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