Benjamin Clementine was named the worthy winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize Album of the Year Award on Friday.
The little-known incredibly talented composer and pianist from Edmonton, North London, beat off stiff competition from the likes of bookies’ favourite Jamie XX and much-shouted-about Slaves to have his debut record – At Least for Now – hailed in the Mercury hall of fame.
The announcement about the London-born singer’s debut album, At Least for Now, followed archive clips of the bad behaviour of previous winners, including Jarvis Cocker.
But Clementine, 25, spent five years living on the streets of Paris before winning a recording contract, so his joy was tempered with different emotions. The piano-playing singer/songwriter broke with convention by inviting his fellow nominees, including Florence + the Machine, Slaves and Eska, on stage. Then, his face marked with emotion, he dedicated his prize to those caught up in the Paris attacks and the audience paused in silent tribute.
Clementine moved to Paris in 2010 at 19, carrying nothing but a suitcase full of dried spaghetti. He busked and slept in doorways all winter, graduating six months later to hostels, before eventually being spotted playing on the Métro by two French producers. “I was living nowhere, I was living in the streets. I met a lot of people but couldn’t speak the language, so I had to just get on,” he said after the ceremony.
On collecting the silver trophy from host Lauren Laverne and surrounded by his fellow nominees, he quipped: ‘Before I finish, I just want to say that I dedicate this – I know this is about music – but I dedicate it to what happened about four or five days ago in Paris,’ before breaking down in tears.
In the following press conference, Clementine spoke of his devastation on hearing of the horror that left 129 people – 89 of which were Eagle of Death Metal fans who’d been watching the band in the Bataclan Theatre when four gunmen stormed the building – dead.