Entertainment & Arts

Mercury Prize 2014: Damon Albarn shortlisted for solo debut

Damon Albarn
Image caption Damon Albarn is nominated for his first record as a solo artist

The albums in contention for the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Prize, given to the best British or Irish record of the last 12 months, have been announced.

The acts making the shortlist include Blur's Damon Albarn, poet and rapper Kate Tempest, alt-R&B singer FKA Twigs and electro-funk duo Jungle.

Bombay Bicycle Club, Anna Calvi, GoGo Penguin, Polar Bear and Royal Blood are also up for the £20,000 prize.

Nick Mulvey, East India Youth and Young Fathers complete the 12-strong list.

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Media captionNominees give their reaction to being shortlisted

James Blake was the winner of last year's award, while other recent winners have included Alt-J, PJ Harvey, The xx and Speech Debelle.

"It's really wonderful to be nominated for an award that is about music," said FKA Twigs, considered by one bookmaker to be joint favourite to win the prize on 29 October.

The prize is judged by a panel of 12 critics, DJs, musicians and other industry figures who often use the shortlist to champion left-field choices as well as more obvious contenders.

"One of the great things about the Mercury is there are always people you've not heard of," said Nick Blacka, bassist with Manchester-based jazz trio GoGo Penguin, following Wednesday's announcement.

'Rising of comrades'

Bookmaker Ladbrokes has Tempest and FKA Twigs as joint favourites to win the prize, followed by Jungle and chart-topping Brighton rock duo Royal Blood.

William Hill, meanwhile, places Albarn and Royal Blood as joint favourites.

Tempest, though, refused to contemplate her chances of victory. "If you allow yourself to have those thoughts, you'll just give yourself nightmares," she told the BBC News website.

"I don't see it as a competition," she continued. "It's more like a rising of comrades."

"It doesn't feel competitive," agreed FKA Twigs, aka 26-year-old Tahliah Bennett. "It feels like a celebration of people who care about what they do.

"For me, the achievement was getting out my debut album. Everything else is something I try to take in my stride."

Tempest, from Brockley in south London, is also a playwright and spoken word performer who won the prestigious Ted Hughes Award for poetry last year.

The 27-year-old was pictured on Twitter celebrating a "joyous moment" with her band following the announcement.

Image caption Singer-songwriter Anna Calvi is nominated for a second time
Image copyright PA
Image caption Royal Blood's debut album has been number one in the UK and Ireland

Bombay Bicycle Club are nominated for their fourth album So Long, See You Tomorrow, which also made number one earlier this year.

Band member Jamie MacColl joked that the band, formed in 2005, had only been recognised because of their longevity and were receiving "the same kind of sympathy you feel for elderly people".

"I'd always set us aside from the kind of critically acclaimed bands who get nominated for the Mercury Prize," he continued. "It'll be great if we win, but I'm not expecting it."

Albarn is in the frame for his first solo record Everyday Robots. The 46-year-old was previously nominated for his work with Blur and Gorillaz, though the latter's nomination was withdrawn after they declared they did not want to win the prize.

Other acts to have been shortlisted previously include jazz group Polar Bear and singer-songwriter Anna Calvi, who made the final cut in 2005 and 2011 respectively.

Calvi, 33, joked that she had "already experienced losing" - to PJ Harvey - so would not be too disappointed if she was unsuccessful again.

"It's great to be acknowledged for what we do," said Polar Bear's Tom Herbert. "It's nice to get something back from all the work you put in.

"People who might not get to hear us will do so through the Mercury Prize. Hopefully it will bring new people to our music and help us make the next album."

'Exciting new directions'

Nick Mulvey, who is recognised for his first record as a solo artist, was previously nominated as a percussionist in Portico Quartet.

"It's been six years since I experienced this, which is enough time for me to forget what it's like," he told the BBC News website.

"I forgot how fun it was, and how intense. This is the best music that's come out this year, so I'm very flattered to be on the list."

Those sentiments were echoed by Edinburgh-based hip-hop trio Young Fathers, who said it was "a positive thing all round" to have made the shortlist.

"Our names now will be on people's lips and the album will travel a little more," remarked band member Kayus Bankole. "We won't be in the darkness anymore; we'll be in the light."

Image copyright other
Image caption Award-winning poet Kate Tempest is shortlisted for her debut album of rap verse

"I never thought making this album that it would ever come to this," said 23-year-old William Doyle, who released his debut album, Total Strife Forever, as East India Youth. "I never expected it in a million years.

"I've always wondered how being on this list affects debut artists, but at the moment I'm pretty cool about it. Whether I win or not, this whole thing is a massive bonus."

Simon Frith, chair of the judges, said the shortlist confirmed "that these are fascinating times for UK music".

"There are seven outstanding debut albums here, and five records by more established artists, all pursuing exciting new directions," he added.

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