It wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that the music industry needs more awards the way Newsnight needs more appearances from Hugh Grant, MPs need more freebies or Lana Del Rey needs more press coverage.
That said, the idea to honour the best Scottish Album of the Year should be a welcome development for everyone from Aberfeldy to Zoey Van Goey.
On the basis that the Mercury Music Prize* has already honoured Scottish winners in Franz Ferdinand and Primal Scream, the winners in 1992 and 2004, would probably have won the SAY award. Classic Scottish albums like Solid Air, Psychocandy and Hats would and should have won big awards in any era. But in the hope that the SAY will carry the same weight as the Mercury, let’s assume the identity of Jim Bowen and see what would have won had the prize been in existence since Primal Scream won the first Mercury prize in 1992.
1993 The outstanding pop album of 1993 was by ex-Danny Wilson frontman Gary Clark, who gave us Ten Short Songs About Love. James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross was also released this year. In 1995 it was nominated for a Mercury prize. The Mercury Music Prize has never been won by a classical album, but the SAY may have different criteria.
1994 The year M People won in the UK would have seen a much better album winning north of the border. Sentimentality might favour 2007’s Home Again after his life-threatening illness, and 1989’s Hope and Despair is probably a better collection of songs, but Edwyn Collins’s Gorgeous George contains an international super-hit (A Girl Like You), drumming from the Sex Pistols’ sticksman Paul Cook and the wonderfully indie-baiting couplet “Yes, yes, yes, it’s the summer festival/the truly detestable summer festival.” If any song deserved to close the main stage at Glastonbury, it’s The Campaign for Real Rock.
1995 Teenage Fanclub never really reaped the rewards of the heights of Britpop. As 1995 was a highly congested year for British guitar bands (Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Supergrass, the Boo Radleys, even Menswear), the stage should have been set for Grand Prix to put Teenage Fanclub right in pole position and make them one of the biggest bands in the world. It would have won them a SAY award.
1996 Hats and A Walk Across the Rooftops are the masterpieces, but The Blue Nile’s Peace At Last was their last great work. But The Weekend Starts Round Here, the opening mission statement from Arab Strap, could well have run it close.
1997 Take a commercially underperforming country-rock band and reinvigorate them with an album of blue-eyed soul packed full of hits which led to platinum sales, magazine covers, radio playlists and a collaboration with Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan. Sharleen Spiteri, Johnny McElhone and the rest of Texas pulled that off with their White On Blonde album.
1998 Composer Craig Armstrong has created memorable film work in Moulin Rouge! and Ray, but The Space Between Us in 1998 was his first big artistic statement as a solo artist. And if you’re going to make that statement, having the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan onboard can’t hurt.
1999 The Man Who was the record which for a while made Travis the pre-eminent British guitar band, Glastonbury headliners and BRIT award winners. Hard to see past it for an SAY award here.
2000 A few choices, from Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR, Mercury-nominated act to Helicopter Girl’s How to Steal the World (the debut album from Perthshire’s Jackie Joyce), but The Great Eastern by the Delgados retains a special place in many music fans’ heart. And it’s the only album on this list named after a homeless shelter.
2001 This was the year everyone looked across the Pond for inspiration such as the White Stripes and the Strokes. British bands had to stand out for attention. How about emerging from the musical hotbed of St Andrews, naming your second album after a Charlie Sheen comedy, inspiring John Cusack in High Fidelity to rave about “the Bay-tah band” – the Beta Band, Hot Shots II.
2002 Boards of Canada are the electronic duo from Edinburgh whose album Geogaddi helped make the words “Top Gear soundtrack” and “cool” no longer mutually exclusive.
2003 Belle and Sebastian are the favourite Scottish band of many music fans – The List magazine certainly decreed so in 2005. Dear Catastrophe Waitress is many people’s favourite Belle and Sebastian album – not least because of the presence of production maestro Trevor Horn.
2004 Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut album won them a couple of BRITs, GQ’s Band of the Year, a Q award, a Mercury award – and, you’d fancy, this award too.
2005 After an appearance on Later with Jools Holland, KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope filled up film and TV soundtracks, saw her play everywhere from Daryl Hall’s house to the Nobel Peace Prize concert. It was released in late 2004, but on the basis that Franz Ferdinand won every award going that year, 2005 probably belonged to KT Tunstall.
2006 What KT Tunstall did with her debut in 2005, Paolo Nutini did even better in 2006. These Streets was chock-full of hits, attracted the patronage of industry heavy hitters such as Ahmet Ertegun, Quincy Jones and Mick Jagger – and, unlike a raft of 00s stars (Mika, Duffy, The Feeling), he was able to follow it up. Nutini’s second album, 2009’s Sunny Side Up hit no.1. He might have been run close by the first collaboration from Belle and Sebastian’s old band colleague Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, once of The Screaming Trees. As well as the rave reviews, their first record together, Ballad of the Broken Seas, landed some narks that Mark Lanegan should never have been nominated for a Mercury because he was Canadian, but would not have kept them from the 2006 SAY award.
2007 The View started the year on the NME tour with The Horrors, hit no.3 in the singles chart with Same Jeans and the top spot with Hats Off to the Buskers. That was January. You reckon they’d have managed to win this by the end of 2007. Admirers of The Proclaimers and their album Life With You might disagree.
2008 Glasvegas by Glasvegas was that rare gift. NME called it “the real thing” and awards, platinum sales, and appearances in all the major music year-end lists suggested that for once the NME were entitled to use that phrase.
2009 If Paolo Nutini hadn’t already won in 2006, second time would have been the charm with Sunny Side Up.
2010 Equally, it’s possible Belle and Sebastian could have won again for Write About Love. Not every band can pull Norah Jones and Carey Mulligan out their Rolodex to sing on their record.
2011 We’re seeping into 2012 SAY Award territory, King Creosote and Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells’s albums have a great chance of winning the 2012 award. Mogwai could have won this award about four times and Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will is not necessarily their best work. It is, after six albums, their best album title.
* The Mercury Music Prize winners are from September to September – but, on the basis of simplicity, here we have gone for calendar years.