“Music may not change the world, but it brings people together,” said Billy Bragg at this year’s Ivor Novello Awards.
Billy – revered and loved for his gift to politicise people through his songs – was awarded PRS for Music Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Whether standing at the picket line supporting miners or spearheading an initiative that gives prisoners access to musical instruments, Billy has given a voice to those who may have otherwise remained sidelined. It’s no surprise that he heralds “empathy as the currency of songwriting” because a song can make you feel for someone’s plight or situation.
With the gap between rich and poor at its highest level in decades, it’s clear we need empathy more than ever to change hearts and minds – a theme that resonated in one of the more politically charged ceremonies in the history of The lvors.
Questioning the times
From picket line anthems to modern day political diatribes, rapper Dave won Best Contemporary Song for Question Time, co-written with Fraser T Smith. It was praised for its potent lyrics that challenge the status quo and hold ministers to account for the fire at Grenfell Tower; its burnt-out shell of a building is surely one of the starkest reminders in recent history of what can happen when we choose not to empathise.
Dave described Fraser T Smith as “one of the most talented musicians I’ve had the pleasure to work with” and thanked him for taking “a big chance on me”, not least as a 17-year-old who’d only just left Richmond College. Fraser himself commented: “Who would have thought that a seven-minute progressive rap song with no chorus could win an Ivor?” “It shows the state of British music is in good hands,” he added.
He also acknowledged the hard work involved in the craft of songwriting: ”l’ve written thousands of songs, including a lot of bad ones. To receive this award means the world to me.”
A song with staying power
Occasionally, one of those “thousands of songs” will change a songwriter’s life – a sentiment joyously expressed by Steve Mac and Johnny McDaid who won PRS for Music Most Performed Work for Shape of You, which they co-wrote with Ed Sheeran.
One of the most phenomenally successful songs ever, Shape of You peaked at no. 1 on the singles charts of 34 countries, including the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s also the most streamed song on Spotify, with over 1.32 billion streams.
Billy Ocean’s legacy
From Love Really Hurts Without You to When the Going Gets Tough, Billy Ocean’s incredible songs have been loved by millions for the past four decades and will no doubt stand the test of time. He was overcome with emotion as he collected his International Achievement Award and reflected on his legacy.
“It’s amazing when you write something in your youth that’s still appreciated today” he said.
Mica Levi won Best Original Film Score for the Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie – her work was described as “an uncompromising, brave and definitive part of an extraordinary film.” She is the first woman to ever win the title in The lvors’ 63-year history.
Sustaining the legacy
Thea Musgrave CBE is proof that a career in music can keep you young and engaged. Even though she’s just celebrated her 90th birthday, Thea says she is “still learning”. She was presented with The lvors Classical Music Award in recognition of an outstanding body of work in the classical genre, which also showed that it’s possible to flourish as a female composer in a male-dominated industry.
Thea added: “Those of us who work in the arts have the sacred mission to sustain the legacy, which confirms the common bond of all human life – even as we do it through our own unique cultural, temporal, ethnic and individual voices.”
She also talked passionately about ‘Every Child a Musician’ – a programme that aims to give every primary school child the opportunity to learn an instrument, and make music a meaningful part of their lives. This is just one way in which the music industry can encourage and develop the next generation of new voices.
Developing the next generation
In his opening speech, Chair of BASCA Crispin Hunt urged this issue to be addressed. He also questioned whether the industry is employing the right methods to allow talent to surface. In 2017, only two of the Top 200 albums were by debut acts.
But he also believes that music is entering “a new dawn”.
“We’ve got unbelievable, visionary new ways of reaching the people,” he said. “And believable visionary new people leading the industry. BASCA’s going to play an instrumental part in making sure music’s future is brighter, fairer, more diverse and more inclusive.”
A welcome return
This year saw the return of a category honouring composition in the gaming industry.
Joris de Man, Alexis Smith and Joe Henson won Best Original Video Game Score for Horizon Zero Dawn. In his speech, Joris de Man thanked producer Marius de Vries for giving him his first break “I wouldn’t be here without him.”
He also added: “This is a tribute to the unsung heroes of the industry – the husbands, wives and partners.”
The joy of collaboration
Guy Garvey won Best Song Musically and Lyrically for Magnificent (She Says), co-written with Craig Potter, Mark Potter and Pete Turner. He commented on the joy of collaboration in songwriting.
He said: “I love having the opportunity to put my voice to their music. And for us to be judged by our peers really does mean the world.”
Dan Jones, who was nominated twice in the Awards – along with Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Everything Everything – won Best Television Soundtrack for The Miniaturist. He also acknowledged the collaborative nature of composition thanking the “amazing directors and team of musicians” he works with.
The golden boy of grime
Gang Signs & Prayer picked up the Album Award, proving that Stormzy, the ‘golden boy of grime’, has grown into a mature and self-reflective songwriter. His album explores many of the contradictions and challenges young black people continue to face in modern-day Britain. But tracks such as Blinded by Your Grace and 100 Bags also reveal his more sensitive and spiritual side, where he expresses his love for God and pays a heartfelt tribute to his mum.
