Our best female songwriters just can't make the list

With ¤10k to be won, a place on the Meteor Choice music prize shortlist is coveted. but why so few women? asks Chris Wasser

Chris Wasser

IT'S the music award that's supposed to combine the pop glitz of the defunct Meteor Awards with the hipster-led zeitgeist of the Choice Music Awards. Two Meteor Choice gongs will be handed out on Thursday night at the Olympia Theatre for the Irish Album of the Year and the Irish Song of the Year. But apart from Lisa Hannigan (for her album Passenger and song Knots), none of the shortlisted artists are women.

Now in its seventh year (its first with its new sponsor), the Choice Music Prize has handed over the shiny trophy and cheque for €10,000 to just one woman -- Julie Feeney in 2006.

A lengthy list of records released in 2011 shows that Irish music continues to be dominated by men. Of the 10 albums shortlisted for this year's prize, there are very few females featured apart from Hannigan (Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands, Tieranniesaur and Little Green Cars do have female members). But it's the same every year (in 2007, there were no women on the shortlist).

Is it something to get upset about? Do the judges realise this when compiling the annual shortlist? Would it have been nice to see Andrea Corr or even Gemma Hayes nominated this year? Probably not.

But it is worth noting that, for a country that regularly produces striking female talent (Cathy Davey, Julie Feeney, Lisa Hannigan), the prize continues to throw out the same names every year when it comes to highlighting said talent (Davey, Feeney and Hannigan).


Take a look through the vaults of the Choice Music Prize and you'll find that the annual event has never been short on surprises. Dublin rock outfit Fight Like Apes -- one of the worst bands to have ever come out of Ireland -- have been nominated twice.

Five years ago, the judging panel handed over the award for Best Irish Album to The Divine Comedy, cruelly overlooking superb releases from Fionn Regan, Messiah J & The Expert and The Immediate.

In 2008, Kildare jokers Super Extra Bonus Party walked away triumphant . . . enough said.

The annual Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year was always a low-key, yet generally well-respected, affair in which tastemakers and groove shakers gathered at Vicar Street every March to see who would go home with the trophy -- and the cheque.

In the other, we had the Meteor Ireland Music Awards -- a glitzy and glamorous bash where radio DJs, boybands and The Saw Doctors came together to celebrate the very worst in Irish music.

When Meteor jumped on board the Choice Music Prize train everyone was okay with it. No hissing, no complaints and no snarky comments. Which is probably down to the fact that having a sponsor on board has greatly increased its profile.

It's the same prize, only, with a new name and a brand new home. The album selection process remains the same. In short, a small gang of media professionals from every corner of print, online, TV and radio, are asked to select what they believe to be the 10 albums that best summed up the year in Irish music. From each of these personal '10 tens', the final shortlist is then devised. And that's when the real fun begins.

I was on the judging panel once -- an enjoyable experience. Locked in a tiny room on Thomas Street while crowds gathered nearby for the actual ceremony, it was a long time before we could reach a decision.

Co-founded in 2005 by journalist Jim Carroll (who has since stepped down) and former music marketing and management man David Reid, what makes the Choice Music Prize so special is that it continues to shine a light on some truly exceptional pieces of work; albums that may or may not have enjoyed commercial success but that serve as a reminder of the quality of Irish music in the 21st Century.

It's an unpredictable event; some artists are often tied up with touring duties on the night, and can't make it over for the annual shindig. This year, however, all 10 acts have cleared a space in their diaries in order to get on down to sing a few songs.


So, who will win? Who was left out? I would have liked to have seen Fionn Regan and Dublin rock trio The Minutes nominated, but that isn't to say that there aren't some crackers on this year's shortlist.

Take, for example, Pugwash's superb The Olympus Sound, or Jape's Ocean of Frequency. It will be funny to see how Derry-based electronic trio the Japanese Popstars get on during what should be the craziest set of the night. And hey, it might even be third time lucky for Bell X1.

According to the bookies, Belfast guitar outfit Cashier No 9 are 1/3 favourites to win; Lisa Hannigan is at 8/1. Thankfully, after seven years, it's an event that still gets people excited. And with a major push now behind it, it seems that things are only getting started.

The Meteor Choice Music Prize live event takes place at the Olympia Theatre, Thursday, March 8