‘I know I say this every year,’ says Huw Stephens, ‘but it’s true.’ The broadcaster is referring to the electic nature and strength of the Welsh Music Prize 2022 shortlist, announced earlier this month and comprising of fifteen albums released by musicians born or living in Wales. Now in its eleventh year, the Prize highlights the very best in new music from the country, raising a wider awareness of contemporary Welsh talent across Wales, the UK and the world. Stephens talks excitedly to me over zoom from his home in Cardiff about the diversity of genres celebrated during the prize’s lifespan; and what a range there is to discuss. Alternative rock, indie, folk, hip-hop and R&B, chamber pop, Bossa Nova/tropicália, sung in both Welsh and English and thanks to Mercury Music Prize nominee Gwenno, Cornish. On top of that, there’s a history of picking winners taking home the top prize ranging from familiar names like Gruff Rhys, Kelly Lee Owens, Future of the Left to new and emerging artists like Adwaith, and Boy Azooga making a mark with debut long players. Indeed, an impressive eight debuts make the shortlist for 2022 alongside the likes of heavy hitters Manic Street Preachers and Cate Le Bon. ‘That’s exciting, isn’t it? Because you’ve got bands like Breichiau Hir who’ve been going about ten years and this is their debut. And then you’ve got people like Danielle Lewis, who is a newer artist. It shows that the creativity in Wales doesn’t stop,’ he says.
Such a wide scope is something Huw – prize co-founder along with with music industry expert Jon Rostron – is justifiably proud. The achievement is due in no small part to the prize’s intentionally democratic selection process; there is no entry fee, opening the prize up to independent artists and those on small or local labels, regardless of income. ‘We’re not running the prize to make money. We wanted to do it for the right reasons. And we like to do it democratically, I suppose, because that’s the scene in Wales as well. It is a very democratic and friendly supportive nurturing scene,’ says Huw, who presents shows on BBC Radio Wales, and 6 Music.
Each record released from August to July is considered by a jury comprising of those supporting Welsh music – music journalists, promoters, labels, festivals, producers, academics, a rainbow of enthusiasts – which pulls together a longlist, before whittling that down to a final twelve and handing the responsibility of choosing the winner over to a panel of judges. Those taking the final decision this week are Aoife Woodlock – Other Voices; Matt Wilkinson – Apple Music; Nest Jenkins – Backstage, ITV Cymru Wales; Sizwe – Artist/Beacons Cymru; Sophie Williams – NME; Tegwen Bruce Deans – Journalist, and Daniel Minty (Minty’s Gig Guide).‘It’s always tough on the judges. I’m glad I’m not a judge. I’m very grateful to the judges for agreeing to be judges!’ he laughs.
Huw and Jon conjured up the idea for the Prize back in 2011 simply due to a need, finding it difficult to believe there wasn’t already a prize for Welsh album of the year. They took a ‘if we don’t start now it will never happen’ approach. ‘You know how many amazing albums there are coming out and we want people to hear them. To get as big an audience as possible. And I thought the prize was a good way of doing that. So of course, there’s a winner but really it’s a way of just pushing lots of brilliant albums every year.’
£10,000 prize money from Creative Wales was introduced in 2021, and presented to winner Kelly Lee Owens. In addition to using it to support her musical work, Owens has funded charitable activity in her home of North Wales. ‘For any winner no matter their stature, money is welcome. It helps raise the profile of the prize as well. It helps people take the prize more seriously,’ Huw explains. ‘It’s a lot of money and so hopefully which artist wins this year will find it useful and presumably it will fund their creativity. it’ll help them make music or tour or do the things that they need to do.’
The Welsh Music Prize takes place on Wednesday in Cardiff and invites all longlisted artists to attend and for the first time, music fans from the general public too. The night is a way of gathering everyone in the music community together; it’s about the whole scene rather than merely who gets to take home the top prize. Giving a monetary prize was an ambition since the first year but it wasn’t possible to source it, but what does he think it adds, cold hard cash aside? ‘The prize is credible anyway, because it’s a very simple premise the Welsh Music Prize, it’s album of the year, there’s nothing complicated about it. It’s more of a story that there’s money involved, I suppose. I wish we could backdate it. I wish everybody who’s won over the past 11 years could have ten grand but that’s not possible sadly.’
Huw acknowledges a greater awareness of Welsh music globally, having seen a shift in the past five to ten years. A change we can put down, in part anyway, to streaming and digital advances. ‘Music travels more than ever. Obviously, you’ve got your big success stories and your big examples like Super Furry Animals, and Gwenno, Adwaith, and Carwyn Ellis is getting more listeners now. You also have a lot of smaller bands and artists singing Welsh and even if you’re talking about bands who don’t sing in Welsh, and sing in English, saying that you’re from Wales is now a thing of pride. Whereas I think maybe before, you would have glossed over it. I think people want to find music that stands out and has a kind of story, and has a viewpoint. Being from Wales whether you live here or not, it means something. It means that you’re not from England, or you’re not based in London or Manchester or Liverpool or wherever. It does mean something whether you’re massively proud of Wales, or you just happen to be from here. I think artists, young artists, are more happier now to say that they from Wales. Before, maybe they were a little bit more ready to say that they weren’t.’
He cites 2019 WMP winners Adwaith as an example of that new bouyance and confidence. An uncompromising stance of, we’re going to sing in Welsh because we want to, that’s what we’re going to do whether you’re into it or not. That, combined with world becoming a smaller place, they’re finding their audience. He talks about bands historically since the 1960s reliance on the traditional media and rconventional gatekeepers; the occasional band like Datblygu would cut through, thanks to John Peel. Now, it’s easier. But does he think streaming leads to and builds a genuine fanbase?
‘If a percentage of the people who stream your music turn into fans, and that’s great. They might hear it for 30 seconds and skip a track, but if a percentage, if one out of every 100 or 1000 fans come to your gigs, then that could be enough to sustain gigs. So I think yeah, I think streaming can lead to fans. I hope!’
The 6 Music festival setting up shop for a week in Cardiff back in the spring has had an effect in swelling and firming up support of music from Welsh artists, he agrees. Playlisting on the station has continued since, and it’s common now to hear frequent spot plays of independent artists popping up on many of the shows. ‘There’s no better feeling than going somewhere, a city or a town or seeing the scene and that’s what 6 Music did. So hopefully we can build on that, now we’ve piqued people’s interest. Welsh music is here and there’s loads of great stuff out there to discover.’
As I write this I’m listening to Cerys Hafana on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour talking about her interpretions of traditional Welsh folk music, retelling ancient stories in Welsh with the aid of her triple harp. The more etsablished Christine & the Queens are back with new recordings sung in French and we’ve discussed Gwenno’s successes. I put to Huw there’s something oddly reassuring about hearing music in a lanaguage one can’t understand, if that makes sense. And it normalises it, of course. ‘People are interested if people are singing in another language. It’s different in the UK as well because Welsh is a UK language, it is a spoken language in the UK and if you’re in England, it’s spoken by some of your neighbours. And if you’re interested in culture, linguistics and music, then you’re going to be interested in that. So it’s all positive, I think.’
The Welsh Music Prize each year also gives the Triskel Award to three new artists chosen by Huw and Jon. Spoken word-rapper and tour de force Minas, self labelled the angriest man in South Wales – though a solo set at Focus Wales showed a surprisingly vulnerable side – pop singer-songwriter Aderyn and rapper Sage Todz are the lucky recipients who this year recieve up to £5,000 financial support towards their careers from Help Musicians. ‘It’s hard isn’t it? To be a new artist struggling all the time, so any support you can get along the way is to be welcomed. All three artists are working really hard. They’re all extremely talented, and grateful for the chance to win this prize and to continue doing what they doing.’
Minas and Sage Tdoze are fine examples confirming how robust the Welsh MOBO scene is right now. ‘LEMFRECK on the shortlist as well, A Newport rapper. And you know, it’s a scene that’s been strong for a long time and it shows Welsh Music Prize is not going to be all one genre. It’s not going to be electronic or whatever.’ He pauses, and laughs. ‘Although maybe it might all be electronic one year!’
Looking back, if there’s one thing the WMP has achieved, what does he think the main thing is?
‘I just think it’s a yearly focus on all these great albums. Sometimes albums can slip away, but I think as long as we bring the album to people’s attention, that is the main thing. And we do that every year. I’m proud to say the prize is turning people on to the music.’
The winner of the Welsh Music Prize 2022 is announced on 26 Oct in the Donald Gordon Theatre at Wales Millenium Centre, and features live performances from Adwaith, Buzzard Buzzard, Dead Method, Sage Todz and Aderyn. The event officially open this year’s Llais festival. Tickets available here.
The Welsh Music 2022 finalists are:
Adwaith – Bato Mato (Libertino Records)
Art School Girlfriend – Is It Light Where You Are (Fiction)
Bryde – Still (Easy Life Records)
Breichiau Hir – Hir Oes I’r Cof (Libertino Records)
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard – Backhand Deals (Communion)
Cate Le Bon – Pompeii (Mexican Summer)
Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 and The National Orchestra of Wales – Yn Rio (Legere Recordings)
Dead Method – Future Femme (Future Femme Records)
Danielle Lewis – Dreaming In Slow Motion (Red Robin Records)
Don Leisure – Shaboo Strikes Back (First World Records)
Gwenno – Tresor (Heavenly Recordings)
L E M F R E C K – The Pursuit (Noctown)
Manic Street Preachers – The Ultra Vivid Lament (Sony Music)
Papur Wal – Amser Mynd Adra (Libertino Records)
Sywel Nyw – Deuddeg (LWCUS T)
Previous Welsh Music Prize winners are: Kelly Lee Owens (2021), Deyah (2020), Adwaith (2019), Boy Azooga (2018), The Gentle Good (2017), Meilyr Jones (2016), Gwenno (2015), Joanna Gruesome (2014), Georgia Ruth (2013), Future of the Left (2012), Gruff Rhys (2011).
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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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