Robyn G Shiels on Winning NI Music Prize
Lyrical purveyor of 'Kilrea Gothica' on his fellow shortlisted nominees and writing new material with Therapy?
How did it feel to hear your name read out as winner of the second NI Music Prize for your album The Blood of the Innocents?
It took me by surprise, to be fair. I was stood at the bar getting my mate, Dan Todd, a pint when they called my name out. I thought Mojo Fury had it in the can but was mistaken. Cue rabbit and headlights scenario.
You follow in the footsteps of Foy Vance, who won the inaugural award. Is acoustic soul/folk the new rock and roll?
I've no idea what that is, but I hope it's not catching. I play Kilrea Gothica doomtastic Black Country music, so if that wins next year then yes, that'll be the next big thing, I'm sure. It would have to be.
On the night, Northern Irish alt-metal legends Therapy? performed their classic album, Troublegum, in full. Was that the time to let your hair down?
I'd only disappoint my hair, but yes, I've seen the T? perform the album back in the day, but there was something in the air that night. You could sense that it was going be a wee bit special.
I was too bombarded by drunken folk after I won the award to actually witness the Therapy? set from start to finish, so I only caught bits and pieces, but there's nothing better than hearing your mates give you a good shout out from the stage whilst someone is pickling your brain about why your songs are so depressing. Love it.
What happened in the aftermath of the ceremony – can we look forward to reading all about it in a tell-all memoir at some point?
I was offered £3.34 for a tell-all by Hello Magazine but they only had a tenner, so I kept the change instead. It was a great night though, not just for the overall insanity of the night but also because my friends were all there as well, either on the shorlist or drinking or both, as it happens.
Therapy? have been old friends since the early 1990s, so it was good to see them in fine form, on stage and off, but the 'vibe' that night was truly 'one of those nights'. There was a lotta love in that room, and I'm all about the lovin', me.
What has been the reaction from the industry to you winning the award? Have you had any press attention or industry requests from outside of NI?
Still waiting on 'that call', if that's what you mean. In general, though, it's been positive feedback from the people who, in a way, are to blame for me being named winner of the NI Music Prize. Folk sometimes forget that I've been doing this a while – longer than your Foy Vances, et cetera – so hopefully some good will attach itself to what happens next. Fingers crossed.
The shortlist featured a cross-section of Northern Irish artists and genres. Which other acts impressed you most?
Like I say, a lot of my friends are included on the list, so just to be contrary (as always) there was/is a lass named Isobel Anderson who didn't make the shortlist but was one of the choices from the longlist pile that sticks out (well, to me anyways) as a stronger contender than some others, maybe – nice olde worldy kind of tunes that you tend to listen to over and over again. That, to me, is where it's at songwise, the ones that keep creeping back like huggable shadows.
You've been performing in one guise or another for many years now. How would you rate the current NI music scene in comparison to bygone days?
As long as there are still venues to play, I think there will always be general upstartery in some sort of musical fashion in Belfast, albeit a lot less dangerous place nowadays, where it's more about the hits on YouTube et cetera. It's a different world to me, that, but enjoy it while your in it, eh.
Having previously performed in bands, do you find it lonely as a solo artist?
Sure, I'm all about the lonely. A tune from my first album, 'Sad is Sometime as Lonely' says it all, really. But I don't really mind. With the full band sometimes you tend to settle in a bit more quickly, whereas going solo you tend to be more on your game but less at ease.
Saying that, I usually play live nowadays with James (Heaney, banjo/craic) and we both play off each other in a way that only countrified folk would understand. He's a good lad is James, talented but also one of the funniest, drollest men I've ever had the pleasure to know. And he can cook a mean steak, I tell ye, consistently, better than any restaurant nonsense. Maghera's finest he is, for sure.
Many will be intrigued to learn that you have been working with Therapy? in the studio since the award ceremony. Can you reveal any details of the collaboration?
Michael McKeegan sent me some rather obscure tracks to see if I could come up with anything and we took it from there, basically. Him and Andy Cairns had Start Together Studios booked the Monday and Tuesday after the awards weekend, so myself, Herb Magee (Lafaro) and Roisin Stewart (Desert Hearts) went down and did our parts. They chose the chosen few, you see, as it's about something close to our blackened hearts, but you'll just have to wait and see what that is.
Aside from that, what's next on the Robyn G Shiels itinerary?
I'm releasing a double single for radio promo, 'The Last Waltz/This Deathly Charm' off the award-winning album, then a wee special Christmas acoustic gig in the Sunflower Bar in Belfast on December 19 with Arborist supporting.
Then I'll go home to Kilrea for Christmas with Hanita, the partner in crime, then either go into Start Together Studios to record the award-winning follow up in January/February or try to bend/break someone's arm towards taking me out on a tour somewhere. Or maybe by then I'll have had took 'the call'.