Gary Lightbody on the 2013 NI Music Prize
The Snow Patrol and Tired Pony frontman gives his verdict on the 12 nominated albums as Foy Vance celebrates his victory
And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures
Songs like 'Big Thinks Do Remarkable' and 'The Stay Golden' sees them harvesting the calypso-ish genius of Animal Collective, marrying it to their always visceral sound explosions and making something quite distinctive from anything else out there. They’re surely one of the most inventive rock bands in the world. It’s always surprising and you’re constantly wondering whether they don’t have the faintest smile on their faces as they confound you at every turn. A puppet master's grin, perhaps. Certainly the most self-assured rock band in the UK or Ireland right now.
Anthony Toner – Sing Under The Bridges
A change of pace from ASIWYFA that immediately shows the strength in depth of the Northern Ireland music scene. 'Tell Me Something I Don’t Know' begins with bluesy swing so irresistible you’d be forgiven for thinking it was emanating from a Bourbon Street bar rather than the streets of Belfast. A poise and elegance that is quite rare, and songs full of compassion and kindness to boot.
Axis Of – Finding St Kilda
As punk as it gets. Songs that are seconds away from offering you outside for a fight for spilling their pints. My favourite song, 'We Dine on Seeds', rolls at you like an angry sea, violent and vital, muscular and brutal. It’s also loads of fun and makes me feel young again, and that’s a feat in itself as my knees have gone and my hangovers last a week these days.
The Bonnevilles – Folk Art & The Death Of Electric Jesus
Like a stiff shot of blues. Another bunch of songs like a bunch of fives. It’s harder to create danger with only two members. It’s amazing then that they seem more dangerous than anyone on the list. '10,000' is one of those songs you can't turn away from.
Fighting With Wire – Colonel Blood
Christ we make good rock music in Norn Iron. 'Didn’t Wanna Come Back Home' is one of the best rock singles of the last few years. And why wasn’t 'I Won’t Let You Down' a single?! It’s genius! An album with more hooks than a mackerel fisherman’s tackle box. Then there’s 'Graduate', another slice of shimmering pop rock glory. They’d probably not thank me for saying ‘pop’, but when it’s this hooky, infectious and glorious there is pop in there and no mistake. Something to be proud of I’d say.
Foy Vance – Joy Of Nothing
For anyone paying attention to my Twitter (and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t), I have said much about this record already. Suffice to say, it is my favourite Northern Irish record of many years. Foy Vance is a goddarn legitimate genius and should be treasured as such. In him we have one of the greatest songwriters in the world.
Girls Names – The New Life
Firstly just a great name for a band. Musically it’s dark and seductive, it haunts you with spooky guitars and vocals that sound buried alive. There’s something deeply unsettling about it, and therefore great in my book. It’s gothic and ghostly, and [featuring] bass lines that hook you like a drug. Yes please.
Jetplane Landing – Don’t Try
Jetplane Landing name their album after advice they didn’t take themselves. Unholy riffs that seem carved from mountains and lyrics spat out like punishments for the meek. Not for the faint hearted" 'Hey maggots, get off my turf, I wrote sh*t like this f*cking years ago!' As fighting talk goes, it’s pretty declarative. Showing again that Northern Ireland produces rock music as good as anywhere in the world. We also, it seems, have a lot of musicians ready to beat the crap out you. Culturally I have no idea why that would be...
Le Carousel – Le Carousel
Just a brilliant record. Late night on the dance floor, some remaining bones, a few teeth and the determination to dance until you fall apart. The French influence goes beyond the name, as the music drips with the sex and cigarette smoke of fine French dance music. More Camille Dalmais than Daft Punk, but maybe with the swagger of the latter if not the sound. 'Good Times' is as good a track as anything from the world of electronic music this year.
A Plastic Rose – Camera.Shutter.Life
I’d say a lot of people would know of my affection for, and friendship with, these lads, so I don’t want this to smack of nepotism. Nor do I want to be unfair to the guys by consciously dimming my love for their record. It’s a great rock album that I listen to a hell of a lot. Also, they’re one of the best live bands on the two islands. There, that was democratic enough, right?
Space Dimension Controller – Welcome To Mikrosector 50
This album is gloriously weird. I love it. At times it’s part Afrika Bambaataa, then Prince, then some ambient dub, then some other 80s oddness. It all sounds like early electro and hip-hop in a blender. A fascinating record that is strange and beguiling and full of exploration and intensity. Can’t quite get my head around it all, but that’s part of the fun.
Tired Pony – The Ghost of the Mountain
Only two of them are Northern Irish. Seriously though, thanks for the nomination.
Trucker Diablo – Songs Of Iron
A mean and grimy good ol’ fashioned southern fried rock record. Like someone driving a flaming motorcycle through your earholes. Big riffs, big noise and big bigness. In summation, it’s big. Like the Cloverfield monster started a band with the big fellas from Pacific Rim. Awesome.
Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon
I adore this band and I’m so happy to see them conquer the world. Bangor boys too, like me. We all know TDCC. No need for me to say much. One of the best bands in the world, and they’re from our place. Be proud.
So there you have it. Some thoughts on the great list of Northern Irish bands that we should be delighted about. There are tons of bands not on the list (Wonder Villains, Soak, I’m looking at ye) or those who will, I’m sure, be on the list next year.
Whoever wins I wish them well, and any one of these albums is deserving for sure, but I hope (whatever you think of my comments) we take a moment to think about how far we’ve come as a young, relatively peaceful, free nation of music and art and we remember the dark days just enough to realise how good we have it now.
Bands and artists thriving and creating in a small land ever-punching above its weight. Per capita we have more great bands than any country on the planet and we should be ever thankful for that.
As always and forever, peace and love, Gary Lightbody, aged 37, Bangor, Co. Down.