The NI Music Awards. Early morning and I was able to share with Owain Wyn Evans before my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 that these were our Brits, our Grammys and when it comes to music we fight way above our wee country weight.

By mid evening and I am utterly captivated by the electric mix of sounds pumping from the iconic Ulster Hall stage. 

I mean Chalk made an explosive start with their bass grooves, atmospheric verses before the shock and awe of their screaming choruses. I actually heard Joshua Tree b-sides before the post punk assault.

Follow that. Follow that with the Irish trad of Uilleann pipes. Come on. Well, Conor Mallon, looking uncannily like Rory McIlroy, started playing with guitarists either side and somehow reinvented the genre.

Then we were back to punk. Problem Patterns are four crazy ladies who are off the scale but hit the contemporary nail right on the proverbial head filling the Ulster Hall with humour, fun, joy, noise, audience participation and blatant ’n loud punk opinion. 

Ferna. Last year’s winner of Single of The Year, Ferna has a literary, artistic and musical maturity that tonight gives us four supergroup backing vocalists, a band that fills the stage and a sound that fills the hall. 

The Florentinas make you believe that the guitar band is not as threatened a species as feared. These guys look young but already as tight as any band that has graced this stage, full of energy and great melodies. Bono’s son is looking over his shoulder! I’m pre-ordering the record now. 

Our last artist is Winnie Ama with her soul pop, vocally pure like her inspiration Ella Fitzgerald and Macy Gray-esque in her on stage persona. Utterly enchanting.

These six artists are a small showcase for so many albums, singles and videos that came out of our wee country that past year. The ability of mind-blowing, the depth of quality of record is astonishing.

Between acts we are encouraged by Rigsy and particularly Emma Bradley to be the drumroll for the Prize winners. 

Chalk take Live Act of The Year for what we had already seen 

Problem Patterns grab Video Of The Year for their cheap but powerful statement on the NHS.

ATL Artist of the Year goes to Tramp.

Single of the Year was carried off by Moonboot. To U is over flowing with beat, brass and ear candy. Above our weight I said…

Album of the Year is the biggie. Like The Mercury Award there are near 30 experts on a room fighting the case of 12 nominees. Back in August I was privileged to a nominator. I spent weeks listening to this music and all these albums are worthy. Apart from one, I felt. One was above them all. I was more than excited when I got proven correct and Arborist’s An Endless Sequence Of Dead Zeroes was announced.

If that was not enough. Two more things.

The Joe Cassidy Chrysalis Award is to help a new band move forward. I somehow missed Joe Cassidy who sadly passed away at just 51 in 2021. I don’t understand how an artist with such influence from north Belfast passed me by but today’s listening has been two of his acts - Butterfly Child and My Bus. As I listen I celebrate new favourites but still wonder how? Chalk won this one too.

Paul Brady won the  Legend Award and to hear him sing Nothin But The Same Old Story, Crazy Dreams and Nobody Knows in this hall where I saw him play back in the early 90s was a time traveller.

Then he played The Island and I turned to my daughter and said “You’re going to hear one of the best ever songs written in this wee place.” And we did but with the added poignancy of what his going on in the middle East. Oh my. Even Brady’s 75 year old weariness of voice added to the prophetic power. 

Life is what you make it he was singing as we left. I gave a well done to two of The Florentinas as I left and thought that Brady is telling them something. Oh my, the genius is in that Hall. Their lives and possible careers are now about what they make of it. If they do then maybe one of my daughters can come and celebrate the night one of these acts picks up the Legend Award.

And off in the car with a couple of slabs of vinyl to support the scene and giving Moonboot a listen... 


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