A sympathetic portrayal of a young girl’s descent into crack addiction and prostitution didn’t sound like the recipe for a global hit.
But The A Team, the track which shot Ed Sheeran to stardom, was named the best song of the year at the Ivor Novello awards.
Although Adele took two honours at the awards, highly valued by artists because they are voted for by their songwriting peers, her 10 million-selling single Rolling In The Deep was beaten to the premier prize, the year’s Best Song Musically and Lyrically, by Sheeran’s composition.
The Suffolk songwriter, who mixes acoustic melodies with hip hop beats, penned his song after talking to a prostitute when volunteering at a Crisis homeless shelter.
The A Team sold one million downloads in the UK and helped establish Sheeran, 21, as a major new talent. “It was always my goal to get (an Ivor),” Sheeran said.
The singer, the most web streamed artist of 2012, is now campaigning to support a Bristol charity which reaches out to vulnerable women who become trapped in sex work and addiction.
Sheeran will play an intimate show at The Fleece in Bristol next Tuesday for One25, which sends a van out at night to provide food, hot drinks, warm clothes and safety advice to women on the streets. Tickets are only available to volunteers who raise £125 for the charity.
Sheeran said: “It’s good to show insight that these people are real people with real emotions and they deserve the same charity work as anyone else.”
Sheeran’s victory interrupted a run of female winners at the awards. This time no-one dared interrupt Adele’s speech on the winners’ podium as she took the Songwriter of the Year prize and the Most Performed Work award for Rolling In The Deep, the bluesy disco stomper inspired by a relationship break-down.
Adele, 24, whose Brit Awards speech was cut short by ITV, told the Grosvenor House audience: “I didn’t think Rolling…was going to do anything anywhere.”
Accepting the Songwriter award from Annie Lennox, Adele said she had learned from the reviews of her first album. “The main thing was, my songs weren't as good as my voice, which I hadn't realised but I took it on board and now I'm songwriter of the year,” she said.
US singer Lana Del Rey’s haunting Video Games was named Best Contemporary Song.The song was co-written by Justin Parker, a former footballer from Lincoln, who was told that the melancholy track would never be a hit. He said: “Lana writes great melodies and lyrics, we both struggled for years to get people to notice us.”
PJ Harvey won the Best Album for Let England Shake, her song collection built around themes of bloodshed and battle, which previously won the Mercury Music Prize. She beat Adele and Kate Bush to take the Ivor.
Harvey has previously cited as an inspiration Siouxsie Sioux, the singer who burst on to the punk scene in 1976 wearing a black armband with a swastika. The chances of the leader of Banshees one day being recognised by the Novello’s academy must have appeared slim. But Sioux, 54, accepted the Ivors Inspiration Award.
Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet struck a blow for the 80s, a decade often derided for style over substance, when he took the Outstanding Song Collection prize.
The writer of True and Gold said: “Pop music is always a marriage of style of substance. The 80s was a song-oriented decade whereas from the 90s it came to be about dance music and the songs dried up. British pop songs ruled the world in the 80s.”
Kemp paid tribute to Bert Weedon, the guitarist whose Play In A Day tutorial book was the starting point for a number of future music stars. Weedon died last month. “As a 12 year-old boy I learned the chord shapes from his book and that ultimately led to all this.”
Take That, who successfully reunited with Robbie Williams for an album and tour last year, took the Outstanding Contribution To British Music prize.
Mark Knopfler, the former Dire Straits frontman, who has resisted calls to reunite with the band he dissolved in 1995, won the Lifetime Achievement award.
The 57th annual Ivor Novello Awards - winners:
:: Best contemporary song - Video Games, Lana Del Rey
:: PRS for music most performed work - Rolling In The Deep, Adele
:: Album award - Let England Shake, PJ Harvey
:: Outstanding song collection - Gary Kemp
:: The Ivors inspiration award - Siouxsie Sioux
:: PRS for Music outstanding contribution to British music - Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams (Take That)
:: Best song musically and lyrically - The A Team, Ed Sheeran
:: Lifetime achievement - Mark Knopfler
:: Songwriter of the year - Adele Adkins
:: Best television soundtrack - The Shadow Line, Martin Phipps
:: The Ivors jazz award - Stan Tracey
:: Best original film score - The First Grader, Alex Heffes
:: PRS for Music special international award - Jimmy Webb
:: BASCA fellowship - Andrew Lloyd Webber