“If this award didn’t recognise these enormously popular albums we’d have failed abysmally” – why Emeli Sandé and Calvin Harris belong on the SAY Award 2013 longlist

SAY Award

Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells skipped away from last year’s inaugural SAY Award richer to the tune of £20,000, courtesy of their winning collaborative album Everything’s Getting Older, but the victory for Scotland’s music scene was every bit as significant. A vision for a credible, professional national album prize was realised.

The organisers have just pressed play on the launch of this year’s event, which celebrates Scottish albums released in 2012. The longlist of 20 is as follows:

Admiral Fallow – Tree Bursts In Snow
Auntie Flo – Future Rhythm Machine
Calvin Harris – 18 Months
Dam Mantle – Brothers Fowl
Django Django – Django Django
Duncan Chisholm – Affric
Emeli Sandé – Our Version Of Events
Errors – Have Some Faith In Magic
Human Don’t Be Angry – Human Don’t Be Angry
Karine Polwart – Traces
Konrad Wiszniewski & Euan Stevenson – New Focus
Lau – Race The Loser
Meursault – Something For The Weakened
Miaoux Miaoux – Light Of The North
Paul Buchanan – Mid Air
PAWS – Cokefloat
RM Hubbert – 13 Lost & Found
Stanley Odd – Reject
The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know
The Unwinding Hours – Afterlives

The next stage will see the public vote their favourite album on to the shortlist through a 24-hour online poll on May 27. A 12-person judging panel then chooses the other nine and – after further deliberation – the eventual winner at a ceremony in Glasgow on June 20. Again, there will be a £20,000 top prize with a £1,000 reward for each of the nine shortlisted runners-up.

Given how ripe for internet bitching music awards can be, there were remarkably few complaints about last year’s event – an indication of just how inclusive it felt to those invested in the Scottish music scene. From a Pop Cop perspective, the live blog we ran from the ceremony was a personal highlight of 2012.

Organiser-in-chief Stewart Henderson describes this year’s longlist as having “some surprises”, which I assume alludes to the presence of two colossal chart stars in Emeli Sandé and Calvin Harris.

calvin harris and emeli sande

While a key motivation in setting up The SAY Award was to turn the spotlight on quality Scottish albums not blessed with mainstream exposure, it’s important to emphasise that Stewart has never sought, nor desired, to preside over a niche enterprise. In fact, the duo’s inclusion can be regarded as a pre-emptive strike against the levelling of any accusations of musical snobbery at The SAY Award.

Given that Emeli and Calvin boast a combined Twitter following of two million, even a token public gesture of acknowledgement would divert attention to all of the nominees, as well as to the event itself.

“I am pleased they’ve made the list, absolutely,” says Stewart. “That Scotland has produced two artists as phenomenally successful as Calvin and Emeli is something we should all feel proud about. It’s a tremendous achievement. If this award didn’t recognise these enormously popular albums we’d have failed abysmally. I want as many people as possible to hear about as many of these albums as possible and we’ll do that by supporting everyone’s artistic achievements and approaching the process with an open mind.

“It’s important for as many people as possible to support the award, so getting a plug from artists with their following would be a real bonus. That said, we’re not in the habit of doorstepping anyone for attention, so it’ll be entirely up to them in the same way it is for all the other artists on the list. It’s an important award, something that has the potential to a do a lot of good for the longlisted artists and the Scottish industry in general, so hopefully the support will come naturally.”

Aidan Moffat, Bill Wells and Fiona Hyslop

Stewart’s label Chemikal Underground have released 20% of the records on the longlist (Human Don’t Be Angry, Miaoux Miaoux, RM Hubbert and The Unwinding Hours), while the Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat album that scooped last year’s top prize also came from their stable. Stewart is acutely aware his dual role could elicit mutterings of ‘conflict of interest’, but he is vehement that the format of The SAY Award and the diversity of the nominators and judges keep the competition wholly impartial.

“There are a lot of Chemikal Underground albums on the longlist this year, I realise that, but we’ve really gone to enormous lengths to mitigate any accusations of foul play, so I don’t feel like I’m in a position where I have to apologise,” says Stewart. “In the same way that I would never prejudice something as big as The SAY Award in favour of Chemikal Underground artists, I can hardly step in and be prejudiced against Chemikal Underground when four albums make the list for the same reason. We’re one of the most prolific record labels in Scotland, we release predominantly Scottish artists and a lot of our records are critically acclaimed – because they’re very good albums.

“Ultimately, people who know me know that it’s not in me to try and skew this in my favour – I hope. I understand completely that from the outside, people may take a more cynical view of what’s going on but I’d never be able to convince those people anyway. No-one is more conscious of potential conflicts of interest than me, believe me, but I still think we’re at a critical stage in the award’s development and, if it’s possible for me to say this without sounding like a dick, my involvement brings more to this award than it takes away.”

Janice Forsyth, Stewart Henderson, Fiona Hyslop, Paul Downie, Vic Galloway

Not one for resting on his laurels, Stewart has made some tweaks for the second annual SAY Award, most noticeably flitting the ceremony from Glasgow’s south side to the much-loved Barrowland Ballroom.

“We wanted to move the Award out to the east end of the city in advance of 2014,” he explains. “There’s an enormous amount of change taking place in an area of the city that I feel has been neglected for far too long, so bringing The SAY Award over here for the next few years and to be close to the Commonwealth Games made perfect sense.

“There’s always room for improvement and The SAY Award is no different. I said last year that if we could get the Award about 70% right, we’d have earned enough momentum to carry us forward. I think we got close to reaching that. It’s crucial we continue to build the profile of the award, that the name, the logo and, to a certain extent, the format are more familiar to people and that annually, we become part of the furniture.”

Retail is a major factor in the promotion of the nominated albums, particularly those who make the shortlist, which is why Stewart was relieved to see HMV rescued from the abyss.

“All of the retailers last year were amazingly supportive – none more so than Fopp and HMV – so I hope we can do the same again this year,” he says. “I’m absolutely delighted HMV and Fopp haven’t disappeared. We need to encourage music retail on the high street and I’m convinced there’s still a healthy appetite out there for people to browse for albums, listen in store, take recommendations from knowledgeable staff etc.

“The SAY Award has the potential to engage with a lot of people and connect them to Scottish albums by Scottish artists sold, ideally, in Scottish shops. The SAY Award promotes great albums by Scottish artists and there’s something simple and enduring about that. If an album’s on the SAY longlist it’s because a consensus of good people thought it was great… that’s as good a recommendation as any nowadays, is it not?”

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