Sunday 18 September 2016

Northern Ireland Music Prize 2016 - The Nominations

On Thursday 15th September, the twelve albums nominated for the 4th annual Northern Ireland Music Prize, In association with Blue Moon, (Yay! the award's got a sponsor now! Groovy biscuits! Aww, it's a beer company) 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, and has been every year since the prize's inception), this is the shortlist that was arrived at -

The Bonnevilles – Arrow Pierce My Heart
Ciaran Lavery – Let Bad In
David C Clements – The Longest Day In History
Documenta – Drone Pop #1
exmagician – Scan The Blue
Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
Girls Names – Arms Around A Vision
Jealous of the Birds – Parma Violets
Michael Mormecha – LOFi LiFE
Ports – The Devil Is A Songbird
Ryan Vail – For Every Silence
Sea Pinks – Soft Days

So those are the nominations, what are our thoughts? Now that the prize has been going for four years, as one might expect we have quite a few artists this year who are enjoying their second nomination for the NI Music Prize. The Bonnevilles & Girls Names were both nominated for the first NI Music Prize back in 2013, As was Foy Vance, who was the inaugural winner that year, and could potentially be the first nominated artist to do the double. Both Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail are enjoying their first solo nominations, after being nominated for their collaborative effort last year. Michael Mormecha is also nominated for the first time under his own name, after being first nominated in 2014 as a member of Mojo Fury

Secondly, compared to last year's list, which featured quite a few well-known names, this year's list is a little lacking in terms of artists that could be called 'household names'. The biggest name on the list, and the only artist on it who achieved a top 40 album last year, is Foy Vance, whose album "The Wild Swan" peaked at #28 when it was released. He also the only artist on the list whose ever had a hit single too, having breached the top 40 last year in collaboration with Rudimental, plus Ed Sheeran took a cover of his song "Make It Rain" into the charts in 2014. 

Apart from him, there's a few artist who'd be well respected on a wider scale within their respective genres, with Girls Names' album receiving rave reviews among fans of post-punk & Ryan Vail gaining plaudits among fans of electronica. Then of course there's Ciaran Lavery, who continues to collect Spotify streams and playlistings like they're conkers.

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, although admittedly this year, it is more a case of better known names not releasing albums during this period. The only other artist from Northern Ireland that we thought had a top 40 album during this period was Rend Collective, whose album "As Family We Go" charted at #19 in the final half of 2015, but having looked into it the album was released one week too early to be included in the 2016 NI Music Prize. Not that that album would have made the shortlist even if it was eligible, mind you.

Genre wise, it seems that 2016 is definitely the year of the singer-songwriter among this year's nominations, with Ciaran Lavery, David C Clements, Foy Vance, Jealous of The Birds & Michael Mormecha all flying the flag for solo musings. That's not to say there's not much variety this year. We've also got electronica, blues-rock, shoegaze, psychedelia, post-punk & electronica artists among the 12 albums nominated. Given that to date all three winners of the prize have been singer-songwriters (Soak, Robyn G Shiels & Foy Vance), it would follow the pattern if one of those five ended up for the prize, although perhaps 2016 could be the year that a band finally takes home the top prize.

As for albums that didn't make the list but should have been included, there were two fantastic albums that I would have loved to see make the list but unfortunately didn't make the cut. The first was the self-titled debut album from Best Boy Grip. It made our top 10 albums of 2015, and is an exquisite set of piano-pop songs written by one of the finest, most prolific and most affecting songwriters we have to offer. Perhaps a few of my fellow judges overlooked it given that it was released in September last year, which would have been a real shame. 

The other album that we'd hope would make the list is "The Ebony Trail" by Ciara O'Neill. The album is a beautiful and haunting dark-folk album, and Ciara has one of the most gorgeous voices on these islands, although I feel that if the prize continues, she'll definitely receive a nomination within the next few years, as the quality of the songs she plays live are even stronger than the ones on this album (and as she joked during her album launch, much happier, due to the influence of writing in Nashville). One song of hers in particular, "Dreamer" has the hallmarks of a future classic about it.

This blog will be revisiting the Northern Ireland Music Prize before it is awarded at a ceremony in the Mandela Hall on November 11th, 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 -

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