SAY Award 2018: A closer look at the shortlist

Ahead of the 2018 SAY Award ceremony in Paisley on 6 September, we take a closer look at the albums and artists featuring on this year's shortlist

Feature by Tallah Brash | 03 Sep 2018

When the longlist for the 2018 SAY Award was announced on 1 August we felt an immediate sense of pride for the creative output of Scotland’s music scene, and instantly embarrassed for the Mercury Music Prize’s offering this year, which features absolutely zero artists from Wales, Ireland or, you guessed it, Scotland. It’s utterly astonishing how none of the 20 strong albums featuring on the SAY longlist were present in the Mercurys; a far more inclusive and varied list that’s representative of what’s actually going on within Scotland’s music scene, the Mercurys could certainly learn a thing or two from the Scottish Album of the Year Award.

Since 1 August, that longlist has now been halved and having been one of the judges last year, we don’t envy this year’s panel and their epic task trying to whittle down the remaining ten to just one who'll be announced as the winner on Thursday 6 September. With such a diverse list, we reckon it’s going to be a particularly hard one to call this year, but before the big reveal, we thought we’d take a closer look at the ten albums in the running.

To be in with a chance of winning the coveted £20,000 prize, eligible albums needed to be released between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018. Released on 28 April via the Kartel Music Group, the first to have come out on this year’s shortlist was the self-produced, groove and R’n’B-laden Kiss & Tell by Babe. In our interview with Babe frontman Gerard Black that same month, he told us that unlike their 2014 debut Volery Flighty, Kiss & Tell “was all written in the same six months and all recorded in the same three weeks, and then produced and mixed in about a month.”

As Babe, Black is joined by guitarist Thomas Ogden, bassist Amaury Ranger (of Francois and the Atlas Mountains) and the latest addition to the band, Bossy Love’s John Baillie Jr on drums, who produced the record. Of Baillie Jr, Black exclaimed: “I always knew he was a good drummer. He's a total beast!"

Next came Siobhan Wilson’s There Are No Saints on 14 July via Edinburgh’s Song, by Toad label. After the announcement of her place on the longlist, Wilson told the SAY Award: “I put so much of myself into There Are No Saints and have been touring these songs as much as I can since its release. There are so many great things happening in music in Scotland right now it’s humbling to be included.”

Engineered and produced by Catholic Action’s Chris McCrory (who also featured on the longlist), a seemingly unlikely collaborator as the two come from different ends of the musical spectrum: classical and punk. “We had this super-DIY bedroom set up in his parents' house, with a big mattress and sheets and fairy lights,” Wilson told us last July. “It was very homely and efficient and everything was rehearsed so quickly and organically. I like some of the new stuff you hear on the radio, but I just want to hear something that sounds like it was made in the room. It moves me far more. Chris was on the same page – he agreed to keep things sparse and it worked. I feel like it’s the first time I’ve been brave enough to truly be myself.”

Kobi Onyame’s GOLD followed on 1 September. Released one track at a time over the course of a few weeks via Spotify, we were first introduced to his music via email by Young Fathers’ co-producer Tim London who was championing the musician and rapper’s return to his Ghanaian roots, and rightly so. “I wanted to challenge myself to do something that I haven’t done before because I feel like I did the hip-hop thing and I didn’t want to just make another boom-bap hip-hop album,” Onyame told us last August. “I’ve kept the hip-hop undertones but it incorporates a lot more percussion and that whole West African, Ghanaian highlife feel.”

On the same date in September, stalwarts of the post-rock scene Mogwai put out their ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun – perhaps the musical antithesis to Onyame’s GOLD, these two highlight, in a nutshell, the diversity to be found in Scotland’s output. Recording in New York with Dave Fridmann, Stuart Braithwaite spoke to us about the process last August: “We really lived and breathed this album, out in the woods with Dave, where there’s nowhere to go even if you wanted to. It’s a really immersive way of making an album, and I don’t think you can ever really get that same intensity when you’re at home.”

A month later, on 2 October, and back on Scottish soil, Aberdeen’s Katie Buchan released her eponymous second album under her Best Girl Athlete moniker via her musical partner in crime (and dad) Charley Buchan’s Fitlike Records label. Written before she even turned 18, Buchan is the youngest artist on this year’s shortlist. “Growing up I tended to just write songs about boys, as you do," she told us last September, “whereas now I write about situations more explicitly – relationships with people, places I’ve been. It sounds silly but being with someone is such a focal point in most people’s lives.”

From introspection on Best Girl Athlete to focussing on the lives of others, a few weeks later came Out LinesConflats on 27 October via Mogwai’s Rock Action label. A collaboration between The Twilight Sad’s James Graham, Kathryn Joseph and Marcus Mackay inspired by Platform’s Outskirts Festival and Easterhouse Conversations Project, the album was created off the back of the three spending time with people in the local community, interviewing them about their lives. “Going from the interviews, which were great, but intense, and exhausting, just being told so much about people’s lives, I was feeling a bit like 'how do we do this?'" Joseph told us last October. "But Marcus started writing on the harmonium, then James immediately wrote a whole song, which made me want to go and write something.”

Golden Teacher then hit us on 1 November with their debut album No Luscious Life, released via, in true DIY fashion, their own Golden Teacher Records label. Across seven tracks and an aurally pleasing collision of styles, from African rhythms to post-punk disco via funk and dub, it’s impossible to pigeonhole Golden Teacher. Of their nomination, the Glasgow sextet said: “After releasing a whole bunch of EPs it’s great to be nominated with our debut album which we're extremely proud of.”

Later that same month, Karine Polwart’s A Pocket of Wind Resistance came out, going on to receive a physical release on 1 December. The companion to her 2016 Edinburgh International Festival show, and a musical collaboration with sound designer Pippa Murphy, Wind Resistance the album is “essentially an old-school concept album.” In a chat with Polwart last October, she told us: “I sort of made up the pitch on the phone. I had this notion to try something that was different, that wasn’t just songs, that had spoken word and a connecting theme – but I conjured the title Wind Resistance on the phone. The heart of it was there but it was quite messy.”

Jumping over the end of year hurdle into a new year, 2018 brought us the final two albums to be shortlisted for this year’s award. First up is Franz Ferdinand’s Always Ascending – released on 9 February via Domino – which won the Public Vote. "This year has been a particularly good one for music coming out of Scotland and the SAY Award longlist and shortlist reflects that,” Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson said. “We’re delighted to be up there with the hard hitters.”

The band returned this year with not only a new album but a newly invigorated line-up including Dino Bardot and Miaoux Miaoux’s Julian Corrie, who we spoke to earlier this year: "I guess in any situation, where someone new comes in, there will be a bit of mixing up [...] I was obviously aware of the band's work. It did feel like a very collaborative thing. I think that was the idea from the start – come in with your ideas, what you know how to do, and we'll see what happens. And it really works."

Completing the shortlist is Leith three-piece Young Fathers, who have been in this position before with Tape Two in 2013, which went on to scoop the prize despite only being an EP. With their third studio album Cocoa Sugar, released on 9 March via Ninja Tune, Young Fathers sounded energised. “A lot has been stripped back, to get to the essence of the group,” Alloysious Massaquoi told us just ahead of the album’s release. “It creates more space, so that you can breathe in a track. You know like when you watch movies? It feels like I can swim in it, it’s really airy.”

So as you can deduce, it's really anyone's game at this point. Congratulations to everyone on the shortlist and good luck to all on 6 September.

The SAY Award winner will be announced at Paisley Town Hall, Paisley, 6 Sep