Back in March 2016 Liam Walker recorded an EP at my favourite Sheffield venue, Cafe # 9. Working with musicians Paul Blakeman, Simon Stafford, Finlay Stafford and Liam Peace, Liam recorded three of his own songs and a surprise bonus track. The resulting CD, ‘Liam Walker Live at Cafe # 9’ is one of my favourites.

Liam is a tree surgeon, a woodsman, by day. He’s a singer-songwriter and performer by night. The acoustics and the ambience of the Cafe are captured on the recording. The room is pine board panelled, with a wooden floor. There’s even a backdrop of a painting of a beautiful woodland scene that has been there since the Cafe began in 1985. The perfect setting for a man who works with trees.

Three years later, January 2019, and I’m half watching the first episode of a new series of 'The Voice (UK)' on ITV, the talent show that features Blind Auditions, where the judges and coaches listen rather than look to make their choices. Like the judges, I’ve got my back to the screen, but then I catch Liam Walker’s name and turn to see a short film about him and his work and his family, hear him described as a tree surgeon from Chesterfield. I’m simultaneously surprised, thrilled and concerned for him. I wonder what he wants from this music career move, what he needs and what he’s expecting. Part of his back story is that he is about to become a father for the first time. He’s in his mid thirties. I know he’s incredibly talented and hard working as both a musician and in his day job. I’ve been following him on Facebook on and off since I first saw him. He deserves a break.

The Blind Auditions are made for someone like Liam. He’s no starry eyed teenager who thinks he’s owed instant success. His image is down to earth too. He came on to the stage, carrying his guitar, wearing a flat cap and a checked shirt and a serious beard. It’s an image other musicians have worn in the past in country, folk and rock music, but with Liam it’s authentic. When he started singing the audience were stunned into silence at first. Then they went wild, trying to persuade the judges to turn. They didn’t. In recent series there have been no opportunities for feedback or handshakes. There was talk of them making a mistake, but Liam had to leave the stage and face not only his own disappointment but his family’s. The song he chose to perform was a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’. "But time makes you bolder/Even children get older/And I’m getting older too’, such poignant lyrics.

I’m aware that there’s a delay between recording the Blind Auditions and the first episode being broadcast. I knew Liam must have been dealing with that disappointment for some time. I sent him a message via Facebook and could see others were doing the same.

But things are not always what they seem. It turns out that Liam had been invited to the Blind Auditions before. The first time he couldn’t appear because he was related to one of the previous judges, Ricky Wilson. The second time he was invited he turned them down to concentrate on his band, the Nevison Gang. This was his third time lucky, and, even though he didn’t progress through the series, it has brought recognition and exciting opportunities. Interviews with the local press and local radio stations have put him and his music in the spotlight. He has had thousands of messages of love and support. People are listening to his songs on YouTube and Spotify. To add to all this excitement, he has become a father too.

On February 1st he played a celebratory gig at a new Sheffield venue, Sidney and Matilda. The room was packed with friends and family, old and new fans. He delivered a wonderful set with the amazing Jonathan Trier (who plays with Richard Hawley) on keyboards. He was well supported by singer-songwriter Spencer Joseph.

Nothing could have been further from the high pressure atmosphere of 'The Voice'. This was heart felt and home made. Liam’s set showcased his own songs, including 'Old Pines', 'Seven Sisters' and 'My Love'. He also performed some fabulous covers, including Bonnie Raitt’s 'I Can’t Make You Love Me', Richard Hawley’s 'Roll River Roll' and Fleetwood Mac’s 'Landslide'. The encore was Lindisfarne’s 'Lady Elinor', the surprise bonus track on his EP.

Liam Walker’s voice is remarkable, full of soul and emotion. He has a range and tone that brings singers like Harry Nilsson and John Denver to mind. He’s been compared to Bon Iver too. It’s wonderful to hear him as a solo artist and I’d love to hear him harmonise with singers as good as he is, in the way that Simon and Garfunckel, Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Eagles did.

His day job as a tree surgeon is all about managing risk and potential danger. He’s close to nature, climbing high and down to earth all at the same time. These are qualities that will help him find his way in the music business and hopefully bring him the rewards and recognition he deserves.

What looked like losing has turned out to be a win. He’s got the best result for him. He hasn’t been catapulted into the competitive frenzy of a TV talent show. He’s got time to enjoy his new baby and to adjust to family life. He now knows that there’s love, support and recognition for him and his music. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

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