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"Music gong changed our lives"

One Choice Music Prize winner thought of buying a new kitchen with the prize money, Others gave it to charity, but they all told Chris Wasser how the award changed their careers

The countdown is on. Come March 7, 10 Irish acts will cross their fingers and prepare their speeches in anticipation of an awards show that could very well change their lives. For some, it already has.

Now in its eighth year, the Meteor Choice Music Prize live event for Irish Album of the Year returns to Vicar Street and sees some of the greatest names in Irish music go head to head for an award decided upon by a judging panel made up of 11 media professionals. There's a shiny trophy up for grabs. Oh, and a cheque for €10,000.

Delorentos, Heathers, Wallis Bird, Damien Dempsey – these are just a handful of the nominees who will be performing at this year's event. Whoever wins, they'll be in good company. With this in mind, we caught up with all of the past winners to talk money, recognition and what winning the Choice Music Prize did for their careers ...

Julie Feeney

Winning album: 13 Songs

In 2006, Julie Feeney became the first artist to win the Choice Music Prize at Vicar Street – a newly-devised event, co-founded by journalist Jim Carroll and music manager Dave Reid. 13 Songs was Julie's debut album. "It helped me greatly," says the Galway musician. "There's no doubt about it – it certainly has a lot of weight outside of Ireland, I find. It was a huge honour."

Her second album, Pages, was nominated again in 2010. She's also on the shortlist this year for 2012's Clocks. As an independent artist, Julie puts everything she earns back into the music. That includes a prize-winning cheque for €10,000, courtesy of the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) and the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA).

Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy)

Winning album:

Victory for the Comic Muse

"I remember being completely flabbergasted, and not in a modest, 'oh, I didn't think I was going to win', kind of way. I knew I wasn't going to win because I was long in the tooth and not cool at all. But, as it turned out ... " Indeed, for Neil – whose 2006 album, Victory for the Comic Muse, beat off stiff competition from Fionn Regan and the Immediate – winning the Choice Music Prize couldn't have come at a better time. As Neil (42) explains, the win helped to "elongate the life of the record."

"I do like to think that I would have battered on, regardless, in my own merry direction, whether I'd won or not. But I was extremely flattered. It's always nice to get a prize. Apart from anything else, it's good for the ego."

The €10,000 came in handy, too. "It went into a large black hole of debt," he added. "I was amazed how some people had actually taken seriously my little quip that I would buy a new kitchen if I got the money. I didn't," he laughs, "it went to pay off people for having worked on the previous album."

Gavin Elsted (Super Extra Bonus Party)

Winning album: Super Extra Bonus Party

Nobody expected Kildare electronic outfit Super Extra Bonus Party to win in 2008. Former guitarist Gavin Elsted was surprised they were even nominated. "It wasn't the most straight- forward album ever made," he confesses, "and it seemed like a bit of a leftfield choice for a lot of people."

So, I take it he was surprised when the band's name was called out on the night. "We just lost it," he recalls. "For something that big to happen to our band; to get to that level where you're being awarded for a record that you made for fun – it's a big deal."

The band used the money to pay for "travel and equipment". Label heads and promoters took note. There was an increase in awareness – nothing "life-changing," admits Gavin, though there was something of a media backlash. In short, some critics weren't too happy about their win.

"You can't pretend that that stuff didn't go unnoticed," he says, "but at the same time, we were such an insular group of people that we just went, 'Ok, we can either let this really p*** us off, or we can just keep doing what we're doing, because obviously we're doing something right'."

They soldiered on. That is, until 2011 when Super Extra Bonus Party called it a day. Gavin is now focusing on his new band, We Are Losers (which, incidentally, features two of his SEBP band mates).


Winning albums: Ritual and Ocean of Frequency

Dubliner Richie Egan – the man otherwise known as electronic rock artist Jape – is the only act to have won the award twice. "I was extremely surprised," he says of his second win in 2012. "I really believed Lisa Hannigan was gonna win last year!

"It was great because I was able to buy a mixing desk out of the money, so it meant a lot for me in that end of things because it's hard enough surviving, making music these days.

"I think the benefit of the Choice Music Prize is that it gets people talking about Irish music. If we didn't have it, there'd be just silence."

Adrian Crowley

Winning album: Season of the Sparks

"Some friends of mine were quite tickled by the fact that I was genuinely shocked," says Dublin-based folk singer songwriter Adrian Crowley.

"When the initial surprise left me, I just felt proud – and I still do."

Three years on, Adrian is still enjoying the perks of being a Choice Music Prize-winning artist. "It's carried on quite a bit," he says. "I've been touring a lot, and everywhere I go, the award is mentioned in some form or another. It's been a real help and a real lift. Also, my confidence – even though I've always been independent minded, it really helped me confirm to myself that I was maybe some way established now, and that's a great feeling."

Once again, Adrian – who is also nominated for this year's prize – used the money to help fund his career.

Two Door Cinema Club

Winning album: Tourist History

"In terms of competition in music – which is always a funny thing – it is one of the better ones because it's celebrating the music," offers Two Door Cinema Club frontman Alex Trimble.

"It was funny, because we hadn't even talked about a speech," adds bassist Kevin Baird. "We hadn't talked about what we would do with the money."

In the end, the Northern Irish indie pop trio decided to donate their prize money to charity following their well-deserved win in 2011. "We gave it to Abaana to build schools in Uganda," says Kevin.

"Around the time we had a record deal, we toured around the world and we made decent money from it, so we felt that taking that €10,000 to just bring up the plus level in our bank account didn't seem to make sense to us. So that's why we did it."

The Meteor Choice Music Prize live event at Vicar Street on Thursday, March 7