On Monday 14th September, the twelve albums nominated for the 3rd annual Northern Ireland Music Prize were announced. After tallying nominations from over 70 people within the Northern Irish music industry (full disclosure - The Metaphorical Boat was one of the outlets to submit a nomination), this is the shortlist that was arrived at -
A Plastic Rose – Flickering Light of an Inner War
And So I Watch You From Afar – Heirs
Axis Of – The Mid Brae Inn
BeeMickSee – Belfast Yank
Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail – Sea Legs
Duke Special – Look Out Machines
The Lost Brothers – New Songs Of Dawn And Dust
Malojian – Southlands
Not Squares – Bolts
SOAK – Before We Forgot How To Dream
Therapy? – Disquiet
Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain
So looking at the nominations, there are a few points of interest worth discussing. Firstly, for the first time we have several artists who are receiving their 2nd nomination for the NI Music Prize. A Plastic Rose, ASIWYFA and Axis Of were all nominated for the inaugural prize back in 2013, so this year could be second time lucky for any of those three artists.
Secondly, in comparison to last year's list, which didn't contain many artists with a reputation outside of Northern Ireland, 2015's shortlist contains a fair few artists who would be quite well known on a national or international scale. There's Therapy?, who were the winner of last year's Oh Yeah Centre Legend Award), who've picked up a nod for their highest-charting album since 1999. There's Duke Special, whose album "Look Out Machines" became the highest charting UK album of his career. And So I Watch You From Afar continue to be one of the biggest and most respected proponents of post-rock in the world, and of course there's SOAK, who has enjoyed being playlisted on Radio 1, as well as reaching the Top 40 with her album "Before We Forgot How To Dream".
Although it's good to see less well known artists make the list, the inclusion of bigger names mean that it's more likely that people from outside of Northern Ireland will learn about the NI Music Prize, increasing its reputation on a par with the SAY Award in Scotland and the Welsh Music Prize. As I said before, the prize should act as a loudspeaker, not an echo chamber.
It's good to see a bit of variety this year genre wise. We've got rock from A Plastic Rose, Axis Of & Therapy?, singer-songwriters (Malojian, SOAK, Tim Wheeler), dance (Not Squares), electronica (Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail), and even some rap courtesy of BeeMickSee, so there's bound to be something for everyone.
As to the albums that didn't make the cut, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the most recent album by Ash didn't make the shortlist, especially given that frontman Tim Wheeler made the list with his solo album. The other big omission is The Answer, whose album "Raise a Little Hell" despite being one of the highest charting albums from a Northern Irish artist in the last 12 months. Of the less major artists, it was surprising that Sea Pinks didn't get a nod for "Dreaming Tracks", although given that was released in September last year, it might have gone unnoticed by many of the panelists. It's also disappointing that there's only one female artist on the shortlist this year in the form of SOAK, although we have a feeling that she's going to be the favourite to win the overall prize this year.
What is an album?
There's one last thing we'd like to discuss about the nominees, and it's to do with the eligibility criteria. There's one album which made the list that we weren't sure should have made the list, and that's "Sea Legs" by Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail. Although they have described it as an album, it has been described as an E.P elsewhere, and with an overall length of 18 minutes and just 7 tracks, we were initially inclined to agree with the latter.
To check if we were correct, we decided to check with one official arbiter of these such things, the Official Charts Company, to see what they consider an album to be, and see whether it meets their criteria. According to their rules, an album must be -
Over 25 minutes OR more than four songs where the format does not qualify as a “Maxi” single or remix single as defined by singles eligibility.As the album is less than 25 minutes, it would appear it falls down on this criteria. However, as it has seven songs and isn't a single, it would appear to pass the album test on this criteria, even if three of those songs are less than 2 minutes long. (There's also stuff in the rules about having a specific dealer price to qualify as an album, but as "Sea Legs" was self-released, we're willing to overlook the financial aspects).
So it goes against our initial judgement, it does seem that "Sea Legs" can qualify as an album, thus its inclusion in the NI Music Prize seems reasonable. I do feel that in the future, it would be helpful if the NI Music Prize were to define what they understand an album to be, rather than assuming that everyone knows what exactly an album is. It might seem silly and unnecessary, but it would be rather helpful when it comes to grey areas such as this.
This blog will be revisiting the Northern Ireland Music Prize before it is awarded at a ceremony in the Mandela Hall on November 14th, to do a bit of number crunching on the albums and artists nominated for the prize. As for who we would like to win the prize, we'll keep that information to ourselves for now. In the meantime, here's a few songs from some of the nominees -