Welsh Music Prize 2014

I don’t know why music has such a hold on me. For some reason, it reaches down into my very guts and won’t let me go. I’m also a bit partial to all things Welsh. So, Welsh music? You probably get the picture.

In some ways, it’s a golden age for Welsh music. Bands like the Manics and the Super Furries are admired far beyond the border while there’s a rich vein of diverse music being performed, recorded and released in all corners of the country. Bands like Merthyr’s Pretty Vicious are attracting attention before even playing a gig and Radio Wales DJs like Bethan Elfyn and Adam Walton are filling Saturday nights with the best that Wales has to offer.

Part of that confidence and celebration of homegrown music was seen in Cardiff over the last 24 hours, thanks to Huw Stephens, John Rostron and Marc Thomas, as the Welsh Music Prize hit town. Having been asked to be a juror this year, it was a privilege to see it come to a culmination with last night’s gig at Clwb Ifor Bach and tonight’s award ceremony at the Sherman Theatre.

The real privilege of course was being a juror in the first place. Listening to recommended bands I’d never heard of, sharing the enjoyment of bands I’d loved for a while and being made aware of the breadth and depth of what was going on in Wales was an absolute pleasure. Well, apart from having to whittle a long list down to my favourites.

I still couldn’t manage it at the Welsh Music Prize gig. When I arrived, the finger-pickin’ loveliness of The Gentle Good convinced me that he should really win the prize. By the first few chords of Gulp’s opener, I already doubted my own judgement.

In the end, neither of them won. In a field which also consisted of the best Manics album in a while, Gruff Rhys’s wonderful ‘American Interior’ and Cate Le Bon’s brilliant ‘Mug Museum’, it was a debut album that struck the right chord with the judges. Joanna Gruesome’s ‘Weird Sister’ with its searing guitars and melodic pop has all the snarling energy that make you feel as if you’re 17 all over again. And that can’t be a bad thing.

It was apt that David Owens, who presented the award, should have spoken so strongly before the opening of the envelope against the Welsh Government’s cuts to music. It must have been especially poignant for John Rostron who’s been personally affected by the politicians’ decision not to keep funding the Welsh Music Foundation. And it was a timely reminder that protecting a nation’s culture also means protecting its identity.

The immediate future’s safe for now though, I hope. Like the others on the jury, I imagine, I’m already thinking about what will be on my shortlist for next year.

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