last night, nearly a decade later to the day, she was able to walk on stage to pick it up in person, making history as the only artist ever to have won it twice.
Harvey accepted the £20,000 accolade for her February album Let England Shake, which was inspired by the poetry of TS Eliot, the work of Harold Pinter and worldwide conflict over the last 10 years.
“When I last won I was in Washington DC watching the Pentagon burn from my hotel window,” said Harvey upon accepting her trophy.
“So much has happened since then. I wanted to make something meaningful and to make something that would last.” She later added that to “have the chance to be here to receive an award means a great deal to me”.
She said there was a link between 9/11 and the work. During her research she read the testimonies of soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The greater urgency that I felt to write an album like this now is because of what has happened in the last 10 years,” she said.
Simon Frith, the chairman of the award’s judging panel, said the decision was reached unanimously and added that “it’s an interesting example of an artist having a complete conception. It’s about something. It’s a kind of song cycle. There’s nothing you can imagine changing in it.”
The ceremony, held at London’s Grosvenor House hotel, began with the south London rapper Tinie Tempah performing a guitar-heavy medley of tracks taken from his nominated album Disc-Overy.
The night’s stand-out performances included Bangor pianist Gwilym Simcock, who rounded off by plucking at his piano strings through the open top of his grand piano. “It was a privilege to represent the many great instrumental musicians in this country who don’t always get the opportunity to be heard,” he said.
Elbow received a rapturous welcome from the audience when they performed the title track from their fifth album, Build a Rocket Boys!
“As music fans, to be on the list with old and new heroes, it means the world,” said the band’s lead singer, Guy Garvey. He also thanked the evening’s host, Jools Holland.
Earlier in the evening, Harvey appeared on stage wearing a flamboyant, feathered headdress for a typically tight rendition of “The Words That Maketh Murder” from her wining album. She first won the Mercury Prize in 2001 for her fifth studio album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
Another nominee, Adele, failed to perform because of a chest infection. The audience was shown footage of her track “Rolling in the Deep”. The other nominees were Simcock, James Blake, Katy B, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Metronomy, Everything Everything, Ghostpoet and Anna Calvi.
Rob Sharp, The Independent