Jem Mitchell – Jonathan Monahan

I was first introduced to the core melting soul of Jem Mitchell’s vocal when I was asked to help condense the lengthy shortlist for best video a few months back. Admittedly, I had the sound down shamefully low knowing it was just the video category, and had little or no desire to listen to each and every one of the seemingly endless videos at anything resembling volume. Time for another one…

The sea was ebbing down and flowing back up the beach and everything was monochrome. A figure in a black coat – little did I know, it was the man, himself – walked onto the middle of my screen, seemingly heading for the waves, it was intriguing enough to warrant a bit more attention than the norm. That’s when I heard the faintest of sounds.

It was two o’clock of a Saturday afternoon and I did one of those cartoon double-takes, looking out the open door and the summer sun making its presence known for once. I wasn’t sure that voice was actually coming from my laptop. Of course, it was and I hit the space bar to pause out of sheer fright. I held my finger down on the button of a square attached to a sideways isosceles trapezoid with three closed parentheses to its right and the grey bar in front of me slowly rose and became blue, as I dragged the dot back along the line to start it up again.

There’s a brief guitar intro, followed by goosebumps.

Fragile Heart…

The power of it nearly knocked me off my chair and reaching for a hit of salbutamol, lest my lungs atrophy on the spot. There’s worse ways to go than listening to music this good, but a C.O.D of ‘Asthma Attack’ wouldn’t read so well in the rock n’ roll biography.

For me, the video could be about anything, but actually encapsulates something Jem never intended. The sea is the perfect metaphor for that voice. Maybe you don’t know exactly how you got there, maybe you do, but one thing is for sure, when it catches your attention, when you start contemplating something so powerful, so deep, and so expansive, all your troubles seem utterly insignificant.

I was engulfed in the sea of Fragile Heart, and have blissfully drowned in everything I’ve heard since, from live shows at Abner Brown’s, to a spot on the soon-to-be-released compilation, Ireland: Laid Bare.

Jem Mitchell is not just Best Male at the Pure M awards 2015. Jem Mitchell is life-alteringly brilliant.

Duke Special – Aoife Kiernan

Duke Special, or Peter Wilson as he’s also known in the Jordan-also-known-as-Katy Price-way is probably the most established nominee in the Pure M Best Male category. He’s previously been nominated for a Choice Music Prize, appeared on career launchpad Later… With Jools Holland and eh… nominated for a Meteor Music Award, and released oh, about thirteen works.

Bringing together vaudeville baroque and pop via dreadlocks and guyliner, he’s been knocking around since 2002 as Juke Special… I mean Duke Special. His best known release, Songs from the Deep Forest came out in 2006 to rave reviews and massive airplay of the single Freewheel, featuring his Northern lilt wrapped around whimsical music and romantic lyrics, and complete with adorable animated animal video. It actually got so into my psyche that I found myself one day wandering the house murmur-singing in a soft faux Coleraine accent, covered in eyeliner. And then I heard no more until now (my own ignorance). Well turns out he’s actually been quite the busy bee.

Sure he’s only been working with the New York Met, been in a Bertolt Brecht play, made a concept album, collaborated with Clannad…DJ-ing at his Gramophone Club….and…*deep breath….working on music for an adaptation for Gulliver’s Travels in 2016. I have to admit back in 2006 I did find his music a bit full of frippery and overly whimsical…or maybe I was just bitter….but upon relistening tonight, his vocals and music seep in and warms the cockles, all buttery. Duke Special is currently on tour for his new release, Look Out Machines!, a Crowdfunded work.

Gavin Glass – Jason Coulter

You know the old adage: History is written by the winners. That’s what they say anyway, but if that were really true wouldn’t we be listening to the likes of Simply Red, Chris de Burgh, or even Boyzone for eternity? Wouldn’t ourselves – the bastions of the Irish music scene – concentrate on chart toppers and the latest dance hits? History is sprinkled with those artists who, for one reason or another, never made it to the biggest stage. Perhaps that’s the point of these awards then, to make sure we’re not listening to “Lady in Red” on repeat until we pass onto the abyss. I’m babbling on here, but my point is that you owe it to your heart and soul to listen to Gavin Glass. If not for yourself, do it for music.

What strikes me most is just how much sincerity is to be found on his records. You get the feeling every word has been pored over repeatedly to make sure it carries the full weight of its message. His songs are a carefully constructed story and there isn’t a letter out of place. All the usual suspects are there of course: regret, lost love, redemption, melancholy. But they just make his more triumphant, joyous moments impact even more. His upbeat musings mean so much more when you’ve gone through the bad times with him too. Honesty and deft songwriting are what stands Glass out among his peers.

Rewind the film to 2007 and you’ll find our hero is championing Gavin Glass & The Holy Shakers, a quirky jazz record complete with smatterings of soul and the occasional gospel choir. It may have been his second release but it served as the breakthrough he needed as Ireland (and indeed the world) began to take notice. “Older Than My Years” is beautiful, “Jukebox Rag” is great fun, it’s a solid release. The album is good – but it’s not a classic. Eight years later and Glass has just released Sunday Songs, a fusion of country and Americana with a full, rich sound. Everywhere you turn there are luscious strings and pianos, and it’s all aided by his tender, constantly-about-to-break-down vocals. But what else do we expect? It’s the Dublin man’s fourth LP, and with each effort his execution just gets better and better. Lead single “Better Left Alone” with its soaring chorus and the slow burning “Rise & Fall” are the highlights. Sit back, listen, enjoy.

