Banners Rescue Rooms Nottingham 2023


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Award-winning singer-songwriter Michael Nelson, who records under the moniker BANNERS, has a staggering 1.5 billion streams to his name to date – not bad for a lad from Liverpool who began his musical career in the city’s famous cathedral.

Michael was just seven years old when he started what he describes as his “musical apprenticeship” in his home city, singing every day after school in one of the UK’s most well-known cathedrals. “It was like a full-time job,” he laughs from his home in Liverpool, having moved back there recently after a spell in Toronto, Canada. “When all my friends at school were watching like Terminator 2 or Back To The Future, I was just singing songs from the 1600s! It was really, really hard work but it was such a brilliant training ground for me. Everyone was just so proud of singing in that building that you gave it your all. It was a wonderful education.”

Michael sang in the choir until he was 15, after which time he started to spend time at Liverpool’s famous Parr Street Studios after school and at weekends, hanging around musicians whenever he had the opportunity. “I was brewing up, mostly,” he smiles, “but I was curious and interested and started to see music for the first time as a potential career path for me. The musicians I saw there made it seem that it was possible – it wasn’t just some sort of pipe dream.”

Nelson’s father is well-known record producer Ken Nelson, who produced albums for the likes of Coldplay, Gomez and Badly Drawn Boy. “I remember going to the studio and just being enthralled by it all,” he recalls. “I knew that was where I needed to be for the rest of my life.” Michael observed his father working with bands and started to think about the craft of songwriting for the first time. “I started to write songs. At first, I wrote a few for a girl I had a crush on,” he says, laughing about his early teenage ventures in songwriting. “After that, I also started doing some backing vocals in the studio and started to try to find my own path in this business.”

He went on to play any and every open mic night he could in London and across the North-West, but it was a chance trip with his father to Toronto that proved life-changing for the musician. “I was in the middle of nowhere in this studio in Canada, in like -30 degree conditions,” he laughs. “I was making cups of tea for the guys in the studio as per, but I started to meet a bunch of musicians whom I jammed with and we had something,” he remembers of his time out there. After returning home, he kept in touch with the musicians and decided to save up to go back out there as soon as he had the chance. Working any and every job he could find, he saved the money, flew out a few months later and started his first serious attempts at professional songwriting.

Within a short time, Toronto he says taught him how to “navigate the business of music” and provided a wealth of opportunities for young artists like him to make their name. A demo CD he made found its way to Grammy-nominated producer Stephen Kozmeniuk (Koz). A short time later, his first single shot straight to number one on the alternative radio charts in Canada, garnering 10 million Spotify streams almost overnight. Soon, he found himself signed to a major label and invited to perform

on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “What was mad about that performance,” he says laughing, “was that I’d not really played a lot of gigs before that. It was like my tenth gig maybe! I was still at the point where I was in my bedroom, writing songs and suddenly I was thrust into this world at full speed. It was a crazy, unreal time.”

His ascent didn’t stop there. He became a household name in North America and Canada, had a viral TikTok moment with his song ‘Someone To You’ that led to him earning 15 million engagements daily (a figure that’s still growing) and his music amassed over 1.5 billion streams. ‘Someone To You’, also went Platinum and Gold in multiple countries and he appeared on American Idol as a mentor to the contestants.

“A lot of people had epiphanies during the pandemic, and we were all suddenly sat there, considering, thinking, in ways we hadn’t before,” he explains, “like everyone else I had time to stop and think about how I wanted to make music going forward, who I wanted to be to myself and to other people. The result, he says, is his most personal and relatable musical project to date. “I think I found it really hard at first to find my voice in music,” he says. “Things were going really well outwardly but I didn’t feel like I’d found what I wanted to say at that point – even though my music was clearly reaching quite a lot of people.”

After moving back home to Liverpool, he slowly started to find who he was in his songs once more. “It’s a dark time for everyone at the moment,” he says. “Politics is diabolical, funding of the arts is continually being cut, there’s a cost-of-living crisis and young people are being hit harder than ever. I want my music to be some sort of momentary escape from it all – I want it to provide a distraction, a different focus with a message that ultimately says, ‘we will be okay, we will come out the other side of all this.’”

Michael says he’s drawn on his own personal experience of the last few years to write the album, and many of the songs focus on the things that matter the most when times are tough – like close friends, family and most of all, love.

