Live Music + Gig Reviews

Steve Mason @ Electric Ballroom, London

4 May 2023


Taking flight towards interesting musical and lyrical directions that respect immigration and collaboration, he makes subtle but probing points in songs that become underground protest anthems

Steve Mason (Photo: Brian David Stevens)

Steve Mason (Photo: Brian David Stevens)

Unity is an under-used word these days. In Britain we find that made clear through the divisiveness of Brexit, the effects of the cost of living crisis and the plight of refugees making their way across the English Channel. Add to this the unquenchable need to keep up with technology, and you have an unprecedented demand on our physical and mental resources. As for politics, how long have you got? Steve Mason is unequivocal. “This is Travelling Hard,” he introduces succinctly…”away from a Tory government!”

Mason is nearing the end of a UK tour with Brothers & Sisters, his strongest solo album yet, his vehicle. The feeling is that Mason, one-time lead vocalist of The Beta Band, is spreading his wings, taking flight towards interesting musical and lyrical directions that respect immigration and collaboration. As a vocalist he makes subtle but probing points in songs that become underground protest anthems.

Much of his set is devoted to the new record, a call to arms for togetherness in the face of Brexit, exploring how we as a society can mend the ills of the last few years. I’m On My Way harnesses extra percussion to promote what might have been a soft-shoe, baggy shuffle to a powerful Bhangra infusion. In this, Mason is helped by fine contributions from drummer Calie Hough (credited for ‘shovelling the coals!’) and keyboard player Darren Morris, who includes a humourous cadenza on the Eastenders theme near the gig’s end.

Also critical to the mix are vocalists Keshia Smith and Jayando Cole, who bring a spiritual lift to the lyrics on songs such as Brothers & Sisters, I’m On My Way and the rousing No More. Here, Mason could really have done with the stage presence of his collaborators on the track, santoor player Kaviraj Singh and singer Javed Bashir. That said, the song is strong enough to withstand their absence once the crowd get involved. The unified lyrics – “this is the people speaking, we are not the same!” – become a mantra.

After a steady start, Mason’s set blossoms thanks to the more direct approach, bolstered by loose-fitting grooves and inner resolve. Upon My Soul is a triumph, its call and response hitting home, while two more excellent cuts from the new record (Travelling Hard and Pieces Of Me) meet an older favourite in the soft, rounded vocal of Planet Sizes. On occasion Mason reaches towards the soulful side, with bluesy diversions reaching back to early examples from Primal Scream and The Charlatans for inspiration.

The icing on the cake comes in the form of Beta Band material, Squares and Inner Meet Me leaving a powerful impression but at the same time illustrating how far Steve Mason is now progressing as a solo artist. On this evidence he looks set for a colourful and compelling voyage.


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