NI ‘Ripe’ with Musical Talent: NI Music Prize 2018

Preparing for the NI Music Prize 2018 outside the Ulster Hall. Photo Source: Belfast City Council

Peter Donnelly, Contributor. 

The emerging talent on display at the annual Northern Ireland Music Prize was as diverse as ever. And yet on reflection represented just a small sample of the energetic scene coming out of all corners of Northern Ireland, showing how rude in health the NI Music Industry has become in recent years. The event, which has been running since 2013, was held on the 15th November amid the salubrious surroundings of Belfast City’s Ulster Hall. It was organised and managed by the Oh Yeah Music Centre’s Charlotte Dryden and Stuart Bailie, and to their credit proved a fitting conclusion to the tremendously successful year for Northern Irish music.

Derry based alt-rock band The Wood Burning Savages, renowned for their unique, enigmatic performances with their vivacious guitar riffs, took home the Best Album Prize of 2018, as well as The Best Live Act for 2018, presented by the legendary musician and BBC 6Music broadcaster Tom Robinson.

Emotional band frontman, Paul Connolly, accepted the award for their debut album ‘Stability’, and thanked their audiences for their unending support. Adding to the mental health awareness aspect of the event, Connolly emphasised the need for people, especially, in the close-knit Northern Irish music scene, to look after one another, stressing, “we all need as much support as possible during the tough times.”

Belfast music journalist Brian Coney, who has been charting the Wood Burning Savages’ career from their inception, warmly labelled the band as “Northern Ireland’s most potent and politically-conscious rock band.”

Many of the shortlisted acts performed live at the awards event, with Northern Ireland born musician and composer Hannah Peel taking to the stage combining her dreamy, celestial, modern Classical sounds with that of a brass band. Peel, known for her fabricating unusual music boxes, showcased a selection of tracks from her 2017 album, Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia, which was shortlisted for the Best Album 2018. The album focused on the progression of Alzheimer’s, inspired by her personal experiences with her grandmother.

County Antrim singer-songwriter Ciaran Lavery broke out of his comfort zone from his usually reserved and refined acoustic set, to perform music from his shortlisted ‘Sweet Decay’ album, shining a light on the presence of an individual in a world dominated by social media.

Promising teenage Derry act, ROE, showcased her self-styled genre of “grumpy electro pop”, captivating the audience with a simplistic set-up of keyboards, guitar and drumsticks, earning her the Oh Yeah Contender Award of the night for her recent single success tackling the prevalent issue of bullying, Hey Thomas. For any fans of ROE out there, she has just announced that she will be supporting Snow Patrol for their upcoming UK Tour, kicking off in Newcastle on December 5th.

Ryan Vail, a rising star in the electronic music scene, then laid down his set with an array of nocturnal, minimalist house rhythms from his second album Distorted Shadows, also shortlisted for the main award.

Charlotte Dryden, one of the key organisers, underlined the committed contributions made by the budding musical talent on display, and voiced a strong ray of optimism for the future of Northern Ireland’s music scene, promising, “What you have seen tonight is not the lot, there is a lot more where this came from.”

Speaking after receiving an award for his outstanding contribution to Northern Irish music, Gary Lightbody, of Snow Patrol fame, said that his award was for every one of his fans and it was his very own way of “giving back to the grassroots.” Lightbody, a key driving force in the establishment of studio recording facilities in Belfast, was visibly emotional when speaking to the audience at the Ulster Hall.

What is clear is that there is going to be no let up or let down in the progression made by many of Northern Ireland’s new music stars and the NI Music Prize awards event is going see a great many more musicians coming through its shortlisting’s in the years ahead.

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