What’s going on with the Choice Prize? It’s gone all shiny! It’s become a phone company prize! Paul McLoone has a fancy lectern!
We’re in the Olympia sitting in cinema seats and feeling like a giant judging panel on a warped reality talent show. Nothing kills off frivolity and spontaneity quicker than making everyone sit down and have a nice, regimented, quietly fun time. People were still fumbling to open their packets of Malteasers when Tieranniesaur were ploughing through their day-glo bright set with the enthusiasm of hyped up toddlers.
As disconcerting as the atmosphere is, it possibly describes the very essence of the Choice Prize, it’s an ever-so-polite, very mannerly, love-fest. No bun fights here, just plenty of respect, admiration, head nodding and beard stroking. All the bitchiness and honesty is kept firmly behind the judging panels closed doors or hidden in knowing grins. Insults are whispered or spelled out in a roll of the eyes, lest someone hear you and get their ego punctured or awkward conversations need to be had. Maybe they do or we will forever be stuck in an infantile state of grudging admiration. Maybe we need to have these awkward conversations to stop the Choice Prize becoming a festival of whatever takes the judge’s fancy that year or whatever names they can come up with to finish off their end of year list.
As the bands are ushered onstage like a human version of the conveyor belt memory test from the Generation Game it becomes a popularity litmus test. Massive cheers for Lisa Hannigan, muted response for Cashier No.9, it’s the only way the public (the fans and more importantly the consumers) can make their feelings known. Obviously they can’t be trusted with picking a winner or even a short list, leave that important business to the taste makers. Well they did get some input with the new mini prize, Irish Song of the Year which was awarded to Royseven in a bizarre interlude where the band didn’t even get as far as Adele did in her Brits speech…they didn’t even make the stage.
Other than that it was business as usual with all the acts doing their ‘best in show’ performances, on occasion evoking a wonky end of term school concert. This is where the ethos of the competition is supposedly put into place, to shine a light on all the acts nominated. Unfortunately even with press interest this can still be people’s first introduction to some of the bands which is frustrating given the opportunities that should come from being nominated for an established award in an extremely small country.
This is where bands can explode in a frenzied moment of genius or dissolve into pleasant background music and unfortunately the judges are missing this vital part, this missing puzzle piece that could prove invaluable to assess a work/band as a whole. Yes, most of the panel may have seen the acts live hundreds of times before but there are some, and there will always be some, that would rather stick to listening to the albums from behind their tinted car windows rather than step outside their comfort zone.
Thus they missed the intoxicating, paranoid, party-for-one brilliance of Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands. The songs break open live, offering shards of light from the disco ball that were not always visible through the isolated murkiness on record. Briefly they offered an escape from the predictable, the bland, the disappointing. They sailed head and shoulders above the depressingly bog standard indie of Cashier No.9, they twirled around the relentless trudge of ASIWYFA and floated off on a magic carpet made of gold lame jackets over a sea of chattering 808s.
They were a perfect palette cleanser for the victorious Jape who unleashed a frenetic version of their tribute to everyone’s favourite Simpsons’ villain ‘Scorpio’ complete with Richie rolling around the stage after his guitar strap broke. By the time he’d finished his human fly dance there was no way he was leaving without the prize…
Not even Lisa Hannigan and her cutesy pie ‘lovely girl’ jigging could stop the Jape juggernaut which surprised everyone not least the band themselves. He may not have been wearing a feathery headdress and he wasn’t clutching an autoharp but last night he managed to do a PJ Harvey and win a coveted music prize twice. A prize that everyone has an opinion on but ultimately theirs are not the ones that matter.
Photos: James Goulden
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