In a society, within which the Warholian epithet about ‘everyone in the world being famous for 15 minutes’ continues to ring true, musicians come and go but, states Iain Robertson, it takes real talent and resilience to stay the course. 

Twelve years is a long time by any measurement. Yet, for Sunderland singer-songwriter, Paul Liddell, every day feels like his first. His zest for life, to exploit his musical muse, to extol his dreams and creative aspirations are central to his driving force as a professional musician. To listen to his music is to experience a magical and occasional mystery tour. To watch him perform is tantamount to a mesmerising and tantalising exhibition of genius, a reward gifted to his audience, which is what I underwent during a recent Liddell gig at Milton Keynes’ ‘The Stables’, a performing arts centre with a strong developmental bias.


Having ‘known’ Paul for the past couple of years, following a most fruitful album review (‘Milestones and Motorways’), arising from which I became a fan of his musical stylings, I was delighted to be his invited guest at The Stables, a venue forever associated with highly respected, band leading saxophonist, Sir Johnny Dankworth, and his jazz warbling wife, Dame Cleo Laine. Paul’s predominant sound, one upon which he has worked tirelessly but allowed organic evolution to its present folksy, with progressive-rock leanings, genre is amazingly enveloping and eminently engaging. The Dankworths would have been proud.


For almost two hours, including a brief intermission, Paul entertained and rapped with his audience, even encouraging them to sing a simple chorus line in the second half of the gig. His Sunderland tones are mellifluous. His between-song chatter is friendly and engaging, eliciting relaxed laughter through his warmth of character and a mildly self-effacing attitude that is redolent of the north-eastern countryside of his birth.


A prime example is displayed during a saucy rendition of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, when pre-apologising for his paucity of trumpet skills, yet still blowing the horn with ineffable agility and thorough Mariachi musicality…all while strumming his six-string. His cod-pleasure at finishing the song undaunted, announced by stating that ‘it was not a bad performance!’, merely adds to his audience appeal.


His hand-written set-list commences with a saccharine sweet but respectful version of ‘Lilac Wine’, the Elkie Brooks and Jeff Buckley staple, originally written by James Shelton in 1950. Paul’s tenor soars delightfully through the lyrical progression, giving vent to his folksy roots and Tees-side accentuation. A straight-forwards performance made uniquely Liddell’s, it is the second song on the list, ‘Goodbye Mr Green’, that is his time-served means to an end.


It is here that the man reveals his innate sense of charismatic timbre, from his alluring vocals to the timely drumming on his guitar, appropriately looped and replayed along with both bass and rhythm-lines, all deftly ‘recorded’ for immediate accompaniment. You see, solo performances can only possess recordable depths by utilising the latest technology and Paul is a master of his craft and pretty agile at toe-tapping the appropriate switches.


Story-telling ‘Runaway’ follows, with up-tempo ‘Electricity’ hot on its heels. ‘Argentina’ is a display of the aforementioned genius, over-dubbing instruments and voice to fill the auditorium with South American glitziness, a tremendous diversion, prior to settling into a plaintiff cry for ‘Too Much Talk’, a diatribe against the cell-phone, while ‘Wasting Time’ continues the tirade against societal self-harming. Paul knows his audience and the nods of agreement to his self-penned, truthful lyrics aid the atmosphere of bonhomie.


Ending ‘Act One’ with a stunning version of the Bruce Springsteen album hit, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, a song that arose from John Steinbeck’s novel, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, Paul grabs his audience by the short and curlies and draws them dramatically into his world. What a wondrous means to draw the curtain! During the intermission, glasses recharged, Paul mingles with the audience, chattering about the success of his latest, self-published album, ‘Andelain’ (available from: www.paulliddell.com) and enjoying a much-needed glass of red.


Returning to the stage, Paul launches into the self-penned ‘Up Top’, which rouses the audience, before he weighs into the bluesy ‘Heartbeat’, with its tricky fretwork demanding a nimble left hand from the Sunderland-man. ‘Game Show Host’ is an entertaining tale, played with dexterity and an immense sense of fun, especially when the ‘vocoder’ introduces an unexpected chorus line of layered vocal harmony.


The charming ‘Angels With Wings’ is followed by ‘Suburbia’, at which point a gentle, mental haze of Steve Howe (lead guitarist with ‘Yes’ and ‘Asia’) comes to mind, so enthralling is the guitarmanship. The rest of the set, ‘Number Two’ and ‘Ghost Car’ (a genuine bounce along ditty) up to the final, spectacular ‘Hurricanes’, which explores Paul’s stunning vocal flexibility, serve to hypnotise the audience with their magical competence.


There is no encore but the round of applause and the satisfied faces of his old, developing and all-new fans provide recognition of a talent in the ascendant. Paul does have a band, The Delphians, but he is just as happy performing in his journeyman manner as a beguiling soloist, possessing a useful ‘box of tricks’. Will he gain that elusive ‘Number One hit’? Not for the moment. Not while the ‘SyCo steamroller’, or trance and dance still has purchase on the ‘kiddy charts’. Yet, a growing and immensely appreciative audience is getting to hear (and see) the man in all of his understated glory.


Conclusion:   So many hard-working musicians fall into the classification of ’time-served’, yet seldom make the ethereal break. Paul Liddell is doing it his own way. Crowd-funding his current album…working 20 nights a month on the gigging circuit…touring around Europe…providing the commensurate support act to better-known artists. It is a drip-drip technique that satisfies his soul and enthuses that growing audience. Become a fan of Paul Liddell, because it is the best way to discover musical art as it should be performed.