In the first instalment of our coverage of the 2022 Llais Festival, Huw Thomas reflects on the development of the Welsh Music Prize and reports on all the winners from a packed ceremony.
The Welsh Music Prize has grown considerably. The award was devised by radio presenter Huw Stephens and Sŵn festival organiser John Rostro in 2011, and the first ceremony was in Cardiff‘s Kuku club. This year’s Welsh Music Prize ceremony was held inside Wales Millennium Centre, the first to take place in front of a live public audience. Kicking off LLAIS, Cardiff’s flagship international arts festival, the ceremony was a vibrant, passionate and, above all else, optimistic night for the music of Wales.
Among the contenders for best album released by musicians born or living in Wales were Don Leisure’s world-building second album Shaboo Strikes Back, singer-songwriter Bryde’s deft third album Still, and debut albums from North Walian slacker pop band Papur Wal, Newport rapper L E M F R E C K, post-hardcore group Breichiau Hir, Sywel Nyw, Art School Girlfriend and Danielle Lewis. The ceremony was presented by BBC Radio 1’s Sian Eleri, who seemed the share the buzz of those seated in the grand Donald Gordon Theatre.
Three of the acts nominated performed live over the night, with Adwaith breaking the ceremony in with four selections from their second album Bato Mato. The Camarthen indie band, who won the Welsh Music Prize in 2019 for their debut Melyn, may be the most successful musical act currently operating in the Welsh language. They’ve played Glastonbury and been playlisted by BBC Radio, all whilst knocking back calls to write in English. They might be even better live than on record; they sounded like a classic garage rock band in the world’s largest garage, especially on “Lan y Môr” with its riff reminiscent of “Cool Jerk”. They finished their set with album closer “Eto”, allowing Hollie Singer to really let rip with her vocals.
Next was Cardiff-based Dead Method, shortlisted for his second album Future Femme. He performed solo to backing tracks, but it was quickly clear that he didn’t need a live band. He proved the night’s bona fide pop star, with songs imbued with flair, fun and drama. His optimistic brand of LGBTQ+ electro pop – and his rather fetching pink suit – brightened the room. On “Iconique”, his conviction even sold the most overworked word of our age.
The last of the Welsh Music Prize nominees performing live were Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, shortlisted for their debut album Backhand Deals. They broke convention and performed three brand new songs, with frontman Tom Rees hot-stepping around the stage. The new material fizzes with promise, all twisted playground melodies and power chords. Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard often garner comparisons to rock bands of the 1970s, comparisons they may be keen to offset; Rees has now shaven off his Marc Bolan curls in favour of a buzz cut. Though they didn’t take the prize this time, the band’s next album will be one to watch.
Resuming after a short break, the evening continued with the Welsh Music Inspiration Award. Previous recipients include Meic Stevens, folk music polymaths Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney and legendary post-punk band Datblygu. This year, the award went to Mike Peters, the Prestatyn-born musician with a knack for anthems who lead the Alarm to major success in the 1980s. Peters, who is suffering with leukaemia, was unfortunately unable to attend the ceremony but will collect his award in due course.
Next came the Triskel Awards, which provide a £5,000 financial award and support from charity Help Musicians to three promising new artists. This year’s recipients – Aderyn, Minas and Sage Todz – are an eclectic bunch. Aderyn, from Senni Bridge, was first up, performing flanked by drag queens Catrin Feelings and Poly Amorous. So far, she’s released a series of sparkly indie pop singles that have made her a BBC Radio Wales favourite. Buoyant and hook-laden, Aderyn’s set was like an aural ginger shot.
The second recipient, Greek-Welsh producer Minas, wasn’t present and was instead represented by a music video that received the most rapturous reception of the night. Minas’s lyrics often centre around brutal and vulnerable themes, and there was clearly a lot of support in the room for an artist who seems to be carving out something singular.
Finally, drill dynamo Sage Todz delivered an electrifying set. His “Rownd a Rownd”, in which he raps in
Welsh and English, deservedly went viral earlier this year, but he is not any kind of novelty act. Todz’ lyrics explore his experiences as a black man in Gwynedd, his Welsh identity and his place in the wider world. His performance felt victorious – and crucial. He wasn’t shy of bold pronouncements either, telling the room “Nice to see us recognised in Wales, but now we’re coming to take over the world!”. I can believe it.
Finally, it was time for the Welsh Music Prize to be awarded, at which point Sian Eleri was joined on stage by Welsh Government Chief Whip Dawn Bowden. Despite some audience heckling, Bowden would not divulge her personal favourite among the nominees. The award went to Adwaith for Bato Mato, a historic second win for the band. Receiving their award, Hollie, Gwenllian and Heledd seemed genuinely bowled over by the honour.
I can’t imagine anyone leaving the Welsh Music Prize 2022 without a sense of optimism. Not only did the nominees represent a broad spectrum of genres and audiences, but the mutual artistic appreciation and inspiration which has enriched Wales’s musical scene for decades is alive and well. If there was any doubt, it seems we’ve reached a point where Wales is unequivocally a badge of honour for all artists in, or out of, the country.
Read Scott Taylor’s review of Bato Mato here.