Award ceremonies are always controversial, there are a plethora of reasons for why people get aggitated. From the fact that a certain band or musician wasn’t nominated to the usual cry over costs and how the money could be better spent, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. From a personal perspective I think that the Northern Ireland Music Prize is a very positive thing. I should clarify at the outset that I was one of the many local industry people asked to be on the judging panel so take from that what you will. However I would say that my view point wouldn’t be different even if I hadn’t been asked.
The judging panel featured the likes of Alan Simpson (BBC Radio Ulster), Pete Snodden (Cool FM), Dino Cafolla (Shine) and Stephen Currie (Savour Your Scene) alongside all the usual suspects from the local scene. The eclectic nature and backgrounds of each critic ensured that no specific genre or clique was favoured. This is evident from the short-list with rock, indie, dance, blues and folk all catered for. Perhaps one might say that metal was a major absentee from the shortlist but albums from the likes of Stormzone and Gama Bomb did feature on the longlist. The shortlist featured many talented musicians, and the only slight questionable inclusion on the list was that of Tired Pony (only 2 members from NI and they have never played here either). But when Gary Lightbody himself came out and questioned it, one can look past the inclusion. Plus the big lad even went through everyone else and sang their praises – a top man (Gary Lightbody’s Thoughts on the NI Music Prize 2013).
The awards ceremony itself was a great evening and one that will only grow as a spectacle as time goes on. Each album was singled out with Stuart Bailie giving his typically enchanting and wordy thoughts on each album with live performances interspersed throughout. The acts on offer didn’t disappoint with Axis Of delivering a suitably destructive set that left no one doubting their credentials. Space Dimension Controller‘s musical stylings may be a little outside my usual comfort zone but still put on a memorable show. The surprise package for a few among the crowd (myself included) seemed to be Anthony Toner, who entertained with his intricate guitar playing and soulful/heartfelt songs. The bluesy Bonnevilles were as professional & stunning as usual before the hotly tipped Girls Names further established themselves as serious contenders. It is still baffling that they have such a big following pretty much everywhere but home.
With everyone suitably entertained and informed of what was at stake Rigsy had the privileged role of anointing our winner. All the talk seemed to point to one of the band’s performing on the evening walking away with the prize and rumours swirled towards Girls Names being the favourite. Everyone on the list was a worthy winner but I was delighted with Foy Vance‘s Joy of Nothing coming out on top. Sadly he wasn’t available to pick up the award himself but that didn’t spoil the occasion. My thoughts on the album are online for everyone to read but some things are worth repeating:
“There is often the tendency for artists to try and draw attention away from the limited range of their voice by using lots of sound effects or special guests on their music. This is not the case with Foy, his voice shines through in its purity and when he does include guests, it feels natural rather than intrusive. At times the album swoons, on other occasions there is a slight swagger; ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’ being the perfect example. Sometimes high expectations can be a burden, particularly on the difficult second album, well Foy has completely destroyed that illusion. This is easily one of the best albums to come out of Northern Ireland in recent years.”
If the Northern Ireland Music Prize 2013 has done nothing but encourage people to check out some new albums that they never would have considered then in my eyes it can be considered a success.