TEN GREAT SONGWRITERS FROM LIVERPOOL

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How to put the cat among the pigeons part 3476. We’ve all got our favourite musicians – and Liverpool has always shown great loyalty to its big stars and cult heroes involved in the music business. But songwriters are the only currency that counts here. And songwriters born in Liverpool are what we’re talking about today. By Alan O’Hare.

Sorry Elvis. Costello has long been considered the greatest songwriter to be affiliated with Liverpool since The Beatles, but Mr McManus was actually born down south, before moving to Wirral (with his Scouse mam) back in 1971. Half Man Half Biscuit’s Nigel Blackwell is blacklisted by geography here, too, alongside the likes of Andy McCluskey, Ian Prowse, James Skelly and countless other Wirral-born songwriters. A shame, but, perhaps down the road we’ll extend our reach into the rest of Merseyside and Cheshire. For now, we’ll concentrate on the Scousers.

That’s a task and a half in itself. Chances are, if you’re reading this, we’ve left a favourite of yours out of our elite list. Fans of Echo & The Bunnymen are going to be irate, but the band’s best work remains in its collaborations. The same goes, too, for the likes of The Real Thing or China Crisis. The rest could have been a lottery. What we have done is plumped for ten musicians who sing their own songs best and have a rabid following that sustains them to this day. See you on the other side and don’t forget, the list is in alphabetical order…

Ian Broudie
Can we forgive him for ‘Three Lions’? Go on then, though we’ll have to skip to ‘Pure’ pretty quickly! Broudie may have helped football come home, alongside Skinner and Baddiel back in 1996, but it’s with The Lightning Seeds that his real achievements reside. Most producers don’t make great songwriters (go on, hum me your favourite Brian Eno melody), but when Broudie made the move in the late eighties, pop music found itself with another professor of the three minute classic. ‘The Life Of Riley’, ‘Change’, ‘Lucky You’, ‘Sense’ and ‘What If’ all drip with the sense of wonder of a writer enthralled to the endless possibilities offered by pop songs. It’s a shame he has moved back into production, as we await that next quirky classic with our ears wide open.

Best Moment: true perfection has to be imperfect…

George Harrison
Even if the only songwriting legacy George had left behind was his work with The Beatles, then he’d still be here in the top ten. ‘Something’, ‘Within You Without You’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘I Need You’ are all standards of the modern musical era and Harrison never looked back with The Fabs once he stepped into the songwriting limelight. The great songs carried on coming after 1969, too, with ‘Wah Wah’, ‘What Is Life’ and ‘All Things Must Pass’ all highlighting his debut solo album. Later years may have been more fallow, but the likes of ‘Handle With Care’ and ‘Any Road’ proved George could still tap into the mainline when the mood took him. The third best songwriter in The Beatles? That’s still something to be, hey…

Best Moment: that he never toured often remains a great shame…

Michael Head
Michael Head doesn’t have fans. He has acolytes. Believers, you might call them. Even when the odds are stacked against it, his followers hang on to the promise of those moments of beauty we all know he is richly capable of. Head, the leader of The Pale Fountains, Shack, The Strands and now The Red Elastic Band, has delivered understated (and underrated) gems for over two decades now. ‘Jean’s Not Happening’, ‘Thank You’, ‘Undecided’, ‘Something Like You’, ‘Daniella’, ‘As Long As I’ve Got You’, ‘Cup Of Tea’ and ‘Lucinda Byre’ are all cult classics on Merseyside and beyond, while they also remain songs from the guitar and imagination of a man whose musical and lyrical depth knows no bounds.

Best Moment: “When you cry it pulls me through…”

John Lennon
What more needs to be said? Let’s just talk about the music. A lot is made of The Beatles moving from ‘Love Me Do’ to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ in a short period of time. But, they didn’t… Lennon did. And he never stopped evolving and moving on. Not one album sounded like its predecessor once he went solo and it’s within his work as a solo songwriter than his true greatness resides. ‘How?’, ‘Oh’ Yoko!’ and ‘Jealous Guy’ may dominate the ‘Imagine’ album, but those confessional classics are nothing when compared to the tunes that came a little earlier on ‘Plastic Ono Band’ – which remains one of the most important and influential records ever made. ‘God’ changed the songwriting game for them all, ‘Mother’ was as primal as any blues found under the Mississippi mud and ‘Working Class Hero’ spoke for itself. May God bless him always.

