Photography: Keith Ainsworth / arkimages.co.uk

Anticipation, nerves and excitement arrive into Moorfields Station today as well as the usual carriages from across the region. Ten bands are here to battle it out and go away with the much-coveted Merseyrail Sound Station Prize. The prize, encompassing industry mentoring, studio time and free train travel courtesy of the sponsors, has previously been enjoyed by rapper Blue Saint, soul sensation Katy Alex and indie rockers Soho Riots. This year, there’s a suitably eclectic line-up looking to impress a panel of judges who represent diverse facets of the city’s musical ecosystem.

First up on the impressively comprehensive stage set-up in the Moorfields concourse is GAZELLE, a soul singer who is today backed by a three-piece band whose minimal grooves serve her well in bringing to life some bankable pop nuggets. We’re off to a promising start and Christmas shoppers passing through seem to agree.

A crowded concourse is keeping the temperature from dropping too low as THE JJOHNS take to the stage. There is no doubting where these County Roaders come from and their Cast-indebted, scouser-than-scouse indie keeps up the momentum.

Proceedings are taken a bit leftfield from here as the eccentricities of A LOVELY WAR bring a fun-filled set of bouncing chamber pop to the festival. When their disparate elements align, it makes for something truly wonderful with a Casio-driven exuberance shining through.

Perhaps more polished, with stage presence to match their catchy soulful tracks, DELIAH look like favourites to take the crown as their funk-infused neo-soul songs reverberate towards the Northern Line. These guys have an exciting future ahead of them and the judges appear to be taking note.

FAY MOORE’s raw talent is obvious as she delivers an accomplished if slightly nervy set of country pop tunes and host Jay Hynd’s Taylor Swift comparisons are not wide off the mark. She is followed by another set of professional and competent musicians in the form of STILLIA. Hailing from St Helens, the four-piece deal in stadium-filling indie rock along the lines of Blossoms or The Courteeners. Their solid set should also put them into the judges’ summary conversations.

We experience a real change of pace with the next set. Singer-songwriter ASTLES fully captures the crowd’s attention and uses the echo acoustics of the concourse to its full potential with a captivating set of emotional, finger-picked beauties. Originality, integrity and heart are all in the Astles melting pot and we seem to have a new contender.

The quality shows no sign of letting up as JO MARY bring the noise. The Wirral psychsters summon the spirit of the underground to this underground station and we’ll definitely be making a note to see how the quintet develop from here. The same goes for KATIE MAC whose trousers match her inimitable song style with folk rock tracks which are loud, moving and belie her young years.

The fantastic CAVEPARTY close the festival and its fitting that a band who are clearly full of ideas, with riffs that are as innovative as they are catchy, should round things off so well. The judges have a tricky task on their hands here.

The party moves to Tithebarn Street Danish haven HUS after the musical smorgasbord offered at Moorfield. Last year’s winner Katy Alex welcomes the arrival of nervous artists, supportive friends and family as well as the panel of judges with a short set of acoustic numbers. Shortly thereafter, head judge Christopher Torpey makes the announcement we’ve all been waiting for. The deserved winner of the 2017 Merseyrail Sound Station Prize is Astles, who showed enough talent as well as raw potential to benefit the most from the prize mentoring package while having enough prowess to wow the crowd. There are no arguments with the result and there’s a smug satisfaction that Merseyside must contain the most promising batch of emerging talent on any regional railway network.

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