In between though, you’ll find 2010’s Myna Birds which only reaffirms Glass as a top songwriter. A personal favourite is “Minor Miseries” with the striking lyric: “I will try and serve the song / play my parts / sing-a-long / to your major chords / and your minor miseries”. Ahhh… that’s nice. What? I’m a sucker for a good line. I’m also a sucker for a big chorus, and to that end “Awake on the Weekend” is well worth your time.

Does having four albums make you an elder statesman of Irish Americana? There aren’t many others I can think of, so yes, I guess it does. And he’s far and away Ireland’s Best Male, in my own humble opinion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=greW_n8WBYM

Chris Haze – Ger McAuley

We’re gearing up for awards night and I’ve been granted the privilege to extol the virtues of the multi-talented Chris Haze.

There are a number of reasons why Haze should be considered a front runner for Best Irish Male at this year’s Pure M awards so let’s get started.

Hailing from Galway, Chris Haze has gone about things the hard way. Having only picked up the guitar in 2011, he has been plying his trade in venues across the country for the last few years and during this time he has gained widespread recognition and acclaim. Alongside being touted as Hot for 2014 by Hot Press magazine and being nominated in the Most Promising Artist category at their annual awards, the Guinness Amplify series were also wise enough to spend some time with Haze and provide a greater insight into his background and outlook as a musician.

In interviews, Haze comes across as a strong minded individual who has complete confidence in his work and it transfers over into his music. Many artists start out with the intention of crafting a new, fresh sound without ever achieving this. Chris Haze is an exception to the norm in that he has achieved his own sound within a relatively short period of time. He has a characteristic vocal and musical style that is easily recognized. Although Haze’s vocals are somewhat reminiscent of a certain Ed Sheeran, his dulcet tones are often more soulful and are regularly juxtaposed with a rapid, almost rap like delivery, perhaps a vestige of his time supporting Coolio? The track Being Me from his On the Road EP really shows off this talent to its full extent.

To get a good idea of Chris Haze as an artist, it’s worth sampling both of his recent EPs. Although Thoughts to Words and On the Road were both released this year, and in relatively quick succession, there is a clear sense of progression between the two records. Thoughts to Words shows off a wider range of influences and there is more energy in the tracks, whereas On the Road is a more introspective and mature offering. Check out the tracks Don’t Wanna Fall Asleep and On the Road from these respectively, just to get a general idea of his range, if nothing else.

Chris Haze’s nomination for Best Irish Male is more than justified, if for no other reason than his music reaches far beyond the traditional singer songwriter categories. As an artist, he is one of the few iconoclasts, ploughing his own furrow and drawing on influences beyond his native cultural hub. By not relying on his immediate surroundings alone for inspiration and support, he’s reached out into the wider musical realm, which in turn makes his music transcend those traditional boundaries. Regardless of his success, it’s worth checking out his work, even if only to remember what a proper musician sounds like.

Conor Furlong – Nate Mona

Who says they don’t make ‘em like they used to?

Anyone who grew up with early-to-mid 90s UK alt rock will never get to say that wonderful, terrible sentence ever again, because Conor Furlong is the resurrection. No, Conor Furlong is not four mates from the north of England, destined to bicker and squabble and drug until the music becomes an afterthought… no, in a crowd of folksy folks and pop without a pop, he stands out as someone writing some great, substantial songs.

But it wouldn’t be fair to pigeonhole dear Conor by saying it’s by the numbers alt rock. Funnily enough, he’s not rock at all… not even in the slightest. This is pop with the depth of sensibilities of that kind of song writing. On the face of it, In Paradise could be a Coldplay or a Keane song with just a little bit extra lurking behind the veneer. In fact, you could dismantle his entire Adventure album and pick and choose any or all of the tracks as standout singles for any number of established artists. That is when you know Conor Furlong is someone who can hold his own, who really deserves the Best Male nomination, if not the Best Male award. If nothing else, you have to acknowledge that performing, producing, and arranging the whole album all by his onesies is a feat, particularly considering the quality of track.

You also have to remember, that in recording the whole thing himself – or as Pure M’s own Dave ‘the machine’ Simpson referred to it, “the passion project of but a single individual” – you’re essentially listening to live recordings with no frills, expensive post-production, or extensive external input. It further cements that Conor Furlong is an immense talent, the likes of which you seldom have the joy of seeing.

He might not have the most elegant, polished voice of the nominees, but that should count for exactly nothing. Why, you ask? Because he’s not nominated for Best Male Voice, I answer; we’re not sitting in big red, spinning chairs beside Brezzie, admiring how tight his shirt is while we forget to turn around for the next whoever the f**k. We’re talking about artists… and when it comes to art, vocal prowess counts for diddly squat. Look at Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Morrissey, Ian Brown, not one of these guys has (or had, in the case of Reed) something even resembling a note in their head… and where do you think modern music would be without The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Smiths, or The Stone Roses?

At the end of the day, it’s about the songs. On paper, in your ear, in your head, and Conor Furlong has them. For my money, he is the Best Male act of 2015.