(This first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)
Duncan Fletcher finds magic on Merseyside with fragile folk's rising new star.
“I always think songwriting is like getting rid of noise in my head, I never write a physical song, I won't write it down... it's just in my head and I get it out there” explains Marvin Powell when asked about 'Salt', the title track of his debut EP. In person Powell is down to earth and affable, his personality seemingly at odds with the mysterious music he makes. It's pitched somewhere between Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Nick Drake and his formative influences of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, but with a sensitivity that's all Powell's own.
Take his song 'China Town' - “Four of us used to live in a big panoramic penthouse flat... from every view, every window there was an iconic Liverpool building - the bombed-out church, the Chinese arch, Paddy's Wigwam. That's where that song comes from, I'm looking down on this changing landscape of the city.” It's sublime songwriting, with Powell drawing parallels between the changing skyline, his inner emotions and the human condition in general.
Alongside the strong lyrics and ethereal vocals, he's also a skilled finger-style guitarist, albeit one to whom the guitar is a means to an end - “It was just something to do. I learnt by watching people. Kinesthetic, is that the word? ...I started writing songs when I learnt three chords... To me it's about the songs. I don't care about the guitar, well I do, but as long you can get your message across in the tunes. It's more about the lyrics and the poetry.”
Powell has honed his artistry playing Liverpool's coffee shops and open mic nights, along with being the “sacrificial folkie” at the city's venues, opening for local and touring bands. With a full length LP already recorded it may not be long before that running order is reversed.
The Salt EP is out now on Skeleton Key.