The Scottish Album of the Year Award, and why it's worth taking seriously
FOUND, Mogwai, Rustie and more longlisted for inaugural award
It isn’t the punchiest tagline to slap on your press release, but the Scottish Music Industry Association’s assertion that the recently-announced Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award will be ‘a qualitative arts prize for music which is discerning without being elitist and is worthy of the exceptional music it aims to celebrate’ does as much as it can to allay the scepticism of its potential audience. A quick temperature check online will tell you that all reaches of the Scottish music community view awards ceremonies (no names named here) with a degree of wariness as either exercises in small-time cronyism or fait accompli affirmations for those artists who’ve managed to reap the most sales or column inches in the last year.
So what makes this one different? Well, it’s open to everyone: if you released an album of over six tracks and 30 minutes’ length between the first and last days of 2011, you were potentially considered by the 100 industry ‘nominators’ who first selected their top five albums (this writer was one of them, as was The List’s music editor and, well, pretty much anyone in Scotland in a position to listen to good music for a living).
That’s another point: it’s democratic. Or at least, the initial shortlist of 20 was canvassed from as broad a range of informed opinions as possible, with later stages to be chosen by real-life industry experts rather than battle of the bands-style riggable votes. Hopefully that’s apparent from the final list, which features what are surely strong favourites (Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Mogwai) alongside critical successes (FOUND, Remember Remember, Muscles of Joy), deserved representatives of Scotland’s rich electronic scene (Rustie, Fudge Fingas, 6th Borough Project), exciting new bands (Bwani Junction, Conquering Animal Sound) and unexpected names getting a deserved seat at the table (Chris Stout’s Brazilian Theory, Mungo’s Hifi, Richard Craig).
And what else? There are real, life-changing rewards at stake: £20,000 for the winner and £1000 each for the rest of the top ten, thanks to the largesse of Creative Scotland. That’s right, £20,000 – as much as the winner of the Mercury Prize. But do we need to compete with the UK’s most critically-approved awards bean feast to prove we can do music just as good as the rest of ‘em? It’s not about the competition, says the SMIA’s Stewart Henderson (no stranger to awards ceremonies as a member of the Mercury-nominated Delgados, or to keeping the Scottish music industry going as one of the Chemikal Underground team): ‘it’s about fostering a greater sense of solidarity within Scotland’s music industry (and) the album’s enduring relevance as an art form.’
He’s touched on what Scotland’s scene does best there, on the sense of community waiting to be tapped into amongst the armies of musicians who live where they want and create what they love rather than setting up shop in Camden at the first sniff of a record contract. And it’s about buying more albums – because they’re good, and you should hear them.
The SAY Award winner will be announced at Film City, Glasgow, Tue 19 Jun.