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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
WILLY MASON Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, May 16th 2007
Willy Mason
You may remember that the last time we saw Willy Mason he was at the end of a gruelling period in the UK. He was brawling onstage with his brother and drummer Sam, crowd surfing from the stage, and taking generous pulls on the ubiquitous bottle of Jack. That was two years ago. Since then Willie’s been back home in Martha’s Vineyard ‘taking time-out’ as they say. He’s recorded a new album, the recently releases If the Ocean Gets Rough, and in addition to touring in the USA at the end of last year, he’s also recently been in the UK on a ‘house-party’ tour. He’s been travelling round the country by himself and playing small coffee shop venues, or at hastily organised parties in the homes of fans (“it comes from me growing up, playing in living rooms, that’s just what it feels like…”). His popularity appears to be undiminished. The Bush is packed, largely with students, their bags of books (it’s exam time so I assume they’re all desperately trying to catch up on a year of lost learning) providing an almost insurmountable obstacle course for the beer carrying boys making their way from the bar, where ID’s are being demanded, and pounds carefully counted from purses. The cockney diamond next to us, just in from Shepherd’s Bush market in his fake Chemise Lacoste and Burberry cap is succinct in his observation – “I’ve never been in such a fucking middle class audience in my life. Anyone here on the dole?”
Did you know that we’re getting taller? It’s down to a number of factors, but you can bet that as always it’s the progeny of the better-off who are experiencing the greatest growth. Better homes, better grub, less manual labour etc. (in fact I would observe that apart from carrying handfuls of pints of lager the most strenuous thing that most of this lot has ever done is endure the rigours of a Mummy and Daddy funded gap year around the resorts of Thailand). Most of the crowd tonight are huge – taller than my six feet – and the diminutive Photographer doesn’t stand a chance. She does manage at one point to get close to the stage, where a generous fellow who’s sketching gives her space for a couple of clear shots. Luckily, as I read somewhere, “there is an upper limit to height beyond which our genes are not equipped to take us, regardless of environmental improvements”. Phew! Otherwise I’d have to start gigging with a stepladder.     Robert Wadlow
Willy Mason Willy’s new album is pretty good. He’s grown up a bit and his writing – even if it is still full of rite of passage angst (he’s still only 22) displays a greater depth and maturity. It was recorded with a bunch of friends and a few ‘guests’, such as KT Tunstall, who sang on the catchy single ‘Save myself’. And still on drums is brother Sam, whose loose and lazy playing drives most of the songs along, and also gives Willy what a marketeer might call, “an ownable sound”. Sam, and some of those friends, are on stage tonight, looking and behaving like a bunch of students in someone’s living room. There are no roadies, and the Jack has been replaced by occasional furtive pulls from a bottle of red wine. There’s a certain naïveté about the performance that doesn’t match the knowingness of many of Mason’s songs. Willy himself is so laid back you might think he was sleepwalking – he barely engages with the audience through anything other than his songs. When his guitarist breaks a string (no second guitar) Willy improvises an awkward chatting up the audience routine – “Hi, where y’all from?”, “Can I buy you a drink? Cider all round” (cheers). When he has a guitar problem – “It’s all gone tits-up man” he invites the band to improvise some “tits-up” music. And when he changes tuning on his guitar for ‘Gotta keep movin’ he demonstrates that he might have an ear for a song, but not necessarily for a note. Someone should lend him a tenner to buy a Korg tuner.
This led to an interesting post gig discussion about some of your French words Serge. Was this gauche or jejeune? Or something more knowing and contrived? Well, the undergraduate audience loved it, just like they did the lines from ‘Our town’ – “I’ve got some white bread, cheese spread, and some mayonnaise”, which they sang with gusto (but if that’s all they eat then how come they’re so bloody tall?). And Mason worked them well – carefully mixing the ‘old’ favourites like ‘Where the humans eat’ and ‘Fear no pain’ with the new material, ‘The world that I wanted’, ‘Save myself’, ‘Riptide’ and the final song of the main set ‘When the leaves have fallen’, a very nice tune with some intriguing guitar that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Jarvis Cocker song. It’s all very good stuff – with solid performances from the band (Sam’s drumming is exceptional) and well-balanced sound.
Of course he saves the most anticipated song ‘till the very last, returning finally to perform a solo version of ‘Oxygen’, with all the six foot five would-be lawyers, doctors and merchant bankers boisterously singing along to “We can be richer than industry, as long as we know that there's things that we don't really need” without a trace of irony. But by that time we were already on our way out, like Hansel and Gretel emerging from the deep and dark heart of the thick forest, trying to find a trail of crumbs to navigate our way home through the tall unforgiving trees. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate).

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