BoI NSMA 06 review
Ron, IU


Bank of Ireland National Student Music Awards 2006 - overview

It's all over. Lotus Lullaby didn't quite manage to achieve the same result as Delorentos last year by winning the UK Final as well to go with their success in the Irish Final. This year's UK event was a bit different than last year's in that the finalists were not selected entirely by public text voting, although it did play a part. What this means is that the standard of Acts on the night was better. One or two of them were a little out of their league, even at this level, and the eventual winners Olympus Mons were head and shoulders above the other UK finalists, except Lotus Lullaby, who gave them a very close run for their money.

The standard of bands in the Irish competition was quite high, many of them technically excellent. Styles and genres ranged accross the scale, from the first semi-final at UCD where Lost, Hidden from Nowhere, Bravest Kid in School and Reemo kicked things off, through the Cork semi-final which introduced The Citizen, Roper, Autoban and Monitor and then to the Galway semi-final which gave us A Band Called Wanda, The Reverb, The Roll models and Lotus Lullaby.

Each semi gave two winners the opportunity to move on and try their hand in the Temple Bar Music Centre final in April. Six finalists was probably a bit too much, meaniung we had to start the final at a realtively early time and each band had little time to impress. Maybe, however, that was a good thing since it meant that each band had to think about how they were going to repsent their best efforts to the panel of judges. Well, all except Roper, but we'll get to that in a minute...

So, it came down to the final. Lost, Lotus Lullaby, Roper, The Roll Models, Bravest Kid In School, Autoban. Oh, and 'Turn' were there to headline the night, of course, as they had been at the Cork and Galway semi's. The UCD punters were treated to Aslan instead. The Irish final came and went. The judges expressed their opinions and made their choices. The scores were totted up and Lotus Lullaby narrowly beat Lost for the goodies. However, as with everything, there's more to it than that.

The original motley collection of demos submitted for consideration at the opening of the BoI NSMA 06 was whittled down to about 50, if memory serves correctly. This was then further narrowed by a panel of industry judges who listened to each and every one. Some bickering and bantering occured in which judges sought to ensure their personal favourites made it through to the semi-finals. eventually, a list of 12 acts was agreed on. Three semis and one final later, it was all over for them all, and Lotus Lullaby were on their way to London. So a lot of new and developing Irish acts were never seen by the general public in relation to the NSMA. Only 12 of the dozens deemed good enough for consideration were seen live at the semis. There's nothing that can be done about that, unless the bands enter again next year! Of the 12 who did get through only 6, of course, made the final. Only 1 went to London. So what did you miss...?

The Cork semi was probably the best of them, perhaps mainly because of the happy band of punters that came along to see The Citizen. This local band was one of the interesting oddities of the 12 that I saw live. Three parts Indie, two parts 'Sweet Home Alabama', one part Folk, a sprinkle of Rock and a pinch of Inspirational Christian in the lyrics. Sounds odd, doesn't it? It was, but odd is most definitely good in my view. All that prevented The Citizen from being the second of the Cork qualifiers was Roper, but we'll get to that in a minute...

The Citizen's "Calvary" is the best of the tracks they played that night. There are more, and no doubt there will be a lot more to come, but Calvary illustrates them just about perfectly. Otehr tracks, such as "Lead you home" don't feature the female co-volalist enough (she's more than just a backing singer on most tracks). I spent some time thinking about who, exactly The Citizen put me in mind of but there are too many influences and similarities to categorise easily. Having said that, it came to me as I wrote this listening to their songs from their entry on the remind me, for lots of reasons, of The Beautiful South, especially the cover version of Donovan;s "Everybody'd talking". Naturally, I'm bound to be oversimplifying but if you want to argue the point, remember: the beauty of music is that it is all, and HAS to be, about personal opinion. In my opinion, The Citizen should stick to what they're doing, learn the ropes as far as stagecraft is concerned, tour Ireland and the UK, move on to Europe (especially Germany and the Nordic countries) and then think about a trip to the States. It's that simple for a band that has - after only a few months on the go - found their niche.

