Northern Ireland Music Prize 2016

It was that time of the year when some members of the Northern Ireland music industry gathered together in the Mandela Hall at Queens University Belfast to celebrate the undoubted talent that fills these shores. And, of course, to present two prestigious awards on the night, the NI Music Prize for the best album of the year by a Northern Ireland artist and the Oh Yeah Legends award to an artist who has through their work ingrained themselves into Northern Ireland music folklore.

Of the 12 albums nominated the packed Mandela Hall was treated to sets from 3 of the nominees who all demonstrated in various ways why they were part of the NI Music Prize shortlist.

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First up were Derry/Londonderry band Ports showcasing material from their album “The Devil is a Songbird”. Through their choice of songs they hit us with swirling sounds and melodies that built to a crescendo of unabated controlled noise that was lifted to an even higher level with the amazing high pitched crystal clear vocals of lead singer Ryan Griffiths. They never disappoint.

Naomi Hamilton, AKA Jealous of the Birds, brought a full band to the stage of the Mandela Hall. A far cry from her days of bedroom demos being shown out across YouTube. Her vocals are full of confidence and the sound doesn’t smash into you but lifts you up gently and just carries you along to a new place.

A fitting tribute was paid in the form of a number of choruses of Hallelujah to Canadian singer song writer Leonard Cohen who sadly passed away this weekend. Showcasing tracks from her album “Parma Violets” I felt her set on the night was a little melancholy and lacked some of the raw edge of her solo performance at Stendhal Festival in August. Still a worthy nomination for the album though.

Girls Names were the last of this years nominees to play live on the night. The Belfast band for me were like Pixies fronted by Jarvis Cocker. Playing songs from their album “Arms Around A Vision” this eight piece, yes as Rigsy said they made the effort, strutted and delivered on the night a confident, brash and vibrant set. Mark my words, you will be hearing a lot more from this band in the coming 12 months.

The first half of the evening concluded with the awarding of the NI Music Prize 2016 which went to Ciaran Lavery for his album “Let Bad In”. It is a fantastic album with Lavery’s quiet raspy voice adding huge weight to fantastically crafted song. A worthy winner of the prize in fairness although somewhat tainted on the night by a lack of acceptance speech. Surely such a prestigious prize in the NI Music industry deserved a few words. Maybe not.

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The Oh Yeah Legends Award went to Downpatrick born trio Ash and no band could honestly be more deserving of the honour. They seemed still surprised to be called Legends but an honest and heartfelt acceptance speech from Tim Wheeler further cemented this status for a packed house at the Mandela Hall. Mike Edger gave his thought on the band and reckoned we were all going to go buck daft with Ash on the night. Never were truer words spoken.

With his trusty Flying V guitar slung over his shoulder Tim Wheeler and Ash launched into “Lose Control” and their debut album “1977” in its entirety. At times it is hard to believe that this album is 20 years old as it genuinely sounds like it was released yesterday. Its punk rock with heart and soul and songs like “Girl From Mars” and “Oh Yeah” are played by the boys still as if they are some 20 years younger. It is fantastic to see.

20 years after its release “1977” is still relevant to people who love great music and the way Ash engage with their audience,  admittedly it appeared most of the crowd at the event was there just to see them, I think shows they may well be around for another 20 more.

A great choice of band to win this award it ultimately makes it more difficult to raise that bar even higher next year.

The first half of the NI Music Prize evening tonight had a feeling of being a little muted, and in all honesty maybe it is in need of a revamp of its format, but it’s safe to say that a trio of guys from Downpatrick came, saw and conquered. They are truly Legends now.

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