Antony & the Johnsons have won the 2005 Nationwide Mercury Prize, the “album of the year” award for British and Irish acts. The act’s Rough Trade set “I Am a Bird Now” was named the winner at a ceremony held tonight (Sept. 6) at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
While accepting the award, Chichester, England-born frontman Antony Hegarty told the audience “I thought they must have made a mistake.” He described the event as a “crazy contest” and suggested it was like comparing an “orange and a spaceship and a potted plant and a spoon.”
N.Y.-based Hegarty released his debut album on U.K. indie label Durtro in 1998. He sang on Lou Reed’s album “The Raven” (Reprise) from 2003 and was part of the touring band, captured on last year’s live “Animal Serenade.”
The event was hosted by musician and TV presenter Jools Holland and featured live performances from nine of the 12 shortlisted acts including Antony & The Johnsons, Kaiser Chiefs, KT Tunstall, the Go! Team and Bloc Party.
Bookmakers William Hill had made the Leeds-based alternative rock quintet Kaiser Chiefs the favorite to win the award. The band was quoted at 4/1 when the 12-name shortlist was announced July 19, but the odds shortened and closed at 6/4 yesterday. Second favorite was M.I.A. at 4/1, followed by Bloc Party and Antony & the Johnsons at 5/1.
Despite never cracking a Billboard chart, “I Am a Bird Now” has won massive critical adulation for Antony’s raw, emotional voice and its unusual take on dark cabaret music. The group has a handful of North American tour dates on tap for the fall, beginning Sept. 15 in Vancouver.
The winning album was chosen by an 11-strong panel including media representatives and artists, and the shortlist was selected from a pool of 170 nominated albums. Highlights of the event will be shown on national terrestrial channel BBC 2 on Sept. 9.
The award was established as the Mercury Music Prize in 1992 by labels body the British Phonographic Industry and the British Association of Record Dealers. The Nationwide Building Society took over as sponsor from Japanese-owned consumer electronics giant Panasonic in 2004.
The full shortlist was: Antony & the Johnsons, “I Am a Bird Now” (Rough Trade); Bloc Party, “Silent Alarm” (Wichita); Coldplay, “X&Y” (Parlophone); the Go! Team, “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” (Memphis Industries); Hard-Fi, “Stars of CCTV” (Necessary/Warner Music); Kaiser Chiefs, “Employment” (B Unique/Polydor); Seth Lakeman, “Kitty Jay” (Fish Records); The Magic Numbers, “The Magic Numbers” (Heavenly/EMI); Maximo Park “A Certain Trigger” (Warp); KT Tunstall, “Eye to the Telescope” (Relentless/EMI); M.I.A., “Arular” (XL); Polar Bear, “Held on the Tips of Fingers” (Babel).