It is a wet and windy evening in Shepherd’s Bush, a resounding confirmation that autumn is indeed upon us and we can now forget our fancy dress frolics at Bestival et al and concentrate on huddling like arctic penguins in the cosy confines of our metropolis’ musical communes, such as the intimate Bush Hall. Not that we gather solely for the purpose of sharing body heat but rather in order to pay homage the returning prodigal son that is Willy Mason, playing his first UK headlining show since the good old days of 2007.
A distinct smell of damp greets us as we enter; this evening’s headliner falls firmly under the folk troubadour title and so it is no head scratcher that a whole spectrum of check shirts are on parade amongst this selection of eclectically aged demographic. Such shirts smell pretty bad when wet.
Matthew & the Atlas are first on the bill, a strong recommendation as a more earthly antidote to the whimsical musings and silly moustaches of the supremely overrated Mumford & Sons. Matthew is a commanding presence with a powerful voice that conveys much heart eventually turning the heads of the initially disinterested and soggy crowd. Next up is Marcus Foster, who despite a promising start backed by some interesting percussion quickly veers off into the realms of the mundane.
Mason’s arrival soon makes up for any previous sentiment of feeling underwhelmed and he is warmly received by the crowd as Bob Dylan’s ‘I was Young when I Left Home’ provides the very appropriate walk on theme for Mason and his backing band (including his younger brother on drums) to take to the stage. This seems appropriate as thematically it deals with home, something that appears frequently throughout Mason’s songs. Mason also channels a tradition of American song writing much in the same way that Dylan pre-Blonde on Blonde channelled Woodie Guthrie.
The openness and naivety of Mason makes him one of the most endearing songwriters of our generation
However whereas Dylan would fall back on more abstract images in his humanitarian sentiment, Mason is explicit, with his notions of community and togetherness very much evident. The openness and naivety of Mason makes him one of the most endearing songwriters of our generation, his heartfelt desire for justice and equality beautifully demonstrated in ‘Oxygen’, Mason’s eternal cry for a better world in one the purest pieces of song writing ever penned.
The set is perfectly judged; the first half consists of a mixture of new songs and tracks from his charming debut LP ‘Where the Humans Eat with Hard Hand to Hold’ being particularly enjoyed by the crowd. Halfway through, Mason’s backing band head backstage for a well deserved break with Mason wryly remarking that he had failed to join the workers’ union. As an isolated figure, Mason shines delivering a newly penned tender ballad by the name of ‘the Need of Love’: perhaps one of his strongest songs to date as he recounts the tale of young woman from a small mid-west town, not searching but desperately in need of affection. Mason’s voice is particularly striking and with his band absent it comes to the fore; he seems to put no physical effort into his projection, yet creates a rich reverb of blissful Americana. He brings tremendous depth to riptide as he reminiscences about carving his name into a cedar tree whilst the ‘water in his soul, it is going to the ocean’.
The band returns to close the set with a rousing rendition of ‘Save Myself’ with the enthusiastic crowd providing delicately pitched backing vocals and an interesting re-working of a 17th century love song, provided by one of Mason’s female on stage accomplices. Mason is in good spirits throughout and seems to be genuinely moved by the warmth of the crowd; such good feeling paves the way for an uplifting encore which of course contains the aforementioned ‘Oxygen’. After a personal 5 year wait for this event, I am deeply moved to be hearing these songs in the flesh, I exit onto a wet and windy Uxbridge Road with Mason firmly cemented in head and heart.