- Marvin Powell
While the Everyman picks up architecture awards and plaudits for reintroducing its repertory company and the Empire brings in large-scale West End productions, the Unity Theatre, sitting pretty on a Georgian back street, quietly goes about its business of putting on edgy independent productions which push the envelope, hosting a diverse array of comedy, performing arts and music shows.
Similarly in Liverpool, there are a host of names which readily reach the lips of music fans when illustrating the city’s fine lineage of songwriters, while others ply their trade with comparatively less emphatic fanfare. Tonight, such institutions align as two pillars of Liverpool’s independent music scene bring together a bill of artists who deserve their place in said pantheon.
There’s a pleasing structure to tonight’s line-up. At the top of the bill, HOWIE PAYNE is somewhat of an old hand, who has long since worked his way into the hearts of Merseyside music aficionados with a cult band from a golden age. In support is MARVIN POWELL whose two EPs have won him many admirers and who is enjoying a transcendence from the local scene. And opening up tonight is a musician who, with only a couple of singles in the public domain, returns to Merseyside with the ink drying on a Virgin Records contract. Three generations of Merseyside guitar slinging song mongers.
ZUZU admits to nerves as she enters stage-right and it’s understandable as the Unity Theatre setting is a much more sober one than the plastic cup and crowd surfing environs of the O2 Academy (the Wirralite’s last appearance in the Bido Lito! reviews section). As soon as she starts her set though the anxiety dissipates. Tracks played solo with just an electric guitar, show their quality in this stripped-back form.
Marvin Powell bounds on through the black curtain next to effortlessly run through a selection of songs from his impressive oeuvre. Whether on his own or accompanied by a second guitarist, the Skeleton Key Records man weaves a thick web with songs which mesmerise with melody and paint a vivid picture lyrically. Wind Before The Train, with its carefree vignettes of getting out of town to a seaside destination (“Pissing in the dunes / Listening to our favourite tunes”) is infectious in its spirit. Salt and Buried already sound like classics, partly due to their 70s aesthetic but mostly due to the timeless quality of the songwriting.
Howie Payne has a fan in tonight who apparently goes to see him everywhere but threatens to rankle the captivated audience tonight at the Unity. Each song is punctuated by a flurry of drunken nonsense. However, Payne is unperturbed and manages to diffuse the situation by drawing attention to the rabble rouser; suddenly his slurred comments are taken in good spirits. It’s testament to the man’s easy going charm (Payne’s, not the drunken numpty’s). Payne’s set is a pleasing mixture of new tracks from his latest album Mountain, some classics from the back catalogue of his band The Stands and a selection from his underrated solo debut Bright Light Ballads. The Bob Dylan to Marvin Powell’s Nick Drake, Payne deals more in abstract imagery which create a world we all willingly enter. Newer tracks such as Some Believer, Sweet Dreamer retain the songwriter’s Americana sensibilities and sit comfortably next to Stands classics like Here She Comes Again and All Years Leaving. Again, stripped down to their bare bones, these songs show their quality in acoustic form.
Tonight is a remarkable showcase of Liverpool’s unsung songwriting talent. The setting of the Unity allows the three performers to hold the audience’s attention and gives their extraordinary creations the room to lasso the imagination of those in attendance.