On the same bill, the MOST entertaining band of the 12 finalists, in my opinion, made it into the Final despite each judge that saw them stating categorically that "They won't win it. They can't". Why was that? Well, Roper are a heavy metal band in the true tradition of headbanging noise-makers worldwide and these band competition things are all about commercial viability, or pleasing the brainwashed masses, right? Actually, no. Heavy as they were, Roper are damn good. At this point, I should make my bias clear: I hate heavy rock. I mean, I really hate heavy rock, especially heavy rock that relies on the singer's ability to make as much noise as possible without the benefit of actual lyrics. So, I was ready to ignore Roper on the night. As MC, I had no choice but to introduce them but - already with a headache that day - I intended to leg it as soon as I had the intro over with. Outside, having a smoke, I changed my mind. Not about heavy metal per se, but about Roper. After their first song, I was back in, big grin spread on the chops, almost headbanging, myself. Roper are entertaining. They are good at their genre but I'm not interested in that. I don't even care if they can play (oh, but they definitely can). As a non-musician who goes to gigs to be entertained, as I tell anyone in a band who cares to listen, then enter - f&^%ng" - tain me. And Roper did. Pure energy, pure fun, pure enjoyment. At the final in TBMC, all of the judges commented in some way on the fact that Roper were most entertaining and I doubt any of the judges was a Metaller by any stretch. Sometimes, passion is enough. Sometimes, ability is enough. When you get hugely energetic passion coupled with obvious ability, you can't go wrong. So, Roper, stick at it: you can't go wrong. Most definitely my favourite moment of the entire NSMA heats and final was watching the transition on the faces of the punters on the balcony at the Final as they went from incredulity ("What the f%$k is that?") to pleasantly surprised ("F*&^$ing good, that's what it is"). Have a brief look at the video footage from my camera-phone and you'll get a 2minute idea of what I'm talking about, although the sound quality is, well, "less than would be appropriate" (I have to be careful with my chioce of words: coroporate considerations, y'know!). Roperclip.mp4

In Galway, I was not the only one to comment on The Roll Models. The judges were all of the opinion, if I remember correctly, that The Roll models have something although quite what that may be is a different kettle of fish. The song "Kevin" epitomises what I mean. Is it ragtime? Is it meant to resemble "Sergeant Perpper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"? Is it closer to a monologue-to-muisc? I can't categorise the song. On the night, talking to the band afterwards, I described it as honky-tonk piano mixed with Greek or Russian-cossack dancers music. Couldn't think of anything that would describe it properly. Still can't. If I had to put them in the same category as anyone, I'd say probably - at a pinch, mind - Billy Joel doing Piano Man with a full band. After he'd had a few beers, a smelly-smoke and a 200euro bet from Kevin Rowlands of Dexy's Midnight Runners.

The only clip I am aware of (and it is nowhere near long enough to give a true feel) is one on Shay Studios site. Listen to 30 seconds of "Kevin" here. It was really only on the song "Kevin", with which they closed their set at the Final, that The Roll Models finally illustrated what the point of all those people (and all those instruments) on the stage was. Previously, 'too many cooks' seemed to be the general reaction and even afterwards the comments ranged similarly among the judges: too many people in the band. The finale at least allowed them all to get invovled properly. Quirky, very oddball both in terms of the instruments, the melody, the arrangements and the lyrics, "Kevin" may be The Roll Model's muse, whoever "Kevin" is. All in all, tightening their stage show and utilising people and instruments only where suited would probably be the way to go. After all, sometimes, less is more.

And the there was Lotus Lullaby, of course. After the Galway semi, in the car on the way home to Dublin, I made the point to Dave Reid (NSMA founder and event organiser) that these lads could easily win the Irish final, and probably the UK final as well, following hot on the heels of Delorentos who won both last year. I was nearly right. I've seen them live three times. The Galway semi was the best of the three. While they themselves obviouslt think that 'Push' is their most hit-friendly song (and it's soon to be released as a single), I was more impressed with 'Frequency' and 'When it feels so good'. There wasn't that much about their set that was odd or unusual, but frontman Gavin Dunne gives them something a little bit different. Constant comparisons to The Killers might do them some harm because it takes away from their own songs, and their own style. Back in the 80's I was fan of synth-driven pop. From Howard Jones via The Human League and on to Depeche Mode, all substrata of the genre was good enough for me. Lotus Lullaby would probbbably have fit that genre moreso than they fit comparisons to The Killers or any of the more recent proponents of synth-pop or synth-rock.

Again, you can have a look at some video from my camera phone of the London final. Although the sound quality of the footage is pretty bad (and the sound on the night, from a pretty good sound system, was less than adequate until about the third Act got going), you can get a vague idea of their sound and their style. Two clips are uploaded here and here. Download and have a look, then get their MP3s frmo their entry on the IrishUnsigned artists section, and you can make up your own mind. Me? I've safely installed them as my second favourit live band at this level.