It was about 8 years ago to the day that I first had the pleasure of seeing Willy Mason live, funnily enough it also happened to be under this very roof in King Tuts Wah Wah Hut. That evening back in 2004 he took to the stage as an unassuming kid with an acoustic guitar as the opening support act for the 22-20’s. By the time he set foot back off that stage and onto the sticky Tuts floor he’d managed to convert not only myself but my friends into lifelong fans. The following year his quite rightly celebrated debut album “Where The Humans Eat” with its anthem “Oxygen” started the media banding around labels such as “the new American voice” and “the next Dylan”. At the time although probably flattering for the 20 year old from Martha’s Vineyard it was undoubtedly unnecessary pressure to heap on someone who had only recorded and released 12 or so songs into the world. Willy did manage to release a stellar follow up to his debut in the shape of 2007’s “If The Ocean Gets Rough” before vanishing into the ether for the best part of three years. When I say he vanished, I mean he vanished, no gigs, no songs, no online presence at all, it was as if he’d had enough of the race and perhaps the pressure and retreated back home to “Momma’s couch” and the normality of Martha’s Vineyard. It actually got to the point where my friends and I were regularly talking about where the hell is Willy Mason??? And it was then I considered making a section on my (at that time theoretical) website entitled “Where’s Willy”. I’m sure you’ll all agree a brilliant bastardisation of everyone’s favourite red and white striped jumper and bobble hat wearing master of disguise. (That’s right Wally or Waldo for our American readers)
Finally in 2010 Mr Mason returned from his self imposed exile with the excellent “Baby Shoes EP”, and thanks to Dan Willson (aka Withered Hand) and wh666 Promotions he also returned to play a special show in Scotland’s capital. Thankfully from then on Willy hasn’t been a stranger to Scotland playing numerous times over the past year or so and packing his gig at the CCA for Stag and Dagger festival to beyond the room’s comfortable capacity. So five years on and Willy’s third full length “Carry On” is about to be unleashed on the world, a world that you might have thought may have forgotten about his talents after such a lengthy absence. If the excitement and clamouring to get tickets for his sold out show tonight at King Tuts is anything to go by then he certainly has nothing to worry about on that front.
Just after his half past 10 stage time the heavy side door that leads to Tuts hallowed stage swung open and Willy and his band strode confidently into the dim lit room to enthusiastic cheers and applause. The set kicked off with perhaps the logical choice in the shape of a heavier bluesy foot stomping version of his debut albums lead off track “Gotta Keep Moving”. As is his on stage style these days Willy was looking suave suited and booted with slicked back hair. The band started off the evening as a four piece but this fluctuated throughout the set and the first song saw three on guitar including Willy himself. Taking the adulation from the bellowing Tuts crowd in his stride while asking for the monitors on stage to be turned up a little he then addressed us in his relaxed warm drawl saying “It’s nice to be back at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut“
A beautiful rendition of “Hard Hand To Hold” was followed with the tongue in cheek announcement by Willy of “I’ve made the big time now I’ve got two guitars on this tour” as he thanked his guitar tech for passing him his second weapon of choice. The first mass sing-along of the evening sparked into life as the opening notes of “Save Myself” rang out over the PA system. The crowd shouted “save myself, I got to save myself” back at Willy as if their lives really did depend on it as a reply to powerful lyrics such as “When the vultures copyright the word free”. At this point I’d just also like to take a second to mention the brilliant flame haired female clarinet player as her playing perfectly augmented not only “Save Myself” but also following number “Where The Humans Eat” as the band swelled to a five piece. Forget “Love Cats”, “Where The Humans Eat” definitely has to be my favourite song about cats, and tonight Glasgow did Willy proud with a massive shout of “Meeeeeee” mid track.
Having played a few classics from the first two albums to warm us up it was then time for our first glimpse of the evening of some new songs from “Carry On”. A slight false start due to a little cough Before “I Got Gold” did nothing to blemish it’s two minute long infectious shine, while I can see “Talk Me Down” with its lazy rolling flow becoming a song to soundtrack many a cold winter evening. Both songs received great receptions from the sold out Tuts crowd. I’ve been to gigs at King Tuts that have claimed to be “sell-outs” that clearly weren’t but tonight was definitely a genuine no room to move sold out affair. As the band one by one slunk off stage to leave Willy as a lone figure with only his guitar for company he thanked us all for coming out. Talking about “Carry On” and how it hadn’t officially been released as of yet he commented “It’s been a long time coming, the last two songs were off my new record and as of now it’s only out in Glasgow”, which inevitably brought loud cheers of approval from the Scottish audience. A beautiful solo version of his breakthrough single “Oxygen” brought familiarity back to the set and saw Willy visibly enjoying the crowd’s reaction with a beaming smile. As expected Tuts erupted as the last note was played and last lyric sung as Willy added straight after “It’s been a long time since I first played here, it was a good time then and it’s a good time now”.
