Opinion: 2015's SAY Award shortlist shines a spotlight on lesser-known acts

Opinion: 2015's SAY Award shortlist shines a spotlight on lesser-known acts

Happy Meals

Stewart Smith assesses the 10 contenders for this year's Scottish Album of the Year Award

This year’s shortlist for the Scottish Album of the Year award is a canny mixture of household names and under-the-radar talent. 2014’s winners Young Fathers are in there with the Mercury Prize winning DEAD, while Caledonian soul superstar Paolo Nutini makes it in having won the public vote for his massive hit Caustic Love. Neither is likely to take home the top prize, but their presence will help boost SAY’s profile and shine a light on the lesser-known acts.

SAY’s openness is one of its strengths. There’s no entrance fee and self-released albums are welcomed. 100 nominators are invited to rank their five favourite albums, with the top 20 making the longlist (I was a nominator, although none of my picks made the longlist). From that, the judges choose the shortlist of 10, with a guaranteed place going to the winner of the public vote. The 147-strong Longer List shows just how varied the initial nominations were, with everything from jazz orchestras and traditional folk groups, to baroque ensembles and bone-crushing doom metal bands. It might be worth considering ways in which the longlist could be made more representative, but SAY has clearly made the effort to seek out specialist opinion.

At last year’s awards ceremony, Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches rightly criticised the relative lack of women on the shortlist. Whether by accident or design, this year’s shortlist goes some way to redressing the balance, with half of the acts being female led or featuring female members and collaborators. So it’s out with the ubiquitous heart-on-beard indie and in with the dreamy fuzz-pop of Honeyblood and the creepy-beautiful balladry of Kathryn Joseph: undoubtedly a good thing.

Some might be surprised that big names like Idlewild, Mogwai, King Creosote and the Twilight Sad haven’t made the shortlist, but SAY have done the right thing in favouring emergent and marginal artists over established acts. That said, few would begrudge twee pop icons Belle & Sebastian or techno legends Slam their debuts on a SAY shortlist.

Timely recognition for Green Door Studios’ contribution to Glasgow pop-life comes with the inclusion of albums from garage-rockers The Amazing Snakeheads and Francophile disco-pop duo Happy Meals. The former have already disbanded, making it unlikely that they’ll take the prize. Happy Meals, however, are real contenders. Released on the excellent Night School Records, their debut Apèro is an underground pop gem, characterised by Suzanne Rodden’s charming French-language vocals and Lewis Cook’s psychedelic synth-pop production.

The smart money, however, is probably on Errors whose fourth album Lease of Life is their best yet. Graced by the vocals of Cecilia Stamp and Bek Oliva, it takes their ‘post-electro’ into euphoric new territory, all gleaming cityscapes and tropical dance parties. With its past winners, SAY has shown good judgement in rewarding up-and-coming talent (Young Fathers) and beloved cult figures (RM Hubbert, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat). The time seems right for Errors to join that pantheon.

The SAY Award 2015 shortlist:

Belle and Sebastian, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
Errors, Lease of Life
Happy Meals, Apéro
Honeyblood, Honeyblood
Kathryn Joseph, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled
Paolo Nutini, Caustic Love
PAWS, Youth Culture Forever
Slam, Reverse Proceed
The Amazing Snakeheads, Amphetamine Ballads
Young Fathers, DEAD

The winner of the Scottish Album of the Year Award is announced on Wed 17 Jun.