Live Music + Gig Reviews

Willy Mason @ St Giles-in-the-fields, London

14 October 2009

Willy Mason and friends preached the religion of the blues tonight,and in church. Despitekicking off half an hour late – Mason blamed the postal strike – we weretreated to a two hour, 27 song set, encompassing a range of styles andvocalists. He said that this was his first professional concert. It feltanything but.

There was no support act, rather an intermingling of individuals whochipped in when appropriate. Mason performed solo with an acousticguitar on several occasions, bathed in a rather ethereal green lightthroughout the evening.

During these songs the order of the day wasgentle, lilting folk music. In contrast, his backing musicians – onstring bass, accordion and ukulele – helped to create a country vibeduring I Got Gold. Yee haw.

His lyrics, often featuring heartbreak and other such cheerysituations, were brought vividly to life by his emotive singing. At onepoint, during Show Me The Way To Go Home, he got a bit teary. Thisapparent deep understanding of the human condition belies his age – he’sonly 24, but has already supported the likes of Radiohead and Death CabFor Cutie.

Jemima James, his mother, noted that Brits had given him a warmerreception than his native country of the United States, which seemed alittle sad. She then proceeded to sing one of her own songs, CowboyCalling Card, whilst playing acoustic guitar.

Sofi Thanhauser also sanga couple of songs as lead vocal, including the lovely and gentle BrightHeart, and the atmospheric and eerie Finest Foal, which built up from just a string bass to include cymbals and Mara Carlyle on a musical saw.At one point, during Restless Fugitives, all the female singers were satin the choir stalls behind Mason singing backing vocals – a nice touch.

Carlyle made reference to the church during her song Sweet Spirit,which she wrote especially for her and Mason. She based it on a 16thcentury prayer that she used to sing, called Listening To The HolySpirit. Mason dryly noted when she first came on stage that “She’s gonnabuild me a bar.”

The saw makes a distinctive sound, and tended to beused sparingly. It wouldn’t be out of place on an Andrew Birdsong. Mara also took centre stage for Bowlface En Provence, awonderfully joyful song she had composed after attending an electricmusic festival in the south of France. (It features on her 2008 EPAncient And Modern.)

They were going to take a break after the first hour, but decided tostick it out. There was a slight delay before Pickup Truck started,during which the crowd got a bit noisy. Mason apologised forinterrupting. This song marked the start of a bigger sound, in contrastto what had proceeded it, and involved the whole assembled band. Itcarried through onto Bossman, where the bass drum resonated through thechurch.

The last two songs of the main set were associated with his parents -Waiter At The Station had been written by his mother, and his dad hadtaught him how to play Merle Haggard’s The Way I Am. The latter had apleasantly sauntering, bluesy feel. After this everyone left the stage,and they got a standing ovation for their troubles.

They duly came backand played a few requests, including Where The Humans Eat, from theeponymous 2004 album, which got a rapturous reception. This was followedby We Can Be Strong; sung as a duet with Nina Violet, it succeeded in making hairs stand on end. In all, then, and as one member of theaudience interjected at one point: “Cracking!”

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