Ev­ery­thing is in the mix for the Scot­tish Al­bum of the Year

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

THE SCOT­TISH Al­bum of the Year Award may be one of the mu­sic world’s younger ac­co­lades – the fifth win­ner will be an­nounced at Pais­ley Town Hall on June 29 – but it strikes me that the trans­parency of its pro­cesses have al­ready set it apart.

The web­site – www.sayaward.com – ex­plains this quite lu­cidly, as well as giv­ing the pub­lic an op­por­tu­nity to hear all the longlisted al­bums in full be­fore there is the op­por­tu­nity to vote to give one of them au­to­matic se­lec­tion on the short­list along­side those cho­sen by the panel of judges. At time of writ­ing Hud­son Mo­hawke’s Lan­tern is stream­ing on the site.

The ob­vi­ous prob­lem with the award is that its defin­ing re­stric­tion is ge­o­graph­i­cal, not mu­si­cal. That means that it has the twin dif­fi­culty of defin­ing what is a “Scot­tish” al­bum, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously try­ing to re­flect the won­der­ful di­ver­sity of mu­sic-mak­ing in our small coun­try.

I can’t think of an in­stance it has had to cope with like that faced by the Crit­ics Awards for Theatre in Scot­land over the eli­gi­bil­ity of the Still Game stage show for its awards (it was pro­duced by a London com­pany and there­fore ex­cluded) but that may be only be­cause any ex­am­ples have failed to at­tract the same pub­lic­ity.

More trou­bling to the ar­chi­tects of the SAY Award has been the de­sire to keep the list of nom­i­nated al­bums – the “Longer List” that you will also find on the web­site – as broad as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing jazz and clas­si­cal re­leases as well as in­die, dance and folk mu­sic.

Once again this year those ar­eas are un­der-rep­re­sented, although it is good to see the Dunedin Con­sort’s Bach Mag­ni­fi­cat on the longlist, and it would have been my hope that the Scot­tish Na­tional Jazz Or­ches­tra’s re­mark­able Mozart with Makoto Ozone had man­aged to make that step too.

So while the pro­cesses of the SAY Award are ad­mirably clear, the task of the judges – which this year in­clude their em­i­nences the di­rec­tor of the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val and the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the Na­tional Theatre of Scot­land, as well as Pais­ley UK City of Cul­ture 2021 bid di­rec­tor Jean Cameron – is ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­pli­cated, be­cause the panel of 12, chaired once again by Glas­gow Univer­sity aca­demic and for­mer Her­ald con­trib­u­tor John Williamson, has to weigh up the mer­its of col­lec­tions that by de­sign, and cer­tainly in the as­pi­ra­tion of the or­gan­is­ers, con­trast markedly.

On Tues­day of this week I was at a fine gig at Glas­gow’s Hug and Pint in Great West­ern Road that en­cap­su­lated much of this. I first wrote about Anna Mered­ith when her teenage com­po­si­tion was per­formed by James MacMillan and the BBC Phil­har­monic at Hud­der­s­field Con­tem­po­rary Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

Although she hails from South Queens­ferry, she has long been a res­i­dent of south London and is now a busy and ac­com­plished com­poser, but also finds time to lead her own band, which com­bines elec­tron­ics with or­ches­tral and rock in­stru­ments and in it­self takes a jour­ney from Louis An­driessen to Aphex Twin and Mog­wai, by way of Era­sure and Go West.

Her al­bum, Varmints, is one that I would very much like to see make the award’s short­list, but I am also much taken with the more straight­for­ward attractions of Ir­ish­man Jar­lath Hen­der­son’s con­tem­po­rary sonic ap­proach to tra­di­tional song on Hearts Bro­ken, Heads Turned, and those two are up against the big guns of Chvrches, FFS, and Pri­mal Scream.

The di­ver­sity of it all is fan­tas­tic, but unar­guably Scot­tish­ness is its least defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic.

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