Smack bang in the middle of Heads Up Festival, Russ Litten – author of Swear Down, Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, one half of Cobby & Litten – invited some of his mates over from across the Pennines for an evening called From Liverpool With Love.
Kardomah94 is packed with Friday folk, looking for a night out with some laughs, music and good cheer. On to the stage walks Roy with a blue carrier bag in his hand. ‘He usually wears a gas mask,’ says Russ.
Roy reads stories from old exercise books and off bits of A4, recounting sorry tales of Monday night drinking, rum tales with shadowy house guests that sound more like the plot of a Shane Meadows indie film. He stands there in jeans trainers and dark Lacoste top, talking about having an irresistible urge to drop Jeremy Kyle live on TV: weirdly viewers can catch Roy breaking into telly on April 28 on Dinner Date.
Thumbing through the sheets of paper he says, ‘This one is fuckin’ great.’ then launches into a familiar tale of a tyrannical, abusive father, ruling the roost, a long-suffering mam in the kitchen, praying for just one peaceful teatime. Seconds out Round 2. Wayward son versus bastard of a dad in the front room, he doesn’t so much as turn the tables on him, more smashes his skull into it. ‘For International Women’s Day’ Roy concludes.
The one about the grizzled old timer dossing in the library, who meets his match in the Children’s section, lingers on in the mind a week later. A performance and style about as far away from the rhyming beard brigade as you can get, refreshingly so.
Following Roy is self-confessed miserabilist, singer songwriter Mel Bowen, sporting a Born in the NHS tee, having previously removed his dark Lacoste jersey. Mel sings about unity and solidarity, protest and collective action: no nations, no borders, just people. He rolls his fingers over the strings through ‘Left too early’. I don’t want it to be a relationship gone sour, but you know it probably is…
I put it all on her I wonder whether I buried her too with the weight of it all… after all the late nights & dead mornings you need something, something else to counter the madness, something spiritual maybe.
Mel has a new solo EP out now called Everyday’s a Holiday.
The third in the dream team is a young comedian Ant Campbell. Funny, likeable wearing a white Bowie shirt, microphone bouncing on his chest, wisecracking on drinking and drug culture, online dating, misadventures on Tinder, OAP’s on WhatsApp: encouraging us all to smile to old folks.
Dubbed the Chris Isaak of the North, Nick Ellis completes the Liverpudlian line-up. He warms himself to the crowd, recalling Alan Plater’s Play for Today broadcast in 1973, called Land of Green Ginger – the venue is barely a hair’s breadth away from the mythical Hull street.
He does the same again, remembering Michael Chapman telling him a story about a shy reticent figure singing and playing guitar, in Haworth Arms late in ’69. The awkward chap turns out to be a young Nick Drake. Feels strange having your own heritage told back to you…
Guitar riding high, Nick opens with fast flowing rhyming couplets, poetry parcelled up into songs, in a deep velvety voice bordering on country. He’s all drama, describing himself as dedicated to the concept of song and melody, fingering shades of dark and light, he’s a working class troubadour, quiff and curl, poised for action, with a pretty little song about the boss’s daughter.
Hitting upon the threads of mental health, drugs, hard drugs and strange women, themes that have carried right through the Liverpool lads tonight, he introduces a song about a smack head who hangs himself. ‘St David’s Day’ is probably the most memorable of the set, a dark and brooding epic folk ballad, that creeps through the Merseyside streets and houses, spanning the decades. The woman in the front row turns to the bloke next to her and utters just one word, ‘Good.’
With a tapestry of textures, strings calling like alarm bells we bid Nick, Roy, Mel and Ant, these four working class heroes from Liverpool farewell.
Now when is the return leg? From Hull With… not hate. more a mild sense of antipathy
Catch Nick Ellis http://mellowtonerecords.com/artists/nick-ellis
Buy Mel Bowen’s Everyday’s A Holiday EP https://www.melbowenmusic.com/
Follow Ant Campbell’s infamous Twitter feed @acampbell68
Where Roy can be found is anyone’s guess…