Tuesday 20 February 2018

And the loser is. . . the Meteor Awards

Cream of the crop: Choice Music Prize nominees this year include
Fight Like Apes
Cream of the crop: Choice Music Prize nominees this year include Fight Like Apes

So the Meteors have been put on ice. Last week, the telecom giant announced it was suspending its sponsorship of the music industry's biggest gong-fest for 2011.

But the question is: are we bovvered? To some, the Meteor Irish Music Awards were a bloated snorefest that celebrated mediocrity and largely ignored the young, innovative acts who operate under the radar of the mainstream.

Twas ever thus, but there was something galling about seeing Westlife pick up their 287th award for services to Irish pop while the likes of Halfset, Halves or Patrick Kelleher go unacknowledged, like Cinderellas barred from the ball. Sorry, luv, your shoe don't fit.

The Meteors came into existence during the Celtic Tiger years, when there was oodles of corporate sponsorship money suddenly slooshing around, looking for a hip new home.

Where its predecessor, the IRMAs, had been a small invitation-only industry affair, the Meteors teamed up with promoters MCD and RTE to make it a glitzy televisual spectacle where paying punters paid top dollar for the chance to see Louis Walsh's charges trade banter with whoever happened to be MC in any given year.

I usually chose that evening to rearrange my record collection in alphabetical order or memorise all the words beginning with the letter Z in the Oxford English Dictionary.

With the economy having crashed and burned so spectacularly in 2010, last week's announcement was always a possibility but, wherever you stood on the Meteors, it does leave a hole in the Irish music calendar.

Will Hot Press reboot its Rock Awards, which for decades were such a staple of the domestic scene before the Meteors rode into town? Or will financial imperatives mean that an equivalent of the Meteors is just too expensive to mount in post-recession Ireland?

For now, the spotlight will shine with more intensity on the Choice Music Prize this year. The award, now in its sixth year, was set up by Dave Reid and Jim Carroll as an alternative to the Meteors, just as the Mercury Prize emerged as a credible alternative to the BRITs in the UK.

This year's shortlist for the Choice Prize (which was announced last week; the winner is revealed in a ceremony in Vicar St on March 3) shows just how strong the domestic music scene is right now, in spite of the financial armageddon looming over the nation.

The class of 2011 features a pleasingly wide spectrum of styles, taking in everything from the dizzy day-glo pop-punk of Fight Like Apes to the brooding atmospherics of Halves; from the Hibernian-Americana of James Vincent McMorrow and O Emperor to the intense, gripping narratives of Conor O'Brien's Villagers; from the 21st Century post-rock hoedown of Adebisi Shank to the misty, ethereal charm of Cathy Davey.

Not to mention the euphoric indie of the superbly named The Cast Of Cheers.

Looked at in purely commercial terms, the two most popular acts on the shortlist are Northern indie kids Two Door Cinema Club and the Liberties Belle of rockabilly, Imelda May.

But it's far from a two-horse race: one of the characteristics of the prize is that it is as stubbornly unpredictable (eyebrows were arched at Super Extra Bonus Party's victory a few years back) as the Meteors were predictable.

Last year, Adrian Crowley almost needed to be treated for shock when his name was called from the winning envelope. But that's one of the strengths of the prize -- it can reward acts who wouldn't get within an ass's roar of the Meteors, but who have the respect and admiration of their peers.

The same can be said for Jape, who deservedly won in 2009 -- although the exclusion of Richie Egan's other band, the Redneck Manifesto, from the shortlist this time around was a surprise.

I was disappointed, too, not to see Groom's hugely ambitious concept album Marriage make the cut.

All gripes aside, it's a list that we can hold up to the outside world and be proud of. Whatever their chosen fields, Irish artists are producing brain-frying, thought-provoking, introverted, extroverted, joyous, melancholy, earthy, stellar work that suggests a self- confidence driven by purely artistic impulses rather than the bottom line.

All of the acts mentioned above are testament to the fact that artistically these are good times for Irish music -- even if if the tentpoles for the Meteors have been put in cold storage.

Tickets for the Choice Prize in Vicar St on March 3 are available at www.ticketmaster.ie, priced at €22.


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