Act: Edgar Jones/ Steve Mason
Venue: SWG3, Glasgow
Date: 31st January 2019
Edgar Jones has long been a cherished favourite of kindred musical souls, so when he took to the road with fellow adored musical magpie, Steve Mason, it felt to me an opportunity for both to move from the nostalgia of the careers they had in the 90’s and show the world the strength and uniqueness of their styles and characters more than two decades on. Both artists remain among a handful of acts from that era still standing with faithful original fans and multiplying new converts today.
Edgar shouldn’t need to introduce himself by now, and his solo material more than holds its own, but he still quips, with some bashfulness, “Not that I’m boasting”, as he mentions his cult band The Stairs, and his previous role as Paul Weller’s touring bassist – raising curious eyebrows alongside sage nods of familiarity amongst the crowd. Some know him of old, some don’t but there’s much to discover in the many worlds of the once dubbed ‘Godfather of Cosmic-Scouse’ – whose melting pot of Sixties sounds combined with his sense of humour and romantic out of time quality, inspired The Coral and The Zutons to more pop friendly successes in the 00’s.
It’s an early start tonight but a keen crowd of real music lovers fill the cavernous space of SWG3, the former Customs and Excise warehouse on the north-west bank of the Clyde, and soon there are a hearty chorus of whoops and whistles for Edgar’s honest, soulful, easily-groovable-to tunes. Edgar puts his back into his guitar and vocals, experimenting with the arrangements as he goes and displays a warmth and rawness which is exciting to bear witness to. He wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s hard not to be wowed by the song-craft on show – his range tonight includes Sixties girl group sounds, on the Supremes-y earworm ‘Baby What You Trying To Do To Me’, Bacharach-esque sweeping sentimentality (‘Whether Or Not’) or northern stompers with a raised arm (‘Even When The Game Is Run You Gotta Keep On Pushing) and instantly catchy, jazzy, retro-pop jive on ‘Hard Act To Follow’. All these are brand new compositions due to appear on a forthcoming album being released by the Skeleton Key label.
Edgar’s voice has been said to channel Dr. John and Captain Beefheart; it is a melding of Mississppi and Merseyside Deltas – swampy,capable of being stormy but mostly grasping to a spiritual serenity while rocking on the waves.The haunting gospel-tinged a cappella opening to ‘Serendipity Doo’ (from his last LP, ‘The Song of Day and Night’) leads, from a dramatic, flamenco-guitar suspension-bridge flourish into classic single ‘More Than You’ve Ever Had’ (from mind bending Mercury nominated album ‘Soothing Music for Stray Cats’) – an uplifting slice of fast-stepping, New Orleans style, funky soul. Edgar is clearly inspired by a colossal appreciation for fine sounds, however these aren’t recycled from history without Edgar’s ‘wonky’, recognisably Liverpudlian, rock n’ roll motifs. The vintage becomes violet and a powerful pulse brings an genuine urgency to classic sounds done well. The now almost obligatory set closer is The Stairs anthem to smoking on public transport (always a timeless pleasure!), ‘Weed Bus’, with its call and response chant (“I’m so stoned I missed my stop” is always my favourite part!) which ends a hectic dive through the 1960’s in half an hour! We want more and, as Edgar intimates, it might take a full New, New Joneses band to bring these gems to full sparkling light in the near future. We are left feeling that things are only going to get brighter for Edgar, often known as ‘Summertyme’, Jones, and the kaleidoscopic, time travelling, musical realms he takes us to will continue to evolve.
Steve Mason too is all ‘About The Light’ – it’s the title of his new album, an insistent record, tugging at your sleeve, making you come back for more, full of that triumphant melancholia, which has marked his music since The Beta Band, and marking a literal journey out of the darkness of depression for him. Coming onstage wrapped in gold cape (well, he was previously named ‘King Biscuit Time’!) to the glorious fanfare of sunny pop that is ‘Stars Around My Heart’, as yellow and blue beams cast hexagonal prisms, like psychedelic halos, behind the bands heads, the group bring a clear a vision along with them to the show. Light is addressed in all its metaphorical forms in Steve’s clever, frank lyrics, which the audience already seem to have learnt word for word. There’s light in a call to Britain to wake up to political realities (America is your Boyfriend), light from anger as a positive energy (About the Light) redemption, love and hope (all the rest of the tracks!) He’s made a strong record for these ideologically confused times, a call for truth no matter how bruised, and he has assembled a kick ass band to play it
Little Barrie’s main-man, Barrie Cadogan, on lead guitar makes jaws drop around the vast brick-built hall as his almost J Mascis-y solos jump out and swagger in front of us. It’s this sharp, electric breeze that really lifts the tracks in a live setting, where Mason’s sometimes hushed, low, almost conspiratorial tones, which feel so intimate on record, can lose their way in the live mix in such a large venue (I wished I was closer to the front!). Gentler tracks are emboldened by the live band and especially benefitted from the guitar flourishes being made louder in the mix. The pace verges on the manic, with more raucous numbers being mixed in with the transcendent calm of songs like ‘Fox on the Rooftop’; a gorgeous, glacial, twisted winter-folk lament with twinkling harpsichord or ‘Rocket’s down tempo, slowed reggae groove. Both of these tracks crescendo to end on soul horns and wailing guitar – Steve Mason has always been the professor of nutty genre clashes and mood swings! Elsewhere, across songs from his last three albums, including ‘Meet The Humans’ and ‘Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time’, there are baggy pianos, sampled melodicas and electronic trip-hop beats. The energy given off by Steve and his band is so intense and urgent and the capacity crowd are packed in tight, hanging on every word, getting emotional and getting their dancing shoes on simultaneously!
The head spinning set climaxes with a superhuman burst of strength from Team Mason (now clad in hoods, like monks, on either side of flight-suited Steve!) as they launch into a high energy encore, which takes in the new single ‘Walking Away From Love’, ‘Spanish Brigade’ (which has the anger of ‘The Jam’ all over it) and then an extended rave-up remix of ‘Words in My Head’, which turns SWG3 into it’s natural nocturnal state as a dance club – a sweaty, ecstasy takes over, the battle-catharsis present in all of Mason’s work crystalises into ten minutes of blissful, space-out time.
“Please don’t ever listen to the words that I said” are, beautifully and ironically, his last sung words to the crowd; ironic because Steve Mason has much wisdom to share.
Images courtesy of: Darren Brooks
Steve Mason – SWG3 Glasgow