NICK ELLIS – Speaker’s Corner (Mellowtone)

Speakers' CornerHis fourth album in three years, the Liverpool singer-songwriter’s music has been described as streetscape narrative-noir, which I guess is a fancy way of saying he specialises in dark storytelling, delivered primarily with just picked acoustic guitar, coloured here and there with Mark Percy’s percussion and Edgar Jones on double bass. The blurb says the songs capture “the uncertain and anxious atmosphere of a divided, disillusioned and broken Britain, caught in the zeitgeist of a major cultural, social and political shift”. So, socio-political comment protest then. Speakers’ Corner was inspired by an iron podium designed by Liverpool based sculptor Arthur Dooley and architect Jim Hunter in 1973 as a commission from the Transport & General Workers Union to be sited at the Pier Head, Liverpool’s centre-point of maritime activity, and to be used for public speaking. As such, it provided a platform for protesters and trade unionists for 20 years until the until the City Council quietly removed it. Ellis says how he felt this to be a very symbolic suppressive gesture, taking away the focal point of the city’s voice, to which end this album recreates it in song and music.

It’s something of style cocktail, opening with ‘I Get Love’, borrowing the rhythm line from Solomon Burke’s ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’ but with the Wilson Pickett tempo, although it also calls the Newbeats’ ‘Bread And Butter’ to mind too. Things switch for the guitar chiming, bass drum thump of the mid-tempo, descending notes of Impractical Ideas with its line about “finding yourself “on top of the world digging deeper for a bigger pearl in the lining of a rich man’s purse”, which feels more in tune with Jake Bugg’s first album. before the first of four acoustic folk instrumentals, a nimbly picked ‘Sally-Go-Round The Roses’, the others being the circling ‘Mick’s Walk’, ‘The Fisher-Bendix Tree’ (a reference to a Liverpool washing machine manufucatory taken over by the Thorn Group in 1971 and the subsequent union battles) and (presumably another local reference) the closing, harmonica wailing blues ‘Lawrence Walk Breakdown’.

Despite an airplay unfriendly expletive, ‘Jesus Of Twine’ is a standout song, an acerbic swipe at hypocritical communist-lite bohemians and their poverty chic who get their “information from those back-room Socialists”, then it’s back to the blues for the urgently picked gambling and hot dames ‘Around Midnight’. Rhythmically nodding to The Box Tops’ classic, ‘Wrote My Baby A Letter’ is another bassline and percussion riff-based track, delivered in a late 50s R&B cum rock n roll vocal shug.

Accompanied by acoustic resonator guitar with its circling pattern of notes mirrored by the vocal delivery, the naggingly catchy ‘The She Club Mystery’ details a relationship in freefall, dressing up the lovers deceit in gumshoe and espionage imagery, indeed one line even nodding to Anais Nin/Was Not Was (depending on your choice of media) in declaring her a “spy caught creeping in the house of love”.

Adopting a similar fingericked guitar sound and structure, ‘Blue Summer’ has a more melancholic pastoral feel reflecting lines like “even get wraiths get lost in the light”, the final song being the brooding, overcast ‘Hearts And Minds’ about suppression and oppression of the working class, “down at the bottom of the great divide”, as Ellis sings

Bow and serve the bosses, smile and tick the boxes
Answer when you’re told to, just earn your pay

Mind you, the line about “another white-nigger that likes to fight” might raise a few prickles in some quarters as it builds to the last Calvary-referencing verse with Christ the social agitator.

Nick Ellis has a voice, give him your ears.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Blue Summer’ – official video: