When Lauren Laverne announced the winner of this year’s Mercury Prize on Friday night, one question rattled through the social networks: “Who?!”
London-born crooner Benjamin Clementine scooped the £20,000 prize, but who exactly is he? Here’s our cheat sheet.
He failed all but one of his GCSEs
Because who needs science and RS when you have an astounding self-taught talent like Clementine’s? And the one GCSE he did pass? English lit – Clementine has said he used to skip school and go to the library to read the likes of William Blake, TS Eliot and Carol Ann Duffy. What a truant.
Clementine moved to Paris in 2010, carrying nothing but a suitcase full of dried spaghetti
The musician’s backstory has been heavily covered by the music press, but here’s a quick catch-up anyway: leaving home soon after failing his GCSEs, he moved to Paris aged 19, throwing away his phone and busking Bob Marley songs while sleeping in doorways all winter. He was eventually spotted playing on the Métro by two French producers.
Speaking after the Mercurys, Clementine told reporters: “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.” Although a rich story (and a journalist’s dream), the huge attention that’s been placed on it has irked Clementine somewhat, telling The Guardian recently that “sometimes it feels like my story overshadows my music.”
Things really kicked off for him musically when he appeared barefoot on Later… With Jools Holland
In October 2013, Clementine burst into living rooms across the country with a stirring performance on Jools’ weekly music variety programme. Booked by chance after one of the show’s producers heard his French-released ‘Cornerstone’ EP, it lit the fuse for Clementine’s career, which sparked fully into life the following year when he signed to Virgin/EMI.
The Evening Standard named him as one of London’s most influential people of 2015
In their recent ‘The Power 1000’ list, the London daily paper chose the 26-year-old as one of the capital’s most significant people, alongside the likes of Ella Eyre, FKA Twigs and, um, George Osborne.
He’s incredibly modest
Upon winning the prize, Clementine invited his fellow nominees up on stage in a sweet, shared moment of celebration. This particularly stuck it to Laverne’s earlier warning to viewers to expect some debauched rock’n’roll behaviour in terms of an acceptance speech – think Alex Turner’s garbled “Call 999, Richard Hawley’s bin robbed!”, or Dizzee’s “Shit, yo” – as Clementine then delivered a hushed yet charming acceptance speech (“I’d like to thank music”), which ended with a silent and emotional tribute to the victims of the recent Paris attacks.
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He’s only released one album
And, with a 100% success rate in terms of awards ceremonies that reward albums, he’s doing rather well.
But it’s not his first award
Oh no – that was a Victoire De La Musique honour for “breakthrough live performer”, which was awarded to Clementine in France back in February.
He’s supremely generous
Clementine will use his £20,000 prize money to buy pianos for the people of Edmonton, the suburb in north London where he was born. Furthermore, he used his acceptance speech to inspire the next generation of Mercury winners: “If anyone is watching, any child or youngster or student. The world is your oyster. Go out there and get what you want to get.”
He’s got some killer lines
Here’s a sample for the possibly semi-autobiographical album track ‘London’:
“Now, as he sits on the back of this grey caravan / Tomorrow he will probably be jumping barriers with a bottle in his hand / Sparkling, sparkling water mixed with peaches and rum / Honestly I don’t drink but if I did this would be my favourite punch.”
He’ll bleed for his craft
Literally – at a gig in Paris back in March, Clementine cut his finger by playing the piano too hard. But, ever the performer, he kept on playing until an audience member threw tissues to the stage. That’s one sturdy Mercury winner, right there.