“You must have been to a few of these,” says Adam out of the Plimptons, nominee for Best Punk Album at the Scottish New Music Awards.
In fact, no. In fact, short of Jockrock’s Golden Clefts Awards (which I organised myself, so they don’t really count), the only award cermony I’ve been to was The List’s Eating and Drinking awards (I’d reviewed Stereo, and The Kalpna, the latter in particular disgracefully overlooked, but anyway, the wine flowed and the canapes were, as you’d expect, very tasty).
But aside from the massively expensive (and all for charidee) Tartan Clefs, we don’t really do awards ceremonies for music in Scotland. Which is presumably why we’re here tonight, for the inaugural SNMAs (as we’ll call them). And while they’re not quite at the £100 a ticket level (yet), that is probably the point – more of a grass roots event for sure, but without the indie-schmindie shambolic nature of something like the Jockrock show. And yes, despite much cynicism in the run-up to Scotland’s newest awards, they (spoliler alert) turned out quite nicely.
Whatever the point behind the SNMAs is, it is about honouring Scottish music. Although, what constitures ‘Scottish’ is, as in football, a grey area. There are a set of rather complicated residency conditions that could have seen Craig Mackail Smith show up if he’d made a record, and to be honest, the absence of Kevin Rutkiewicz was a bit of a surprise given the level of some of the nominees. As it happens, the equivalent of the Scottish granny rule does allow The Skinny Magazine and Fresh Air FM to collect awards, but most of the accents heard tonight are a little more broad, with presenter The Wee Man (a former Plimptons drummer, no less) and rappers Werd and Wardie Burns carrying the torch for the Scots brougue.
Nationality issues aside, the awards are open to anyone not signed to a major label – that rather vague recurring condition which excludes the big hitters like Biffy Clyro, although the boys are present in spirit – more of that later on. The organisers have already stated that the Tartan Clefs covers the big hitters, and other ceremonies such as the Scottish Alternative Awards are there for largely indie-oriented music.
So the SNMAs attempt to cover, well, pretty much everything else..
That means we have a massive and in-places baffling array of categories – 40 in all. I know from bitter experience that a 6-award ceremony will be a nightmare to organise, though to be fair we had bands playing half-hour sets. Here, it’s one song and you’re off. There’s a bunch of ‘industry’ awards to present first (which is why I’m here, having both Jockrock and isthismusic.com up for Best Website) to be followed by the more obvious ones such as Best Band. As I hinted, the category nominations are what’s caused most disquiet, with some decidedly odd lineups in ‘Rock’ and ‘Alternative’ (and, as far as I know, there may be similar mutterings among the Roots, Jazz and Folk communities).
The guest performers and presenters listed beforehand are likewise an array of same-old-same-old, and “whooooo??”, but as we arrive – 6.30 sharp! – Edward Reid is wooing the crowd. The camp comic (TM Daily Record) – I think he may have been on the X Factor? – changes his outfit around 10 times during the proceedings, but is exuberant and grabs the attention of a increasingly inebriated crowd, as well as showing off a decent singing voice, his Mariah-style version of ‘Ally Bally Bee’ keeping the comical theme going.
Indeed, the biggest name on the performers’ lineup is probably cult bluesman Dave Arcari and as we arrive he’s been roped into presenting an award, but as it turns out, the organisers must have called in a few favours or thrown some cash at the event – Des Clarke, Sanjeev Kohli and a Leon Jackson /Sandi Thom dream team double act read off the nominees in batches of five or so.
Admittedly, there’s no-one quite as big as Gary Lightbody out of Snow Patrol, but hey, we can’t expect the same highs that the Jockrock Awards reached.
Celebs aside, there’s a surreal atmosphere – former BBC presenter Tony Currie does a kind of disembodied Mysterons voiceover as Celtic Music Radio broadcasts to Glasgow and the world. Though not as surreal as “self-trained classical singer” (according to the programme) Nicola Cassells who does an operatic version of ‘Many of Horror’ backed up by function band Dignan Dowell and White.
