Well, in the end, it went the way of lot of people had expected. At half ten last night, Jim Carroll announced that the Choice Music Prize for Irish album of 2008 would be heading home with Richie Egan for Jape’s Ritual. Although many had predicted the result (including State readers), this was still the most open award so far – with the twelve judges unable to separate two albums before a secret ballot came up with the final decision.
And of the evening itself? As these things usually are, it was an awkward mix of live gig, radio broadcast and awards ceremony. Alison Curtis kept the whole thing moving splendidly. Not everything was quite so spot on though. The video links between bands may have looked great but were fairly inaudible in the venue, leaving those bands who hadn’t attended decidedly short changed. (On that subject though, fair play to Danny from The Script turning up when, let’s face it, they had no chance).
The live performances too were a mixed bunch, though thankfully erring on the positive side. Jape themselves kicked everything off to a stilted atmosphere Richie still managed to shimmy and star jump his way through the three tracks. Messiah J & The Expert, meanwhile, came close to stealing the show and proved that – award or no award – they have it in them to continually do great things.
With Lisa Hannigan on tour in the US, it was left to Mick Flannery to fly the flag for the old school Irish singer songwriter. Watching his band set up it was like being transported back to the days of the Black Velvet Band – fiddles, female backing singers and lots of hats. Even though there was a lot of love for him in the room, Flannery just felt a bit out of place; a nod to what has gone before rather than what could be achieved. In comparison Halfset were a wash of loveliness, although this probably wasn’t the best environment for them.
All of which left the other two most tipped names of the evening. As on record, the R.S.A.G. live experience can be a dividing one. The thought of one bloke and his drumkit, even with backing tapes and some nice film clips, is a daunting one but he is undeniably one of the most exciting prospects for the year ahead. The whole thing is remarkably live, too much so sometimes maybe. Over the space of three songs the pace is frenetic and swerves from utter brilliance to sometimes sounding like, well, one bloke and his drumkit. Not the finished article by any means but the real deal on every level.
Just what have we done to Fight Like Apes? They look tired and understandably so – this is a band who have done more gigs in the past year than probably all the rest of the bands here tonight but together. Yet they raise themselves for a short burst of energy that culminates in a thrilling ‘Battlestations’ and the knowledge that they are already on their own path.
The night, though, belongs to Richie Egan. He makes a charming speech (including how his mother thought Mick Flannery would win) and culminates with the cry that it’s better be a sinking ship than a rat deserting a sinking ship. He’s not entirely correct. If the Choice Prize does anything it focuses attention on an Irish music scene that has perhaps never been healthier and deserves to be applauded and encouraged, not marginalised and sniped at from the sidelines. Congratulations to Jim and Dave and everyone involved. We’re already looking forward to next year.
Photo by Loreana Rushe. See more of her pictures from the night here.