Toxteth’s rising soul star Esco Williams was brought up on a diet of Marvin Gaye and Sonic the Hedgehog – now with MTV accolades and a GIT Award nomination under his belt he tells Getintothis’ Sean Bradbury, Liverpool’s behind me – I’m ready to take over the world.
You may have known him as JsOul, J.Esco or J.Esco the Geek. A select few may even have known him as Julian Gill.
But if these names don’t ring any bells, rest assured: you will know him as Esco Williams.
Just 25 years young, Liverpool’s New Challenger is the purveyor of a unique brand of northern neo-soul and is blazing a trail in the city at the forefront of an emerging musical micro-climate.
A scouser born and bred, he was brought up in L8 where Motown, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were his early aural education.
‘I’ve always lived in the Toxteth triangle apart from a little stint in Crosby,’ he says. ‘Pure scouse like. Everything’s been inside of here. So domestic it’s unfair.‘
Effortless entertainer, vocal gymnast, infectious character and prodigious worker; Esco Williams is all this and more.
In his words: ‘I’ve been on a mission for the past 10 years with music projects all over the place. I’m just trying to put myself on the map and make a scene in Liverpool that’s not so one-dimensional.‘
He started out with a hip-hop direction in mind – ‘I was a ‘fat afro’ kid who looked like Sherman Klump, busting around the hallways rapping about being on detention‘ – but over the years everything has evolved.
From ‘smashing it on the streets of Toxteth‘ in a boy band in his youth, singing with the Sense of Sound choir, going on to open for a ‘bunch of original gangsta ninjas‘ such as RZA, Dead Prez, Madness and the Sugababes, the breadth and depth of his influences has been ever-increasing, each step paving the way for his current genre-defying fusion of soul, jazz, funk and whatever else finds its way into the mix.
And now he’s nearly there: ‘All of this was before I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve touched based at every single venue in the city from Dale Street to the Philharmonic Hall.
‘In the past two years I’ve found my feet musically. Everything’s going off now.‘
Esco’s efforts were evident last Monday evening when his Pledge Album Party raised the roof at 3345 in Parr Street.
Topping a bill which included some of the finest local talent – Jay Alexzander, Coffee and Cakes for Funerals, Manukah to name but three acts – Esco and his band blasted through a highly-charged, soulful set that showcased his near limitless palette of sounds.
‘That night embodies what my goal is – let’s put on the sickest thing possible,’ he says. ‘I want that vibe to be constant.‘
‘It’s about getting Liverpool on side. If I get the whole city behind me, that gives the influence to take over the world!‘
His back catalogue is full of bangers, from the industrial dubstep swagger of Day One via the gospel shuffle of Ejector Seats through to the jump-up funk of New Challenger – the title track of his forthcoming debut album.
Esco has just this week gathered enough funds to put the record out initially through Pledge Music – where fans can pre-order his CD (not to mention limited edition packages, hoodies, singing lessons and much more), paying for the production in the process.
The lucky pledgers will get their hands on the goods at the end of May with a full release scheduled for later in the summer.
A key concept behind New Challenger is his self-confessed ‘soul-powered nerd’ dynamic.
‘There’s no getting away from the whole geeky, gaming thing that I do,’ he says. ‘I was raised on Sonic and I’ve been running with that ever since. I’m inspired by life and my Xbox.‘
For now Esco teaches across the city with Music for Youth and works part time in a video games store.
But the plan is to take the tunes out on the road with his group the Kontrollers (James Williams and Michael Kountis on guitar, Elijah Jean Jacques dropping basslines, Bez Jones on keys and James Dodd behind the drums) who are ‘on board for life.‘
‘I want to do an Ed Sheeran and get up and down the country like a pure hobo.‘
This year has already seen Esco get to the final of MTV‘s Brand New for 2012 contest, scoop the UnSung slot on the Mobo Tour when it came to Liverpool – and now pick up a nomination for the inaugural GIT Award – which saw one judge proclaim him Liverpool’s R Kelly.
The momentum is building. Here comes a New Challenger.
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