I don’t think I could have picked a more suitable venue for the launch of Nick Ellis’ latest album, “Speakers Corner”. The Leggate Theatre, nestled in the Liverpool University campus off Brownlow Hill, is steeped in history. It is a coliseum-type theatre, with steeped audience banking enclosing the performer, which, in inexperienced hands, could be distracting. Previously known as The Arts Theatre, it has hosted medical examinations, and exhibitions. Charles Dickens has lectured there. So on arriving, we are all given an open letter from Ellis, which gave a type of academic treatise on what influenced the writing of his latest album, from an economic, sociological, cultural and historical viewpoint.
As I said, this staging could be intimidating to a lesser artist, but Ellis completely makes it his own. His movements are tight and lithe, akin to a prime middleweight, pulling to and fro from the microphone, raising himself on his toes, to emphasise a particular musical motif or vocal line. The playing is both powerful and full of finesse; his finger-picking technique creates a guitar sound that reverbs hugely around the hall. The minimal up-lighting, red and blue, creates fantastical shadows of his movements on the Leggate’s back wall, creating some metaphysical backing band.
We are treated to tracks from the new album, as well as some older compositions. These new tracks keep up the standard of the Ellis musical canon, and are destined to be classics. The fantastic “Impractical Ideas”, with Ellis thumping the body of his guitar in such a way that sounds like a cast-iron door slamming shut, to the cool and evocative beauty of “Blue Summer”. The bluesy “Jesus Of Twine”, the sublime “Clock Watching” from his previous masterpiece “Adult Fiction” come thick and fast to the appreciative sell-out audience. His set ends with the harmonica driven “Lawrence Road Breakdown”, which Ellis elongates as he warms to his task. The result is the whole audience clapping and stamping in time and unison, as one collective. A communion. Nick Ellis leaves to a standing ovation, imploring the audience to “Speak up for themselves”.
The musical and political energy created by both audience and performer has imprinted itself into the fabric of the Leggate. It joins those lectures given by those public spirited medics of the past, and from that most famous journalistic observer of social condition Charles Dickens. Ellis, through his astute storytelling and song-writing, became tonight a musical alchemist to re-awaken the potential of social goodness, so desperately needed in these uncertain, turbulent times. It was a performance that reinforces the power of his music, and the purity of his social vision.
Nick Ellis appears with Steve Roberts and Thom Morecroft at the Klee Music Acoustic Night on Saturday 13th October 2018, at @81 Renshaw Street.
Photo Credit: Robin Clewley – www.robinclewley.co.uk