Anna Meredith wins Scottish Album of the Year Award 2016
Renowned classically-trained composer takes home the prestigious award
Born in North London, raised in South Queensferry, and now back in London following a period studying at York University and the Royal College of Music, the new Scottish Album of the Year Award winner Anna Meredith’s the kind of artist this award does a good job of representing. She’s – obviously on both counts - Scottish and a woman (fellow List writer Stewart Smith and I mentioned the equality issue while debating the SAY back when the longlist was announced), but what’s more pleasing to see is that she’s an artist who might easily be defined as ‘mid-career.’
Meredith bears both the fresh appeal of a new artist whose striking debut album Varmints was only released four months ago, and the well-earned kudos of a late-30s classically-trained composer who’s previously been composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra between 2004 and 2007, seen her piece ‘Froms’ performed at the Last Night of the Proms in 2008 before an audience of 40 million, and been a judge on BBC Young Musician of the Year. It’s not quite the story of the last winner Kathryn Joseph, another older winner whose prodigious talent really did come out of nowhere, but hopefully the validation that a popular musician’s still permitted to emerge at the cutting edge is just one more layer of the importance of this award.
There’s little doubt that Meredith really is on that edge. Pitchfork called her ‘one of the most innovative minds in modern British music’; the Guardian called her music ‘silly, striking and smart,’ and gave her five stars; The Line of Best Fit were excited by ‘the feeling (of) a minimal album born out of a maximalist construction, a composer or musician exerting complete control over every aspect of her art.’ She’s written a piece inspired by an MRI scanner with Mira Calix, a ‘creative body percussion’ piece performed at an M6 service station, and became the youngest person to premiere a work at the BBC Proms with the stunning percussive piece 'HandsFree' in 2012. As when it recognised Young Fathers, the SAY has this year honoured a musician steeped in real sonic invention.
Varmints has a lot of heart, as well as brains. For many, the highlight is the looping, brass-heavy opener ‘Nautilus’, a righteous calling card steeped in volume and power, but the record also embraces swooning, string-heavy melancholy in ‘Honeyed Words’, a pounding, organic beat which calls to mind an orchestral New Order in ‘R-Type’, and the keening electronic ambience of ‘Scrimshaw’. It’s the kind of calling card you might expect from an artist who lists among her influences Blur, Faith No More, Moderat, Philip Glass, Owen Pallett and Bjork.
The making of this record was a years-long labour of love, Meredith told The List’s music editor shortly after receiving the award last night. ‘It’s brilliant to feel that something that’s been a real labour of love and commitment, taking time and money away from the kind of work I was doing beforehand, has worked out,’ she says. ‘I’m quite persistent when I put my mind to it, so I knew I’d always make (the album). You want to believe you’ll do it just for yourself regardless, but I always wondered if it would be enough just for me if nobody else liked it. You don’t want to feel like you’re doing it for adulation or affirmation, but I’m somebody who works better from positivity rather than a ‘fuck you’ attitude… I’m totally shocked, I feel really overwhelmed and flattered and humbled.’ The follow-up, she says, is now being planned.