Belfast Telegraph

Rude health of NI music scene still benefits from a bit of Therapy

By Michael Conaghan

In an industry where irrational prejudice is as valid a judging tool as anything else, what are we to make of awards?

From the Grammys through the Brits to the Mercury prize, gongs are undoubtedly good for business.

Yet why not celebrate the rude health that Northern Ireland's music scene is undoubtedly enjoying.

So this year's shortlist for the best album award - produced by the Oh Yeah Music Centre and supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland - was actually quite a long list.

The 12 entrants were an object lesson in musical eclecticism, swinging from country to electropop to folk-based cello prog.

The evening was compered by Across the Line's resident DJ Rigsy who introduced videos of each artist punctuated by live performances from a selection of the nominees.

Openers Sullivan and Gold channelled sophisticated American pop redolent of Ben Folds augmented by sweet soul harmonies.

More Than Conquerors, by contrast, were all art rock angularity with the blistering live presence of a Muse or an Arcade Fire.

Stuck in the middle was Robyn G Shiels. "We're the party band," quipped the singer-songwriter whose country death songs initially seemed to belong to a different part of the camp fire last night.

But there was a nagging sense of urgency about songs like Hello Death which drew you in.

The judges obviously agreed, as he walked off with the coveted Best Album award for The Blood of the Innocents.

The format inevitably had its longueurs, recalling Johnny Carson's famous quip about the Oscars being "two hours of sparkling entertainment wrapped in a five-hour show", but eventually the way was clear for this year's Oh Yeah Legend winners Therapy? to deliver a blistering set.

Perhaps, having been given the equivalent of a long service award, they felt they had a point to prove in terms of vitality.

Introduced with appropriate respect by early champion Mike Edgar, they took to the stage just after 11, appropriately enough, as that was where their amps were turned up to.

They powered through classic album Troublegum with its mixture of classic AC/DC meets the Clash riffology, much to the delight of a Finnish fan who had travelled here especially and who believed Irish bands to be "the best in the world".

A tribute every bit as good as an award, I'd say.

Four stars

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