With the SAY Award returning to champion Scotland's music, the team behind it chat about what makes the award so special
The Scottish Album of the Year Award is a competition with more than just one winner. As well as a lucrative prize fund – every year first place is awarded £20,000, with the nine runners up getting £1000 each – the SAY Award is a project that promotes Scottish musical life from all angles. A chat with some of the 2019 SAY Award team offers an insight into the various ways that the campaign nourishes Scotland's sonic soul.
'A lot of the time Scotland isn't very good at blowing its own trumpet', says Robert Kilpatrick, general manager of the Scottish Music Industry Association (SMIA) who produce the award annually. 'I think when something like the SAY Award comes along every year, it's a really unifying platform where everyone comes together, and it's all about just celebrating how special Scotland is in terms of the music we produce in a mutually supportive environment.'
As well as providing financial rewards to shortlisted artists, the campaign focuses on highlighting the albums on the longlist. According to the award's events manager Hilary Goodfellow, being placed on the campaign's longlist is like being given a 'badge of merit' because of the award's democratic nomination and judging process. 'It can place emerging talent, someone who has made an incredible album pretty much in their bedroom, on the same podium as some of Scotland's most established artists, and it's given the same consideration from our judges.'
For Blue Kirkhope, SMIA project and programmes co-ordinator, it also comes down to the authenticity of the award's aims as 'a pure celebration of music' that 'connects the dots between the breadth of musical talent in Scotland.' This ethos runs deep throughout the project, and is perhaps most potently reflected in their partnership with the charity Help Musicians Scotland. After the Scottish branch of Help Musicians was set up in 2018, the SAY team were keen to work with them as closely as possible. As well as raising money for the charity at SAY Award live events, the partnership is also about boosting awareness of the charity and their services to facilitate more access for artists and fans alike.
Robert Kilpatrick / credit: Elaine Livingston The 20 artists to have won a place on the longlist will be announced exclusively at the first of the SAY campaign's live events, which will be held at the prestigious Queen's Hall in Edinburgh on Friday 26 July. The musical vitality of Scotland could not be extolled without involving listeners, and Goodfellow explains how the event is a true celebration of Scottish music that fans can get involved with. 'The live event puts music fans first. The SAY Award celebrates the album as an art form, but it's really good to bring back the excitement of the live gig experience.'
'It's not just a competition with one winner at the end,' says Kilpatrick. 'At the point when the longlist is announced we're basically saying "here are 20 absolutely outstanding albums to come out of Scotland: we encourage you to listen to them".' Goodfellow agrees: 'I think it serves as a sort of cultural snapshot of Scotland at that time, and the incredible diversity across genres.'
This emphasis on the importance of diversity permeates every nook and cranny of the SAY Award campaign. Kirkhope explains that in her role she feels a responsibility to ensure that the campaign is as reflective of Scotland's music world as possible. 'It's at the forefront of what I do so that when I do approach nominators and judges, I want to make sure that they come from all sorts of backgrounds and from all corners of Scotland. The longlist and the shortlist can then be truly representative of what Scotland's about.'
If we look at the SAY campaign as a reflection, what is Scotland's music scene about? For the team, accessibility is key; regardless of artist nationality, if you've made Scotland your creative base for at least the last three years, your album is eligible for nomination. Goodfellow emphasises how important this is for the SAY team, and illustrates her point with a quote from Ela Orleans, the Polish composer and multi-instrumentalist who was shortlisted in 2017: 'The SAY nomination is the stamp of acknowledgment that I am an integral part of the country's musical landscape. I cannot express how significant this is for me, as an immigrant in this post-Brexit climate.'
The SMIA have just received regular Creative Scotland funding for the first time, which puts the award in the strongest position it has ever been in. The future is bright for the SAY Award, which is a win for everyone involved in the Scottish music scene.
The Scottish Album of the Year Award will be announced at Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Fri 6 Sep.
Live performances from some of the best of Scotland's music scene to celebrate the release of the Scottish Album of the Year Longlist. Featuring performances from C Duncan, Kobi Onyame, and a collaboration between Idlewild's Rod Jones and Modern Studies.