The Best of Music 2009

Steven Rainey considers the future of Northern Irish music after a year to remember

In a year that saw Lady Gaga dominate the pop charts with her 'futuristic robo-woman' shtick, whilst established super acts like U2 dropped the ball with their underwhelming No Line on the Horizon album, for me there was one defining image that captures the feeling of music in 2009 – And So I Watch You From Afar’s headlining set at the Glasgowbury music festival.

The festival is now in it’s ninth year, and the assembled throng gathered together in the Sperrin mountains last July were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of home-grown musical talent. North coast instrumental four-piece And So I Watch You From Afar rose to the challenge of headlining the festival, and pulled out all the stops to deliver a set every bit as impressive as the imposing mountains surrounding them.

However, the crucial moment came when then band launched into their rousing anthem, ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate’, and an assembled cast of the crème de la crème of the Northern Irish music scene joined them on the stage for the wordless sing-a-long that accompanies the song....

And it was a tuneless, horrible mess.

But – strangely – this didn’t stop it from being one of the most heart-stoppingly euphoric moments of the year. Without wishing to sound trite, the spirit of communal achievement flowed through every out of tune note, as the stage struggled to hold so many talented musicians, drawn together apparently without ego.

The band gamely ploughed on whilst their contemporaries murdered the uplifting melody of the song, everyone in attendance feeling the pride that has seen Northern Irish music grow from a promising curiosity to a force to be reckoned with.

Alongside this, there has been a startling amount of quality new releases from Northern Irish acts this year, with albums and singles emerging that easily rival anything released elsewhere in the UK. As well as And So I Watch You From Afar’s self titled debut album (which was placed sixth in Rock Sound’s end of year poll) there have been strong albums from Cutaways, Seven Summits and Pocket Promise, all of whom have finally realised the potential their early releases and live performances hinted at.

Cashier No9, A Plastic Rose, Yes Cadets, and General Fiasco delivered some incredible singles too, proving themselves to be at the top of their game in their respective genres. And all the while, Bangor’s Two Door Cinema Club seem to be on a meteoric trajectory straight into the hearts of indie-hipsters all over the UK.

It all bodes well for Northern Irish bands in the increasingly uncertain world of music. There seems to be an unprecedented level of support and belief in local acts this year, with Belfast venues like the re-opened Ulster Hall and the Mandela Hall no longer off limits.

As popular music continues to diversify and fragment  - was there an overriding trend in music this year? Apart from strong female personalities, apparently not - perhaps there will be more and more of a focus on indigenous music, with local scenes continuing to come to prominence. If so, then Northern Ireland is in good health, and perfectly placed to rise to the challenge for the first time in many years.

On the other hand, there’s been quite a few 'New Seattles' in the last 20 years. As the old cliché goes, only time will tell.

Steven Rainey is broadcast assistant on BBC Introducing in Northern Ireland on Radio 1.