REPORTS come in this week from two of Ireland’s largest award ceremonies and a local advocacy group put their plan for a better nightlife to the public.

Following in the footsteps f the Dublin-based group Give Us the Night, Belfast-centred Free the Night are a community advocacy group aimed towards modernising and equalising the nighttime economy in the North. Headed by renowned DJ Holly Lester and human rights advocate Boyd Sleator, the non-profit seeks to celebrate and make safe the culturally rich economy we have at home when the sun goes down.


The group released their first piece of research earlier this week, with the findings taken from a nationwide survey that has led to calls for progressive licensing policies, improved public safety at night, better night-time transport infrastructure, the importance of late-night culture and more. The research was funded by an online electronic music platform and community hub Resident Advisor. 

A 13-point recommend-ation plan was released to the public and sent directly to the (still not sitting) Assembly and Belfast City Council. With key points such as Value All Night Time Workers, Improve Nightlife Infrastructure, Diversify Socialising Options in the Late Evening and Night, Devolve Alcohol and Entertainment Licensing to Councils and others – a great first step towards creating a stronger entertainment and evening economy.
Not to be forgotten this week, however, were the various awards ceremony celebrating the music cultures and scenes from across the island. In Dublin, the RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards took place in Vicar Street and celebrated the achievements of Ye Vagabonds (Best Album – Nine Waves – one of the better albums of the year from Ireland), Susan O’Neill (Best Original Track – Now You See It) and Cormac Begley (Best Folk Instrumentalist) amongst others. Our own Dani Larkin was down to represent the North and play a few tracks in front of a packed crowd.

Robocobra scooped the night’s most prestigious award for their unique blend of punk, jazz, alternative and funk

Robocobra scooped the night’s most prestigious award for their unique blend of punk, jazz, alternative and funk

Meanwhile, in Belfast, our own ceremony took place. The NI Music Prize is the culmination of the annual Sound Of Belfast Festival and seeks to platform the best and brightest of our own scene through nominations, performances and, of course, prizes.
Whilst we have previously spoken of composer Sheridan Tongue being rightfully honoured for his contribution to music, and Horslips legend Barry Devlin also being honoured on the night with a lifetime achievement award, I’d like to draw your attention to the new crop of musicians and bands that made waves on the night.

Picking up the double whammy for Best Live Act and Best Music Video was the alt-rock outfit Junk Drawer. Known for writing snarling, cynical rhapsodies that track the progress of a musician's life as they make the endless trudge from sofa to fridge to the pub and back again, they received the public backing and the support of the independent judges on the night. One of only three acts to pick up two awards on the same night in the history of the prize, Junk Drawer demands your immediate attention.

The other public vote on the night was won by indie-folk singer Ferna with her single ‘Wasting’. A beautiful soliloquy framed with ringing, bright acoustics and powered by traditional melodies and rhythms, it’s one of the best songs of the year regardless of the country it came out in. Tremendous stuff from the burgeoning songwriter. 

Bangor hopefuls The Florentinas picked up the ATL Band of the Year Award (effectively the best newcomer prize) off the back of a well-run public voting campaign while the main award on the night went to Robocobra Quartet. Truly one of our great original acts, RQ’s blend of punk, jazz, alternative and funk music has to be heard to be believed. Their now award-winning album ‘Living Isn’t Easy’ is maybe their best yet, a stirring, cynical, hilarious and jarring blend of kitchen sink drama, robust songwriting and keep-you-on-your-toes signatures. Truly an album for the ages and certainly one for the weird year that it’s been.