Northern Ireland Music Prize: Review

Northern Ireland Music Prize: Review

By Tracey Hanby

Saturday 11 November saw Joshua Burnside crowned the winner of the Northern Ireland Music Prize.

His album, Ephrata, released May 2017, was selected from 12 shortlisted albums by a panel of approximately 70 judges across the industry casting their favourite by vote.

Mandela Hall played host to this prestigious music event, with a great attendance and the much anticipated ‘Oh Yeah Legend Award’ for Rock Royalty guitarist Vivian Campbell.

The night started with a welcome reception including wine and finger food, a nice start to the night as everyone chatted about the night’s likely winner in their humble opinion.

For me the clue has to be in the live performers on the night? Maybe Robocobra Quartet, Aborist or Joshua Burnside? I was keen to see who out of the three would be crowned and how their live performance would fair up to the shortlist.

The 12 nominated shortlisted albums featured on the night are as follows:

  • Arborist Home Burial
  • Arvo Party Arvo Party

  • Bap Kennedy Reckless Heart (RIP+)

  • The Divine Comedy Foreverland (previous legend recipient 2yrs ago)

  • Gross Net Quantitative Easing

  • Hannah Peel Awake but Always Dreaming 

  • Invaderband Invaderband

  • Joshua Burnside Ephrata

  • Malojian This is Nowhere

  • Our Krypton Son Flea & Diamonds

  • Hannah Peel Awake but Always Dreaming

  • Robocobra Quartet Music for all Occasions

  • Sea Pinks Watercourse

Master of ceremonies Rigsy, from BBC’s ‘Across the Line’, opened the night’s proceedings and effortlessly guided us through the musical talents showcased on the night with a video introduction for three shortlisted nominees followed by one live performance as follow.

Robocobra Quartet:

An incredibly different live act that should be powerful on the festival scene for 2018! Playing three of their songs from their shortlisted album, the lead singer is also the drummer taking centre stage immediately gripping attention with a very unique intro. “Imagine we are a terrible band who has played badly and now these are our last three songs where we just turn it around.” Joining Chris Ryan on stage was a bassist, saxophone and clarinet player creating a uniquely theatrical, expressionism vocal to an experimental Jazz sound, with a sparkle of a Bowie-esk vibe.

Joshua Burnside:

Joshua was the lead vocal with an electric guitar with accompanying drums and trumpet player. Playing four songs from his shortlisted album, he reminded me of an Irish Jake Bugg. A little frustrated on the last song, with the audience talking asking for some quiet for an intimate song, he was playing solo.  It must be noted, refreshingly, that at that time, no one was on their phones so definitely everyone was engaged for his performance throughout. A solid live performance, delivered by the eventual winner of the prize on the night.


Big stage presence from this band of drums, eyes, Bass, two electric guitars and singer, violin and cello. Three very mature songs, sounding like mellow waltz/swing folk. The lead singer vowed to come back next year to win the prize if they didn’t win this year. Now we can anticipate their promised new album for 2018.

Notably on the night was a large attendance of mature men with long hair presumably anticipating the honouring of native Vivian Campbell as a rock legend along with a performance from his American band ‘Last in Line’

The Music Prize Winner was announced following much appreciation by Oh Yeah Music Centre co-ordinator Charlotte Dryden for the support from Blue Moon, FPL, PRS Music & Arts Council and everyone who support the success of this event.

Joshua Burnside returned to the stage very much speechless, making for a very humble, grounded musician.

Then the Oh Yeah Legend Award was presented by Stuart Fleming from PRS. Most recognisably for his 25yrs as guitarist for Def Leopard, but also as part of ‘Last in Line’ which we were all lucky enough to witness an incredible live performance following Vivian’s award presentation.

Humbled acceptance speech reminiscing on his 15yr old self and life journey he has had. He is very grateful to his family especially his dad. He remembered the exact moment he decided to pursue a life as a musician as he watched Top of the Pops with Mark Boland. Meeting rock legends throughout his life such as Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott, Gary Moore and many more, how touching it must have been to receive this life recognition award for being yet another rock legend from Northern Ireland. He also gave words of support and encouragement for the work of Oh Yeah Music Centre for helping musicians to craft their talents from a young age.

Joshua said: “It’s a massive honour to win this award especially as the quality of the albums this year has been so high. I’m absolutely chuffed so thank you to everyone who voted for me. Also a big thank you to everyone involved in making the album and to my manager Lyndon Stephens who never stops working.”

Rock Royalty then took to the stage for a justifiably musical indulgent performance. With lots of rock hand gestures and men singing along, I found myself giggling like a happy music critic to have witnessed this unique moment. With an engaging front man of this American band, an electric performance from start to finish and to see those guitar solos from Vivian Campbell on the night, it was an unexpected dream come true for me as a music lover. Thanks again Belfast, you never fail to disappoint!

Written by: Tracey Hanby, Music Promoter ‘Gigs Ireland’ & Dundalk FM CRAOL awarded broadcaster ‘100% Irish’ & ‘Gigs Ireland presents The Takeover’

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