Live Review // Parr Street Acoustic Sessions #3 – 16th April 2014

Anyone with a vague interest in Liverpool’s local music scene of the past few decades is probably going to have at least heard of the Parr Street Studios. With a long history of recording a sleuth of quality artists, it managed to escape closing down eight years ago and further expand itself. 

One of the venues under their care is Studio 2, a quaint, atmospheric venue in the heart of the city centre. And it’s here that, for the last month, Thom Morecroft has been hosting the Parr Street Acoustic Sessions: a bi-monthly event which gives its artists the chance to showcase their talent and create some tasty ‘all-musicians-on-stage’ jams, creating an ideal event to mark off your Wednesdays in style.

Thom Morecroft is no stranger to navigating through compering waters as practice makes perfect: after an admirable compere at District at Threshold 2014, he has so far supplied these evenings with a variety of top notch acts. As usual, the host himself opened the night, Danger at his side; first playing together a mere four weeks before, this quirky bass player provided another layer to familiar songs as the evening began.

Shortly after, it was time for the first act of the night: Lily Mak. A LIPA student hailing from the US of A, anyone could tell right off the bat that this girl means blues. Her impressive vocal abilities took no time to reveal themselves as her voice enveloped the room, backed up by a well-oiled set of lungs. Musically, Lily’s sound does what it should do best considering her position as a student of the arts, namely experiment and play around with different kinds of compositions. As she took us away with every song, her American root music influences kept peaking their head: from slidey blues to folk, from the Devil to romance, she recycles familiar songwriting themes while also appropriating them as her own. To everyone’s delight, she finished her set off with ‘Old Fashioned Kinda Guy’, a melody-driven jazzy piece performed on the piano. With just a handful of songs, Lily Mak proved herself a well-rounded artist dripping with potential, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing her music progress in the future.

The torch was then passed onto Liam McClair, a local artist whose debut EP How has gathered favourable radio response in the North West area since its release in mid-2013. His folk influences clear from the first few strums, he proved himself an able songwriter: from the staple love/travel song ‘Roam the Globe’ to the heartstring-tugging ‘Somewhere Before’, his songs paint a variety of self-contained stories that were a pleasure to hear. However, it’s his voice that brings it all together: hinting at more power than he displayed while performing, his choice to tone it down and adapt it to his songwriting style makes for a good combination and a well-rounded musician making all the right choices.

Three events in and the Parr Street Acoustic Sessions is already gathering a few special performances under its belt. After having Stereo Electric Mistress, a band who self-categorize their sound as electro pop comedy rock, try their hand out at keeping it acoustic a while ago, it was time for Normanton Street to strip back their sound as they took to the stage.

Formed in 2011 in Brighton where they still currently reside, their complete line-up consists of a few more musicians blending elements of soul, jazz and hip-hop into the specific sound of Normanton Street. Tonight however, only two of its members could make it to Liverpool – there is much to say about a band that, despite missing a good few elements, can come up with a stripped back sound that doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything (I, for one, would not have guessed if not for their on-stage banter). Their quirky mish-mash of styles was broadly heard, from songs featuring spoken word elements to their lead singer’s ability to make the audience feel like they’re witnessing something special. Phoebe Freya’s soul-driven vocals are a perfect match for the band’s whimsical style, especially in songs such as ‘Take a walk with me’, whereas Nicholson Davids’ simple, elegant guitar playing brings the sound of Normanton Street full circle and proves that music doesn’t have to be overly layered in order to sound good.

Up next was Tom Sayer, an experienced writer and composer accompanying Normanton Street on their tour. With nothing but his guitar and warm voice, his music possesses a quiet, unpretentious style that sneaks up on the listener. His vocals are an ideal match for the style of his compositions as the guitar dances around a warm voice, always taking on the melodies head-on, emoting and toning it down in all the right places. Tom Sayer was the second artist of the evening to make good use of the Studio 2 piano, closing off his set with ‘Fool’s Lament’, a melancholic ponder of life’s what if’s.

The evening went on with Sophia, the second to last act of the night. A local emerging artist with her upcoming debut EP set to be released in May this year, she skillfully combines her talent as a pianist with a powerful jazz-pop voice. There’s often a temptation for when these two combine of a repertoire consisting of mostly ballads. Yet, there is a third element at play: her pop influences, which is what makes her sound stand out with songs such as ‘Rise’ and ‘True’. There’s no note unattended to in her impressive vocal range as despite being sat behind a piano, she sang with such confidence that made me believe she meant every single word.

Finishing the evening off was James Michael, a local musician hailing from Widnes. An experienced performer, he showcased his talent through a well-balanced set comprising of both covers and his own material. His vocal capabilities nothing short of impressive, he draws elements of blues and indie and backs it all up with his skillful guitar playing; topping it off are his loop pedals, which he put to good use in creating a full, rich sound. Yet as he proved with his own original song ‘My Little Girl’, he can also keep it simple and soulful.

The evening’s end was gently ushered in sight with one last performance from Thom Morecroft, who to the audience’s delight headed to the piano side of the stage. Performing a jazzed-up version of his own song ‘Daisy’, he bid everyone good night with his usual flair but promised to return on the 30th of April with the next installment of the Parr Street Acoustic Sessions. I seriously urge everyone not to make plans for that night.

Words and images by Helen Basil. 

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