All publicity is good publicity, right? In which case the stooshie in the last couple of days over “elitism” and “inverted snobbery” is good news for the Scottish Album of the Year award.
Maybe. It may have resulted in a discussion on STV and an article in the Daily Recod but the last thing that the fledgling award needs is to be dismissed as a closed shop white indie boy award at this early stage in its development.
However before discussing the row that’s broken out over this year’s shortlist, let’s first rewind for some context.
The SAY Award was started last year as an attempt to boost the profile of Scottish music. The model adopted by the Scottish Music Industry Association was similar to that of the Mercury Music Prize – an attempt to pick a ‘best Scottish album’ from a cross genre field. The album part is important – this is explicitly an attempt to recognise that particular art form.
Now it’s fair to say that the first award last year lacked any commercial big hitters which will undoubtedly have lessened the impact it made. However this wasn’t down to snobbery so much as the fact that few Scottish acts of any commercial significance released LPs in 2011.
In large part, the dearth of big (or even medium sized) Scottish bands reflects the current state of the music industry – labels no longer seem to sign a middle strata of bands that once upon a time would have got a deal and a profile. And these are arguably the bands who could benefit most from something like the SAY Award.
The divide between major acts and those on the indies was therefore thrown into particularly sharp contrast with the announcement of this year’s SAY award longlist. In amongst the smaller independent acts were two massive sellers, Calvin Harris and Emilie Sande.
Doubtless the SMIA was hoping that their presence would result in increased coverage for the award – and it has. But not perhaps in the way that was hoped.
When the 10 album shortlist was announced on Thursday (one as a result of an online public vote last Monday and nine others picked by the judging panel), the absence of both Harris and Sande led to the afore-mentioned accusations of elitism and inverted snobbery.
Michael MacLennan’s piece seems to be in the vanguard of the argument. I’m not going to respond to most of this in any detail (Scottish Fiction did a nice response here) but the comparison with the industry back slapping Brits seems hopelessly misplaced.
The criteria for Best British album at the Brits is entirely different from the SAY Award. It’s a recognition of commercial success more than anything else (and may even be based on some sort of algorithm involving sales, costs and profiles). So to say that Sande deserves recognition in a critical award such as SAY because her album won a Brit is simply nonsense.
A much fairer comparison would be with nominations for the Mercury – were Harris or Sande nominated for the Mercury Prize or will they be this year? Almost certainly not.
Yet one LP on the SAY shortlist for 2013, ‘Django Django’ WAS nominated for the Mercury last year, and another from last year’s shortlist, the Jon Hopkins and King Creosote album, was nominated for the Mercury in 2012.
I don’t want to dismiss MacLennan’s piece because it does contain a number of valid points such as the under-representation of dance and the lack of women on the shortlist. But, equally, I think that even the shortlist is not quite as lacking in diversity as he alleges. In any case the diversity of a critical award is always going to depend on its judging panel.
I’d also imagine that, even allowing for the row, there would be some dismay at SMIA HQ on the fact that neither Harris or Sande made it the shortlist. The whole concept of the public vote seems intended to introduce an element of populism to the process and the expectation was surely that Sande or Harris would have won the public vote. Yet it seems that neither even acknowledged the fact that their fans had the opportunity to vote for them allowing the far less popular Twilight Sad to unexpectedly win the public vote.
I was slightly critical of the public vote last year, but I think the SMIA has got it spot on this year – even if it hasn’t delivered what the SMIA hoped. However I’d lay odds on a major label act making the shortlist next year through the public vote since Biffy Clyro, Primal Scream and Frightened Rabbit have all released LPs this year and I’m sure at some point that a public vote winner will win the award.
It would be sad if the detractors managed to harm the SAY Award. Scotland currently has a vital and creative musical scene and anything that can help promote that (and potentially fill the gap that the majors have left behind) has to be a good thing.
The winner of the SAY Award 2013 will be announced at Barrowlands in Glasgow on Thursday 20th June.
Turning what was originally going to be the substance of the post, four nominees from the shortlist featured in my top 25 albums of 2012. The nominees that finished the highest up the MPT end of year list are Meursault and they must be strong contenders. Also in the running from my list are the Twilight Sad, Karine Polwart and Human Don’t Be Angry. Of the others Django Django and R.M. Hubbert will carry a lot of support.
A prediction from MPT?
Well, the Djangos and Hubby look to be good bets but I’m going to stick my neck out for Karine and ‘Traces’ this time.