The new then swung back around and Carry On’s “Show Me The Way To Go Home” sounded dark and brooding with the lyric “sometimes I laugh at things I don’t find funny and I want to find a way to go home” particularly standing out and striking a chord. We were then invited to a “tuning party” as Willy twiddled his (cough, cough) knob and asked “are you guys getting into it?” which lead to a shout from a member of the crowd of “go on yerself Willy” which Willy misheard saying “what was that tune myself? I can always do that” with a little laugh and a grin to himself.
A stunning solo rendition of “Rip Tide” from “If The Ocean Gets Rough” proceeded to raise a massive cheer from the crowd and lead to Willy announcing “yeah, you guys are alright”. I think by this point in the evening everyone gathered in Tuts was probably thinking that Willy was a little bit more than “alright”. And if they weren’t then they were all great actors and actresses as the response to “We Can Be Strong” was nothing short of electrifying. As Willy strummed on his acoustic guitar his multitalented clarinet playing accomplice provided backing vocals, assisted of course by the 300 or so who volunteered to be in the King Tuts choir for the evening.
Mason has a knack for writing songs in which the refrain is calling out to be sung back at him by a crowd. “Pickup Truck” much like “Save Myself” was a shining example of exactly that as shouts of “call out, call out” could be heard echoing around the room. Willy then took a minute to pay tribute to the musicians joining him on the short tour with a “how about this band huh? They only joined us today”. That being the case it just goes to show what great musicians they are and how Willy has an eye for piecing a band together as the musicianship was flawless from start to finish. I suppose given the timing of the tour it was inevitable that at some point in the set new album title track “Carry On” would get a well deserved airing. Tonight it came 12 songs in with the introduction of “Now I’d like to play you a song about our two winged friend in the night sky the moth”. It really is a beautiful song and showed off the bands flexibility perfectly as a little bit of trumpet crept into the mix. At the end of the track it sounded like Willy was enjoying himself as much as the crowd when he exclaimed “this is going by far too fast but it’s coming up to the end”. Even though the evening was drawing to a close Willy still found time to squeeze a few more songs into the main set. One of my personal favourite Willy Mason numbers “Fear No Pain” saw a banjo make an appearance for the first time in the set to be joined again by the gorgeous sound of the clarinet, while “Into Tomorrow” from “Carry On” although a relatively new song already sounded like a classic.
When it comes to final songs with appropriate titles Willy Mason has a few he could choose from, “So Long”, “If It’s The End” or “Show Me The Way To Go Home” could all have been contenders but tonight it was “How To Say Goodbye” from the “Baby Shoes EP” that got the honour. The King Tuts crowd didn’t know how to say goodbye either and after Willy said “It’s been a great night thank you so much for coming out” and exited from the stage they came to life once again with deafening cheers, applause and banging on the walls to demand an encore.
Willy didn’t leave them waiting for long as he emerged back out of the doors almost immediately with just his acoustic guitar in hand. Reveling in the fervent support he said “I thought I might do one of my parents songs if you called me back out”, before playing his Mother’s brilliant composition “Waiter At The Station”. The true end of a wonderful gig then finally came as it did the first time I saw him play live here all those years ago with “Live It Up” which Willy described before playing it as “my oldest song”. It was the perfect way to draw down the metaphorical curtain on the evenings proceedings and as Willy ushered his band back on to join him for a big mid stage bow his triumphant return to King Tuts Wah Wah Hut was complete.
It’s been clear since his first EP that Willy Mason has songwriting in his bones, and now having had a week or so to digest his latest offering “Carry On” it’s definitely been worth the five year wait. Although Willy if you are reading this, please, please, please don’t pull on that striped red and white jumper and bobble hat and do another “Where’s Willy” vanishing act. But if we have to wait another five years for your next album then as it was this time it will be with baited breath.
- Gotta Keep Moving
- Hard Hand To Hold
- Save Myself
- Where The Humans Eat
- I Got Gold
- Talk Me Down
- Show Me The Way To Go Home
- Rip Tide
- We Can Be Strong
- Pickup Truck
- Carry On
- Fear No Pain
- Into Tomorrow
- How To Say Goodbye
- Waiter At The Station
- Live It Up