There was a big night in town last week. The city’s music community, especially those interested in skinny boys and their guitars, converged on Hardman Street to witness a trio of artists making names for themselves. They had to do battle with an inhospitable host, but all three continued that progress. By Alan O’Hare.

Spaces. Rooms. Vibes. They’re terms we all use to describe the feeling in a venue when great music is happening. “They own the space.” “It’s a great room.” “Proper vibes in there.” Etc. You know the score. But, what happens when none of the above apply and the performance room is cold, narrow and as dark as a bailiff’s heart?

It’s a modern malaise and more common than we all think. I’m getting a bit tired of standing in ‘spaces’ to watch new music. I want a great PA, I want lights (what have you all got against lights?) and I want an atmosphere. I want a venue geared to the success of the artists walking the high wire on that stage.

Because that’s what happened last week on a sticky summer night down Hardman Street. Three (nearly) new artists gave the hundred or so present at Buyers Club a night of tightrope walking and it was a pleasure to witness. But they had to beat the room to do it…

First up, were Youth Hostel. With more front than Brighton, and newly-signed to the fab Label Recordings, the frenetic four piece are brasher than an Instagram model and just as revealing. Tight, taut and twitchy, there’s a hint of Arctic Monkeys or Attractions about them (depending on your age) – but something very definitely all of their own. The songs come and go like Twitter posts, but have just enough about them to make a lasting impact. The riffs are great, the tunes move well and the bass player is the secret weapon with melody to spare (great BVs, too).

Youth Hostel have that special something that all the best promising new bands have: a singer you will either love or hate. Sure, the parochial personality wouldn’t go down great on a wet Tuesday night in Camden, but that personality will go a long way in helping them stand out from the crowd. Which they do, right now. Nearly as much as the main man’s shirt…

The mood changed, next, as you can see in the image above, as Nick Ellis arrived on stage with a minimum of fuss and looking like a slimline Dave Van Ronk ready to roar at The Gaslight in early sixties New York. Well, at least Buyers Club’s minimal lighting suited this artist. Pity the sound didn’t, though… the ex-Maybes man had to battle with a persistent noise throughout his set and not much help appeared to be forthcoming. Apart from the support of a set of songs that are deadly. We’ve told you about Ellis and the impact his fantastic new EP had on us before, but live he’s even better.

The songs move from rural laments to urban broadsides in person and colour replaces the black and white of the record. Ellis is a singer you don’t want to take your eyes off and the likes of ‘Electric Blue High Heels’ and ‘Lovers In July’ capture hearts, as well as attention spans. It’s the mesmerising ‘A Walk Through The City’ that leaves the legacy, though, sounding like John Martyn fronting The La’s. You know?

Next up are the headliners and the band everybody in this city knows the name of right now: The Shipbuilders. Singer and frontman Matty Loughlin leads his boys into battle from the first note and it’s clear to see they’ve arrived at something uniquely their own. The Shipbuilders sounded Scouse and chips when we first met them, but they’ve developed a lot and those great Liverpool melodies, delivered with mud from the mouth of the Mersey, now have a bit more to them – there’s moments of Ennio Morricone to enjoy, alongside the wall of sound guitars, and little left turns to keep it all interesting. The crowd have inched forward and we’re having to be careful not to break out into something resembling a joyous atmosphere. It’s not a definitive ‘arrival’ moment, but you can see it in the distance…

The Shipbuilders look like the lads next door, but play like they know where they’re headed: all bouncing bass lines, big riffs and crescendo crashes. And then comes next single, ‘Feeling In My Pocket’, to destroy all that modernity with a Zutons-esque toe-tapper (remember ‘Remember Me’?) you’ll be humming for weeks. The harmonica, harmonies and turnarounds are familiar and may put people off past the M62 – but that’s a worry for another time. It’s a great tune, sung beautifully, and played with just enough invention to peer past the purists.

So, the bands beat the room, then. But only just. Fair play to ’em, this was a night when Liverpool’s present looked back and took what it wanted to build a bright future. We’re in good hands. Now, we just need some lights…


Pic, Nick Ellis, by John Johnson