'last vance saloon for foy as he scoops ni music prize' ~ encore ni report

by 06:20

As the dust settles in the wake of the inaugural 'Northern Irish Music Prize' it seems that all has went well for Belfast's Official Music Week. The winner, as well known by now, was Belfast's answer to David Gray, singer songwriter and all around gentleman Foy Vance, with his second album 'Joy Of Nothing'. Having listened extensively to Mr Vance over the last year and had the pleasure of seeing him support Snow Patrol at Tennants Vital (Gary Lightbody sights him as 'a personal hero') I can wholeheartedly agree that 'The Joy Of Nothing' was a worthy winner. However it must be asked, was it the right choice? Or indeed, as has been argued by certain members of the local scene, simply a safe choice? Questions must also be asked of the shortlist...were any more deserving acts overlooked due to a popularity contest? Questions have been asked in the past of this countries musical elite and the cliquey nature of the success which follows. Here, Taylor Johnson takes a look at the nominations and gives his view on who should have won the newest accolade in this countries musical history.

Foy Vance (Winner)

May I first start by saying congratulations to Foy Vance. With his soothing tones and big hitting chorus's, he was always going to be in with a good chance of winning. My only fear for Foy is that, despite his clear talent and the respect he commands from his fellow artists, he may lack the originality needed to make the step into mainstream adoration. He will always be a delight to listen to, and it's nearly impossible to deny his lyrical depth, yet following in the folk tinged footsteps of the likes of David Gray and Paul Brady  may leave him cast in a shadow he'll struggle to emerge from. Thankfully, there is very few on his level at present, but with the likes of David C Clements gearing up for album launches and extensive tours, we may be on the way to producing a new generation of singer songwriters that may not leave Foy on his own for much longer.

Overall: A worthy winner, but a safe winner.
Key Track: 'Closed Hands, Full Of Friends'

And So I Watch You From Afar

The North Coast rockers stand alone as the most successful post-rock, instrumental band to ever emerge from Northern Ireland. Which, to be fair, hasn't been a particularly difficult accolade to earn, but one you feel they would have easily been given, even with more healthy competition. Steeped in technical complexity and soaring melodic guitar solos, ASIWYFA are known for their energetic live performances and explosive creativity. Having now released three full studio LP's, the band have been touring extensively, particularly in America, where their credibility seems to grow by the week. Unfortunately you feel that, despite the loyal fan base they've acquired on both sides of the pond and at home, that ASIWYFA were unlikely to have been awarded the overall prize. Brilliant though 'All Hail Bright Futures' is, experimental, guitar driven instrumentals are never going to be to everyone's taste. Bar a few of their now classic tracks, the Portrush lads may always be considered to be a really good band, 'if you're in to that sort of thing'. Not that that'll bother them one bit.

Overall: Unlikely winners, but a deserving nomination.
Key Track: 'Big Thinks Do Remarkable'

The Bonnevilles

The brilliantly named 'Folk Art and The Death Of Electric Jesus' is the second album from Lurgan two-piece The Bonnevilles. Having gained a strong local following, the lads bluesy brand of rock and roll has drawn comparisons to Rory Gallagher and The Black Keys and rightfully so. With critical acclaim coming in from all over the globe, The Bonnevilles were always going to be contenders to win the top prize. I feel it was a mixture of the bands edginess and DIY attitude that ultimately ended their chances. The tight suits of the local music Academy were never likely to rock the boat, though The Bonnevilles certainly were.

Overall: Always a contentious choice, deserving nomination.
Key Track: 'Good Suits and Fighting Boots'

Jetplane Landing

Back with a bang after the disappointing 'Backlash Cop', you'd be forgiven for thinking that Jetplane Landing were a brand new entry to the mix this year. Armed with a bolder and more commercial sound, the post hardcore rockers seem to have finally lived up to their billing as the new 'Fighting With Wire', recently playing to a sold out Limelight, while supposedly catching the eye of several high profile labels in the process. Their new radio friendly sound and raw edge meets in perfect harmony on new single 'My Radio Heart', encapsulating the essence of a new era for the band. May well have scooped first prize, for their smooth transition into mainstream consciousness if nothing else.

