Willy Mason – The Cube, Bristol

Saturday 10th February.

I discovered Willy Mason at Glastonbury 2005, when he headlined the John Peel tent on the final night. He was the best act I saw that weekend and I’ve been a fan ever since.

When this intimate tour was announced, with pre-sale to the mailing list,  it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. I’ve only been to The Cube once before, for a really moving and odd art installation comedy thing and then the space felt small and claustrophobic. I’ve been hesitant about going back, despite my neighbour, who volunteers there, urging me to do so. It’s also not in the best part of town to be be on your own, late at night. But for Willy I was prepared to venture in. I’m glad I did.

Yes, The Cube is odd. You go down into it, then back up once inside and it can feel quite bunker like, but I timed my arrival better and so wasn’t trapped inside the bar or on the stairs waiting to get into the theatre. The performance space itself is lovely, all wooden walls and tiered velvet seats so that the view is brilliant from everywhere.

Support was from Nina Violet, who is also in Willy’s band. She has a beautiful voice with amazing range and control. I would have bought her CD at the end of the gig, but she was sold out, which gives you an idea of how much the rest of the audience loved her too.

She came back out, with the other 2 band members, a bass player come trumpeter (how brilliant a combo is that?) and clarinet/saxophonist player Emma (who can fix her instrument with a rizla, a handy skill) and Willy himself. My initial response was blimey he has aged (well I hasten to add) then I caught myself thinking, of course he has, its been about 9 years since you last saw him. He was a boy then, with a man’s voice, an old head on young shoulders. I guess he always will be, to an extent,  with the world weary warmth he carries in his songs.

That glorious voice, deep, rich, full of humanity and love, singing about the world as seen by a sensitive and deep thinker. Willy isn’t the most prolific producer, or tourer, but you get quality over quantity with him. He is worth seeking out. Those of us who know his music really love him, his following is loyal. Everyone in there knew all the old songs and some had travelled a fair way to be there. Almost everyone was on time and respectful throughout, no talking and barely anyone taking photographs. If you know and love Willy’s music, well, you take it seriously it seems. Which isn’t to say the mood was somber, far from it, it was like a lovely cardigan, gentle and warming. Willy is charming and charismatic in an understated way, endearing and sweet. He’s an amazing songwriter and singer and plays a pretty mean blues country guitar. He played for over 90 minutes and the encore became almost as long as the main set, I think he played 6 extra songs before leaving the stage. We had to help him with the words a few times, there were songs added that weren’t on the setlist and he clearly was enjoying himself up there. Given that he has already played a matinée show that afternoon, that commitment and the quality of his voice, was outstanding. This is a man who relishes playing for an appreciative audience (hence the tiny venue) and shares his soul through his music.

Oxygen will remain his signature song (“now have I forgotten anything else” he joshed) and with just him on guitar leading us along it was glorious. He was a very young man when he wrote it, but it is one of those songs that become more powerful with age. Restless Fugitive was another standout track, So Long and a rousing version of Where The Humans Eat in the encore (not on the set list and introduced to the band as “well this will be interesting” so perhaps not even rehearsed!) but pretty much every song was superb.

I hope it isn’t another 9 years before I get to see Willy Mason perform live. He is a special talent.

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