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Blowtorch Records' alternative to the Mercury Prize 'An Gradam Lugh' - part one

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

With Lankum the only Irish act in the Mercury prize nominees, we bring you our alternative, independent recommendations for the inaugural An Gradam Lugh


Mercury was the most honoured of all the ancient gods, regarded as the inventor of all the arts, the patron of travellers and of merchants, and the most powerful god in matters of commerce and gain. Art and commerce - the opposing yet inextricably intertwined pillars of the music industry.

The Celtic equivalent of Mercury is considered to be the god Lugh - Lughnasadh (Festival of Lugh) is still celebrated in August in Ireland and is a public holiday. Mercury's tag as 'the inventor of all the arts' could have been a paraphrase of Lugh’s conventional epithet sam ildánach - 'possessed of many talents'.

All of which frippery explains the bit of craic which is our very own An Gradam Lugh - the award or distinction of Lugh. Why? Technically the Mercury Prize is open to UK and Irish artists but guess what? It's massively skewed to the former so we're correcting that with one UK and 11 Irish nominations of our own. Of course the prize was initially named after a sponsor, not a planet or a god, but we're sorting that out at the same time!

Here we go with part one and our first six nominees - all released in the last 12 months. Bear in mind we lean more towards the art than the commerce. Part two coming soon with 5 more Irish nominees and our sole UK entry.

1. KEELEY - Floating Above Everything Else

KEELEY, fronted by Dublin singer, guitarist and songwriter Keeley Moss, signed to Dimple Discs in 2021 and saw success with singles such as The Glitter And The Glue and Shadow On The Hills. 2022 brought the release of the mini album Drawn To The Flame - all recorded with the help of Dublin producer Alan Maguire. And the concept around which all of Keeley's songs are based - the 1988 murder of German backpacker Inga Maria Hauser in Northern Ireland. In 2023 KEELEY released their debut LP Floating Above Everything Else, an 11 track dream/psych pop tour de force.

2. The Bonk - Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk

An album almost indescribable in a traditional, linear word-based format. Phil Christie, The Bonk’s frontman relates that “I find the most enjoyment in making sounds when it lends strangeness to the experience of being. When you listen to another person or another thing, you’re initiated into another world, churned around in another belly.”

Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk gives you the chance to spend just over 30 minutes churning in the belly of The Bonk, a deeply pleasing if at times slightly unsettling experience. With beautiful synchronicity one of the best tracks Future 87 references another planet, Saturn, and its 29 year solar orbit.

3. Thee UFO - Ponderous Fug

Thee U.F.O are a psychedelic garage band, formed in Dublin and fronted by multi instrumentalist and songwriter Darragh Hansard with Beth Doyle on keys and vocals. Inspired by West Cost (US not Ireland) psych outfits, Can and more whimsical artists such as solo Syd Barrett, they provide an authentic alternative to the current rash of Irish post punk bands.

What to expect? Over to Darragh: "Ponderous Fug is a dense smoky atmosphere, a sort of pollution tolerated by nomads and marauders in barren wastelands, many heavy fisted plunder for joy, others for wealth." Or as one commentator noted "the sonic equivalent of having a bucket of water thrown over you."

4. M(h)aol - Attachment Styles

M(h)aol deserve to be in the running for their socials tag alone - Feminism. Animal Welfare. Chipper Chips. M(h)aol (meaning bald or blunt and ironically pronounced 'male') are a feminist post punk five piece aiming to blow up the male(!) dominated scene with a lofi blast of guitar noise, and anti shame/blame, political fury.

They say Attachment Styles, is “about social connection, queerness and healing.” Making a mighty racket, the quintet recorded the LP in “one small room with no headphones, minimal drum mics and only a PA for vocals.” Essential listening to understand where modern Irish guitar music is at.

5. Meryl Streek - 796

Visceral Dublin punks Meryl Streek are angry and they want everyone to know it. Especially about the covering up of atrocities carried out by the Catholic Church in Ireland while the state turned a blind eye. To that you can add the Irish housing crisis, landlords, vulture funds and the abject state of Irish politics in general.

All set to a punk backing "... but with melodies and pop music so hopefully people will stop and listen to what I’ve got to say."

An outlier? The current watercooler TV series is the BBC's Woman In The Wall about mother and baby homes in Ireland. The 796 of the title? The number of babies and infants found dumped unceremoniously in a sewage tank by nuns who ran the Tuam mother and baby home. Meryl Streek are right on the button.


Clondalkin's SELLÓ (aka Michael Afam) stated aim is to establish a new sound - 'Gaelic Drill' fusing traditional Irish culture with a drill/hiphop sound. Since releasing debut single Dublin in 2021, he’s racked up millions of streams, gone top ten and signed a record deal. So kinda succeeding with his coals to Newcastle approach of bringing Irish drill rap back to the London ground zero of Dave and Central Cee.

Irish Girls contains the excellent couplet "Galway girls are fine and pretty, but they don't like guys from Dublin City." Have it.

There's a selection of tracks in our An Gradam Lugh playlist


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