Saturday 24 February 2018

A Prize debate

TOP CHOICE: From front clockwise, 2010 nominees Marketa Irglova, Glen Hansard, Adrian Crowley, Neil Hannon, Thomas Walsh, Paul Noonan, Valerie Francis, Julie Feeney, Ronan Gaughan and Daragh Anderson.
TOP CHOICE: From front clockwise, 2010 nominees Marketa Irglova, Glen Hansard, Adrian Crowley, Neil Hannon, Thomas Walsh, Paul Noonan, Valerie Francis, Julie Feeney, Ronan Gaughan and Daragh Anderson.
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

As we wait for the winner of the fifth Choice Music Prize to be crowned next week, Eamon Sweeney gathers the 10 nominees to discuss the awards and the highs and lows they bring for musicians

It's nearly that time of year again for angry rants, heated debates, furrowed brows and equal amounts of euphoria and bemusement when the winner of the fifth Choice Music Prize will be announced in Vicar St next Wednesday.

In advance of this year's gongfest, 10 of Ireland's finest acts gathered to chew the fat and debate the conundrum of whether a competition amid such a dazzlingly diverse range of creative people is fair, or even necessary in the first place.

They're a genuinely motley crew of singular musicians and musical minds. Chris Wee (And So I Watch You From Afar), Paul Noonan (Bell X1) Daragh Anderson (Codes), Adrian Crowley, Ronan Gaughan (Dark Room Notes), Laura Izibor, Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh (The Duckworth Lewis Method), Julie Feeney, Valerie Francis, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (The Swell Season) dissect the upsides of being a Choice Music Prize nominee in 2010, and the downsides of those perennially controversial little matters called awards.

In 1996, Nick Cave withdrew from the MTV Europe Awards with the statement, "My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race." In addition to being on the shortlist, you've all been priced up like runners in the Grand National. How do you feel about this?

Thomas Walsh: First of all I don't agree with Nick. He's full of shite most of the time. Look, this is a bit of fun. We made a record for fun and getting nominated is fun. We're not here to make a statement.

Neil Hannon: Awards and prizes are fatally flawed and always will be because there's a small group of people involved in nominating and choosing the winner. Either you have that, or you don't have any prize at all. I happen to like prizes.

Chris Wee: Someone asked me about the betting the other day and I did say I felt like a greyhound! We've been backed into favourites, but I think that's just because our fans like to gamble.

Julie and Neil, you've won the Choice Prize before. Can you talk us through what it felt like to have your name read out on the night and what effect it subsequently had on your career?

Julie Feeney: I was used to working in the classical world, so it felt like being at something else with famous people! I was in shock -- complete, utter disbelief. On a practical level, an award is only one part of many other things that you must have coming together. It's just a helpful part of the whole jigsaw.

Neil: I'd already had a long career up to winning the Choice and I really was in a bit of trough. It helped enormously to win it and remind people of my existence. I must state for record that I did not buy a kitchen with the prize money. I was joking. The money came in extremely handy making another record.

Adrian and Paul (Bell X1), you're both repeat nominees. How does it feel to be nominated again?

Adrian Crowley: The first time around my jaw just hit the ground. It did me an incredible amount of good. This time around I wasn't really thinking about it, but it was in the back of my mind. You can say what you like about awards, but there is a nice feeling of community and kinship to this.

Paul Noonan: The last time was our first time to be nominated for anything. I suppose there is a certain amount of cheap affirmation you do feel. It's not like you're in the studio making a record with an eye on an award. "If we play an F we might have more of a chance of winning the Choice."

And on to the newbies ... There are no less than six debut albums on the shortlist. How does it feel to receive this recognition on your very first album?

Daragh Anderson: I'm as surprised as anyone. I'm just taking it all in. Our album has only been available for quite a short time so we're really chuffed people like it.

Ronan Gaughan: It still doesn't seem like it's real! Maybe it will on the night.

Chris: We play noisy instrumental rock, so it's great to be alongside such a wide variety of people.

Valerie Francis: It's amazing. I was up in my friend's office and we were listening to the announcement being streamed and there was a delay on the broadcast, so people were texting me before I heard my name read out!

Laura Izibor: It's a lovely feeling to be acknowledged, but it's important not to look at it as validation or completion. There's still so much work to be done.

Thomas: I've been on every critics list known to man, woman and child. Bizarrely, this nomination is for an album about cricket.

This year, there has been more debate than usual about the shortlist's omissions. The names David Kitt and Patrick Kelleher have come up a lot. Do you think this is fair?

Neil: Half the reason for awards is to generate discussion. The more discussion there is, the more names get mentioned and the more people get interested in the music. We're not idiots. This is a promotional activity. It's good for everybody, not just the people on the list.

Adrian Crowley: People kicking off on message boards is only a very small number of individuals who tend to share similar tastes. Everyone else who buys records or goes to gigs in the country doesn't give a damn. For every person complaining about it, there could be hundred people thinking it's an excellent list.

Glen Hansard: The internet and blogs are like a toilet wall. People go in, close the cubicle door and write their bullshit.

Neil: It's one thing to read your reviews when they come out, but it's always a really bad idea to go to your message board because you can get really deflated really quickly. Conor from the Villagers told people at a Hard Working Class Heroes gig to shut up. Suddenly, he's being called an asshole across the internet. People email him telling him about it, so you're getting led towards all this negativity. It's just one stupid thing at a gig.

In the literary world, there are oodles of awards. Is there room for more Irish music awards?

Neil: Yes, there should be lots more awards. I think I'm going to start The Duckworth Lewis Award for best sporting album!

Adrian: I spoke to someone a few years ago who'd just made an album who said they got really stressed out about the whole award thing, they felt that if they didn't get on it (the Choice Music Prize shortlist) they'd give up and they did. Personally, I'm not convinced they did it for the right reasons though.

Glen and Marketa, you've won the most iconic award in showbiz. Perhaps this is quite a stupid question, but how does this compare?

Glen Hansard: We didn't go after an Oscar. We never made Once to do that. It's a good example of how you do something and it gathers this momentum and we end up being put forward for an Oscar and a Grammy. Both things were a surprise. It's funny, I've always been a guy from Dublin. When we won a Meteor with the Frames, I felt we were a Dublin band. When we won an Oscar, it felt like an Irish win. I had national pride.

Marketa Irglova: I live here but I'm not Irish. I feel like I've been accepted and I feel very honoured.

Glen: When you look at this, the competition is much stiffer because it's people who write songs for much better reasons. We were up against Alan Menken from Disney who gets up in the morning, puts on the coffee and writes hits.

Adrian: I was about to say I can empathise with that, until you got to the last line!

Do you think U2 give a damn whether they're nominated or not?

Glen: I think what keeps them a band means they'd care. I don't think they'd be disappointed, but they'll certainly be aware of it.

Paul: I think it matters to them. It's the more credible award in their own country.

Neil: I think they might get over it!

The Choice Music Prize will be announced in Vicar Street on March 3

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