Revealed: The winner of the Scotsman Radar Prize for unsigned music in Scotland
The Scotsman's music blog, Radar, last month called on the nation's unsigned artists to enter for a new prize. Today Radar editor Nick Mitchell reveals the winner, and explains the ethos behind the competition
• Chris Barclay, Stuart Dougan, Jonathyn Smith and Scott Macpherson celebrate their win. Violinist Siobhan Anderson completes the band. Picture: Euan Robertson
MUSIC, like any artform, does not lend itself to the sporting, points-based nature of competition. Music isn't made to be judged, it's made to be enjoyed, whether collectively or privately. Add to this a growing disdain towards cultural phenomena such as The X Factor and you may rightly wonder why the world needs another music competition.
It's a question we asked ourselves many times before launching our own version, the Scotsman Radar Prize. Putting the insurmountable problem of assumed objectivity conveniently to one side, we can say that our modest version is at least geared towards practical support, with prizes including a recording session, a digital release package and great exposure online and in print.
If you haven't visited Radar before, it's the corner of the Scotsman website devoted entirely to new music in Scotland, and Radar writers, along with Scotsman pop critic Fiona Shepherd, who listened to over 100 entries in the judging process. From an extremely diverse longlist that covered every musical touchstone from thrash metal to jazz-funk, it was never going to be easy to come to a consensus. But after much deliberation, we did.
And so it is with great pleasure that we can now announce that the winner of the inaugural Scotsman Radar Prize is French Wives, a Glasgow quintet who make rousing, folk-based indie, the kind of music that links contemporary Scotland majestically with its past. Formed in 2008, they have been adopted as one of their city's best loved bands, and were first featured on Radar in June of last year.
More band-on-the-up than boxfresh rookies, French Wives acknowledge that winning this competition is more of a boost than a life-changing jolt. "The stage we're at now is quite difficult," says singer Stuart Dougan. "Perhaps a lot of people would chuck it in because they've done quite a lot as an unsigned band but haven't made the jump up. It's quite easy to get disillusioned with it all so it's nice to know we're on the right track."
The band are conscious of the perils of music prizes, but were happy to be considered. "It will get us in a nice studio and it's recognition from people whose opinions we respect, rather than some corny public vote," says Macpherson.
"I'd like to win a corny public vote as well, though!" Dougan quickly points out.
As part of the prize French Wives will be able to record material at the Chem 19 studios, where names including Mogwai, Idlewild and The Twilight Sad have produced landmark records.
"It's the prestige of Chem 19 that makes it really quite cool," guitarist Scott Macpherson explains, "when you look at all the legendary bands that have made great albums there."
In their original interview for Radar, the band half-joked that their ambition was "to make their mums proud". Dougan, in a reference to the recent Q Awards, in which Kasabian were named the "best act in the world today", laughs at the recollection: "Perhaps she'll think we're the new Kasabian, but she'll be happy to know we're in the big paper, she'll like that."
Next Page: Fiona Shepherd's take on the prize, and Radar writers choose their favourite acts OUR CRITIC'S VIEW
I think the difficulty I had in judging the Radar prize is testament to the standard of the competition. There were so many contenders to choose from. I was impressed by the diversity of the entries and by the lack of soundalikes and anachronisms in the pile – although I was pleased to note that early Simple Minds is still a cool reference point for some acts! There wasn't one entry which stood apart from all others for me; rather, there was an impressive contingent of entrants who caught my ear in quite subtle ways. I'm satisfied that the competition provides a snapshot of the grassroots indie music scene in Scotland.
Radar writers choose some of their favourite tracks from the longlist...
Bronto Skylift - Wolf (runner-up)
In an age where dainty indie-folk and even daintier shoes are seemingly ruling the roost, Bronto Skylift – the perfectly pungent purveyors of anti-hero, grunge-meets-hardcore - are a breath of fresh air. This track is a chaotic blitzkrieg, but its musicianship and melody-making in times of bedlam should not be underestimated.
I Build Collapsible Mountains - Rails (runner-up)
This track from Luke Joyce's solo project seems to spend five minutes building to a climax that never truly arrives. This isn't a failing; rather, it means the song leaves you with the stillness that follows a sudden rainstorm. No flights, no chase, just this.
Brave Little Note - Our Romantic Horticulture
Why? Mainly because Brave Little Note doesn't sound much like any other band submitted. OK, you might suggest she probably isn't short of a Bjork album or two. But in a sea of guitars, Jacqueline Irvine's tripped-out daydream of a song stands out as delicate, fresh, and deserving of attention.
Maple Leaves - Tapestry
I'd heard the name but not the music and so was a little wary. Thankfully though all expectations were blown away. The stunning vocal over the familiar west coast jangle are as close as we're likely to get to hearing Joni Mitchell fronting Belle & Sebastian. Short, but very sweet.
Pensioner - Like, Epic!
Dundee's Pensioner positively annihilate any nave muso misconceptions that bands from north of the Glasgow/Edinburgh monopoly aren't worth their salt. Just the right side of math rock - angular, aggressive and tight as you like - Pensioner followed up their August single release with supports for Errors and Twilight Sad.
The Wristcutters - The Loneliest Man in Paris
This track stuck out immediately with its steady layering of instruments over the opening minute. The song manages the difficult skill of sounding both familiar and fresh at the same time, with beautifully strained vocals. It's a steady builder throughout with a guitar riff which is so simple, yet perfect.
Verse Metrics - Tired Lights
Verse Metrics aren't breaking any new ground. There isn't exactly a drought on when it comes to earnest, dramatic guitar rock around these parts after all. But this track's understated quality transcends the originality issue and is - fingers crossed - the first glimpse of yet another fine Scottish band.
• Listen to music by French Wives and contenders at radar.scotsman.com.
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