As the BBC Radio Ulster presenter and compere for the night Rigsy points out at the start of this boisterous celebration of the music of this part of the world, this is the second time that the Northern Ireland Music Prize ceremony has been held in the Ulster Hall. The first was in 2011, and it proved to be something of a foolhardy idea. Back then, the scene had not coalesced into anything resembling the flourish that we see today. Tonight, however, this choice of venue is not only justified but a major lap of honour for the artists and industry figures behind the regeneration of the Norn Iron music scene.

For four hours, the 19th-century concert hall is abuzz. Rarely does one get the opportunity to revel in such a supportive, communal atmosphere, but this is nothing less than a hundreds-strong group hug, a support network spilling over with love. Across the night, five awards are handed out and six of the nominees perform their own sets, each blinking somewhat in disbelief both at the outpouring of warmth before them and at the rare opportunity that they have to play in such a coveted space.

The night’s biggest winners are Derry punk quartet The Wood Burning Savages, whose debut LP Stability scoops the Album of the Year award, beating out the likes of Bicep, Ash and Snow Patrol. They are also named Best Live Act, an award presented by punk legend and BBC 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson, and it is a reputation the band later consolidate with a fizzing set that ranges from spiky, pogo-along rabble-arousal, with specific mention of Single of the Year nominee ‘I Don’t Know Why I Do It To Myself’, to full-fledged political diatribe. Frontman Paul Connolly launches into a spirited attack on the Stormont politicians that have deserted their people (“in any normal country, we’d have someone from the government here, but we don’t have a government, do we?”), with specific venom reserved for the regressive policies of the DUP. Most touchingly, the band dedicated their song ‘Lusitania’ to Stevie Martin, also known as Rainy Boy Sleep, the Derry-based musician who lost his life in 2016.

The Oh Yeah Contender award, named in honour of the Oh Yeah Music Centre, perhaps the epicentre of the Northern Irish music scene, is awarded to Roe, the teenage singer-songwriter from Derry, who more than anyone else seems overcome with the occasion. Her set is enchanting and sweet, a solo performance that sees her singing personally intimate songs that frequently touch on dark themes, as well as her earworm composition ‘Hey Thomas’, also a Single of the Year contender. She is a popular winner in the room, as is the eventual Single of the Year winner Kitt Philippa for her pop banger ‘Human’.

Two of the night’s highlights come from artists operating outside of the guitar rock tradition. Opening proceedings, Hannah Peel performs tracks from her superlative album Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia alongside the Belfast First Old Boys Silver Band, a dozen-strong brass band. The setting provides the perfect space for Peel’s modern classical compositions to come to life, the tracks building from stately beginnings to furious climaxes. Later, three-time Album of the Year nominee Ryan Vail dazzles with his nighttime-alluring, pounding electronic set. The two artists demonstrate that there isn’t just a wellspring of burgeoning writers and performers in this region, but that there are new musicians that draw from a myriad of different musical traditions and influences.

The emotional peak of the evening is reached when the Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed upon Gary Lightbody. The Snow Patrol frontman is a much-loved figure in Northern Ireland, as much for his tireless and thankless championing of the local arts scene and for providing young musicians with opportunities as for his own musical contributions. He delivers a heartfelt and personal speech that touches on his own experiences with mental health and sees him frequently fighting back tears. Lightbody echoes the criticisms of the Northern Irish government that were heard earlier in the night too, highlighting the united sense of opposition that emanates from this community towards the paralysing state of inertia that riddles the current political devolution.

For an area that is too often left to exist inside its own bubble, tonight is proof that Northern Ireland has a lot to offer. Young would-be musicians in the audience would have looked to the stage and understood that it is possible to emulate these artists. Moreover, with buzzy names like TOUTS and Wynona Bleach not even getting a look in on this year’s nominee shortlists, the pool of talent appears only to be growing ever deeper. The next step is for the region to secure the overseas exposure that seems so long overdue. When it comes, it will be the result of the years of hard work that the people celebrated tonight have put in.