There is a mighty little ball of energy bouncing around Liverpool right now that is set to rocket skyward at any moment. In case you’ve missed her so far, I’m talking about ELEANOR NELLY: at just 16 years of age she has a maturity to her songwriting and performing that is way beyond her years, while still maintaining a youthful sense of fun. You may have noticed in last month’s Bido Lito! that the marvellous Miss Nelly has just earned herself the honour of being supported by LIMF Academy as one of their Most Ready artists. She has spent the past year on the circuit with such other incredible young talents as LUMEN, Katy Alex and Jalen N’gonda, and those lucky enough to have caught her act this year will testify that Eleanor has a special quality that will ensure the Academy’s decision is a sound one.
Eleanor is not your average teenage wannabe – far from it. Her style is strictly retro, with a killer quiff and attire not dissimilar to a young June Carter Cash, with added DMs. Her music covers country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll with stories straight from the heart. She’s always had a love of music and has embraced a wide range of genres, albeit craftily avoiding chart pop. Raised on Cilla, The Beatles and Buddy Holly, her biggest influence appears to be Sandi Thom, who Eleanor followed religiously as a child. A LIPA graduate, Thom has certainly had a major impact on Eleanor’s life and career. “I followed her around everywhere, and we ended up being friends. She knew who I was because I used to always go backstage to meet her,” Eleanor recalls fondly. Thom, who had a major hit with I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) in 2006, offered Eleanor sound advice after she had been scouted by The X Factor. “I just didn’t want to do it, and I told Sandi this, so she invited me to her room at The Hilton in Liverpool and went through the dos and don’ts of the industry with me, and then she gave me my first-ever guitar. I thought, ‘If I’ve been given this guitar, I’d better learn to play it’.” This invaluable meeting prised Eleanor away from the piano in her Mum’s kitchen, and set her off on a massively exciting route that comes full circle when she supports Sandi Thom in Chester on 27th May.
Eleanor’s gigs are often quite intimate affairs, as exemplified by her appearance at the Unity Theatre as part of Liverpool Acoustic Festival in March. The small, subdued crowd present on that Saturday afternoon responded to her set with great warmth, and Eleanor says these are the gigs she cherishes. “If someone in the audience says something, I’ll mess around and have a laugh with them; I’m confident and I’ll happily talk to strange people,” she giggles, before straightening up. “All my songs are based around a story; they’re all very personal stories to me, they are honest and true. When I play gigs like the one at the Unity, I feel like I can explain them, so they [the audience] get to know me as a person, not just some girl singing a song.” She pauses to think about what she’s just said, then adds: “I want people to feel my personal experience and see me as a kind of old soul… a very old soul.” In reference to her song Old Soul, a lament on her prison-like existence at school, Eleanor regularly returns to the sore point of how much she dreams of leaving state education. “When I finish school I’m going to be like an explosion, you’re not going to miss me.” The chorus to Old Soul pretty much sums her up: “I’m an old soul with a voice that will break free.”
Her songs are wonderful things; the brilliant Dark Wood embraces Americana stylistically, but the lyrics are homegrown, reeling off her influences through Elvis and The Beatles to Johnny Cash and the hair of Amy Winehouse. It’s a song that sends shivers down your spine as Eleanor’s voice ebbs and flows, but there is warmth and humour that link directly to her charming persona. And then there’s Blue Eyes, already a standout in her blossoming canon of original compositions, a simple and charming tale of a chance adolescent encounter with a guy in a shop. Despite the scenario of a schoolgirl crush, the song still has a maturity that belies the age of the writer. I ask her if she finds it annoying that some people view her precocious talent as a novelty factor, overlooking the strength of her talent to wow audiences in ways that people twice her age struggle to do. “It’s cool when people say, ‘You’re so young’, and I’ll say, ‘Oh, thanks’, but at the same time I don’t think age really bothers me. The only problem is not being able to play certain gigs because I’m under 18. I feel like I can’t wait to be 18, but do you know what? I’m already doing things. I’m ahead of my time. Things other people start doing when they’re 18, I’ll have already done when I’m 13. It’s cool; I enjoy it regardless.” Her raw, young talent is difficult to ignore, however, and an online clip of her performing the self-penned Me And You at Liverpool’s Free State Kitchen at just 14 is astounding in its maturity.
I ask Eleanor if she thinks her style of music is likely to lead to success, and she is quick to tell me that she is not in it for either fame or money, “although a new pair of Docs every week would be nice!” But she feels this might be the time. “There’s a place right now for grassroots music to come through. People are seeing how The X Factor is a fix, it’s a fast-track to fame, but when you get that fame it’s not where you want to be.”
With a smile, she continues: “Country is the next big thing. In years to come when blues comes back in style, I want kids to look back and say [exaggerated Scouse accent], ‘Eleanor Nelly, she was that old country singer, weren’t she?’ You have to stay true to what you are.” Having said that, she finds her music tricky to categorise. “My last EP was just country acoustic, me and my guitar with a harmonica, but my new EP will be a bluesy rock and roll kind of thing. I listen to The Stone Roses and then I go and write like Dolly Parton.”
I give Eleanor the opportunity before we finish up to send out a message to other girls of her age, and she goes back to a topic she raised during a panel discussion at the Acoustic Festival (she was the youngest member of the panel) about the difficulties women face in the music industry. “People were saying there are no idols for young females and I was saying, ‘But there are!’ Age and gender don’t define the dreams you can and can’t achieve. I meet loads of young kids along the way and they say, ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing’, and I say, ‘You can!’.” Eleanor clearly resents The X Factor culture and concludes by stating that “TV and the media brainwash girls into thinking they have to look a certain way. I’ve done everything the complete opposite to what The X Factor want you to. You don’t have to be what the magazines tell you to be, and that’s the message I want to get across.”
As one of the LIMF Academy’s Most Ready artists, Eleanor Nelly will be playing on the LIMF Academy stage in Sefton Park for this year’s LIMF Summer Jam on 23rd July.