IT IS one of the most prestigious accolades the music industry has to offer.
And tonight, a Southampton musician will be hoping to go one better than a talented trio of former pupils from the same city school by winning the Mercury Prize.
Joe Newman’s Alt-J are the bookies’ runaway favourites to claim the illustrious award for the year’s best album with their debut An Awesome Wave.
If the alternative-indie band does scoop the prize, which comes with a cheque for £20,000, it will be a case of fourth time lucky for former Cantell Maths and Computing College pupil.
Joe, pictured, is the fourth ex-student to be nominated for the prestigious prize in the last decade.
And the guitarist and singer is grateful to the Violet Road secondary school for helping nurture his musical talent.
Joe, who was at the school from 1999 to 2004, said: “I had a lovely time at Cantell.
“The school let me develop into the person that I wanted to be.
"My teachers were encouraging, open minded and thoughtful.
“Without being educated in a socially, ethnically, religiously diverse environment like Cantell, which encouraged people to be individuals, I might not have had the self-belief to pursue this hobby into a profession.”
Cantell, which is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary, has a rich musical heritage, and is developing a connection with the Mercury Prize.
In 2005, Coldplay – including drummer Will Champion, who was at Cantell from 1989 to 1994 – notched up their second nomination for X&Y, coming two years after they were shortlisted for A Rush of Blood to the Head.
Will, who grew up in Highfield, and his Coldplay colleagues, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband Chris Martin, may not have won the Mercury yet, but that certainly hasn’t stood in their way.
The band is now one of the most successful in the world, selling more than 55 million albums, headlining this summer’s Paralympic closing ceremony, and racking up a string of Brit and Grammy award nominations and wins along the way.
In 2008, former Cantell pupils Jack Wyllie and Milo Fitzpatrick were shortlisted as part of Portico Quartet, for their critically-acclaimed debut album Knee Deep in the North Sea.
Although they lost out to Elbow, the innovative fourpiece has gone on to have sustained success in the jazz world, gaining recognition and support from some of the biggest names in the genre.
Saxophonist Jack believes his school days were key to his musical development.
He said: “Cantell had a fantastic music department - most of our lunch breaks were spent playing in the rehearsal rooms. The school definitely helped foster a love of music and I was able to take lessons on two instruments and play in several groups.”
CANTELL'S WALL OF FAME
CANTELL has produced several inspirational students in its 25 years, many of whose stories are celebrated on the school's wall of fame, which is designed to inspire the current crop of youngsters to aim high for themselves.
As well as the Mercury Prize-nominated musicians, two-thirds of successful Southampton rock outfit Band of Skulls are former pupils.
The group - comprised of ex-Cantell students Russell Marsden and Matt Hayward, along with Emma Richardson - shot to fame when their track Friends was used in the smash-hit Twilight movie series.
Other names on the wall include promising teenage Saints striker Sam Hoskins and Radio 1 DJ and TV presenter Tom Deacon, alongside many pupils who have achieved academic success and pursued interesting and varied careers ranging from doctors to missionaries to TV news reporters.
Head teacher Ruth Evans said: “Cantell is a happy, thriving and successful school and I am delighted that students continue to acknowledge the great benefits of being part of our diverse and exciting community.
“Students currently in school echo the praise captured here in the comments of some of our ex-students. We are ambitious for all the young people in our care and trust that many will find their place in our wall of fame.”
Additional reporting by Michael Anthony.