Entertainment & Arts

Mercury Prize winners The xx enter the spotlight

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Media captionMercury Music Prize win a "weird moment of clarity" for The xx

They came, they saw, they conquered. Then they stared at their shoes.

It's rare at an awards ceremony to find winners so genuinely surprised by their victory.

But The xx seemed more shy off-stage than on it at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize ceremony in London on Tuesday night.

The dreamy indie three-piece became Mercury favourites when nominations were announced in July until a surge of last minute bets saw Paul Weller heading the bookies' shortlist.

And there was a palpable wave of goodwill and delight from the assembled music industry supremos when Jools Holland announced the winners to the packed ballroom at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

A few minutes later The xx were thrust into the bright lights of the winners' podium, where they quietly answered questions without a trace of rock star ego.

Guitarist and singer Romy Madley Croft said: "I genuinely wasn't expecting to hear our name, genuinely, genuinely."

They beat 11 other acts, including established artists Weller, Biffy Clyro and Dizzee Rascal.

Even if you think you haven't heard The xx, you probably have.

Their songs permeate TV trailers and adverts. The album's opening instrumental sound-tracked the BBC's general election coverage.

The album xx is ethereal, catchy and stripped down. Guitars twang against stark soundscapes. Male and female voices come and go.

Chief of the Mercury judges Simon Frith said: "It captures something of the uneasy times we live in. It's a very urban record."

He added: "It is an album which has an astonishingly coherent sense of itself. It creates a mood and an atmosphere."

Earlier, on the red carpet, the band's most vocal member Oliver Sim admitted that the year since the album had come out in August 2009 had been "a bit of a haze".

"Songs like VCR we wrote when we were 15 or 16 and we didn't think anyone would hear them outside the band. We definitely weren't expecting this," he said.

The band's popularity isn't confined to the UK. The xx are about to embark on a North American tour, after playing at Bestival.

Spine-tingling moment

They have also co-headlined gigs with Mercury nominees Wild Beasts.

Sim admitted: "I see them more than I see my mum and dad."

Image caption Villagers is Dublin singer-songwriter Conor J O'Brien

Many of the nominees had tipped Cumbrian indie rockers Wild Beasts to win.

There also seemed to be a lot of backing for Corinne Bailey Rae and Laura Marling.

But there was one act which stood out during the live performances at the ceremony.

Villagers - otherwise known as Dublin singer-songwriter Conor J O'Brien - took to the stage with just his guitar and his haunting song Becoming a Jackal.

Studio hint

It was the most spine-tingling moment of the evening. O'Brien's voice was saturated with emotion as he whispered the closing lyrics. He received an ecstatic reception.

Meanwhile, The xx can look forward to benefiting from the inevitable increased sales that the Mercury Prize will bring.

That also means work on a new album. They've hinted they might spend the £20,000 prize money on their own studio.

But the band had more immediate plans on Tuesday night.

"We thought we'd throw a party - win or lose," said Romy Madley Croft.

"Hopefully people can make it, with the Tube strike."

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