Live review: Nick Ellis, Daylight Ghosts album launch
Date: Saturday 12th November 2016
Venue: Gustav Adolfs Kyrka (Scandinavian Seaman’s Church)
Support: Cousin Jac
Reviewer: Derek King, Liverpool Acoustic
On a chilly Saturday evening in November, Mellowtone Records released Nick Ellis’s keenly awaited solo album Daylight Ghosts at the celebrated Gustav Adolf Scandinavian Church in Liverpool. Located on the fringe of Liverpool’s up and coming Baltic Triangle area, the Scandinavian Church is a unique and quirky venue. The high vaulted ceiling of the performance area promises – and delivers – a quite distinctive auditory experience, and it is perfect for acoustic performances such as those planned tonight.
Mellowtone Records had organised a rare and mouth-watering package of treats for Liverpool’s discerning music lovers this evening. As well as the man of the moment Nick Ellis, who is enjoying something of a Midas touch in recent months, selling out venue after venue and earning accolades from (among many others) Whispering Bob Harris of BBC Radio 2, no less, we were to be treated to a support set from the wonderful Jez Wing (Echo & The Bunnymen) in his guise of Cousin Jac.
Wing, a safe pair of hands if there ever was one, clearly relished the privilege of opening the evening. Kicking off with the anthemic Land of the Living, the rich tones of Wing’s piano ricocheted off every surface, and bathed the audience in magical resonances. Wing is renowned as a skilful pianist and accomplished songwriter, but this venue was so perfect for his craft that his creations took flight, became ethereal and full of sweet and eerie melancholy. As he delivered his selection of songs, his fingers a blur over the keys, Wing demonstrated the remarkable power he possesses to make his piano paint vivid aural pictures. In the haunting piano riff in The Motor City, which laments the barren and dystopian landscape of post-industrial Detroit, one could hear the forlorn chatter of the automobile production lines sinking into economic oblivion. In his final offering Raised by the Sea, Wing’s piano now painted a vivid ocean landscape – the crashing of waves, the whistle of wind, the rising and falling tides could all clearly be heard. It was heady and magical stuff, a perfect prelude to what was to come.
Nick Ellis’s set started with tension: There was a slight delay due to some technical fault or other and the sell-out audience was starting to become edgy it seemed. The stage was set, the man was there, but was he ever going to play that guitar….?
At last the acoustic guitar began a familiar phrase, the expectant audience settled back, the phrase was repeated and repeated again, the rich tones bouncing back off the vaulted ceiling to bathe us all in yet more acoustic magic. Ellis had the audience spellbound within seconds, in the palm of his hand, yet he barely acknowledged us. Still his endless guitar phrase continued, building up yet more tension – was he ever going to sing….?
At long last, his vocal soared in, a rich, haunting and plaintive melody. This is what everyone had come to hear and it was quite wonderful. But Ellis hadn’t finished building tension yet, this was his night and he was going to stay firmly in control it seemed. Amazingly, Ellis played his first three songs without even speaking to his audience, finishing each track and diving immediately into the next. Those who knew him seemed to know what to expect, but new listeners were thrown off balance. Was this man ever going to acknowledge them…?
Finally, after his third tune, Ellis relented, allowed the audience to relax and drew us all into his world. He shared amusing and touching tales of how he learned to write songs as a Liverpool schoolboy, he good naturedly ribbed some of his friends in the audience, making spontaneous remarks and jokes that delighted everyone. His cheeky Scouse smile and chirpy matey-ness were utterly captivating. He was on home turf here of course – several of his friends were in the crowd and there were many acquaintances old and new – but you could bet he would be able to do exactly the same thing in a room full of strangers. You just can’t help but like Nick Ellis.
It doesn’t take more than a couple of songs to know what Nick Ellis is all about. His guitar phrases are frequently repetitive, often based on just two or three chords, yet when his vocal soars over the top he transports his listeners to his very own personal place. The Daylight Ghosts album chronicles tales of the lost, the lonely and the alienated of the modern world. With songs like Dance of the Cat, In the Park and Walk through the City he tells what are on the face of it quite mundane and ordinary stories, but with the power of his guitar and soaring vocal, transforms them magically into something much deeper, into enigmatic entities packed with their own mood, meaning, mystery, and even melancholy where context requires.
The crowd whooped and whistled in between each tune, hungrily eating up Ellis’s humorous rejoinders, so by the time he reached his signature tune, St David’s Day, the atmosphere was truly something alive. Finishing his last couple of tracks there was quite naturally a standing ovation, this followed by an encore, and of course another standing ovation. With obvious reluctance the mood had to be broken when Ellis could play no more, though it is a certainty that had he agreed to continue playing all night, the audience would have stayed with him to bask in the mood that he so magically created in that most unique of venues.
Whatever accolades Ellis receives in the future; they will be thoroughly and richly deserved!
Originally from the London area, Derek has lived in Liverpool now for over 25 years. Over the years Derek has played in various bands before more recently finding his niche as a solo singer-songwriter and he has released two solo albums. A regular performer around Liverpool's acoustic music scene, Derek is also an enthusiastic promoter of local music and co-hosts regular events with Liverpool Acoustic.