XamVolo, Mersey Wylie, Sub Blue, Blue Vibe: Arts Club, Liverpool

By Shaun Ponsonby
Mon 11 February, 2019

XamVolo launches his debut album, which Shaun Ponsonby believes has set a new standard for Liverpool music. 

Mersey Wylie summed it up during her set; “I’m proud to be here tonight,” she said. “I think Xam’s album is the best thing to come out of the city for a long time”.

She might be right. Somehow XamVolo, in a city still trying in vain to make stars out of sub-Britpop throwback acts, has managed to pull together an album that could easily compete with some of the biggest stars working at the moment. From a single listen to All The Sweetness on the Surface, images of Frank Ocean, Anderson .Paak, Janelle Monae and even Childish Gambino spring to mind.

Not that Xam’s album necessarily sounds like theirs, but the ambition to be recognised with these names is front and centre, and it succeeds. This entire project is fully realised; musically, lyrically, conceptually, aesthetically. It’s all there, and it could easily compete on the world’s stage. What’s more, he has done it himself.  He hasn’t littered the album with outside producers.

From a local perspective, it has set a new standard – this, dear reader, is how you do it. And that isn’t a slight on any other musician working in the city. It is totally a comment on how uniquely right Xam has it pitched.

We have seen XamVolo at festivals, at small intimate shows, at jam nights, and supporting Paloma Faith in arenas. But tonight feels special. This is a celebration, a victory lap, a launch of something that has the potential to change how Liverpool is viewed as a musical city.

As ever, Xam himself is so ridiculously laid back that it is hard to believe that he believes his own hype.  He breezes on stage in his usual get up – all in black, sunglasses, so cool that it’s almost intimidating.

Once a little standoffish on stage, he has gradually managed to let us in further into his world, becoming a consummate performer. He even cracked a few jokes.

XamVolo: “If you take events too seriously, you’re more likely to choke”

Of course, the set was based around All The Sweetness on the Surface, and rightly so. His voice, smooth and comforting, holds your attention. It peaked on the brooding Adored – aching and soulful, by this point we were fully immersed in his world.

It was clear that Xam and his team had taken great pains to make this show his world from beginning to end. The full line up tonight was about as perfect as one could hope for, and each opener seemed to bring out different sides of Xam’s art.

The seven piece BlueVibe kicked things off, showcasing a jazzier and occasionally neo soul feel – most notably with a gorgeous sax that ensured early birds were seduced with the lushness of it all. It was clear that the group are still in their earliest days – it feels like they still have much to learn. It was extremely informal, with almost as many hoodies on stage as people. But musically they set the scene extremely well.

We have always seen Sub Blue almost as Xam’s little brother, but there aren’t Volo-isms that come out during his performances. Where Xam often makes old skool vibes sit comfortably with a modern setting, Sub Blue is thoroughly here and now. He swaggers far more than Xam ever would, painting a picture of suburban blues that casts a sharp eye over modern youth culture, the one exception being a cover of Usher’s U Got It Bad.

He still has some way to go with his on stage persona, but his set just got better and better – to the point where the soul pouring out of him during Take a Picture and Think We’re Fine managed to capture a moment.

We have already raved about Mersey Wylie’s recent EP on this site – one of the most accurate and arresting depictions of mental health we have ever heard. So it was a thrill to see her perform these songs again, after her incredible EP launch back in November.

If Blue Vibe represented the jazzier side of XamVolo, and Sub Blue represented the modern twist, Mersey was the pure soul. You could feel everything she sang throughout the set – the pain, the humour, the questions, the answers. Everything. The fact that we could feel what she was singing about, and what she was articulating, meant that we related to her in a way that we perhaps didn’t relate to the other acts on the bill.

By the time Xam closed out the night with Old Soul, it became clear to us that if Liverpool wants a seat at the head table of international music, then it’s talents like these that must be nurtured. Each are taking on the modern world in their art in a way that must be listened to. XamVolo is already there – that much is evident. But what we saw tonight was a fair idea of what the future of Liverpool music should look like.

Pictures by Gary Dougherty