Howie Payne, Marvin Powell, Zuzu: Unity Theatre, Liverpool

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Howie Payne

Howie Payne

With a trio of exceptional songwriters on offer at the Unity Theatre, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman is put under by their charms.  

Hope Place is one of Liverpool’s prettiest streets. Full of the kind of Georgian houses that inspire BBC history programmes it’s also home to the Unity Theatre a converted former synagogue that’s undoubtedly one of the city’s hidden gems and a new and much-needed venue for live music.

Talking of hidden gems, there’s an undoubted feel about tonight’s gig in the Unity‘s perfectly intimate surroundings that we’re being treated to three of Liverpool’s brightest but perhaps not quite appreciated enough talents

First up on an excellent bill is Zuzu – newly signed to Virgin Records on the back of her GIT Award One to Watch and coming across very much as a star in the making. Armed with just a twangy electric guitar rather than her three piece band, Zuzu fills the stage with her confessional songs full of quirky observations from sad granddads to drug-addled boyfriends.

It’s hardly a surprise that she’s already supported Courtney Barnett as there’s undeniable similarities between their styles with her languid, slacker guitar sound frequently exploding into the type of huge choruses Evan Dando used to write. She’s funny too with her Scouse twang cutting through the solemnity of the Unity‘s surroundings with a charm that’s as infectious as her songs.

With his long, lank hair and ‘relaxed’ demeanour, singer-songwriter Marvin Powell looks like he’s stepped straight off the veranda at Big Pink ready for a date with Joni Mitchell and a jamming session with David Crosby.
Thankfully his songs match the look and what follows is a masterclass in acoustic finger picking with Powell, who is signed to The Coral‘s Skeleton Key Records, expertly flitting between the Nu Americana and folk styles of Ryan Adams, Devandra Bernhart and Ryley Walker and the more English folk tradition of Nick Drake as exemplified by Powell‘s breathy and enunciated delivery.
Songs like Bees and Honey glisten and shine when Powell is joined by a guest 12-string guitarist with the psychedelic drone of Buried also recalling the likes of the Incredible String Band and the quasi-mysticism of Led Zeppelin III.
Regarded by many as something of a local hero round these parts, former frontman with The Stands, Howie Payne is currently at the centre of a flurry of activity after far too long away from the action.
New album, Mountain, Payne‘s first since his 2009 Ethan Johns produced debut Bright Light Ballads was released at the tail end of last year with the Scouse songwriter also fashioning an alternative acoustic version and finding the time to curate a box set dedicated to his former band’s output. All this is fine news for his fans tonight who are treated to stunning and intimate set featuring songs from across Payne‘s career featuring little more than a harmonica and the songwriter’s gently picked acoustic.
Stands songs like When The Night Falls In and I Need You evoke a pleasing Proustian rush of nostalgia but what’s remarkable is just how fine Payne‘s songwriting has remained in the 15 years since his band became the apple of Noel Gallagher‘s eye.
The Brightest Star sounds like it should have been ruling the airwaves for years while Some Believer, Sweet Dreamer could be the best song Oasis never released with it’s pleas not to give up and hold on crying out for a stadium sing-a-long.
The timbre of Payne‘s voice seems to have risen since his last release as shown in breathtaking fashion by Quick as the Moon and the cosmic country of Evangeline and each song is rapturously received by an audience knowing they’re watching a man at ease with the fact he’s in the songwriting form of his life and happy to share the fact.
A beautiful All Years Leaving closes proceedings with the title track of The Stands debut shaved bare of its baggage and allowed to stand on its own in spellbinding fashion. Much like its creator it shines on a night when the singer and the song triumphed.
Images by Getintothis’ Tomas Adam
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