Speakers’ Corner by Nick Ellis is the artist’s third album release in as many years, and was conceived in the heat of the historic, explosive Spring and Summer of 2017. The narrative captures the uncertain and anxious atmosphere of a divided, disillusioned and broken Britain, caught in the zeitgeist of a major cultural, social and political shift.
Ellis: “In 1973, Liverpool based sculptor Arthur Dooley and architect Jim Hunter were commissioned by the Transport & General Workers Union to design an iron podium at the Pier Head, Liverpool’s centre-point of maritime activity, which would be intended for public speaking. It was used by protesters and trade unionists for 20 years until it was quietly removed by the City Council in 93/94, and never replaced. I felt this was a very suppressive, symbolic gesture – like taking away the focal point of the city’s voice. The disappearance and subsequent lack of a current ‘Speakers’ Corner’ in the city left me concerned, so I invented one of my own. I’ve created twelve characters to stand on it and talk, brought them alive through song and made them into a record.”
The songs develop Ellis’ distinctive blend of streetscape noir; combining mercury-quick finger picking with a no-nonsense Tin-Pan Alley approach, evoking British song masters Nick Drake, Nic Jones, Billy Bragg, Labi Siffre, John Martyn, Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. Stylistically the songs bring to mind pre-Blonde On Blonde Bob Dylan and Dubliners by James Joyce, and as the title suggests, the power of words is key to the concept and is what lies at the heart of Speakers’ Corner.
Ellis digs deep into Liverpool’s radical history of social, cultural, artistic and political rebellion to find the roots of what gave the city its most defining characteristic: a voice. He says: “You see, despite the dominance of modern technology over the average person’s methods of communication, word of mouth is still king – folklore will always prevail. And, folklore is best preserved in songs and stories…”