You can’t throw your voice without hitting a songwriter with an acoustic guitar and a shuffle around here. We know that. But when you find one who turns familiar melodies inside out and twists chords into something new that takes its place in a lineage that doesn’t include the usual suspects, the cynicism rescinds and ears are revitalised. Mel Bowen is doing something windswept and interesting with his broadsides and ballads. What’s the word? By Alan O’Hare.
There’s a moment during Gil Scot Heron’s brilliant ‘Lady Day And John Coltrane’ when the music starts to slide. Know what I mean? It’s sinewy, slippery and in a state of perpetual motion. It’s a tough ask, that… to make recorded music that still moves. Mel Bowen’s cracked it, though. Merseysider Mel released ‘Everyday’s A Holiday’ in September. The ex-Mercury 13 man has always presented his music with a nod to the jazzier chords and movements, but this debut solo EP has moved his songwriting firmly into a leftfield folk camp.
Opener ‘Champagne Bossa-Nova’ (nice) rides in on a foot-tapping beat that is relied upon as much as any riff or melody line… a refreshing change. The gorgeous ‘On The Wrong Side’ paints a similar picture, but opens up with finger-picked guitar, before rolling into a noir soundscape that would have fitted perfectly over the early morning scenes of, say, “Chrissie’s Story” in ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’: edgy, elegant and eerie – Fender Rhodes mixes with flugelhorn and it’s not just the music that melts a little.
Then there’s ‘It’s Not Easy’, sounding like Van The Man and Georgie Fame are back together in Ronnie Scott’s, sizzling and scatting, before the elegiac ‘The River Flows On’ offers a breath and gives us a glimpse of the songwriter’s softer side. “I’m all out of kilter,” Bowen sings over understated acoustic guitar, keyboards and flute. “The irony of fighting for peace,” is the line that leaves you floored from the standout song and it’s a real moment on an EP that delivers a glimpse into the singer’s soul. That Bowen has written for plays and television (BBC Radio Four, ITV) since the end of Mercury 13 is obvious: this is an artist who knows that magic and melody are vital to the offering and that less can be more.
“Avoid getting onto other coat tails and make your own coat,” says Mel. He’s found one that fits.
Mel Bowen with special guests Rachael Jean Harris and Matty from The Shipbuilders
Sunday December 17th, 7pm
81 Renshaw Street, Liverpool
‘Everyday’s A Holiday’, by Mel Bowen, is out now
Pic by John Johnson