Nick Ellis : Speakers' Corner06.10.18 : Mellowtone
Liverpool's Nick Ellis has confirmed the quality of his current prolific songwriting groove with a new release, Speakers' Corner, his third solo album in less than two years.
Like London, Liverpool's Pier Head used to have its own Speaker's Corner, a dais designed by Arthur Dooley. Dooley was a renowned sculptor with a distinctive creative hinterland; before his artistic career he worked as a welder, and then managed somewhat idiosyncratically to punctuate his time in the Irish Guards with a spell in the Palestine Liberation Army. Featured on This is Your Life in 1970, there is a snapshot here of where his life was in 1982.
Trade union sponsored and set in place in 1973, Dooley's iron podium was quietly removed when the Pier Head was redesigned in the early 1990s - an almost forgotten loss of somewhere for people to speak out that has unsettled Nick Ellis in already disturbing times. This uneasy frame of mind has shaped the new album, as Ellis reacted to it by setting out to create twelve characters to whisper or shout through song on his own, imagined speakers' corner. The voices he gives life to are expressed through lyrical snatches of story and instrumental moods - not directly political, but with a sense they are both real and otherwise lost.
The result is a fascinating, layered work - a touch darker than the previous two albums, it reaffirms the description of Ellis' sound as 'a conversation between Elvis Costello and John Martyn', whilst adding a dash of early Dylan to the mix (as he has noted himself in an articulate written letter (PDF) that frames the new release). There are also consistent quiet echoes of 50s / early 60s pop and blues in the recordings - but whatever the influence, the whole resonates from the first moment the needle is lowered.
The album opens on the upbeat with I Get Love, a lyrically bleaker distant cousin of Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, before Ellis' more familiar essence reasserts with Impractical Ideas. There are then ten more tracks - including three accomplished folk-forged guitar instrumentals. After a couple of run throughs there can be no doubt that the acerbic descriptive power of Jesus of Twine, the suspicious, tattered-end of a relationship laid out in The She Club Mystery, and the elegiac tone of Blue Summer form the bone-strong spine of a great album.
In totality Speakers' Corner seems a genuine crie de coeur championing the gradations and textures of human communication and relationships. Three albums into his solo career it is not a case of if or maybe - Nick Ellis is a significant songwriter fit for a much bigger stage with his music and ideas. Even if no-one else yet sees this fully, the home audience at the album's launch in Liverpool's atmospheric Leggate Theatre acknowledged it instinctively as they rose for a sustained ovation at the close of his set. That gig then finished, as the album does, with an emphatic harmonica piece, Lawrence Road Breakdown.
Ellis' new album is undeniably an authentic reaction to what its creator sees - an engrossing, crafted work of contemporary urban folk, never less than completely rooted in the history and life of where it is from.
Buy Speakers' Corner from Mellowtone Records (CD/Vinyl)
NICK ELLIS I Blue Summer