Some sharks need to stay moving in order to breathe. Some songwriters are the same, especially if they are swimming in a shoal of great songs and need to feast on melody and words regularly. Nick Ellis is about to breach the surface again with another album of Bleasdale broadsides and melodic Mersey mourning. By Alan O’Hare.
Releasing three records in three years requires a lot of self belief. “Impractical ideas in an ideal world,” sings Nick Ellis on the first song chosen to preview his latest opus, ‘Speakers’ Corner’. The confidence is there, then, but the narrator of ‘Impractical Ideas’ also finds his voice looking for a falsetto, as a high pitch sound brings the heaven on high to the grit in the earth of the grounded main vocal.
It’s a great moment in a very good song and reveals the grace that grants the impractical wishes of this most singular of Scouse songwriters. He’s more than that, though. Scouse, I mean… Ellis has transcended the constraining Bold Street bullshit of “Zappa and Arthur Lee” sound-a-likes to carve out a space all of his own in a world becoming less and less dominated by singing white boys with guitars. The ex-The Maybes man oozes street soul and fans have realised that Ellis’ is a talent that has to be believed to be seen. “In the past, I’ve found creative inspiration in the everyday invisible and the romance and mystery of local folklore,” he says. “This time I dug deeper into Liverpool’s radical history of social, cultural, artistic and political rebellion to find the roots of what gave the city its most defining characteristic: a voice.”
A voice is a funny thing… it can be everything and nothing all at the same time. Ellis’ voice is at home telling tales over an expertly picked acoustic guitar, but ‘Speakers’ Corner’ is more than a singer/songwriter record: the hypnotic ‘I Get Love’ and ‘Wrote My Baby A Letter’ offer roots grooves with double bass and drums; ‘Jesus Of Twine’ (“he’s a devout fan of Oxfam”) and ‘The She Club Mystery’ (“all this trouble was intensified by a picture on a page and a little white lie”) bring it all back home on a big brass bed of dreamy Dylan-esque noir narrative; whilst the perpetual motion poetry of ‘Hearts and Minds’ and ‘Around Midnight’ reveal the restless roads Ellis walks sometime stop for a red light. “I started thinking about the value of words when spoken,” the guitarist and songwriter reveals. “I let them flow out my mouth and onto the page like a stream of conscious typewriter, extracted the light bulbs, then took out all the plastic.” He’s taken out a lot more, too. ‘Speakers’ Corner’ contains no fat and tells its story walking from start to finish, before ending on the lone harmonica shout of ‘Lawrence Road Breakdown’.
“You could have kept quiet but you had no choice,” goes the devastating ‘Hearts and Minds’ and the singer’s best work yet takes its place – across the kitchen table with the loose change of Michael Angelis’ ‘Chrissie Todd’ – in the mists of time that inform just another Mersey morning.
The Leggate Theatre, Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool
Saturday 6th October 2018, 5pm
‘Speakers’ Corner’, by Nick Ellis, is available to pre-order
Pic by Robin Clewley