I can’t recall ever going to a live show and being asked “where would you like to sit?” before being directed to a seat so close to the ‘stage’ (not a foot off the ground) that I could feel the vibrations of Willy Mason’s dulcet tones coming out of the speaker on which my leg was resting. Neither can I recall being at a gig where the word “glee” stands in massive lower case letters behind the stage, prompting me to think I was stuck in some sort of Channel 4-propagated nightmare. Luckily it wasn’t; The Glee Club is a comedy venue which is surprisingly handy when it comes to putting on live music of Willy Mason’s style.
My nightmare fears were quickly forgotten when the support act, Katy Rose & The Cavalry Parade, took to the stage. Although this is not her review, Katy’s thoroughly enjoyable old-school folk styling (with a lap-steel!!) definitely deserve a mention. She was certainly worthy of sharing a stage with Mr Mason.
When it was time for the man himself to step up the size of the night, he provided a rare opportunity for the people in the front rows to get up close and personal with one of the most underrated musical talents of the last ten years. Indeed Mason used the cosiness of the venue as a whole to engage the audience, ruminating on awkward coughs (calling members of the audience out on them during songs) and asking an audience member who stood up during ‘Restless Fugitive’ where they were going (to the toilet was the answer)! In addition to this banter, Mason looked as though he was thoroughly enjoying himself whilst playing through his “babies”.
As it turned out, Mason’s “babies” were a large chunk of his back catalogue and The Glee Club was treated to a number of non-album tracks as well as staple classics including ‘Hard Hand To Hold’, ‘We Can Be Strong’ and a fan’s wet dream encore of ‘Our Town’ and ‘So Long’. ‘We Can Be Strong’ in particular demonstrated the power and hold of one man playing a guitar through an amp smaller than the one which I practice with and often singing away from the microphone, using his raw volume to carry the end of lines through the room. Willy Mason’s voice is both haunting and capturing and at times it felt as though this was the perfect way to show off this incredible talent. He acknowledged his use of an electric guitar for the entire performance, extolling its virtues to joking cries of “Judas” from the crowd, and however strange it might be to some fans it brought to mind Bon Iver’s live performances with a full band; things like that just work!
As Mason worked his way through his set, including getting members of the aforementioned Cavalry Parade up for a sing-along and lap-steel-along, one could not help think why he has never been hugely successful; having happy songs, sad songs, singable lines (‘white bread, cheese spread…’ etc.) and a fantastic live show should easily have bought Mason to the forefront of modern folk(ish) music a long time ago. At least we can still enjoy this gem at a criminally low price for now!
Photography by Tommy Johnson