February 25, 2005
Willy Mason : London Chalk Farm Enterprise
Great things come in small packages...
Last night, just down the road, The Killers played a show with their name in huge lights behind them and Brandon Flowers in a horrible pink leather jacket. Tonight, playing this tiny upstairs bar in front of a small crowd of devotees, 20-year-old Willy Mason does things in a slightly more low-key way. He’s so minimalist he doesn’t even have a stool.
In the tradition of all the great folkies, tonight is more of a storytelling session than a gig. People sit on the floor and laugh along when Mason tells them he was recently “kidnapped by Scientologists”, and listen enraptured to songs inspired by his dad. The second of four sold-out weekly gigs at The Enterprise not only carries on the coffee-house folker tradition of legends like Bob Dylan, but proves to the world that Mason has come of age. Once the music industry’s brightest new young star (he’s been championed since last year’s SXSW by Zane Lowe), Mason now has a bona fide following of enraptured young duffle-coated fans whose adoration reaches dizzying heights during set highlight and new single ‘Oxygen’. It’s an infectious chant of idealism and hope in the darkest hour that reduces this audience to children in a classroom, sweetly singing along while sat cross-legged on the floor.
The son of folk singers, Willy has a head full of gems – some of which he claims are 16 years old. This would mean he wrote them aged four, so either he was an extreme genius or is very bad at maths. Either way, it’s probably safe to say he scored serious marks in English when at school. In ‘Gotta Keep Moving’ he sings “A single shot rang in the street and we sat down to eat” – it’s as oblique and politically charged a line as anything by his biggest fan, Bright Eyes. ‘Live It Up’, ‘Our Town’ and ‘Hard Hand To Hold’ are all about The State Of Things, filtered through a paperback novel, a family meal, an encounter with a homeless man, a trip to jail or an American diner. Set to simple folk melodies and intricate finger picking to rival the best moments of Conor Oberst or Ryan Adams, it’s no wonder that Mason and his songs are beginning to inspire such a devotional following. Plenty of cynics would argue that we don’t live in a free world. But the fact that a) this young talent will soon be heard on stereos everywhere and b) Brandon Flowers is allowed to wear near-illegal fashion gives us hope that, in fact, we really do.
What this means
This 21st-century boy isn’t only single-handedly reviving the residency, but turning into the Pied Piper of new folk music, too.
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