Overall: Could well have won and if they continue to improve, will eventually.
Key Track: 'My Radio Heart'

Tired Pony

After locking himself in the heart of the American countryside with his various musical accomplices, Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody came out with a piece of musical  genius that has been unusually overlooked since it's release. Brimming with the sort of ethereal wonder we've come to expect from Lightbody, it seems he's been taken for granted somewhat since Snow Patrol's break from touring. Lyrical poetry in the form of 'I don't want you as a ghost, I don't want you as A fading light, I don't wanna be the weight you carry, I just wanna be the man you come home too' must surely reinforce Lightbody as one of this countries greatest songwriters, yet it was written off as simply another signature track from the Bangor born frontman. It was said Tired Pony were never going to win the NI Music Prize as only one of their members was from over here, which casts a sad and undeserving shadow over Ian Archer, who's pristine harmonies feature heavily on what is a beautiful record.

Overall: Probably the best album to be nominated, only stopped by the bands transatlantic roots.
Key Track: 'The Creak In The Floorboards'

A Plastic Rose

Sligo born alt-rockers A Plastic Rose came under unfair pressure after the release of their debut album 'Camera.Shutter.Life', as some felt disappointed by it's finalised production. This may be some of the most misguided criticism any band is likely to get this year. With a passionate and dedicated fan base in the 'APRmy', the bands recent departure to Nottingham has left a gaping hole in the local music scene that no band has yet been able to come close to filling. 'Camera.Shutter.Life' itself is a masterstroke of alternative rock energy and delicate, singalong life lessons of pain, heartache and perseverance. Listening to A Plastic Rose's debut will give any young band the drive to get out of their hometowns and dream big. They encapsulate the spirit of the local music scene and as such, have been sadly overlooked. With album number two imminent, you can't see A Plastic Rose having similar problems in the future.

Overall: Very unfortunate not to win. Our biggest hope.
Key Track: 'Build From The Ground Up'

Two Door Cinema Club

Maintaining the glittering pop edge that helped make 'Tourist History' the success that it was, Two Door's newest effort once again cemented their place as a solid and dependable indie-rock band. The release of 'Sleep Alone' marked a significant step forward in the bands journey as it made it on to the soundtrack of thousands of teenagers bedrooms across Europe on the new Fifa 14. Apart from that, it seemed to lack the hit potential of years gone by. Still an enjoyable and fun record, but it seems it was included almost out of necessity rather than on critical analysis.

Overall: What we've come to expect from one of our most established groups. An unlikely winner given other nominations.
Key Track: 'Someday'

Future Winners/Nominations

The Wonder Villains

The countries most developed pop band already have a cult following, and after a year of solid gigging and some incredible support slots, should be ready for an assault on the charts with a debut album eagerly anticipated by all. Ones to watch.

Key Track: '33'

More Than Conquerors

Just home from another successful European tour, Belfast's MTC's may feel a little disappointed they were left out this year. A stunning debut album and impeccably tight set list will see them continue to make waves in 2014.

Key Track: 'Pits Of Old'

David C Clements

Since the break up of his last band '6 Star Hotel', David C Clements has carved a name and reputation as one of the countries finest singer songwriters. With a beautifully toned voice and minimalist stage set up, next year could be significant for him.

Key Track: 'Hurricanes'

Echo Raptors

Belfast's most promising 90's inspired rock and roll band, the Raptors have went from strength to strength over the last year. Rumored to be planning a move to Liverpool in search of success, if they produce another EP like their latest offering 'She's So Free', the lads could be on to a winner. 'Change My Way' is arguably one of the best original songs written by an unsigned band at present.

Key Track: 'Change My Way'

In all, we have a lot to be excited about. The local music scene is alive and kicking - Will it continue into 2014? Only time will tell -  no pressure to the new generation then!

Taylor Johnson.

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