The first single released from his upcoming EP, ‘Keep Me Going’ is an energetic indie-pop anthem that was recorded at Black Bay Studios, which is located off the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. It was produced by George Ezra and British Sea Power collaborator Cam Blackwood and the isolated location helped Michael to hone-in on the direction he wanted his music to take. “The song is very much a shout-out to the people you know you can always rely on,” Michael explains. “The people that understand your ups and downs and who are going to be there no matter what,” he says, recalling the people who helped him after lockdown.

The emotive piano-driven track, ‘Life’s Just No Fun’ uses the music of Regina Spektor as a touchstone. An ode to the people who we “take for granted” in life, Michael says isolation made him think about all the people he missed daily. “When you’re with somebody that made everything better, maybe you took them for granted,” he explains of the song. “Now they’re not around and now life isn’t as fun. I also wanted my songs to have more intimacy, and this I guess is my attempt at that. It’s also rooted in reality too, like the break-up of a relationship. When we split up with someone, we think it’s the end of the world but it’s not really. We’re sad, we miss that person, and this song also explores that feeling. It’s saying life isn’t as good with you, I miss you, but I still got to move on.”

Going right back to those first songs he ever wrote to impress a crush, Michael has written several love songs on the EP, like the soaring ‘In Your Universe’. “I think this song sounds like falling in love,” he smiles. “It’s like the explosion of it, feeling like the universe has created this beautiful thing for you and all you’ll ever need is to be somewhere in that person’s atmosphere.”

Michel says a musical yardstick for the song was Elbow’s ‘On A Day Like This’ and in many ways, it’s a homage to Elbow frontman Guy Garvey’s songwriting. “There’s no point aspiring to be Guy Garvey because there’s only one Guy Garvey isn’t there?!” he laughs. “He has this writing style that manages to just encompass all of humanity in a single beat and he finds the euphoria in the everyday, the little moments. I think this song is the sound of being in love.”

Another made in a similar vein is the lush ‘Miles Away’, a song Michael describes as “a love letter to the person in your life that gets you away from it all. That gives you a break from all the stressful, rubbish bits of life. The person that makes it all worthwhile.” He wrote the song with friend and multi-instrumentalist Olly Gorman, who he says helped push him musically into new and exciting directions. “We just experimented and tried lots of different things with this track,” Michael explains. “The result is a really fun song – a song that gives you a huge escape from reality which we all need right now.”

The thoughtful track ‘Perfectly Broken’ is a song that focuses on imperfections in the world of “perfect” social media. “I wanted to write a song about how our imperfections are what make us interesting,” Michael explains. “How other people’s imperfections are what make them interesting and when our jagged edges fit into their jagged edges that’s when we fall in love.” The emotional gut-wrench of the song ‘Happier’, meanwhile, is “about that heartbreaking moment in a relationship where you go from knowing in your heart that you two are perfect for one another to feeling like maybe you’re not.”

Michael says the common thread linking all the songs together is that each is born from his personal experience. “I’ve found in the past when I’ve tried to do something that I think sounds right for the radio, nobody cares. But when you do stuff that matters to you, it somehow magically matters to other people too. When I write about something that matters to me when it comes from a very real place, that’s when my music connects with people the most so rather than doing that very occasionally as I have in the past, now I wanted to make a full project where that idea is key. I find it so comforting that it speaks to others, that a song can be a warm blanket of sorts.”

He says he’s been helped to do this finally by the freedom of a label that’s enabling him to find his voice – and message – fully. “They’re giving me the chance to write about the things that matter to me, to work with others who bring out the best in me and to take the time to find out what a project is – something that can be quite rare in this industry.”

Now, after making his name elsewhere, he wants to make it all over again, but this time at home. “Being away from home and isolated for months made me ridiculously homesick,” he says. “A lot of this project is about finding comfort in the familiar too and I think that’s a feeling again many of us can relate to after such a crazy few years.”

“I finally feel like I’ve found the direction I want to head towards, and I know for the first time really how I want to achieve that,” he smiles. He’s Liverpool’s best kept secret right now, but that won’t last for long. It will only be a matter of time before the city has another musical hero to call its own. “Maybe I’ll be back singing at the Cathedral sometime soon,” he laughs, “which really is going right back to my roots.”







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