Nick EllisMellowtone @ Ullet Road Unitarian Church 7/4/18
NICK ELLIS is one of the names changing the face of Liverpool music. After years of experience of playing in bands and gigging in bars and pubs as a solo artist, his exploits over the last three years have brought a new dimension to the ever-widening experimental scene of the city. He has brought a strain of intelligent songwriting to it which has been explored locally at various points in the past, telling stories through the medium of song.
Something to which he has always remained true has been venues. A venue is just as important to Ellis as the material he creates, acting as a vessel for the stories to live in. Ellis has been working with partners Mellowtone to bring his music to interesting settings, the partnership taking over historic venues across the city for one-off events over the past couple of years. After his 2016 show at Leaf, Ellis then performed at the Nordic Church on Park Road (a show which will surely be remembered forever by those who were in attendance), only to be topped by his performance at St. Brides Church on Percy Street.
Tonight, it’s the turn of the Unitarian Church on Ullet Road. Both the church and its hall are separately recorded as Grade I listed buildings, and the church was the first place of worship in the UK that registered a civil partnership for a same-sex couple. Its gothic revival setting seems to be the perfect match for Ellis’ heartfelt vignettes.
It’s a bold move to put on a show outside a promoter’s cosy world of the city centre, especially on the day of the Merseyside Derby. But the pay-off is worth it – what’s more, it doesn’t deter Ellis’ loyal following. Whether it’s for a small set at The Caledonia or a gig somewhere in the sticks, his fans turn out in their droves. Tonight, gig-goers lug their Tesco bags of loot into the church, or pre-order their drinks from Smithdown Road’s Handyman Brewery ready for collection.
Upon entering, they then have a choice: to take in their surroundings or venture into side rooms to enjoy A Walk Through The City, an exhibition of street photography by John Johnson and Robin Clewley – potentially two of Liverpool’s most celebrated photographers. Hung on walls and arranged on the ornamental chairs, there are black and white pictures of protests, architecture and forgotten places from about the city. The images chime with Ellis’ own view of bringing to life the forgotten, everyday stories around us. Along an adjoining corridor, there are pictures of Ellis performing on stage at several venues including The Jacaranda and Leaf.
The show, described as “an experiment in community”, fills up slowly, with people popping in and out silently as an array of support acts come and go. Compared to previous venues, the Unitarian Church is grand with a large congregation area with many passageways and Dickensian pews. Families sit patiently waiting for the acts to start while lovers cuddle in the wings.
Acoustically led, Ellis’ catalogue of music carried through the wooden pews and arches as darkness creeps through the stained glass windows. His typical slow-burning guitar solos are full of emotion and grit, as his music takes us on a journey from his first EP Grace And Danger through to debut album Daylight Ghosts and then Adult Fiction. We’re also treated to a selection of new songs from another album, recently recorded, which would up his talk to three albums in just over three years if he can manage to release it before the end of 2018.
Daylight Ghosts, recorded onto 180-gram heavyweight vinyl with only 500 copies available worldwide, was the release that really began the city’s love affair with Nick. Telling a tale with each track, this love was transferred to second album Adult Fiction, which delves even further into the world of storytelling with its entirety based on local folklore that Ellis’ 105-year-old aunt Molly Amero told him during her final days.
“It is a story about an architect who built one of Liverpool’s most mystifying and beautiful landmarks, the Princes Road Boulevard, located in the Toxteth Park area,” Ellis said of the record at the time. Recorded at the neo-gothic Gustav Adolfs Nordic Church, the holy influence pours into the tracks, perfecting the composition and instrumentation.
This happens live too, the Unitarian Church feeding its long web of tales into the atmosphere, with blue and red spotlights highlighting the ‘stage’. It makes for an emotional night, too. Tears fall freely from faces and you can hear a pin drop as Ellis unfurls one of his newer tracks, full of heartbreak and angst, so harrowing in this setting.
Favourites A Girl Desire and A Walk Through The City also feature during the evening, to the delight of many who smile widely as they’re aired. Never pawning himself to the times, Ellis’ unworldly ability to make his own history would surely inspire artists to look beyond the idea of just creating music. His vocals and melodies are modern-day folklore, making history with every composition.
With a signature Nick Ellis acoustic solo lasting at least five minutes, the night ends. After pleading for more, some slowly pick up their things and take one last look at the beauty inside the church. Sloping outside, hands wrapped around arms sheltering from the cold, the crowd reflect on the power of storytelling – just like Ellis wants them to.