Choice Music Album of the Year: who’s got their eye on the prize?
Sinéad Gleeson checks the odds on the nominees for the 2014 Choice Music Prize
The writer Julian Barnes once described the Man Booker Prize as “posh bingo”. It has become a cyclical phrase regurgitated every year when the obligatory outrage about the prize begins. What Barnes meant was that – like most people – he had long given up trying to predict who would win. Usually, there’s an outright favourite, and someone else entirely different ends up scooping the prize.
Ireland’s Choice Music Prize – the award ceremony for which takes place on February 27th – has, with one or two exceptions, never suffered this fate. Instead, it remains a 10-horse race with every act a potentially worthy winner. It’s always hard to call, and every year after the winner is declared, whispers filter out from the judging room about how close the decision was. (DOI: I was a judge in 2007 and the decision came down to one vote and a lot of people shouting.)
As long as there are arguments and feather- spitting, we can assume that people still care about music. The Choice Music Prize was established in 2005 for that very reason: to champion Irish acts and highlight an album that sums up the year in music. The judges are plucked from the world of journalism, radio and blogging, which rescues the prize from the clutches of predictable, preordained award shows. Instead of a passive sit-down dinner at fancy tables, there is a live show, at which most of the nominees play.
The ceremony is like a live mixtape, and over the years has seen it all. From the heart-stopping acoustic performance of Overpowered by Róisín Murphy to And So I Watch you From Afar, who proved more of a threat to Dublin venue roofs than the recent storms. The shortlist is also a democratic representation of independent labels and self-released work (Big Skin, Sargeant House, Belly Up) and bigger record companies (Universal and Sony), mixing names that are well known (My Bloody Valentine, Villagers, Bell X1) with newer acts who are collectively forging strong musical paths, such as Lisa O’Neill, Girls Names, Little Green Cars.
The prize doesn’t have the same reach as the Mercury or Polaris Prizes, but to those who have benefited from it, it has much merit. Adrian Crowley has been nominated twice and won the prize in 2010. “An award like this is a celebration of what is happening in music in a given year,” says Crowley. “It helps to remind people to get excited about the music that’s coming out of their own country. It does a lot of good in unearthing new music.”
When Crowley played the ceremony in 2010, his label boss at Chemikal Underground, Stewart Henderson, came to watch. “He decided that Scotland needed something similar so he set up the SAY award (‘Scottish Album of the Year’), which is now in it’s third year”.
Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, who is nominated this year for both album and song of the year (for Nothing Arrived) agrees the prize is important. “There would be a big Mercury/Choice Prize-shaped hole if they didn’t exist. I like to pretend that I’m too cool for them but when the day arrives I usually scrub up and put on my fanciest shoes.”