It’s boring to say that Willy Mason sounds older than his years, so let’s get it out of the way early. Still under 30, he has the voice and the temperament, maybe even the dress sense, of a 50-something year old Johnny Cash. His gravely tones are the antithesis of his fresh face, but they make for some beautifully soothing songs with his intimate and bluesy melodies.
It’s pretty clear that Willy is a bit bored of his old stuff. After all, he was barely out of his teens when he penned his first EP and his most well known know record was released five years ago. His new album is excellent, but as its release was the day before this gig, it may be a little too new for some people tonight.
With that in mind, Willy made sure there was plenty of good old times throughout, saving some of the best bits for the audience to sing solo or a rearrangement. But the real gem of tonight is that, despite selling out the venue and despite Willy having a huge following, he scales back his band to just guitar, clarinet and the odd bit of percussion, bass, keys or trumpet played by a multi-instrumentalist in the corner. It’s so understated, leaving space for his songs to fill the room. The clarinet especially is gorgeous and lifts every song it accompanies, like in a Low Anthem or James Yorkston gig.
Despite this following, his new tracks go down a treat. There’s the beautiful ‘Talk Me Down’, more reminiscent of his older stuff in melody, and the heart-breaking ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’, like a stripped down folk tune, a little like ‘The Pines’, that’s made its way through decades of the same family. ‘Carry On’ is another beauty, like the most aching of break up songs (although it’s about a moth) and, give it a month or so and ‘I Got Gold’ will be a massive singalong.
But the biggest appreciation of the night goes to the oldies. ‘Save Myself’ sees the audience take half the singing, but the addition of some sly trumpet can still be heard. The room accompanies Willy and his guitar for the chorus of the brilliant ‘We Can Be Strong’ - his guitar is the newest addition on stage tonight after his old one was stolen from a van in Swindon – and ‘Riptide’ is bare, pretty much just vocals for most of it, and amazing.
‘Oxygen’, one of his oldest, gets the biggest applause of the night. The single, like a hybrid of protest folk and a '60s pop record, was released in 2005 but tonight it’s as if it’s played on the radio every day. In a weird way, it’s as if this crowd has grown up with Willy Mason… so thank God there’s plenty of time to grow old with him too.
Words by Gemma Hampson