Bodies are suddenly flinging themselves at Pete Murphy up on the Vicar St circle balcony. Slaps hit the publicist’s back as he chokes in disbelief. Bridie Monds-Watson is wincing delightedly up at the lectern where just seconds previously a gracious Adam Clayton had done the honours of announcing Before We Forgot How To Dream as the Choice Music Album of the Year 2015. The elfin folk star is thanking everyone that matters to the continued momentum of the SOAK train, and that means Murphy is naturally namechecked. He’s too busy puffing ecstatically to notice.
Whether next year could see Murphy’s previous title holders The Gloaming give him a hat-trick remains to be seen. For now, not a soul would begrudge the impossibly adorable SOAK the gong on this night of nights, an event that a couple of times has seemed to have done its best to be a talking point for all the wrong reasons. Who could forget that evening in 2008 when as many gasps as whoops greeted the crowning of something or other called Super Extra Bonus Party? Similarly, but to a lesser extent perhaps, you could almost hear the sound of heads being scratched when Two Door Cinema Club walked away with the 2010 prize. These anomalies are the reason that the Choice has now ridden out that rough patch where its validity was brought into question (like that of every single awards ceremony at some stage or another) and has become a fast talking point of the Irish music calendar. After all, when the stars align in the judges’ chamber (The Divine Comedy, Villagers, The Gloaming), the result really hits the back of the net.
There is none of that carry-on tonight, just a room of goodwill blaring back in the face of a cherubic Derry girl who has trouble pronouncing the word ‘blood’. Sure, Villagers had indeed looked world-beating just a few moments ago on stage soaring through ‘Courage’, and Roisin Murphy and Girl Band had been spotted skulking around despite not performing a customary two-song set (Kevin Shields once pulled the same trick and subsequently toyed with the odds on the night). Rumblings had started to gather, early this evening. Colm Mac Con Iomaire would be hiding in the grass. Jape had flown in under cover of night. Would Gavin James, who had just nabbed the Song of the Year, do the double? Many believed that it was Ham Sandwich’s to lose, and who could’ve argued.
Ireland’s entire population of squawking music journos (State included), mirthless PR waifs, industry stubble-strokers, label cads, gauche bookers, radio bullhorns and pushy promoters convened in the downstairs bar with Podge from Ham Sandwich. There, they yucked it up, shared war stories from previous years judging and generally made out like they always knew SOAK was the only show in town until the bar staff could take no more. And has anyone seen Ed Smith anywhere, for godsakes?
Plus ça change in the Irish Album Oscars night. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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The 2016 Choice Music Prize photographed for State by Kieran Frost