It’s a busy crowd in the former porn cinema (downgraded from the Barras), although the amount of attendees who’ve actually showed up to collect their flashy-looking trophies is quite small, which means that proceedings crack on at a fair old pace. Adam Stafford gets an award but, sadly, was not a recipient of a pass from the flood of free tickets, so he is unable to pick up his gong for directing the video for The Twilight Sad’s ‘7 Years of Letters’. Brendan O’Hare delivers the shortest acceptance speech – “Piss off!” – for his Live Engineer prize, but despite Chemikal Underground winning Best Label, there’s no-one to collect (unusual for former Delgado Stewart Henderson to miss a chance for a party). Though given the speed we’re rattling through the awards there’s not much time for chatter, which is just as well as the venue is pretty much in pitch darkness anyway.
Artist Manager Dee Bahl (Biffy) is likewise absent, perhaps just as well given the murdering of his charges’ hit, which makes Matt Cardle’s version seem almost bearable.
That’s it for indie-ish content in the ‘Industry’ half, apart from the studios, Berkley 2 and Green Door respectively – and curiously, it’s the big hitters who seem to miss out – Celtic Music Radio winning over obvious favourites like Radio One’s Muslim Alim and Mandi Freeman. It’s not clear if these are picked by a public vote, or by judges, though given the reception that some winners receive either there’s a serious black market for tickets, or that I have been wrong about every aspect of music in Scotland. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
Another surreal moment arrives when we’re informed by Voiceover Man that the awards are running an hour UNDER time. So Edinburgh act Metal Tech – Fisher Price Slipknot in appearance and Bon Jovi-with-a-rhythm-unit musically – do a couple of numbers as the organisers attempt to pad out the missing 60 minutes.
On with the presentations. Not long to go now. ‘Roots’ goes to an infeasibly tall and blond Scottish woman, Joy Dunlop… ah, the penny drops – “that kind of Roots!” I exclaim. Though isn’t that Folk/Traditional? Apparently not.
Metal DJ Tom Russell comes up to cover the noisy end of the categories, and lives up to his stereotyope – doing the macho metal thing to a tee, he ushers his rather more glamourous colleague centre stage to give us a twirl while he hogs the mic, though he does deign to let her open the envelope and announce the winners.
Ah yes, those categories again. We have Rock, Loud/Metal, Alt/Indie… but bizarrely, no Classical. Glasgow indies Suspire are a surprise winner in the Alt category, though not as big a surprise as ska act Bombskare in Punk – the band more surprised than the audience. Sandi Thom picks up a Jazz/Blues award and tries to explain away this given that her first 2 albums were folk, Merchants and Thieves had “a more jazz / bluesey feel”. Ohhhh-kay…
Sandi then presents a batch of prizes with Leon Jackson, before wee Leon takes the stage to give us some self-penned material. Among all the oddness of the event this is the biggest surprsie – the Bathgate X-factor winner has a surprisingly fine voice, and his songwriting isn’t bad either… however, an increasingly drunken crowd are in chatting and ligging mode by now and the acoustic tunes aren’t strident enough to grab the attention.
To be honest, we’re flagging now, and as Edward fills in with some Hi-NRG disco, it’s time to call a halt – we’ll miss ‘Group of the Year’ but since we’ve heard of none of the nomimees it shouldn’t be a great loss.
As we hit the motorway, a dissection of the night’s events.
In some senses, the night was a disappointment. We’d expected a car-crash of an event with Sam Fox/Mick Fleetwood pairings, cocked-up lines and stumbling bands. What we got was some great turns from the presenters – especially Sanjeev who appeared twice owing to an absent Michelle McManus – very slick performances from Bombskare and Leon Jackson and the always-entertaining Dave Arcari. However, it lacked excitement – a performance from Jill Jackson, formerly of Speedway and a top 10 act (really?!?!) kind of summed things up – competent but ultimately a little bit safe and corporate, And, although potentially sounding like sour grapes, objectively there are some decidedly odd choices in some of the categories, and as the event grows, more transparency in the voting will be required – if like the Jockrock awards it’s chosen by a judge or judges, that’s fine, as long as it’s upfront, as public votes are if anything more open to abuse. But fine tuning aside there’s not much to fault about the event – if they can only figure out precisely why it exists. Adam Plimpton may have been wrong about past events, but I suspect we’ll be seeing a few more of these in coming years.
Full results, I assume, will be online at www.scotmusicawards.co.uk