Northern Ireland Music Awards

AU and Oh Yeah shine a spotlight on indigenous musical talent

They may have been overshadowed by the MTV EMA juggernaut, but the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Awards were a landmark event for the Northern Irish music scene

It was, without question, the most fiercely disputed Northern Irish music event in recent memory. Much was made of the necessity and authenticity of the inaugural awards, which were organised by AU magazine and the Oh Yeah Music Centre.

The main point of controversy concerned the anonymous judging panel. Some questioned the need for anonymity and wondered aloud if the shortlist featured acts which genuinely deserved inclusion. Others recognised, however, that with MTV EMAs blasting into town this was the perfect opportunity for the Northern Irish musical fraternity to recognise and reward what's already here.

The Ulster Hall was impressively spruced with screens, banners and giant NIMA logos, while co-hosts David 'Rigsy' O'Reilly of Radio Ulster's Across the Line music programme, and Citybeat's Emma Fitzpatrick presented from an NIMA-branded podium. It wasn't MTV, but it certainly added to the occasion.

General Fiasco's three-song opener wasn't remarkable, but the new material was infectious. They were later awarded Best Song for recent effort 'The Age You Start Losing Friends'.

On occasions such as these you half expect bands to turn up, phone in a short shift and make directly for the free bar. But there was no lack of commitment from the acts on the bill.

Though the abrupt changeovers seemed to deprive Cashier No. 9 and The Japanese Popstars of their full set-ups – with Cashier lacking the scope of their usual labyrinth of sound, and technical issues forcing an early finish – each played as if the crowd were their own.

Cashier No. 9, who picked up the Best Video and Best Album awards were perhaps the most effective band of the night. But, despite going for the jugular with glimmering singles 'Goldstar' and 'Oh Pity', the tight schedule meant that they were not afforded time to settle into their trademark gradual groove.

'Japstars', meanwhile, were the real surprise package. Out of their element maybe, but the Derry~Londonderry dance-fiends created a tremendous noise, bashing and interweaving cuts from their recent club masterstroke, 'Controlling Your Allegiance'. The Best Electronic Artist nominees won over a room full of suits, indie kids and old punkers, even if an Ulster Hall rave-up didn't quite ignite.

For sub-headliners And So I Watch You From Afar, it was a date that will surely stick with them. Not because the instrumentalists were recognised as the country's Best Live Act, but because it was the last time guitarist Tony Wright will ever perform with the band.

Fans were shocked to learn of the founding member's decision to leave the band in September 2011. Having been substituted since, tonight is as good an occasion as any to say farewell before fully concentrating on his solo venture, VerseChorusVerse.

Bowing out with signature hymn 'The Voiceless', Wright made it count. Paddling into the crowd, he rang out the song's mid-section held aloft by adoring fans. It was an image that screamed a thousand words, and one that will remain engraved in Ulster Hall history. A total eclipse of a performance.

For the majority in attendance, however, none of this would have been possible without punk icons Stiff Little Fingers. A stirring welcome from long-time broadcaster Mike Edgar led the band on to accept their Oh Yeah Legend accolade, received in previous years by Terri Hooley and The Undertones.

After a brief wrap-up, the Belfast veterans capped off the event in style. 'Please stand for the national anthem,' joked frontman Jake Burns before launching into 'Alternative Ulster'. It did, as one would expect, evoke bedlam.

The first NIMAs, then, went off with admirable poise and good humour. For the most part the customary victory drivel and adulation wasn't indulged, and while the changeovers were visibly hectic, the hosts maintained a smooth show throughout.

In a week that culminated with the worldwide media circus that is the MTV EMAs, the NIMAs ensured that emerging Northern Irish acts were not overlooked. For those who couldn't make it down to the Ulster Hall, below is the full list of winners. Our congratulations to all who were nominated.

Best Band: Two Door Cinema Club
Best Song: General Fiasco – The Age That You Start Losing Friends
Best Album: Cashier No.9 – To The Death Of Fun
Best Video: Cashier No.9 – Lost At Sea
Best Live Act: And So I Watch You From Afar
Best Electronic Artist: Space Dimension Controller
Best Solo Artist: Robyn G Shiels
Best Festival: Glasgowbury
Oh Yeah Contenders: The Wonder Villains
Oh Yeah Legends: Stiff Little Fingers