In a world where artists the other side of the globe can be transferred to your IPod in a matter of minutes, it can be easy to overlook the musical talent sat right under your nose. And I don’t mean the Circa Waves of this world; I’m talking about stuff even closer than that, the acts that have the talent and drive in abundance, but are just waiting for their big break. Merseyrail Soundstation Prize is a window into the world of such artists. Taking place in the salubrious (!) surroundings of Moorfields Station, ten acts, who have been picked out of an initial pool of over a hundred, compete for the prize of a year of music industry management, recording time and, most importantly, free Merseyrail travel. With a judging panel including a member of Bido Lito! and a one of last year’s winners Soho Riots, the show offers not only a rare opportunity to the artists taking part, but also a chance for spectators, as well as casual passers-by, to remind ourselves of the depth to the talent hidden in our wonderful city.
Emilio Pinchi. Photo Courtesy of Keith Ainsworth
Liverpool as a general rule is renowned as being a cultural hub. From The Beatles to The John Walker Art Gallery to the Everyman Theatre, there is a great diversity to the creative output of the city. This sense of variety however runs down into every layer of artistry the city has to offer, as Saturday displayed in abundance. 23 Fake Street opened with a set replete with bouncy, sun-stroked guitar tones and rhythms to match, topped by a confident and impassioned stage performance, particularly from frontman Sam Kydd. Akin to fellow Liverpool favourites The Wombats, the young band injected Moorfields with a welcoming early wave of vigour. This couldn’t have been contrasted more with the following two acts, 17 year old Niamh Jones and Emilio Pinchi. Niamh’s sprightly acoustics complimented her rich vocals perfectly, and her ability to mix both a cover of an old Irish folk track with a couple of her own compositions, including closer ‘’Ride Fast,’’ was testament to her strength as an artist. Emilio Pinchi similarly offered the sparse set-up of vocals and acoustic guitar, but his more sombre delivery presented an emotive and nuanced showing of a different kind. Included in his trio of songs was ‘’Trying Man,’’ a new track which reflects the maturity of Emilio’s compositions and qualifies why the LIPA student has been gaining increasing recognition throughout the city.
If measured songwriting had been embodied by the opening two acts however then the next one reflected the value of a different form of artistry. Emily Ayre, the youngest contestant at only 16 years old, shook off her initial nervous disposition to stun her audience into a state of equal shock and admiration. Her songwriting felt a little erratic at times, but her voice, both haunting and utterly beautiful in equal doses, rightly won her a fair few new fans among the crowd. With her proud mother in toe, Emily accentuated the sense of hope we rightfully have in the next generation of Mersey-based performers.
Silent Cities. Photo Courtesy of Keith Ainsworth
Despite only being four acts in, there was a sense that the day had already reached its peak, with the calibre of each contestant proving to be as high as they were. Subsequently The Ragamuffins took to the stage and reminded us that there is more to music than great vocals and acoustic guitars. The indie-pop outfit, described as a ‘little bundle of joy,’ swung things into a new dimension full of brass, funky basslines and suits. Charming and thrilling in equal measure, the change in atmosphere was welcoming, and emphasised the more indulgent, down tempo performances which were to follow. She Drew The Gun’s folk-influenced offering, best exhibited on ‘’Time Machine,’’ was concise and touching in its simplicity, whereas Silent Cities relied on a different sense of atmosphere derived from a more introspective experience. Despite some technical difficulties with the sound, the trio, comprised of a drummer, acoustic guitarist/singer and cellist, were truly one of the day’s highlights, blessing those assembled with a style which was striking both in its uniqueness and its ingenuity.
Dave O’Grady. Photo Courtesy of Keith Ainsworth
Our final trio of acts began with the only rapper of the day, namely Blue Saint. With a track record of working with artists including Akala and Wretch 32, Blue Saint’s charisma and enthusiasm proved infectious, traits which bled seamlessly into his music as a whole. Boasting a tight flow and an electric stage presence, his set of around eight tracks felt coherent, fresh, and dynamic enough to qualify the hype already surrounding this young man. Dave O’Grady reverted back to the old acoustic singer-songwriter format, though his reflective and more authoritative demeanour was far from digging up old ground. Harmonising beautifully with his fellow female performer Mersey, which predictably resulted in one or two jokes being bandied about (‘is your surname rail?’), O’Grady displayed a sense of intelligence and typical Irish wit which made for yet another headache for the judges come the end of the day when the winner would have to be announced.
Sunstack Jones closed the performances in a showing of strong indie-folk songwriting and proving why they have been previously featured on the front cover of Bido Lito! Following a measured performance which reflected both experience and proficiency as musicians, we were subsequently given free rein to make our way to Hopskotch on Mathew Street to await the judge’s decision as to who would be receiving the grand prize. The criteria was dictated as that the final choice was based on who would benefit most from the year’s support, with the level of talent proving it impossible to make a decision on any other grounds. Thus, the announcement of Blue Saint was received without complaint. With a year’s industry management, recording time and free Merseyrail travel now in his pocket, expect the name of this talented young rapper to become an increasing feature in Liverpool’s music scene over the coming months.
Blue Saint. Photo Courtesy of Keith Ainsworth
Looking around the room downstairs in Hopskotch, waiting for the judges’ decision, I felt a rare sense of humility overcome me. All ten acts, each supremely talented and skilled in their own right, were engaged in conversation with each other, having a drink, or waiting intently for the winner to be announced. If you had come down at that moment, you would have had no idea of the potential every performer in that room embodied, of the level of artistry each of them had presented only a couple of hours earlier. I suddenly became intensely aware of the extent to the talent to be found in our great city, but similarly how hard it can be to access it. It is for such a reason that events such as the Merseyrail Soundstation Prize are integral to the city’s cultural being, and why they need to continue showcasing artists found throughout Liverpool. What Saturday gave me was a heightened sense of hope in what this city has to offer, and a reminder that if you look hard enough, you will be sure to find something worth holding on to.
For more of Keith’s work, be sure to visit his website here.
Words: Ben Lynch