Stormzy was clearly overjoyed to win the award. He said: “The lvors is the only award ceremony to recognise your pen and your art, so I proper wanted to win this one.”
Twice Songwriter of Year
Stormzy also expressed praise for Ed Sheeran, who was awarded Songwriter of the Year. He first won the title back in 2015 when his ascendancy was already safely assured. But 2017 revealed an exceptional body of work with the release of his album Divide. The tracks Shape of You and Castle on the Hill enjoyed phenomenal, record-breaking success but they also showed off his romantic and playful way with words and his skills in genre blending. In the same year; he also wrote for; and collaborated with, a wide range of artists – from Liam Payne to Andrea Boccelli and Taylor Swift.
He said: “This is the only awards show I really care about so thank you. I owe the success of these songs to my publisher and record label too.” He also thanked Eric Clapton -who presented him with the award – for inspiring him to pick up the guitar.
When Shane MacGowan accepted The lvors Inspiration Award he described himself as “just a bandleader” and “just a songwriter”. But he is much more significant than that to his legion of loving fans and musical peers who hold his music – which blends poetry. anarchy and authenticity – in the highest esteem, not least for “keeping us sane”. His work spans four decades but as the actor Aidan Gillen – who presented him with the award – said he has created songs that sound as though they’ve “existed forever”.
A collection to believe in
A career in music inevitably brings many highs and lows. But some songwriters know from an early age it’s the only path they’ll ever want to tread.
This was the case for Cathy Dennis who had an epiphany at the tender age of seven that she was going to work in music. As she picked up her award for Outstanding Song Collection, she gave a moving tribute to those who supported her during the darkest periods of her career, especially Simon Fuller and her publisher Concord Music. She said: “You helped me believe in myself again.”
Lionel Richie, who collected the PRS for Music Special International Award, also reflected on how important it is for writers to believe in themselves.
He said: “There is a time in your career when you have to take amazing chances because God is only whispering to you – if you keep listening you’ll prove everybody wrong.”
Full list of winners and recipients:
PRS FOR MUSIC MOST PERFORMED WORK
Compiled and title sponsored by The Ivors, sponsor this award credits the song that received the most broadcast, online and general performance in the UK during 2017.
Shape of You
Written by Steve Mac, Johnny McDaid and Ed Sheeran
Published in the UK by Rokstone Music – Universal Music Publishing, Spirit B-Unique – Polar Patrol and Ed Sheeran Limited – Sony/ATV Music Publishing (UK) Ltd
BEST ORIGINAL FILM SCORE
Recognising outstanding original composition for a feature film, this year’s judges described the winning score as an uncompromising, brave and definitive part of an extraordinary film.
Composed by Mica Levi
Published in the UK by Beggars Music
Presented to Billy Ocean, in recognition of the excellence, and international success, of this song catalogue.
BEST CONTEMPORARY SONG
This award recognises outstanding originality in songwriting and this year’s judges felt the winning song captures the personal and political landscape and in particular they praised the truth and execution of the lyrics.
Written by Dave and Fraser T Smith
Published in the UK by Warner/Chappell Music Ltd and Kobalt Music Publishing
THE IVORS CLASSICAL MUSIC AWARD
Presented to Thea Musgrave, in recognition of an outstanding body of work in the classical genre.
BEST ORIGINAL VIDEO GAME SCORE
Recognising outstanding composition for a video game, this year’s judges felt that the winning score had an impressive scope, depth and attention to detail whilst retaining sensitivity to the emotional content.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Composed by Joris de Man, Joe Henson and Alexis Smith
BEST SONG MUSICALLY AND LYRICALLY
Recognising excellence in songwriting craft, this year’s judges said that the winning song succeeded structurally, musically and with heartfelt, beautiful imagery.
Magnificent (She Says)
Written by Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Mark Potter and Pete Turner
Published in the UK by Salvation Music Ltd – Warner/Chappell Music Publishing Ltd
PRS FOR MUSIC OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO BRITISH MUSIC
Presented to Billy Bragg, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to British Music.
BEST TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK
Recognising outstanding, original composition for a television programme, the judges said the winning work was exquisitely composed with exceptional attention to detail.
Composed by Dan Jones
Published in the UK by Faber Music and Sony/ATV Music Publishing (UK) Ltd
This award recognises exceptional songwriting and consistency across an album as a whole. The judges described the winning album as an astonishing open hearted body of work that fully captures the spirit of 2017.
Gang Signs & Prayer
Written by Michael ‘Stormzy’ Omari
Published in the UK by Warner/Chappell Music Ltd
SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR
Presented to a British or Irish songwriter who has released an exceptional body of work during the award year, the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of the Year 2017 was presented to Ed Sheeran.
THE IVORS INSPIRATION AWARD
Presented to Shane MacGowan in recognition of the power of his songwriting to inspire the creative talents of others.
OUTSTANDING SONG COLLECTION
Presented to songwriter Cathy Dennis in recognition of her outstanding body of work.
PRS FOR MUSIC SPECIAL INTERNATIONAL AWARD
The only Ivor Novello Award independently presented to an international writer, the PRS for Music Special
International Award recognises a songwriter whose work has left an indelible mark on British music. It was presented to Lionel Richie.
For more information, visit the Ivors website.