By Nadine O’Regan
You have to hand it to Glen Hansard: the man knows a thing or two about how to keep an audience entertained. At last Wednesday’s Choice Music Prize award ceremony for the best album of 2009 in Vicar Street, when the Swell Season – Hansard’s Oscar-winning musical project with Marketa Irglova – took to the stage and began to play, a buzz began to sound over the microphones.
Everyone knows that dreadful buzz – it’s the sound a mobile phone makes when it’s placed too close to electronic equipment. But who was the idiot who owned the phone that was causing the problem?
Hansard, seated at the piano, removed the mobile from his coat pocket and flipped it gracefully over Marketa Irglova’s head so that it landed somewhere between Colm Mac Con Iomaire on violin and Rob Bochnikon guitar. It was a ballsy move – chances were, the man could have knocked out one of his band members (Irglova’s later glance at him suggested she knew as much).
As it was, it worked brilliantly – symbolic as it was of ‘screw this world of technology, let’s hear some music’ – as did Hansard’s later introduction of Leonard Cohen’s guitarist onto the stage. As his fingers plucked the guitar strings, you heard the sound of the bar being raised over all the other nominated acts that had played that evening.
More important than the above, though, it was interesting to note on Wednesday night how skilfully two of the musicians present had reinvented themselves for their audiences. A couple of years ago, Glen Hansard and Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy seemed like spent forces.
Hansard’s band the Frames had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory innumerable times, and the Divine Comedy had had major hits here and internationally, but pop is a young man’s game – and Hannon was beginning to look a little past it.
That both musicians were nominated for the 2009 Choice Music Prize album of the year award spoke volumes about their capacity for reinvention. In both instances, the bands they had become famous for were not nominated: Hansard was there for Swell Season, and Hannon for the Duckworth Lewis Method. In each case, during their performance, Hansard and Hannon sat at the piano and put another band member in the spotlight – Marketa Irglova for the Swell Season, and Thomas Walsh for The Duckworth Lewis Method. It was a brilliantly clever move, because it downplayed their very existence in the band.
The thing is, people aren’t necessarily tired of music by Neil Hannon or Glen Hansard – but they are tired of the idea of them; their image and their brand. It’s an evolve-or-die world – and Hannon and Hansard know it. Theirs is the kind of clever evolution you wish the likes of Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes and Mundy would consider. Those artists were once spoken of in the same breath as Hansard; now he’s off winning Oscars and they’re stuck at home, counting their remaining cash.
On an international level, renaissance man Damon Albarn has become almost as big with Gorillaz as he was with Blur – and most of the kids dancing to Stylo will never even have heard of Parklife.
On Wednesday night, the Choice Music Prize 2009 Award went to Adrian Crowley, a wonderful Irish artist who deserves every bit of the acclaim. But seething beneath the surface, the most interesting sound was coming from those two highly experienced artists on the stage: the sound of reinvention.