Spoiled for Choice

Sarah Harford takes a listen to the nominees for this year’s Choice Music Prize, and discovers that there’s much more to Ireland’s music scene than what we’re hearing on the radio.

Like our very own version of the prestigious Mercury award, the Choice Music Prize has been recognising the best in Irish talent since it was established in 2005. Previous winners have included Jape, Two Door Cinema Club, and Villagers.


Choice Music Prize – Album of the Year 2016
  • All Tvvins – IIVV
  • Bantum – Move
  • Wallis Bird – Home
  • The Divine Comedy – Foreverland
  • Lisa Hannigan – At Swim
  • Katie Kim – Salt
  • James Vincent McMorrow – We Move
  • Overhead The Albatross – Learning to Growl
  • Rusangano Family – Let The Dead Bury The Dead
  • We Cut Corners – The Cadences Of Others


This year sees a fantastic, diverse selection of artists nominated which truly represent the wide range of music emerging from the country right now. From the instrumental atmospheric rock of Overhead The Albatross, to Limerick hip-hop group Rusangano Family, and everything in between – this list definitely has the zeitgeist covered.

While some familiar names appear here, such as The Divine Comedy and Lisa Hannigan, many of these artists are perhaps less well known but have been gaining momentum on the Irish live music scene in the last few years.



All of these acts, with the exception of James Vincent McMorrow who is on tour in Australia, will be performing at the award ceremony on Thursday 9 March at Vicar Street. Choice co-founder David Reid describes the night not just as an award show, but a live music event, highlighting the best new developments in Ireland.

“The Choice Music Prize is an attempt to put a spotlight on Irish music for two and half months,” Reid told The Irish Times. “There is one winner but it is about ten Irish acts.”

It seems clear that the Choice prize aims to do more than just put on a good show. It creates a dialogue about contemporary Irish music, and a real buzz around the acts involved. Many of these musicians and groups have been appearing more in newspapers, magazines, and on the airwaves since the shortlist was announced back in January.



The winner takes it all

While the awards may be beneficial to the industry and to those nominated, there can only be one winner who will take home the €10,000 prize money.

The Choice Music Prize differs from other ceremonies in that it has a history of choosing unexpected winners. The competition is generally judged on music alone rather than airplay figures or record sales. This means that there have been many surprises over the years, with chart-topping figures such as Bell X1, The Script, and Hozier losing to less-established acts.

The judging panel is typically composed of some of the most authoritative names in music criticism in Ireland, from print, radio, and online media. This year’s judges include RTÉ 2fm’s Dan Hegarty, Colm O’Regan from Hot Press, and Paddy McKenna of Joe.ie.

So who will they choose? It’s impossible to predict, but the short list is packed full of great contenders.

Lisa Hannigan and James Vincent McMorrow have both had a great year, creatively and commercially. At Swim and We Move are both fantastically cohesive sonic departures for these artists, and are the only two albums nominated that reached number one in the Irish charts in 2016. Both musicians have been nominated for the prize before, but neither have been successful.



But the others cannot be discounted or underestimated. Bantum, Overhead The Albatross, and Rusangano Family are all nominated for interesting and diverse self-released albums, brimming with fresh ideas and musical fusion.

Innovative singer-songwriters Wallis Bird and Katie Kim are also potential contenders, along with alt-rock groups All Tvvins and We Cut Corners.



The only act on the list who has won previously is The Divine Comedy who scooped up the prize back in 2006. Now the band from Northern Ireland are nominated for their eleventh album.



Overall there’s a rich selection of textures and ideas across these ten albums. The high calibre of talent is shown by the fact that many big names did not make it onto the short list, such as Bell X1, Lisa O’Neill, and previous winners The Gloaming.



Popular demand

While the main Choice Music Prize may be an unpredictable affair, the Song of the Year category is based on a public vote. The 2016 shortlist has many familiar names, but still provides a great mix of both new and established acts.


Song of the Year 2016
  • The Coronas – ‘What a Love’
  • Hare Squead – ‘If I Ask’
  • Heroes in Hiding – ‘Hospital’
  • Niall Horan – ‘This Town’
  • James Vincent McMorrow – ‘Rising Water’
  • Picture This – ‘Take My Hand’
  • Raglans – ‘Who Knows’
  • Saint Sister – ‘Tin Man’
  • Soulé – ‘Love No More’
  • Walking on Cars – ‘Ship Goes Down’


The Song of the Year list leans more to the mainstream in comparison to the principal Choice award, with tracks from Walking on Cars, The Coronas, and the mediocre effort from a post-One Direction Niall Horan. There are still some inspired picks thrown into the mix, however, such as the rising folk-duo Saint Sister, and the electronic soul beats of Soulé.

With one award chosen by the critics, and another by the public, will there be a stark difference between the two winners? Is there a dichotomy between what is good and what is popular?

Personally, I feel that this is an engaging aspect of the competition, which highlights what is both important and relevant in contemporary music in this country.


On the radio

This year the Choice Music Prize is being sponsored by RTÉ 2fm. On 1 February the station had an ‘All Irish Music All Day’ event to celebrate the announcement of the award nominations. Since then, there has also been increased airplay for these Irish acts that generally don’t get a look in among the big UK and US artists that dominate the popular airwaves.

However, is this enough? Data from Radiomonitor, published in The Irish Times, reveals that less than 20 percent of the music played on our radio stations in 2016 was Irish.

Interestingly, last year’s Choice Music award winner, Soak, was played only nine times on 2fm in the nine months after she scooped up the trophy.

Other countries such as France and Canada have national quotas in place to ensure that indigenous music is being played and heard. Last December, Labour TD Willie Penrose proposed a similar bill to introduce a 40 percent quota for radio stations in Ireland.

Such concerns are regularly raised to the Dáil, but it doesn’t seem likely that legislation will be passed on this matter any time soon. For a change to occur there needs to be more of an interest and a demand from the general public.

Listening to the nominees for Choice Music Prize 2016, it seems clear that we should be paying more attention to the wealth of music coming from this small island. Don’t believe me? Tune in this Thursday night.


Listen to the nominees here




Featured image: James Vincent McMorrow by arianta via Flickr

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