Best Moment: still as revelatory as the day it was recorded…

Lee Mavers
Controversial? Perhaps, as it’s undeniable that his volume of work leaves a lot to be desired. Mavers may have released less songs than years have passed since The La’s debut album, but can you imagine this list without him? The impact those 12 songs have had on Liverpool music is remarkable. They’ve made their way into the wider world, too, and continue to inspire devotion among those who hear them on every new re-release. ‘There She Goes’ remains perfect pop, ‘Timeless Melody’ as well named as the day it arrived and ‘I Can’t Sleep’ still an impossibly exciting call-to-arms for northern souls. Will he ever follow it up? At this stage, it just doesn’t matter. The stone is cast.

Best Moment: undoubtedly in touch with the muse…

Paul McCartney
The cool one… ask him, he’ll tell you. Sure, as the years go by and social media and its attendant algorithms replace facts with myths, Macca gets slightly more like that annoying uncle you can’t be bothered with. And yet… the songs remain. Your nan will have a favourite, so will your teenage son and probably even your baby goddaughter. We have ‘Yesterday’, ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Blackbird’, of course, but remember ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, ‘Jet’, ‘Coming Up’, ‘My Brave Face’, ‘Calico Skies’ and ‘Riding To Vanity Fair’? Of course you do. The greatest songwriter of all time? Hey, he might not have even been the greatest songwriter in his own band… when you think of it like that, you understand his attention to detail.

Best Moment: revitalised by a new band at the turn of the century, he returned to some neglected gems on the road…

Ian McNabb
Like his hero Neil Young, McNabb switches from bruised balladeer to four-to-the-floor rocker quicker than one of his intros. That the quality of his songwriting has remained so good, for so long, is a testament to his single mindedness. Starved of success, big sales have ceased to matter as a consistent stream of quality records have kept his devoted fans happy. Sure, The Icicle Works had some great singles (‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’, ‘Hollow Horse’ and ‘When It All Comes Down’ come to mind immediately), but it’s in his solo work that you will find the very best of this craftsman. Melodic delights such as ‘Great Dreams Of Heaven’, ‘Fire Inside My Soul’, ‘All Things To Everyone’ and ‘The Heartless Mare’ prove that McNabb belongs at the top table of Scouse songwriters.

Best Moment: “I’m looking for you in the particles and dust…”

John Power
It’s becoming a theme, this… Liverpool’s greatest songwriters all seem to do their best work following a split from the band. True, Power’s biggest hits came in Cast, and songs like ‘Alright’, ‘Four Walls’, ‘Live The Dream’, ‘Free Me’ and ‘Magic Hour’ are among his best, but he truly found himself as a solo artist. His first album slipped out in the shadow of Cast’s split, but tunes such as ‘Small Farm’, ‘Mariner’ and the title track proved Power’s trademark melodic gifts never really left him. The melodies remained true during the two acoustic-led records he released a few years back, as busking blues like ‘St Louis’, ‘Old Red Sea’ and ‘Ain’t No Woman’ proved, while he always has laments like ‘All My Days’ in his locker. Power remains a true troubadour.

Best Moment: you know, Mavers didn’t have all the timeless melodies…

Kathryn Williams
It takes a lot of intuitive talent for your art to appear vulnerable and tough simultaneously. Then again, Kathryn Williams may well be tougher than the rest. Residing in Newcastle usually keeps her off these kinds of lists, but this is a Scouse songwriter who belongs with the big guns (and we’re glad she has busted the boys club here). Her tunes meander along like a walk alongside your favourite river and Williams is an artist who also pays strict attention to rhythm and tunes. She came to prominence with second album, ‘Little Black Numbers’, and songs like the beautifully crafted ‘Jasmine Hoop’ and ‘We Dug A Hole’. Later melodic wonders, such as ‘Monday Morning’ and ‘Heart Shaped Stone’, continue to confirm her genius and it was on 2015’s ‘Hypoxia’ that she tackled Sylvia Plath and delivered the devastating ‘Tango With Marco’. Find it today.

Best Moment: it’s not all Nick Drake comparisons…

Pete Wylie
Too much is made of the noise… it’s the music that sustains with Wylie. No matter what the label, WAH! has always provided mighty tunes and the biggest major key melodies this end of the M62 (etc. reckons Noel Gallagher was paying as much attention as, say, Manic Street Preachers back in the day). ‘Come Back’, ‘Story Of The Blues’, ‘FourElevenFortyFour’, ‘Don’t Step On The Cracks’ and ‘Sinful’ are all songs that still soundtrack Scouse lives and latter day wonders like ‘Never Loved As A Child’, ‘Sing All The Saddest Songs’ and ‘Heart As Big As Liverpool’ have all endured as songs of strength and heartbreak. True, his next set of tunes remain vital for his restored reputation, but ‘Freefallin”, ‘Your Mother Must Be Very Proud’ and ‘That’s What Love Is All About’ all bode well for the long-awaited ‘Pete Sounds’.

Best Moment: as impossibly exciting an intro as anything The Clash or Sex Pistols put out…

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