Nick Ellis, Mel Bowen, Roy: St Bride’s Church, Liverpool

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Nick Ellis

Nick Ellis

Nick Ellis launched his new album, Adult Fiction, at St Bride’s Church in Toxteth and Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald was there amongst the faithful to see it happen.

There was a tension in the air at St Bride’s church for the launch of Nick Ellis new album Adult Fiction.

A certain nervous energy of expectation. Excited chatter, whispered and reverential. Its wasn’t the warmest of evenings in the church, but the atmosphere was upbeat, familial and full of good intention.

Almost tangible communal vibes circulated the blue lit space. Common goals and best wishes. Such was the anticipation of Ellis’ set.

The pews were packed and the area at the rear of the church starting to fill way before Roy took to the altar for his spoken word set. Roy tells tales. Stories of everyday moments.

Some are true, others gathered, and some imagined, always heavy on expletives and often hilarious. He brought two written pieces and a bunch of bananas. He offered no explanation for the bananas, nor did we seek any.

One of the two pieces he offered was a collected tale, funny, meandering, and seemingly pointless, told to him on a train by a man called Derek from Wavertree. Sadly, Derek got off the train at Stafford, so we never got to find out what happened. There are people scouting Wavertree as we speak, trying to get to the end of the story.

Roy’s first story, which may or may not be true, told the depressingly familiar tale of a family living in silence under a nasty, vindictive patriarch whose only pleasure in life seemed to be bringing displeasure to the lives of others. An wholly unlikeable character, and the story didn’t end well for him, which wasn’t in the least bit surprising.

Mel Bowen also supported Ellis, bringing his sweet North West soul to church, ably assisted by the soft electric piano chords and backing vocals of Emily Valerio. Bowen’s work, much of it here taken from his Everyday’s A Holiday, shows a lightness of touch to his writing.

Its natural and insightful, with leanings towards acoustic folk and French jazz. What Have We Become talks of the heartbreaking and tragic story of the Cammell Laird 37 who staged a sit in at the shipyard in the 1980s which ended up in them being imprisoned for 30 days. The battle continues today.

Their story is dark and distressing, but could conceivably hold a mirror to anyone who stands for social justice again. Squaring The Circle is another highlight from the EP, the changes and turns in the melody wonderfully reminiscent of Winter In America era Gil Scott Heron, with the subtlety of Valerio’s piano work underpinning the deft and delicately picked guitar, and Bowen’s turn of the melody at the end of each line.

Gil would approve. New song Moel Famau held a still silence in the church, the fragile guitar work dropping sweetly around the lyric of his need for headspace and the simple peace we can find, simply by momentarily being somewhere else.

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A silence fell across the church, and the pews fell still as Nick Ellis began his set with the elongated intro of The Grand Illusion from last year’s Daylight Ghosts album. It served as the perfect warm up tune, for the crowd, for his guitar, with its low end guitar chops setting the insistent rhythmic hum behind the vocal. It brought focus and pulled the crowd gently inwards for the stories that were about to unfold.

Adult Fiction is a collection of separate stories, vignettes, and folklore moments held together in the narrative of the city architect who designed the Princes Park Boulevard, a worn and weathered version of its own former beauty. It stands, as grand a statement of its time as this collection of perfectly imagined and delivered set of new songs.

Ellis worked his way through tracks from both albums, effortlessly blending rockabilly rythyms with deep soul melodies and Bert Jansch or John Martin style blues folk picking. His naturally gifted vocal presents him as a flawless and soulful Billy Fury for our times.

Needle sharp observational lyricism, such as we found in the tale of an office based love affair in Clockwatching, with its circular, cascading music box guitar motif became an absolute highlight of a set packed as tight as the St Brides pews with absolute highlights.

Each moment, each perfectly delivered sketch, drew the crowd deeper in, held in a pin drop silence we sadly seldom witness at gigs these days. Heartbreak City spoke of discarded wedding rings, alimony and the empty promises of ‘the pills that the doctor gave you…never meant to numb the pain’.

It was a haunting song of regret and loneliness, hung around elements many of us recognise all too clearly, as he reached back, stretched away from the mic letting the sumptuous St Bride’s acoustics carry the line ‘Never give your heart away, unless you never want it back’ to the furthest and highest reaches.

A Girl Called Desire revealed in those acoustics the power and strength of Nick Ellis’ vocal range. Feet away from the mic, the melody losing none of its nuance as it filled the building.

A building built for the lifting of voices, and the celebratory power of music, was filled with that unique voice, that grand, imposing and mellifluous voice. There simply isn’t a vocal performer in Liverpool who can match that strength, those leaps, or the range he possesses, as pure and real in the upper register as he is in the sumptuous baritone of the lower scale.

Its that voice that pulled us in to the same stories that left us shaking our heads in wonder, after countless standing ovations, surrounded at the back of the church with people saying ‘he just gets better’. And it really was as simple as that. So many thoughts, wonderfully expressed in such a simple phrase.

He just gets better.

Images by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody

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