Entertainment & Arts

The alternative Brit Award nominations

This year's Brit Award nominations are announced in London later. The Brits honour the year's biggest and best stars, and all artists must have had a top 40 single or album in the UK to be eligible.

But there are always a few gems that do not make the top 40 - the treats that have less commercial appeal, are not in step with fashion, get little promotion or get overlooked for some other reason.

Here is an alternative list of artists who did not make the top 40 but could have found a wider audience in 2011.

Best British female

  • Marsha Ambrosius (right)

This R&B singer from Toxteth in Liverpool went to the Brit performing arts school. But it is across the Atlantic that her glossy sound has found success. Her debut solo album Late Nights & Early Mornings features a collaboration with Alicia Keys and has been nominated for two Grammy Awards. It went to number two in the US when it was released in March.

Official site

  • Mara Carlyle

The seductive, offbeat vocal jazz on this Shropshire singer's second album Floreat was due to be released by EMI in 2008 - but got shelved when the major label was taken over. She finally wrestled back the rights and put it out last August. In a five-star review, The Independent on Sunday hailed its "unnervingly perfect vocals, lush yet off-centre arrangements [and] quirkily original songs".

Official site / BBC Music review

  • June Tabor

One of the venerated veterans of the English folk scene, Tabor released two acclaimed albums in 2011 - one solo, Ashore, inspired by the sea, and the other, Ragged Kingdom, recorded with The Oysterband, 21 years after their first collaboration. At times she comes across as PJ Harvey's long-lost folky mother and she has four nominations for next month's BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Official site / BBC Music review

Best British male

  • Gruff Rhys (right)

The Super Furry Animals frontman makes endearingly infectious oddpop that layers inventive melodies with sweet celestial sounds and lashings of strings and brass. In October, his third solo album Hotel Shampoo (about finding free toiletries in hotels on tour) won the inaugural Welsh Music Prize, the Welsh answer to the Mercury Prize.

Official site / BBC Music review


London dubstep DJ and producer Aaron Jerome marries the moodscapes of The xx and James Blake with sparkling, danceable electronica. His self-titled debut was named best artist album of 2011 by DJ Magazine, which described it as "the smartest album of the year", adding that it was "arguably as emotion-drenched and era-defining as Massive Attack's Blue Lines 20 years ago".

Official site / BBC Music review

  • Nick Lowe

The one-time new wave trailblazer and self-styled "Jesus of Cool" has found renewed respect as a stylish, sepia-toned crooner. The reflective retro ballads on his 13th solo album The Old Magic fit comfortably into a world where Richard Hawley is a star. "Like a fine wine, Nick Lowe continues to mature as a songwriter, at an age when others are withering on the vine," The Independent wrote.

Official site / BBC Music review

Best British group

  • Wu Lyf (right)

Amid a morass of mediocre indie bands, this enigmatic Mancunian quartet were among the only the ones aiming to take guitar pop somewhere different and coming halfway close to achieving it. It was in both Q and NME magazines' top 10 albums of the year lists, while their incomprehensible, impassioned yelping recently left TV host David Letterman bemused after an appearance on his show.

Official site

  • King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

The album Diamond Mine was a collaboration between singer, songwriter and record label owner King Creosote and Hopkins, an electronic artist who has worked with Coldplay and Brian Eno. Described as a "romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village", it combined simple folk melodies, atmospheric synth washes and stuttering beats and was nominated for last year's Mercury Prize.

Official site / BBC Music review

  • The Leisure Society

This band make refined, lyrical and highly tuneful songs, with their wistful and whimsical tone drawing comparisons with The Divine Comedy. Led by Londoner Nick Hemming, their 2009 debut album was nominated for two prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting awards and the follow-up Into the Murky Water proves they have the talent to sustain a fruitful career.

Official site / BBC Music review

Best international female

  • Tune-Yards (right)

The second album by the exhilarating Tune-Yards, aka America's Merrill Garbus, was near the top of many critics' end-of-year lists. She made her name with a DIY debut album recorded on a hand-held dictaphone in 2009. For the follow-up Whokill, she picks bits from genres including hip-hop, Afrobeat and alt-rock to make what Rolling Stone called "the year's most thrillingly weird record".

Official site / BBC Music review

  • St Vincent

Texan singer Annie Clark makes atmospheric avant garde pop, like Goldfrapp with bolder ideas. Her third solo album Strange Mercy is "is a flawless exercise in arty pop subversion", according to a five-star review in The Daily Telegraph, while another five-star write-up in The Observer praised her knack for a "memorable melody and a winning voice".

Official site / BBC Music review

  • Fatoumata Diawara

This Malian singer has produced a debut album of beguiling, warm grooves with backing from such luminaries as Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen. Now based in Paris, she is involved with Blur singer Damon Albarn's new supergroup Rocket Juice and the Moon.

Fatoumata Diawara on MySpace

Best international male

  • James Vincent McMorrow (right)

This Irish singer-songwriter delivers heartfelt songs with a fragile power and a twang of Americana. He crept into the UK top 40 on Sunday with a version of Steve Winwood's Higher Love, but the original songs on his debut album Early in the Morning, which earned him comparisons with Damien Rice and Bon Iver, show that his own material can shine.

Official site

  • Jonathan Wilson

A central figure in the Californian folk-rock scene, Wilson is an acoustic strummer for whom the hazy hippy days never ended. He is also a guitarist for Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne and Robbie Robertson's bands. Mojo magazine described his album Gentle Spirit, fourth on its list of the albums of 2011, as sounding "like sunlight slowly burning off the mist", while Uncut named him new artist of the year.

Official site / BBC Music review

  • Frank Ocean

This LA-based R&B singer has sung on Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaboration Watch The Throne, written songs for Beyonce and Justin Bieber and put out an acclaimed solo album Nostalgia, Ultra. That may well have made the top 40 if he had not released it himself for free online after getting frustrated at a lack of action from his record label.

Frank Ocean on Tumblr

Best international group

  • M83 (right)

With a euphoric, anthemic air and 80s-sized synths and drums, Hurry Up We're Dreaming, the sixth album by M83, narrowly missed the top 40. Led by French musician Anthony Gonzalez, the album was described as "horizon-spanning, unabashedly epic synth rock" by Pitchfork, the bible of music blogs, which ranked it as the third best of 2011.

Official site / BBC Music review

  • Girls

San Francisco group Girls were another rare example of a guitar band who just about fulfilled their ambitions in 2011. Mining several decades of rock history for inspiration, their second full album Father, Son, Holy Ghost ranges from simple, shining moments of melodic pop to thrilling, throbbing wig-outs. Dummy magazine said it was "one of the best rock records of our time".

Girls on MySpace / BBC Music review

  • The Roots

On their 10th studio album Undun, the Philadelphia hip-hop crew tell the backwards story of a semi-fictional character who is sucked into a life of crime as he struggles to survive in the ugly city. The Los Angeles Times declared that it showed "a band at the top of its game continuing to forge new directions in hip-hop".

Official site / BBC Music review

Listen to a selection of songs by these artists in playlists on YouTube, Spotify (registration & application download required) or MySpace.

This list is entirely subjective, frivolous and unscientific, and does not confer any accolade upon these artists on behalf of the BBC.